An American Thanksgiving with Italian Friends!

Thanksgiving is a big deal in my family and it is maybe my favorite holiday.  It is also uniquely American.  Our schedule this year does not allow for celebrating on the real holiday because we will be expecting Clyde any day at that point.  We came up with a plan to host an early Thanksgiving dinner at our house for our foreign friends.  Most of my coworkers were away in Germany and it was perfect time.

We invited our Slovenian friends and all our local Italian friends.  We also had one other American friend help us cook.  Our fashion designer friends and the maid from work and her whole family, the Busker’s family and their American exchange student and even more.

Thanksgiving is a lot of work.  I took some pictures before we got started but we were cooking and setting up for days beforehand.  I made notes so people could write down what they are thankful for- that was fun to explain in Italian to people.

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We had the bread rolls and dessert tables ready as we finished all the other items.  I got a chance to photograph Nate’s rolls and a few of the desserts. I made the cheesecake and he made the coconut cream pie.  We had lots of other desserts too!

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Nate deep fried the turkeys and they were awesome!  We both made stuffing/dressing and we had lots of casseroles.  I took a bite of turkey and stuffing together and it truly tasted like Thanksgiving or even home.  The tables were set and it was a nice sit down meal with friends and it was so authentic feeling despite the different setting.  I am so glad we did this.

We started dinner at 4:00 PM and the Italians had no idea what to do with that time!  They eat dinner at 9:00 PM and lunch at noon so we told them this is traditional and there will be lots of food.  They did not understand that they should have a small lunch.

When everyone arrived (45 minutes late or so) we got started and the food was great.  But they barely ate!  The Americans there knew how to do it.  One family has an American exchange student and she ate a bunch and so did all the Americans.  It was fun to see the Italians try the food.  They all seemed to like it.  We had wine and we hung out and even watched American football afterward.  The kids played wii in the other room and the adults chatted through all the language barriers.

We are lucky to be invited into the homes of our Italian friends and learn about their holidays.  This was a great chance to repay the favor.  It was one of my favorite things I have done since living here.  We celebrated November 3rd and then afterward I felt like it was time to get ready for Christmas.  Because we were going to be away at the base waiting for Clyde when I would normally decorate, we decided to get ahead so we can just bring him home to a magical Christmas house!

Ciao,
Sally

Sewing for Clyde!

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I was playing online a few months ago and I found a blog about how to make your own bow ties for onesies for a tiny gentleman.  I decided right then that Clyde was a tiny gentleman and he needed bowties!  My friend Deirdre had already offered to help me sew a crib skirt for his bed and I had ordered fabric, so we got ready to make bowties and make the crib beautiful.

I have no sewing ability- but I do like to learn new things.  Luckily Deirdre knows how to sew and she seemed happy to help with the project.  She helped out right from the beginning even picking out the canopy stand and making it a gift.

I ordered all the things I needed well in advance for both the bed skirt and the bowties.  I got a special set of snaps so they could just snap right onto the onesies and then they are also interchangeable.  I ordered the snaps and the tool to attach them.  I ordered some fabric scraps and had no idea what I was going to get and of course I chose and ordered the fabrics for crib.

We got all the materials and we followed the tutorial to make the bowties.  They came out so good!! Clyde is definitely going to be dressed as the tiny gentleman that he is.  The fabrics turned out  great!

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After we started with the bowties, getting the process down it was time to work on the bed skirt.  I learned to use Deirdre’s new hem foot (although I am super slow).  We figured out the dimensions and how to fold the pleats and we got to work.  We ironed and sewed for several days and I learned a bunch.  It came out so good and although it was lots of work, it feel very glad to have made it myself because it means lot and I learned some new skills

Then we started the canopy top.  After some interesting planning we got the whole thing to work.  By this point I felt confident with the sewing machine and I made bumpers for the crib too- I did those all by myself.  Of course I know I will have to take them down for Clyde for a while but for now they look great!  I was very excited about that too.

Then the last touch was to make the giant bowtie for the canopy and hang his mobile.

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His bed is all ready to go, and now we just have to wait for him.  It was a lot of work and felt good to put away Deirdre’s sewing machine, but it was a great experience.   Thank you Deirdre for all your help!  He may never appreciate the crib but we know about all the work that went into it!

Ciao,
Sally

Electric Bills

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I do not know why paying bills in Italy is so hard.  I love to go on and on about how cool it is to live here and for the most part I always concentrate on the positive- but I have this crazy story about trying to pay my electric bill and I feel like it illustrates a bit about Italian life.

