Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dare I believe it?

Squeals of excitement!  Can it be true? Will it still be true by next year? Am I really getting a ride on the Airbus A-380 again?

Airbus A-380 on approach to Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport 

Today, still experiencing tickles of anxiety of yesterday over obtaining the proper flight, I started checking all the different websites that allege to have my itinerary available. Were they all really synchronized? If not, what is the truth?

I clicked on Delta's site, using their reference number and up popped my itinerary. It has a place to click to choose your seat. I already had chosen, on Air France. Was that info not in here? When I clicked, I got an aircraft seat map which bore no resemblance to the Boeing 777-300ER I had chosen from. I wasn't about to start pressing buttons on an unfamiliar website.

There on Air France, my seat 15A now read 82A. Yes! It's the A-380. We flew on it in 2011 and loved it.

Don't change your mind, Air France!

(Breaking news: the Air France site shows an incorrect baggage amount. I've sent a website form, not that I normally take extra luggage.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

So it isn't just a Friday thing . . .

Rats! I thought I had the formula down. On two or three occasions when I made an international flight reservations on a Friday night, my credit card was initially rejected by Air France. That initial rejection is not that rare, but in every case, my credit card company has said they approved the charge. So the problem with Friday night reservations is that Air France's customer service lines only seem to be open weekdays during business hours and there's no one to talk to to meet any "you must submit payment within 24 hours or you'll have to start over" before the weekend is over.

You'd think Monday would be safe. Or at least easy.

(Not rat.)
(Me, frazzled.)

One thing about my used-to-be-slower Internet (speed is relative -- it's now good but not best) is that you have time to read the messages you're going to have to report to the Tech Guy. But he comes into this situation a little later in the story.

First, I filled in all the credit card information except for the first line (which, in my defense, was invisible), thus leaving out the credit card number. Of course, the error message was at the top of the page and I was at the bottom of the page, so I stared at the lack of progress for a few moments before scrolling up. I filled in the number and pressed the Continue button again.

A little red butterfly flutters across the screen while I wait for credit card approval. It was at this point that a message flashed something about a secret code from my bank and returned to the credit request screen. I waited at the bottom of the page for my secret code. When nothing happened I scrolled up. The form was blank. The red box said "waiting confirmation." Up in that non-prominent box at the very top, the message told me my information wasn't correct.

What? I've gotten messages before that my credit card wasn't approved, but not that my information was incorrect. And when I've talked to the credit card company, it has always that said they had in fact approved the credit.

Tried again. Same result. Tried a third time. I swear, it was all filled out correctly. 

My first phone call was to the Credit Card Company. (Perhaps you recall that I've previously mentioned that I hate telephoning, which is why "online" has been such a boon to me.) Credit Card Lady discovered that Credit Card Company had approved the charge, then Airline had canceled it. She couldn't tell me what they had on their mind.

Next call was to Website Help at the Airline. I'm developing a wee bit of a hearing problem in my telephone ear, so a soft voice, rapid cadence and an accent made understanding Website Guy a little difficult, but he entered my credit card info and pushed it through. He emailed my reservation to me, but . . . it was from Delta? With a whole new Reference Number? I want to be able to use my Air France Reference Number. He assured me he could take care of that. Two emails followed, although neither exactly in the familiar Air France format.

I looked at a short itinerary version. It's a round trip from San Francisco to Marseille via Paris. Then noticed something about the return flight. (I'm omitting dates of travel for ... good reasons.) 

The first leg of the trip from Marseille to Paris goes to Orly Airport? And the leg from Paris to San Francisco leaves from CDG Airport?  No no no no no! I've transferred between Paris airports when there was no choice, but I had carefully noted the Marseille to CDG flights  to make this reservation, and had chosen, had surely chosen, a Marseille to CDG flight.

Back on the phone to Air France Reservations, running through several layers of the menu to get a person who could deal with a none-of-the-above choice. A change in reservation has a $300 price tag. The bus between airports is 20€, but you must collect your luggage and carry it with you between airports, rather than checking it through. Reservations Lady in Tampa had a strong, no accent voice so I could communicate better with her. This is not the flight I had chosen, it has been only a matter of minutes, can you do something for me?

Cut to the chase, she managed to make the change to the flight I wanted. This reservations center handles US reservations for Air France, KLM and Delta. She had to move fast to make the change for the leg in France, or Air France tends to get involved from that end.

The proof was when I could find my reservation on the Air France website all confirmed.

I wasn't even planning to make this reservation today, but there has been a price jump since the end of September and when I discovered today it has been steady for a couple of weeks, I just want to do it.

