Monday 29 September 2008

Theme parking in Florida

Florida so far...10 days, 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 3 and a bit birthdays.. 7 people who are almost theme parked out (and we haven't even started the Universal parks yet!).

We are almost half way through our stay in Florida. We have been to Disney Parks most days and have ridden all the big rides and a lot of the smaller ones and have seen a couple of stage shows/performances. A quick rundown on the most popular rides to date...Luke enjoyed Living on the Land, a boat tour through some greenhouses in the Land Pavillion at Epcot. Joseph's favorite ride was the Buzz Lightyear Space Spin at the Magic Kingdom. Mission Space at Epcot was a surprise favorite for Peter and he has been on four missions to Mars so far! David enjoyed the safari at the Animal Kingdom, where we saw elephants, giraffes, flamingos and a host of other animals. For me I enjoyed Soarin' (again at Epcot).

Luke has turned two and Joseph has turned four on this part of the trip. For Luke's birthday we spent the day at the Magic Kingdom and had a birthday dinner and cake at home (My parents' Cabin on the Fort Wilderness campsite). Joseph spent his big day in Animal Kingdom and then we went out for dinner at the Clam Bake at Cape May's before returning home for cake. Joe loves carrots and even dreams of becoming one(?) so we found the perfect cake in Walmart, a carrot cake, complete with carrots iced on the top...he loved it!

I was surprised by David with an early birthday present of a night away in a hotel, which was a lovely relaxing 24 hours! My mum also celebrated her birthday (spent in Epcot), so we have had a lot of cake in the last week!!

The weather here is hot and although the boys are coping well with it, we are slightly concerned about how much hotter it will be in the Grand Canyon/Nevada Desert/Death Valley, maybe we will have to adapt our plans if the temperatures prove to be too much for us all.

We have a more reasonable sized car on this part of the trip, so it is less like trying to complete the Bedlam Cube every time we want to go anywhere. The main transport related problem which we have faced (apart from David driving with the Parking Brake on) is my navigational abilities (or lack of them). Today after another navigational failure (correct road, wrong direction) we decided to invest in a TomTom Sat Nav to get us from A to B...phew I can relax now and we can both blame the TomTom when things go wrong!

We have taken loads of photos, the boys have met Chip 'n' Dale, Stitch and Goofy so far, but the internet connection here is rubbish and we have not been able to get any photos up yet on Facebook...will try to have a word with Mickey about getting some wireless internet installed here....

Till next time,


Friday 26 September 2008

Romp in the swamp

I think my brain is getting scrambled. I used to have a keen eye for detail when I took my brain to work every day (well I took it most days at least). It wasn't until we were packing our bags for the flight to Orlando that I noticed that Sail or Surf had sold me an odd pair of shoes (odd as in shoes which don't match each other, not odd as in the sort of shoes that an odd person might buy). I have been wearing them for about four weeks. Maybe Joseph's odd-Crocs idea was actually an attempt to impress dad. Since I got away with it so far (and also because they are probably the only trendy (read expensive) shoes I ever bought) I think I'll keep them anyway. Hopefully we'll be having mostly sandals weather anyway.

We left our hotel in Toronto in the dead of night. Despite the extra bits and pieces we seem to keep picking up (mainly toys) we still managed to fit all of the kit into our four pieces of luggage. We waved goodbye to Toronto, and Tim Horton, on our departure to Orlando. To Nicola's surprise both Air Transat and our flight did exist and the airline had not gone out of business. The flight was a mainly uneventful three hours.

We had a great hire car pick-up – they let you choose your own car. We managed to choose one which had plenty of space for all of us and our luggage which was a relief after the squeeze we had in Canada. Not sure about all of the buttons in the car - I accidentally phoned someone using the rear-view mirror! One feature which is great is being able to start the engine using the remote control – perfect for getting the air-conditioning running before you have to get into the car.

We are now at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. We are staying at the Fort Wilderness Campground which is a fairly large Disney resort. Most of the residents are 25 stone Americans in their six wheel double cab trucks with enormous air conditioned Winnebagos. The camp site has three bus routes running within it end to end to save the poor Yanks' legs, but we prefer to walk (Luke could walk end to end).

