brave enough to start

family of five who can, should and definitely will, see more of the world

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Days 44 – 46 On board The Canadian

Reputedly one of the world’s greatest train journeys, I’ve wanted to travel across Canada by train for years.  It’s all about the journey rather than the destination, which is just as well given the frequent delays on account of sharing the line with the massive freight trains – when those break down, everyone has to wait. Lengthy stops are built in to the schedule and are sometimes used to catch up when there have been delays but no one really cares about actually arriving because, of course, arrival signifies the end of the experience.

I had romantic ideas of sipping champagne in the observation car, enjoying the magnificent scenery and fine dining in the restaurant car with fellow travellers although, strangely enough, our 3 young and energetic boys didn’t feature too prominently in these fantasies!

We arranged for 2 cabins to be joined together so that we shared a 4 berth space, and although not cheap, this included all meals and drinks on board, access to all the viewing cars and recreation areas and a bit more space to store our luggage.  It was also low season so we managed to get a pretty good deal and, in the end, I’d say it was worth every penny.

Our train departed late on a Tuesday evening and was scheduled to arrive on Saturday morning – 4 nights and 3 days.  It sounds like a lot. Before leaving I anticipated catching up with the blog (ha!), covering plenty of home education activities with the boys and enjoying the aforementioned champagne!  What I hadn’t realised is just how much eating there is to do.  Each morning we awoke to a huge breakfast – fruit, cereal, pastries and “would you like eggs with that?” “Why of course!” “More coffee? – please do!”

Not three hours later, we would be tucking in to a three course lunch before making our way to one of the lounges for more drinks (with fruit and pastries for anyone no longer concerned about their waistline.)  A bit of time to enjoy the scenery before back again for a 3 course evening meal. By the end it was beginning to feel like a Man v Food challenge although every bite was delicious and difficult to refuse.

We collapsed into our beds by 10pm every night, stuffed full and rocked to sleep by the train’s  gentle motion and generally woke up in a new time zone each morning!

On Thursday morning the train stopped at a very wet Winnipeg for a few hours, giving us the chance to get off and search for some wifi!  Having reconnected with the world briefly, we took the boys to the Winnipeg Children’s Museum to let them run around and burn off some energy. Given the heavy rain we weren’t inclined to explore any further than the immediate area of the station and museum but I’d like to return on a dry day.

Somewhere after Edmonton we were delayed whilst our engineers assisted a broken down freight train further up the track. This meant that our stop in Jasper was cut short to make up the time but even so, Friday turned out to be the highlight of the whole trip. There was barely time for the panorama car dome to be cleaned and then it was onward through the Rockies.  If you are only going to do one part of this journey – get on here. On departing Jasper the champagne flows and the canapes are delicious. There is a real party atmosphere for this leg of the journey and the crew seem to enjoy it as much as the passengers.

By this stage we had got to know many of the other passengers and it felt like one big family. Some had been on the trip many times before and ensured that the boys knew exactly when to look out for the most impressive views, the most famous of the mountains or the best places to spot the wildlife.

I’m certain that no matter how often you ride The Canadian, it never gets old.



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Days 41 – 43 Ripley’s, waterfalls and the CN Tower before catching The Canadian.

After a minor plumbing incident which involved a dash to Canadian Tire for a spanner and some plumbing parts we joined our friends at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. Somewhat seasoned professionals in aquariums now, the boys didn’t hesitate to touch the stingrays and horseshoe crabs in the touch pools. No matter how often we go to an aquarium, there is always something new to learn – this time one of the most disturbing discoveries was the fact that baby sand tiger sharks eat their siblings in utero – ugh!

Fortunately we overcame our disgust in time for dinner and enjoyed a wonderful farewell meal with the Galea family at Turtle Jacks. The cheese dip here is to die for, certainly reason enough to consider a more permanent relocation to Canada.  I later tried the Swiss Chalet version which wasn’t quite as good but still, if you like melted cheese, this is where you’ll find your tribe.

Day 42 was a quiet day, notable only really as the day Alex finally learned to use a swing at the park without help. A big day for our littlest one.


Now into November, the weather was unseasonably warm, sunny and the skies beautifully blue so we made the most of our last day in Ontario exploring the waterfalls of Hamilton, of which there are more than a hundred.  We played Pooh sticks, ate a picnic lunch and enjoyed our last few hours in Hamilton before dropping off in Toronto the hire car we had collected in Washington DC, with more than 3500 additional miles on it.

