Saturday, July 23, 2016

Yes, They Finally Have Gone Crazy

Very little surprise, really.  But the RNC (Republican National Convention) has endorsed Donald Trump as their presidential candidate.

This is who they think is presidential material:

Donald Trump Sexism Tracker: Every Offensive Comment in One Place.

Even Jon Stewart came our of retirement to weigh in on the decision.

Social media has a near-constant stream of videos and cartoons making various connections with certain unsavory historical figures.  Here is one.

Another discusses the rise of Hitler in pre-WWII Germany and leaves the viewer to draw his/her own conclusions.

His acceptance speech has even been subjected to some "fact checking".

Trump, of course, has been whipping up sentiment over immigration.  Talk of a wall along the Mexican border spawned this tiny wall around Trump's Hollywood Walk of Fame Star.

Some cartoons make fun of the content of his speeches.

And then there are the more "serious" analyses.

Buzzfeed posted a video comparing the American candidate to Canada's current Prime Minister.

Even the Calvin & Hobbes cartoons are getting into the act.

This is going to be the main topic of conversation for the next few months.  The election is in November.  With everything else that's been happening south of the 49th recently, one might well ask: "What next"?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Brexit - A Variety of Views

Just a few days ago, the voters of the UK had their say on whether they should stay part of the European Union or leave.  They voted to go, but by a slim margin: 52% to 48%.  Voter turnout was reportedly high.

Since then, the markets and the Pound have been understandably nervous and under downward pressure.

Of course the pundits, the economists, the politicians, and the columnists have all had much to say about the outcome.  Was it a vote against the elite?  Was it a vote against immigration policies?  Was it a vote to "take the country back"?

In this article, the vote was seen as proof of the "Insularity and Failure of Western Establishment Institutions".

This article claimed that the outcome wasn't a vote against the EU but rather a vote against the modern world.  Hmmm.  Perhaps.

This author posted in Counterpunch that the vote was "A Blow for Peace and Democracy".  Anger against "globalization".   

And then there were those who noted the divide between older voters and younger voters, the latter voting in a solid majority for remaining in the EU.  The divide between old and young voters regarding Brexit mirrors the generational divide over climate change.

And then, of course, there were the opinions of the Trumpster, illustrating, once again, why he is exceptionally poor presidential material.  Take note, Americans.

It's an unsettling time. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Navigation (What the guidebooks don't tell you)

A few driving tips gleaned from 5 weeks of driving in France and Switzerland outlined here for your amusement or education.  Fortunately, everyone drives on the right, so at least you don't have to contend with that issue.  It means you have to wave your sword out the left window and brandish it with your left hand, but c'est la vie.

First, get yourself a good, high resolution road atlas.  There are many roads in many directions and many towns and villages.  Trust me.  You will need a road atlas.  Not a road map.

Second, get a navigator.  You may think you have a good sense of direction but it will be of little use and will not equal having a live person in the passenger seat with their nose glued to the pages of the atlas (Did I mention the atlas?), making decisions.  This navigator should be able to infer significance from subtle clues linking the atlas to the reality in front of you.  Being comfortable with indecision and uncertainty are helpful attitudes, for both navigator and driver.  Such attributes will be put to the test in heavy traffic, especially where everyone is moving at higher speed.

Switzerland makes almost no use of route numbers other than on their few big highways, and then seemingly only as an afterthought.  This may seem of little importance until you experience trying to find the names and locations of towns you don't know, all in German.  It's not especially user friendly, let's say.

France, on the other hand, makes liberal use of route numbers.  There are "A" roads (usually toll), "N" roads (usually good, usually wide, sometimes multi-lane divided), and lastly, the "D" roads.  These can be much like "normal" roads and are definitely scenic, but they also may be very narrow.  What can I say?  Rent a small car.

Despite using route numbers, France almost never gives you advance warning about which route number is turning what way up ahead.  That information will not be revealed until you are actually "at" the intersection.  At a roundabout, for example, there will be a sign in advance, but it will only show which towns can be accessed from each exit on the roundabout.  Frustration in Switzerland with relying only on this information is duplicated here too.  Try to know in advance which towns you are headed towards and hope they are in the list provided on the signs, otherwise, get comfortable with making quick decisions and hope someone else isn't right on your tail, aiming for the same exit. 

That said, many of the intersections are in the form of roundabouts.  It's quite possible to simply go around and around the roundabout, keeping to the inside lane, until you feel confident about which exit choice you are about to make.  It may seem an odd thing to do.  Silly-looking, even, but you won't see these people again, so do what you have to do.

Avoid cities.  You will drive through many small towns and villages, but cities are to be avoided like the plague.  Streets are narrow, convoluted and clogged with vehicles.  If you must visit a city, and there are many interesting cities to visit, find a place to strategically park and then walk.  The interesting bits of these cities are usually pretty compact, so walking is a great option.  And besides, walking is good for you.

Although the "A" roads can be a quick way to get places, their traffic jams can be truly awful.  Kilometers of barely moving vehicles can make quiet, narrow country lanes and villages seem very tolerable.  Avoid Monday mornings.

