Archive for the ‘Parts Unknown’ Category

The last part of our trip saw us back where we began – London. Our trip back down south on the train wasn’t quite as civilized as the trip to Scotland. We happened to be travelling on the weekend of the English Football League finals – and it also just so happened that Newcastle was playing in the finals. Unfortunately for us, I had booked flex tickets for our train trip which meant that we did not have seats reserved for our 4.5hour train ride. And because the train was completely sold out and expected to be quite full, I could no longer get a seat reservation. Our choices were to chance it on the 10am train (our original planned departure time) OR get ourselves to the train station for first thing in the morning and hope that we were keen enough to beat the rush. We went with option B. The idea of attempting to squeeze ourselves and our luggage onto the train in a sea of football fans just did not seem like something I was prepared to do.

Thankfully for us, the decision paid off and we were able to walk through an empty station and on to an empty 7:30am train in Edinburgh. Things were very pleasant until we made our stop in Newcastle and a swarm of black and white clad football fans made their way on to the train. It quickly became very hectic – people were sitting in the luggage racks, on the floors and on our table (or at least resting themselves on it). Beers were cracked and chants began at 8:30. And of course, no trip with kids is complete without at least one person throwing up – the full train with half drunk Newcastle fans is when Mads decided to cross that part of the trip off the list. Once we made it to Kings Cross and off the train to the lively choruses of the fans, we hopped in a taxi and headed for our hotel. We got ourselves checked in and had a relaxing first afternoon and evening in the city.

We had saved a lot of the big ticket items for the end. London has no shortage of things to do and places to see so we had a fairly exciting final three days. The first day we headed across Westminster Bridge, got a good look at Big Bill (as Nora calls it), found the Abbey and made our way to Trafalgar Square where we ran into all our Newcastle friends. By now we were all cold and hungry enough to start looking for lunch.

We had tickets to see Matilda the Musical in the afternoon. Across the street from the theatre is the Seven Point Market. We grabbed some curry for lunch, some ice cream for dessert then settled in for the show.

Our seats were in the very back row of the theatre so while we didn’t have the best seats, we had the best time. The kids all rented binoculars, sang along, danced when they wanted and just thoroughly enjoyed all of it. I did too.

Day two was just as exciting as day one. Today though we traded in the live theatre for a behind the scenes look at Harry Potter. We had a lazy morning before boarding the bus to head out to Harry Potter world. We have already been to universal studios in Florida where they have a huge Harry Potter section so we had seen some of what they had to offer before but I was not prepared for the shear size of this place.

We spent almost 3 hours walking around and still didn’t see everything. We walked through the great hall, the forbidden forest, gringotts bank, diagon alley. We saw the hogwarts express, privet drive and just so many other Harry Potter secrets. All three of them were a bit mesmerized. It made for a pretty great afternoon.

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Final Days

Our last couple of days went basically the same as all the others. We finally hit a few days of really nice weather and we soaked it up as best we could.

The kids spent some more time at kids club while I spent some more time recharging poolside. The resort we are staying at is on the north coast of the island. There’s a beach about a 20 minute hike from the villas. One of the mornings while the kids were at kids club I took the opportunity to go check it out.

There’s an almost path to get from the hotel to the beach. It definitely looks like it’s been walked a few times but there are places where it disappears for a few metres before picking back up. I got about halfway there when I realized I didn’t have my phone, no one knew where I was and I have no idea if there’s anything that lives in the rocks and bushes that I wouldn’t want to meet. Thankfully it was an uneventful journey.

The beach itself is quite rocky, but still very pretty. It’s got lots of volcanic rocks, tide pools and crashing waves. It’s clearly a popular surfing spot. It probably wouldn’t be a top choice for a beach day, but it was very pretty. Kayla and I went back to check it out again and gathered some fun shells and coral. There was all kinds to choose from.

Our last full day we headed back in to town to try for another beach day. We weren’t as lucky with the weather but still had a nice day. I’m he Canary Islands portion of the adventure is now over and we will part ways with the Cookson clan as the kids and I do some train trips to the north and south.

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Flying solo

Adam has been back in England off and on since September so when Kayla said she was going to fly over to see him in February I jokingly said I would join her to help her on the flight. Somehow that joke turned into reality and on Wednesday we took flight with 5 kids ages 1,3,5,7 and 9 from Halifax to London.

We all piled in the van Tuesday morning so that Jacob could drive us to the airport. We had originally hoped he would be able to join us for at least part of the trip, but that hasn’t worked out. With three kids in the third row, two kids and Kayla in the middle, Jacob and I up front we hit the road. We managed to make it to Halifax with only one short pit stop without any major meltdowns – rather impressive if you ask me. We grabbed a quick bite at Jack Astor’s and then let the kids burn some energy at hop!skip!jump! Before we settled into the airport hotel for the night.

Jacob dropped us at the airport Wednesday morning and Kayla and I set out with the kiddos. We killed a couple of hours with the kids running around the airport and then boarded a very empty (thank goodness) flight. The kids all did really well on the 6 hour journey, turns out all that travel training has paid off. Kayla and I mostly kept our cool. We travelled carry-on only so managing the bags was a little bit hectic. Seems worth the hassle since Air Canada managed to lose 1 of the 2 pieces of the stroller that we gate checked. After we cleared security and walked the 3,000 miles across Heathrow airport we almost literally ran right into Adam. Ev and Archer were especially glad to track down Dad.

