Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On the Road (Europe 2010): Corsica to Livorno and Florence

On Corsica, visited the house where Napoleon was born, in Ajaccio. He lived there until he was nine and stayed there many times over the years. It isn’t clear exactly where Napoleon came into the world (in which room, that is), but it was interesting to see the place, although little of it remains as it was when he lived there. His mother completely refurbished and refurnished it once. Some of her furniture remains. It was later completely redone by Napoleon III and the house changed hands many times before becoming the national museum it is today. There are a few interesting paintings preserved (not least of which is a wall-sized map of Corsica), but it’s probably not worth a major detour unless you’re a serious Napoleon fan or just want to say you’ve been there. Having seen Napoleon’s tomb a few weeks ago in Paris, I feel like I should now go to Elba and St. Helena.

Corsica was impressive mainly for its mountainous scenery and the little villages clinging to the sides of the mountain roads in the center of the island, between Ajaccio and Rivosto. Stopped to cool off in the fast, cold waters of the Grevono river, where I soaked my feet for an hour or so while the rest of the family attempted to dam the river with the big rounded rocks everywhere.

Stopped in Bocognano, one of the picturesque mountain villages with a particularly good view. Much of the population appeared to be in the main café or watching a petanque match across the street. Two teams of women were competing. The men were all in the gallery following the action, occasionally offering advice or applauding a particularly good shot.

There was a delicious cold spring in the center of town pouring from a pair of brass faucets. People kept coming by to fill up water bottles. We filled ours and enjoyed a supply for a couple of days. It reminded me of Yellow Springs, Ohio. I don’t think I’ve tasted water so good from the source since then.

Saw three new birds in Corsica—or three that I was able to identify. One was the Greenfinch, the golden-green bird I had seen also in Spain and on Sardinia but not well enough to identify. Another was the Red Kite--a fairly large raptor with a distinctive trapezoidal red tail and pale “windows” in its wings near the base of the primaries. The third was the Blue Tit, a pretty, nervous little bird bigger than the Coal Tit but smaller than the Great Tit. I missed seeing a Corsican Citril Finch, which is to be found only in the mountains of Corsica, but the three new birds I did identify on the island brought my total of new birds so far on the trip to 43. I actually got four new birds if you count the Corsican race of the Spanish sparrow, which I also saw.

Crossed to Livorno from Bastia, in the northeastern corner of Corsica. It was a four-hour crossing, but it took nearly an hour to get off the ship because someone's trailer got stuck unloading from the boat. From Livorno, it was an hour's drive to Florence.

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