Sunday, September 11, 2016

Clouds, the friendly skies and more ...

In my last post I explained why our trip to Orange County in California and back had been a challenge; click here if you wish to read it.  What was upsetting to me was that I did not remember the name of the person at Southwest Airlines who helped us find our lost luggage.  That made all the difference for our attendance to our daughter's wedding, the next day.  When we came back to Georgia I wrote a letter to Southwest relating our experience and asking if they could locate their staff member who had found our luggage and give her our warmest thanks.  A week or so later I received an email from Southwest acknowledging my letter with a reference number and a telephone number.  A couple of weeks later I did call the number, curious to see if they had found the luggage person.  I am not sure whether they had found her or not, but the SW employee told me she was sending me two vouchers for $250 each to be redeemed on their airline before August 2017.  Then another couple of days later, I received an email, from another PR Southwest employee, giving us 50% off saver coupons good on any of their flights, and valid until the end of January 2017.  Yesterday, I received another email from an executive in Southwest PR with profuse apologies about our challenging trip and an offer for reimbursement of any extra expense we incurred on the trip.  I had not even sent a letter of complaint, just a letter to express our gratitude to one of their team members ...

After all this I guess we have to get back on a trip in the friendly skies, -:).  I am checking Southwest's route for a possible destination for a short winter trip - somewhere warm.  I would not mind going back up in an aircraft to watch the clouds from above.  Looking at my photographs I noticed that I have a very large number of cloud and sky pictures, both from above and below.  Habits that one started in childhood are often kept throughout adulthood.  When I was a wee child in Paris - I am talking 4, 5 years old, during World War II, my mother and I would look out of the living room window (pictured below) to see if any German planes were flying our way.  Then later, every morning my mother would ask me to look out of that window to check the weather.  The habit was formed to look at the sky.  We would often walk up the 15 minutes to the Sacre-Coeur of Montmartre in Paris.  The view of the sky from the hill was striking.  When my parents bought the house in St Leu la Foret, a Paris suburb, I would hike to the forest top with my dog.  If the sky was clear I could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance.  Here in Georgia we are close to Kennesaw Mountain with a great sky view to Atlanta from the top of the mountain.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

As I was looking often from the window mother would ask me: "Are you seeing some cumulus? Or nimbus? Or nimbostratus?"  Then she would add "You should know, you always have your head in the clouds ..."  My favorites are the cumulus clouds.  They are fluffy, look like cotton candy or even look like a nice head of cauliflower.  I also thought they resembled little sheep in the sky.  Below are the different types of clouds (courtesy US and French Wikipedia.)

I really was surprised at the number of cloud and sky pictures I have accumulated.  My husband looks at clouds every time we go shopping, or anywhere.  As I drive, he will tell me to look up at a nice cluster of clouds.  Often I have to stop, park the car and look up - then I take a picture.  I found many pictures of lovely cloudy skies from the trips we made.  It is difficult to choose from some of the pictures I took on our coastal voyage from above the Arctic Circle to Bergen, Norway, as the Norwegian fjords were breathtaking under any sky, any weather, as shown below.

Even if one is not of a poetic inclination, it is difficult not to become lyrical while looking at these beautiful clouds and skies from Norway.  A quotation from the Prince of Roeulx, of the Royal House of Belgium, comes to mind: "Clouds are fantastical dream machines - wondrous and magical, and in touch with infinity."

For about 26 years I worked in an aircraft manufacturing plant here in Marietta, at the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, Air Force Plant No. 6.  It is a huge facility containing about 4.2 million-square-feet.  There, I was the Customer Liaison in the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft division for about 15 plus years.  Then I worked for about 11 years as an Analyst in the C-130J Super Hercules' Supply Chain Management for one of our customers, the Italian Air Force.  The production floor is huge, with no windows, just two grand openings at each end of the building.  When I drove the trainees or customers to the various labs, such as the Avionics lab, or Power Plant lab, the first thing I did was to look up at the sky, always.  There could be one of our C-130s flying, or a C-5 ...

"There is a certain feeling of courage and hope when you work in the field of the air.  You instinctively look up, not down.  You look ahead, not back.  You look ahead where the horizons are absolutely unlimited."  Robert E. "Bob" Gross, Lockheed's Chairman/CEO 1932-1961.

I also like to look down at clouds while flying.  I never get tired of watching clouds, as long as there is light, rather than watching a film or using a laptop or iPad.  All these ethereal clouds let you imagine that you are in the land of dreams, with no stress or constraints, with infinity ahead.