Time to hang it up for the day.
See you soonish.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Fine Weekend for a Wedding

Friday, Oct 4

As the hour approached to leave for Daughter's house on Friday, I almost thought I wouldn't make it for the wedding. I'd managed to avoid catching the cold Son had during our French adventure, but our closed-in "premium economy" cabin on the plane home had a cougher -- at least one -- nonstop for 11 hours or whatever it was. I know the poor guy was suffering more than the rest of us, but at the same time wondered whether his germs were permeating everything and everyone in the cabin.

My throat started tickling early in the week with the cough.  Not as severe as the guy's on the plane, but enough to make me feel crummy, even with all the good gremlin action in finding lost items for me. But Daughter wouldn't let me wallow. In fact, she had a new plan. Granddaughter is downsizing to a new apartment and Daughter is buying some of GD's furniture. That meant we'd take my truck -- the one she's been using for a few months now -- from her house in Fresno to . . .

It started getting more complicated at this point than is worth explaining. I headed for her house -- in my car. It should be a straightforward trip, but I got lost twice. There's freeway construction disrupting the interchange for catching the 99 south from Merced. If you follow the detour signs (as instructed on one sign), you could drive in circles for the duration.

Then there is the strange redirection of roads to get off the freeway properly to arrive at Daughter's house. I got near but oh-so-far before I called her to try to untangle me. I had my Garmin with me, but I've never cranked it up to use it, so that was no help. How do you answer the question "Where are you?" when you are lost?

Saturday, Oct 5

We're not in a rush to leave from Daughter's on Saturday. We walk a few blocks to a Mexican restaurant she likes for breakfast. But today the sauce is very salty, too salty to eat, so we pick the solid food out of the sauce. Shortly, we're both hit with headaches. She never has headaches. Mine feels like it could go migraine. I pop an Excedrin, she uses a different OTC painkiller.

The weather is beautiful: crystal clear, warm and dry, grape fields a rich green, cotton fields picked, with little shreds of cotton littering the soil, fruit and nut trees in neat rows. I see new beauty in the rich agriculture of California's Great Central Valley, beauty I never appreciated as a kid, or probably not even as a younger adult. Does it take growing older to appreciate the fecund earth?

We head up the over the mountains -- in the truck now -- on freeways with three lanes in each direction. We called it the Grapevine when I was a kid, a steep, winding two lane road that  boiled many a radiator. It took many hours to snake your way over it. In its next iteration, we sometimes called it the Ridge Route, though stuck for a long time with Grapevine. I still call it the Ridge Route. It's I-5, though I don't know whether that's its "name." More lanes are under construction. It's always under construction.

We arrive at Granddaughter's and her Boy Friend's  apartment in a beach community on the coast in LA, not long before the sun sets over the bay. I take a picture from their sun deck.

Then I take a picture of Daughter, the Boy Friend and Granddaughter.

He's a photographer, so he uses some kind of settings trick that captures the sunset and also lights up us ladies.

Sunday, Oct 6

Daughter and I sleep on the enclosed porch with windows all around looking out on the sun deck.

Sunrise out the window, with patterns of porch rails and power lines

We walk down a hill to a café to have coffee and chocolate croissants (pain au chocolate), then return to the apartment to dress for the wedding and head for San Diego.

Eventually, even chocolate croissants wear off and we stop at a restaurant on the beach for lunch. Before I can whip my camera out for a shot of the surfers outside, people take a seat at the window and have the server pull down the blinds. (Rats! We chose non-window seats so we can have a view without sitting in the sun.) So click on this photo to get a peek at surfers in the ocean.

And a sea gull at the next window wonders whether things are better on the inside.

This is not exactly what I ordered, but they made these crab cakes especially for me, even though they are not served on Sundays. They are splendid.

We make our way into the wedding venue using the GPS in Daughter's smartphone. The wedding party is gathering when we arrive, and the Groom comes to greet Daughter, another Auntie and me.

Here are the shoes for the male members of the wedding party . . . very cool with the silver-grey suits. (Daughter tells me these are boat shoes, which figures since working on boats and at sea are the groom's family business.)

Here's the setting.

The ceremony begins with an announcement from the presider that the wedding couple has hired a very fine photographer, so we can all put our cameras away. I sneak this picture, but I don't want to be the Granny who is thrown out of the event or off the cliff.

Daughter and Moi

Hors d'oeuvres

After dining and dancing and having a good old time, Daughter and I head back to Granddaugher's apartment in LA again. Since Daughter has to take an early flight out of Los Angeles Airport to get to a meeting in San Francisco, I'll drive the truck back to Fresno, and Granddaughter and the Boy Friend must go to work in the morning. I propose a change of plans from taking the furniture we are acquiring from Granddaughter back with me. We'll put our dibs on the pieces we want, then Daughter can take the truck back another weekend when a crew can be arranged to load the furniture, and another one arranged to unload at my house . . . and hers. I'm taking a couch that can be opened into a bed, and a pair of dressers. Daughter is taking a daybed.

