The eleven hour flight to Houston, Texas went surprisingly well with a one year old child on our lap at all times, in fact it was her brother that gave us the small amount of stress.
This was our first real long haul flight with the kids, almost twice the length of any previous, and it was quite uneventful.
The calm demeaner of all the family, however plummeted when we were pulled aside at immigration.
For no reason (or at least one wasn't given) I was being detained.
This, our 3 year old was not happy about, and the control he had shown through, what was an arduous journey, for a 3 year old, finally let go.
He did not want Daddy taken away.
In the end they permitted me to take him with me. We sat in a room alone off the side of a bigger room filled with people looking as bemused as we were.
At about an hour in both of us were getting frustrated, an Italian looking fellow detainee pre-empted my move to demand some information.
Unluckily for him, his European body language was determined to be threatening by the customs official and he was forcibly sat down at gun point.
I gave it a little longer.
When I did approach an official, 30 minutes later I headed for the youngest looking one and played heavily on being with a child.
Fortunately soon after, my passport was handed back and I was free to go.
Apparently my finger prints matched a wanted criminal - but hey, we were back on our way.
After eleven hours on the plane, a few hours travel to the airport and now 2 hours in immigration, we were relieved to finally step foot into Houston, Texas.
We were met at the airport by our cousin who had been very patiently waiting for us.
Next stop was the car rental...and another problem...long story short; we finally headed to Katy (where our cousins lived) at rush hour.
By the time we stepped through the door, it was dark and we had been travelling for 24 hours.
Time for bed.
(photo taken at some point in the early hours of the morning)
Again this was our first long trip so far with young children and what we weren't prepared for was the jet lag.
At 2 am both littles woke up and were convinced, against all our pleading, that it was breakfast time.
Our cousins thankfully are well travelled and understood why the house was being woken up in the early hours by a screaming 1 and 3 year old!
JET LAG TIP: Apparently (as our cousins warned us) it would take a day per hour of time difference until we got back on schedule - and that was pretty accurate.
Finally when day broke we were greeted by our cousins beautiful open plan home with toys and games for our littles to play with and of course their four young cousins to meet.
Their home sat in a suburb of Katy, inhabited mainly by Europeans (our cousins themselves are Norwegian and Scottish)
The houses were amazing in their uniqueness, from each other. Every other neighbour's house had a different design, architectural style or layout.
The streets themselves, with inspiring names such as willows breeze and whispering lane, spider webbed out from an expanse of pristine park land, with many small lakes and a large central one, all in constant flow from the fountains that adorned them.
It was stunning, in some ways a little too perfect (like a movie set) and nothing like what we had imagined from Texas.
For us at least it was the ideal place to spend our first few days whilst we acclimatized, met new family members, explored, and played.
It was different to be in someone's home whilst on holiday. We didn't want to make our presence known too much, so had plenty planned, but fortunately our cousins made us feel so at home.
We found plenty to occupy ourselves with around Katy, with lots of big parks and malls to explore, and a couple of days after arriving we ventured further into Houston.
First off we visited Houston Zoo.
Now Zoos are not are usual cup of tea, but with their general abundance in cities around the world we do however often find ourselves heading to one.
Obviously there were many animals to ooh, aww and laugh at (that's a given) but also at just 55 acres it was a pretty good size for a one and three year old to trek around (leading the way, map in hand in fact)
There were also a fair few interactive exhibits and close encounters, plus the animals seemed well looked after and in large enclosures.
It was a pretty hot the day when we attended but fortunately there were plenty of shady spots and indoor aircon.
It was off peak season in January so no real crowds to speak of - but to Mummy and the kids this did mean the disappointing fact that, very few ice cream stalls were open!
On the same day we took refuge from the sun and headed for the Houston Children's Museum.
Now don't be put off by the title, this is neither a museum nor just for children, this is an adult sized fun house!
Unlike the Zoo we arrived at the children's museum to a packed foyer, but it seemed perhaps that was just unlucky timing, as when we headed to the top floor the crowed had disappeared completely.
MUSEUM OR GENERAL ATTRACTION HACK: A little trick we do for most tourist locations - head to the furthest point first and head back - we often do locations back to front to miss the crowd at the entrance.
By this point we were in the under 5 section which was a mixture of soft, exploratory and role play in a closed off area.
The top area had a balcony filled with an assortment of ride on vehicles, which we found we had all to ourselves to race on.
