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.

Back to PEI

Ferry leaves at 8 and you have to be there an hour early, so we had quite an early morning. We hadn't headed out more than an hour when there was a medical emergency on board and we had to turn back to drop a passenger off. Finally we arrived over 2h late.

We had arranged to meet up with Susanne & Gus & co at our campsite at 5, but arrived half an hour late because of the ferry. Luckily they were still there so the kids were ecstatic. We all went out for one of the famous lobster dinners. The nearest one was quite something. Tour bus outside, massive open-plan dining area filled with OAPs, gift shop, the works. You buy some tokens for your meal on the way in - the whole thing reminded us of a countryside wedding. Luckily there was a table in the licenced downstairs room, where all the cool cats were. We had to do it, but really the whole thing is an overblown affair, quite expensive, not great quality, and with the ambiance of Mr Bean's birthday party.

Pony ride

Unlike Vietnam, if it is windy there are many things to do here if you don't kitesurf. Explored the last corner in the main island this morning, a port with a few shops. There was some sort of painting festival on. It was too windy for the kites so we had a small walk down the beach. Had some lunch on the benches there and then we headed off to the day's highlight, the pony ride.

More than a ride it was mini-lesson. The kids learnt how to lead the pony, brush him before putting on the saddle, talk to him, as well as a bit of steering. They played various games designed to get you to move round the paddock and finished by riding bareback for a bit to get a proper feel of the animal. Aisha was a bit wary at the beginning but was soon laughing her head off every time the pony was trotting. Lucas thoroughly enjoyed every second of it.

We then headed down to the South; the spit that connects the two islands is absolutely stunning - the salt marshes there look like bird paradise. We stopped for a nice coffee and cake by the beach while the kids played hide and seek and gathered stones for their "shop". After watching the sun slowly go down we leisurely drove back home for an early dinner. Tomorrow we have a very early ferry to catch.

Kite buggy

Esther's wrist still hurts so I had the first kite buggy lesson. The first hour and a half is purely introductory: you spend all the time just with the kite, doing various exercises to learn how to control it. I was lucky - it was two people to a kite but we were 7, so I had a kite all to myself. The main aim is to do figure-8s to one side of the wind and another, which creates the impulse to drag the buggy from one side to another (simply going downwind means you have to drag it back every 2 minutes).

After an hour and a half we began the next part of the lesson: getting into the buggy. Again I had a buggy all to myself, so I got double the practice time. I definitely needed it, it's pretty hard to get the darn things moving. And once you get going it just takes a small mistake to grind to a halt. Great fun though.

By the end of the day Esther's wrist was still not better so we cancelled tomorrow's lesson. Maybe we can do something interesting in PEI in a few days time. Looks like we have wind for a few days.

Beach and kites

Went back to the shop to confirm our kite buggy lessons. While we were there we bought the kids a couple of kites - there is good wind today and the beaches are a great place to fly them.

The four main islands are all linked by road - there are big sand spits between them which makes this easy. Today we headed to Old Harry Beach, about 40km North. It's a beautiful windswept beach with a few small dunes and only a handful of people. Immediately took out the kites and got them flying. I expected interest to wane after a few minutes but the kids held on to them for ages. Until Lucas' slipped out and flew off. We both ran after it but soon it was out to sea with absolutely no change of return. He was more excited than sad about the whole adventure.

Headed back on a longer scenic route. The houses here are mostly painted in very bright colours, all different. This is because in the old days they were mostly made from shipwrecks and painted in the same colour as the original boat. We stopped at a smoking house for a few dinner tidbits (smoked clams, hmmm) and at a cheese shop (closed, but the owner, who was just leaving, opened up again for us). Then we saw some magnificent cliffs on the way home - these islands have some magnificent scenery, well worth the trip.

Kayaking round Gros Cap

First proper day on the islands. Hadn't realised how expensive the ferry was so we were on a mission to make the most of our time here. First we went to a place where they do all sorts of wind and water sports and booked an evening kayak tour (today is the best day as the wind will pick up tomorrow). We don't have much time to do a proper kitesurf course (plus there isn't much kitesurf in Madrid) but we put our names down for a kite buggy intro + beginner course for Sunday and Monday.

