i got my handbag.

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If you check out the menu bar on the right, you’ll see a new feature: places & travel. I realized that this is basically becoming a travel blog, despite previous incarnations as a skiing blog and a cooking blog – and I became curious about how many places I have blogged from. It turns out, a lot! It was a good reminder of how incredibly lucky I have been in these last few years to be able to see so much of the world – and at the same time how much there is left to see!

For now, though, a few last thoughts on Corsica. As I said, I know I’ll be back! I’d really like to explore the mountains more, because there are a lot of them and they are big and awesome. I only got out hiking on my last morning, and headed up the closest peak to town. It doesn’t even have a name on the map, that I saw, yet it’s a hugely prominent feature rising a bit over 2,200 feet from the sea. No matter where you are in Calvi, you’ll see it. I sent one friend a photo the first night I arrived, and his question was, “are you going to hike up that big rock tomorrow?”

Not tomorrow, but before I left. I faced a conundrum the last morning, though. I had to pack up and check out of my hotel room, which meant that my backpack was full for the flight home. No problem, I thought – it’s just an 8 k round trip, 2,000 feet, how hard can it be? After all, I’ve done a lot of stuff way more extreme than this. It’s not a 20+ mile ridge run mostly above treeline, and it’s not like that time Andrew and I almost got stuck on Wheeler Peak in a lightning storm and then he got altitude sickness.

Feeling cocky, I tossed my camera and wallet into a cloth bag, slung it over my shoulder, and set out.

My foreshadowing here was not particularly subtle, and as you may have guessed, the hike was a little harder than it looked. I started out way down the flank of the ridge so that I could visit Notre Dame de la Serre, a chapel overlooking the harbor. It was beautiful! As you can see below.

The closer I got to the peak, though, the more rocky, ledgy, cliffy, and scrambly it became. Really, it wasn’t a problem… but I probably would have been better off with a pack that was securely attached to me, so I could maintain a center of balance, and also protect my camera better! Yikes! I also didn’t have any extra layers with me and as the weather turned from bright sun to sprinkling rain and back again twenty different times I would get cold, hot, cold, hot, and freak out that my camera was going to get wet. In places the rocks were slippery, and hands and sneakers skidded along, looking for traction.

Lesson learned: even old farts have to plan ahead. Stop being stupid.

It all worked out though, I didn’t get stuck in a storm and I got to enjoy the hike as well as some time at the top taking in the incredible views in all directions: out over the semi-circular bay of Calvi, looking down the peninsula I had run around on Friday, and into the mountains. There were so many of them, just sitting there teasing me.

The plus side of the handbag scheme was that I marched straight down off the mountain, into town, and bought a huge ice cream sundae overlooking the port. Great recovery. It was so much ice cream that I literally felt sick afterwards. Now that’s what vacation means.

Here are the photos from my beautiful wander! Click to enlarge into a slideshow.

une evasion de la vie quotidienne.

intro

As soon as I stepped off the plane in Calvi, Corsica, on Thursday night, I let out out a sigh of relief and wonder. Six hours earlier I had been in the lab, sweating and stressing over locusts. The project wasn’t going well; coordinating with my supervisor wasn’t going well; communication between us and the other research team sharing the lab space was downright horrible. This setting is not good for your health.

But as I stepped onto the tarmac, I absorbed the sun. I felt the mountains. I smelled the sea. Life was about to get better.

By the time I took a taxi into town, checked into my hotel, dumped my stuff, and headed out the door, dusk was coming and there was about to be a sprinkling of rain. Clouds were rolling in, but it didn’t matter. I had no idea what the city held, so I hiked up to the most obvious interesting part: the citadel. The wind blew my hair as I looked back over town, across the bay, and into the mountains. I was free from locusts, on my own, in this beautiful new place. Why weren’t more people up here!? (Probably, the rain.)

Then I walked down through the port and out onto the rocks. There’s no better way to calm yourself down than to sit by the water, looking at the horizon and listening to the waves. This was just what the doctor ordered.

first night 1

first night 2

And so began three days that I would call one of the best vacations I have ever taken. I don’t spend much time vacationing in warm places – usually I’m chasing snow – but Corsica was a reminder that focusing solely on winter is a mistake. Between this and the trip that I took to the canyons of southern Utah last spring at about this same time, warm places are asserting themselves as pretty darn great.

