Category Archives: expat life

Around the World:Days 3 and 4

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I’m going to do a brief recount of these two days for the sake of getting caught up. We stayed at Middleton Beach in a place booked via Airbnb (Albany B adhesive Apartment). It turned out to be a brilliant accommodation for us. There were three bedrooms with ensuite in all of the rooms. The owners lived across the hall in the adjoining house. 
The first morning we got up and had our breakfast and readied ourselves for the day. On our way out the door we ran into the owners who recommended a couple of parks for us. We first walked over to a small park with beach access (Middleton Beach) and had a walk on the beach down to the larger park and cafe (Three Anchors). Tom got us coffees and a snack while the kids played. Once we finished up our coffees we took the kids over to the newly renovated EyrePark. The kids had heaps of things to choose from. I left them there with Tom and took Serafina back to the house to eat and change her nappy. 

Once they all came back from the park we had some lunch and packed up to go on a drive. As we started driving out of Albany I started getting a very familiar migraine aura, flashing lights on the right side of my vision. I hadn’t had this in years. Worried about getting a terrible migraine, Tom dropped me, Sofia and Serafina back at the apartment and took Alex out for a while. They visited the TV tower on top of the hill and then ran some errands before coming back. I never did get a migraine, only a slight headache and I felt very tired from taking a Valium. Sofia watched a movie quietly in the bedroom. 

We had a quiet evening, the kids watched another movie together, Tom made dinner and I looked after Serafina. The kids got to bed fairly late. We have been pretty lax with bedtimes as they will be jet lagged often on this trip. 

The next morning we got up and got ourselves ready for the day and took a drive over to the town of Denmark. We had some lunch at Mrs Jones Cafe. Alex had a cheese toastie and chips, Sofia chicken skewers, salad and chips and Tom and I shared Kashmiri chicken (mediocre). We returned home midday and started to get ourselves organised for departure the next day. Tom and I did some laundry, the kids played imaginary games, etc. we made sure everything as organised to make things easier to pack up in the morning. The kids were ready for bed much earlier tonight because they were tired. Off to the Margaret River area on Tuesday.

Around the World 2016: Day 2

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The family woke quite early considering our bodies are two hours ahead on Sydney time. For some reason it took us hours to get out of the house. All four of us showered which took some time. Everything takes twice as long for me with a newborn, even with family help with her. We had no breakfast so after packing up the car we stopped off for Egg McMuffins at Maccas. Today we drive from the outskirts of Perth down to Albany on the south coast of Western Australia. 

We got a long stretch of driving done first thing after eating. The kids begged to watch shows on the iPads so after their loud talking and asking a million question drove us to insanity we caved. They ended up doing who knows what on them. Games most likely. Sofia has a propensity to have motion sickness so she had a motion sickness pill. Out of the blue Alex mentioned that he didn’t feel great. He often says this when he wants to stay home from school. We didn’t know if he really meant it (The boy who cried wolf) or not. He did. He vomited all over the floor mat, his booster seat, the seat in front of him and his jeans and jacket. This happened not long after I changed Serafina’s nappy and managed to mess that up s badly that he clothes were covered in wee. Back to the car. It smelled BAD. Tom did the best he could to clean up in the middle of nowhere while I got Alex into some clean clothes. Back on the road with no iPads.

It was 1pm when we got to Katanning to find some lunch. After doing a quick scan of the town we settled on a corner cafe. As we all piled out of the car I watched the last two staff members walk out and lock the door. On to something else. Luckily in the distance I could see another cafe sign so we walked down to see what we could find. We ended up at The Daily Grind for lunch. Tom and I shared a Caesar salad with chicken and beef rashers (it was Halal) and the kids had fish fingers (fish don’t have fingers) and chips. We passed through Katanning a few years back and had a destination in mind. There is a place called the All Ages Playground with oversized structures for playing. The kids had a blast last time so we were off to revisit. Last time Alex was scaring me to death with his climbing. He was so little and had no qualms about climbing the highest structures so I had to follow him to help. Luckily the highest one was partially disassembled this time, but the kids went crazy for the rest of it. It looks like it belongs in a deserted Soviet town.

