Last day away from Europe

Last day in USA. Today it was clear blue skies so we went to a nearby park with the intention of doing one last little trek through leafy New England before driving down to JFK. Unfortunately for the adults there was a playground so the kids ran straight there. Lucas met two boys and there was no tearing them away, so we just spent the afternoon there. Then we headed down to JFK where we spent 4h wiling away the time before boarding our plane.

This message comes to you courtesy of Korean Airlines. Their VIP lounge has an open WiFi network.

Rainy day in Torrington

What a wash out! We are here to trek and it just poured the whole day until 3pm. Luckily we have a kids "museum" (more of an interactive play area) next door so we spent the day there. It was packed - most parents must have had the same idea as us.

Got most of the packing out of the way. Tomorrow we have decent weather and a late flight, so we want to spend at least some time walking.


Connecticut only has 5 pages dedicated to it in our guide book. A hidden gem it says, and not much else. We are here because there is some nice walking country and we are only 2h from JFK. Spent most the day driving, so we had a walk around town to stretch our legs. It looks like it has seen better days.

Cape Cod

We are sort of in the middle of Cape Cod, so that we aren't more than half an hour away from anything. Today we went towards the end of the cape, near the National Park interpretation centre, to Coast Guard beach. The name is uninspiring but the guidebook said it was nice and it didn't disappoint. The only thing is that it was really crowded, but it is August after all. There aren't any clams to dig up but the sand is absolutely perfect. It's amazing how they keep it so pristine with so many visitors.

Our neighbours has a great tower fortress going on so Lucas and I built a huge tower ourselves. We got a cool tunnel going through it but then our neighbours left and bequeathed us their construction, so we gave up on ours. However, instead of extending and expanding the empire Lucas and Aisha became barbarians and in no time the noble citadel was reduced to ashes.

Said our sad goodbyes to what is probably our last beach (excepting Fuengirola). We still don't have a proper tan though.

Finally manage to renew the rental

Got to Boston airport and finally renewed the rental. They were pretty clueless and I think we got overcharged, but we had two bored, tired and hungry kids so we'll have to fight that battle later.

On to Cape Cod. We had time to stop off at Sandy Neck beach. Esther is feeling the days slip away and needs to spend as many as possible on idyllic beaches. In our opinion this one was far from idyllic (we have been spoilt in Canada), and call it "sandy" must have been a similar marketing stunt to Eric's naming of Greenland (also at one end it is crawling with parked campervans). But it has tides, sandbars, hermit crabs and clams so we weren't complaining. Also, since we arrived after 15:30 the car park was free, our first bit of good luck for a few days.

More Thrifty adventures

Crossed the border with minimal hassle. Renewing the car rental is proving to be a nightmare. Again we got sent to the wrong place. The office in Portland is also a partner. Not only that, but it is closed Saturday afternoon, so I had nobody to shout at. Really miffed, tonight's hotel was really expensive (and an hour's return drive from Portland). At least I got some shopping in (mountain gear) on the way back. Now it looks like we have to get up early and rush to Boston.

On the border

Drove through the Bay of Fundy without stopping - it is famous for having the world's biggest tides but we don't have 6h to spare. Stopped at Saint John instead, a nice town with a cool market and funky museum. Esther and I got in a much-needed hairdresser session.

Spent the night right next to the border, just before USA.

Thrifty adventures

When we first rented the car, knowing we had to renew after 30 days, we made sure we had an office where the renewal could be done. We were told Amherst. Turns out we got bad info; not only can we not renew in Canada, but the office we were sent to was a partner, not a real office. Pretty unimpressed with the whole affair. We have now had to change loads of hotel nights and can't visit Saint Andrews by the Sea (Canada) nor Bar Harbour (USA). We will spend some time at Cape Cod instead.

End of the Cabot trail

Last day of our last major tourist attraction before heading back to Europe. Life sucks. We only have a few more stopovers on our way to JFK to break up the trip.

Weather still nasty so we didn't go back North to complete the Cape North detour. We just did a small loop and then headed South. Stopped at some nice rocky coastline on the way, all windswept and granitic. We had loads of fun scrambling around the rocks.

