Ajaccio’s claim to fame is as the birthplace and hometown of Napoleon Bonaparte, from there he joined the French army and went on to become Emperor of France and conquered most of Europe. Today his image and statues are everywhere and his name used on everything including Airport and streets.
There are several museums dedicated to him, including one in the house he was raised in, The Maison Napoleon. None of the three of us were real museum freaks, but we decided we needed to visit a couple, so one day we chose to take in the one in his former home. We knew the address and general area it was located, but finding it in the maze of narrow lanes proved more difficult than we ever believed possible. Even with a map, we found it by walking a circular route, slowly working our way into the center where we finally saw the sign on a narrow alley we had passed twice. That was on the Monday of our final week in Ajaccio, the museum was closed on Mondays. But we had a couple more days in the city after our trip to Bonifacio so the day after we returned from there, we did the museum tour. It was not very impressive but interesting. The house was added to and changed a lot since he lived there, but it had many displays of his childhood, family members and his life in general. We figured we had done our duty and didn’t bother with the other Museums dedicated to him.
One other museum we did visit was the Musee Fesch, dedicated to the art collection of an 18th century Cardinal and famous as the largest collection of Italian paintings outside the Louvre in Paris. It was located next to the pedestrian only shopping street so very easily found. The first couple rooms were interesting, especially the 18th and 19th century paintings of the city of Ajaccio. But after that all the rooms were filled with Italian religious paintings; after about the first dozen they all looked the same. So our stay there wasn’t long but again we had done our duty to the arts.
One shop we particularly liked was U Stazzu, written up in the Lonely Planet Guide, it specialized in Corsican sausages and cheeses. It had a wonderful selection, some of the offerings were different from anything we saw anywhere else and we did get some to take home with us. The most memorable things about the shop though were the decorations and displays. I collect masks and carvings from my travels, and on the wall of the shop was a wood carving of the symbol of Corsica, the profile of a black slave wearing a white scarf tied across his forehead. The actual symbolism is a bit odd; a black slave from Spain, the scarf originally was as a blindfold then changed to a head band. Why that image would be taken as the Corsican symbol of freedom and independence seems weird to me, but it does and goes back hundreds of years, some say to ancient Greece and Carthage. Today it is the symbol for both Corsica and Sardinia. Unfortunately for me, they would not sell the plaque and were unable to give me any idea where I could find one other than at the local flea market which sets up every Sunday near the beach. There were several other display items in that shop and others that we all really liked but it was always the same story, they were not for sale.
It was Saturday when we found out about the flea market so were able to go there the next morning. Unfortunately, that was also the day we had the heavy rains. While walking down from the apartment we got caught in the downpour and forced to take shelter in a small café called The Pigalle Café, named after the famous red light district in Paris. As we squeezed into a table under the awning, the waiters were busy lowering the plastic curtains to block out the blowing rain as it poured down. We sat there for quite awhile watching people run for shelter and cars speed through the storm while we sat in relative comfort with a warm cup of coffee.
When the downpour stopped we continued to the flea market, the vendors were hit hard by the rain, some were trying to dry out their displays and others loading up their cars, not willing to chance more rain. A few were uncovering their wares and as we browsed, came across a few things of interest. Becky found a wonderful antique jug made from a small gourd decorated with scrimshaw and I found a small carved wooden bowl with lid (about 5 inches in diameter), the bowl was severely cracked, but the lid was nearly pristine with the carved head of a peasant woman in profile. Inside was a small sticker from the shop that originally sold it in Ajaccio. It wasn’t the iconic image of the Moorish slave, but will make a welcome addition to my collection.
On the whole, Ajaccio was a wonderful place for the three of us to visit. Corsica is far from being off the grid with several flights a day to Paris and other cities, daily car ferries and all the amenities of a major tourist destination. But Ajaccio is definitely off the destination radar for Americans and that proved wonderful. The people were as friendly and courteous as anywhere in the world, and seemed truly surprised and pleased to have Americans visit their city.
June 20th, 2014: When it was time to leave, our land lady picked us up at the apartment and drove us to the airport. We left some money on the counter for the cleaning lady and were enthusiastic with our thanks to Madam Traffort for the comfort of the apartment; it had everything we needed or wanted, more than any nearby hotel could offer and for less than one third the cost.
The arrangements we made at the Air France office worked fine, we were given complimentary hotel rooms by the airline at a hotel near the airport which made our night in Paris much better than if it was spent curled up in a corner at the airport. The only bad part of the return trip was negotiating the distances at Charles de Gaulle airport including long walks from the Orly Airport bus to the hotel shuttle bus and from the hotel bus to the check-in counter then waiting area; Charles de Gaulle airport in immense. A direct flight on Delta Airlines from Paris to Seattle was much better than the original flight thru New York and from SeaTac the shuttle van delivered us back to our mother’s home, adventure over. Happy to be home, and just as happy we had made the journey, making plans for our next adventure together…who knows, it might just be back to Ajaccio.
Enjoy the Journey