We have been calling and asking the electric company for our electric bill on an off for the last year.  The answer is that due to the earthquake in May of 2012, they were not going to send out the electric bills for a year.  This is apparently due a law that was passed to help protect those who were negatively financially affected by the earthquake.  The problem is you cannot opt out.  We finally got a bill and it was for 12 months and it was REALLY expensive.

We get a flat monthly allowance to help pay for utilities here- which makes sense because utilities are very expensive compared to the US.  I have been saving the money- so I am able to pay the bill just fine, but it was still shocking to owe approximately $5000 for a year of electricity. The bills come in Italian and I can mostly decipher what is going on, but I do need a little help.  A coworker of mine offered to call the electric company to verify the amount.  It was about 100 euros a month more than I expected.

He was told that the bill was based on an estimate!  That is crazy to tell me I can’t have a bill for over a year (limiting our ability to budget and adjust our usage) and then to bill me several thousand dollars based on an estimate.

Then they told him I do not have to pay it.  It is so expensive that it will automatically be broken up into 8 payments and I will be billed once every 3 months for 1/8th of the total.  It would take two years to pay it.  When he explained that there was nothing in this bill to indicate that and additionally I will only be living here for another 7 or 8 months they did not seem to care.

My Italian friend who made the call was also baffled.  He was super surprised to hear their response.  He had been getting normal bills and even tax free bills (which did not apply to us).  He had gotten them regularly.

A few days later we got notification of the 8 payments but no way to pay them.  The only pay stub we have to take in and pay was for the full bill.  Also, we do not have the choice to just pay it.  We had to pay in installments.  So we had to call our housing representative.  We explained the whole thing and she made an appointment for us to go to the electric company together and get it all resolved.

Between the time when we made the appointment and had the appointment, we got a crazy gas bill!  We pay the gas bill through the Army base so when I got the $2000 gas bill I got to make a call myself to clear it up.  We had been paying for gas so I was very confused, but it turned out we were paying based on estimates even though actual readings had been taken. They finally decided to bill us for the rest.  I was able to go through the usage rates and determine we had been undercharged the whole time for the gas usage.  This is crazy!  Again- it is weird that utility companies do not seem to care about getting paid accurately and on time!

We went to the electric company and we convinced them to break the now 15 months of payments due into 2 bills for us to pay three months apart and please also send current bills so this does not happen again.  It took a while to convince them of that.  We probably could just leave the country and not pay but that isn’t right either!  So with great angst and time consumption we have a plan to pay our crazy electric bill.  Now I just need to see the bill to believe they will actually make it to us in a timely manner.

I want to pay my utility bills.  This is a valid service that I use- it should not be so hard to pay what I owe when I owe it. I guess I should be happy I got to make a little interest on the money as it sat in my hands instead of theirs.  Although the exchange rate is higher now than it was so that works against me.   I wonder what Italians in America think when you pay a late fee and then they turn off your service if you do not pay your bill!

I hate ranting about living here because it is truly a wonderful experience- but for the life of me, I cannot figure out why they do it this way.  They would all just say “va bene.”

Ciao,

Sally

Tuscany Group Trip

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We had been home from Sardinia for a day and a half when we left on a big group trip to Tuscany.  This was planned through work and although we were tired we planned for this to be our last trip for a while.

We got there and we were staying separate from most of the group (luck of the draw I guess) but we were with a few other fun families where we were.  We headed over to the main hotel for the first night of dinner and I was lucky enough to get a few Tuscan pictures around sunset.  This first one was the view outside our hotel (there was also a construction view that I managed to shoot around).

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162 vineyard1We got to the other hotel just in time to go play in a vineyard during sunset.  This vineyard was being harvested right then.  They completed the whole thing in a day and I got pictures of a few grapes on the vine just before they were collected.

Some of our friends’ kids were playing in the vineyard and many families came down to get some nice family photos in this perfectly picturesque location.

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We handed off the camera to get a few of us as well.

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We enjoyed dinner (and everyone else enjoyed a lot of wine).  The next day we had a bus to take us to Pienza, known for the sheep cheese pecorino and then on to Siena.  It was a beautiful day.  We had already seen these towns but what a wonderful time to be in Tuscany.  We had another great place where people were taking family photos so we handed over the camera and got our best maternity shot!

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It was time to leave the city and we met at the appointed place and everyone was there except the buses.  This led to a giant forced march through the city that lasted about 45 minutes…it was tiring!  I had appropriately budgeted my energy and then we got to keep going.  The good news is we got to go through different parts of town that were decorated for the victory from the most recent palio.

