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Cunard Queen Victoria 2018
Mediterranean Cruise part 8
Map Introduction to  the Cruise, Venice and the initial day at Sea Korcula, Croatia Valletta, Malta Messina, Sicily, Italy Naples, Italy Civitavecchia (for Rome), Italy Barcelona, Spain Ajaccio, Corsica, France Villefranche, France Livorno (for Florence and Pisa), Italy  

Ajaccio, Corsica - Wednesday 3 October

Having departed Barcelona late on Monday evening, there had developed very high winds on Tuesday morning and the Queen Victoria had turned towards the french coast at 06.00 so she was sailing into the wind. Apparently high winds are common in this region due to the effects of the mistral. At 11.00 on Tuesday there was a steady turn away from the coast and towards Marseille and Toulon, and later in the day the wind reduced, the sun continued to shine, and the weather returned to normal. Which was fortunate because we had been invited to a second Cunard World Club cocktail party on Tuesday evening.

By Wednesday morning the weather was good for our arrival into Ajaccio, passing the Iles Sanguinaires on the northern tip of the gulf. The islands stick out to sea like the Needles and the name is because of them being made of red granite. Corsica is only 100 miles south of France, and since 1769 has been french. Napolean Bonaparte was born on 15 August 1769 in Ajaccio and the city exploits that connection. In the early morning the museums and shops were not open so we walked along the Quai de la Republique towards the Citaddelle, passing the statue of Pascal Paoli. He was a famous 18th century patriot. The Citadelle is an active military base so it is not open to visit and we avoided the police grouped around the gate. It was worth the walk to see the Plage Saint Francois, a long sweep of rocks and sand, before turning inland to visit the Cathedral of the Assumption. Although it is sombre inside, it is important to visit because Napoleon was baptized here. The white marble altar was said to be presented by Napoleon's sister.

Leaving the cathedral it is only a short walk to the Museum of the Maison Bonaparte where Napolean was born and where his family lived until 1793. However it does not open until 10.30 so we continued across the Place Marechal Foch, with its marble statue of Napoleon Bonaparte and the daily morning Farmers' Market. Just along the waterfront is the Fish Market and then the Tourist Information Office.

The other important museum is the Palais Fesch, which contains the extensive collection of Napoleon's step-uncle, Cardinal Fesch. He had a large personal fortune which he used to purchase 16,000 items of paintings and classical sculpture. After his death in 1839 parts of his collection were bequeathed to Ajaccio, including many 15th and early-16th-century Italian masterpieces. Our DK Travel Guide listed the Top10 items which should be seen in the Palais Fesch. We found most of them and especially admired Titian's Portrait of a Man with a Glove, displayed in the same Venetian Room as Veronese's Leda and the Swan and Boticelli's Virgin and Child with an Angel. Another highlight was Tommaso's Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine, painted onto wood and c.1346-76. We asked about Gerard's Napoleon in Coronation Robes but were told it was on loan to a museum in Tokyo. The site also includes the Imperial Chapel where Cardinal Fesch and members of the Bonapart family are buried in the crypt.

Having spent too long in the Palais Fesch it was a rush to get back to the Maison Bonaparte before it closed for lunch at 1230. We were allowed to go in at 11.45 but were hurried through our self-guided tour which usually takes an hour. The restoration of the building was interesting, especially the wall coverings which look like wall paper but are actually painted by hand with watercolours. The brochure included too much information about the members of the Bonaparte family, but that was a useful context later to understand how the house was changed and extended over the years. The tour starts with the permanent exhibitions in the four rooms on the second floor, then descends to the 13 rooms on the first floor. This is the most interesting part because the rooms are furnished with period furniture, including a bed room used by Napoleon and a sofa which was where he first saw the light of day. There is a lot of information, including a model of the ship which bought his remains back from St Helena, and three versions of his death mask. A proper visit would take much longer than the one hour whuch was recommended.

Outside the shops were selling lots of souvenirs, including proper painted lead soldiers which looked like Napoleon. Retracing our steps to the Place Marechal Foch we bought some local au lait cru goat cheese and then found an icecream shop which made local Corsican speciality flavours, before going back to the Queen Victoria for a light lunch.

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Content revised: 10th July, 2020