The centre of Corsica is a wilderness of stunning scenery. And for most of today I stared at it with unreserved loathing.
Our clever plan was to catch a train from Calvi to Ajaccio. Ajaccio is on the South of the island – Napoleon’s birthplace and departure point for our ferry to France – and reputedly a beautiful train ride away, so we were quite looking forward to the trip. We hadn’t ventured inland from Calvi simply because of the numerous warnings that the twisty roads were a nightmare for the kids.
The first sign that things were not going to go according to plan was when we asked at the train station if we’d be on a train the whole way.
“No. A bus to Ponte Lecci.”
“And from Ponte Lecci, it will be a train?” we asked with a smile.
Our smile was returned with a guffaw “This is Corsican trains. We have no idea. I don’t even know if they have any idea in Ponte Lecci.”
So we piled on to a coach and retraced the first two hours of our trip from four days earlier. Mildly unpleasant but not the end of the world. By Ponte Lecci Declan was looking a little off colour so we got off the coach with a sigh of relief which turned to delight when we realised we were connecting to a train. So some food all round and we settle comfortably onto the little train. Which rattled along for thirty minutes before stopping at a tiny station in the middle of nowhere – for us to change to another coach.
We knew were in for trouble now. We were facing the ridge of mountains that runs down Corsica’s back. We were on a rattletrap coach. We were already on edge. We looked around in a wild-eyed fashion for any escape, but now our fate was sealed.
So, as we expected, the countryside was amazing. Deep gullies, rushing rivers, wild untamed scrub which it took little imagination to see wild boars and bandits running about in. Eventually the trees gave way to deeply scared rocks with fang-like outcroppings occasionally surmounted by a house or tower. It really is beautiful.
Unfortunately, the road required to negotiate the hills and rocks and rivers is extremely steep and winds endlessly. I don’t think we saw a straight for over two hours. The driver chatted on his phone, flirted with the women sitting in front of us, and hurled the coach about with stomach-turning abandon.
Declan’s complexion gradually began to match the greenery outside until it all became too much and he threw-up. Luckily I was ready with one of my collection of sick-bags filched from airlines we’ve traveled on over the last five months. (For the connoisseurs amongst us, Air Egypt does a fine line in bags.) Declan mercifully fell asleep not long after, while Callum and I grew gradually more glassy-eyed and unwell. By the time we arrived in Ajaccio we were an unhappy group – feeling unhappy but also deeply unhappy with Corsica Rail’s bait and switch move which was as exactly as bad as we’d known a drive through the island would be.
One of the other things that Corsica is renowned for is the vendetta. Souvenir shops are full of the special vendetta knives that Corsicans would wield to deal with anyone who had wronged them. The Corsicans have always taken their vendetta extremely seriously with generations of families pursuing a wrong. Right now I’m contemplating declaring vendetta on Corsican Rail – although I’m not sure what one of those knives would do to a train.
But then again, if I’d had a knife in that place we caught the coach maybe I could have slashed its tires and achieved a couple of hours respite.