Friday, May 30, 2008


We made it to our Milan loft today, which happens to be our second wedding anniversary.

After taking another subway train and taxi, we were greeted by David, a Scottish guy who now lives in Italy. He took us off the busy city street through a tiny wooden door, down a courtyard, up a flight of stairs and into our stylish little hideaway.

I ventured off to a nearby market and brought back a huge piece of tiramisu! But the best anniversary gift of all was probably when Ediza Rose, who has become even more of a little handful since arriving in Europe, fell asleep this afternoon.

By the way, that's a mosquito net -- we're not staying in a bridal suite.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Now that we're well rested and have nice tans we took the ferry back to mainland Greece and trekked around Athens, checking out some of the ancient sites like the Acropolis.

Today we took two subway lines to the airport and hopped on a flight over to Italy (sounds easy, but with a baby and all our luggage it was quite an accomplishment). We're now staying at a wonderful bed-and-breakfast near the airport, and this evening we enjoyed an authentic Italian meal of pizza and tiramisu.

Tomorrow we head off to our loft in Milan's trendy canal district. Ciao for now.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Across Sifnos, past terraced olive groves and almond trees, is the lively port of Kamares. We've been here since leaving our quiet little village of Kastro four days ago.

We're staying in a small, family-run hotel just steps away from a large beach that we visit each day. Our balcony is just above the market on the main street, which is lined with waterfront tavernas and pottery shops. This man invited us into his pottery studio to watch him at work.

Our relaxing days have been full of eating lots of great Greek food, taking afternoon naps and going for walks along the beach at sunset.

Friday, May 23, 2008


We've stepped back in time while staying in the quaint cliff-top village of Kastro on the Greek island of Sifnos.

Ediza jumped on a donkey that wandered by our front door the other day.

Here Ediza is on the ground level of the amazing house we stayed in.

A ladder brings you up to this charming middle floor.

Another ladder takes you up higher to the bedroom. This was the view from our bed. Out those doors is a tiny balcony where, at night, you can see the moon light up the sea and you can hear romantic music drift down the alleyways.

Kastro is classic Greece at its best with brilliant white buildings that shine against a bright blue sky and narrow stone walkways that zig-zag like a maze.

"This is the most beautiful place I've ever been," Amber kept saying as we went on a walk exploring the village.

Next door to where we stayed was a bakery and just down from there was a cool cafe with some great lounge areas.

Follow another path away from there and you come out to this church perched high atop a cliff.

Take yet another path down from there, among fragrant wildflowers and butterflies, and you get to this turquoise-colored swimming hole in the Aegean Sea.

We went swimming there and had to seek shelter from the blazing sun in this little cave area. (Airport security in Beijing had confiscated our sunscreen, but we made sure Ediza Rose was protected).

Amber and Ediza took time to blow some dandelions, probably wishing we never had to leave this place.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


After traveling for about 30 hours straight, we arrived in Athens -- home of the marathon -- early this morning. We are taking a three-hour ferry ride tomorrow morning to the Greek island of Sifnos, where we will spend a week.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Great Wall

Wow, what an intense week. Sorry for the lack of posts but we have been very busy and without Internet access.

First off, I completed the Great Wall Marathon on Saturday. For a variety of reasons it was a very emotional day.

The day started with getting up before 4 in the morning and driving to the Great Wall. During an opening ceremony there was a moment of silence for the victims of last week's devastating earthquake in central China and in a way the race was dedicated to them.

The marathon started at 7:30 with a run up a steep road leading to the wall. We then ran a section of the ancient wall before making our way down to run through the villages. By the time I returned to run the wall again I was feeling pretty good.

But not having eaten during the entire run caught up with me on the ascent back up the wall. Climbing nearly-vertical, knee-high steps after running 21 miles was absolutely brutal. And this is coming from someone who likes to run up Half Dome.

