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First Look at Corsica

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First Look at Corsica

In our hurry at the port of Marseille, we accidentally ended up on the wrong ferry to Corsica. We'd been told the east side is much easier to cycle, so wanted to land in Bastia and follow the coast south. But our boat actually went to L’Île Rousse on the northwest side. No worries - may as well go with the flow. It felt more exciting to end up somewhere unplanned.

Twelve hours and a poorly slept night later, we came ashore at sunrise. There was a rocky hill with a lighthouse next to the harbour, so we pushed up our bikes for breakfast tea and photos. As well as just marvelling at the fact that we finally made it here. The first view was impressive. The sea, the mountains, green nature between the villages… right away I knew I'd like this island.

To the left is the ferry we arrived on.
It looks like there's a guy standing in the photo admiring the sunrise... but he's actually looking at his smartwatch.

We hung out in L’Île Rousse for the day and then found a campsite on a hill with a sea view. There were wild pig droppings everywhere. In many places they had dug up the ground looking for roots to eat underneath. These weren’t the first signs of boars we’d seen so far, but from what I understand they are much more common in here than in the mainland. They are dangerous enough to maim or kill a human, so we’ll have to be careful and not leave our food bags lying around.

Day two confirmed this thought. We still felt like resting, so just cycled down the hill to the beach in the morning and camped again. (Camping isn’t legal in Corsica, but no one seems to mind it. At least in the winter when there’s less risk of forest fires.) Boars move around from dusk ’til dawn, and as soon as the sun went down, we heard squealing somewhere uncomfortably close to the tent. Later in the night when I walked a few meters away to use the toilet, I heard another squeal close by. I ran back and peed next to our camp instead, narrowly missing tent poles and stakes.

Two of us slept uneasily. The wind rustling branches and leaves sounded deceptively like creatures skulking around the campsite. The third member of the party, Kira the courageous guard dog, was of no use whatsoever. She snored all night, entirely oblivious to the dangers surrounding us.

Sunrise view of Calvi and its citadel.
There Will Be Sheep.

The best thing about being in Corsica is that for the first time on this trip, I feel like there’s no need to be hurrying anywhere. That probably sounds weird, but ever since last June I’ve had to keep moving to get away from Scandinavia before the freezing autumn arrives. Then in mainland Europe it’s been necessary to head south to escape the winter. Only now that we’re in the Mediterranean the seasons are no longer an issue (for now).

Not that cycling twentyish kilometres per day on average is stressful as such.. but I still feel a new level of freedom, to be able to just stay still and relax as much as I want. Especially when the surroundings are beautiful for photography.

This is what the trip is all about, and why I chose to have years to do it.

"Wake up Tomi, there's a sunrise."
 

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A Fresh New Year at Camargue National Park

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A Fresh New Year at Camargue National Park

Just as Christmas, Isabelle and I celebrated New Year’s Eve quietly. We rented a room in Arles in South France for two days, to have a nice place to relax and watch fireworks in. Turns out France is not the ideal place for this plan, because fireworks were either illegal or just not cared about. So there wasn't much to see. Which was fine, because by midnight we were as sleepy as two puppies in a basket.

But we did get to relax. That’s something I’ve really felt the need for lately. Being on the road for seven months is beginning to have its effect on me. Not that our cycling distances are particularly strenuous (although now that I’m usually pulling the trailer, uphills are more of a challenge). But just the fact of packing every morning, moving even a short distance, and then finding a new place to sleep can become exhausting. With closed camping grounds, wild camping being illegal, cold weather and sleeping at strangers’ homes, there haven’t been many opportunities to enjoy lazy days of doing nothing.

It will soon be time to take the first long rest of the trip, for a couple weeks or more.

But in the meanwhile, the plan for 2018 is to have more adventures. In the last weeks we’ve spent too much time in unphotogenic towns and cities. It’s time to camp more in nature and other interesting or exotic locations. The first stop of the year: Camargue National Park.

Are you lost, Gringo?

Camargue is a wide open area of flat farmland and wetlands in the delta of the Rhone river. It’s famous for its white horses, pink flamingos, and Camargue bulls bred for the bullfighting arenas of the region. We got to see all of them, but the last two didn’t dare come close enough for my 24-70mm lens.

