Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Two weeks in Alameda ... and the Tour de France 2015

Several months ago our youngest daughter asked if I would be willing to stay in Alameda, California, for two weeks while our two oldest grandsons (6 and 8 years old) were to attend an immersion Chinese language summer camp.  This is how I came to spend two weeks in the island of Alameda with my two grandsons and their Chinese au-pair.  My husband stayed near Nashville with our daughter's family that included our two youngest grandchildren (2 1/2 and 3 1/2.)

Our daughter took a week to drive the children across country from Nashville to Alameda, but I flew there.  She flew back and I had her car for transportation while in Alameda.  Even though I spent almost ten years in San Francisco (in the 1960s) I had never been to Alameda.  Alameda is an island, adjacent to Oakland and east of San Francisco across the Bay.   It was established in 1853 and incorporated in 1854.

The children had classes from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm then 45 minutes of Chinese language study at home with the Chinese au-pair (they have been studying Chinese for 3 years at least.)  The school was in the same block where we stayed, and we could see the shore from our window.  I have placed a red mark on the map below to show where we stayed (bottom right of map.)  The purple area across from our lodging is a big shopping center with many restaurants and shops, including a large Safeway grocery store and a Trader Joe's.

The first week there was very cool and foggy with sun only during parts of the afternoons so I did not take many pictures.  I went to the post office in the shopping center to mail several postcards and stopped to take the picture of some pretty purple flowers.  That is when I noticed how close we were to the shore.

I crossed the road and was surprised to see clearly the outline of San Francisco across the Bay.  The following week was sunny and I drove on this road, Shoreline Drive, often and stopped to take pictures and will show more in a future post.

Alameda is a laid-back city, a bit old-fashioned.  It is very quiet during the day with mothers walking with their baby carriages and children, seniors strolling and many bicycles driving around.  The automobile speed is 25 MPH everywhere on the island which was good for me - I could look around as I drove.  Alameda is popular for its Fourth of July celebration which is said to be the second oldest and second longest (3 miles/5 km) in the US, but I missed it since I arrived there on July 6th.  We were staying on Park Street - which is the main business street.  I walked a bit around it and admired the art deco Alameda Theater around one of the corners.  It was opened in 1932 and in 2006 the City of Alameda spent $16 million to renovate it.  (Interior pics courtesy Alameda Magazine.)  Click on collage to enlarge.

Parking is not easy in this city and it took me a while to take pictures of the many pretty houses I saw.  I read that Alameda has more pre-1906 earthquake era homes in the Bay Area than other towns along the coast.  Many Victorian houses are mixed among the old Mission and Craftsman style California houses.

Real estate is not as expensive in Alameda as in San Francisco, but it is still higher than the national average.  I checked the price of some of the least expensive houses for sale - and they were not very large houses.  Here are four of them:  the asking price for the house on top left is $800,000 with 2 bedrooms and 2 baths; top right house is $629,000 with 2 bedrooms 1 bath, 1100 square feet, built in 1913 with no updated kitchen.  Bottom left house is $719,000 with 2 bedrooms 1 1/2 baths and 1100 sq feet, built in 1920.  Bottom right house is $650,000 with 3 bedrooms 1 bath, built in 1915.  Some similar houses have just sold and in many cases they sold for more than their asking price.  An average house a bit more modern is over $1 million.

The downtown area along Park Street does not seem to have changed much from the way it looks in vintage postcards.  It is a designated Historic Commercial District on the National Register because many buildings date back to the 1880s.


Wi-Fi access was practically non-existent in the building where we stayed so I never opened my little notebook computer.  I could not even get internet access on my iPad.  There was a television there, but on the West Coast the Tour de France started at 5:00 am which was way too early to wake up the children.  I only saw the last hour or less each day and I missed watching the Tour.  I did see the last two days of the Tour when I returned home after staying near Nashville for several days.

I was able to look back at all the stages of the Tour de France on the French web.  This site had many videos and photos of the Tour.  The site tells viewers to share the photos with friends.  So, I am posting below some of these photos - courtesy Tour de France, France.  The Tour started in Holland this year.  When it went through Belgium, the King of Belgium came to greet the cyclists.

As the Tour rode in Belgium and the north of France they drove by and also stopped at some of the War Memorials along the way.  The Australian War Memorial is on the top left below next to Chris Fromme of the UK laying a wreath at the Commonwealth Memorial.  They also stopped by Francois Faber Memorial - he was the winner of the 1909 Tour de France and was killed during the First World War.

This year the Tour welcomed the first African team - team MTN-Qhubeka of South Africa.  The team was so proud when Steve Cummings, of the UK but a team member, won the stage on July 18, Nelson Mandela's Day.  Another team member, Daniel Teklehaymanot, of Eritra, won the polka-dot jersey twice (best mountain climber.)