The sites are very well laid out with a parking space (of course) and a large square shingle pitch which we have put our tent to the back of, giving us lots of space to play in front (photo). Every site has taps and electrical sockets and they back on to a swamp area which separates the sites. When we arrived the swamp was pretty dry so the kids have spent a lot of time playing down there and endlessly catching frogs and lizards. The site is given some shade from trees (in which we regularly have woodpeckers).

On the afternoon of our third day the rain arrived and continued heavily for several hours before giving up. The main effect was that the swamp filled up with water so we lost our short-cut to the shower block. The frogs seemed to be very happy, they croaked loudly all night and woke us up with their singing at about 4am.

On arrival we headed straight out to Wal-Mart and loaded up on stuff to make our three week stay more comfortable (airbeds, fridge, a new camping stove). We found out the US uses a standard propane fitting which differs from every other country in the world so it was either find a specialist camping store or another stove, we went for the easier option.

David and Wilma (“the In-Laws”) arrived a couple of days after us (after a much more traumatic journey from the UK) . They are staying in a campsite cabin, which means we have an air-conditioned second home for part of our stay – so there is less need to enter the tent during daylight hours (it must get well over 40 degrees in there, it would be interesting to measure it on a thermometer).

So we're all kitted out for three weeks of sunshine, theme-parks, sunshine, Mickey Mouse, sunshine and space shuttles. Did I mention that Florida is “the sunshine state”?

Photos are being added here.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Leaving Canada and reflections on the last three weeks

Our time in Canada is drawing to a close, we are on a very early flight to Orlando tomorrow morning to start our Disney adventure.

We drove to Toronto from Niagara stopping off in Hamilton on the way. We have been staying in hotels and have been doing lots of swimming and catching up on lessons for Peter. We felt that after a lot of driving and sightseeing the boys (and us) could do with a couple of relaxing days.

The first three weeks of our trip seem to have flown by and we have packed a lot into such a short time. We have gained an insight into Canada and I think it is Ottawa that has won a special place in our hearts and is the place we are planning to make a return trip to one day.

All of the children seem to be coping well with life on the road. Luke clearly missed Guernsey when we first left and frequently asked after Sian, Lisa and Becky and wanted to go to the beach. Joseph and Peter also miss their friends, but they seem more content with each other for company at the moment.

Spending more time with the Peter, Joe and Luke was one of our main reasons for taking this year out and so far it has proved to be a great experience for David and I. They can be hard work, especially when explaining to Luke for the 100th time that we are not going on an air-plane today... only for the next question to be "air-plane mummy?". Their observations of the world have kept us amused, here are s0me of the things Joe has said which have made us smile:

"Last night I dreamed I was a carrot" - 6 September, Ottawa

"That cloud looks like sheep fallen down with a duck on it's nose" - describing the clouds on Route 303

Nic "Are you enjoying our trip?"
Joe shouts "NO..." pauses with a confused look on his face "...what trip?"

On seeing a bright yellow stretched Hummer "That's one of those cars they put dead people in."

As we reach the end of the first country of the trip we are still convinced coming round the world was a good idea. We have each only had one moment when we wondered why we had given up our jobs and sold our house for this trip.

We are both a bit nervous about getting from here to the campsite in Florida. In Scotland we had lots of family seeing us off at the airport and lending a helping hand. Tonight we have to pack and then tomorrow we will have to manage all our bags between us, get a shuttlebus to the airport at 4am, check in on time for a 7am flight, negotiate US customs and fit into a hire car (which in all likelihood will be too small) and then navigate to our campsite.

Hopefully our next blog will be from Florida! Some photos from the last few days here.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Niagara and the falls

Our stay in the luxury of the Hilton at Niagara-On-The-Lake ("NOTL") was extended to two nights when I realised the discount and airmiles I could get with my corporate membership and when Nicola realised that they did free cookies (freshly baked.....mmmm).

