Chinese New Year is a lunar holiday and so this year it was extremely early. We had three weeks for Christmas and then Eleanor was back at school for only 2 weeks in January before our two week Chinese New Year holiday. (Eleanor actually had 4 weeks off as our school broke up a week earlier than the College and then returned to school a week before the college. Some families didn’t come back for the two weeks of school, other families stayed in Suzhou having been away at Christmas. We decided to travel half way round the world.
Shortly after President Trump made his inauguration speech we boarded our first flight to London Heathrow. The night flight (01.55am) left late because British Airways had overbooked the flight and two passengers got on with the same seat booking. Both passengers were taken off as well as baggage but by that stage all three of us were sound asleep.
Arriving at Heathrow we had time for a Wetherspoons breakfast and Eleanor was able to burn some energy in the playarea at Terminal 5 while Martin and I did some window shopping in preparation for our return leg.
Feeling a little bit refreshed we boarded the massive A380 to Washington DC, Dulles. The flight was uneventful. 2/3rds of us slept. On arrival we queued for the consoles as we had been to the US in the previous year and had a valid ESTA. Then we had to queue again for customs. We collected our luggage and then had to queue again to get out of the luggage area and meet my cousin.
Arriving mid afternoon when our bodies were telling us it was 4am China time was not fun. But we pushed through to 8pm. Eleanor came in at 1am wanting to wake up her cousin, who is 4. I was able to avert that by bringing her into bed with us making me the sandwich filling. At 3am with both asleep I got up for a call of nature and then went into Eleanor’s bed. She woke up soon after and I endured 2 hours of My Little Pony, though I also read to her. With Martin awake at 6am I went back to sleep for another 4 hours! We spent the next couple of days rising early and going to bed early. The joys of being 13 hours behind our usual time.
On the Sunday afternoon we took a trip into Washington DC to the Space and Air Museum. Eleanor was interested in the Amelia Earhart and we all went into the Planetarium. I felt motion sickness at being seated with the roof moving, that I had to close my eyes (I was not asleep). Being on The National Mall we were able to see Capitol building still bedecked in the Stars and Stripes fresh from the inauguration. We also saw Washington Monument standing at 555 feet high.
We hadn’t arrived in Washington for the inauguration nor for the woman’s march on the Saturday but we definitely saw the aftermath of both. Banners and rubbish littered the streets of the city. It was being cleaned up, but having demonstrated against someone with such passion it was a sad reflection on society that they didn’t take their rubbish home with them.
The plan was that on Monday we would do the trolley bus tour (that was the only one running on the Monday post inauguration) and on the Tuesday do another museum. The weather was forecast not to be good. Little did we know that Tuesday and Wednesday would be glorious. Monday saw us sight see in torrential rain. We tried to see the White House but it was still “roped off”. We did however see the White House gift shop. When we saw a lady with a basketful of memorabilia of the current President’s inauguration we left to continue the tour. Our favourite piece of “tat” was a magnet featuring the incumbant complete with “hair” and a comb to style said hair.
We stayed on the Trolley Tour to Grand Union Station. We went to the National Postal Museum where we saw the Penny Black, and a whole host of other rare stamps. I am not sure that we have inspired philately in Eleanor but as it is part of the Smithsonian Museums (so was the Air and Space) it was free and after lunch (in the depths of the Grand Union Station) we went back. We then picked up the tour bus once more and stayed on it until Lincoln Memorial. If you look at a one cent piece made between 1959 and 2008, you can actually see Lincoln’s statue visible through the columns. We also visited the MLK statue and found Eleanor Roosevelt, who our Eleanor was excited to see having read a book about her.
At the end of the day we got an Uber back to Becky and Tim’s house. It was the first Uber we got in where the policital mood of the people of Washington DC was discussed. And possibly where I first introduced the similarity of the US president as a bit like Marmite. (The analogy was lost given that Marmite is clearly a very British product(!) but I like to think that I have “educated” a few uber drivers.)
The next few days that we were in Washington DC were pretty uneventful, we visited Chinatown and saw the Friendship Arch. A plaque next to the arch stated that it is the largest single-span archway in the world. We ice-skated, had lunch in Georgetown, and of course bought the obligatory Starbucks mugs. This caused confusion when the guy behind the counter was stunned I was not buying a coffee. The one museum that we paid money for, both Martin and I felt cheated.
From Ronald Regan airport we then flew to Orlando. Having wrapped up warm for Washington, we hoped that our lighter clothes would make an appearance.
I made the decision that Eleanor and I would leave our coats behind in Washington DC… Martin brought his waterproof. We should have brought the coats to Florida. Not least because we got an upgrade on the car and had a convertible! Thank you Hertz.