Headed off to the red cliff district for a lovely walk. The combination of green grass, red sand cliffs and blue sky is amazing. We hunted for rabbits, got lost in a forest and explored some abandoned houses before heading back to the car. From there we stopped off at the pony place to book an hour for Lucas and Aisha on Monday while one of us does kite buggy. The main aim is to teach Aisha that ponies are real animals, and that even if they don't fly and aren't pink they still are a lot of fun.

The last few kayak trips have been pretty relaxed and I took the camera, but this looked a bit harder - 3 hours at sea - so this time I left it behind; having a big SLR dangling from your back means you quickly get tired because of the weird postures you take. We had two double-kayaks so at least we didn't have the kids on our knees. This was the first time I've paddled in one with a rudder, which you operate with your legs. We headed out, hugging the red-cliff coast, up to Gros Cap (where we were supposed to stay these five nights). We went in and out of a few caves along the way. It was really pretty, but hard work. Aisha fell asleep on the way back, and Esther hurt her wrist a bit. Good thing tomorrow we have a day of rest.

Madeleine crossing

Drove for an hour and a bit to the ferry port, where we boarded the 5 hour ferry to Les Iles de la Madeleine. We have loads of things to keep the kids distracted and there is loads of space on board, so the crossing was painless.

What wasn't painless was the arrival. Esther had an email confirming 2 adults and 2 children at a youth hostel on the grounds of a lovely campsite. By some glitch the system had only booked 1 single bed and they were fully booked. All we managed to get was our deposit back and the guys at the office phoned around and found us some alternative accommodation: 2 nights at a campsite cabin and another 3 at a motel. This is not what we wanted - worse location, more expensive, and we need to move - so we will be putting in an official complaint.

PEI stopover

Parted company with Susanne & Gus and co this morning. They are doing Prince Edward Island (PEI) first and then Les Iles de la Madeleine. It's the way we wanted to do it too but there were no ferry tickets, so we are doing it the other way round. Parting wasn't too sorrowful as we will see them again in a few days in PEI before they cross over to Madeleine.

We are spending the night on PEI, at Charlottetown, to be close to the ferry. To cross over from the mainland there is a huge bridge that goes on for 13km. We stopped just before at the information centre there, and gawped at the bridge for a while.

Charlottetown looks quite nice. We are in student halls again, so we stopped at the supermarket to do some shopping as we have a decent kitchen. Potato soup for the kids, lobster for the adults. After lobster at uncle Roger's we've been itching for some more ever since, and this area is pretty famous for it.

Student days

Today is a pretty long drive: 6 hours. We broke up the trip to see Grand Falls Gorge, but were all pretty underwhelmed. Though the rocks are quite amazing and there are some cool ziplines going across. We didn't stay long, just enough to stretch our legs.

Pretty quirky accommodation this time: student halls at the local university. Must be for the postgrads, you can't spoil undergrads like this. It was pretty late by the time we arrived, but we still made it for a little walk down to Fredericton. It is the capital of New Brunswick but with no student population there isn't much going on. It was actually an hour later than we thought, it turns out we just crossed into a different time zone.


After a marathon drive we had a picnic lunch less than an hour from Quebec. Back to hotels again after being spoilt at all these houses. At least these last hotels are a bit quirkier than the drab soulless motels we have frequented in California. This one is in the heart of Old Quebec. It even has a full-on tourist trap gift shop which doubles up as reception. The parking lot is a block and a half away; what you gain in quirkiness you loose in practicality.

We had chosen a hotel in the thick of things as we only have one night in Quebec. So no sooner had we dumped all our luggage that we headed out to explore the streets. We walked around the Old Quarter for a bit. We didn't bother with the Plains of Abraham, site of the pivotal battle which changed the fate of New France, as it was probably just... a field. Quebec is nice, very French, though some streets are of the mega touristy type filled with all sorts of pointless shops and dubious-quality restaurants. The one we chose for dinner was just a street away from one of the main thoroughfares and was a complete success.

One more day at the cottage

The night in a tent was quite a success. It was Aisha's first tenting experience and she was a bit wary of the whole idea, but in the end she came round to it and we all slept soundly well into the morning. By the time we got up the early birds had cleaned up most of the evidence of the party so we just shuffled around picking up the occasional bottle or can.