We had a lazy first morning in the hotel, keeping out of the weather which was similar to what we could have experienced in Scotland for a lot less expense! We finally ventured out before lunch for our first sight of the Falls, taking the 'scenic' road down the Niagara river. A combination of mist and trees mean that despite driving only a few metres from the canyon-side we had no sight of the river. We parked up (after a quick phone-call to the bank to extend the credit card limit to cover the parking fees) and as if by magic the heavy rain which had persisted all morning suddenly lightened to a sprinkling. The first view was still a bit disappointing with the spray and mist being particularly thick, but it was still cool to think that we were actually looking down on Niagara Falls.

We met up with an old work colleague (and go-karting team-mate) of mine Chris and his wife Erin for lunch and caught up on their recent wedding and our recent/future travel plans. Chris and Erin kindly offered us some accomodation over the weekend at their place in St Catharines (very close to NOTL) which helped redress some of the Hilton-related overspend (if we had stayed a month we might have recovered the parking overspend). Thanks guys - your hospitality was much appreciated and we hope you're enjoying having your house back!

We spent our last morning in the Hilton making the most of the leisure facilities and then went into the centre of NOTL for a look around the shops, since the weather was still not conducive to seeing the Falls. Luke finally caught up with Peter and Joe in the footwear stakes as we gave in to "pester power" and bought him his own pair of bright green Crocs, whilst the older boys bought Croc decorations. Luke's Crocs were also selected as our "flag pinboard" recording the countries we have visited (see photo).

Sunday morning saw my first decent run for several months as I took part in the local Terry Fox Run, a major cancer fundraiser throughout Canada. It was a 10km fun-run and not a race, so I felt I shouldn't go off too fast. I jogged with a group of guys and girls for the first 5km lap and then had a solo second lap as I blew away a few cobwebs. The weather had finally recovered and by lunchtime it was up in the high 20s, possibly low 30 degrees, so we headed back to Niagara Falls for a good old look (and another mugging at the car park). After taking in the falls from above, we ventured down to "Journey Behind the Falls" - a series of tunnels going down behind the falls and offering a close up (and very wet) view. Fortunately the hot weather soon dried us off and we headed up into the tacky centre of Niagara Falls for afternoon snacks and a wander.

By Monday (today) we weren't sure if the weather was going to improve enough to camp again or not and we had no major plans. We decided to take a drive down to Lake Erie, our second great lake (and the one featured in Dr Seuss's 'The Lorax'), to see if that might yield a good camping spot. It seems that most of the beach-front is privately owned and after driving a few miles alongside the lake we didn't manage to find any nice stopping points (there were no humming-fish spotted either).

We headed back along to Fort-Erie for a lunch and playpark stop before heading back up to Niagara. As the skies darkened we decided to check out some cheap motels rather than campsites and found a place willing to haggle to a good deal (it's actually quite nice and Joseph and Luke have already had a good play in the heated pool, located in the middle of the motel carpark).

Tonight we are planning our last visit to the Falls to get a nightime view (the Falls are illuminated by night) before heading back up towards Toronto and the last section of our Canada experience.

As always, Facebook photos are ready for viewing (if we can get any decent night-time shots we will add them here later).

Friday 12 September 2008

Port Hope then Toronto and the CN Tower

After what seemed like a never ending drive yesterday, we were keen to pack some more activity into today. We hit the road at 8am and headed into Port Hope.

By the time we arrived there David and I were suffering from the peculiarly British need for a nice cup of tea. Our tea drinking has become problematic since leaving the UK. Our first hotel in Montreal had a coffee machine in the room, but no kettle, our friends in Ontario had a drawer full of teas...all varieties except English Breakfast, we are becoming accustomed to the slightly strange look you get when you ask "Do you do tea?".... All in all we did not hold out much hope for a decent cuppa to kick start the day!

We decided to have a quick walk up the main street in Port Hope and to our immense delight we found "The British Pantry Tea Room and Shop" was like a dream come true. We raced inside and ordered a pot of tea for two before behaving like stereotypical Brits abroad and marveling at the selection of "British Foods", which made us realise how many of our "staples" we are missing.

