DDF Adventure Photo DO Trip Notes Part 1: Heading For Svalbard And The Far North

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The flights booked by the 5 DDF members on the DDF Adventure Photo DO:


Another perspective of just my own flights that I booked shows just how far north we would travel. Longyearbyen, located in the Svalbard Islands, is the closest city in the world to the North Pole:


The DansDeals Forums, much like DansDeals.com, started as a fluke. Before I started blogging I used to post deals to a forum for bochurim (Hebrew for guys or bachelors). I started blogging about miles and bargains in 2004, when I spent a year teaching in Brazil as part of the Chabad bochur shlichus program, on the decidedly non-user friendly URL of ctownbochur.blogspot.com. Eventually it became ctownbochur.com and then ctowndeals.com.

In 2006, I tried launching ctownforums.com, but there wasn’t enough site traffic to sustain a forum at that time.

I always had my eye on DansDeals.com. Dan was a high school nickname that I despised at the time. But you have to admit, it is a much catchier site name than DanielsDeals.com. I paid GoDaddy to contact the site owner’s on my behalf to buy the domain name, but never received a response. But I marked the day that it was expiring on my Palm OS calendar and grabbed it for just $8 when it did in 2007.

In 2008, the comments flooding the site with off-topic questions got out of hand. I made several discussion posts, but it was not a very good format for questions and answers.The aptly named Eli Webster offered to make a DansDeals Forums in the comments on one of those discussion posts. The forums got a nice gathering, but due to time constraints in 2008 between getting married and finishing my MBA I didn’t go onto the forums for several months. But a funny thing happened, people kept on posting and a community was born. Today thousands of people post strategies, plan trips, and much more on DDF.

In 2011, we had our first DDF DO, or meetup, in NYC at Clubhouse Cafe and Le Marais. I flew in from Cleveland, another poster flew in from Antwerp, and there were many locals as well. It was incredible to meetup with the people that you interact with all day long. Since then, there have been hundreds of DOs in cities around the world.

With a group of avid travelers, it was inevitable that the dinner DO would evolve. We’ve had DOs such as this one where several DDF’ers flew to Chicago for dinner to break a fast, to catch a ballgame, and more.

DDF member Something Fishy is a brilliant photographer and teacher and has led Photo DOs in several locales. He even flew with a few guys to Cleveland to make a Photo DO in my neck of the woods. Last year, he ran Photo DOs in Cuba and Iceland, but my schedule didn’t permit me to attend. However, I was full of regret when I saw the pictures that they took on the trips.

His strategy for Photo DOs is to check off bucket list items that his wife doesn’t have a desire to do. I started to get more serious with my own bucket list when my friend, Nadiv Kehaty, passed away last year at the age of 30.

I booked and flew on the Island Hopper to Palau with AJK shortly after that happened. Mimi had zero interest in taking over a dozen flights across the Pacific, but thanks to DDF I was able to find someone to travel with so that I wouldn’t fly solo while checking something off my bucket list. For that trip report AJK added his own notes, but for this trip report the other guys plan to eventually write a full trip report from their own perspective on the DDF Trip Reports board.

The Kalalau Trail has always been a bucket-lister for me and I tried to convince Something Fishy to have a Photo DO there. But he wasn’t about to fly off to Hawaii sans his better half.

Instead, Something Fishy convinced me and several other DansDeals Forum members (including ChAiM’l, moish, and whYME) to have a Photo DO in Norway, where we would have a chance to capture the Northern Lights. Seeing the Aurora Borealis has long been on my bucket list, so I didn’t need much convincing.

He wanted to visit Norway’s picturesque Lofoten Islands and then fly to Svalbard for Shabbos, which is as close as you can fly to the North Pole.

I found saver business class award space from Newark to Oslo, but unfortunately there were no award flights to Longyearbyen, Svalbard. While we discussed what to do, the business class award to Oslo disappeared, bringing us back to square one.

Should we spend Shabbos in Paris at the Park Hyatt? Or maybe Helsinki, which is supposed to be beautiful and would make for a great trip report title “A Week In The Arctic And A Shabbos In HEL”

24 hours later the award space came back and we booked travel to Lofoten from Monday to Friday and to Molde from Friday to Sunday. Molde is home to the Atlantic Ocean Road, one of the most epic drives in Europe.