If we'd figured out that plan ahead of time, we could have traveled by car instead of truck!

Monday, Oct 7

Daughter sneaks out early to the airport. The kids go off to work. I wait until enough of the neighbors have gone to work so I can bring the truck near enough to the apartment to load my suitcase and sleeping bag and pillows without toting them up the hill. I play with Garmin, trying to set it to take me to Fresno. It works okay, but after a stop for gas and lunch, I turn the wrong direction on the freeway and take many miles of traffic and construction to get back where I started. I did make it to Daughter's house without getting lost, and swap vehicles into my own car.

Between Garmin trying to take me home by a totally nutty route and getting through that freeway construction in Merced, I saw a lot of new countryside while searching for my familiar road home.

Another beautiful evening at the end of a perfect weekend . . . I stop for a picture of the sunset's reflection in Dawson Lake.

See you soon!


Sunday, October 13, 2013

In the Coals-to-Newcastle Department

When I went to a grandson's wedding last weekend (pictures and story a bit later), I postponed attending a theatre performance at the Little City Down the Hill until this afternoon. Lucky I didn't try to postpone again. This was the final performance. I think there was only one empty seat in the house.

There was a fine art exhibit in the entrance area, loved several works. I meant to take a picture of the wall from the Great Room, but I got distracted. I was on a mission to get a picture for my Photo A Day group for the prompt "watching." I knew there would be people here (including me) "watching" the play. There are limitations: no photos of the performance or the set. (Official photos here.) Still, I kept thinking  back to two or three of the paintings.

I slipped into the Great Room for pictures of the flute-player, who was providing pre-show music. People would be watching as they drifted into the theatre to choose their seats, then come back out to listen.

I made a collage of these photos for my Photo A Day "Watching," with the waiting audience filling up the seats, and then thronging out to congratulate the cast after the show.

The performance was fabulous. I usually have a hard time not nodding off during the first act of Sunday afternoon plays, no fault of the plays but to the late hours I keep Saturday evenings and the early times I rise to watch my Sunday morning news shows. But no problem here, even though the first act was exceptionally long. At intermission, the woman across the one empty chair in the theatre that was between us asked whether I was enjoying the play.

I was, but I admitted to going through a few puzzled moments wondering what happened to the salesman, then realizing that I was confusing Streetcar with Death of a Salesman. She confessed she'd been doing the same. Later, driving home, my thoughts went to "but is Stanley Kowalski a longshoreman?" Oh! That was On the Waterfront. Marlon Brando was one actor who appeared in two of the movies and there were other overlaps. What else was in common? They were gritty, tragic, done in somewhat the same period. Were they all in black-and-white, contributing to the drama?

The director, Maryann Curmi, told us a story about building the set for the play. It takes place in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and Maryann had her heart set on a wrought iron spiral staircase for the production. She arranged to have it fabricated at "the college." (I'm assuming she meant the local community college.) Then on the date scheduled for the fabrication, the college was closed due to the Rim Fire. What could she do?

She remembered a place up along one of the highways I don't travel much (so don't know her reference) that has a lot of wrought iron where you can see it driving by. She asked the guy there whether he could do a spiral staircase for her. He certainly could. He did and he installed it, then brought in another balcony railing for the opposite side of the stage. It's kind of to the side of the set, so hope I'm not violating the "no photo" rule when I show it to you here. If you are interested in having something done in wrought-iron, we can track him down.

Up to the time intermission came around, I'd been thinking about those paintings that had struck my fancy and went out to talk to the house manager to see about buying two of them. There were phone numbers for each of the artists, but contacting them individually would probably involve one if not two more trips down the hill to the Little City. Was there any way I could pay and take away? The manager would try to contact the artists during the second act and let me know at the end.

The theatre goers swarm out to the cast reception line. I sneak out the back door, first intending to get into the restroom, but giving up to go find the house manager for news about the art work.

The artists had been contacted, so I could pay and take these two works. In fact, Twyla Olsen had come to the theatre to meet the buyer of her mixed media work, "The Design of Music." (Sorry about the reflections on the paintings, light reflections here, and a chandelier and a glass brick window in the next one.)

This watercolor is "New Orleans: Street Musicians" by J. D. Anderson. These put me right back into my musical passions of my teens and twenties, still nostalgic favorites. If I can figure out how to hang my guitar on the wall, I'll do an arrangement with the paintings.

