Saturday, June 28, 2008

London Bridge

Today we took a train to the London Bridge station and then hopped on the underground "tube" over towards the River Thames. (Ediza and I are actually standing in front of Tower Bridge, which is often mistakenly referred to as London Bridge).

Along the river we saw other famous sites, like Big Ben.

We also were entertained by lots of colorful street performers.

Some were silver...

Others were blue...

And this guy with huge arms gave Amber a hug (at the same time he scared Ediza).

Later on, Ediza decided to practice her "down dog" yoga moves on a grassy field. Behind her is the London Eye, which is like a giant ferris wheel where you can see all of London from. But just like with the Eiffel Tower the lines to go on were so long that we decided to go to a nearby playground instead.

On our walk around the city we came across an outdoor market, a school music concert and this statue of Nelson Mandela. Yesterday there was a huge celebration in London's Hyde Park in honor of Mandela's 90th birthday -- an inspiring way to end the international portion of our journey.

Friday, June 27, 2008


This morning we made our way to the Amsterdam airport -- the same place we first entered Europe from China. Needless to say, we had a whole new perspective today then from when we first arrived nearly six weeks ago.

After waiting in several long lines we boarded our delayed airplane and took a quick flight over to London. We're staying at a bed-and-breakfast in Horley, which is about a 30 minute train ride to London.

Like usual, Ediza took advantage of the room's bathtub. Afterwards, she wore her pony shirt from Switzerland and her sunflower lunchbox from the Vincent van Gogh Museum.

By the way, this weekend will be our last before flying back to the states Sunday evening.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bikes & tattoos

Of all the cities we've visited on our trip, Amsterdam is by far the coolest. It has historic canals, cozy houseboats, hip neighborhoods, creative shops and people who play saxophone in the park. Each day we visit the park, where there always seems to be some sort of celebration going on. And because it doesn't get dark here until almost 11 p.m., the party continues well into the night.

We've been busy exploring Amsterdam on our rented bicycles. Cycling is a main mode of transportation here (there's bike backups at traffic lights and bike racks on every street corner). All of the streets have special bike lanes and crossings (today I saw a motorcycle that had collided with a bike in one). With our attempt at city biking, we've made sure Ediza is safe and secure riding in the front of Amber's bike.

One of our bike-riding missions was to find a tattoo studio, which we found yesterday. I was lucky to get one that afternoon because most tattoo artists here are booked for weeks, if not months. My new tattoo (on the back of my left leg) is of the ancient Sanskrit symbol Om. I guess it should balance out the cross I got tattooed on my right leg during a trip to Europe in college.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vincent van Gogh

It's been five years, almost to the day, since I moved out to California. When I got the call offering me the job in Sonora I remember exactly what I was doing -- reading a biography on Vincent van Gogh.

My fascination with van Gogh -- the art, the madness, the ear, the suicide -- naturally lead us to the Vincent van Gogh Museum here in Amsterdam.

The museum is the world's largest collection of works by van Gogh. It houses more than 200 paintings, including many of his famous masterpieces. To the disappointment of many, van Gogh's most well-known painting, "Starry Night," is currently on loan to a museum in New York City.

We still saw lots of others, like "Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries," "Fourteen Sunflowers in a Vase" and "Wheat Fields with Reaper at Sunrise."

Babies and art museums are usually a tricky combination so we had to act quick. Like in most museums, you're not allowed to take photographs so I'm posting some photos from "van Gogh's World of Color," a Baby Einstein book. Amber got Ediza the book before we left for our trip.

At the museum, we bought this small canvas print of van Gogh's "Almond Blossom."

I've always really liked Don McLean's song, "Vincent," so I think I'll end this post with lyrics to the song's chorus:

"For they could not love you, but still your love was true
And when no hope was left in sight, on that starry starry night
You took your life as lovers often do,
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you."

Saturday, June 21, 2008


We've spent much of the past two days on trains, traveling from southwest France back up to Paris and spending the day there before taking another train to Belgium. The best part of our night in Brussels was eating Haagen Dazs ice cream on Belgium waffles!

Early the next morning we took a three-hour train ride further north to Amsterdam, where we've settled into our apartment. We're renting an apartment from an artist named Theo who was born and raised here.

Theo created several paintings that are placed throughout the apartment, like this one behind Amber and Ediza. This afternoon Amber helped make some fresh flower arrangements, while Ediza played with dominoes and flower petals on the bed.

The apartment sits above a T-shirt shop that sells shirts reading things like, "Today I hired a detective to track me down." And in true Amsterdam fashion, there's a bong shop a few doors down the street.

On our walk to nearby Vondelpark the streets were plastered in orange (just like the crazy guys at the Swiss train station) for the Euro Cup soccer game (Holland lost 3-1 to Russia). We could hear the collective cheers and moans of the large crowds gathered at parties and pubs to watch the game.