There was award space back from Paris to Newark in United business class on Tuesday, and though it took a few tries, I did eventually find a United agent willing to book me to a destination and 2 stopovers on the same award. Anything is possible with some HUCA (hang up, call again). The total award cost was 127,500 United miles.

We also had to book paid flights on Widerøe from Bodø to Leknes in the Lofoten Islands. Wideroe is famous in the US for their CEO leaking the news that you could book travel on United via the Wideroe website without paying fuel surcharges, leading to some incredible bargains.

We found great Airbnb bargains thanks to the AMEX Airbnb promotion and negotiating substantial discounts on top of that. We found large houses near the Atlantic Ocean Road in Molde and in Reine in the Lofoten Islands. Both owners were a true pleasure to deal with.

The only tricky part is that rural Norway lacks addresses, so it was difficult figuring out where things were. Luckily, we had super-sleuth whYME on the trip and he quickly identified the exact coordinates of each house. Let’s just say we shocked the owner of one of the houses when we asked him if we had guessed the house’s GPS coordinates correctly,

Perfect hit! I hope you don’t work for the US Air Force!”

View the rest of the trip report after the jump:



At this point, my itinerary looked like this:

1. Su, 3/6, UA4249, CLE-EWR, 2:30pm-4:10pm, Coach, ER4
2:45 connection in Newark
2. Su, 3/6, SK908, EWR-OSL, 6:55pm-8:15am, Business, 333
2:25 connection in Oslo
3. Mo, 3/7, SK4106, OSL-BOO, 10:40am-12:10pm, 10:40am-12:10pm, Business, 73G
0:30 connection in Bodo
4. Mo, 3/7, WF808, BOO-LKN, 12:40pm-1:05pm, Coach, DH2
Stopover: 4 nights in Leknes/Lofoten Islands

5. Fr, 3/11, WF827, LKN-BOO, 6:10am-6:35am, Coach, DH2
0:35 connection in Bodo
6. Fr, 3/11, SK4105, BOO-OSL, 7:10am-8:40am, Business, 738
3:35 connection in Oslo
7. Fr, 3/11, SK4518, OSL-MOL, 12:15pm-1:10pm, Business, 736
Stopover: 2 nights in Molde/Atlantic Ocean Road

8. Su, 3/13, SK4523, MOL-OSL, 11:30am-12:25pm, Business, 738
1:05 connection in Oslo
9. Su, 3/13,  SK1469, OSL-CPH, 1:30pm-2:40pm, Business, 738
0:50 connection in Copenhagen
10. Su, 3/13,  SK559, CPH-CDG, 3:30pm-5:30pm, Business, 319
Stopover: 2 nights in Paris

11. Tu, 3/15,  UA56, CDG-EWR, 9:25am-1:00pm, Business, 772
2:03 connection in Newark
12. Tu, 3/15,  UA1801, EWR-CLE, 3:03pm-4:44pm, Business, 739

United award: 127.5K+$129.06 with 24 hour+ stays in BOO, MOL, and CDG.
Widerøe ticket: $163

Of course, as usually happens when you try enough when looking for an award, flights to Longyearbyen did eventually open up. While Shabbos in Longyearbyen would have worked out nicely, the award flights were only available on a weekday.

It would be a pain to try to change things around, but how could we go all the way to Northern Norway and not make it to Svalbard, home to the Northernmost city in the world?

Luckily the Airbnb in Molde let us cancel for free and the other change fees weren’t too bad either. We were going to Svalbard!

My itinerary now looked like this:

1. Su, 3/6, UA4249, CLE-EWR, 2:30pm-4:10pm, Coach, ER4
2:45 connection in Newark
2. Su, 3/6, SK908, EWR-OSL, 6:55pm-8:15am, Business, 333
2:25 connection in Oslo
3. Mo, 3/7, SK4414, OSL-TOS, 9:55am-11:45am, Business, 738
0:35 connection in Tromsø
4. Mo, 3/7, SK4414, TOS-LYR, 12:45pm-2:00pm, Business, 738
Stopover: 2 nights in Longyearbyen/Svalbard