The thing is, I already have a large collection of paintings, by my parents, a grandparent, a great-grandparent. And the paintings by our parents' friends that our parents acquired, and all of which we, Sister and I, have yet to completely divide. Neither have I rehung all the paintings I took down during the painting of the interior of house. Coals to Newcastle. On the other hand, buying art supports the arts and the artists, something very dear to our parents.

The play was long, and I had to go shopping for kitty litter. Shadows were stretching across golden pastures by the time I headed home. You can even see the moon up there, though my lens is not wide-angle enough to include the glowing planet farther to the left.

What did I just whiz by?  Llamas?  I've heard they were out here on this road, but as many times as I've driven it, I'd never seen them before. I turned around and went back to catch a few quick shots of them.,

Goodbye, llamas. Goodbye, sunshine.

Hello, Halloween. This neighbor has decorations for every occasion. They must have a lot of storage space.

See you soon!


Friday, October 4, 2013

The Gremlins Are Smiling

Thursday Oct 3

When things go missing, I blame it on the gremlins. They like to hide things, screw with your mind for awhile, and then -- ha ha -- drop them in your pathway to find again. They might hide your keys for an hour, or the bill you want to pay for three days. Things may be stashed in the gremlins' closet for weeks or months.

If you give up or forget to miss something, it may be years before it's returned by the gremlins.

Darned if they weren't smiling at me today.

A grandson is getting married this weekend in Southern California. Daughter and I have been trading phone calls to make arrangements for the trip about cars and trucks, sleeping mats and bags and places to spread them, hauling and unloading furniture, airline reservations for Daughter to get to work on time on Monday . . . you get the idea. The instructions for finding the wedding venue were in the envelope with the invitation. I had a vague recollection that I had to acquire a parking permit for the wedding venue and no recollection of having received one. I had no recollection of what I'd done with the invitation weeks and weeks before, before I'd gone to France, before I'd collected a huge store of vacation mail from the post office. (Damn bag of mail weighed as much as my carry-on bag.)

So I woke up while the sky was still black this morning, wondering whether Daughter had her invitation. As tiny hints of dawn began to lighten the sky, I'd look at the time, just waiting until I thought it was late enough to text her. I have a horrible time texting on my new Smartphone, with my fingers landing on the wrong tiny touch space, so it took several texts to determine that she was sure she could find her invitation and knows how to get where we are going. Asking about the parking permit thing was beyond my texting capabilities.

This was NeedleCrafts day, so I went to my secret stash of cash to lift out a few dollars for the Senior Lunch we eat there. The stash was missing from its hide out. Yikes! I could only hope that when I'd taken my passport and euros out of the firebox in the safe before the trip that I had stashed my US money in the box. I didn't have time to fiddle with that before NeedleCrafts, since it takes several tries to get the combination right.

Stopped at the post office on the way home and there was a brown manila envelope with the bride-to-be's address label on the outside. A little excitement here with the thought that it might contain a parking permit for the wedding.

There it was! With instructions to get to the venue. Thank you, gremlins. I texted Daughter with the good news.

When I opened the safe to stow my passport and my little envelope of euros, I indeed found my US money stash and recovered it for spending.

When I put the parking permit in the glove box (I hope this is a logical place and that I don't have a major search party when I go to use it), I found the invitation. Good. Both of them are together there now.

But what was this? A black (faux) leather folder on the floor, leaning against the center hump on the passenger side. Is it really ? ? ? I picked it up. My Kindle Paperwhite! I'd resigned myself to its being gone forever. The last I been aware of using it was while I was at the vet in the Little City Down the Hill with Jean-Luc having a medical crisis. I'd assumed I left it on the counter when I was making my payment. That was two months ago as far as I can remember. After receiving no word of it, I unregistered it with Amazon.com. A sad day that was, and an inconvenience that I wouldn't have it on my trip.

I plugged it in and the empty-battery icon popped up. I surmise that I'd put it on the passenger-side floor on the way home from the vet. It had slid between the seat and center console, out of view, and a ride downhill or a rapid stop had caused it to slide back into view. Or, as I prefer, the gremlins decided to return it.

I notified Amazon.com and within a short time, my Kindle 2 was back in business.

Will the gremlins return my Garmin before tomorrow? It's not in the logical place I thought I'd put it. I may need it to get home from the wedding.
Update: The gremlins returned the Garmin this morning. Or, maybe you could say they gave me a clue where it might be.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

In the Steps of Picasso, and Meeting Morgane

Day 3

Meet Morgane. She’ll be our local guide for four days. She lives in Menton with husband and children. She is French and has a delightful accent and copious knowledge of the French Riviera, as she calls it in deference to foreigners’ customs. She has guided day tours and part day tours for several years when Jeanne has brought her quilters tours to Nice, although it has been five – I think – years since we were last here.


