The journey to Toronto, our first stop, thankfully went smoothly after the drama of the passports in the run up. It was however not without excitement!
Both Dean and I had the early wakening that comes with anticipation at 5:30 am, beating the alarm clock by an hour. Dean made it up first and caught the Brexit result. We were both stunned and rather thankful that we were off to have a hiatus from the commentary (more of that later…). The exchange rate impact was instant though and, having been following the bookies odds, we hadn’t bought dollars. The US leg of our trip alone was going to cost an extra £1,500 – grrrr.
Taxi, train, taxi, Heathrow Express got us to Terminal 5 with 4 hours to spare before our flight. After an hour to get through security (not complaining!) we settled into the Priority Lounge with a glass of Prosecco each (not Fred!) and made the most of the pretty good buffet. Fred decided to introduce himself to an elderly Hong Kong Chinese lady who had been smiling at him and was soon in conversation about Hong Kong and then his travels. As we made our way to the plane we met our pilot and the crew who were short of a co-pilot due to him being stuck on the M25 – Fred offered his services having mastered the ipad pilot simulator. That got him an invite into the cockpit (see pic) with both pilots at the end of our flight.
A 7 hour flight gave me the opportunity to enjoy a smorgasbord of movies. I simply loved ‘The Big Short’ if you haven’t seen it you must. Nails fabulously why the banking crisis happened in 2007 with a great cast and ingenious film making. I wiled away the rest of the flight with the more flimsy but still great fun ‘How to Stay Single’ and ‘Eddie the Eagle’. The best inflight entertainment however was Fred spotting a white blanket of icebergs in the Atlantic as we skirted Greenland. They were stunning and we saw some massive ones which took all our breath away.
With nowhere booked for our first night we left Toronto heading East on the highway and made our way to Coburg which had been recommended by Fiona a Brit who lives in Toronto, a friend of a friend who had connected us on Facebook. Shattered by the time we arrived in Coburg at 9pm (2am UK time!) we checked into a Best Western on the outskirts. Slightly collapsed but starving we were the only people in the restaurant and were looked after wonderfully by Sophia. An hour in Fred’s adrenalin was spent – we had the benefit of a reviving bottle of Valpolicella which served to both perk us up but also sedate us. Off we trotted to our room which had 3 queen sized beds and snuggled down by 10pm (3am UK time).
Rather predictably both Dean and I woke at 3 am (8am UK time). After 3 hours of trying to get to sleep I gave up, pulled on my running gear and headed down to the beach with the map provided by concierge. Dean was also awake and the Canadians, being hugely helpful, had a pot of hot coffee on the go in the lobby which I delivered to Dean before I left.
I don’t think I’ve ever had such an amazing experience. It was stunning and special. No one around, glorious dawn, deserted beaches, a horizon that was indivisible from Lake Ontario, and wildlife in abundance with no fear of humans. I won’t say anymore because you can see and hear it for yourself in the video posted with this blog update.
On getting back to the hotel at 8:20am Dean and Fred were already in the dining room and we tucked into French Toast (Dean), pancakes and syrup (Fed), and a fruit tray (me) NB I had consumed more carbs, Haribos, Chips etc than a I care to remember the day before! Given there was an indoor pool and we’d paid higher rates than our budget we all trooped off after breakfast to get our full value for money. Turned out the pool was like a mini CentreParcs and we had a brilliant time.
After my recce morning run we’d decided to spend the day on Coburg beach. I’ve no idea why it doesn’t feature in the books it’s a perfect location and beats anywhere else we’ve been to date in Europe. Freshwater lake, 2 miles of white sand, marina, totally safe swimming, parkland with play areas and splash parks, on and on. Pics probably do a better job than I can! To top it all when we arrived at the beach so did a Scottish family who were staying with an English friend who had moved to Coburg 2 year before. Fred had 4 generous playmates with inflatable dinghy’s and giant floats. He was in heaven and Dean and I sat on a sand free esplanade reading our kindles. Bliss.
With no place booked for the night we asked around and were recommended the old jail and courthouse that is now an Inn. So we found ourselves at The King George Inn enjoying the hospitality of a ‘British Pub’! The walls were adorned with tributes to Princess Diana and a host of other items paying homage to the Royal Family. It was all rather touching. Republican Dean thoroughly enjoyed the kitsch of it allJ
As we hadn’t been seeking out steak and kidney pie we headed into town and stumbled across a fabulous tapas bar. A bottle of Route 33 Temporillina at a knockout 14% (!) was the perfect complement to crab cakes with salsa, calamari pan fried in Pernod, roasted cauliflower and chickpea in a home made thai sauce, and home made feta cheese bread. Fred finished off with an amazing chocolate pudding cake that he declared was the best ever (you’ll hear Fred saying that a lot!!).