I slept so late on Saturday, waking up just in time for the hotel’s breakfast. It was bright and sunny and I needed to get out exploring. A quick look at the map revealed a huge peninsula just south of town: Punta della Revellata (things are always mixed up French and Italian). That’s where I headed, running along the road for ten or fifteen minutes before dropping down onto a dirt track along the coast. Every time I turned a corner I wanted to stop and take in the view, or take a picture. It took some discipline just to get 20 minutes before taking a water/photo break. It felt like forever to get to the next acceptable break.

run 1

run 2

At the end of the peninsula is an oceanographic studies center of some sort, so I started finding dirt roads to follow. I followed them, winding back and forth up the steep slope, until I got to the top of the hill, almost 500 feet over the Mediterranean. The great thing about being a retired athlete is that every day doesn’t hinge on executing a well-conceived workout. I set out to go on a run. But everything around me was too much to take. By the time I reached the top, I had to stop and appreciate what was around me. I climbed up onto the rocks and lay in the sun for a long time, succumbing to the reptilian warmth-seeking genes I inherited from my mother. (Love you, mom!)

punta 1

punta 2

punta 3

punta

Finally, I ran home. I’d probably run just an hour and a half, maybe 1:45, but I was tired – the sun takes it out of you, as does a week of getting only five or six hours of sleep per night. I hadn’t been taking care of myself, and part of the point of this vacation was to fix that.

For long periods of my life, I did not take vacation. After I entered middle school, we barely ever took family trips; in college, I visited some amazing places, but my travels always had a purpose, whether it was work or training or racing. The idea of just taking vacation – to do nothing – was foreign.

Now, as an adult balancing school and a job and living by myself, I have a different outlook. The harder you work, the more you need a break. Think of it like intervals as an endurance athlete: you can do long threshold intervals with short rests in between. Or you can do really hard, short intervals, where you need rest more frequently. At this stage in my life, I’m doing some very high-intensity intervals. I can go on one weekend trip and feel like I’ve come to a revelation about some aspect of my life; apparently it took five to realize that I need to keep taking these trips.

I needed recovery, and I am going to keep needing it. I have to build it into my plans. Burnout is not an option; periodically doing nothing is a very good one.

I arranged the trip less than a week before leaving. With my current project, I have to work most weekends and holidays. In theory I split these obligations with my supervisor, but I’m never quite sure what her schedule is, which leaves me in the lurch and often on the hook. So, suddenly, it was a mad dash: I need to get out of here. I can get out of here! Train tickets, a plane ticket, a hotel reservation. And here I was, running back along the rocky coast of a famous island. (Besides all the Napoleon stuff, Christopher Columbus was apparently born in Calvi.)

And it’s amazing that I have the opportunity, and the means, to something like this. I am a lucky girl. This semester my trips have never been more than long weekends, but they have gotten progressively more expensive: each time, the hotel ten Euros a night more than the last. After a few trips, that adds up. And Calvi was the worst; you can stay somewhere cheap, or stay somewhere decent. I’ll be skimping for two weeks to make up for it, but it was completely worth it, even the ill-advisdely pricey last dinner I ate at a restaurant in the citadel, overlooking the harbor.

The island has incredibly natural beauty. I wish I could have spent a week, or a month, exploring it all. With little public transportation, I was limited to forays on foot from town, but even just in three days, just around Calvi, I was amazed by what I could do. I would spend the mornings running or hiking (I’ll post a separate photo gallery from my last hike), and then make sure to spend each afternoon on the beach.

beach

stone pier citadel

beach 2By the time I left on Sunday, I was in a different state of mind, a more calm, relaxed, and centered state of mind. It was hard to say goodbye to Corsica, because I really fell in love. I want to come back in two months, when the Tour de France rolls through with three long stages. (I can’t; it coincides with the week my project is due.)

I want to come back every spring for the rest of my life.

That probably isn’t possible, but I know that I will be back. So in that way, and with my newly zen outlook, it wasn’t so hard to say goodbye after all.

goodbye

goodbye 2