We grabbed a quick supper and checked in to our airport hotel for the night. The kids were a bit loopy after a day of travelling so we after quickly discovering why late night cable tv is not a good idea, we played a game of Clue and went to sleep.

Thursday was a jam-packed day of travel – but the kids held up pretty well. It was a rough wake up but they managed to pull it together and get to the underground to make our way towards King’s Cross. We somehow ended up missing out train by 2 minutes but it gave us enough time to check out Platform 9 ¾ and grab some lunch before boarding the next train.

We made it to our house for the next week in time for supper and a movie before everyone crashed hard for the night. Everyone is looking forward to a non-travel day tomorrow.

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New York City!

A trip up the east coast wouldn’t be complete without a stop in the Big Apple. Cities are not necessarily my thing, but NYC has always been one of my favourites. There’s just something about it. It’s not even necessarily the recognizable landmarks or the stuff you can do, it’s the energy and the feel of the city. Plus it’s my birthday! And NYC seems like a fun place to spend the day.

We arrived in the city quite late at night. Our hotel Im was only a few blocks away from time square. So despite the kids being exhausted and it being quite chilly we set out to see the lights. After about 10 minutes even Charlie had had enough of the lights and tv screens and we headed for home.

We had a relatively full day planned for NYC. We wanted to show the kids the major recognizable sights. We headed out first thing in the morning to grab some cookies for breakfast! Back to Times Square to appreciate it in the daylight and then we spent some time at the M&M store. By the time we were done there it had started to rain. We still wanted to check off a few more places (Central Park, Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building) but wandering around getting soaking wet didn’t seem like a whole lot of fun. Instead we bought passes for the big city bus and toured around to try and catch a glimpse of some things.

We hopped off at battery park to try and see lady liberty through the fog. It didn’t seem worth the price of admission onto an Ellis island tourist ferry or the couple hours it would take to sail to staten island and back to get a slightly closer look. So we trekked down in the rain waved at her in the foggy distance and hopped back on the subway.

By now we were all pretty hungry. We had originally thought about going to a Benihana for supper. We thought it would be something fun and different for the kids. Instead though, we realized that since there is a pretty significant Korea town in NYC we would be able to go out for Korean bbq. I can’t think of anything I would want more for a birthday dinner! I was like a child at Christmas. Completely giddy. We left completely stuffed to go have a little nap at the hotel before the final festivities.

The birthday celebration ended with us heading to Broadway to see the phantom of the opera. Ironically, Jacob and I had talked about how much I wanted to see phantom someday. So it just seemed fitting that since we happened to be in NYC on my birthday that now was as good a time as any to make that wish come true. The kids were definitely the youngest in attendance but they did great. There were a lot of questions, Nora in particular was very concerned with the ghost was. So concerned in fact that she shouted a few times when she finally did spot him, much to the amusement of the family in front of us.

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Washington DC

No me definitely had not planned on another extra week of this already extended vacation. Neither did we think at any point that we would be driving home. But since we obviously are we are trying to make the most of it. Thankfully the eastern seaboard had some pretty great cities. Next up – Washington DC.

I’ve been to DC a couple of times, but Jacob has never been. It ended up taking us the better part of the day to travel from Charleston to DC so we thought it would be nice to stay right inside the city. We got checked in to our Yotel (they’re awesome!) and went out for a stroll in search of sushi.

The next day we woke up to rain (it’ll become a trend for the rest of the trip). We had sweet ponchos for the kids, a sure sign of being a tourist. We stopped in to take a look at the capitol building (no insurrections today) and headed over to the museum of natural history. The kids had fun wandering around seeing the dinosaurs, sea creatures and gems.

Because we were in the area we decided we should stop by and try and say hello to Joe. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to walk up Pennsylvania Avenue because protestors had chained themselves to the fence so the secret service had everything blocked off. We headed up to Lafayette park where we would still be able to glimpse the White House. We got to talk to a really nice agent while they were clearing the area. We hey eventually detached and arrested the protestor and we got a closer look.

By now the kids were just about spent. We managed to persuade them to walk back down to the Washington monument where we caught a bus back home to grab the car and head to NYC!

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Next stop on the impromptu road trip adventure was Charleston. It was the biggest city that wasn’t a crazy distance away. Dan and Becky always had good things to say about it so we figured it would make for a good afternoon. Along the drive we stopped in to a Cracker Barrel. Georgia seemed like the right place to eat Chicken n Dumplins with sweet peach tea.

We got into the city early evening and had a lovely walk around. We walked rainbow row, battery point, along the age front and just found a playground for the kids to work off some steam.

We only spent a couple of hours in Charleston before we had to hit the road. It was a short but great break from the car. There were loads of great looking restaurants that we would have loved to check out but didn’t seem worth it with the kids. Instead we hopped back in the car and knocked off one more American restaurant from the list- Waffle House. It turns out it was one we definitely could have skipped. We had planned on getting a bit closer to DC that night but we were all still exhausted from our nights of van sleeping so we crawled into the hotel next door and grabbed some sleep.