Pictures must be taken quickly when flying over a group of clouds.  They pass by in an instant or change shape, from transparent to fibrous or silky.  They can be soft looking with opalescent colors or have a somber aspect, with menacing dark shapes.  They can form a halo or be quite dense, thin or semi-transparent.

Clouds have inspired painters.  Below are two such paintings.  On top left is Cloud by John Constable, English (1776-1837) next to Study of Clouds by Simon Denis, Belgian (1755-1813.)

They have also inspired poets and novelists.  Below is an excerpt from Marcel Proust's school writings, 1885-1886.  I'll translate it below. 
« Dans tous les temps, dans tous les pays […] les nuages ont dû séduire l’imagination de l’homme par leurs formes changeantes et souvent fantastiques. Toujours l’homme a dû y deviner les êtres imaginaires ou réels qui occupaient son esprit. Chacun peut y trouver ce qui lui plaît. […] Il peut découvrir alors dans les nuées […] toutes les fantaisies brillantes de son imagination exaltée. […]Ces belles couleurs de pourpre et d'or donneront à son rêve un éclat magnifique et grandiose  […] Puis, se laissant aller presque involontairement à une rêverie qui l’absorbe, l’homme oublie peu à peu les objets qui l’entourent ; ne voyant plus rien, n’entendant plus rien près de soi, il prête à son illusion le caractère de la réalité, donne la vie aux formes qu’il a devinées et assiste à un spectacle grandiose que lui-même il a créé. »  (Les nuages).

Translation:  "At all times, in all countries [...] the clouds had to capture the imagination of man by their changing and often fantastic shapes.  Man had to always guess in them the real or imaginary beings that occupied his mind.  Everyone can find in them whatever he wishes. [...]  He can then discover in the clouds [...] all the brilliant fancies of his exalted imagination. [...] These beautiful colors of purple-red and gold will give his dream a magnificent and grandiose radiance.  Then, almost unwittingly indulging in an absorbing reverie, man gradually forgets the objects that surround him; seeing nothing, hearing nothing close by, he lends to his illusion a character of reality, gives life to forms that he fancied and attends a splendid spectacle that he himself has created."  From "The Clouds" Marcel Proust, French (1871-1922.)

I just also realized that for a heading, when I started this blog, I selected a photograph of clouds over Newfoundland, Canada - I did not think about it until just now as I looked up.  I like to take pictures of cloudy landscapes whenever I see them.  Below are 3 pictures taken in Hawaii, (starting with the palm tree) then on the left column is Long Island, NY, above a bridge over the Mississippi in Memphis, TN.  On the right column, below the sunset in Honolulu is a beach at St Pierre et Miquelon, French island near Canada, then all the rest are pics of New York City.

We flew to New York City numerous times.  I was there for a visit in October 2001 - see post here.  Then we were there again in October, 2011, to visit the 9/11 Memorial, see post here.

 As I am writing this post, it is past midnight now, and it is September 11, 2016.  We remember that day with sorrow but also remember that we all came together in this nation, and many other countries joined us, people of all religions or no religion, to stand together to mourn the victims and to stand against hate.  It has been fifteen years since this horrible tragedy, but we will never forget, we still grieve.


Addendum -  We live close to Kennesaw National Battlefield Park.  This afternoon as we were driving around the north side of the mountain, near the visitors' center, we saw a multitude of flags.  

It was a beautiful sunny day with a light breeze.  We stopped and sat under the shade of an ancient tree and watched the flags waving in the wind.  They are there to remember and honor those who lost their lives on that fateful day.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A challenging round-trip to Orange County, California

Our eldest daughter's wedding was to be celebrated on Friday July 22, 2016, in Mission Viejo, California, where the parents of her fiance's live.  So on Wednesday, 20 July, we got up early for our trip to Southern California as we had to board our cats at the veterinarian.  We had no time for breakfast. We live about one hour + away from the airport and usually park our vehicle in an offsite parking, close to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport.  Unfortunately, after we parked, we had to wait a good 20 minutes, in full sun in the parking lot as the shuttle van had a flat tire.  I thought that this would be our only minor problem, optimist that I am  ...  We did make it to the airport, checked our suitcases, went through Security and arrived at the gate.  I always take a picture of our checked luggage, in case of them being lost or misplaced.