After burning some energy we hit the road again as we still had a while to go to get to Albany. It was an uneventful drive into the town. We did stop for groceries on the way to our Airbnb apartment. Tom and Alex dragged all of our bags into the house and I unpacked us so we could settle in for three nights. Tom cooked some dinner while I dealt with little miss fussy Serafina. The kids worked on their journals and watched the iPad before bed. Tom did a load of very smelly laundry (from Alex’s mishap earlier in the day). The weather outlook for the next few days looks grim!

Around the World 2016: Day 1

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17 June 2016

The family was up early with the nervous anticipation of starting this long holiday. The kids will be out of school for two weeks before school holidays and two weeks after school holidays so they are thrilled with our decision to pull them out of school. We spent a few hours finalising packing, refereeing the big kids, keeping baby Serafina happy, fed, and feeling loved as well as attempting to get everyone ready for the day. 

We attempted to pack light. With five of us travelling it isn’t easy, especially since we have a week in Australian winter. Our winters are mild in comparison to some, but we still needed warmish clothes as wind and rain was forecast. We also had to worry about Scotland; who ever knows what sort of weather you are going to get up in the Highlands, even in summer. Most of the other places we will visit need warm weather clothing. Our main luggage consisted of two medium-sized roll-aboards. Along with our luggage we have Serafina’s car seat with base and pram as well as a booster for Alex. Three backpacks and a carry on for spare clothes, nappies, etc rounds out our haul. 

Our taxi van arrived to pick us up around 11. After the standard drive to the airport with two very talkative and loud children and very quiet baby we unloaded at Qantas domestic and checked in for our Business Class flight to Perth. Once the rest of our luggage was offloaded in oversized luggage we were off to the Business lounge for some lunch and drinks before taking off.

All in all our flight was uneventful. We were downgraded to an older plane instead of the nice business class seats we had expected. It was all good, though. There was a bassinet for Serafina (she spent very little time in there). Alex and Tom sat together by the window and Sofia and I sat together in the middle section. All three kids were very good on the flight. The big kids glued themselves to iPads and Serafina did her part to catnap and be cute. Several flight attendants had a cuddle with her so I could have a break. She only made a little bit of noise when she was hungry. She had a very successful first ever flight.

Out flight was slightly delayed on departure but that time was made up in the air. We landed in Perth, collected our luggage and then picked up our Nissan Pathfinder. Arguments happened because both kids wanted the third row of seats. Ultimately Sofia won out because there were no Isofix points for his booster seat. Poor Alex was not happy. It took ages to get everything arranged in the car, car seats installed, etc. Our accommodation for the night was a 3-bedroom Big4 cabin in the Swan Valley. It worked out to be a decent place to stay. We were all pretty exhausted and soon got off to sleep trying to adjust ourselves to the two hour time change from Sydney. 

This Expat’s Life

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It’s been quite some time since I have written anything here. Time for a quick catch up. 

It was 14 years ago, the weekend of 1 June 2002, I boarded a flight to London to start, unbeknownst to us, our expat adventures. Tom was already in England covering a maternity leave for 4-6 months. After 3.5 years there, we went on to Hamburg, Germany for a short stint and then back to the north of England from 2005-2010. It was late in 2009 we got the call that landed us in Sydney, Australia. It was a quick, but rough transition with me being pregnant, Sofia being 2, and Tom whisked away to work in December/January. Tom has been with his company since 1999. We were lucky to travel and move around as we did with the company as they also went through several transitions.
In December 2015 we found ourselves in an interesting position. Tom was told his job in Sydney would be done at the end of March (which eventually got pushed to end of June). Sydney had been our home for six years and we needed to decide if we wanted to make it our home for a while longer. In the end we decided going back to the US to live in Chicago wasn’t what we wanted to do and the job Tom was offered there wasn’t exactly what he wanted to be doing. Tom resigned from his company and finished up 31 May. We are staying in Sydney as locals. No more expat benefits (sniff, sniff). We’ve had a good run of being expats with his company but now we are planning to become Permanent Residents and eventually get our citizenship. Our children will be able to decide where they want to live and go to school with two passports–American and Australian.