5. We, 3/9, SK4491, LYR-OSL, 1:50pm-4:45pm, Business, 738
0:45 connection in Oslo
6. We, 3/9,  SK348, OSL-TRD, 5:30pm-6:25pm, Business, 738
0:40 connection in Trondheim
7. We, 3/9, SK4576, TRD-BOO, 7:05pm-8:05pm, Business, 736
0:40 connection in Bodø
8. We, 3/9, WF816, BOO-LKN, 9:00pm-9:25pm, Coach, DH2
Stopover: 5 nights in Leknes/Lofoten Islands

9. Mo, 3/14, WF827, LKN-BOO, 6:10am-6:35am, Coach, DH2
6:05 connection in Bodø/Saltstraumen Maelstrom

10. Mo, 3/14, SK4111, BOO-OSL, 12:40pm-2:10pm, Business, 73G
2:00 connection in Oslo
11. Mo, 3/14, SK830, OSL-CDG, 4:10pm-6:35pm, Business, 73G
Stopover: 2 nights in Paris

12. We, 3/16, UA56, CDG-EWR, 9:25am-1:00pm, Business, 772
2:03 connection in Newark
13. We, 3/16, UA1801, EWR-CLE, 3:03pm-4:44pm, Business, 739


The only chain hotel in Svalbard is a Radisson Blu. But rooms there were expensive and small, so once again we found a Airbnb location for the 2 nights that we would spend in the far north.


Now it was time to gear up for one freezing cold Photo DO!

-I have a pair of toasty boots, but in icy Norway I’d need a strong grip, so I bought a pair of NEOs. They were lifesavers, I simply don’t know how I’d have managed without them.

-My lower layering consisted of underwear, long underwear, regular pants, and snow pants.

-My top layer consisted of an undershirt, wool tzitzes, a shirt, a North Face Fleece Hoodie, and a knee-length LL Bean gore-tex coat.

-I bought glove liners and photography gloves for my hands.

-I bought a clava to cover my face when needed in addition to bringing along a scarf and a pair of 180s.


Onto the photo gear. While most of the other guys on the trip already had quite a bit of gear, the only things I had were my Sony A6000 with the 16-50mm kit lens, a Sony 55-210mm Telephoto lens, a GoPro Silver, a remote control, and several batteries.

Something Fishy arranged that I’d be able to borrow equipment from B&H Photo for the trip including:

-A Sony 16-70mm premium lens that would take better pictures than the kit lens.

-A manual focus Rokinon 12mm lens with f/2.0 Aperture that would prove imperative for pictures of the northern lights.

-A Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Tripod that would be sturdy enough to take longer exposures of the northern lights.

-A Ruggard Thunderhead to fit my camera, the gear, and a 13″ laptop.

-A headlamp with white and red lights.

-A filter pouch to hold 8 filters, including a ND.9, ND3, and a circular polarizer.

He also brought along a Peak Design Camera Strap that is truly wonderful to wear when taking photos. I still use it all the time.


I bought a Nexus 6 and activated Google’s project Fi for the trip. It costs just 66 cents/day for worldwide service. Calling in the US is free, while calls outside the US are 20 cents per minute, but you can make calls over data networks for free using Hangouts from anywhere in the world. Data costs just $10 per GB and you get a prorated refund for unused data.

The camera gear fit in the backpack, my laptop bag and talis/tefilin fit into a rollerboard, the winter gear and some snacks took up a full suitcase, and a Polar Bear 48 pack soft-sided cooler contained perishable food for the trip.

Having taken care of all that, it was time to fly north!



United now gives 1K elites a free snack and drink onboard, also known as the Cleveland-Newark KSML:



My first time flying to a place that is completely off of the map:


whYME and I had made up to meetup in Newark to fly together to Svalbard.

I always love flying through Newark as New Kosher Special delivers their delicious Sesame and General Tzo Chicken for free to Newark airport.



After I picked up dinner curbside for myself and whYME, we met up at the pre-security Art & Lounge in Newark’s Terminal B, which we accessed thanks to the Priority Pass cards that come free with AMEX Platinum and Business Platinum cards. El Al contracts the Art & Lounge for their own passengers, so there are lots of complimentary sealed kosher dining options including pita with dips, fresh fruit, vegetables,  sandwiches (egg salad, tuna salad, etc), and more. You just need to ask for those if you want them, though they didn’t compare to our awesome chinese food.