On the first afternoon we spotted two people walking in what looked like grey robes from a distance. Going in for a closer look, they turned out to indeed be genuine monks out for a stroll. Sleeping in a monastery? Definitely an adventure. We asked whether it was possible, but the prices were 40€ for a room or 10€ for camping outside. Paying to sleep in a monastery? Not an adventure, we agreed, and cycled onwards.

The wind was picking up and there weren’t many options for taking shelter. Few buildings, many fences and gates, no forests - only farmland and tall grass. It was already dark by the time we found a farmhouse with nobody around. Sleeping on haystacks in a barn seemed adequately adventurous.

The truth about being a digital nomad.
Waves of the Mediterranean at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

The next day we cycled to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and reached the shore of the Mediterranean. Neither one of us had seen the sea since we’d met almost three months earlier, so it was a beautiful sight. This also means I’ve cycled across the continent from the far reaches of Northern Scandinavia all the way to South Europe. That feels like an accomplishment.

Finally we could smell the familiar salty scent of the sea, hear the crashing waves, and enjoy the beautiful sunsets. Even the red supermoon rose to greet us when we stopped for a snack by the shore. The weather was pleasantly warm for the first time in months. Due to faraway storms, the wind blew heavily, so we found a somewhat sheltered place near the beach and camped there for two nights doing nothing much.

Camping in a National Park and resting at the same time? Now this is the way to start the new year.

I've really missed sunsets by the sea.
A soft moonrise over the sea.
 

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A Vagrant's Christmas

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A Vagrant's Christmas

After several weeks of being uncharacteristically social, I yearned back to the life of sleeping outdoors as a vagrant with a bicycle. So before Christmas we spent a couple nights in a tent. On the second evening the wind was so strong that we had to take refuge in a half-built garage beside an empty house. Three walls and a roof protected us perfectly from the storm raging outside.

Stomachs full with a delicious sausage and pasta dinner, we settled down to watch a documentary. Halfway through the film our concrete cave was suddenly filled by car headlights. Crap. The house wasn’t so empty after all. I exited my sleeping bag nervously. My French vocabulary was wildly insufficient for explaining why there were suddenly two people, a Cocker Spaniel, and a tent with Christmas lights in whoever’s garage it was.

Garage camping, or "glamping" as I like to call it.

Outside there was a woman who looked scared enough to call the police, but fortunately she wasn’t alone. Neither she nor the man she was with spoke English, but he just laughed it off and wished us a good night. Our luck held up once again. This scene certainly could’ve played out much worse.

The next morning was December 24th. While having breakfast, I was wondering why the dog trailer looked strangely tilted. Then I realised one of the tires was flat. Presumably due to me digging out some sharp rocks and spikes from the rubber the previous day. Merry Christmas.

A gorgeous flat tire lit by the beautiful morning sun.

After changing the tube, we continued a couple hours to near Orange where we had rented an Airbnb cabin for the night. We spent the evening drinking champagne in a sauna and a jacuzzi. Not exactly a traditional way to celebrate Christmas, nor the type of life I’m looking for most of the time. But sometimes it’s nice to enjoy a little luxury, just for a change.

One of France's numerous castles in one of France's numerous sunsets.
Avignon at sunset.

A few days later we passed Avignon and its famous half bridge. I gained a sudden appreciation for old architecture, and decided to make a detour. Isabelle found a place to stay and I continued at night towards Pont du Gard, a famous Roman aqueduct. I arrived at midnight to find the gates closed and a guard’s voice in the radio phone telling me to come back at 9am. I wanted a photo of the landmark at night, so that was unacceptable.

Google Maps offered an alternative way in, via the forest nearby. I pushed my bike through footpaths, trying to be discreet and unnoticed with my headlight. When I found the aqueduct, I discovered it was lit by brightly coloured lights. The colours changed slowly, and I took a time-lapse of the show while looking around.

There was no-one else there, so I had the whole aqueduct to myself. For a 2000-year-old building, it was extremely impressive. The massive size, and the fact that it was still standing two millennia later. All that with the tools and materials that had been available so long ago. The Roman empire accomplished some magnificent things in its time. And yet it fell down, just like the aqueduct eventually will.

Everything is impermanent. This bike trip, our lives, and all the nations and empires around us. So it’s better to spend our limited time focusing on things that matter. Whatever that may be. Or at least to relax and enjoy the ride.

The lights of Pont du Gard at night.
 

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