We had booked our flights on Southwest Airlines from Atlanta to John Wayne Airport, in Santa Ana, Orange County, California (SNA,) which is the closest airport to Mission Viejo.  We boarded the aircraft at about 2:00 pm for our 2:40 pm departure.  Then we waited, and waited.  The pilot told us that there had been a computer malfunction but we would soon leave.  We left Atlanta at 6:00 pm, sitting in the aircraft with our seat belts on all those 4 hours.  Our flight was not a direct flight, as we had to change in Phoenix, Arizona.  By the time we left Atlanta, I knew we would miss our connection in Phoenix.  I had a window seat and enjoyed the view to Arizona, though.  Below are some pictures I took from Atlanta to Phoenix.  The flying distance between the two cities is 1586 miles (2,552 km.)  (Click on photos to enlarge.)

The top left photo in the collage above is an air-view of Atlanta and the bottom photo on the right is arriving in Phoenix; Atlanta is much greener (one of the cities in the US with the most trees.)  As shown in the aerial views below of Phoenix and suburbs the developers have built communities of homogeneous houses, very close together.  The Millennial and Boomer generations are thought to wish to live in compact developments with easy access to shopping, but in and around Phoenix it looks like builders are still creating suburban sprawl - buying empty lots, further out, and quickly covering them with houses that look alike.

We arrived in Phoenix at about 6:16 pm Arizona time (3 hours time difference with Atlanta.)

Our connecting flight had been cancelled.  Another flight for Santa Ana (SNA) was to depart around 7:30 pm.  We boarded it at 7:00 pm and waited, and waited.  We were told then that Southwest's technical outage was statewide and most flights had been delayed or cancelled.  At 9:30 pm, still in the aircraft, we were asked to get off the plane as it was not going to fly to SNA and to re-book another flight.  There were hundreds of people waiting in line to re-book flights, it was surreal.  We went out of the area, back to Phoenix departure counters to get a faster reservation on another flight.  The only flight going to SNA was to leave the next evening, Thursday at 6:30 pm.  We could not accept this because if this flight were to be cancelled then we would miss the Friday wedding.  We requested to be placed on any aircraft going closer to California.  The only flight available was one going to Las Vegas, Nevada, around 10:00 pm - we agreed to take it.  We went back through Security and to the gate, and waited.  Since Tuesday night we had only eaten the little crackers and peanuts given to us on the one flight but were afraid to leave the gate.  We watched the almost empty tarmac and the sun going down.

We boarded the aircraft at about 10:30 pm and waited.  Fortunately, we only waited in the aircraft for one and half hour.  We departed Phoenix around midnight and arrived in Las Vegas around 1:00 am or so.  There, we were told that the next flight to SNA would be in the morning, at about 6:30 am.  We sat at the gate and waited, still with no food because nothing close by was open then.  The distance between Las Vegas airport and the SNA, John Wayne airport is 228 miles (367 km) and takes about one hour.  Luckily we did walk to the water fountain at about 6:00 am and noticed that our flight gate had been changed - no one had told us.  Below is a Southwest map showing our flights.

At 7:00 am our flight took off from Las Vegas and we finally arrived at the John Wayne Airport at about 8:00 am.  By then I had been on this trip for almost 30 hours (with no sleep or food) since getting up early on Wednesday (a much longer trip than flying to Paris!)  It turned out that because of a faulty router in their computer system Southwest cancelled 2,300 flights and delayed many more.  That is more than Delta's system outage two weeks ago when 300 flights were cancelled.  At least I saw the sun come up over the Arizona Mountains.  When we reached California it was quite light.

As we watched the luggage carousel turn round and round, we saw no sight of our luggage.  We waited in a long line to find out where our suitcases were - no one knew.  They did tell us that we should get them within a couple of days ... A couple of days!!  The thought of my husband taking his daughter down the aisle with his old jeans and snickers sent tremors through my body - impossible!  Our daughter had planned this wedding for a year, with family wearing complimentary outfits of similar colors; she was to wear a beautiful long ivory gown.  She could not enjoy looking at her wedding pictures throughout her life, with her parents wearing jeans and snickers among the formal party, goodness no.  After we left all our information and picture of the suitcases we went to the car rental reservation where I had booked a Prius with a GPS.  That vehicle had been let go when we did not show up on Wednesday night.  We were given a Toyota Camry without a GPS, but an archaic manual GPS in a small bag.  It turned out that it was defective, which I did not know then... Totally exhausted and weak we boarded the car and drove toward the freeway to Mission Viejo (see map below) - supposed to be a 20 minutes trip at most ... It was close to 9:00 am then, Thursday morning.  Anyone would think we were finished with our troubles then ... Not!

