The Corsican MoorDwight Peck's personal website

Corsica in the Extremely Off Season, 2009

Corsica, the grudgingly-French island off the coast of Italy. We're catching the seriously off-season rates, Christmas and New Years 2009.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Getting there is half the fun. Or not. 20 December -- We drove to Lyon to catch the next day's EasyJet to Bastia, stayed in a charmless cut-out hotel near the airport, stowed the car in the long-term parking the next day, and learnt that EasyJet had decided not to fly their airplane after all. They offered us a rebooking for 28 December -- many thanks for that -- or money back. The long-term parking took us for a minimum three days' fee for an hour's parking.

So here's Avignon

After some frantic Webwork at the airport (kudos Kristin), we're on our way to Marseille to catch the ferry the following day, and here's Avignon along the way to keep our minds off our troubles.

The Papal Palace. The newly elected French-born Pope Clement V got cold feet about dealing with the rambunctious Roman gangs and moved the papal curia to Avignon in 1309 -- much to Dante's disgust (Clement's stuffed into the 8th Circle of the Inferno, "Malbolge") -- and the serious palace building got underway in the 1330s.

It's really big. Not all of the Avignon popes did precisely what the French king instructed them to do, but most pretty much did, and Clement did precisely, like lock up all the Knights Templar and turn over their wealth to the French king Philip IV. He also proclaimed a Crusade against Venice -- how smart was that?

The Avignon Papacy (or as Petrarch would have it, the 'Babylonian Captivity') lasted until Gregory XI went home in 1377, by which time we'd had two significant bursts of palace building: The Old Palace and then, of course, the New Palace.

The Anti-Popes stayed on here for a while, frequently besieged for a year at a time, until the Schism ended and the papal authorities took the place over again in 1433.

The French Revolution did the old place no favors, naturally, and in 1791 a grand collection of "counter-revolutionary" men, women, and children were massacred here by the earnest sons of liberty, equality, and fraternity and apparently tossed in the latrines.

Subsequently, the palace was used as a military barracks, a prison, and stables, but became a museum in 1906 and a UNESCO World Heritage cultural property in 1995, after a lot of cleaning up.

We're watching our watches, with a ferry to catch in a few hours.

Popes like to have plenty of elbow room when digging into the mutton and jellies, so the dining hall is suitably capacious. The strongest impression we get from the Papal Palace, apart from the impressive architecture, is of phenomenal waste, stupidity, excess, cynicism, arrogance, and a gold-embroidered ritual divorced from any common sense. Well Worth a Visit.

The Smirking Pope of the Hallowed Confusion. He probably wouldn't have been much good at anything else, so it's as well that they let him pope for a while.

More popes or cardinals or whatever. For guys who were always banging on about the Glorious Afterlife, they seem to have been pretty attached to this one.

Kristin counting her fingers. Two have gone missing.

Way over the top, a monument to Sanctimonious Self-Indulgence, but really something to see. Don't miss the Treasury Rooms, with whole slabs of removable stone flooring for hiding all the loot in.

Architectural soap opera in downtown Avignon

Christmas market in the rain

Kristin and bargains!

The Saint Bénézet bridge, or Pont d'Avignon, or half of it anyway. Less than half, in fact: only 4 of the original 22 arches over the river Rhône have made it this far.

The bridge was built between 1171 and 1185, ostensibly after a local shepherd lad was instructed by the angels to get it started and had to carry huge blocks of stone miraculously to the river to convince the skeptics that it was all worth doing. He's still there, by the way, Saint Bénézet is, in the tiny chapel seen here.

Whilst I'm contemplating piously before St Bénézet's tomb, Kristin's out the back taking an important call.

Avignon and Kristin from what's left of St Bénézet's bridge. This was, for yonks, the only fixed river crossing over the mighty Rhône between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. Crowds had to hold hands and horsemen had to dismount, because the railings are modern. There's a famous 16th century "Sur le pont d'Avignon" song about dancing on the bridge, but it's a corruption of "dancing under the bridge" on the little islands below. Dancing on it would have been more dangerous than London clubbing.

They had a sense of style -- that's one thing you can say about the Catholic Popes. Maybe not the recent ones, but in general . . .

Glancing at the watch -- whoops! We need to head south in a scurry.

The Meridionale's ferry Kalliste is loading cargo trucks at the Gare Maritime Sud on the Marseille waterfront. The storm has come in full force, as our Volkswagen's being rocked back and forth on the automobile queue on the pier, but no one seems terribly concerned about it.

Perhaps because it's so BIG. We tossed and turned a bit during the night, no worries, but learnt the next day that there'd been enormous seas and most of the smaller ferries had canceled.

We're a few hours late leaving Marseille, but that's all to the good -- they'll be waking us up in Bastia at 7:30 instead of 5:45 a.m.

Relaxing elegantly with a Colomba or Pietra Corsican beer in the lounge, preparing to walk in to one of the worst dinners of our lives. We'll be in Bastia in the a.m.

And then over the mountains and well on the way along the coastal road to Calvi!

Base map:

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 7 January 2010, revised 16 June 2012

Corsica, 2007

Corsica, 2009