So, what to do with some time off? Travel, of course. Tom busied himself with booking us around the world tickets. We will be spending the next six weeks travelling. I will attempt to update every day with our adventures. We are travelling with our daughter who is 8, our son who turns 6 a week into our holiday, and the newest addition to our family who is coming up on 2 months old. 

Itinerary: Sydney-Western Australia (Perth, Albany/Denmark, Margaret River)-Singapore-England (East Yorkshire, Northumberland), Scotland-Denmark (Copenhagen, Island of Fyn), Germany (Munich), USA (Charlotte NC, Wake Forest, Hampton VA, Minneapolis MN, Grand Forks ND, Minneapolis)-Sydney.

Day 11: Longyearbyen

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We were in bed far too late last night. It was after ten that the kids finally got to sleep and closer to 11:30 for me. It made getting up in time for breakfast and our tour a bit of a challenge. I had a more difficult time sleeping for some reason. There were no blackout curtains and it was brighter than it had been thus far. There didn’t seem to be much differentiation between day and night. At least further south the sun dipped behind the mountains so the light wasn’t as direct.

We had breakfast and then waited for our Maxi Taxi to pick us up at 10am. It was a 2 hour tour around the city pointing out all of the buildings, mines, some facts and some humour.

There was so much to learn about Svalbard and so much to see in 2 hours.

Here are a few interesting facts:
* The town was founded by an American, John Longyear.

* The buildings are built on stilts. Due to the permafrost everything has to be built up on stilts. If you were to build on the permafrost the heat from the building would melt the ground and cause it to move.

* Snowmobiles (snow scooters) are widely used here when there is snow. There are more snowmobiles than people, something like 4000 of them for a population of around 2300. There is no road network between settlements and it is by far the easiest way to get around.

* The sun sets on 25 October and rises again on 8 March for total darkness. On the flip side, there is midnight sun from late April to late August.

* You can’t have a cat as a pet due to the fragile birdlife in Svalbard. You also can’t keep your polar dogs at home, you have to keep them at the dog center on the edge of town.

* Polar bears. Svalbard and Franz Joseph Land share a Polar Bear population of 3000. If you leave the outskirts of town you must carry a rifle and know how to use it. But if you are in the town with your guns you must check them at the door of shops.

* Arctic Terns nest on the ground and will attack you. You must carry a long orange pole above your head if you are going past the breeding grounds and even then they will try to attack the sticks and your head and poo on you! We know this from experience.

* There is a hospital in Svalbard but they don’t have specialized services, those have to be done in Tromsø, a flight away from Svalbard. They do have fiber optic wire and specialists available in case of emergency. Also, pregnant women fly to Tromsø a few weeks before they are due, but can deliver in Longyearbyen in case of early birth.

We drove all around the town then up into the mountains near the operating mine. There were several times we got out to take in the views. We also stopped at the church but didn’t stay inside long because there was a Sunday service happening.

Once we were done with the tour we asked the driver to recommend a good place for lunch and then to drop us there rather than at the hotel. He recommended Kroa. We were the first people in for lunch. The kids shared a burger and fries, Tom had the same and I ordered a chicken sandwich. After lunch we had a wander through the town into some shops and around. The kids and Tom got new shirts. We also picked up a couple of little souvenirs.

We wandered our way back to the hotel discussing trying to join an afternoon activity. The kids just weren’t going to make it, especially Alex who seems very tired today. We went back to our room and rested for a while, organized bags and when the kids started fighting too much we decided to go back out. Our first stop was the Svalbard Museum just out the door from our hotel. This was an unexpected delight. It was very well done, so colorful and with displays the kids enjoyed. There were displays about animals, mining, weather, glaciers, Svalbard history, old artifacts, and so on. In the true Svalbard tradition we either had to remove our shoes or wear protectors over the top. No wonder the wood floors are still beautiful. This was a option in the hotel as well but it seemed that a majority of people ignored it.