Our daughter had given me some directions to Mission Viejo a month earlier, but I had not paid much attention as I knew we would have a GPS - I had no map, either.  She had advised me not to take one of the toll freeways as one cannot pay for the toll with cash, it has to be done online, and it is not that easy.  Of course our on-again, off-again manual GPS would only direct me to toll roads, then would go blank.  So I would turn right or left to avoid them.  We did that for quite a while.  I did not see many signs.  By 11:30 am (we had left the airport at 9:00 am) completely disoriented, close to tears, I had to admit that we were lost, really lost.  We had kept driving higher and higher in the hills; there were hardly any houses left and we finally had to stop, because the road itself had stopped - there was just a walking path ahead.  I reluctantly decided to call our daughter - I knew she must be so busy because of the rehearsal dinner later on that day.  She told me to stop at a fast food restaurant or a gas station and ask for directions.  A fast food restaurant?  A gas station?  There was nothing around us but rocks and grass - maybe just a small sign on the left.  She asked me to see what the sign said.  I got out of the car and walked to it.  I did a double take and took its picture.  The sign looked like it had been eaten, and it said : "Warning Mountain Lion Country  A Risk ..."

I told her not to worry; we would turn back and stop when we'd reach some houses with people.  There were many new developments in the hills but they were not finished, with no one around.  Finally we saw a sign for "Model Homes."  I thought there could be a staff selling them.  We turned around several empty streets and finally saw a building with some cars parked.  We stopped and I could hear voices in the background.  I came close to the gate and said "anyone here?" a man came forward.  Later on I found out he was from Vietnam and his friends from Laos and Thailand (I had visited these last two countries years ago.)  We were at a community center.  First I asked him to tell our location to my daughter, on the telephone.  He did.  He told us it would take a good 45 minutes for someone to get us and invited us inside to wait.  It was a lovely place with large swimming pools and a profusion of flowers.  He gave us some cool water bottles - which we gladly accepted as the temperature was close to 100 F (almost 38 C.)  It was lovely to be resting for a while in a beautiful place after that trip.  I'll show on the Orange County map below where I think we drove - but I am not sure ...

Our son-in-law, our youngest daughter's husband, came to get us and we followed him back to the hotel in Mission Viejo.  We were able to go to bed for a couple of hours before the rehearsal dinner, which was to be at 5:00 pm (when we finally ate something, but were still in our traveling clothes).  This was the first time we had gone to sleep since Tuesday night and it was 4:00 pm Georgia time (1:00 pm CA time) on Thursday afternoon by then.  Our nephew drove us back to SNA airport after the rehearsal dinner as we never could reach the luggage counter by phone.  Once there and after waiting we found out that the luggage had just been delivered to the hotel.  At least we had our clothes and were very thankful.  The wedding on Friday was very nice and I'll have a post on it when I get more picture.

The week after the wedding we stayed in the area, by the sea, for several days.  I'll have posts about this stay later on (another challenging stay...).  Then we flew back to Atlanta.  I was hoping this trip back would be much better (being optimistic again...).  The flight from John Wayne Airport to Phoenix was on time.  But, unfortunately, the connecting flight to Atlanta was delayed.  I looked out of the window from the plane until there was no more light.

We arrived at the Atlanta Airport at 1:15 am.  The little train carrying passengers to the luggage area stops at 1:00 am.  We were told that we were welcome to walk the 1 1/2 mile in the tunnel to Baggage Claim.  There were many children, infants and persons like me who have problems walking (me, because of my knees) and many carry-on luggage.  Finally, since we were still over a hundred passengers, a special train was sent for us at about 2:00 am.  We piled in the two cars like a box of tight sardines.  Our luggage was there on the carousel at the Baggage Claim.  Then we caught a shuttle back to our offsite parking.  We finally were at home at 4:00 am - it could have been worse!  This is why I call this round-trip a challenging one - it is a trip to remember, or maybe to forget ...