162 SienaIt was a great trip with lots of food and wine.   We got time to spend with friends and we realize that every time we go to Tuscany it is amazing.  We will not be able to up and go to Tuscany for the weekend forever so we need to enjoy it every time we can.

Ciao,

Sally

Sardinia

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Just a few days after we returned from Scandinavia, we turned around and headed to Sardinia.  I had been so excited about Sardinia because Italians love it and they are all so proud of this island.  They go on about the food and the beaches and the people and the natural state of the landscape.  I squeezed this trip in knowing I may not be feeling up to it.  I just did not know when we would get another chance to go.

Because we had just traveled so much and I was even more pregnant now, we decided to make this a relaxing beach adventure where we did not have to see everything on the island but we would sample some of the best beaches they have.

It was not disappointing!  The first day I did not bring my camera out but we were at one of the most famous beaches on the northwest side of the island.  It was extremely beautiful but still crowded.  It was a warm day and a Sunday so the locals were out too.  The color of the water was as blue as I have seen anywhere (somewhat reminiscent of the Caribbean).  We had a great time and then headed back to our home base in Alghero.

The next day we headed for a beach south about halfway down the island on the west coast.  My coworker had told me that the sand there was like rice and it was made of very smooth beautiful quartz.  The water here was also crystal clear.  They did not have lidi (places to rent umbrellas and chairs) so we were just out on the beach with an umbrella from our hotel.  This made the beach feel more natural and beautiful- I did not mind the lack of basics.  You can see the closeup of the sand in my hand.  I loved that sand so much and I could not stop playing with it all day!  I really enjoyed this area.

161 quartz beach161 boardwalk161 quartz sandThe third day we went to a beach backed by this is the pine forest.  The beach itself was more narrow but the water was so shallow for so far out.  It was a great beach for kids to play because there was lots of room to be in the water.  Again, the water was crystal clear.  This beach was on the east side of the island.

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He had a chance to go on a nice walk in town during sunset so I took a few pictures.

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It was time for the trip to end and I was finally feeling like I was ready to get settled in and start preparing the house for the baby.  So for now- travelling will be on the back burner while we get ready.  However- I will be planning travel for the family after so there will still be lots of adventures!

Ciao,

Sally

Bergen, Norway

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The trip was so beautiful and quite long and I did not have many expectations for the city of Bergen, Norway that was previously unknown to me.  What a surprise!  It was one of the most charming cities I have ever seen.  Right on the waterfront is a grouping of old wooden buildings from the 1700s that served as the merchant area for the Hanseatic League.

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The buildings were all crooked and tipsy.  They had been rebuild many times and existed before the 1700s but because of their wooden construction the area had burned down several times before.  They are very well kept with their tipsiness in tact.  The outline of the town is celebrated on the manhole covers!

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Here are some pictures from between the buildings and another view of how crooked the doors and windows are in the these buildings.

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We did not explore too long the first day because we wanted to get the funicular train and up to the hilltop to see the city the first day.  The views were amazing.  There are seven large hills on the perimeter of the city and this is the best view of the town.  Also, there is a strange troll statue there.

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The next day we started with a tour of the local area and we got to visit Edvard Grieg’s house and a small museum.  He is a famous Norwegian musician and composer and I really enjoy his music.  The experience was really wonderful.  We saw his house and the little red house on his property where he liked to compose.

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When we got back to town we spent some more time in the old buildings of the Hanseatic League.  We tried a local pastry and we got an ornament from the year round Christmas store there.  Behind the stores Nate posed with a scary fish sculpture.

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The angles of the buildings cantilevered stairways and rooms were so pretty.  This is one of my favorite pictures to give the idea of how interesting these buildings really were.

159 inside hanseatic leagueWe explored more of the city and all the buildings were so cute.  They had an amazing gazebo that was kept so perfectly in the center of town and a nice pedestrian shopping district.  I am not a fan of fish, but my family all tried eating at the fresh fish market right there on the water.  It was a great experience.

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Mom and Dad have a tradition of writing a poem at the end of each of their trips to share with the group.  I think that is super fun.  So I thought I would include here as I post my last picture from our Scandinavian trip.

We came to the north to see many new things.

Cities, museums, the castles of kings

We saw ancient ships, we saw Viking tools,

Palaces, gardens, we saw the Crown Jewels

In Denmark the bikes all gave us a fright.

But Tivoli Gardens at night…a delight

Traveling Norway by bus and by train

We hiked in the sunshine and drove in the rain.