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Daytona Beach

Our first stop after we left hell was Daytona Beach. We had a bit of time to kill before we could check in to our hotel so despite not having showered, slept or brushed our teeth for two days we headed out for brunch.

We have been attempting to try as many classic American restaurants as possible on our road trip home. We had already crossed off IHOP so we figured we owed Dennys a visit. We headed to the nearest one and stepped right into ‘Merica. This restaurant looked like it hadn’t been updated or changed since the late 90s. It was dark and empty and there were only a handful of people working. There was a group of four waiting for a table ahead of us. We overheard their conversation including enlightening information on “the number of blacks in the social security line” , “the good ol’ days when there were no cell phones” , “Biden is ruining America” and on and on. They were very concerned about the lack of manners and respect in children “nowadays”. The next thing I know though she was screaming at the hostess about the wait and the downfall of Dennys. She threatened to never darken their doors, and they all left. Brunch and a show!

Daytona has certainly lost a lot of its lustre since I have been there. Or maybe we were just in the wrong area. It looked like literally nothing has changed since I was there in 2005. After our naps we took a quick stroll on the beach, grabbed some snacks from the 7-Eleven, witnessed a fist fight and ordered in some Dominos. Room service and some Die Hard was a great way to end our night.

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Friday was another travel day. We needed to return the MacPhees van to the Miami airport for them then head to Fort Lauderdale to catch our flight to Buffalo. When we were looking for our flights home we found really great tickets to Buffalo that would allow us to catch a hockey game and see our friends before flying home out of Toronto. Sounded like a great way to end the trip.

We set out on Friday and everything was going just about perfectly. We stopped in Wellington to see Liz and Harry. The kids had a great time riding around, playing with Lizs dogs and the duck. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to see Liz so it was great to catch up. We grabbed some lunch and kept going.

We arrived in Miami and returned the van without any issues. We grabbed the Tri-rail and shuttle and headed back to Fort Lauderdale. We got checked in for our flight exactly on time. We went through security and as we were sitting down to eat we got a notification that our 9:40 flight was delayed to 10:30. No big deal. Flights are delayed all the time. By the time our meal was ordered the flight was pushed to 2:15. We finished eating and headed to our gate. At around 12:30 they announced that our bags would be available at carousel 1 and our flight was cancelled. So was every other JetBlue flight for that night.

We headed for the ticket counter, along with just about everybody else in the airport. Thankfully ours was one of the first flights cancelled so we only had to wait 2 hours to get rebooked. Unfortunately though, they couldn’t rebook us until Monday night. Which was after the hockey game and our flight home out of Toronto. There was however a flight out of Orlando to Buffalo the next day if we wanted that. We said yes and headed to the rental car Center.

At around 3:00 we started driving BACK to Orlando. We made it about an hour outside Orlando before we grabbed a couple of hours sleep at a rest plaza. The car was returned to Orlando airport by 8:30.

We had a full day to kill before our 3:30 flight but since we hadn’t had any sleep we were in no shape to go anywhere or do anything so we just hung out in the airport. Thankfully we were able to get in to a lounge around noon because we were in for a hell of a day. Quite literally.

The 3:30 flight quickly became a 5:30 flight. And then an 8:30 flight. And then a 9:55 flight. The lounge was full of people in similar situations. We spent the afternoon and evening with the loveliest couple from New York. As the departures board began to show more and more cancellations we became more and more thankful for our lounge pass.

The lounge closed at 9:00 and we had to go back out and join the rest of the airport. What we found was chaos. Turns out Southwest Airlines had cancelled ALL of their flights out of Florida because their systems went down. JetBlue had no crew or pilots. There was problems with fog and thunder throughout the day that affected all the other airlines. We would later find out that over 3500 flights would be cancelled and 6000 delayed.

By 11:00 with no indication that our flight was going to leave we decided to just abandon it. I had our bags pulled and we made the ridiculous, but only, decision to drive home. The kids and I headed to baggage claim while Jacob headed to the car rental Center. Two hours later we had our bags back, after they officially canceled the flight, and Jacob had made very little progress with the car.

The kids and I headed down to join him to find the most chaos I have ever seen. By this time there are no hotels left within an hour or Orlando, there are no rental cars left, people are being automatically rebooked on flights 4-5 days from now, there are no available flights to purchase for at least that long out of any Florida airport, the buses are full, the train is sold out. An Uber drive to any destination within 10km is now over $100. People have actual tents set up in the rental car Center. The cops have been called in to do crowd control.

Finally at 6:30am after waiting over 7 hours for a rental car – they were giving them out one by one as people returned them we left the airport. We made it about half an hour outside of Orlando before we stopped to sleep in a Walmart parking lot. For the second night in a row. The kids are now seriously questioning if they will ever get to sleep in a bed again. After a Power Nap we headed to Daytona where we checked in to the nicest hotel with the nicest bed and shower I have ever seen in my life. We crashed hard. I showered three times. We will now spend the next week driving north and hopefully actually going home this time.

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