At the park we walked by other groups gathered to watch live theater, including this play set in the water. We also visited the playground, where Amber -- who still thinks she's 5 years old -- got stuck in the tires.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

French llamas & Kenyan crooks

Eight years ago, Brian and Margaret sat on a log while vacationing in Cognac. It was there they decided something had to give. Brian no longer wanted to sit in traffic five hours a day commuting to and from work.

"It's about time we took control of our lives rather than let time take control," he remembered thinking.

A year later they moved from Britain to France, and last year they started Les Lamas de Brossac ( They offer basic llama encounters and hiking with llamas (plus a home cooked meal) as well as using the animals as therapy for the disabled. "We don't expect to make a fortune, it's just to keep us going," Margaret said of their business venture.

This afternoon Brian took us for a trek with three llamas through the tranquil French countryside and around a nearby lake. Amber walked Prince, while Ediza and I took Micchu (his brother is Pachu, like Machu Picchu in Peru but with the "M" and "P" reversed).

On the downside, after the hike we learned that our bank card information was stolen and some crook in Kenya has been making withdraws. Thankfully, I got that sorted out and everything will be fine.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chateaus & cognac

We traded in our tiny attic apartment in Paris (where I kept hitting my head on the ceiling) for a huge chateau in southwest France. Our room has sweeping ceilings, chandeliers and windows twice as tall as me.

While in China about a month ago, we were contacted by Brian and Margaret -- a British couple who now live in France and have a herd of 10 llamas (they came across our blog online). They kindly picked us up from the Angouleme train station, gave us a tour of the region in the rain and brought us to our chateau just down the street from them. We then went back to their place to play with llamas and have dinner.

The following morning we went to a small cognac house that has been family-run for eight generations. We later drove through the town of Cognac, where we saw the large manufacturers like Hennessy and Remy Martin. At the intimate place we toured, we got a family photo along an old stage coach route that ran from Paris to Bordeaux.

Next, we had lunch at a restaurant where the special of the day was cows tongue. As vegetarians, we opted for cheese omelettes and experimented a bit with trying mussels in curry sauce. We finished the meal with homemade chocolate moose!

Then it was off to see some champion show llamas at another farm before returning to Brian and Margaret's to help feed their herd.

The next day started off exciting with two llamas and a reporter from an area newspaper meeting us at the chateau for a photo shoot. As a reporter myself, it was interesting to talk with Jean-Yves Delage, a longtime teacher turned reporter for the Charente Libre.

We then loaded up the llamas and paid a visit to the town hall. We posed for photos and had coffee with the head of the local tourism department, who presented us with a bottle of pineau -- a mixture of grape juice and cognac. Joining us was yet another reporter from a different newspaper.

Two newspaper articles, meeting elected officials, what was next we thought?

After lunch, we went to another tourism office for photos with their staff before going to an underground church that was built in a cave. To finish off the day we stopped by an alpaca farm and then sipped chilled pineau before eating Spanish omelettes at dusk.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Ediza! (Part 4)

This is the Father's Day edition of Ediza's adventures across Europe.

Up close and adorable in Greece.

With daddy and baby doll Cailin after a bath in Italy.

With mommy and a playful puppy in Milan.

Later, in a borrowed stroller with her gelato.

Riding on a train through the Swiss countryside.

Watching skydivers land on a field in Interlaken, Switzerland.

Walking on a covered bridge with papa through a Swiss village.

In her new Minnie Mouse sweatshirt, Ediza hugs a stuffed Minnie.

Passed out in Paris.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Champs Elysees

Our trip to the Champs Elysees turned out to be a strange one. Once we got off the subway and walked up to the street we noticed there was no traffic. Instead, there were helicopters flying above, armed guards standing by and people pressed up against street barricades.

We asked one of the guards what was going on. The only thing I could understand from his reply in French was, "Mr. Bush" and "Champs Elysees." A minute or two later this huge motorcade drove by. The odd thing was there was no clapping, or booing, just silence.

Like elsewhere, Bush is unpopular in France. He stopped here as part of his farewell European tour to celebrate warmer ties between the United States and France. I actually met Bush once, but that's a whole other story.

Back on the Champs Elysees, one of the most well-known streets in the world, we strolled by the famous cafes and specialty shops. The avenue is also home to huge chain stores like the Gap, Nike and the fanciest McDonald's you'd probably ever see.

On our subway trip back to the Bastille, I was carrying Ediza in my arms and Amber was wearing the empty backpack. I had just stepped on the crowded train when, just like in the movies, the door quickly shut, leaving Amber trapped outside. She caught the next train, however, and we were later reunited.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Eiffel Tower

Bonjour. No trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower so that's where we went today.

Amber and Ediza rode a carousel at the base of the 1,063-foot tower -- not once, but twice.

Instead of waiting in long lines to go up the tower we decided to visit a nearby playground that had the world-famous icon as a backdrop.

The Eiffel Tower is one of the most recognizable structures in the world. It's 119 years old, weighs about 10,000 tons and has 1,665 steps. After the Great Wall of China that would have been a cakewalk.