Öland – Sweden’s white sand beaches

After about a week in Stockholm and Norrköping, we went with our friends to Öland – an island off the south east of Sweden. This was one of those:

“Do you guys want to go to Öland?”

So, you, reading this right now, does that question mean anything to you? Well, same to us. So of course you just trust your friends and say Yes.

From Norrköping you drive about 250km south to a town called Kalmar, drive across a 6.5km bridge and you’re on Öland – a skinny island about 130km long end to end.  The first thing you notice is the windmills:

Öland windmill

This is an old one, they have new ones too (the white, windfarm turbine things). Öland is very flat and fairly windy, and it’s cool to think they’ve been putting that wind to good use for a long time.  If you look very closely at the picture above, you can just see how most older windmills are on a rotating base, so they could be turned when required to catch the best wind.

We stayed in a very basic farmhouse – the sort of basic that makes you feel like you’re on holiday.

Öland Farmhouse

This was our water supply – cold and hot:

IMAG0177    IMAG0178

But for all the lack of creature comforts, it has beautiful white sand beaches, such as here at Böda Sand:

Böda Sand

If sand is too boring, Byrums beach has flat rocks that you can build with for hours and hours:


You can visit an iron-age village, such as this one at Skäftekärr. And if you go on the right day, there will be people in iron-age costumes showing you spinning, rope making, plaiting (below)…


… or just how to put on some chain mail and wield a sword!


You can visit the Trollskogan (troll forest), walk through the spooky, spiky trees to the 1926 wreck:


Further south, you can visit the very impressive  Borgholm Slott (castle).  There has been a castle here since 1281, but the building you see below is mainly from the 1600s.


You can explore just about every corner of it.


And the Museum has not only cool exhibits, but even the rooms themselves are decorated with plenty of thought. Check out the “sword-ceiling” below from one of the museum’s galleries:


At the end of the day, there’s plenty of entertainment.  You can wait while the marshmallows brown on the BBQ:


Or you can watch what’s on Öland TV. Channel 1 has “Swaying Wheat”…

And Channel 2 has “Ducks’ Return” every night at 8:30pm.


Packing: 140kg is a lot

“We’re going for a WHOLE YEAR, Joe, and I’m going to need summer clothes, winter clothes, work clothes, road AND trail running shoes, hiking boots, hydration pack, iPod dock, so….”

If you’re going for a year, do you need to ship a box of stuff over, or will you have enough luggage allowance for everything?

SPOILER ALERT: we didn’t need to ship a box of stuff.

Joe in Team Luggage argued that flying Korean Airlines, we had 23kg of checked bags each, plus 12kg of carry-on each. That’s 35kg each. For the four of us, that’s 140kg.

Carlene in Team Shipping Box argued that it’s possible to send a standard sized shipping box to an address in Europe for only about NZ$450 and it takes about 10 days to arrive. Anything we don’t pack that we will need in the next 12 months, we will need to buy, and that will probably cost more than €250. $450 between the four of us, that’s just over $110 each.

Team Luggage said we could take everything we wanted to in our 140kg because, well, 140kg is a lot.

Team Shipping Box pointed out that 140kg of packed bags might not fit in L’s car when he picks us up in Stockholm, when that car is also carrying the four owners of that 140kg and their chauffeur friend.

So Team Luggage suggested a Test Packing Exercise, two weeks before we left. Team Shipping Box was both pleased and surprised to hear this, because it sounded like the sort of thing Team Shipping Box would suggest herself, only to be greeted with derision.  You know. #highmaintenance and all that.

So we did a test pack on a Sunday. I got the biggest suitcase and stuffed it with everything. Joe hung around saying things like “what about this running hoodie? You like this one!”  I put in winter clothes, summer clothes, work clothes and all the stuff I said up there, and it was 22kg. I hadn’t started on the 12kg of carry-on yet.

On the basis that The Adult Female has the most stuff, everyone else was considerably less than 22kg. The kids were around 10-12kg, so we added things like the hiking boots, iPod dock (just one), a stovetop coffee maker (OK, actually two), a couple of bits of clothing that we liked but weren’t sure we needed.