Addendum -  Monday August 29, 2016 - As I pointed above, I tried not to enter any Orange County Toll Road while driving from the Santa Ana Airport to where ever in the mountains on my way to Mission Viejo, but I must have.  It was a challenge avoiding these toll roads and I, somehow, must have entered one for a moment, and did not realize it.  Just now the mailman delivered a letter from Irvine, California, from the Violation Enforcement of "The Toll Roads."  They are advising me that on July 21, 2016, at 9:47 am I entered a Toll Road without paying the toll.  The notice says "The Toll Roads are collected electronically from a pre-established FastTrak© or ExpressAccount© online via our One-TimeToll© payment."  This was something I was not aware of, apart from my daughter telling me it was a hassle.  So, California tourists to Orange County beware of this.  Oh, the penalty - it is $101.96 (or 88.29 Euros, or 129.56 Canadian Dollars, or 130.68 Australian Dollars or 75.26 British Pounds.)  

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Tour de France 2016 - part 2

The Tour de France 2016 is over.  I watched the end of it on TV in sunny Southern California.  I did not have enough time before the trip west to read anymore on the UK Brexit (exit from the European Union) so I removed my reference to it from part one of my post on the Tour de France.  I'll write a post on it later.  We went to California for our eldest daughter Celine's wedding.  We departed Atlanta on Wednesday July 20th on Southwest Airlines as the wedding was on Friday 22, 2016.  But the 20th was the day Southwest experienced a massive nationwide technical outage that cancelled over 2,300 flights over two days.  Our trip to California was a ... challenge, and I'll have a post on this very tiring trip soon.

The television screen in our hotel in Mission Viejo was very clear, better than ours at home.  I did take some pictures from it of the Tour cyclists and the lovely landscapes around them.  This year the Tour went through Switzerland and it was a joy to look at its gorgeous scenery.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

As usual there were many Tour decorations along the route and fans decked out in patriotic and funny themes.

My favorite rider, Slovak Peter Sagan, is mostly a sprinter.  Peter won the Word Championship for Racing in 2015.  He has also won numerous international races as a sprinter, such as in the Tour of California, Tour of Poland, Tour of Flanders, Giro di Sardegna, Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain,) Tour de Suisse (Switzerland,) Tour of Oman, Tour of Alberta and more.  He has obtained the most points in the sprint classification of the Tour de France in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 becoming the first rider to win the classification in his first five attempts.  For the last stage of the Tour he rode a specialized S-Works Venge ViAS bike, emerald green, with green handlebar tape and world champion stripes with Royal deep-section wheels - a bike made especially for him.  He wore the green jersey five times for the final overall rating in Paris.  He is quite a character and can do acrobatics on his bike.  He was born in 1990 and married his girl friend, Katarina Smolkova, in November 2015, in a bike-themed wedding.  He was wearing a medieval Slovak coat, and looked grand; see pictures below.

Below is a small clip cut from an advertisement movie Peter has done for a nutrition company.  It may be slow to start, but it is very short.

The Tour de France 2016 ended on Sunday July 24 with Stage 21 going from Chantilly to Paris, 113 km (70.2 miles.)  Because of our traveling and the wedding on Friday July 22 I did not see much of the final stages, but was able to see some of them on television in the evenings.  The castle of Chantilly is one of my favorites and one that I used to go to and visit often while growing up in Paris.  The castle is one of the finest in France and has the largest collection of antique paintings after the Louvre in Paris.  The castle library contains 60,000 volumes, some dating from the 11th century.  The grounds of the castle give examples of garden styles during a period of 300 years.  (Photos courtesy Sophie Lloyd.)  The Tour de France went by the castle on their way to Paris.

Then as always I enjoyed the views around Paris and in the city itself taken from the helicopter flying over the riders.  They even showed the lake of Enghien-les-Bains, in a suburb near Paris.  My high-school was there, on the banks of this lake.

When the riders came out of the tunnel in front of the statue of Joan of Arc in Paris and rode toward the Champs-Elysees the French Air Force aircraft flew over the avenue at the same time.

Kenyan/British Chris Froome kept his yellow jersey to the end of the Tour and won the 2016 Tour de France.  He rode with his team and drank some beer instead of the traditional glass of Champagne.

For the last stage of the Tour to its triumphal finish Froome rode a yellow Pinarello Dogma bike with a rhino motif on the head and top tube and a yellow flash on the saddle to match his yellow jersey.  This was Froome third Tour de France overall victory.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Australia and New Zealand invited to Paris for Bastille Day and an addendum

Troops from Australia and New Zealand were guests of honor in Paris national celebration day called "le 14 juillet" in France (but Bastille's Day outside the country.)  The two Oceania countries were invited to commemorate the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles of World War I.  This battle centenary was celebrated on July 1, 2016, in Thiepval, Somme, France.  I wrote about this in my last post.  The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) had sent 295,000 men to France and Belgium to serve in WWI between March 1916 and November 1918.  Of these, 132,000 became casualties and 46,000 lost their lives.