These steps were one of the biggest tests of my stamina ever. Grown men and women were literally crawling up them, people were throwing up, it was crazy. That was one of several moments when it felt more like an obstacle course than a marathon.

Throughout the race I received encouragement in many ways -- from little kids in the villages waving and saying "hello" to the intoxicating smell of blooming jasmine trees.

I was grateful I did a bulk of my training in a country as hilly as New Zealand. There were still a bunch of running-related challenges to overcome while traveling New Zealand, the main ones being making sure I ran often enough (which was sometimes difficult due to our busy travel schedule) and making sure I ran long enough (which involved converting kilometers to miles, and I'm not a math person).

In the end, I crossed the finish line -- which was on a giant yin yang -- after 4 hours, 43 minutes and 43 seconds. Maybe a new lucky number?

I have with us a travel-size "Encyclopedia of World History" that says the Great Wall was built between 214-204 BC across China's northern border to keep out the hostile Huns. It was more than 1,400 miles long and wide enough for chariots to pass along.

Thousands of peasants worked on the wall and if their work was below standard they were killed. Convicted criminals were also used as a workforce.

Now back to the marathon: Two days before the race, runners visited the Great Wall with their friends and family so they could check it out before running it.

On the way to the wall we saw these camels (Amber and Ediza even got on one for a minute).

Hundreds of people from around the world ran the 9th annual Great Wall Marathon. There were also shorter runs, including a half marathon and 5K and 10K.

The group wearing red in the above photo were from a chocolate company based in Switzerland. They had people pledge them money and they raised enough to build two schools in Africa.

Money was also raised to help with the earthquake's aftermath. Today, the day we flew out, China began a three-day period of national mourning for the earthquake victims.

After what seemed like a never-ending flight from Beijing, we are now at the Amsterdam airport awaiting another flight to Athens. Amber and Ediza are passed out beside me.

Without their support I wouldn't have been able to complete the marathon. Thanks to everyone else, too, for their encouragement.

Ediza! (Part 3)

Here's a sampling of Ediza's Chinese adventures:

Everywhere we go Ediza is treated like a celebrity. People continue to crowd around her, give her gifts, want to hold her and take pictures of her (and us) with their cell phone cameras.

The other day some girls begged us to come up to their photography studio so Ediza could have a baby photo shoot. They dressed her in all kinds of outfits and had her play with things like rose petals and plastic balls. They plan to frame photos of her for their displays. Could this be the start of her modeling career?

A great baby climbing a Great Wall.

Amber and Ediza check out some colorful balloons at one of the Chinese markets we visited.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


It was sad saying good-bye to New Zealand:( Penny took us to the airport Tuesday morning and pretty soon we were on our way to Hong Kong. After an exhausting 12-hour flight from Auckland we arrived in Hong Kong and spent the night before boarding another flight this morning to Beijing -- the capital of China.

We met up with the Great Wall Marathon tour group and were brought to our hotel in downtown Beijing. There's definitely an excitement here about Beijing hosting the upcoming Olympic games. The city has this thick layer of smog so I can't really imagine bringing the world's top athletes here to perform their best.

Hopefully the air will be cleaner at the rural town we head off to tomorrow. We look forward to learning more about Chinese culture during our stay there and also when we return back to Beijing.

One thing's for sure: Chinese people (both men and women) love Ediza. Maybe it's the blonde hair or the big brown eyes, but they all just can't get enough of her. When I was signing in today for the tour, I look over in the middle of the hotel lobby and there's this group of employees huddled around Ediza watching her every move. One of the women even gave Ediza her pearl bracelet (she's wearing it in the photo below).

Want more proof? When we went out to eat late this afternoon the waitress, on her own, brought Ediza some watermelon and a baby cake for dessert. We'll see what she gets tomorrow.

Monday, May 12, 2008

New Zealand recap

Our last full day in New Zealand was quite an eventful one (Amber gave llama injections, I ran to a local waterfall, we finally sold our car, the list could go on and on).

