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.

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