After my morning swim it was time to try my hand at the golf competition. I hadn't swung a club for 20 years. First shot nicked the ball and it went skidding down to the water's edge. The other two made full contact though, and the ball arched out into the lake, not quite on target but still pretty good after all these years.

The trophies were handed out. Lucas was chuffed to be joint first for the smallest fish, he was grinning from ear to ear as he held up the trophy. Susanne's elder brother, the organiser of the event, got the weekend idiot award for dangerous antics while hanging the lights up a tree (it was a close run thing as there were no obvious candidates, in previous years there have been cars in the lake and all manner of nasty injuries), narrowly beating his father's horseshoe up a tree.

The guests slowly left, until it was just us two families. We spent the rest of the day lazing about and slept in the cottage. Tomorrow we are all off to Quebec, which is over 4 hours drive from here.

The Hamm Horseshoe Tournament

Who could have said that throwing a horseshoe at a metal spike in a sandbox could be so fun? We had been intrigued by a horseshoe competition we saw in California but hadn't participated. This time we formed part of the 32 boy/girl teams vying for the top price in the day-long knockout. Last night's controversy was that the teams had already been drawn (traditionally it is done with the early birds present on the Friday night). The fact that I was paired with Susanne and Esther with Gus indicates it might have not been entirely left to chance.

The format is knockout, but you are allowed to loose one game. If you loose you go over to the "dark side" and compete for a place in the final. If you win all your games you go into the final with a game in hand. The men shoot uphill and from a greater distance. The aim is to get the horseshoe round the metal spike (a "ringer"). You can also get points for being one horseshoe's length from the spike. Boys and girls take turns, with each player throwing two horseshoes in succession, to tot up points. The first to 21 wins. Ringer's are worth 3 points and near spike 1, so in one turn you can get 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 or (the near-mythical double-ringer) 6.

As expected I was pretty pathetic in the first game, adding a grand total of 0 points to my team's score. Luckily Susanne is an ace and she brought us through to victory. Esther fared better, but lost her first game. We lost the next game but I made my first point. Esther won hers. If we both won our next 3 we would meet for the couple's confrontation. Sadly it was not to be as Esther and Gus crashed out of the competition on their third game. On our third I made a few more points, though still no ringers.

The games are very exciting. The teams get harder to beat as the bad players get eliminated and the good players get warmed up. Luckily beer helps level the playing field a bit. I could see us going all the way (it really brings out the competitiveness in you) but after a terrible fourth game we were out. At least this time I got my first ringer so I was over the moon!

In between the games there is banter, beer, food, swimming in the lake and running after the kids. You also spend a lot of time watching the actual games and cheering the ringers and oohing the near misses. There are diggers (horseshoes buried or half-buried in the sand or grass) and leaners (leaning on the spike, at one time worth 2 points but now relegated to one, though with a lucky knock they might become ringers). There is a lot of scientific measuring (with a stick) to see which horseshoe is nearer the spike. Even some ringers are controversial and have to be measured.

There are other prizes at stake. Biggest and largest fish for one. There is also the weekend idiot for the person who does the craziest thing on the day. And the golden marshmallow for the best toasted marshmallow. Tomorrow we will also be fighting for the golf championship, aiming for a big floating ring in the lake.

After a very exciting 2-game final (the dark side team won the first game) while the kids (and some adults) watched a film on an big-screen outdoor cinema it still was not over. Now came the fireworks extravaganza. A whole bunch of them were let off and soon the sky was sparkling. The tranquil lake boomed with a thousand bangs and whistles for a few minutes (luckily no complaints from the neighbours) and the 20th edition of the tournament closed it's first day. We took the kids to the tent where we promptly fell asleep and missed the afterparty.

Postcard Canada

Drove up to Susanne's parents cottage by lake Travers, about an hour away from Montreal. Her brother was there putting the finishing touches to the preparations for tomorrow's horseshoe tournament, a yearly celebration with friends and family. This year is the 20th edition. Susanne had told us about the event many years ago back in London. Wherever she was in the world she would always come back for it. Now we will finally experience it for ourselves. Amazing luck our route took us this way on this date.