As we get ready to leave for China I thought I'd share what I just wrote for the New Zealand Llama Association magazine.

An amazing trip from tip to tip

Hidden in a colourful collage on Penny King's bathroom wall is a postcard promoting a book about the "extraordinary passions of ordinary New Zealanders."

During our three month tour of New Zealand, it's safe to say we've met some extraordinary New Zealanders with a similar passion -- llamas, of course.

Right there at the top of our list is Julie Insley, who ironically is featured on the cover of the "With a Passion" book.

We were fortunate enough to spend three weeks at her place once we arrived in February.

Julie, owner of Rangemore Llama Farm in Kerikeri and president of the New Zealand Llama Association, is quite an inspiration.

Following a horse riding accident years ago in Papua New Guinea, Julie said she felt unsafe at the unpredictability of horses. So she found herself a herd of llamas in the nearby town of Russell and instantly fell in love.

In 1996, she bought her first llama.

"What the hell do you do with a llama?" she remembered thinking.

Well, she soon found out as she eventually acquired the whole herd of 16 llamas from Russell.

"They're like potato chips," she said. "You can't have just one."

While she's on the computer in the early morning and evening hours, Julie likes to spend the days out with her herd of llamas, which has now grown to about 50.

Julie zips around in her electric wheelchair, usually with a cup of Milo close by and Bruno, a green Indian Ringneck, either on her lap or hat. She said she's constantly amazed at the reliability and intelligence of llamas.

"I don't see malice in a llama," she said.

We were honoured when Julie chose to name her Leap Year baby cria after Ediza.

From Kerikeri we headed down to Thames to help first-time llama owners Mark Skelding and his partner, Trish.

In their kitchen they have a chalkboard shaped like a rooster where they write things they want -- things ranging from a first aid kit to a kitchen sink plug. For a long time they had llamas written on it until Mark's mother bought them a pair for his 50th birthday.

"I always thought they were really, really cool," Mark said of llamas.

After more than a week of exploring the Coromandel Peninsula, we made our way to Wellington to catch the ferry down to the South Island. First up, was Peter and Sue Wastney's dome-shaped house in Nelson.

Sue -- a friendly lady who always has a story to share -- takes care of a menagerie of animals, including a herd of about 20 llamas and alpacas.

Amber and Sue enjoyed grooming a trio of female llamas and taking them for walks at places like the mud flats across from where they live and in the gentle waves at the beach.

A highlight of our time in Nelson was when Peter flew us in his four-person airplane across the top of the South Island, a flight spanning from Karamea to the Farewell Spit and across the Golden Bay region.

We stayed two enjoyable weeks in Nelson before driving to Llama Lookout in Governors Bay, just outside of Christchurch, where we were greeted by Robyn Robinson and her family.

There, our accommodation was a beautiful llama-themed apartment, in which Amber added a new piece of artwork to.

"The reason why we have llamas is because we think they're living art," Robyn says.

She thinks of her herd as an extension of her family.

A llama owner for the past 10 years, Robyn said she can't imagine life without them. "I only ever want just one more," she said of her llama addiction.

Amber also led a successful training and trekking seminar at Llama Lookout (see Robyn's article).

Robyn gave us numerous tours of the area, including stops at Anne Thompson's place and Fred and Emma Schwithal's ranch, Palmdale Llamas. Diane Kelly even gave us a tour of Akaroa -- the only French settlement in New Zealand and the oldest town on the South Island.

After nearly two fun-filled weeks at Llama Lookout we drove straight down to the Catlins at the bottom of the South Island.

We stayed at our own little beach house in the remote town of Papatowai, where the coastal rain forest meets the sea.

While down south, we got a full-day tour of Janette Buckingham's Thickthorne Llamas property. Janette and her husband, George, own a 1,400-acre farm which has llamas, guanacos, cows, sheep and even yaks.

During a tour of their place, Janette showed us some of the clothing she creates with her animals fibre.