I rode a fjord in my coat and rain hat

A rainbow came out…how did Tauck arraign that

Finally one day the sun shined on us

We drove to the top of the world in our bus

Our drivers seemed to have nerves of steel

I’m glad none of us was behind the wheel.

We drove through many a beautiful fjord.

With Nate on the bus we never got bored.

Idar took us down mountain roads scary.

We always were rushing to go catch a ferry.

Late in the trip we were getting run down

Then we rolled into Bergen, a “freaking’ cute town

And now in the morning we head home to rest,

No Donna to tell us “Today is the best”

We were sad to end our trip but it was a long vacation and we were excited to get home.  We already had plans to see mom and dad again after the baby is born so it was comforting to know we would see them again soon.  We want to thank them so much for bringing us with them on such a great trip.  We would not have gotten a chance to see what we saw on this trip without them!

Ciao,

Sally

Wild Norway- Part 2

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The next part of the trip may have been my very favorite.  We went to tour and hike at the Briksdal Glacier.  This is the image from far away of a different branch of the glacier on the way to our hike.

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When we arrived we were greeted with “trollcars” to take us to the top to start our hike.  We even drove through the spray of beautiful waterfall.  The ride up was one of the best parts.

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We still had a 45 minute hike to do when we got off the trollcars.  We were given the option to take them back down or hike all the way so we chose the long hike.  The scenery was truly spectacular.  I liked this even better than the fjords.  The flowing water had the traditional light blue of glacial water.  The weather was spectacular and it felt so good to get out and walk for a while.

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We finally got up close enough to see the glacier.  We were not allowed to climb up on it but we got right up to its end where it melts into the beautiful lake and river.  Nate got a picture with Donna and then we got pictures together too.

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165 glacier hike nate and sally

The hike back down was just as beautiful.  The sunlight was falling on the mountains just right.

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Next we drove to another area that is high altitude and the wind and weather usually does not allow for cars and buses to go up so late in the year but we were lucky.  This first lake is something we saw on the way but the following pictures are from the top.   I found it interesting that the altitude is actually not all that high when compared to altitudes in the United States.  Their tree line here is much lower than in the US (that is true in the Alps too).

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The drive back down also had some beautiful views.  This lake was especially beautiful.

165 lake from aboveThen we got to go on another ferry ride through a different fjord.  Everything was so beautiful it was getting hard to keep track.

165 another fjordThe next stop was for lunch at a hotel Idar used to own and he restored.  On the way we got a great shot of some of the traditional milking houses they used in the area.  The women would come use these to milk the animals out in the pastures.

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I was told that Idar’s hotel and restaurant owned a piano that the famous composer Edvard Grieg had played.  Donna made sure I got a chance to play it.  Although I do not know most of the piece, there is a very famous piano concerto written by Grieg that I still can play and I got a chance to play it on a piano that he had played! This was a huge highlight of the trip for me.

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165 griegs piano

After lunch we headed on to our last stop in Bergen, Norway.

Ciao,

Sally

Wild Norway – Part 1

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Following our train ride in Flam, we were off to our private ferry across the Sognesfjord.  It started rainy and cold but as the day progressed it cleared up into beautiful clouds hanging low over the fjord.  We had hot chocolate and watched the beautiful scenery pass by.

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Nathan enjoyed his position at the front of the boat.  Unrelated- there were also so many beautiful waterfalls to watch as we went by.

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I lucked out for the next photograph as the Norwegian on the boat caught a breeze and blew into the photograph.

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Just as we thought this private ferry ride just for our group could not get better we spotted a family of porpoises playing along side the boat.  They were all over the area and they were playful.  Then there was a perfect rainbow!

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158 rainbow1This had been one of the most scenic places I had been and it really lived up to how I imagined a Norwegian fjord.

From there we went to the Norwegian glacier museum.  In addition to liking adventures, my dad studied geology.  I am well versed on subject of glaciers.  Throughout the trip he supplemented the guides with extra geology instruction for members of the group who were interested.  It was a great way to start out our trek through the wild north of Norway!

Ciao,

Sally

Flam, Norway

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We traveled by bus to the fjordside city of Flam.  On the way we stopped to see the Borgund Stave Church.  This is supposedly the best preserved of Norway’s 28 existing stave churches.    It was build in the 1180s and is the second oldest church in Norway.  To ensure these buildings endure, they are wood covered in pine tar.  Unfortunately that also makes them very flammable and over the years many of them have been destroyed.