Passed by a perched eagle so hit the breaks and ran out with the camera. Such a shame the telephoto was too heavy for this trip. As luck would have it a campervan stopped behind us and out popped a guy with a telephoto. He was also using Canon and offered to swap lenses so I could get a few nice close-up shots of the majestic bird.

Tried to do a short walk but the rain and fog (and bees) put an end to that. Just drove on to Badeck, our final stop on the Cabot trail.

Turning point

Today is a turning point in the trip. From today every step of our trip takes us closer to home. Until now we have been getting nearer to then go further away, but from now on we are on our way home. Quite a long and roundabout way, but it still feels like the clock is ticking. From here every night we will get closer to New York JFK, and from there we will fly to London for a week's stopover. Then we have one last week in Fuengirola in the South of Spain and then catch the train to Madrid. We still have some time before school starts, and I have a couple more weeks to look for a flat before I go back to work.

Continued round the Cabot trail, with a few stops on the way. One of those was The Bog, which is a... bog. A typical Cape Breton Highlands bog, where some hardy plants and stunted trees fight for survival in a low-nutrient environment. Because all calories count there are a fair amount of insect-eating plants round here.

We were going to go off the Cabot trail for a small detour to Cape North but the skies opened up and it started pouring down. There was no point going there as there would be no views so we just saw a small lighthouse museum on the way (only because we were waiting for our pizza) and went on to Ingonish. Here the weather was better so we had a great time at the very pretty Ingonish beach where Lucas and Aisha both has a great time battling the waves.

Skyline trail

If you are going to do just one of the walks on the Cabot trail the one to do is the Skyline apparently. It follows a ridge up to a bluff by the sea through trees and meadows. The first 15 minutes are on a wide trail to take you up to the Skyline proper from the car park. After such strenuous exercise we stopped for a picnic and to see one of the rangers who was displaying antlers, footprints and poo. Round here you get deer and moose, with the occasional bear and coyote (the only adult to be killed by coyotes, a Canadian folk singer, was attacked on this trail in 2009). It is incredible to see just how big a moose antler really is. Lucas could hardly lift it, so we settled for a deer antler for the photo.

Then the path gets a bit narrower, but still pretty wide and smooth. It is also pretty level the whole way through. Sadly there are way too many people. There is a loop you can do to make the walk longer but we opted for the short version (7.5km is pretty much Lucas and Aisha's limit). The trail ends with a boardwalk (to protect the fragile vegetation) all the way to the end of the ridge and then about halfway down to the ocean. The views weren't too amazing as the day was pretty overcast, but on a clear day it must be quite something.

Stopped on the way back to learn about whales from another ranger, and then at the visitor centre. The kids completed their activity book missions and got a junior ranger diploma and dog tag, so they were pretty chuffed.

Three beaches

Giovanni Caboto (aka John Cabot) was an Italian commissioned by Henry VII to explore the New World for England, a few years after Columbus. The first European in North America since the Vikings, he explored from Newfoundland to Maine. The scenic route round Cape Breton Island is named after him. A short detour off the route is one of his landfalls. Cape Breton is also famous for it's highlands, a granitic plateau with some pretty striking scenery and hiking trails. We are spending four days to slowly drive and hike our way around. You wouldn't even notice you are on an island - the separation from the mainland is so small it looks like you just cross a small river on the bridge.

So we set off from Port Hawkesbury North towards Cheticamp, where we are staying for two nights. Since breakfast was ridiculously early (7:45!) we had the whole day ahead of us. Our first stop was Port Hood, a nice little town with two churches and no pubs. Being Sunday we ran into a bit of traffic. There was some sort of boat parade going on at lunchtime, but we were there too early so we just went on the boardwalk and walked along the beach. All the beaches round here are amazing, with dunes, fine sand and virtually empty. On this beach in particular you had to avoid the dry sand as some sort of endangered bird used it for nesting, so we walked down by the shore.

Not hanging around for the boar parade we continued on to Inverness. This whole area was colonised mainly by Scots, with a smattering of Acadian French. There we visited the beach again; this one was more of the sitting down and making sandcastles variety.