So why did we go to America for CNY? Well, to see family of course, but for the real reason we have to go back to Christmas 2015 when we went to Orlando with my parents. We stayed in a Holiday Inn resort while doing Disney and seeing Martin’s twin sister, Claire. But part of that holiday consisted of a time share sales talk. It would only take an hour they said. 4 hours later and we had resisted buying, but we were offered a half price deal to take within 2 years. We took it…. the snag… to go on another sales pitch when we came back. We knew even from the moment we signed the “deal” that despite paying monthly for the hotel we would not be off setting the cost on the time share they thought we would buy the next time around. So the first day of being on the resort, off we trotted to hear the sales pitch and view the properties. We both had to go as per the agreement, which meant that Eleanor came along too. How boring for her. Our thought precisely. Her whinginess and our resolute “no” got us out relatively quickly. The salesmen couldn’t quite believe that we had paid for a holiday and then not put that money towards a timeshare. For doing the sales pitch we did get a voucher towards Universal Studios – another reason for coming to Orlando. We had done Disney, we had done Harry Potter Studios in the UK, now it was time for another theme park!
We took 2 days to do Universal Studios. Day 1 was Harry Potter themed.
Day 2 was the rest of the park.
Eleanor is an adrenaline junky. She loves rollercoasters, we all do. I am not like my Mum and many others who go to theme parks to be the bag holders. My Mum is quite happy to be one, and to be honest, I didn’t see the attraction of being a bag holder until this ride…
Rip Ride Rockit. A vertical ride at the beginning, that then does a few loop the loops while for good measure you can choose your own personal soundtrack to listen to. (Martin and Eleanor when questioned what they listened to, confessed they didn’t hear much because of the screaming – theirs and everyone else’s) Nothing can be in your pockets and you have to go through a scanner at the start of the queue just to make sure. No thanks.
I am told this was an “awesome” ride. Just No.
Thanks to one of my colleague’s suggestions, we got tickets to see Cirque du Soleil La Nouba at Disney Springs. Anything acrobatic never fails to amaze. But confession time… for a tiny part of the show jet lag overwhelmed me, and I fell asleep. I didn’t tell Martin or Eleanor at the time.
It may not have the warmest when we went to Orlando, but the sun and heat came out on one day, so we decided to go to Aquatica – a water world. Eleanor was again in her element, water and adrenaline. We had been to a similar place in Hua Hin in Thailand, and in reality all I want to do is sit down and read my book. Maybe do the lazy river. But being spun round and round as you go down a pretty high water slide, shooting through tubes and out into the pool below, is not my idea of relaxation. The website claims “You’ve never seen- or felt- anything quite like it”. Correct. My eyes were tightly shut and my lungs connected with my vocal cords to produce high pitched screams while holding on to the rope on the sides of the rubber ring. Eleanor is of course laughing her head off and shouting again, again. A great day out, especially in February – no queues, no fighting for the sun loungers, no queues for food and we parked right next to the park – no walking for miles! We found the same at Universal Studios. Going off-peak and avoiding the weekends is the way to go! CNY for us was a brilliant time to go, because the Chinese stay at home, (in the main – some are travelling more), and the rest of the world (children wise) are still at school!
The theme parks are great in Orlando, but we chose to get out and see some of the countryside, so we took the Kissimmee Swamp Tour. About an hour from our resort it was far enough away that it felt far removed from the shopping malls and parks. Lake Kissimmee, is the third largest lake in Central Florida covering over 36,000 acres. Were we went there were no houses around the edge, it was just 6 of us and some locals around. There were 5 of us on the airboat. We all had headsets with two way communication between us and the “captain/guide” and so Eleanor was able to ask many many many questions which kept the guide busy. Our guide was a primary school teacher during the week so was able to deal well with Eleanor’s good questions. It also meant that the four adults could focus on looking at the wildlife. It was another day when we could have done with coats, as it was quite windy but with plenty of layers we were fine – just a little windswept!
During the evenings we caught up with Martin’s twin sister, Claire and her family. Both of his sisters are abroad and Eleanor loves spending time with her aunt. (and the dogs!) Leaving is always the hardest part, and our last meal together was no exception.
We went back to Washington DC for one night, and reunited with our coats, went ice skating again, while also taking a trip to the National Archives to see the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. This was very worthwhile and very much worth the trip as there was a lot more to the Archives than just these documents.
Having a two state holiday was interesting at this time given the political scene. During our journey to the swamps, we saw a number of houses with placards outside with the slogans pertaining to the right to bear arms and how great Mr Trump is. Washington DC was different. But whatever the views people hold, the news on the TV just kept going. News is no longer on just in the morning then 1pm, 6pm and 10pm, news is now continuous. Whether it is breaking news “Just In” or repeating the same thing said just 10 minutes ago. And of course you could see spin in action watching Fox or CNN or any of the other media channels. The news was unrelenting and we found ourselves watching it and being drawn into it. Then when we landed back in China, we didn’t have the TV on, or if we did it was the BBC World News which had other issues to report and not just on America. In China, we always feel we are in a bubble, removed from the news that doesn’t quite affect us. In America, we were caught up in the American bubble. For two weeks the news was centred on the new President of the United States, and what his actions would be next/what he had said/done/tweeted. Maybe that was all the news covered in other countries too. But we were glad to return home to “normality”.