As usual the viewers were shown beautiful landscapes along the way.  There were thousands of spectators lining the route from very young to very old - some in outlandish outfits.

What I like about the Tour de France is that it is really an international event.  The teams are made up of top cyclists from many countries.  Some of my favorites are not even from France - I like Peter Sagan of Slovakia, Mark Cavendish of Great Britain, Nairo Quintana of Columbia and Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland.  In the center of the collage below are the hostesses who deliver the prizes on the podium at the end of each stage.  (Click on collage to see better.)

This year the Tour de France started July 4, 2015 and ended on Sunday July 26, 2015.  It was made up of 21 stages and it covered a total distance of 3,360 kilometers (or about 2088 miles.)  There were 9 flat stages, 3 hill stages, 7 mountain stages, 1 individual time-trial stage, 1 team time-trial stage and 2 rest days.  It was raining on the last stage but when they ended on the Champs-Elysees in Paris the sun came out.  I was hoping that Chris Fromme of Great Britain would win the Tour, and he did.  He was born in Kenya, educated in South Africa and speaks fluent Swahili (see him below in Paris.)

On the side of my blog you can read more on the Tour under the category Tour de France.  I explained some facts about the Tour in a post in July 2009 - you can read it here.  The Tour de France is the world's largest annual sporting event.  It has a worldwide television audience of 3.5 billion people with over 188 countries broadcasting it.  With 4,700 hours of TV coverage 121 different television channels across the world show this race every year.  (Here, on TV in Atlanta, the ceremonies in Paris last Sunday of the end of the Tour were cut short and a NASCAR show came instead...sigh!)  More than 2,000 journalists from many countries attend the Tour each year.  It also attracts 12 million+ spectators along the route who do not have to pay to watch it.  Below is Chris Fromme winner of the 2015 Tour de France and also overall winner of the polka-dot jersey.

Where do you get to watch a live sport event like this for three weeks free of charge?  The French Air Force flies over the last stage of the Tour whether it is a French cyclist or not who is winning.  I don't think this would happen in the US which is so nationalistic about sports (USA!USA!) and somehow it would end up not be totally free to watch.  I may be wrong, but I attended the cyclist events at the 1996 Olympic Games here in Atlanta.  I still remember, sadly, that when the audience realized that no US cyclist was left running the 4,000 meter track cyclist race they left en masse before it was over.  Hardly anyone was watching the winner receiving his gold medal ... It was Italian Andrea Collinelli.




Sunday, July 5, 2015

L'Hermione, historic French frigate, in Baltimore

The French war frigate L'Hermione took the Marquis de la Fayette in 1780 for his second trip to the United States.  Lafayette had first come to the USA in 1777, aged 19 years old, against the wishes of the French Government.  Wounded, he returned to France in 1778.  But he longed to return to fight with the American War of Independence.  He lobbied French King Louis XVI for two years.  Finally winning the king's support Lafayette returned on board L'Hermione arriving in Boston on 28 April 1780.  Below are paintings of Lafayette and L'Hermione by Auguste-Louis de Rossel de Cercy, French, 1736-1804.

About 20 years ago, a small group of people dreamed of building an exact replica of General Lafayette's 18th century ship.  They assembled in Rochefort, France (the same city where the first Hermione was built) craftsmen/women from all over the world who used 18th century ship-building techniques to build this authentic Tall Ship replica - the first and largest one built in the last 150 years.  They used 2,000 oak trees from French forests for the 400,000 hand-sculpted pieces for the hull.  One ton of oakum for caulking was utilized.  Many of these techniques had to be re-invented and forge re-kindled including old-style manufacture of 26 cannons for the battery deck and 8 cannons for the quarter-deck.  By 2011 three million people had donated funds to support this new Hermione. (Photos courtesy L'Hermione Association.)  Please click on collage twice to enlarge and read better.

To re-affirm the historic friendship between the United States and France it was decided that L'Hermione's first voyage would be across the Atlantic to the US.  In mid-April 2015 L'Hermione sailed the 3,819 miles (6.146.08 km) from Rochefort, France to Yorktown, Virginia.  I followed its departure on the French Internet.  (Photos courtesy L'Hermione Assoc.)

Our 48th wedding anniversary was on 17 June 2015. I noticed that L'Hermione would arrive in Baltimore Harbor on the 19th of June.  After a quick check with airlines I found some flights on sale from Atlanta to Baltimore.  Our trip to Baltimore on June 18th was the anniversary present to ourselves.  On June 19th we were on Baltimore harbor.  To say I was beyond excited to visit this amazing historic ship would be an understatement! Below is a picture of an information panel that was hanging on L'Hermione.