Further down one floor we came to a dress up and role play area for all ages. The littles loved putting on a puppet show behind a Punch and Judy style stand.
Also on the same level we came across a science room with all types of futuristic experiments to try out.
On the ground floor there was a full role play city where the kids could dress up and become a worker, in the shop, fire or police station, etc or just a shopper. With its own currency and banks complete with ATMs.
The place was massive with awesome indoor play areas, and fun educational exhibits.
We may have managed half of the building in a couple of hours and did not make it out into the garden at all. If we went again I would definitely plan a whole day here.
At the weekend our cousins were able to spend the day with us, taking us to Katy Mills mall.
Of course the malls in America are something to behold - this one had a kind of trampoline world and an indoor Segway assault course! - to name a couple.
We are so used to traveling on our own with the kids that we were stunned when suddenly we were able to do something (partially) grown up - like a Segway assault course - knowing that our children were in safe hands.
The two eldest boys joined us - or we joined them as inevitably they were better.
It was in fact our first time on a Segway and with our introduction lasting less than a minute we were let loose on ramps, balance beams, steps and jumps.
We were told in the safety briefing that it was impossible to fall off but with one of us flipping clean over the handle bars and the other running themselves over - we can safely say he was lying - however no one was seriously hurt.
After the Segways we headed to the trampolines at Jumpstreet. There were again plenty of adult scale jumps with ziplines and all sorts but we took this as an opportunity to sit and chat whilst the children went crazy.
The littles loved playing with their youngest cousin, jumping on the walls, doing flips and throwing soft balls at each other in the pretty big and impressive under 5 area.
There was a little scare when our 3 year old got away from us but when the staff noticed us looking they were really quick to react and locate him - queueing up for the big zip line!
After our little excitement we headed for Mexican and Margaritas, and in Texas they like 'em strong!
Most of our time in Texas was spent simply exploring slowly, no real plans.
There are plenty of animal exhibits, and with more tigers in America than anywhere else on the planet a great deal of them we avoided at all costs.
We were shocked and surprised (literally) to turn the corner in an aquarium and come face to face with three stunning white Bengal tigers.
Unfortunately the space given to them was a tenth of what you would expect and it was heart-breaking to see.
On our travels through the US it seems that every other gas station advertised some kind of caged animal attraction.
Of course animal were not the only thing to see and as we were near Houston, a trip to NASA was always on the cards but in the end the girls had a day out with their cousins whilst me and Dex headed off to be astronauts for the day.
The Space centre was roughly an hour from Katy.
Driving in Texas by the way, although more organised than a great deal of countries we have travelled, is not for the faint hearted.
The Katy interstate highway is in fact the widest highway in the world with 26 lanes - yes 26!
So make sure you are ready for the exit.
When I was around 12 I turned down the chance to visit the Kennedy Space centre with my Dad - space was never an interest of mine and if I'm honest nor is it really my son's, but a Daddy day is a Daddy day and we love it when we get one.
We pulled into the parking lot after a nice drive with Dexter sleeping through half of it and the other half spent singing to our American road trip playlist, to be met by a towering space ship.
On entering you feel like you have stepped foot onto another planet with relics, attractions and things to look at in every corner.
As we arrived there was a live science show taking place, which we watched for the entirety of Dex's attention span.
After which we took in most of the ground floor at a decent speed. The memorabilia of past space expeditions were exciting for me but did not capture the imagination of a 3-year-old for awfully long.
Soon we headed upstairs to more interactive exhibits. Up there you could drive a remote space buggy, launch a rocket, pilot a simulator, climb into a space suit, cinema and more.
After a bit of lunch, and paying a robot to make us the worst frozen yoghurt - robots make both incredibly messy chefs and terrible tasting frozen yoghurt! - We joined the tram tour of the rest of the NASA base.
I had a little trepidation before starting the tour, as it takes about 2 hours, and I was not sure my 3-year-old would cope.
But with-it being a behind-the-scenes look at how the American got a man to the moon - we were doing it.
The tour is, as it sounds by tram, but you regularly get off and explore current astronaut training facilities and Mission Control, as well as legendary buildings and the rockets themselves.
Dexter was excellent throughout but older children didn't hold up as well, and worse still, unfortunately part of the tour where a live talk took place with a veteran astronaut it was in fact some adults that caused more interruptions.
We particularly liked looking from above down on the Astronaut training facility and spotting all the different robots that NASA has developed - Terminator like!