New Zealand Forces had a total of 364 Pacific Islanders and 2688 Maori in addition to regular troops serving on the Western Front in the 1916-1918 war.  A total of 18,500 New Zealanders died in or because of the war and nearly 50,000 more were wounded.

 The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps suffered more than 30,000 casualties in the Battle of the Somme alone, and their sacrifice has not been forgotten by France.  As guests of honor Australia and New Zealand marched in the parade.  Eight Maori warriors were at the head of the parade, followed by 72 New Zealand soldiers and 133 Australian soldiers.  It is the first time that the flags they were carrying had been paraded together outside of New Zealand.  A party of Maori warriors opened the parade this morning.  A Maori warrior, Private Adrian Te Aonui, ran along the Champs-Elysees in a dress rehearsal and was photographed by the international media.

I got up at 4:30 am this morning, July 14, 2016, to watch the parade live on my computer (10:30 am Paris time.)  I took several photos from my screen, but some are not very clear.

The parade was led by Maori warriors followed by an 85-strong New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) contingent, many wearing replica World War One uniforms.  There were also regimental colors and banners representing NZDF units that served in WWI.  Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Whakahoehoe was leading the contingent and wore the Ngā Tapuwae kahu huruhuru Māori feather cloak in recognition of his exemplary conduct and contribution to the NZDF.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

A TV reporter interviewed one of the Maori warriors and asked about his weapon.  He explained that it was a "taiaha" a traditional weapon made of wood and used for short, sharp strikes with quick footwork from the wielder.  The warrior had also placed a new engraving showing the trip to Paris drawn as a friendly link between New Zealand and France.

The Maori warrior party in the parade was comprised of personnel from all three services of the NZDF.  The Maori warriors were known as a fierce, unforgiving slayer of the South Seas.  The Parisians were quite impressed (and so was I.)

Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand and his family attended this Bastille Day celebration in Paris with French President Francois Hollande.  New Zealand Chief of Defense Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating said it was an honor to march in one of the world's oldest and largest military parades.  "This is an historic occasion for the New Zealand Defence Force and a fitting opportunity to reaffirm our enduring relationship with France, especially during the First World War centenary" he said.  He added that there were more New Zealand service personnel with known and unkown graves buried in France than anywhere else in the world.  The nine New Zealand Army regimental colors, including the Queen Alexandra's Mounted Rifles guidon, carried World War I battle honors and represented regions across New Zealand.  The Governor-General of Australia, Sir Peter John Cosgrove, was also present.  The Australian Defense Force marched in a "position of honor."  Contingents included the Royal Australian Navy, Army and Royal Australian Air Force and a tri-service flag party, or in total 140 members.  It is the first time that both Australian and New Zealand forces have paraded in Paris since 1880.  France and Australia have deepened their ties since Australia signed a contract last April to have France design and build a 34 billion euro ($39 billion) next generation submarine for them.

The parade had a total of 3,239 men and women walking, 241 on horses, 212 vehicles, 55 aircraft, 30 helicopters and 35 specialized working dogs.  The only novelty this year was that the French Customs (Douane) personnel were  marching down the Champs-Elysees for the first time in almost 100 years. They had come down once before, in 1919, for the Victory parade celebrating the bravery of their agents during WWI.  The Customs services were re-activated after the 13 November 2015 terror attack in Paris at the Bataclan.  To enable them to march in unison the 49 Customs agents were trained for 6 hours during three weeks.

I was pleased to have gotten up during the night to watch this parade live.  The fireworks would come later on but I wanted to watch the Tour de France next.  I went down to the kitchen for a quick cup of coffee and turned on the television at 7:30 am to watch the 12th stage of the Tour.  I did not want to miss this stage because I knew they were supposed to finish at the top of Mont Ventoux.  I remember the Mont Ventoux well from when I was a wee child.  I lived close to its base, in the small town of Vaison-la-Romaine, with my grandparents until I was about 4 years old.  It is called the Giant of Provence, rising 350 to 1,912 meters high (6273 feet) with a lunar landscape at its top.  Since 1990 it has been listed as a Biosphere reserve by UNESCO.  It has a unique biodiversity of more than 1,000 species of plants, flowers, trees, 120 varieties of birds including golden eagles and duck hawks.  In my 2009 post about the Tour de France I wrote about the Mont Ventoux - click here to see it.  In that post I showed a photo of my granddad and me in Vaison.  I returned  as a teenager and stayed in my grandparents' friends' farm in Vaison, near lavender fields, for monthly vacations.