By 9 we were struggling to stay awake and hit the sack to the sounds of a local ‘Shania Twain’ playing on the terrace of the Inn. However not before we had been engaged in another conversation about Brexit – grrrrr!
With less than 48 hours to departure this trip continues to keep us on our toes. However small hiccups like not having your child's passport in your hands the day before you leave are put into perspective with some terrible events in the last 2 weeks, namely the tragic death of Jo Cox and the senseless murders of 50 people in Orlando.
Brexit vote is tomorrow and we're voting for the inclusive society we hope to experience on our travels - I've no doubt that at times the success of our trip will depend on the kindness of strangers and communities who chose to welcome not rebuff us. It is this kindness we have experienced since we moved to Newark 10 years ago, the places that Dean and I have worked, and from the community of Barnby Road Academy where Fred goes to school.
All of us will be going to new things in the next 12 months; new places on our travels, new jobs on our return, new schools as Fred moves up to Senior School, new friends and maybe new family members. Of course as we say hello to new things we also say goodbye to some of the things we are leaving behind (please don't die Mum and Dad (at least in the next 6 months) it would be really, really inconvenient!).
Work has been a dominating, exhilarating, challenging and a terrifically fun place to be for me. I've indulged my workaholic tendencies, learnt an enormous amount, and found energy from the people I've worked with. After 8 years with NHS Supply Chain it was with a churned up tummy that I walked out of the doors of our Alfreton depot yesterday. It is a family of fabulous people committed to delivering absolute value to the NHS and their customers. Having been fortunate enough to work with a large number of the teams in the business I sent out a blanket email of thanks for my time with them. People I know really well, and those that I still cant place (to my shame), sent emails back. I've saved over 100 of the many emails that had really special and moving comments, so that when my resilience may drop I can dip into them and re-charge my batteries. So a very deep 'Thank You' to those at work who took the time out to send those notes. They mean a lot. In this well of generous words there are always some gems, the best of which I feel obligated to share. As it came from a member of the legal team it will have to be anonymous due to the hilariously fearsome caveats below:
"Legal advice for DHL Supply Chain Limited only. Not to be relied upon by, or disclosed to, any other party. Confidential and subject to legal privilege.
All the best to you and your family Rachel. I am looking forward to reading your blog and living vicariously through it for the next 6 months!
Please do not replicate this legal advice without my express written approval."
you couldn't write it could you?!
Fred has also had the most amazing send off from his school. Ms Greeley his form teacher drew the most stunning picture and organised both Year 5 classes to sign a card (see pic) of their recent residential trip to Hallam. Naturally there were a lot of "have a great time Fred" comments, however the prize for the best comment goes to Harry inFred's class who wrote :
Couldn't have put it better myself!
Going on an adventure that leaves the familiar behind and steps into the strange and unknown will trigger a level of anxiety in all of us with normal neurological activity. The passport issues prompted Fred to ask a couple of days ago "Will things go wrong Mummy?" to which I replied "Of course, but that's part of what this trip is all about and what makes it exciting. Stuff happens and we need to fix it. We expect to do A and end up having to do B". This clearly put the issue to bed because the next question was "So what happens if the plane crashes? Will we die?" Expert parental response (listen and learn) "Its unlikely to happen (then lots of stuff about most likely to die at home in a freak Nerf Gun accident in your Tree House, crossing the road to school, bouncing on the trampoline, hanging yourself on a curtain cord......), but if a plane crashes we might be ok or we might die". Fred: "I would be really upset and angry if I died" read and learn fellow parents.... "No you wouldn't darling, because you would be dead". That killed the conversation and I saw his anxiety flood away. Delusion is a state that more parents should master!
So with adventure comes the fear of death. Or maybe not to fear it? My response is to plan for it. Therefore with the gentle and subtle touch I have in all these matters, I decided that we should read through our Wills and Letter of Wishes at the BBQ that the kids threw for us. to celebrate both Fathers Day and our going away. My thinking was if they don't like whats in it, lets get it out now. What could be worse than to lose key family members and then get the shock of a Will you don't agree with. I thought it was a nice touch too :-)
So back to our friends and family who we fear losing because they make our life rich....Inevitably people have been kinder and more thoughtful to us than we have had time to reciprocate. So we say thanks: to Heike and Sarah for the night at Oscars; to Pablo and John for dinner and cocktails on a school nigh; to Fred's school, his Headmaster and his teacher for the effort to make his leaving special and positive; to George at Koinonia for helping us with our visas and organising part of our Kerala visit (including staying with his mum!), to my work collegues for shaming me with their thoughtfulness and great advice (some of which was subject to legal privilege.....); to Charles Street Methodist Church (especially Marilyn & Colin, Carole Rhys & Hugh); our friends who have dropped cards and presents in; our Facebook connections who found a home for Nellie and Patch our Jack Russells,and connected us to people in places we will be visiting; Victoria at The Edge who came in on her day off to dye Fred's hair blue on his Birthday (see pic); Daisy, Barney, Poppy and Chris for a fabulous BBQ, help for the trip and loan of stuff.... the list could go on and on.