After our cuppa and a wander back down the main street we took the boys to the park for a run about. Then we drove down to the shore for our first proper look at Lake Ontario.

It surpassed all of our expectations and as we stood on the shore and looked out at a vast expanse of water it was hard to believe this was not the ocean. Suddenly, Guernsey seemed very small and the world felt very big.

We walked along the shore and then along a lakeside path and Peter and Joseph threw stones into the water, found a grasshopper, a caterpillar and a them it was just another playground.

After a picnic lunch and another park visit we decided to motor on down to Toronto for the afternoon. We will pass back through Toronto next week, but I was keen to get a feel for the city and the CN Tower was a must see.

We drove right into Toronto and parked near the tower, which gave us a little walk through the downtown area, giving us all a chance to marvel at the tall buildings. We went up the lift (58 seconds to get to the observation deck) and looked out over the city. I read the information boards describing how I was in the tallest tower in the world, David marvelled at the birds-eye view of planes landing at Toronto City airport and the boys looked out for trains on the railway lines below. While I enjoyed the views from the tower I was uneasy at being in the tallest building in the world, watching planes below, on September 11th! Call me neurotic, but I was glad to get back down to street level.

Tonight we are in Niagara (staying in the Hilton...the camping and the budget has been temporarily abandoned after frost overnight last night) and we are visiting the Falls this space!

Facebook photos here.

Thursday 11 September 2008

Gatineau and lakes

After the late night at the light show on Sunday the boys finally gave us a bit of a lie in on Monday morning, but having put off packing 'till the morning I ended up being up before Peter, Joseph and even Luke!

We were heading into the wilderness, over the river and back into Quebec heading north-west to a campsite at Lac Phillipe in the Gatineau Park. The journey was fairly short and straightforward and we booked into an almost deserted campsite before lunch. We chose a nice shaded spot on our vast pitch to keep the tent cool and had the tent up in no time. We took our packed lunch down to the lakeside and the boys enjoyed a quick swim in the lake (pictured below). Luke started us off by going in fully clothed, I followed up fully unclothed (I did mention that it was deserted) before Nicola went back for everyone's bathers.

Day 2 was not so good, the weather had broken on the first night and it rained on and off most of the day. We fitted in a drive and a few short walks, but it was the sort of day made for reading and doing Peter's school lessons. The rain finally stopped in the evening, but overnight the temperature plunged into single figures leaving us huddling together in one room of the tent to keep warm. Wednesday morning remained cold, with the shady spot picked to keep the sun off suddenly seeming a bad idea. A pancake breakfast and cup of tea lifted spirits a little before we headed down to find the playpark bathed in warm sunshine.

After breaking camp and checking the weather forecast (6 degrees C overnight) we have decided to alter our route and miss out camping further north in Algonquin park. Instead we headed down towards Lake Ontario (passing several hundred other lakes en route). The journey took most of the afternoon (partly due to a 25km stretch of "unpaved" road north of Gatineau). We have found a small motel in Belleville (between Kingston and Toronto) which has a great view over the Bay of Quinte (which is almost part of lake Ontario). Tomorrow we head west and will get our first glimpse of Lake Ontario, our first "Great Lake". Camping may have to wait a few day unless the warm weather returns.

Facebook photos are here, enjoy.


Monday 8 September 2008

A few days in Ottawa

After our experience in Montreal, of a sprawling, cumbersome city, which we were pleased to leave, we were not sure what to expect of Ottawa.  We arrived late afternoon on Thursday and instantly felt more at home.  Ottawa is a smaller city which feels cleaner and friendlier than Montreal.  Almost everywhere you look there are green spaces, trees and often squirrels making it feel much less urban than the average city.

We spent our first full day with Chris (our host and excellent tour guide) on a walking tour of the city.  We walked along the Rideau Canal, saw the seven locks in action, visited Parliament Hill, went up the clock tower to admire the views of the city, visited the market (and marvelled at the quality and quantity of fresh produce), had a picnic in the park and walked over the bridge into Quebec to enjoy the view back over the city.  What a day...thoroughly enjoyed by all
of us and giving us a love of Ottawa which I am sure will linger for a while...we are already talking about a winter visit so we can skate the 10km of the canal!