Since then I always wished to return to Vaison-la-Romaine.  I went back to Provence several times but never made it back to Vaison.  We did go to Nice in October 2012 and rented an apartment not far from the Promenade des Anglais for a week, but we did not have a car.  I included a picture of the bay of Nice I took in late October 2012 in the collage above.  That picture was in a post on Nice I wrote on another Tour de France in 2013 - click here to read it.   I still have many pictures of Nice and need to write another post in the future.  But let's get back to the Tour.  Because of fierce winds, with gusts measuring 104 kph, it was decided that this stage would finish at Chalet Reynard, a ski resort restaurant, about 9.5 km (approx 6 miles) from the top.  So far the cyclists had had a good run, although the wind, called "le Mistral" was blowing hard.

Thousands of spectators had been already camping along the route to Mont Ventoux and had to retreat to the small restaurant.  The crowd was immense along the narrow road as they had to assemble at the finish instead of being along the 6 mile road.  The Chalet Reynard is an old ski refuge dating to 1927 which was updated as a restaurant.  It stands at 1,417 meters (4650 ft,) alone, on the road to the top of the mountain.  This is why this stage ended in chaos.

As I watched TV in disbelief, the yellow jersey (winner of the Tour so far) British Chris Froome, was walking then running up the road without his bicycle!  A first in all the years I have been watching the Tour.  What had happened is this - less than 1 km from the finish the camera motorcycle had to stop in front of a wall of 100-200 people standing on the road.  Australian cyclist Richie Porte collided violently against the stopped motorcycle and Chris Froome piled on top of him.  Then another motorcyclist ran over Chris' bicycle and broke it.  Without a bike Christ started to jog up the mountain for a couple of minutes so as not to lose time.  Spectators watching this and other cyclists passing him were in shock.  It certainly was a mess, it was crazy.  Then he was handed a "neutral" bike that he tried to ride a bit, but could not.  Finally he was given another bike and finished, but late.

The Tour de France race jury ruled that Chris Froome had lost his bike through no fault of his own and let him retain the yellow jersey.  Chris said "Ventoux is full of surprises ... I am happy with the jury's decision."  It certainly was a wacky conclusion to the 12th stage today.  It is a farce for the Tour that will be talked about for years.  I think that the race organizers need to keep better control of the crowds, and above all on Bastille Day when everyone is out; they need to respect the cyclists.  It is like if spectators were allowed in pools while swimmers were in a swimming match - that is not right.  Anyway it had been a fun Bastille Day and I am pleased I got up to watch all of it.  I came back up to the computer this afternoon after watching the Tour to write this post and now, at 7:15 pm, am finally going down to fix dinner.  I am still reading on Brexit and will try to talk about it in my next post.


Addendum - Friday 15 July, 2016.  Yesterday evening after finishing the above post I went downstairs and saw the end of the news on TV.  My husband had been watching but because of his Alzheimer had not understood what had happened in France.  I was stunned by the horror of the tragedy: a massacre of happy families with children and tourists on the 14 of July enjoying the fireworks in our lovely city of Nice - truly a city for joie de vivre.  The Promenade des Anglais (The English Walk) is beautiful and a destination for happiness, not despair.  The truck, without its lights on, zigzagged on the Promenade for over a mile mowing adults, children and babies - he killed at least 84, including 10 children, and there are over 200 in hospitals including 52 critically injured.  A hero jumped in the cab and seized the driver's revolver.  This hero saved many lives by stopping the truck on its murderous route.  The police was able then to shoot the terrorist down.  I did not feel like going back up to the computer last night and publish my happy post about Bastille Day.  Now I added a sad cartoon by Plantu to my heading picture.  What can I say?  I just have intense grief.  How many more cities and countries can we keep adding to - je suis Charlie, je suis Paris, je suis Beyrouth, je suis Bamako, je suis Bruxelles, je suis Orlando, je suis Bagdad, je suis Bangladesh, je suis Istanbul and now je suis Nice?  Je suis infiniment triste (I am infinitely sad.)

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