Did it fit in the car?

It sure did! So, one large suitcase, three large backpacks, one large carry-on trolley case – all fit in the boot of a standard sedan.

So based on this, no need for a shipping box.

Appendix 1 – things you might like to pack

  • Clothes for all seasons
  • Clothes for work, even if it’s just one smart piece for a job interview (for a dish-washing)
  • Sleeping bags
  • Hair clippers and haircutting scissors – haven’t paid for anyone to have a haircut for a while, why start now?
  • Things that are small but will be annoying to have to buy all over again:
    • sewing kit, and I don’t just mean a hotel-sized one;
    • stationery items including blu-tack, scissors, ruler, etc;
    • iPod dock
    • Stovetop coffee maker
    • Small items from home you can display in your new place (with the blu-tack you brought)

Appendix 2 – things you don’t need to pack

  • Not too many kids’ clothes for the other season, as they might have grown out of them by the time the season rolls around
  • Clothes you don’t love, because if you go to another country and you want to feel like you’re fitting in, you’ll find you quickly buy a couple of pieces that are fashionable in that place, and then some of the other stuff you brought from home isn’t quite “right” and stays at the back of the cupboard. Or maybe you don’t care – up to you.
  • Anything kitchen-related, when your NZ-based German friend says you can use all her kitchen stuff which is boxed up at her parents’ place (yuss!)

Appendix 3 – if you do ship stuff

It was going to be around NZ$450-$500 door to door (a bit less if you take it to the airport yourself). The box was around 40x40x65cm or something like that.

There are a couple of providers in NZ but Excess Baggage who I talked to seemed very nice and knowledgeable.

Consider you might have to ship that stuff back home again, in which case the final cost of a shipping solution is more like $900-$1000.

“Door to door” means you need to have an address in Europe that you will pick up the stuff from, so if you don’t know where that is yet… you will have go ask a European-based mate if you can get it sent to their place.

Alternatively, as it only takes 10 days to arrive, you could find accommodation and then ask a NZ-based friend or family member to arrange for the stuff that you’ve boxed to be collected.

If you are going to be touring around for quite a while before you get to your destination, it might be handy to have minimum luggage for that bit.

For us, we flew Korean Airlines to Frankfurt, and although we had an overnight in Seoul, our big bags were checked all the way through.

Appendix 4 – what to put in your carry-on v checked bags

I reckoned seasoned travellers have a better perspective on this, and also we had an overnight in Seoul for which we had only checked bags, but anyway, while I’m busy capturing everything, for our trip we took the following:

  • Empty drink bottle (Molly’s was a metal Kathmandu number with a plastic lid). Despite the 100ml Only And No Pump Bottles Madam, no-one seemed to mind about a kid’s metal or plastic drink bottle, and once we were through security there were water fountains where we could fill it.
  • Togs – because it was going to be 32 degrees in Seoul and the hotel might have had a pool
  • This laptop so I can blog on the plane – I like a proper keyboard, and 24 hours of flying is useful downtime  (is that an oxymoron?). Oh and anyways, laptops aren’t covered by your travel insurance if they are in checked bags.
  • Your own headphones/earbuds, so you can keep watching your movie after the hostesses collect the airlines’ headphones
  • Snacks (I’ll say “well, KIDS, you know?” and we can all just pretend I took snacks solely for their benefit)
  • Print-outs of important stuff. I’m quite a e-girl usually, but if my only record of booking a shuttle to the airport is in an email and my phone has run out of battery…

OK, that’ll do for now for the Important But Not Very Sexy stuff.








Seoul: Stopover and Spectacles

I’m on a little cloud of Happy. Seoul was an amazing stopover, and as I type this I’m wearing a pair of gorgeous new spectacles, purchased during our very brief sojourn.

Things we knew:

  1. We would land at Incheon at about 5:30pm local time.
  2. The airline would transfer us to a hotel for the night.
  3. The hotel, plus dinner and breakfast, was included in our airfare.
  4. The next day, we would be transferred back to Incheon.
  5. Our flight to Frankfurt would depart at 1pm.
  6. Incheon is a “long way” from downtown Seoul.
  7. Most shops shut at 10pm.
  8. Opticians in Seoul can make a pair of glasses in an hour.