The location is postcard-perfect. A gentle lake surrounded by trees and a string of cottages on a dirt track, each with it's own jetty. We chilled out on the lake (there are 2 paddle boats and a canoe, as well as all sorts of floating devices), in the garden and on the balcony for the rest of the day. We lent a hand with some of the preparations, but most of the work had been done already.

In the evening we greeted the first arrivals. Tonight we all fit in the cottage, though tomorrow we (and many others) will be in tents round the front lawn. They were a cool bunch of people and in no time we were chatting and getting some beers out. In the end we had quite a pre-party which set the tone for the next day. As per the rules there was no horseshoe training allowed, all the horseshoes were under lock and key in the shed. So we trained purely in beer and wine drinking.


Montreal is crazy for traffic and parking so we drove to one of the metro stations in the outskirts, parked there and took the tube into town. Had a nice walk through the old quarter which is pretty much as old as you can get in the Americas. Reached one of the main thoroughfares where a street performer was just beginning his show, so we joined the crowd as the kids really wanted to see it. It looked promising, with 3 fire juggling sticks at the ready. In the end that was just a ruse, all he did was light them and put his hand through the flames. The main act was just getting people to do a little dance, with a smattering of cheap jokes. We were really unlucky as Gus was singled out for wearing an Indiana Jones type hat and was press ganged into the dancing troupe, so we couldn't wander off until he was released at the end.

We slowly made our way to a beach that had been set up next to the St Lawrence river. On the way we had parks, a quick aborted visit to the science museum, a playground, and a big tower. The beach was pretty cool, with a small bar and plenty of lounging area. Later at night the whole area apparently becomes a hip night bar.

Slowly made our way back through the old town, past a marching band (unsure of who they were exactly, the music sounded sort of Yiddish), and on to the tube. The kids were well and truly knackered, and all four of them fell asleep so we had to carry them to the cars. Where they promptly woke up. We had talked about going to a hill to view the city, but with the kids in this state decided it wasn't worth it and all went home for a bit of TV time and relaxation.

Blame Canada

Spent the day with the song Blame Canada (from South Park) in my head. Today we drove North to meet up with Susanne and Gus at Susanne's parents house just outside Montreal. The Google Maps chose a pretty surreal route, at one point we were even on an unpaved road (through a beautiful forest area which seemed to be a cross-country skiing place). We were never on the same road for more than a few miles.

Reached the border, a bit disappointed not to be greeted by Mounties but by a pretty serious border officer. Didn't realise they use kilometres instead of miles here, and the kilometres are pretty unreadable on our speedometer so a bit of mental arithmetic is in order.

After a pretty nasty traffic jam round Montreal we arrived at Susanne's parents house. We all had a great barbecue in the garden until the mosquitoes drove us inside. The kids (Susanne & Gus have a boy Aisha's age and a girl a year older than Lucas) got on great and all slept together in one room, with minimal fuss which was pretty surprising knowing out batting average.

White Mountains and Lincoln

Drove into the White Mountains National Forest which is, for once, close to our hotel. It was grey and overcast but you can still appreciate how pretty the area is. First we stopped at a short walk called the Discovery Trail. It meanders through a managed forest, with a series of panels explaining the ranger's work managing the forest to mimic the natural processes of growth and destruction: felling trees selectively is essential to give the new upcoming generations a chance to grow.

The path continued but we chose to go back to the car and on to a couple of viewpoints and a picnic area. In the middle of our feast the skies opened and we ran for cover.

It didn't look like it would stop so we headed back to the town of Lincoln. Here it was much drier, with just a few spots of rain. So we made the most of it by doing our washing at the laundromat, buying some books and walking down the high street. We also successfully hunted down a couple of light fleeces for the adults; all mountain gear was on sale at massive discounts.

Back at the hotel the owner lit up a fire and brought out some marshmallows (Lucas calls them marchmallows). So we had a nice early evening roasting them on a stick and even had time for a quick jump in the pool.

Towards White Mountains

Roger and Moyra had to head off this morning so we got up early to say goodbye. Then the kids (who had also gotten up) promptly fell asleep on the sofa while we loaded up the car. We are heading for Canada to meet some more friends so the White Mountains makes a good stopover while they make their way to Montreal.

