Life on the Edge in Bonifacio, France
NOTE: This is an excerpt from my travelogue, along with accompanying images from my recent photo workshop "The Ancient Lost Cities of the Mediterranean". During this journey, we visited eight countries, met fascinating people, and photographed amazing sites. Here are some of those stories.
Bonifacio, France was where things started to get really good. The port itself is dramatic with steep cliffs that only smaller ships can navigate into. According to John, our Cruise Director, the weather conditions have to be just right to even attempt a safe entry. If the winds are too strong or the seas too rough, you could wreck the ship along the craggy limestone cliffs. I woke up around sunrise to watch the approach and used my 17mm lens to create a beautiful wide shot including the front of our boat with a colorful morning sky.
I went back to my cabin to switch lenses to the 70-200mm telephoto. We were nearing the coast and I excitedly made scores of photos using the tripod to keep everything sharp. This longer, heavier telephoto lens was a hassle to bring along with me, but I'm very glad I did as it's the ideal piece of equipment for shooting land from the ship. I saw a great red lighthouse atop a jagged rocky perch, and also focused on the texture of these amazing limestone walls. With a couple of winning shots from the morning and a hearty breakfast, I showered and dressed before boarding a little train for our guided tour. Temperatures have been in the low 80's and I've been careful to wear sunscreen each day.
What began as a clifftop citadel overlooking the harbor has become a bustling tourist location while still retaining much of its original character. Bonifacio is the oldest town in Corsica, medieval in many ways, founded in 828. Some people refer to it as the "mountain in the sea" with many peaks nearing 6,000 feet. It is the highest of all the Mediterranean islands. After the insightful tour we had free time to explore on our own. While shopping for souvenirs I found myself caught between languages as the previous day was in Spain, and now shopkeepers would say "Merci" in their pleasant French accent. We stopped along the way and tried a Chestnut beer before continuing to the coast. I hung out over the retaining wall and gazed down below at what was impossibly blue and turquoise water.
It was crystal clear with visibility straight to the coral at the bottom. I made several photographs there and captured one that I really liked with a boat passing through. This was the most tropical body of water I have ever seen, and was different from the deeper sea that we've been sailing. I started to appreciate the magic of France as I heard street musicians in the distance and followed their sound to a little tunnel with excellent acoustics. There, I took some video as they played traditional music of their country. I dropped a Euro or two in their can and took a quick photo before moving on.
After turning down a small street I found my way into some backroads off the main strip. Here there were no shops or tourist areas and I came across a classic scene of colorful laundry hanging on a line outside a window with the textured exterior wall speckled with character. This type of exploration is always appreciated as you can get off the well-traveled path and really get a sense of the way people live.
In Bonifacio, they sell a wide array of products made from cork. I thought this was extremely unique and picked up a few items before heading back to the ship. Leaving port was just as breathtaking as it was arriving at sunrise. Actually, in some ways the view was even more breathtaking.
Since the conditions were so incredibly calm, the Captain sailed very close to the limestone cliffs providing an unbelievable view of the buildings of Bonifacio resting at the edge of these steep bluffs. To further add to the beauty, a long cloud rested just above the town to make for a more interesting sky. I made many photographs here, even setting my lunch down to shoot the beauty of this scene.
While I don't normally make many pictures at high noon due to the poor light, I was particularly happy with my decision to lug the camera to lunch despite the inconvenience. Anything can happen here, and I want to be ready to capture it. I've also been using a polarizing filter to help darken the blue sky and bring the whites of the clouds out. Later in the day I completed my second lecture and finished the evening with some nice red wine, and a fish dinner. The next morning we would be arriving in Sicily, and I could feel the excitement building.