Early the same morning Tom had gone for a walk on the outskirts of the city only to be attacked by some birds but didn’t really know why. The tour guide explained to us that Arctic Terns nested down there and that we needed to carry the poles above our heads and that the birds would only attack the sticks. We returned to that same area to have a walk and carried the poles but the birds persisted. Several of them were flying at us. One flew right into Tom’s head and pooed on him. Same thing happened to Sofia! At that point we aborted our walk and headed back up toward the hotel.

The kids had peanut butter sandwiches and carrots for dinner and then off to bed. Alex was so tired he fell asleep at 7:30, Sofia didn’t get to sleep until much later. She finally got settled into bed and then had a bloody nose which ate up more time. Our flight leaves at 4:40am. The airport shuttle bus comes to the hotel at 3:00am and breakfast is served at 2:30am. Tom and I plan to get up at 1:30 and then get the kids up at 2.

Let’s see how this goes. Two flights. Longyearbyen to Oslo then on to Hamburg, Germany.

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Day 10: Tromsø to Longyearbyen, Svalbard

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Today was more of a relaxation/regrouping day. We have been on the go nearly non-stop for days now. We got up in the morning and lazed about a bit before going down to breakfast. This was followed by a walk around town. Our flight to Svalbard is at 6:40pm so we asked for a 4pm checkout. We returned to the room and sorted our bags for our flights. Because it is a few degrees cooler up on Svalbard so we needed to make sure we had some warmer things in our carry-on luggage. We had a late lunch at Pastafabrikken–pizza and lasagne.

After lunch we checked out and stored our bags before walking over to get the car in the underground parking area. We picked up our luggage and drove over the bridge to see the Arctic Cathedral, the cable car (passed on this one today due to the outflow of money) and then just a quick tour around town before heading to the airport.

At Tromsø Airport we returned the car and checked in our bags. The kids played in the children’s area and then snacked on carrots and Icelandic Skyr.

We flew from Tromsø to Longyearbyen on SAS. It took 1.5 hours. Sofia and I sat together and Alex and Tom sat together in the row behind us.

We landed in Longyearbyen and collected our bags and then boarded the shuttle bus to the Radisson SAS for 60kr per adult. We found out an interesting tidbit about our hotel. It was built for the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics. When the Olympics were over they dismantled the hotel, shipped it here and rebuilt it.

After checking into the hotel we had a little walk around town. A man was walking two polar dogs (Husky or Malamute?) and stopped for a chat. He was a miner who had come to Svalbard only one month ago. Sofia loved giving the dogs attention. Because it was getting very late we decided to call it a night and get the kids to bed since we had a10am Maxi Taxi tour scheduled. Tom slept on the pull-out bed, I slept on the top bunk and the kids slept together on the larger bottom bunk. There were no blackout shades/curtains and it was brighter here than it had been anywhere so far in Norway.

We are looking forward to having a look around tomorrow and already wishing we had more time here!

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Day 9: Tennevoll to Tromsø

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Today we travel from our little cabin near Tennevoll to Tromsø, the second largest city north of the Arctic Circle. Because we are not far from our destination we decided to take a detour and drive out to the island of Senja, the second largest island in Norway. It is meant to be diverse and beautiful. Why not? It did not disappoint! The fjords, mountains and rivers were as magnificent as any we have seen so far.

World’s Largest Troll (we didn’t pay to go inside $$$$):

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Bergsbotn:

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Lunch in Hamn i Senja:

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A lake with ice:

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Tungeneset:

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There were deserted beaches, craggy rocks, waterfalls and on and on. I don’t even know where the day went. So much to take in. We had to catch a ferry from Botnhamm to Brensholmen or drive all the way around. We missed the 3:15 ferry but made the 5:00 one.

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This would take us to the island of Kvaløya. Part of Tromsø sits on this island. The rest of it on Tromsøya (øya is the ending for island). The ferry was a pleasant ride. We didn’t see any sea life aside from the usual birds. We had a quick bite to eat before heading over to our hotel. We debated whether or not to take the cable car but the kids were done for the day so off to our hotel. Trims has an interesting underground system of roads with roundabouts and even car parks. Love it. We checked into the Radisson Blu in the city centre. Tom went to park the car and I took the kids up to get ready for bed.

