Saturday, October 20, 2018

Corsica/Tuscany Day 13

Day 13:  Cycling Elba

Another gorgeous, warm sunny day.  Bill's route talk bore no resemblance to his brief description last night at dinner.  The crude hand drawn maps he hands out were daunting.  43 miles with 3500' of elevation.  That wouldn't be so bad, except 2 of the climbs were about 10 miles each.  The views were again spectacular at every turn.  Our lunch spot had great views of the town of Marciana 1,000 feet below on the sea.  Today we ate smarter than yesterday, but still had too much for the ride back to the ship.  It began with a terrifying descent for about 5 miles, then a 500' climb, and a final descent to the port.  We were thrilled to get back to the ship and off the horse.

Next order of business was breaking down the bike.  It went pretty well, and Erik and Beth (they team break down and build there bike) and I finished well before most others arrived.  After a shower and major grease removal, Jeri and I packed for an early morning departure tomorrow.

The ship just left port on the way to Rome.  Last dinner tonight with Erik and Beth and goodbyes to all of the great tandem teams  that we met.  Tomorrow we disembark at 8 and head into Rome  for the start of the next phase of our journey, our BackRoads tour of Tuscany,

Corsica/Tuscany Day 12

Day 12:  Cycling Tuscany

Long day of cycling planned with a lunch stop.  We thought we might shuttle part way, but Bill, after pushing that last night, was discouraging everyone from shuttling, and instead, doing the whole ride.  The ride was beautiful, through the Tuscan countryside, but very long (66 miles), and hilly (~4,000 ft).  We started Piombino and climbed to Suveretto, a beautiful walled city that had amazing chocolate gelato.  We continued to climb to Sassetta and Castagneto Carducci,  and finally to the wine town of Bolgheri , famed for it's very expensive "super Tuscan wines", $200-$500/ bottle (Jeri and I were going to buy a couple of cases, but they wouldn't ship to NH, PHEWWWW!).  After a huge lunch of bruschetta and 2 types of pasta (ravioli and papparidella) and 3 wines, we had to ride 20 miles back to the ship.  Not a great idea to eat and drink and ride.

While we were at dinner, the ship left port, and by the time we had dessert, we had docked in Elba, our last stop before Rome.  Elba is best known as the place of exile of Napoleon Bonaparte after he was removed as Emperor of France.  It was also important early in the Iron Age due to large iron deposits  and forests used for furnaces for smelting the metal.  It continued to be a major player in iron production until it became deforested.  After this, iron from Elba was shipped to mainland Italy for production of iron implements.  Our port in Elba was Porto Ferrario (iron in Italian).

We are supposed to have a short, easy ride tomorrow according to Bill, but we noticed his nose somewhat longer than at the start of the trip.

(pictures hopefully in 2 more days when we get to Rome)

Friday, October 19, 2018

Corsica/Tuscany Day 10

Day 10:  Cinque Terre
We awoke this morning to absolutely gorgeous blue sky and warm temps, perfect for a day of hiking along the cliffs in Cinque Terre.  CT is a series of 5 hill towns along the rugged coastline of the Italian Riviera.  Access to the towns is via ferry, a train that stops in each town, and an 800 year old trail, Sentiero Azzurro.  Our ship docked briefly in the industrial port of La Spezia, just south of CT.  We walked en masse to the "stazione centrale" and received our tickets there, for the train and the national park hiking trail.  Unfortunately, even though Jeri asked about the need for ticket validation, Robert (Bill's German helper) told us this "probably" wasn't necessary, when we got off the train, there was a huge kerfuffle with the train people and Robert.  It was finally sorted out after about a 30min  to do.  

We disembarked (with new validated tickets in hand) at the northernmost village, Monte Rossa.  We started on the Sentiero Azzurro from here, and quickly ascended to the cliffs high above the town.  The views were amazing!  We had forgotten just how strenuous a hike it was from town to town.  Different muscles are certainly used for hiking.  After about an hour and lots of sweat, the next town, Verranza, came into view.  I think this is the most photogenic of the towns from the heights.

We wandered through Verranza and grabbed a couple of pieces of pizza and some gelato to refuel. Then, back on the trail to town #3, Corniglia. The trail was just a bit shorter, but no less steep.  It wound its way through olive groves and vineyards perched on the cliffs.  The farmers use a gas powered train cars to move olives from the grove (Erik seemed to be looking for a new job).