Before catching our train in Union Station we just had time to go up the CN Tower and admire the breathtaking night views of the city.

And as quickly as that our east coast adventure came to a close. We were filled with excitement about all that lay ahead on the west coast, but first, the fulfilment of another lifetime ambition: Via Rail’s transcontinental train – The Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver.


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Days 38 – 40 Teeth, warplanes, the love affair with Swiss Chalet and Halloween in the alternative universe

Day 38 began with a visit to the dentist for John.  The earache he had been complaining about since Boston turned out to be toothache and could no longer be ignored so, with the help of some friends, we found a local dentist who was great with kids. 2 hours later he was all fixed up with instructions not to eat for at least an hour, so perhaps it was a little cruel that we then went straight to lunch! Nick first came to Canada 25 years ago and remembered how, as a boy, he’d enjoyed dining at Swiss Chalet. He described it to me as a low cost chain of family restaurants famous for chicken and ribs, thus I’d imagined a sort of Canadian KFC with a mounty in place of the Colonel.  The experience though is totally different.  Here you select what type of chicken meat you’d like – do you want the white meat or perhaps you prefer the brown?  Here we got to sample the famous Canadian Poutine for the first time – chips in cheese curds and gravy, which I’m sure is very popular in large parts of (northern?) England after a heavy night out instead of a greasy kebab.  The menu also offers much healthier alternatives such as salads and soups which the kids, needless to say, gave a wide berth.20151031_011932842_iOS

Just up the road we stumbled upon the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.  I say “stumbled upon” but knowing my husband this was no accident.  There are only two airworthy Lancaster bombers left in the world. One in the UK that flies with the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the other, here. Astonishingly you can get close enough to this one to touch it.  There were very few visitors to the museum during our visit but it was lovely to see a Canadian veteran being helped back into the cockpit for what must have been a very emotional reunion.P1130283

The museum is staffed by volunteers, many of whom are retired aviation enthusiasts who are only to happy to share their love of the planes with visitors.  Our guide arranged for the boys to sit in the cockpit of an Avro Canada CF100 and a Canadair CT-114 Tutor , explaining the controls and what the planes were used for.  Later the boys flew simulators, although only Daddy avoided a crash landing!

Friday saw us exploring the Royal Ontario Museum, world renowned for its collection of art, world culture and natural history and the largest museum in Canada. John and I ventured in to the Bat Cave, a dark and life like immersive experience showcasing the natural habitat of various species.  Sadly though, there was no Ben Affleck – I checked.  Twice.

The boys enjoyed digging up fossils and dressing in real chain mail so heavy that it was difficult to move their heads.  Later they found an interactive community game where players try to balance competing interests to establish a successful mining operation. ROMining gets the kids to think about environmental impact, community groups, employment levels and profitability.  Hugely educational, it kept John and Teddy engaged for over an hour.

Day 40 was Halloween and this was where my theory that I must somehow be living in an alternative reality really began to take hold. Some days earlier a friend had enquired as to whether Nick would like to take part in a charity 5K run.  It’s fair to say that we are not a particularly healthy couple.  Sure, we belong to gym but I don’t go there to break a sweat – it’s mainly for a leisurely swim and a bit of lunch. Neither of us have ever been running for the sake of running.  Nonetheless Nick decided to give it a go.  He went for practice run after the warplanes visit and decided he would probably be able to finish, so signed up.  Next thing you know he not only finished but came 22nd in his category and 322nd out of almost 1000 entrants. What??  In what world does that happen with just one trial run and an otherwise sedentry and lethargic lifestyle? Git.20151031_151753943_iOS

Later we joined our good friends Shelley and Jeremy and their family to celebrate Halloween, our first in North America.  Naively I’d assumed that the couple of small buckets we’d been given in a Burger King somewhere on the drive from Montreal would do for trick or treating.  Turns out, what we needed were pillow cases – 3 of them!  Never before have the boys accumulated so many sweets and chocolates on one occasion, it was mind boggling but tremendous fun.  The whole neighbourhood was lit up and decorated for the evening and we met hundreds of kids in all sorts of brilliant costumes having a fabulous time.  I am certain that the boys will remember this halloween night forever.

The hardest part was telling them at the end of the evening that we couldn’t keep the equivalent of Alex’s body weight in candy and they would have to leave most of it behind.

If there was one good thing to come from John’s recent dental trouble, it was that this conversation was a bit easier.