Travel time means more than distance.  What with the villages, the traffic, the corners, the hills and switchbacks, getting anywhere will take far longer than you would think.  The only solution to this is to use the "A" roads.

Lastly, a sense of humour and adventure will be beneficial.  Despite the best efforts of navigator and driver, mistakes will be made.  One of you will realize that somehow, you are on the wrong road. Sometimes the best discoveries are made when those accidents happen.  Sometimes the road less traveled has just been missed by everyone else. "Carpe accidentum" and make the best of it.  Remember, you can always turn around or you can keep exploring.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

More Conservative Nonsense

Almost forgotten in the increasingly silly presidential race are some policies being put forward by Paul Ryan.  He's a Republican, which will become vividly obvious once you see his proposals, and is the current speaker of the US House of Representatives.

These proposals are being taken up by Conservatives everywhere, not just in the USA.

Economist Robert Reich has put together a 2 minute analysis of Ryan's proposals and why he thinks they are wrong.  Have a look:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Fin de la voyage

Gradually, as we drove west out of Switzerland and back into France, the weather improved.  It was only temporary, however. We found a campground in the village of Villersexel.  Shortly after we got our supplies, the skies opened again, this time with small hail.  By early evening, skies had cleared and it was a nice evening on the French countryside again, where we were camped by a small river.

The next day, we wanted to get closer to Paris so we could get there early in the morning to inquire about prospects in the event of a controller strike, supposedly scheduled for Tuesday.  Nothing much helpful came from our visit to the airport, so we drove in search of an old château to visit and a new campground.  The village of Melun appealed, so here we are.

 The village is on the Seine and our campground was partly under 1m of water two weeks ago.  About 100 campground visitors had to be evacuated in the middle of the night.  You can still see the high water mark on the bushes.  This village had another devastating flood in 1910; a display in town shows the results.  My navigator here points to the high water mark on roadside bushes in front of the campground.

 The château visited was Vaux-le-Vicomte, constructed in the mid-1600s by Nicholas Fouquet.  Vast spaces of very formal gardens, stone work, ponds, statues, and, of course, the château itself.  It was a precarious existence, though, because the owner attracted the envy of King Louis XIV, who had him arrested.  He spent the next 34 years imprisoned.

Château de Fontainebleau was also nearby, so my navigator visited that as well.

On Monday, we checked in at the airport again to hear that our airline supposedly is not to be affected in any labour troubles.  Flights on Tuesday should be fine.  Unfortunately, after spending 2 hours in horrific traffic on the "A" roads outside of Paris, we decided against going back south to Melun or to Chartres.  Instead we went north and had a look at the cathedral at Senlis, dating from the 1100s.  Senlis was once the home of French royalty until they began to favour other places like Fountainebleau.

Only the flights and the waiting left.

Update... A quick, 15 minute drive to the airport from Senlis.  We were there before 7 am for a flight that is scheduled for 2 pm.  The customer service guy offered us a flight with Air Canada that went thru Toronto and gets to YVR 90 minutes earlier.  We took it.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The French Alps & Switzerland

We're down to the last 11 days now.  Just time to wander north into Switzerland, see some of the landmarks there, do some hiking and then head back to Paris, assuming it hasn't been washed away by then....

Tonight we're stopped in a small village called Corps.  About an hour south of Grenoble.  It's a municipal campground with only about 20 sites, but it has some unusual attributes: toilet paper, toilet seats, and water available at our site.  The water in the showers is also decently warm.  Not hot, but warm enough.  And all for about 10 Euros.

 There are big mountains here and I think the really big ones are hiding in the clouds.  It would be nice to see them but at least we aren't being inundated by floods.  Some cloud we can manage.

Sunday.  No clear skies when we get up, but little surprise there.  A short drive brings us to Switzerland where we get a 2 second look from the border guards before being waved on.  It's Sunday and traffic is light, the roads are wide and quiet. We're heading for Visp which is the valley access to Zermatt and the Matterhorn.

A quick Google maps search earlier has identified a campground which we quickly find and get set up.  Here, the language options seem to be German or English.  Amongst the information we're given is one gem.  Free bike rental for up to 4 hours.  And it happens to be open today.

After completing the passport scanning, deposit paying and such, we head down the Rhone valley on our free bikes past two small villages which offer good photo opportunities.  And it's sunny and warm.

After, fortified by a beer and snacks, we drive in the direction of Zermatt to explore.  New highway construction with tunnels.  Possible trails through some of the highest vineyards in the world.  Stuff for tomorrow.  It's time for supper.

Monday we visit Zermatt.  First we drive 28 km to Tasch.  There we must use pay parking.  Buy tickets ($20 each) for a 10 minute train ride to Zermatt.  There, the common option seems to be C$150 each for another train ride to a peak at some distance from the Matterhorn.  We opt to hike and do what any climbers would do: head towards the mountain.  In a couple of hours we are at about 2500 m and close enough to the mountain that we can study the route up the SE ridge, examine the glacier (where 4 of Whymper's first ascent team ended up after falling 1700 m), observe a Swiss Alpine Club hut not far away... All under clear blue skies.  Our return route takes us higher before dropping down to Zermatt.  Past weathered Swiss pasture shelters, weathered wood, stone roofs, meadows with sheep....