Our run of good weather finally broke on our second day in Ottawa, bringing the temperatures down and also bringing some rain.  Saturday morning started with a fantastic pancake breakfast, which will probably be the best breakfast of the trip!  In the afternoon we headed out to one of the local swimming pools.  Peter and Joseph had great fun jumping in from the diving boards and a rope swing.  Luke was less impressed as he was not allowed to join in the fun, although he was somewhat pacified by finding a bucket to play with, as he has been asking for a bucket and spade since leaving Guernsey.

Sunday morning was spent in the Nature Museum, marvelling at model dinosaurs and enjoying the interactive exhibits (although Joseph listened to most of them in French).  Sunday afternoon we went out to visit Chris' brother and his family.  The children enjoyed running around the garden together and playing baseball and we again enjoyed some excellent Canadian hospitality with a lovely dinner.  We then headed back into Ottawa for the light and sound show on Parliament Hill, we enjoyed it, but all three boys fell asleep during the show...too much baseball, burgers and cookies!

Tomorrow we head on from Ottawa, leaving our excellent hosts Chris and Derek in peace again.  We are heading into Gatineau and then on to definite plans, but we will be watch this space for the next update!

Excellent photos here and my photos added here, enjoy!


Sunday 7 September 2008


Our visit to Montreal is over and, for us, not too soon!  That's one place kicked off our 'places we might want to live' list.  Mainly it just wasn't a place to take kids.  

We left our nice 'not really very near the' Airport Hotel in a taxi far too small to fit all of our luggage.  We had ordered a taxi-van (people-carrier) but apparently there weren't any around –  we were on the outskirts of a major city but it was clear that not only did they speak the French language, but they also inherited the French attitudes and approach to life.  After squeezing into the taxi the driver asked for our destination: 

“Rue St Denis Sil Vous Plait” elicited a strange look.  

“Where on Rue St Denis?” 

“I don't know, I've never been, the hotel is called Castel St Denis” : blank look

“Do you know what number on Rue St Denis?”

“No, but we have the address in a bag somewhere at the bottom of the car boot if you need it”: angry look.

The taxi driver set off whilst making a phone call to find out where our hotel was; surely a taxi driver should know this city centre street.  

After only a couple of miles we turned onto Rue St Denis.  For the next seven miles we watched the street numbers tick down from over 8000 to 2099 – Castel St Denis.  Our request was equivalent to getting in a taxi at Guernsey airport and telling the driver we wanted a house in Guernsey called Harambee.

Hotel Castel St Denis turned out to be a good find – very central location, basic but with plenty of space to sleep a family of five and priced to suit our budget.  If there was one thing we would have added it would have been air-conditioning.  The weather was HOT, high 20s to low 30s for most of the day.

On our first day in Montreal we wandered down the street and rode the metro downtown.  Because it was Labour Day in Canada pretty much all of the shops were closed and the place was pretty quiet.  We didn't cover much ground due to the heat and the need to keep stopping for shade.  

On Tuesday we took the metro up to Mont Royal and started to climb “the mountain” (actually only 233metres).  It was another hot day with temperatures in the 30s by mid-morning and progress was slow, with Joseph in particular dragging his heels.  We started off on the long path which loops round to the top but switched tactics to take a shorter and steeper route (including a climb of 260 steps – which Joe miraculously found the energy to bound up).  We made it as far as the Chalet which has magnificent views from the viewing platform out the front.  We laid out our picnic in the shade of the trees behind the chalet where we were joined by some hungry squirrels.  After lunch we decided to head back down the mountain rather than hitting the summit – this time taking the most direct route and descending what had taken us three hours to ascend in less than 30mins.  We then headed down to the port area of the city “Vieux Montreal” where we cooled off in the iMax cinema which was showing a 3D film about Grand Canyon (in French).