Things we didn’t know:

  1. Where our hotel would be, or what it would be like.
  2. How far is “a long way”.
  3. Whether – during our stopover – I would be anywhere near an opticians, and have the time to buy a new pair of glasses.

Mine were getting a bit old, and glasses are so cheap in Korea. It also felt sort of cool to have an “errand” during a short stopover. But, because of the Things We Didn’t Know, I was relaxed about whether I would be able to pull it off or not.

After we got off the plane (no luggage to collect, it’s checked all the way to Frankfurt), we got a bus from Incheon with a group of people from our flight. The bus left at about 6:20 and on the way, we had some amazing views of Seoul – enormous bridges, enormous apartment complexes, I found I was sitting on the edge of my seat on that bus just taking it all in: the Bigness! But, we drove and drove and as the clock ticked away I thought I might not make it to the Opticians (if I could even find one). No matter.

At the end of our long drive – nearly two hours – we figured the answer to Things We Didn’t Know #1 was “downtown Seoul”, as we ended up snaking through narrow, cobbled streets that looked like it should have been a pedestrian district. Hundreds of bright shops lit up the crowds in the little streets and our bus beeped people out of the way and finally pulled up at the hotel. And just before the last corner, I spotted a sign decorated with pairs of spectacles, indicating a boutique called “Wow Opticians”.

After dinner (which was delicious – spicy beef soup), we went out to the shops and I went into Wow. It was literally 2 minutes walk from the hotel. I got there about 9pm:

  • Yes, they shut at 10pm.
  • No, I didn’t need to have an eye test, they could just take a reading from my current pair of glasses
  • No, it didn’t take an hour to make glasses, it took HALF AN HOUR.

Answer to Things We Didn’t Know #3: Yes.

I went back to the hotel with the family, put the kids to bed and went back to pick up my glasses. I guess you don’t notice all the tiny scratches your glasses accumulate until you get new ones: when I walked back out into the street, I felt like I had new eyes.

We slept in air-conditioned comfort, in super-comfy beds, and had a gorgeous buffet breakfast the next day. Jack wasn’t going to have a shower until he found out there were bathrobes in the hotel.

We popped out just to explore before getting picked up at 10am. That’s the time the shops actually open, but we weren’t there to buy stuff, just poke around. We went down an underpass and the mall down there had, like TWELVE opticians in a row. I’m glad I didn’t find that place last night – too much!

I also think our hotel was in the Skincare District of Seoul. Truly – every second shop was selling skincare products, as worn by the porcelain-pale poster girls and boys. One shop was only selling men’s skincare. Actually, there was probably more than one.

As we will probably go back through Seoul on our way home, on the one hand I’d like to spend a bit more time there, but on the other, we’ll probably be fairly broke and we need to be realistic about that!

The bus ride back to the airport confirmed a suspicion I had had from the night before: our bus driver hadn’t taken the quickest route to downtown Seoul. So actually the answer to Things We Didn’t Know #2 is more like “an hour 15, including a detour past Gimpo Airport.” All good – we had a tour, and I still got my glasses.


Some pictures:

Bright lights, big city
Bright lights, big city

Downtown in Seoul's Skincare District

Downtown in Seoul’s Skincare District

More bigness, on the drive along the river from downtown to Incheon
More bigness, on the drive along the river from downtown to Incheon


Goodbyes – not that sad

I’ve been building up to goodbyes for a few weeks.  About three weeks ago I went for a run with my friend G and half way along the Tank Farm was suddenly overwhelmed with such a sad feeling, that we wouldn’t be running together much longer.

But when the days of Real Goodbyes finally came: at work on Friday, leaving drinks Saturday, final goodbye to G and S on Wednesday, and the family yesterday… actually, I just felt really, really excited.

And another reason I don’t feel that sad is that a year is so SHORT.

What I told everyone at work is hey, just pretend I’m pregnant. I’m at home, I’m changing nappies, and then in 12 months I’ll be back. That’s a paradigm everyone can understand.