Throughout the tour there were "dull" periods for me let alone Dex but on the whole we both enjoyed it.
As we exited the tour we were of course offered the customary print of the staged green screen photo from the beginning - for the life of me I cannot remember how much it was but I do recall being stunned - the sucker I am though my boy wanted it, and so he got it!
By the end of our visit, due to a little impatience we had probably explored 3/4 of everything we could but had filled a whole day with fun.
We were now nearly coming to the end of our 8 days in Texas but we had one more exciting day out in Galveston, planned entirely by our cousins - and with the local knowledge it was certainly the best.
On our way to the bridged island a little way outside of Houston, we stopped off for gas and traditional fair at apparently an all American steadfast - Buc-ee’s.
Seemingly this is a gas station/ wilderness clothing store/ fast food chain.
After filling up on our second breakfast we carried on our way towards Galveston's and our first stop; the train museum.
Now that doesn't sound like a fun day out for a group of kids (and big kids) but our cousins knew what they were doing.
We arrived at the Galveston's train museum late morning on a beautiful day. The reception and home to the ticket booth was housed in a building styled as an old train station platform.
As Museums go there was a general lack of items behind a glass cases - there was some of this but not a lot.
The main attraction, must be the abundant old rusting trains that you are free to roam, climb, and play with at your leisure.
The general lack of health and safety was a breath of fresh air.
With us and the kids exploring every train and carriages, flicking every switch, folding out each apparatus and pressing every button.
Fortunately for the museum we didn't get any moving, but we had great fun trying.
Being on the island of Galveston the museum had encountered it's fair share of hurricane's, and a barometer scale showed the sheer volume of water that, at those times, filled the platform of the station - the water level would have towered over our heads, twice so on some occasions!
That wasn't all that showed the destruction the most recent hurricane, Catrina, had caused.
Inside the station building was housed a sort of cart exhibit which captured a moment in time mid-19th century.
Complete with life size white plaster casts of people of all different back grounds seemingly waiting for their train.
Men and woman in differing styles of clothing from suits holding canes, to workmen holding cigarettes and pretty ladies holding umbrellas, some seated, others standing, children playing and couples engrossed in conversation.
It was fascinating to inspect what each one of them were up to.
More fascinating still, however were the photos on the wall of the aftermath of the most recent hurricane and the scene that met the employees of the museum when they first entered following the all clear.
The photos showed the papier-Mache figures in complete disarray, with the figures previously seated on the benches now on their backs; legs still bent in mid-air.
Some lay still in pose, face first against the floor.
Others had just toppled together in an awkward embrace and others lay heaped on top of one another.
Somehow because of their unique poses and pristine white complexion it still looked like a piece of art.
It was haunting, hilarious and beautiful all at the same time.
After a few hours at the Train Museum we headed off to explore the Galveston Naval Museum - I know another museum, but again this wasn't really as it sounded.
The Naval Museum is actually two decommissioned WWII vessels, a Submarine and a Destroyer which you can freely explore in the same way we had done at the train museum.
Once again big and little kids loved having the freedom to roam, switch, pull, push and aim everything there was aboard the two vessels, particularly the anti-aircraft gun aboard the destroyer.
Before heading for dinner we all had a play at a beach side playpark nearby, where we were able to meet the giant wild albatross up close.
Food again was chosen by our cousins with the local knowledge and we followed them over to Joe's Crab Shack where I enjoyed my first ever bucket of crab.
Drowning in garlic butter and served with ears of corn, I donned the provided apron and ate the best crab I have tasted before and since, washed down with a couple of cold beers.
The last few Days in Houston were uneventful, we visited Fort Bend County Library, something we like to do wherever we travel and spotted hundreds of brown squirrels at the Mary Jo Peckham Park.
A small Tornado did roll through during our trip, which had little effect on us except some flooding on the highways. It is interesting to note that before a Tornado or Hurricane you receive a text warning to your mobile phone.
Something which we naively, simply slept through - our cousins though, well versed in this sort of thing, had apparently stayed up all night keeping an eye on the details of the storm.
Fortunately by the time we were due to leave on our road trip the water had all subsided and there were only clear skies.
We were certainly sad to leave Texas and our cousins which the kids had found true friends in, such a different trip for us but so, so enjoyable - we left our family waving goodbye on their doorstep and headed for our next destination and more adventures in New Orleans - but first Wendy's for breakfast!