Corniglia was fun to walk around, and we sampled the lemon granite here.  The day had warmed up quite a bit, and the iced lemon granite was really refreshing. The trail, which washed out in a mudslide in 2011, has still not been repaired and is closed the rest of the way, requiring rebounding the train. Corniglia is perched about 400 feet above the Mediterranean, and to get to the train station, we had to descend about 30 stories of steps.
We took the train to the last own, Riomaggiore, bypassing town #4, Manrola. Before we went on to the ferry dock for the trip back to the boat, we stopped in a small market to buy some lunch, bread (40 cents), pesto (had to try it, this is the birthplace of pesto-still to cheesy), roasted sun dried tomatoes, eggplant, olives, and anchovies.  All very European!

The ferry ride back was very pleasant, following the coastline until we hit the entrance to the harbor at La Spezia. We were all pretty exhausted when we reboarded the ship.  Tomorrow, back to riding.

Corsica/Tuscany Day 9

Day 9: Bastia and Rain Again
Another miserable day, stuck in port in Bastia another day.  Bill offered a bike ride  around the north cape of Corsica, or a bus ride along the route, but the forecast (as well as the the morning weather) was awful, rain and fog all day.  We decided the ride sounded unsafe and very unpleasant and the bus sounded like a bus (I have a real aversion to bus ravel, and I avoid it whenever I can), not to mention the fact that the fog and rain would obscure any decent views.
Instead, Jeri, Beth, Erik and I walked around the town a bit and did a little shopping, followed by veging the rest of the day.  Not my idea of a good time, but safe and dry.
We are off to Cinque Terra (mainland Italy) tomorrow for a day of hiking.  No cycling again, but the weather is supposed to improve drastically.
On a very sad note, my point and shoot camera died.  Taking pictures in the rain was too much for the old (actually pretty new) camera.  I dried drying it, but to no avail.  I now have only my large, heavy SLR and my cell phone.  Not taking the SLR on the bike, but will schlepp it in Cinque Terra.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Corsica/Tuscany Day 8

Day 8:  Bastia
Yesterday there was a huge storm that effected southern France (including Nice) that included large amounts of rain and flooding (killing 11 people).  It is now lying over the island of Corsica, right on top of us.  We tied up this morning in the main port city of Bastia on the northwest coast of Corsica to ride out the storm.  Our bikes stayed on the ship all day.
Bastia is the 2nd largest city in Corsica, and the most active port.  The Genoese built a citadel here in the 1300's to guard against invaders.  It remained in Genoa hands until the French took Corsica in 1769.
Bastia was also important during WWII.  The resistance movement started here and this was instrumental in Corsica becoming the 1st area of France that was liberated from the Nazis in 1943. Because of the early liberation, the Allies were able to build several airfields here and utilize these to launch air attacks against the Nazi's in both Italy and France that helped in the eventual collapse of both the Italian Fascists and the Nazis.
Since riding was out today, many of us went into Bastia to see the town in the morning.  Even with rain gear, though, we were shortly drenched.  Fortunately, the temperatures were pretty moderate, and until late in our walk, we were able to stay relatively comfortable.  The old part of the city, old port, and citadel are a warren of narrow streets and alleys that run every which way.  When we finally reached the far side of the citadel and decided we were wet enough, we got lost in the maze, and even with a map (which got soaked), had a hard time finding our way back to the ship.
After a warm shower, and dry clothes, we felt much better.  The afternoon was full of some great bike clinics by the chief mechanic, Leland, and our goat path savior, Wolfgang.  Learned a lot, probably just enough to get into some real trouble.
Since I had plenty of time today, I thought I'd give you a bit of info about Corsica, since most of us know very little about the island.
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea 110 miles southeast of the French mainland, 6.8 miles north of the Italian island of Sardinia across the Strait of Bonafacio, and 56 miles west of Tuscany in  Italy. It is 114 mi long at longest, 52 mi wide at widest, has 620 mi of coastline, more than 200 beaches, and is very mountainous (Jeri and I can attest to that!!). 
 It is now part of France, but has a long history of being ruled by others including the Carthiginians, Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans.
In 1284, the Genoese took over Corsica after defeating the Pisans (who at that time occupied Corsica), but this rule was challenged off and on over the next 450 years.  In 1729, there was a revolt against the Genoese Pasquali Paoli, and in 1755 the Corsican Republic was proclaimed.  The Corsicans were unable to remove the Genoese from the fortified cities of Calvi and Bonaficio but continued to fight the Genoese for 40 years. Finally, in 1768, the Genoese, worn down from all these years of fighting, decided to sell Corsica to the French.  A year later,in 1769, in the Corsican capital of Ajaccio, Napolon Bonaparte was born.
The resistance continued for a while, but was finally crushed by the overwhelming French forces.  For the next 100 years, Corsica was back and forth between French and British influence. By the end of the 19thCentury, Corsica was firmly in French hands. 
During WWII Vichy France ruled Corsica and allowed Nazi occupation in 1942.  Free French and resistance forces forced the Nazis out in 1943 and shortly after, US military built 14 airfields across the island.  The island was secretly nicknamed the unsinkable aircraft carrier, “USS Corsica”.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Corsica/Tuscany Day 7