Tom went out late last night to watch the Hurtigruten ferry come in (this is part of the coastal ferry system we took last year) and to catch the sun at midnight.

Tomorrow we will spend the day exploring Tromsø and then take an evening flight from here to Longyearbyen up on Svalbard .

Day 8: Nyvågar to Tennevoll

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Today was another of those days that it didn’t seem like we did much. There was a bit of driving (so we don’t have to do so much tomorrow). Let me back up. We packed up our bags this morning and said goodbye to our cottage at Nyvågar Rorbuhotell and its majestic surroundings. We didn’t drive away until 11am. Our journey today will take us back on to the mainland after being on the Lofoten Islands. The area is remote with very little in the way of towns. What made up for that was the waterfalls, mountains, snow-covered mountainsides, fjords, lakes and so on. We made one stop along a beach with snow-covered mountains in the distance. We skipped rocks and picked up sea urchins, scallop shells and all sorts of other treasures. The kids loved it! Our next stop was to use the toilet and have a snack. The moment we stepped in the shop Sofia had a strange look on her face and it was all I could do to get her outside to be sick. Car sickness. We sat in the grass on the edge of a river taking in the fresh air. She was fine to get back in the car and had no trouble the rest of the way.

Our accommodation tonight is one of the more rustic places we will stay. There isn’t much choice around this area so Tom booked us a cabin at a camper park. It is actually really cute and has beautiful mountains all around. But it is also one of those places that doesn’t even supply you with a bar of soap and you have to hire sheets and towels.

I took the kids to play at the playground for a while and then we all decided to find some dinner. After driving through some villages we realised we better stick to dinner at our place…nothing else around us. Tom and I ordered salmon, potatoes and salad. Alex and Sofia shared a hamburger. Sofia ordered meatballs. When it arrived she wanted to know where was the spaghetti?! She did try a few bites but skipped the stewed (mushy) peas, cranberries and potato. I shared some salmon with the kids since I got so much of it. Ice cream for dessert.

The kids showered while Tom made up the bunk beds for everyone. They got ready for bed and went to sleep around 10. It is now 10:20 and I am looking out the window at the snow-covered mountains across the highway. The sun is still shining brightly and we don’t have blackout curtains tonight.

Day 7: Storvågar, Nyvågar, Kabelvåg and around

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Epic sleep for us all. Tom struggled to stay asleep, getting up several times this morning. The kids and I slept until almost 9am! That was 11 hours of sleep for them and 9.5 for me. Wow. That doesn’t mean their behavior has improved. Perhaps some time apart might help? We are not used to all spending so much time together coupled with jet lag, lack of sleep and whatever else.

After breakfast Tom went into Svolvær to see about an adapter (success) and something for Alex’s birthday. I took the kids to the Lofoten Aquarium right next to the hotel. It is a small aquarium but nice for the kids to have a look around without losing interest. We saw seals, salmon farming, tanks of local fish, starfish, anemones, crabs and so on. There was also a display about co-existing, people with animals and industry, etc.

We met back at the cottage and had a little party for Alex’s 4th birthday. Tom got some little cupcakes and a card and gift (model ambulance) for Alex. It must be hard to have a birthday without friends, a party or gifts. He will have a party and some gifts when we get back home next month.

After getting organized and getting everyone in the car Alex declared, “I am sick!” Tom left with Sofia and I took Alex back to the cottage for some relaxation. He has a really runny nose and some red spots in his mouth. No idea what is wrong with him. He is sitting on the sofa playing the iPad with a sick bag near him but now doesn’t feel sick anymore. Naturally. I was happy to sot and finish up a book I had started.

Alex and I were feeling bored and decided to go out for a walk. We walked past the aquarium and stopped near the museum to look at the pretty horse that wanders in the field there. After a little pat we continued on down the road which has very little to see and do. Alex asked me to call daddy since it had been three hours since he left with Sofia. They were on their way back and said they would be only about 10-15 minutes so we waited by the side of the road. Alex was happy to watch a few cars go by and just chat. They picked us up and we made a quick stop back at the cottage before heading out for a couple of hours again.