The general theme for today’s visits is “In the Steps of Picasso,” so we go to Antibes by coach (what Jeanne calls a bus) to see the Picasso museum there, in a place where he lived and worked for several years. We’ve hopped off the bus and counted off before we set out.

There are always stairs. Why would we expect an exception now?

When we get to the top and look out over the wall that once circled Antibes, there’s entire harbor full of really fine water craft. There are some really high end yachts at some of those docks.

And out toward the sea and the quiet beach below.

Most of the old stone buildings have been plastered over, but this one that had had the plaster taken off the original stone façade caught my eye, a legacy of my adventure building castles (well, sorta).

Walking through the old town in the direction of the museum, we see creative door treatments, one carved with a person opening a door, another with a wooden door ajar painted on --perhaps -- a garage entry.

Flowers decorate every nook and cranny and are sold in the market in the lower part of the town.

No photography is permitted inside the museum. Maybe it’s stretching it a little to take pictures out on the terrace, like this one with a statue on the sea wall and designs in the pebble and tile floorings.

Or a fanciful carved armadillo in the garden.

We are permitted to take pictures out the windows of the museum, over rooftops to the harbor and the sea.

After the museum visit, we had a short time to browse the covered market, with its honeys and lavender, spices and a really pissed off looking fish.

We return to our bus, past a major construction project originally intended for underground parking.  Bus parking, which used to be near the entrance to the old city of Antibes, is a long ways off for the moment, and the new parking construction is semi-suspended after running into archaeological artifacts below the current street level.

We head for the mountain-top village of Mougins. The bus driver stops at a high point of the main road up, to let us off in a short level spot to walk to the hotel where we will be having a group lunch. We can see all the way to the Alps in the distance.

We walk up a perimeter road to the hotel, l'Amandier de Mougins, where we are shown to a terrace with a view over the countryside, and tables set with glassware and silver for our upcoming meal.

The meal was prepared and presented by culinary students at the hotel. The dark things in front of the fish are snails. Pretending to myself that I didn't know what they were, I managed to eat one. It didn't taste bad (nor particularly good), but I had to chew and chew, so it didn't slip down easily and I backed out on a follow up.

Looking at this in retrospect, I think this is a dessert arrangement is what's called Café Gourmand, which is an espresso with three small desserts -- a dessert sampler, so to speak. I liked that little green pudding with the red sauce -- a sweet and tart contrast.

After the meal we take a walking tour of the village. There is the fountain. I haven't done a headcount of fountains in mountain top villages, but I'm perceiving a theme. The two metal bars that the water drops between are a common feature, but I haven't noticed whether the entire fountains are alike. Sounds like a research topic for the next trip to France! There will be photos.

An iron sign of a rooster, with "insolite" written below . . . it means strange or unusual. As we whiz by (it's a hillside city . . . I'm huffing and puffing just trying to keep up), I don't take note of what's unusual here.

Gosh, maybe this is the passageway behind the sign. A place to come back to and explore.

We go into the Mougins photography museum. It contains some unusual and interesting photographs -- which we're not allowed to photograph. Once again, photography out the windows is permitted, and our climb up several stories gives us a view of tile rooftops, and a view going back down the spiral staircase.

The final leg of the journey today is to go to Cannes, site of the Cannes Film Festival each May.

The visit is a drive-through of a long avenue of hotels and apartments. Many are in private ownership and are opened seasonally for the owner's use. There are some kinds of tax advantages to owning your own vacation place vs. trekking south to a hotel year after year.

It's rush hour as we head back to Nice. Notice what looks like two grey pyramids in the center of the road straight ahead. They are a prominent feature along the bay. You see them first as your plane comes in for a landing at the Nice airport.  They are curved. They are fascinating.

It's hard to get a good view of the curvature from on the ground, but you can see how they "taper" up to the top. And you can see that there are even trees on it. There are residences and shops and the services of a small -- or not so small -- city.

Several of us finish the day off at the Deux Palmières. Yummy lasagna and salad.

I've been planning ahead on this trip to go to a restaurant in Saint Rémy to have the best ever Café Liégeois, so I'd looked at this menu a couple times and thought I'd defer my   Café  Liégeois for the best ever. Then it occurred to me there was no reason I couldn't have one in Nice, and it's a darned good one, too.

Next, San Remo, in Italy, and the Principality of Seborga, if it doesn't run too long for one blog.