Also, let’s be honest: I have friends who live in Auckland that might see only once a year. If they happened to have spent that year in France between actual visits what difference would that make (except their FB photos would be more interesting)?

But, if it were the other way around – if I had to say goodbye to a friend who was off on a big adventure, while I was stuck back home – I would be a bit sad. I don’t mean for that to sound conceited, like “oh, you will totally miss me*, people!” (although I have had a plastic cup on my desk at work for a while, tongue in cheek).  It’s more the situation: if everything else in your life stays the same, then the people who are close to you are going to leave a bit of a hole when they go, under any circumstances.

Lucky my friends are so cool they will find things to do…

* Oh ho – relevant French grammar moment: in French, the verb “manquer” doesn’t mean “to miss”, it means “to be missed by”.  So if you say “Je manque Carlene” it actually means “Carlene misses me”! Attention there!

Dress rehearsal: moving in with your Olds

“Olds” = parents

When doing their first OE, a lot of younger kiwis move out of their flat a few weeks or months before their big departure, and move back in with their parents for a while to save money. We’ve ended up doing the same – mainly because we got tenants who were keen to move in at Easter, but we don’t leave the country till July.

My parents very kindly offered for us to move in with them, so we did.

For some people in their early 40s, moving back in with the Olds (or in-laws for your spouse!), with you kids and your well-rehearsed domestic routines, might seem a nightmare. For us it couldn’t be sweeter – my parents are laid-back, welcoming in a non-smothering way, they love having their grandkids around and I’ve never had so much laundry done for me since I was 15.

It’s also had three distinct advantages:

1) Spending time with them before we go

That’s obvious – but it’s worth mentioning. My parents are half an hour away from our place and I probably see them every four to six weeks.  It’s cool when they visit us, and vice versa.  But when you live with someone, it’s a different. You get to help each other with everyday things. You get to revive those old in-jokes and create new ones.

And, they get to spend lots of time with their grandkids, and Joe and I have live-in babysitters!

2) Dress rehearsal for packing

Moving out of our house in May meant we have already packed up most of our stuff.  So now we’re three sleeps away from flying out, we have no worries about cancelling electricity, redirecting post and boxing up our pots and pans; that’s all done.

3) Dress rehearsal for Different

This one was interesting. So on a weekday morning in our old house we were up and about around 7:15 or so, most of us out the door by 8:00, maybe 8:15. Joe works 2km from home and the kids’ schools are a similar distance away.

Now we’ve moved half an hour away (in no traffic), the four of us were up at 6am (say it: “SIX AY EMM!”) and all out the driveway by 6:50. It’s a 40-45 minute drive in the traffic to get to the kids’ school and Joe’s work, and I would get dropped off in Kingsland to get either a bus or train. Of course it’s winter too, so for me the only time I got to see the house in daylight was on weekends. And on weekends, we were back over “our” side of town for Jack’s football on Saturday and Molly’s on Sunday.

Now, actually this new routine was quite exciting – for about two days. Yes, of course, we have a fantastic adventure ahead, and the security of knowing our house was safely rented out, and even (to be quite honest) the extra income from collecting rent while we stayed with the Olds, BUT… eventually the utter lack of Vitamin D started to wear me down a bit.

On the second week Joe dropped me off at Kingsland station, I saw a train coming in and I sprinted up to the platform only to arrive as the doors closed. I regret to say, I did not react particularly well. I started quoting the first few lines of Four Weddings and a Funeral. I think I even stamped my foot.

And then I reflected on this (in the third person – that works best for me): “Carlene, are you really having a tantrum for missing a train? How are you going to cope in France when you don’t know anyone, or anything, or anywhere, and you’ll have two kids hanging off you, complaining?” So I had a little chat to myself about Being More Resilient, and I think we’re/I’m OK now.

And that was good, you know. Good to have had a brush with Tantrums Over Ridiculous First World Problems, spot it, and take steps to avoid it in the future.

And as my good friend G said: this is why people don’t do what we’re doing. It’s too safe with your morning wake up routine, your commute, everything.  It’s just to easy to keep doing that forever.

So, here’s hoping that 8 weeks in Howick will be just the Bootcamp we need for taking this family to the other side of the world.