We drove through the little village of Kabelvåg to have a look around since it is the closest little area. There weren’t many eating choices so we went up the road to the larger Svolvær. This was a great little place for dinner. Things stay open later in these villages. The Hurtigruten ferries come in day and evening which, I imagine, brings extra business. In the square was a stall set up selling Norwegian sweaters so we let the kids each pick one for themselves. Sofia chose red and white and Alex chose white and black (what was I thinking?)

After dinner we stopped back into the Coop in Kabelvåg for a few supplies and headed back to our cottage since it was already past 8pm. The kids didn’t end up in bed until almost 9:30 again! I want to stay out and enjoy the perfect sunshine at 10pm. In fact, it is 11pm now and I am sitting at the table looking at the beautiful mountains and water out in front of here. The sun barely dips behind the mountains so it isn’t providing as much heat as much as it is providing bright light still. I find myself feeling so awake and resisting bedtime like a little child.

I have just washed up the last load of dirty clothes at 50NOK/load. I don’t even want to talk about what that costs in $$$. At least we have clean clothes for the next week and more. Tomorrow will be about three and a half hours of driving with many stops along the way to get to our next hotel. I stayed up to get our bags organized so we aren’t messing around in the morning trying to get ready. Sleeping in is really a bad thing for us right now. In the wee wee hours of Monday morning we have a 4:40am flight. I don’t even want to think about that. And it is a tricky day having to connect in Oslo going on to Hamburg. The connection will require us to pick up our bags in Oslo and then go all the way to check-in and start over again. In one hour.

I am working on getting some photo to put up here hopefully in the next few days.

Day 6: Bodø to Moskenes on the ferry and on to Nyvågar

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As suspected, we were up early. Tom and I were both up just before 5am and the kids not long after that. They are sleep-deprived and it shows. Foul behavior. We got ourselves dressed and had some breakfast. We packed up bags and headed out to see about an adapter. Nobody knew where to get one and we were out of time since we had to check in for the ferry 45 minutes before departure.

Once loaded on to the ferry we settled into some seats for the short journey. The weather is cold, cloudy, windy, and slight sprinkles of rain on departure. Further out the rain stopped and clouds seem to be clearing a bit. The wind and cold continue though. Worries of seasickness have subsided as it is a fairly smooth journey through the deep blue waters. The ferry isn’t overly crowded which gives us a chance to move around and see everything from different areas.

Once we got about 20 minutes from shore we had the blessing to see a small pod of Orcas/Killer Whales feeding right off the side of the ferry. How awesome!

We landed in Moskenes and had a short wait to drive the car off of the ferry. We headed east towards the village of Å to have a look around first. These islands are famous for their dried cod and we were lucky enough to see some racks of dried cod being cut down and stacked. These islands are spectacular with rocky islands, tall peaks, snow on some of the mountains, water everywhere. And cool/cold in the summer. I love it.

We spent quite a bit of time stopping for about an hour just to take in all of the magnificent views. Finally we were on our way to our Rorbuhotell at Nyvågar which is not far from Svolvær. We checked in to our room which is a two-bedroom cottage right on the water overlooking the mountains.

The kids played outside at the little playground and ran around. I did two loads of laundry which should get us to Tom’s Mom’s house in Charlotte with clean clothes. The midnight sun plays tricks on the brain. It is so high in the sky at 8pm that you would swear it was lunchtime. Suddenly at 8pm we realized we hadn’t eaten dinner. The kids were so hyped up that they were not going to sit in a restaurant. We drove to Svolvær and picked up sandwich fixings, cereal, milk and fruit.

I left laundry going when we went out. After having a bite to eat, getting the kids ready for bed and tucking them in I ran over to the laundry room to grab the last load. When I returned they were all sleeping, even Tom. It was 10pm, mind you. The kids need to go to bed earlier but the sun really plays tricks on the brain.

Views from our cottage:

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