Finally we hit the Cabot Trail and arrived at Cheticamp. We checked into the hotel and drove off to Cheticamp Island, which is joined to the main island by road. Parked and... walked down the beach. After another nice walk we met some local knowledge who told us where to go to maybe see some whales and even eagles, so off we went. We looked from the far end of the island out to sea but no luck. The scenery was nice though: a windswept bluff with tall grasses and steep cliffs into the ocean.

Towards Cape Breton

Tried to book the ferry last minute this morning but they didn't have space for cars for the lunchtime route. And nothing at all for the next ferry. So we decided to go back the way we came: on the Confederation Bridge. It is slightly longer and with no ferry ride to break up the journey, serves us right for leaving it so late.

We are staying at Port Hawkesbury to break up the journey and to visit the Cape Breton / Cabot trail information centre (stocked up on info and maps). There is precious little else to do here.

Cycling the confederation trail

Another thing PEI is famous for is it's cycle routes. Especially the Confederation trail, which spans the whole island. Obviously we weren't about to embark on a 200km odyssey, so we settled for one of the most picturesque 10km from St Peter's Bay to Morell. This stretch is the only one that passes next to a significant amount of coastline.

We hired a couple of bikes and a trailer for the two kids. I pulled the trailer while Esther carried the backpack. The path is quite flat, but you really notice the gravel when dragging two kids along. Maybe bike seats would have been better but they really had wanted to go on a trailer since way back in New Zealand. After 20km (there, picnic, and back) I was pretty knackered. Cooled off at Greenwich beach, where I had my first dip in a Canadian sea.

Tyne Valley

Bit of a driving day today, to visit the West part of the island. Didn't make it all the way though, it's too big for that. We just enjoyed the views of tree-covered hills from the car going down country lanes. Stopped for a great lunch at Tyne Valley. Later I realised I completely miscalculated the tip and only gave half, which was a shame because service was great, and we didn't pass that way again to rectify. Tyne Valley is where they do a big oyster shucking (opening) festival; in the last one they beat the world record (the previous record was also from here).

Did a little circuit, stopping at a playground, a river, a lovely beach (Aisha asleep for this one) and finally back home.

We are staying at cabins on a campsite and we have a small fire pit, so we decided to try our hand at lighting a fire. We expected the city slicker style experience we had with a chimney at a farm in Cadiz a few years ago but either the wood was drier or we have suddenly become experts - it only took one match and a bit of newspaper to get it going. I told Lucas a story about Dracula, mostly explaining how vampires work (wooden stakes, sunlight allergy, turning into bats, that kind of thing) and he lapped it all up. I think he's going to want another vampire story tomorrow.

PEI National Park beaches

One of the best things in PEI are the beaches (the other is Anne of Green Gables, but since we aren't Canadian the whole thing doesn't affect us). Some of the best stretches of sand are in the National Park. We could get passes at a discount at our campsite (5 bucks a day vs 20 bucks) so we got one and off we went.

The sky is blue (most of the time), the trees green, the sea somewhere in between, and the sand red. We stopped just after Cavendish Beach as it looked a bit more interesting (and because we missed the turning). There were some nice red sandstone rocks and a few tide pools, as well as vegetation-covered dunes. We followed them along the shore up to the beach proper, where we installed our first base of the day. The kids had fun on the dunes (away from the protected bits and the vegetation) and splashed around.

Continued in another part of the park, this time to Brackley beach. Didn't find it and ended up at Covehead, which is also quite pretty and has a small lighthouse. I'm not a big believer in karma but amazingly, after loosing his kite on the Iles de la Madeleine, Lucas found a kite here. It wasn't as good, but it was completely new. The tail was still rolled up and tied with a rubber band. What a great moment for him. We immediately put it to the test and triumphantly paraded it down the beach. We now have 3 kites (plus one in Madrid).

Spent the evening roasting marshmallows with Susanne, Gus and co (they had spent the day at the theatre matinee of Anne of Green Gables) for a last goodbye. Tomorrow they are off to Madeleine and we won't see them until next time we meet.