We expect to find the world a kind and generous place with the odd aberration (but hey I'm an aberration sometimes too!). How we experience the trip will be all about how we approach it and our own attitude to others. Its up to us now because those we love, those we know well and those we know less well have all done the most they could to give us the best start to this adventure :-)
My reflection is that as we see from Orlando, Jo Cox and other tragedies, much is outside our control. Ultimately I remember 2 much loved NHS Supply Chain collegues; Clare Gardiner and John Vinuesa. Clare died aged 28 of a brain tumour she didn't know she had within 48 hours of becoming ill. John died aged 52 five months after he got a bad back from secondary spinal cancer. They were vibrant wonderful people. So Carpe Diem - we don't know what's round the corner so sieze the day! To John and Clare - I shall raise a glass to you on every contient we visit xx
A trip like ours of 33,000 miles and more is going to be a game of lots of halves (if you pardon the mathematical impossibility of that statement). The planning has been exactly the same with this week being a case in point.
In the final 2 weeks we have needed to finalise car hire in Canada and the USA, camper van for a month in Chile and Argentina, Nellie and Patch our 2 Jack Russells being fostered, Indian Visas, farewell parties and dinners with friends and family, getting the house sorted for our tenant, loading all our schedule onto Outlook, getting important documents photo'd and saved to 'the cloudy thingy' etc etc etc...... Inevitably the stuff you think is going to be really hard is actually done in an instant and the stuff you think is going to be easy looks like it is going to give us a headache till the night before we leave - if we're lucky!
Fred is a member of the Radio Club with Newark Radio and on Monday he interviewed Dean and I, and his other radio club members interviewed him, for 2 x 5 minute slots that are going out on Radio Newark on Monday 20 June between 4 - 5pm. Rhyan Paul who organises and runs the Club has set up www.positivechangeworks.co.uk after years as a big club DJ to encourage young people to get involved in music, DJing and being creative. By lucky coincidence he will be in Miami at the same time we are for a 48 hour stop over & he's going to interview Fred - roof bar, cocktails and decks maybe involved!
More challenging aspects this week has been the cooker not passing gas safety certificate because the lid, which we never use, is wrong (!) so we've bought and had installed at short notice a cheap and cheerful electric one, and much thanks to our new tenant to not making a fuss about our lovely professional cooker being replaced by this one. Intention when we come back is to donate the new cooker to a housing charity and get ours reinstalled.
Saturday we visited some old acquaintances we've not had contact with for years who have offered, via connections on Facebook, to have the dogs. Having lost their Jack Russell aged 12 they have not had a dog for 2 years and are deciding if they want to have dogs again. Having ours will help them decide. We all trooped over to introduce the dogs to them, and the dogs had a wonderful time. Fred was delighted, as they are his most precious family members, and they've kindly agreed to take them from the day before we go until we come back.
Newark based friends organised a leaving do at Oscars Inn on Saturday with the band Swing Nouveau who were fabulous. Much wine was drunk and the dancing was uninhibited. Thankfully for the packed pub we were not made to sing as had been threatened. Tuesday saw us at a leaving dinner with other friends who had been in Corsica at the weekend. Pablo one of our hosts, being Chilean, started us off with Pisco Sours which will apparently be plentiful after our landing in Santiago. Never mind Santiago they were plentiful on Tuesday night at The Lions B&B which led to a slight loss of cognitive function in work the next day - think I got away with it until now....
The Indian Visa saga continues. Two trips to the Peepul Centre in Leicester and we thought we had it sorted - but no. Dean has had a call today to say that whilst Dean and I have a 12 month multi entry visa granted we require an additional form for Fred. Worst comes to the worst we can leave him in Bangkok for 10 days and he can join us in Delhi later on a 30 day visa as he will be a very experienced 10 year old traveller by then (only joking...!). Consequently to try and keep to 6 weeks in India there is another trip to Leicester first thing in the morning to do another form. However it means there are only 4 working days to send the document from Leicester to Birmingham, get the paperwork processed in Birmingham and get Fred's passport and visa couriered to us. It is very tight and we'll be to the wire on this one. If disaster strikes and Fred's passport isn't going to make it back in time we will have to dash to Peterborough for a same day passport issue - eeeekkk....
Next week is the last 2 days at work and I shall really miss everyone. I've had a brilliant time with great people who are doing stuff that matters. Hopefully some of those are reading this now & to them I say - great job and keep it up :-)
For me this trip is all about having a great adventure with my family. Its taken years for us to finally stop talking about it and do it - simply because it both excites and frightens the life out me! So I'm stepping out of corporate life, where I singularly failed to achieve a work/life balance....to experience different cultures and spend time with those I love xx