Art & Lounge Newark:




Art & Lounge Newark:



Newspapers at the Art & Lounge Newark:





The top shelf of the beverage center had some kosher snacks:



But many more were available for the asking:



Others in the lounge noticed our kosher snacks and began clamoring for them as well:



There’s also mevushal kosher wine served at the lounge.



The annoying part is that the lounge is pre-security, so we had to leave time to clear security and couldn’t bring liquids through. The other annoyance is that only US airlines participate in Pre-Check. Somehow I’ve taken Pre-Check for granted, but boy is it a step back into the bad old days when you don’t have that status.

Post-security we each filled up our Hydroflasks with water at the Lufthansa lounge before noticing there was a SAS lounge as well.


The SAS A330 that took us from Newark to Oslo:



Taking off from Newark:



The SAS business class had a 1-2-1 configuration and the seat was quite comfortable though I don’t care for the car style seat belts:




Storage for electronics:



Middle seats:



The bulkhead seats had much larger footwells than the rest of the cabin:







The kosher meal consisted of 3 slices of frozen gefilte fish and some frozen excuse for cake. The flight attendant was so curt with me that it would even make some of the worst domestic flight attendants blush. When I asked for a drink I was told I had to wait until she was done serving all of the other passengers their full regular dinners and then she would get to me. When I told her that the system wasn’t recognizing me as a business class passenger for free WiFi she said to keep trying as she couldn’t possibly help me during dinner service. So I had to wait an hour for a drink and for her to finally give me the override code, SASMAR34, which continued to work for free WiFi on all of the flights for the trip.

I know, #FirstWorldProblems. But I’ve never experienced anything quite like that in business class.

In general SAS’ IT infrastructure seemed very dated. The website never was able to save any of our seat selections or actually check us in for any flights. It was reminiscent of what the US airlines websites were like in the ’90s.

She also insisted that the entire kosher meal didn’t have a hot entree. I’ve yet to ever encounter that on a long-haul flight and was rather surprised, but she insisted that’s what it was. The following morning I learned that my traveling partner whYME, who was sitting in another section of the cabin, did receive a hot entree. When I let my flight attendant know that she laughed as if I was joking…

Kosher dinner:



Kosher breakfast:




The service left a lot to be desired, but the hard product (seat and bed) was great and that’s the main benefit of business class anyway:




Landing in snowy Oslo:



In Oslo things started getting messy.

We had 100 minutes to connect to our flight, which seemed like it would be fine.

However, nobody seemed to know where we were supposed to be. Our next flight was to Longyearbyen, but first there was a technical stop in Tromsø where we would all clear customs.

Were we supposed to leave the secured part of the airport, claim our bags, and recheck them?

Or were we supposed to go to connecting flights and our bags would be sent over?

Over the phone I had received conflicting responses, but I figured at the airport it would be more straightforward. Alas, it was not.

2 agents got into a debate about where we were supposed to go, but to be safe they advised going to baggage claim to check for our bags.

After arriving at baggage claim I went to the SAS baggage counter and the agent looked up our itinerary. She said that the bags would be transferred automatically and that we should go back through security to our gate. 

She didn’t sound all that confident and we had time to burn, so we waited at baggage claim for 30 minutes, though our bags didn’t turn up.

The 3 other DDF’ers in the group, Something Fishy, ChAiM’l, and moish, had arrived the day before and overnighted in Oslo. We called them at this point and they all had to pick up their bags in Oslo. But I wasn’t sure if that was only because of their overnight connection or if that was the rule for everyone.

I went back to the SAS baggage counter and the agent said we can keep waiting, but our bags were going to be transferred automatically to Svalbard.

I still wasn’t happy with the conflicting information, so we waited another 10 minutes for the bags. I tried to get another agent at the counter to take a look at our itinerary, but the same agent saw me again and started screaming at me for wasting their time and that our bags would be transferred automatically.

So with my tail between my legs we went upstairs to go through security. But before doing that I wanted to talk to another agent, so I went to checkin and showed another agent our itinerary. This agent said that we absolutely had to pick up our bags from downstairs, bring it past customs, and then check the bags in again to Svalbard.

One minor problem, you can’t reenter the pre-customs baggage claim zone once you left.