In Baltimore the visit of the ship was free to the public (in other ports admission tickets had to be purchased,) starting at 11:00 am, based on a "first come, first served" basis.  My husband joined people waiting in line to visit the ship.  I went toward a group of people standing and watching the welcoming ceremony that had already started.  The French national anthem "La Marseillaise" was being sung and I joined the singing, then the Star Spangled Banner was sung by a lady in period costume.  I was behind several person and could not see very well.  There were chairs in front for the VIPs and a lady going toward the chairs told me that a seat was vacant in the front row and to go ahead there.  So I did.  I had then a perfect view of the ceremony.  There were remarks made by several dignitaries:  the Deputy Mayor of Baltimore, Colin Tarbert, followed by US Senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin (shown below,) followed by the French Naval Attache, the US Navy Commanding Officer and more.

The VIPs were first to visit the ship.  While we waited, the ship crew sang some period French shanties.

It was our turn then to board the frigate L'Hermione, also called The Frigate of Freedom.  We could only visit the top deck.  I took many pictures of course (actually about 350.)  I had never been on a tall ship before and loved looking at everything - the ropes, the canons, ect.

Crew members, wearing period 18th century sailor clothes, explained life on ship.

Looking up, the mast seemed so tall.  Then looking down I could see the 8 canons on the quarter-deck.  A visitor (?) was playing his guitar next to a Hermione lifeboat.

A French company made the cannons.  It took almost four tons of molten metal to 1,600 degrees Celsius - or 2,912 degrees Fahrenheit.  The guns weigh a total of 45 tons of cast iron, a weigh that helps to balance the ship.

After our visit of the museum ship we went back down dockside and visited the Traveling Exhibit.  It is a photographic panel display of Lafayette's role in the American Revolution and the building of L'Hermione replica.

I learned there that the Oneida Nation, a Native American tribe, were precious allies of Lafayette during the 1778 battles and kept ties of friendship with the French and the Marquis de la Fayette for years.  The Oneida called Lafayette "Kayewla" (The Great Warriaor.)  The Hermione next stop was in Philadelphia and Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Nation came to the welcoming ceremony.  He is in the picture below with Benedict Donnelly, President of  L'Hermione La Fayette Association (courtesy L'Hermione Assoc.)

A video was showing the building of L'Hermione's replica in Rochefort.  I took several pictures from it.  (Don't forget to click on collage to enlarge and see better.)

We came to Baltimore from Thursday 18 June, 2015, through Sunday 21 - L'Hermione was staying in Baltimore Inner Harbor until Tuesday 23rd.  There were many educational and cultural activities and events pier-side and beyond during those days - we could see just a few of them.  There were demonstrations of sail making, spinning and weaving, shipboard cooking, small guns demonstration, rope making and more by period clothes re-enactors.  The two fellows sitting below - one is from Rochefort, France and the other from Quebec, Canada.

A re-enactor from the Fixed Regiment of Spanish Louisiana (active from 1769 to 1821) explained the Hispanic involvement in the Revolutionary War and the military and financial support they provided.  It is a part of history not well known - you can read about it on their website here

It was a very warm and humid day.  We decided to take a rest and went up to a second-floor Spanish restaurant name La Tasca.  The waterfront patio dining, next to the harbor, was perfect to keep watching the activity around L'Hermione, berthed just a few feet away.  After a salad "Ensalada de aguacante" - shrimp and sliced avocado served over mixed greens with an avocado vinaigrette, we ordered tapas - my husband had "Mejillones con chorizo" - fresh sauteed mussels, chorizo in a ginger broth.  I had "Calamares a la Andaluza" - fried squid, in lemon aioli.  Both were delicious.  For dessert my husband had "Trufa de chocolate" - a decadent dark chocolate truffle croquant topped with traditional vanilla ice cream.. I had "Compota con helado" - dried fruits: cranberries, apricots, raisins, prunes, mango and pineapple sauteed in oloroso wine, with cinnamon ice cream.  Yum!

Well rested and fed, we returned to the Inner Harbor and witnessed a cannon firing demonstration.

Most of our time in Baltimore was spent around the Inner Harbor.  I had been to Baltimore three times before - when I first came to the US I spent several days visiting my English pen pal who lived there.  Another time we came to stay a week with our youngest daughter who was getting her Master's Degree at Jones Hopkins University, then a few years ago, another week to babysit our two grandsons while our daughter and son-in-law were attending a medical seminar - so we had seen many of the main sights there.  We did return to eat in a restaurant in Little Italy - and I'll have posts on all this later on.  But this visit was to see the French frigate replica of L'Hermione - and we had a great time with the ship and all the activities.

