Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Calvi to Saint-Florent

We left Calvi, pictured above, yesterday (Tuesday) morning with another beautiful blue sky overhead and, as is not atypical, we all got a bit confounded trying to get out of town and onto the right road ... but we made it - eventually.  We have commented amongst ourselves that this is part of the fun of these tours, i.e., getting a bit lost and finding your way.  The tour organizers do not babysit us.  We are basically on our own, though they seem to have a pretty good idea of where everyone is throughout the day while out on the road.

We had had a nice dinner at our hotel (pictured above) the evening before.  Mark and I sat across from another couple from Salt Lake, Lee and Kathy, whom we had not known before coming on this trip.  The subject of Utah culture inevitably came up, and I discovered in the course of the conversation that Kathy's father was from St. Louis and that her uncle was a Catholic priest in the same diocese (Belleville) in which I grew up in southern Illinois.  She was very familiar with some of the towns where my mother's father's family had lived in and around Belleville.  Talk about a small world!

But getting back to yesterday's ride ... The area through which we rode during the morning is called the Balagne, and as our tour directors wrote, it "has many small villages that look like transplants from Italy."

The 78-mile route yesterday
The first part of the morning ride through a beautiful valley, then up, up, up hugging the hillsides
The first part of the morning saw us riding through olive groves, vineyards, etc., with several villages visible at various points up the side of the hills we were climbing.

One such village was Mountemaggiore.  When we first entered this valley, more or less just past the village of Calenzana, we could see Mountemaggiore way, way up above us across the valley, but we weren't sure if we'd be climbing that high. Yes. We did. (It's at the bottom of the "V" past Montegrosso.)  It had an old, what looked to be baroque-period church and a super view.

Mark took the following picture of the top of the village war memorial and the facade of the church.  Every tiny village and town we pass through has a monument to local boys killed in World War I.  I was reading just this morning in my Lonely Planet Guidebook that Corsica lost 30,000 men in the French army during that war.

View from Montemaggiore, looking down toward Calvi in the distance
I could not resist including this beautiful picture of the village that I found on the Internet:

From Montemaggiore, we climbed on up over the Col de Salvi, then down into another valley.  As we approached Cateri (see above map), I looked down on the village and decided to stop and take the following picture:

I then turned around to take this picture of Mark and Tim, one of the members of the tour.  He and his partner Peter were riding with us that morning.

As I did so, I looked past them and saw a direction sign that indicated that Sant'Antonino was just 2.5 kilometers from where we were standing.  It was not on our route, but I had just read about this village that morning in my Lonely Planet guidebook, about how quaint it is and about how it is literally overrun with tourists in the summer.

"Hey guys!" I exclaimed.  "How would you like to take a little detour to Sant'Antonino?"  I explained about reading about it in my guidebook, and we could see it from where we stood, perched at the very tippy top of a hill about 1.5 miles away.

They agreed, and off we went.  I commented to Mark on the way up how exciting it was for me to deviate from the tour and to just go with the flow of an unexpected coincidence.  If I hadn't stopped to take that picture of Cateri, I never would have seen the sign.  It was spontaneous, and it made me feel exhilaratingly alive.

We rode our bikes up, up, up the hill (which the guidebook said could be mounted by renting a donkey for 10 Euro) until we came to a point where we had to make a decision.  We were at the entrance to the village, and before us was cobblestone.  We could not ride our bikes up there.  Throwing caution to the wind, we laid our bikes down, took off our cycling shoes and mounted further in our chausettes (stocking feet).

Tim, Peter and Mark in Sant'Antonino
Looking east from the heights of Sant'Antonino
After descending from Sant'Antonino, we made a beeline for Belgodere, our lunch spot destination.  The last 10 K or so, we were all - the four of us - in a line, Mark and Peter taking turns "pulling," allowing us others to "draft" behind them.  We were, as they say, "hauling ass," and this was the fastest I have ever traveled on a bike when not barreling downhill.

We stopped in Belgodere for lunch, and Mark and I had the "shepherd's salad," (pictured below), which was pasta with ham, olives, sweet onions, peppers, Corsican cheese, and, of course, olive oil that we drizzled over the top of the salad.

Salade du Berger
Our lunch spot in Belgodere:  Cafe de France
From Belgodere, we ascended to the Col de Colombano, which offered - again - stunning views.  I remember particularly seeing a domed white mausoleum atop a ridge that could be seen from miles around.  (It finally dawned on me after days of seeing mausoleums alongside the road that the people here in Corsica use these because the soil is too rocky to be able to dig graves.)

We then entered an area that could best be described as "no man's land."

The landscape changed to that of a desert, and the roads we followed were little more than (bumpy) bike trails.

Then, we crossed the major highway (N197) and entered the "Desert des Agriates."  It was less desert-y than what we had just passed through, but it carried us up, up, up ... interminably, or so it seemed.  We kept thinking, "We have to go DOWN to the sea, but we were climbing, climbing, climbing for miles.

Approaching Saint-Florent
Then, finally, thankfully, we began our descent into Saint-Florent.  The longest ride of my life was coming to an end.

Our elevation graph.  The big peak in the middle was the Col de San Colombano.
The big ascent at the end was in the Agriates.
After 78 miles, we finally arrived at our hotel and saw this view of Saint-Laurent from our balcony:

It is now six o'clock in the evening on Wednesday, and I just heard the church bells in the village.  How I love the sound of church bells ... I can also hear the waves of the Mediterranean gently washing up on the sand. Mark has gone down to the beach because he can't stand being up on our balcony any more. We took a short ride this afternoon up to the Romanesque church of San Michele de Murano (which is approximately 800 years old), came back for 5 o'clocks, and are now awaiting dinner.  This morning/early afternoon was a bit rainy, so we did laundry.  We are now ready for Week 2 of our tour.  Tomorrow, we cycle the Cap of Corsica.

San Michele de Murato

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