By Wednesday we thought we were getting used to the heat so headed over to Ile-St Helene to spend the morning in the outdoor pool.  Discovering the pool was closed we had to make do with a small playpark which still kept the kids happy.  We then headed up to the Biosphere (photo), a huge dome build for Expo 1967 which now houses a conservation exhibition.  The boys spent several hours, before and after lunch, splashing in the water based exhibits and browsing the other rooms.  The highlight for the adults was the spectacular views from the fifth floor viewing platform.  Later on we took a hike over the bridge to nearby Ile Notre-Dame, home of the Canadian Grand Prix (the Circuit Giles Villeneuve) where the heat almost killed us and we quickly retreated to cool off in some dancing fountains back on Ile St-Helene.

Thursday was a relatively quiet day.  Luke and I set off from the hotel at 9.30am to pick up the hire car and arrived back three hours later, having first followed the Google Maps directions to the wrong address, then arrived at the right address only to discover that Dollar Car Hire had moved out three months ago and forgot to let us know.  The irony being that the new office was only five minutes walk from our original start point at the hotel!!  We squashed and squeezed our bags and children into the car and headed west out of the city.  We had originally planned to stay longer in Montreal but we didn't really relax in the city and there wasn't much more we really wanted to see – we did at least get a flavour of the place.  With a late lunch stop for some fried salt and lard at pizza hut we arrived in Ottawa just before 5pm.  We are staying over here with a university running/swimming friend Chris McCarthy.

(All Photos)


Monday 1 September 2008

Swapping Scotland for Montreal

We have arrived in Montreal at last. We enjoyed our last few days in Scotland and had a lovely time on Saturday at our goodbye party.

We got all packed up and out to Glasgow airport where lots of the family came to see us off, which was great...not sure how we will manage without all those extra hands when we need to manage checking in at the next airport!

By the time we reached London we were being subjected to a lot of evil stares from our fellow passengers; Luke is not a massive fan of flying while tired. He spent most of the flight screeching at the top of his voice and assaulting any passengers within grabbing or kicking distance.

We had to change terminals at Heathrow, due to ongoing problems at T5. I was a bit worried about this, but it all went smoothly. We boarded the flight in plenty of time and it was looking like it would be a prompt 17:45 departure....for a minute. Due to the late arrival of some passengers and bad weather in London our departure time started to slip with each announcement from the pilot - we finally left the stand at 20:20. Luke felt that almost three hours on the plane was quite enough for him and we hadn't even left the ground! The flight itself was not too bad (six hours) and we had a nice soft touchdown in Montreal at around 21.30 (Montreal time). So far so good.


We were braced for US style customs control and were pleasantly surprised to find a much more friendly welcoming. Passport control didn't take too long and by the time we got to the baggage hall the bags were circulating. Red bag #1 arrived quickly, five minutes later the tent and car-seats were hauled from the conveyor, we were already dreaming of the taxi to our hotel.

"This is a British Airways announcement, due to delayed luggage will the following passengers please report to the British Airways desk: ....David Holmes". Oops maybe we should have remembered to check the clothes were split between the two bags. After a few more queues, forms, visits to customs etc we finally reached the airport exit around 23:30. (We got lucky with the packing, the bag that did make it had the majority of the clothes in it!)

Well, at least we were in Canada and not some third world middle of nowhere sort of place, so the taxi ride to the Novotel Montreal Airport should be a breeze. Except for a taxi driver who understood little English (at least not Scottish-English), didn't seem to know where the hotel was and then struggled to keep the taxi on the road (to be fair he only mounted the kerb at speed once, most of the time he swerved away from it in time).

It might come as a surprise that the hotel had not lost our booking, has never appeared on 'holidays from hell' and was not undergoing any renovation - we have lower expectations for our hotel for the next few nights, but that's budget travelling for you. It is nice to have our first night in a slightly more comfortable environment even if jet-lagged children and a lack of swimming costumes mean we might not be able to make the most of it.

We look forward to a less traumatic 3 weeks before we return to the claws of the airline industry.