Janette first got a small herd of guanacos almost 20 years ago to spin their fibre and make clothing out of it. She soon found, however, there wasn't much variation in the guanacos brown coat. Hence llamas.

Having visited Cape Reinga at the very top of the North Island during our stay in Kerikeri, we took a break from Thickthorne Llamas to drive to nearby Slope Point -- the southern most point of the South Island.

On our drive back up the island, we saw the beautiful fall foliage of Queenstown and the mystical Aoraki Mount Cook National Park before arriving at Cushchine Cottage in Kaikoura.

Cushchine Cottage differed from the others we stayed at because it's an actual farm park. Along with a herd of seven male llamas, they have a variety of other animals -- ranging from donkeys to a wallaby -- that people come to see.

Owner Lynn Barrett bought the farm park last year and moved there from England in November.

In England, Lynn worked for an insurance company and did some llama trekking on the side. Wanting a change, she found the Cushchine Cottage property on Trade Me.

"I've always wanted my own little bit of land, not necessarily a farm park, but the idea appealed to me when I found it," she said.

After a long journey back to the North Island, we arrived in the Auckland area at our seventh and final llama farm -- Karma Llamas.

Owner Penny King helped us wrap up some loose ends, like selling our car. She also took us over to Geoff Clarke and Jenny Arscott's place for a lovely lunch and tour of their place.

Penny, vice president of the NZLA, has a herd of 23 llamas and enjoys taking them out on day treks. The name of her ranch came from a line of poetry some kids wrote after meeting her llamas: "If you want good karma, take care of your llamas."

Judging from what we've seen, the extraordinary (not to mention generous and hospitable) llama people we met on our journey should certainly enjoy good karma for some time to come.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mamas & llamas

There's been lots of photos of ponies and horses on here lately so we thought we'd show some llamas. This morning Amber and Penny did some "click and reward" training, a hands-off and reward-based approach to training llamas. Ediza and Zeb, one of Penny's two whippets, were also on hand.

This afternoon we met Penny's family for a Mother's Day lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Just about all the food had some form of meat in it, but we still enjoyed drinking tea and eating sweet custard rolls.

The meal was good preparation for our upcoming trip to China. We have been busy getting ready -- donating things we've accumulated to The Salvation Army, getting packages together to mail home. Still working on selling the car.

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Karma Llamas

After a long journey back to the North Island, we've arrived in the Auckland area at our seventh and final llama farm -- Karma Llamas (

Owner Penny King is helping us wrap up some loose ends (like attempting to sell our car) before we head off to China next week.

Penny has a herd of 23 llamas and sometimes takes people out on day treks with them. The name of her ranch came from a line of poetry some kids wrote after meeting her llamas: "If you want good karma, take care of your llamas."

Late this afternoon, we visited a friend of Penny's who has this little white pony -- Twinkle Toes -- who remarkably has no eyes.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Jim & the gang

Forget the miniature horses and ponies, Ediza wants the real deal. Miss Rose sat on Jim, the horse, this morning with his animal friends Bambi, the deer, and Barney, the dog, close by.

Lynn (pictured above with Amber) bought the farm park last year and moved here from England in November. Her partner, Kevin, is trying to sell his house back in England and plans to join her as soon as possible.

In England, Lynn worked for an insurance company and did some llama trekking on the side. Wanting a change, she found the Cushchine Cottage property on Trade Me, New Zealand's version of eBay.

"I've always wanted my own little bit of land, not necessarily a farm park, but the idea appealed to me when I found it," she said.

Kaikoura, where the farm park is located, is a beautiful part of the South Island that is easily accessible to both the ocean and mountains.

Today, we took a short drive along the coast to visit this happy little seal colony.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Lavender snow

We took a break from Cushchine Cottage today and ventured off to a nearby lavender farm, where we wandered through the gardens eating lavender honey ice cream with the mountains behind us covered in snow.