We buy some lunch.  It reminds us of how expensive things are here in Switzerland.  Here is a photo of our $30 lunch.

Exiting the car park later is a strange experience.  I drive to the exit and feed in my ticket.  Won't accept it (at least that's what I think it's saying because of my poor German skills..).  Catherine mentioned seeing an obscure sign asking if you've paid for your parking yet.  I park again and walk back into the "terminal" where I'm directed to a machine that accepts my ticket and my credit card, returning both after exacting the appropriate toll.  I try to drive out again, this time successfully.  Is it just me or is this an awkward way to do things?  I can think of one better place for that payment machine.  Wanna guess where that would be?

Our campground has a communal fridge.  We have cold beer in it which we appreciate after the day's explorations.

Tuesday, we hike through some very high vineyards before driving off towards the Interlaken area which is just on the other side of the mountain range we're looking at.  It's an all-day drive, however. 

The first pass is still closed from winter snow so we drive on.  A second pass is closed.  Fortunately, there is still a way around and we arrive at Lauterbrunnen early on the afternoon.  Quite a stunning drive.

We are now in the valley that counts the Eiger and the Jungfrau among the towering sentinels at its end.  We can sort of see them.  Showers seem imminent.

The next day, skies seem likely to clear, so we take a cable car to a high point and hike for another 4 hours, with great views of the large peaks at the end of the valley.  The Eiger, the Jungfrau, Monch.  All in the 4000 m range.  It rains for the last hour of our hike and basically keeps raining.  We pack up and leave the next morning.

Some driving in a downpour, some convoluted routes, more construction, more long tunnels, bring us out of Switzerland and back into France.  It's interesting how little fanfare there is about changing countries here...nothing.  A border control officer talked to us for a couple of minutes and that was it.

We're now in the Hautes Saone region of France.  At least the weather is starting to clear, for the moment.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Bonjour Provence

After leaving Spain, we made a fast drive on the French "interstate" to get north as far as the valley of the Ardeche, which is almost in Provence and which we had visited earlier in the upstream regions.  That also put us very close to Orange and Avignon.

We made one small diversion along the Mediterranean coast to drive down to the beach and put body parts in the salt water.  Despite being a nice day (to a Canadian), the huge beach was empty.  There were people on the campground, but apparently the weather wasn't good enough to tempt them any further..

 Speaking of French "interstates"...  These are the "A" auto-routes and, so far as we can tell, they are all toll roads.  Lots of traffic, very good condition, and a speed limit of around 130 km/hr.  We drove on one for about 3 hours and it cost around 20 Euros.  That's about $30 CAD in case you're thinking you already spend too much on roads.  User pay.  I like it.

Once we got off the main roads, old roman ruins and buildings dating from the 11th and 12th centuries are scattered here and there.  One collection was close to our campground on the Ardeche.  The next day, we visited Orange, a town with some interesting Roman ruins.  Then we went a short distance south to see the old walled city of Avignon.  Old.  Lots of rocks.  Big.

 Having had our fill of cities, we moved further east to the town of Apt.  As usual, something that looked small on the map was surprisingly larger.  We found a nice campground, a place to rent bikes the next morning and went hiking for what remained of our day.

 Apt is in the Luberon (a range of hills and a region) in southwestern Provence.  It's dryer here and the forest is more short-needled pines and a kind of scrub Mediterranean oak.  There are none of the many streams and rivers flowing that we've seen elsewhere in France.

We spent a morning biking near Apt and it was nice pedalling by fields of lavender (sadly not blooming yet), ripening cherries, sunflowers, grapes and some other unidentified growing things.

 We've been hearing about floods in Paris.  Our weather has certainly been mixed, and there have been notices in every campground about flooding, but we seem to have escaped "les innundations" that have been happening in other places.  We had one torrential downpour in Dijon, but that was the worst and short-lived.  Otherwise it's been occasional showers and quite a bit of cloud.  Yesterday, we had blue skies while biking, which was most pleasant.

 Our campground the second night, just across the valley, had a restaurant, so we went out to sample the regional cuisine for supper.  For a small place down at the end of a small road out in the country, the place was hopping by 8 pm.  Notable were the pommes de terres au gratin and warm goat cheese on baguette.  Gourmand that I am, I had fries and a brochette au boeufSalade vert avec l'ail.

This morning (Friday), we started driving north.  Our time is running out and we need to see some of Switzerland.

Our route north took us out of the Apt valley, up over the hills and down into more valleys with great views.  Lots of woods, cultivated fields and the occasional small village.  Some sections through rocky gorges with narrow winding roads.

It didn't take long to leave Provence an we gradually entered the precursor to the Alps.  Of course, cloud obscures the big peaks that we assume are there, but one gets the idea of larger, more massive mountains.  Not just hills any more.

Au Revoir, Provence.