With the newfound freedom provided by our lighter bicycles, we explored the winding mountain roads of upper Corsica. The island is heavily dependent on summer tourism, and most people move out for the winter. This left the villages half empty and the roads with little traffic. Besides cars, we encountered some possibly stray dogs, a family of cows blocking the road in a kind of Mexican standoff, and a herd of goats running in front of us for a few hundred meters.
We spent the first night next to a cemetery of a remote 12th century church San Raineru, perched alone on the hillside away from habitation. Wild pig screams echoed in the mountains around us as we lied in our sleeping bags, but none dared to come near. Next we climbed up to Sant’Antonino, a unique village on top of a mountain - or hill - above 500 meters. Most of the other villages had been founded in more sheltered areas to be less visible to passing pirate ships.
The town's narrow streets went up and down stairs and through corridors in a confusing maze. All the houses and streets were built from rock, with matching beige and brown colours. There were clearly efforts to avoid modern construction and maintain the original look of the village. Even the numerous cats probably looked like the strays that lived there a thousand years ago.
So few people were around it was almost like a ghost village. Until the lady who delivers the post drove up and came to say hello during her route. She was very enthusiastic and inquisitive. Combined with English language skills, it wasn’t hard to guess that she either enjoyed travelling now, or had done in her youth. Such people tend to gravitate towards us to hear our stories and pay forward some of the many kindnesses they’ve received while on their own journeys.
When she heard we had no place to stay yet, she started making some phone calls. Camping was an option of course, but the night would be windy and rainy, plus we hadn’t showered for too long. Unfortunately only answering machines picked up her calls, and we said goodbye as she had to continue with work. Anyway, Isabelle soon found a nice local man who offered his spare apartment to us free of charge. He was even apologising for how small the place was, despite the large bedroom and kitchen.
The next day we weren’t sure where we wanted to go, so we did some work on our laptops outside while waiting for the mail to be delivered. Martine the wonderful post lady might've had more tips. Around noon she returned and was happy to see us again. She’d gotten a call back from her friend Mireille who lives in a monastery and could host us. The day before she’d even taken the time to drive back up to Sant’Antonino after work to look for us, but we’d already disappeared indoors.
So did we want to stay in a 17th century monastery? Absolutely! We rode down to Cateri where a sweet little lady called Mireille was waiting for us. She was the only person living there over the winter, aside from a few guests here and there. A perfect place to relax.
Or so it sounded. On the first day there was a big feast of 40 people who were volunteers and supporters of the monastery. We ended up being briefly interviewed for the local newspaper, as well as filmed for TV while terribly underdressed for the event. Then the priest was making a speech in French, and after a few minutes I hear some familiar words I've learned during the last two months, like "bicycle" and "around the world", followed by "Finland" and "Sweden". Heads swivelled around towards our previously safe corner in the back of the room, with the priest gesturing us to stand up to receive our applause.
Isabelle doesn't mind public appearances, but my face was about as red as a sunburnt beet after a long run on a hot day.
We stayed for a week anyway, if only to recover from the surprise attention.