About twenty years ago, we had a vacation in southern France. It is a beautiful part of the world to visit and a combination of great food and wine and some outstanding scenery. We were staying along the Lot river but a short drive away was the town of Rocamadour. This town is famous for being built on the side of a cliff. It is really a stunning location. As you approach it by road, you get a great view of the whole town arrayed up the side of the hill.
When you get in to the town, you can climb up to the top following a trail that pilgrims have made over the centuries. They did it in slow and laborious ways but we just walked, albeit slowly. When you get to the top, you can walk out on some ramparts that are pretty high and exposed. Not my idea of a fun place to be but I am not going to wuss out. If you find yourself in this part of France, so make the effort to visit. I would love to go again and this time I would take way more photos!
The A400M Atlas is now in service with a number of air forces. My encounters with them, though, have only involved the development airframes displayed by Airbus. That changed in Sacramento when The Patrouille de France arrived as part of their North American tour. They brought an A400M as he support plane. I was rather disappointed that it arrived late in the evening, after I had gone home and disappeared early the following morning to recover some delayed jets.
It was back for the day of the display though. It started up at a remote location but then proceeded to give a short flying display. It then taxied back to the crowd line where it shut down and was opened up for visitors. The people were lined up to get inside it for ages. The plane still looked pretty clean so I guess it had not been in service too long. I was glad to get a close up look around the outside as well as to see the crowds inside and the flying display itself. Not a dramatic performance like the test crews have put on but still good to see.
Chino is full of surprises. There are many hangars and many unusual things contained in them. A friend showed me a shot of a Jaguar T4 that was in one of them – I was disappointed to not see that myself. As I was walking back towards the parking with a fellow shooter, we came across a hangar with a Gazelle in it. The guy cleaning out the hangar floor invited us in. It was a French Army Gazelle, still equipped with many electronic boxes from its military role and showing the mounting point on the side of the fuselage where HOT anti-tank missiles were once mounted. He flies it regularly and says it has been immaculately maintained over its service life. It certainly looks great.
When we still lived in the UK, I took part in a charity bike ride. The ride was from London to Paris and was in aid of the Royal British Legion. Spread over 4 days, the first leg was from London to Dover and over on the ferry to Calais, the second leg was from Calais to Abbeville, the third was Abbeville to Beauvais and the last was Beauvais to Paris. The first leg was not a lot of fun. Eighty miles through the south east on some busy roads when you were pretty much left to your own devices was not too relaxing. The trip through France was a totally different story.
For our whole ride through France we were escorted by motor cyclists. It was like being in the Tour de France. As we approached, the traffic pulled aside and the motor bikes cleared our path. Red lights and stop signs meant nothing. In each town at which we stopped, the town would turn out to provide us with food and wine (not a good idea when there is a big climb straight after lunch) and entertainment. Everyone was unbelievably welcoming and we were constantly being cheered along by anyone we passed.
Each town we stopped overnight in would have a parade. The remembrance ceremony each time would be a really well supported event and I felt like I knew the Marseillaise by heart by the end of the trip. The first two days were eighty miles each, the third was a slightly easier seventy miles and the last day was under sixty. I had always thought of northern France as quite flat. I will never make that mistake again.
The final day was pretty impressive. We rode through the outskirts of Paris coming through areas I had heard of before but never visited. Then we were running in to the center of the city itself. The run up to l’arc de Triomphe with all of the traffic was an amazing feeling. The whole group together with our police escort stopped Paris traffic. We rode around the monument before parking our bikes and then walking up the Champs Elysée before holding a final remembrance ceremony under the arch itself. Quite an impressive event and one that really meant something after the effort to get there.
I only had a small film camera with me so there aren’t too many shots and they were taken while on the move. Hopefully they will convey something of what was a really cool trip.