By this point I was exhausted and livid. All of our winter clothes were in the bags, and we weren’t going to be able to do anything in below-freezing Svalbard without them. whYME and I also had lots of perishable food in our bags. Getting to Svalbard with our bags was critical and the next flight to Svalbard wouldn’t arrive until after we were scheduled to depart Svalbard for the Lofoten Islands!

I explained what happened with the agent at baggage claim and the checkin agent called baggage claim and immediately proceeded to harshly scold that agent. Then she asked that agent to please pick up our bags and have a porter bring them past customs to have them rechecked to Svalbard. This agent apologized to us and said she would make sure the baggage claim agent was retrained. The technical stop in Tromsø was the issue. Some SAS flights operate without the technical stop and people connecting from other countries can continue to Svalbard without going through customs with their luggage. But with the technical stop we were supposed to bring our bags past customs and then clear customs once again in Tromsø.

At this point our Photo DO organizer, Something Fishy, came running back from security with a small suitcase of tuna fish (seems fitting, right 😉 ). Security wouldn’t let him through with it and he had maxed out his checked bag allowance, so I checked in his fish as my 3rd free checked bag.

I would have loved to wait around to confirm that our bags were being checked to Svalbard, but at this point time was running short, so we went to the gate, hoping that our bags would make it.

I figured at the gate they would be able to call baggage claim, but the agent there said he was too busy to call.

I ran to the SAS lounge and tried to find an agent there to see if our bags had been successfully transferred. The lounge agent said to wait in the customer service line outside the lounge, though there were no agents actually servicing that line at that time.

In the lounge we met up with the last 2 Photo DO members, ChAiM’l, and moish.

At that point an agent showed up at the customer service counter. However, they were unable to reach the baggage claim agent and they said there was simply no way to see if our bags were on the flight as SAS doesn’t actually scan the bag tags.

Nobody seemed able to help us find out if the baggage claim agent actually took care of our bags and sent them to Svalbard. Our trip would ruined if the bags didn’t show up and the uncertainty was horrific.

“Business class” from Oslo to Tromsø was exactly like coach, except it was at the front of the plane. Never mind extra legroom, SAS doesn’t even block off the middle seat in business class, so the only difference was the free drink and free WiFi. Scratch the free Wi-Fi actually, it didn’t work for more than a few minutes on any of our domestic flights.









In Tromsø everyone had to de-board with all of their carry-ons and bring them past customs. Svalbard is administered by Norway, but as a demilitarized zone there are no customs in Svalbard, so Norway does that check before leaving the mainland.

There was a small lounge in the airport. I hadn’t had a chance for morning prayers yet, so I went into the lounge, but the SAS agent said that we would have to continue immediately down to customs and back on the flight.

At this point I was running on fumes. I was in line for customs about to board my 4th flight of the journey and for the life of me I couldn’t find my passport. I always put my passport back into the passport holder in my laptop bag, but it wasn’t there.

I’m used to traveling with a rollerboard bag and a laptop bag, but my routine was changed for this trip. As this was a Photo DO, I had my borrowed camera backpack filled with equipment as one bag and my laptop bag in my rollerboard. When I travel without my family I usually travel very light, but this being a Photo DO to the end of the world, I had more carry-ons than ever before along with 2 checked bags filled with winter gear and food.

With all the mess that happened in Oslo I had no idea what I did with my passport. Normally it would have gone right back into my laptop bag, but with it being stashed in the rollerboard I was at a loss as to what happened to it.

The flashback to my 1st DDF Adventure DO was unavoidable. That time it was AJK who lost his passport when we were on the island of Majuro.

In that trip report I joked,

“And hey, worst case is that AJK would probably become really great at surfing, fishing, and diving while he waited for a new passport to be flown in”

As the final people on the flight started going through the customs line I began to picture how this was going to play out.

The other guys would continue to Svalbard of course.

I had no idea where my checked bags were. Perhaps they were in Oslo, perhaps they were on the plane, perhaps they were headed to Honolulu?

And I’d be left behind without kosher food trying to figure out how to replace my passport.

I’ve filled the pages on several passports full of stamps and never been in a situation like this. To say I was a mess at this point would be the understatement of the year.

To be continued…Chasing Polar Bears In Svalbard: DDF Arctic Adventure Photo DO Trip Notes, Part 2

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30 Comments On "DDF Adventure Photo DO Trip Notes Part 1: Heading For Svalbard And The Far North"

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Beautiful so far !