When we arrived before we got right up to the church we waited for our local tour guide in the gift shop.  We had these excellent contraptions called “whispers” in which a tour guide could speak into a small microphone and we could all hear through our earpieces.  This allows the guide not to have to shout and it allowed up to explore as we listened.  Nathan got a hold of the microphone while we were waiting and he started giving a fake tour of the stave church.  A few people believed him for a while.  Later in the trip he graduated to the bus microphone!

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We got started on the real tour and we went right up to the church and explored inside.  It was such an interested and different type of building than anything I have seen before.  It was one of my favorite sites in Norway.

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157 Nate in stave churchAfter our journey we got back on the bus to resume our travels to Flam.  Idar knew of a good spot to watch for the salmon swimming upstream.  He pulled over and we watched for about 10 minutes.  I got a pretty good picture of a salmon trying to leap up a waterfall.  I zoomed in on it get the close-up.

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As part of our drive across Norway we went through their longest tunnel.  I forget the statistics now, but it is so long they set up three areas through the tunnel that were lit very brightly to simulate exposure to sunlight.  They found that this made drivers more aware for brief periods of time and it helped sooth people who were claustrophobic during the drive.  I just thought it made a nice picture.

157 crazy long tunnelWe arrived in Flam and our hotel was right on the fjord.  When we arrived there was a cruise ship there and they were loading up.  We checked in and got to watch the very large cruise ship leave this very small port.  It was fun to see the operations from the shore to launch.

We started our time in Flam with a beer tasting.  The Norwegians have recently gotten into a lot of brewing.  It turns out that this brewery was actually run by an American who moved to Norway to get into their brewing world.  It was a really fun time for everyone.

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The next morning we took a train from Flam to a nearby town and back.  It is the world’s steepest regular railway (non funicular or cog).  It actually spiraled up at times.  This is mom and dad on the train.

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We got to stop and see a beautiful waterfall up close but we probably passed 50 waterfalls during the whole ride.  It was really beautiful.

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We got back to Flam and started our journey into the wilds of Norway.

Ciao,

Sally

Oslo and the Sniffles

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We got off the ferry and boarded our purple Tauck bus and started our Oslo tour.  We had a new bus driver- we really liked Michael our other bus driver but Idar was starting off on a good foot- joking around and driving the bus impressively.

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We started at Vigeland Park dedicated to the famous Norwegian artist. Gustav Vigeland.  I really liked the style of the art- I know it is not everyone’s taste but I really thought the statues were interesting.  Apparently the artist had a lot to say about relationships and everyday life through his works.  The statues on the bridge were meant to represent different eras in life and different relationships.  The little boy having the tantrum is one of the most famous of his sculptures.

156 Statue park4After you cross the bridge the large fountain is also quite stunning.  The human figures are holding up the basin and the relief images around the base are really great.  When you keep exploring you get to an obelisk carved as a pile of people.  I thought it was a really wonderful park, unfortunately the sniffles that I awoke with seemed to be getting worse.

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We went from the park to see some actual original Viking ships.  There are remnants of 3 actual Viking ships at this museum.  They were recovered from burial sites.  The Vikings believed in burying their dead with possessions they may need in the after life.  One of the ships was the families actual ship and was used for approximately 20 years before it was buried with the owner.

156 Viking boat 2156 Viking boat 1There are very few remaining Viking ships in the world and this museum was really nicely set up.  It was well worth the stop.

From here we went to the hotel.  Nathan and I were lucky and we got an extra opulent room.  I should have taken pictures because it was really lovely.  We had the afternoon off the explore Oslo.  My dad is a really excellent explorer and he is not content until he has seen everything there is.  I knew that I was not feeling well enough.  I have inherited a lot of my dad’s drive to see everything so it was killing me to make the decision, but I decided to stay in and try to rest for the afternoon.  Being pregnant and having a bad cold could really ruin the rest of the trip so I stayed in a rested while Nathan and my parents went out and explored.

They saw the Oslo Opera house and they walked along the harbor and explored stores and the walking district.  It turns out Norway is very expensive.  I would see over the next few days- that of everyone I have even traveled (which is luckily a lot of place) it was the most expensive.  We had dinner off that night and we were tired of elaborate meals so, embarrassingly enough, we had McDonald’s.  I really enjoy McDonald’s fries when pregnant so I was pretty happy about it at the time.  For Nathan and I to have a Big Mac, a plain cheeseburger and two fries- it was equivalent to $35.  I wonder what a nice sit down dinner would have cost!

The sleep was good for me and I recovered the next day to explore!

Ciao,

Sally