I just wished we could have traveled to New York City this past week-end when the Hermione was there for the 4th of July.  The French Minister Segolene Royal as well as the Mayor of Rochefort, Herve Blanche, made speeches.  An evening of dance and music was performed by the Orchestra des Champs-Elysees of Paris.  The Hermione, joined by 300 ships, took part in the People's Parade with a sail-by Salute past the Statue of Liberty.  (Photos credits: Abaca, GeWoessner and L'Hermione Assoc.)

L'Hermione will go up the coast to Boston, Castine (Maine,) Lunenburg (Nova Scotia - Canada) and St. Pierre et Miquelon (France in No. America) and then will return to mainland France.  But there are some good news:  I just read on an online French magazine that there are definite plans for L'Hermione to return to the US around 2018-2019 and stopping in North Carolina, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Miami, Key West, Tampa, Pensacola, Mobile and New Orleans up to Lafayette in Louisiana.  The Tour de France also just started - life is good!  I'll end up with a beautiful rendition of L'Hermione drawn by my friend in New York City of the blog "Bowsprite."  Please visit her there.


Post pre-programmed.



Sunday, June 7, 2015

Flowers in Key West, Florida and at home

In 2010 and again in 2013 we visited Key West in Florida and really enjoyed the city.  When our youngest daughter told us that her family was driving from Nashville to Florida around Memorial Day then keep on driving all the way down the Florida Keys to Key West we decided to take a flight and join them there.  They were going to spend five days in Key West but we opted to stay almost 10 days.  We just came back - my laptop computer had a small problem, so I did not take it with me.  It was very warm in Key West and the tropical plants and flowers were dazzling.

Key West is one of my favorite US cities - a magical place full of charm where one has the impression to be at the end of the world.  It has a unique casual atmosphere, quaint Caribbean and colonial style houses with enchanting tropical gardens and walkable streets.  The sweet fragrance in the air, from the subtropical flora, reminds me of the French Riviera.  The Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia) trees, also known as Flame Tree, were in full bloom.  The tree has vivid orange flowers with dense foliage - it grows in many gardens there.  I took the close-up view below outside our lodging.

We passed often by a house with exuberant bougainvillea adorning their white gates.  The plant was classified by Philibert Commercon, a French botanist who accompanied French Navy admiral and explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville during his voyage of circumnavigation in 1789.  The magenta red of the flowers is so bright that it is hard to photograph under a bright sun.

Another colorful tropical flower tree is the cordial sebestena, also called "Geiger Tree" of the borage family.  It was introduced into the Keys from Cuba.

Below are more lush flowers and flowering trees - I don't know all their names.  Could the tree with the yellow flowers be a Trumpet Tree?  (Click on collage twice to enlarge.)

These little orchids looked like they were growing out of a palm tree.

A restaurant close by had bright yellow hibiscus flowers all around its facade, giving it a cheerful appearance.

One evening, walking back from eating at a Cuban restaurant, I saw many pink flowers laying on the side of the road.  They were coming down from a tall flowering tree.  My husband picked some flowers up from the ground - they were very fragrant.  We took them home and placed them in a bowl with water.

The above are Plumeria flowers, named in honor of 17th century French botanist Charles Plumier (1646-1704) who documented many plant species during his voyage to the new world.  They are also called frangipani.  They come in various colors, from white to yellow, pale pink to dark, almost red.  Their delicate and refined scent is most fragrant in the evening.  In Hawaii they use the plumeria flowers to make their popular garland called Lei Necklace.  My photo at the top of this post shows the yellow plumeria, as well as below.

Coming back home, we checked to see if our flowers in planters had survived.  It must have rained as the flowers looked healthy including our begonias, heliotrope and all the others.

Last Friday we went to the gardens near us, the Smith-Gilbert Gardens.  The Chinese Evergreen Dogwood was in full bloom and striking.
Lilies, in a variety of colors, were also in full bloom.  Some were fragrant.

After the warm and humid weather in Key West the 80 degrees F (26.6 C) temperature and low humidity in Cobb County felt cool.

Most of the roses had bloomed in May and the spring flush was gone but there were still some stunning roses left.

Before we left for Key West in late May I had seen some pretty pink single roses in our eldest daughter's front yard.  We also had a couple of roses in our yard.

Honeysuckle vines grow wild in our yard and cover many hedges but I like to smell their sweet fragrance when a soft southern wind passes through the pine trees.

My first tea rose blossomed in mid-May.  As I tried to take its picture in the kitchen, I placed the rose in a vase, on a trivet, on the cat's stand near the window, to catch some natural light.  I used two cameras.

Cody, our cat, came to inspect what was on his window stand.  He sniffed and did not look very happy to have his place taken.  (Click on collage twice to enlarge and read the captions.)


Cody did not share my delight with my first tea rose.  He meowed, hissed and almost threw the vase on the floor.  I moved it away.

We did see many pretty cats in Key West ... that will be for a future post.


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