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.

Sonoma Hills Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2011

Not tasted in a proper wine glass.

Peach, tangerine, mint, herbal. Complex, fresh, just the right amount of fruit, decent touch of citric acidity. 92/100. 17 USD.

Central Park

Lovely weather, lots of kids, New York, what to do but hit the parks? First we went to Morningside park which is right next door. Had some fun on the playground and then ambled past hundreds of barbecues (4th of July weekend) to the other side. Close to the other side you get to Central Park where we had a great picnic and hit even more playgrounds.

It's also great to just walk around the non-touristy areas and take in the street vibe. That's the nice thing about staying with locals. In the evening, sinking down more than the recommended amount of wine, we discussed what to do over the next few days.

New York, New York

Happy Fourth of July, Independence Day.

Four and a half hours to New York, plus half an hour waiting for a gate in the plane, plus a 3h time difference, means we didn't do much else. Splashed out on a taxi to Tanya & Roger's place in Manhattan. It's great to see them again and the kids get on really well.

Very sad news today, when we landed we heard our friend Miriam had passed away. Esther was glad she had at least seen her and talked to her while she was still conscious.

Laguna Beach

Last day on the West coast. As we have a morning flight we booked a hotel by the airport. But with the whole day in front of us we didn't go directly, we wanted to stop at a beach along the way, in Orange County. So we drove just over halfway to LA and stopped at Laguna Beach. It's quite a heaving beach destination but conserves most of it's small town charm. We had fun on the beach and playground for a few hours and then headed on North. We took the coastal route for a while and it was quite pretty, but I think we definitely chose the best place to stop.

New Children's Museum and Balboa Park

We were debating what to do on our last day in San Diego: Legoland (expensive, even with some online discounts we found), water park (too cold), beach (idem). In the end we chose a kids "museum" which had caught Esther's eye. It is more of an art-inspired activity centre but it looked good, despite mixed reviews online. After that we weren't very sure what to do, but we'd see what the day offered us.

Found a spot to park pretty close to the museum and in we went. We had missed the introduction to the museum's 5 chickens but I guess the kids know what a chicken is by now so no harm done. There are 3 floors, each with different activities and also some workshops. After getting to know the place for a bit we joined a superhero chicken workshop, where we made a chicken (with a cape) out of a paper cup. It had some rubber bands at the bottom so that if you put it into another paper cup you could shoot your chicken across the room to save humanity. Pretty cool.

After that we went into the music kitchen to make a racket on the instruments made out of kitchen utensils. I think this was our favourite as we returned to it later. There was also a cool climbing area with various loudspeakers and sensors. If a sensor picked up your movement you would be able to hear sounds from the corresponding loudspeaker. Next to it were some wooden cars and a circuit for managing food deliveries.

Outside was another favourite, some farm items (including a small tractor) and a pot of red paint. Previous visiting children had put layer upon layer of paint, as did ours. And got completely messy in the process, despite the apron. Next to that was the ceramics section, and on the balcony upstairs we had bubble-making. There were a few more things, and loads of reading books downstairs so time just flew past. Before we left we joined a paper-making workshop where old paper had been shredded into a pulp. We ended up with some very nice artistic recycled paper sheets.

We were heading home early when we decided to stop and have a walk around Balboa Park. It's a nice little area, with loads of museums (which we didn't enter) and a great floor for scooters. We bumped into the first member of the astronomical society (they gather there monthly) and he let us look at the Sun. We also had a chat with a policeman and got a couple of stickers from the San Diego Police Department. Quite a busy day in the end, and I'm sure it couldn't have been beaten by Legoland.

Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Not tasted in a proper wine glass.

Peach, white flowers, melon, a touch of tangerine. Smooth, floral, uncomplicated, good aftertaste. 91+/100. 17 USD.

Mission Bay Beach

Yesterday was pretty cloudy and cold and we didn't understand why they wanted a beach round here (or so many water parks) until the sun poked out around 1 and made us put the sweaters away. So today was a beach day. We went to Mission Bay Beach, which features a huge promenade and plenty of fine white sand. It looks like quite a quite a party zone as well, especially with USA playing Belgium in the World Cup (they lost, but apparently it was one of the most exciting games in the tournament).

The sea was too cold for us (not so for the locals) but we got plenty of cool sandcastles done, and played with some other kids we saw. Then we headed for the more serene La Joya to scoot around for a bit and run around in the park. Right off one of the beaches was a colony of sea lions but we didn't investigate - I think we have seal and sea lion fatigue. The tightrope walker was way more interesting.

San Diego Zoo

In San Diego the zoo is a must-do. One of the most famous and biggest zoos in the world, but does it live up to the hype? For us the answer was, well, yes and no. On the one hand it is huge, beautifully landscaped, full of fun things to do, with nice shops and cafes, and amazing animals. On the other, and this isn't San Diego's fault, is that we aren't really into zoos that much.

But even as zoo-sceptics we thoroughly enjoyed the day. Hey, we aren't zoo-haters, otherwise we wouldn't have gone. I would have liked to go a bit slower but the kids raced through as expected, first looking for tigers, then pandas, then elephants, with hardly a pause for the more mundane animals in between (except the gorillas, we were all most impressed by them - I really want to go to central Africa to see them in the wild now).

We finished off with the polar bear who was, bizarrely, eating carrots (maybe a dental hygiene thing). Also he seemed to have no problem with the San Diego sunshine heat. From there we got a cable car all the way back to the entrance, where Lucas and Aisha chose a present for being so wonderful. And on the way home they got another bonus in the form of new sandals (Lucas' are falling apart and Aisha has blisters). I'm going to have to buy myself and expensive mobile or lens to redress the spending balance in this family.