Stopped at one of the rentacar offices to sort out Esther as an additional driver. Turns out they are a partner and don't have access to the contract. The guy there pointed us towards Manchester airport which was on our way so we stopped there. Turns out they closed down the office there a year ago. I hope we can sort this out in Canada.

After a late start and all the stops we arrived quite late at the hotel, so we just hung around the pool until dinner time. Tomorrow we'll explore the area, though the weather doesn't look too good.

Sean Minor Pinot Noir 2011

Blackcurrant, earth, violets, vanilla and sweet spices, a touch balsamic. Rounded and meaty, pretty high acidity, a bit short on body. 91/100. 19 USD.

World cup final

Headed off to Castle Hill again, no wedding this time. Spent more time than anticipated there because the kids were full of beans and couldn't stop running round the gardens. It is a lovely stately home, plumbing must have brought in quite a lot of cash in the 19th century. The views are also very impressive.

Headed back to Crane Beach for a bit more sunbathing and castle building before the world cup started. Today was quite windy, which explains the dunes and fine sand, though Roger says it normally isn't that windy.

I was the only one going with Germany so I had nobody to celebrate with. Not that I was really bothered, I don't really follow football and in any case my teams are Spain, England and Netherlands - one of the joys of a multicultural upbringing is to have loads of chances at sporting events.

Met Moyra's father and had a good old chinwag over a barbecue dinner. Lucas did a really good portrait of him, they got on really well.

Ipswich beaches

Uncle Roger hopped into the car with us to show us round the area. First we did a short walk through a beautiful meadow up to a rocky beach with a great view of his kayaking stomping ground. We picked loads of winkles to serve as an appetiser for dinner; the kids loved the idea of foraging. After a bit of splashing around we headed off to another beach, but didn't stay long as there was a playground next door which beckoned.

We couldn't see the views from the top of Castle Hill as there was a wedding, so we headed to Crane beach next door. This is a beautiful stretch of fine sand and dunes, but with quite a crowd, even though it was greenhead season. Greenheads are annoying flies with a sharp bite which only really appear for a couple of weeks during their breeding season. It turns out they hate Avon Skin So Soft Bath Oil, so we only got a couple of bites the whole day (in places not yet lathered in the Avon magic).

Roger left us to go shopping with Moyra while we stayed at the beach for a bit more. The tide was going out and there were loads of people on the sandbank so we went up to investigate. Turns out they were digging out huge clams. Found out how to spot them (two small holes and the occasional bubble) and dug a few out ourselves. But then we heard someone say you need a licence so I went to ask a coastguard. He had no idea, but later a ranger turned up and confirmed no clams could be removed from this beach, so we through ours back into the water.

Last time I saw my cousins Louie and Pablo they must have been 8. Funny seeing them at 17. Lucas is most impressed with them and finds any excuse to hang out in their bedrooms.

Best dinner of the trip so far: lobster. The seafood down the coast here is amazing.

Rutherford Ranch Chardonnay 2012

Peach, grass and apple. Mouthy and fleshy, bold, complex and fruity. 92/100. 18 USD.

In the car again

After a week of freedom, we now have a car again. This time it's not a nice new Kia Optima but an oldish Dodge Avenger. As I picked it up on my own I was unable to put Esther down as an additional driver, so after packing the car and saying goodbye we went back to the rentacar office to sort it out. This time my Visa card wouldn't play ball, probably hit some limit or other. We'll do it on Monday at another office.

We were going just North of Boston, to my uncle's house. Only got lost a couple of times round the Bronx but then we his some nasty traffic. We were hoping to get there by 6, and at nearly half past 8 we were still ten minutes away. Then the tablet's battery conked out so we had no navigation system. Finally, after stopping for a bit to charge it we made it.

More parks

Took another day off today. We were going towards the National History museum (had already ditched the idea of Staten Island or Wall Street) but never made it - Central Park got in the way. After that we made it to Riverside Park to meet up with Tanya.

There is an interesting contraption there: ten metal rings hanging from chains, spaced out about 2m apart. The idea is to swing from one end to another. Glad to say I managed it on the third attempt (once I got the technique right - though if I hadn't got it right by then I would probably ended up with tendinitis). Amazing what the promise of a beer will help me achieve.

Montinore Estate Pinot Noir 2012

Not tasted in a proper wine glass.