Corsica/Tuscany Day 7
The weather today was calling for possible showers, so we decided to get out early while it was still dry.  The ship had been sailing all night to round the southern tip of Corsica and dock at Porto Vecchio on the east coast.  We got off the ship right after breakfast and began the shortish (25 mi) ride to the walled Genovese fortification of Bonaficio.  Of all the rides we've taken so far, this was the least spectacular, but after the long climbs of the past few days, it was a nice respite.

We arrived in Bonaficio around 11:00 am, just in time for the 1st tour of the city.  Bonifacio, also known as "the City of Cliffs",  is located directly on the Mediterranean Sea, separated from Sardinia by the 9 1/2  mile Strait of Bonafacio.  It is built high on limestone cliffs and has a commanding view of the sea.  It was built as an impenetrable fort to guard the outposts of Tuscany by  Boniface II of Tuscany in 828.  Most of the citadel postdates the 9th century , but  il Torrione, a round tower, was  part of the original fortification. 

Construction of a myriad aqueduct and cistern system all over the city involved using flying buttresses to support roofs as well as conduct rain water for storage.  This was a critical element for the town to be able to withstand a siege.  There were also many other construction details making it nearly impossible to gain access.  A single entrance to the city up a very steep hill that included a drawbridge  and multiple turns to get past the gatehouse, assured safety for the city's inhabitants.  The original buildings could be no higher than 2 stories with ladders to gain access to the 2nd floor, but these were replaced by steps in more modern times.  The stairs, though, were steeper and longer than the old Brigg's Opera House!

We stopped at a local authentic restaurant after the tour to have lunch with Erik and Beth and another Richmond couple who we'd previously met.  More food than we needed, but we started with Pastis, a strong licorice flavored liqueur (that you have to mix with water), and a hearty beef soup, calamari in a red sauce, and a local Corsican eggplant dish.  Finished up with dessert that the waiter recommended, a flan with lemon rind.  All outstanding. 

After lunch we wandered a bit around the old city, bought some earrings for Jeri and then 
walked along the parapets with Erik and Beth, out to the southernmost point of the citadel to view the lighthouse.  Our ship came in just before we made it to the light house, but some friends got a couple of great pictures of this.

Finally, back to the ship for the blog, a some bike adjustments.  

The weather, by the way, was actually beautiful all day.  Tomorrow, on the other hand, looks bad, so we might take a day of from riding.  The rainy day ride in Nice was enough.

I seem to be unable to upload any photos.  This may have to wait until we get to Rome next week.  Sorry, real crappy internet on the boat.

Corsica/Tuscany Day 6

Day 6: Corsica- Galleria, Piana, Cargese

Another beautiful day. We were off the boat early so we could catch the 1stshuttle up the 1st2000’ of today’s climb. We decided that after yesterday’s goat path experience, we deserved a bit of a break.  Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea and there wasn’t enough room for everyone.  We had to wait for a 2ndshuttle and stood around for the better part of an hour. Probably should have just ridden it (easy to say that now that we’re done).  The last third of the climb, though was amazing.  The Corsican coastline is quite rugged, and for the most part, pristine (except for the oil spill that they just experienced).  The ride consisted of long (7-10 mile) uphills and downhills. Once we climbed we were about 3000’ above the Mediterranean with sheer drop-offs to the ocean.  The descents were pretty terrifying with one switchback after the other, high speeds and sharp curves with an occasional oncoming car. At one point, we rounded a curve only to find a herd of about 50 goats covering the road.  We were fortunate that Erik and Beth were ahead of us, and they had stopped to slow people down, preventing many a billygoat goring.
After a day of stunning scenery, we cut our planned ride to Sagone short, ending in the fishing village of Cargese.  Our ship had to move from our planned pick up point because of some permit glitch.
Remainder of the day was spent showering and relaxing until our 8 o’clock dinner, which no one was happy with