I was in the Art and Lounge on July 4 and found some stale kosher food on the top shelf of the beverage cooler.When I asked if there was any other kosher food I got an attitude.
Was the climate control working properly when you were there ? I was sweating for 2 hours.



Luckily, we didn’t have any of those issues when we were there.


Bh borrows equipment for free ? Or is this classic bochur lending ?


Wow. Sounds like this an airline to be avoided.


Great Storyteller, cutting off exactly at the climax.


Thanks for the great read. Perfect timing for the post. You think you’ll have the rest reading for publishing by tisha bav? 🙂


Lack of attitude ain’t free. A preemptive tip is a great investment if you frequently go through EWR.


Something Fishy arranged it.

I would in the future unless I didn’t have another option.

Stay tuned 🙂

Heh, I’ll try.


LOL. A bit less funny when you’re the one who misplaces the passport, eh? And you didn’t even have a fever! Great installment, though I must say, SAS seems mighty disappointing, notwithstanding the gorgeous finishes of their business class.


Considerably less funny…


SAS A330 busines hard product was great, just a shame the soft product was so horrendous.


oh, the joys of traveling! i love how you dont minimize the disappointments while still being upbeat about the trip overall


Great read! When’s the next episode?

High end hobo

SAS also screwed around with my bag when I was connecting OSL-LYR. Agents kept contradicting each other if I had to manually recheck my bag or not. Luckily I had a longer connection.
Please continue the TR


Cliffhanger… I can’t handle the pressure


Love these trip notes. They are fascinating. Keep them coming!!! Thanks Dan!


Love TR. And since I wrote one recently I understand the time it takes.

Like the new serial thriller form of writing.

The part with the technical stop was a bit confusing. Had to read it 3 times and check your flight log to get it straight. And till I figured out that Longyearbyen/Svalbard are the same place.


Gotta roll with the punches 🙂

When I edit the pictures and type it up 😀

@High end hobo:
The LYR situation seems to have everyone confused there. Good to know it wasn’t just me.

Preview: This wasn’t our only OSL-LYR incident on this trip 🙁

Lol, thanks guys.


Longyearbyen/Svalbard I wrote about right in the beginning of the post 🙂

What part of the technical stop was confusing?


At least Fishy is someone you can look upto 🙂



Your Inconsistent in the name you call your destination.

“In Oslo things started getting messy.

Our next flight was to Longyearbyen, but first there was a technical stop in Tromsø where we would all clear customs.

I went back to the SAS baggage counter and the agent said we can keep waiting, but our bags were going to be transferred automatically to Svalbard.

Something Fishy


Longyearbyen is the main town in Svalbard. Right in the beginning Dan says, “Longyearbyen, located in the Svalbard Islands, is the closest city in the world to the North Pole.”


Is Svalbard an optimal location for watching the northern lights at all? I’ve done some research and I understand that Svalbard is too far north, and therefore you can see the Auroras only when the solar activity is low. As far as Airlines go, Norwegian Airlines have very nice, modern airplanes with decent service.

Something Fishy

Correct. If your primary goal is the Northern Lights, there are better places to go (Iceland, for example).

There are plenty of reasons to go to Svalbard, and we did see the NL every night (a glimpse, really), but they shouldn’t be the main reason.

(BTW you see the aurora there when activity is high, not low. Once you’re outside the main auroral oval you need high activity to see it either south or north.)


@Something Fishy:

The perspective should be not if info is correct, it should be how easy is it to follow , for someone who heard about ALL these places for the first time in there life.

PS I wasn’t trying to be critical Im trying to help improve.


Hey Dan, With all this traveling now, what are you going to once you retire?


Awesome read. Please bring on the new installment soon 🙂


“To be continued…” ~ when?



Trip Notes Brazil Part 1: 10 Years Of Travel And Deal Blogging And A Return To Where It All Began
Sunday, November 23rd, 2014, 7:27 pm

Trip Notes Brazil Part 2: Flying “Private” To Sao Paulo With Miles, And A Quick Stop In Miami
Sunday, February 7th, 2016, 2:05 pm


Oh boy!

Soooo, are you saying that we have to wait 14mo???


Still looking forward to the rest of the tr…