Vanilla, flowers, ripe red fruits. Lovely tannins and acidity, slightly dry, decent aftertaste. 93/100. 17 USD.

Times Square and Empire State Building

As the title implies, a pretty typical tourist route in New York today. In fact we didn't really go to Times Square, we went to the giant Toys"R"Us next door. It has 3 massive floors full of toys and even a Ferris wheel. We spent an hour looking at everything before deciding on one, and only one, toy each. Esther and I couldn't find anything so we passed. Lucas chose a fluffy dog and Aisha some makeup, what a surprise. Then I went on the Ferris wheel with the kids, where we all came to the conclusion that Ferris wheels are completely boring.

Tanya and Roger & co headed back home and we soldiered on as we had tickets to the Empire State Building. We slowly made our way there, after a small detour to the Sony store (still no toy for daddy). The kids were a bit ropey after so much walking but perked up a bit after a bit of chocolate and sweets. So much so they went whizzing round the corridors of the Empire State Building and were super excited at the top balcony on the 86th floor.

We had bought the expensive tickets so we could go up to the 102nd floor, but it really isn't worth it. For one the view is basically the same, and for another you aren't outside, so between you and New York is a dirty pane of glass on all sides, and no decent camera angles.

Just chillin'

Day off tourism today. Just hung around a few parks and walked around for a bit.

Today we finally finished reserving all the hotels for the rest of our trip. We also have all transport sorted as well. Feels great.

The Pinot Project Pinot Noir 2013

Not tasted in a proper wine glass.

Cherry, leather, dark fruits, balsamic, a touch of earth. Unbalanced, fruity, a touch of battery acid. 89/100. 16 USD.

Governor's Island

Tried and failed to get tickets to the Statue of Liberty. Absolutely nothing if we go together for the next week. And even if it were just us it would mean getting up at the crack of dawn on Tuesday. And possibly missing the ferry. No biggie, we wouldn't have even made the crown as Aisha (and Max) was too little. The next option would have been to get on the Staten Island ferry, which passes right in front of the statue, to get in some good photo ops for free. But in the end we went for a more exotic option: Governor's Island.

Here is where local knowledge failed us a bit: Governor's Island is right next to Manhattan and the ferry goes nowhere near the Statue of Liberty. Oh well, better lunch next time. I'm sticking to my new philosophy that travel is more about the how than the what, and that the trip is more important than the destination (though of course have at least a few decent destinations up your sleeve).

Well it turns out Governor's Island is a great destination. It may not have great views of the Statue of Liberty but it does have great views of the financial district. Away from the maddening crowd, especially on a weekday, it is an island of green a short 5 minutes ferry away from the tip of Manhattan. It has an arty vibe about it as well: we spent hours by a treehouse / minigolf made out of reused materials. We also went hunting for a local microbrewery but it was closed. Most places must just open for the weekend. Instead we went to a playground and must have been having a good time because we just missed the ferry. Hung around the fortress waiting for the last one.


Took our first subway (which I insist on calling the tube) downtown. Manhattan is much bigger than it looks on the map; it takes half an hour to get from halfway up to the start of the "real" downtown. The first thing that strikes you is, of course, the skyscrapers. And these aren't even the hardcore ones that you get in the financial district. The other thing is the traffic and people: not excessive but on average certainly more than London once you get out of Picadilly Circus.

We gawped at the buildings for a bit while walking through the streets until we came to the high line, an elevated linear walkway which used to be a train line. You can still see the tracks. Even though it is packed it is quite relaxing on account of the greenery and lack of cars. While there we managed to do a bit of street painting.

Walked through Greenwich Village in search of lunch. It is full of European-style cafes and bistros, rich-looking gay couples and immaculate tree-lined streets. With our budget lunch was obviously on the other side, near Washington Square. By the time we had finished it was getting dark, so after splashing around in the fountain for a bit, we were amazed to see fireflies in the square's green areas.

While waiting for the tube back a beatboxer set up shop, which the three little ones found most amusing. They danced away to the beats until our train arrived, to rapturous applause from the watching public. It all reminded me a bit of the fire show in Pai in Thailand, where the kids had danced onstage with Tommy and Layla. They stole the show there as well.