Despite the strike rail we were still hoping to go on a day trip to Corte today as the buses were apparently still running. According to Paddy Dillon, many walkers who complete the GR20 regret not leaving the rather isolated world of the mountains at any point to experience some island culture. So we wandered up through Vizzavona to the main road. The village had the feeling of a ghost town; a small collection of large, slightly derelict houses surrounded by massive gardens and eerily quiet. There was, much to my surprise, a bus timetable of sorts containing one morning bus to Corte and one return in the afternoon. Unfortunately it was a couple of months out of date, but we had nothing else to go on. Returning to the station we encountered a party of people walking back up to the bus stop - clearly they knew something we didn't.
The roads to Corte were not designed for coaches and many of the bus stops were in far from ideal locations - next to tight bends and such like, but the driver took no notice of this. There was also a strange 10 minute break in a layby, clearly intended for those on the bus from start to finish who were bursting for the loo as there was a trail of toilet paper leading into a nearby copse. Lovely.
Once in Corte we visited the Museum of Corsica (good, but could have done with move detailed information and some English translations), spent 3 hours wandering slightly aimlessly waiting for the siesta to finish, then bought a copy of The Times and sat outside a cafe catching up on world events. Very cultured. Anyway here are some of my observations from the first week of the trip, more later:
You'll see `Soup Corse' as a starter on many menus. This can be almost anything so long as it contains ingredients grown on the island, and really its pot luck what you get. Popular main courses are omelette (hard to order one that doesn't contain mint), and pork/wild boar based dishes. The dried cured ham and pork liver sausage, figatellu, is often very good.
For dessert there's chestnut cake, fiadone - a soft tart made with milk then soaked in spirit and flambeed, and creme brulee. For the more adventurous you could try the `fromage de tete' for your main course (pigs brain, not cheese), and goats cheese ice cream for dessert. We did not.
When it comes to drinks the island beer `Pietra' - made with chestnuts of course - is lovely, and Jack and I actually preferred the Corsica Cola to the usual variety.
Corsica is owned and run by France, but clearly has its own distinct language (which is more like Italian), history and culture. The Corsican nationalists are very active it would seem; anti-French graffiti everywhere, French names on road signs filled with bullet holes etc. though I get the impression they are very much in the minority. The bus driver on the way home did have a long rant to the front seat passengers about the French and their strikes, when he wasn't on the phone, or taking the latest hairpin bend at ridiculous speeds.
We knew there had been a storm forecast for today, and we returned from Corte thinking we had missed the worst of it, but we weren't so lucky. The rumbling started just as I was trying to get off to sleep and about an hour later it was bucketing down with rain and thundering violently in more than one direction around us. I could hear voices outside and, having not had any experience of large thunderstorms when camping, decided to wake Jack up in case we should be moving indoors. He was very confused and thought morning had come round quickly but we decided it was safe to sit it out in the tent seeing as we were low down. A quick peek outside confirmed everyone else was also doing this, apart from a pair of German girls whose tent had flooded and who were having to move it. We lay frozen to the spot counting the time between lightning and thunder carefully and it got very close but eventually it seemed to be moving away and we could relax again. I wondered how Greg was faring under his single sloping sheet of tarpaulin (apparently the water came within a couple of inches of his sleeping bag) and was very glad we weren't in the high mountains on an exposed refuge site.