Random thoughts: What I’m learning from Niko while travelling

When I first envisioned this trip, I thought it would be more of an educational experience for our son Niko who is just over 3. The fact of the matter is that we have been learning more from him than I could have ever imagined. It’s strange to think that a 35 year old can learn from a 3 year old, but it’s true. As I now have much more time to observe him, there are a few attributes I find invaluable. One that stands out the most is his ability to enjoy the moment rather than just the goal.

As adults, we find ourselves focusing on the result rather than the process. Let me try to illustrate. The path from Natasza’s parents house to the playground in the forest is just over 800 meters. It takes an adult approximately 10 minutes to reach the destination. How long do you think it takes Niko? Just about 45 minutes.

Sounds like a long time … doesn’t it? I have captured the following video to help show you what a typical walk looks like.

Isn’t it amazing how Niko enjoys every step of the way? Perhaps it’s true when people say, it’s the journey that matters not just the destination.

So what have we learned? We learned that instead of teaching our kids ways to live faster, perhaps we should just open our eyes, slow down and enjoy the moment?

Trip Pulse – Dubai: City of Gold

When a city is made up of 80 percent expats, with most of world’s nations represented, it is quite difficult to define the true Dubai.

We met one such resident, Erik, who came from Philippines in search of a better life a few years ago. We had the pleasure to meet and chat with him over a traditional Mandi dinner.

Mandi dinner with Erik It was very interesting to get his perspective on the local scene, for which we are grateful. It turned out, his nomad adventure continues as he emigrates to Canada in just a few weeks. Go figure, coincidence?! He happens to be a part-time travel writer so please check out one of his projects here.

Dubai comes from a history of pearl divers and gold tradesman. Even though many like to refer to it as the City of Gold, the truth is that its riches come from oil which was discovered in the 60’s. Dubai’s rulers knew that this precious resource would eventually run out so they decided to diversify their GDP portfolio. They succeeded. Now, only 10 percent of Dubai’s GDP comes from oil exploration and production. Dubai has literary risen from the desert and became a financial world player and a playground for the rich.

We perceived Dubai to be the Vegas of the Middle East, except with many more rules and regulations mandated by the Muslim faith. The law here is of the Koran except for commerce laws adopted from the global business community. So far, Dubai has been a place with a culture most different from the one we know and grew up in. We were not here to judge but we found this Muslim city to be rather strict, even if it’s considered to be one of most progressive in the Muslim world. Censorship of information, internet access control, questionable treatment of the labour force, women’s role in society are just a few topics we would rather just observe.

Niko thought that the country’s president (Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan) was a deity due to his pronounced visibility on billboards, buildings and hotel lobbies.

Personally, I found the concept of the ‘democratic monarchy’ quite fascinating as the elections are held with just a few select Royals and there is no official leading or opposing party.

Capitalism and faith rule this land and what a fascinating land that is! We had an opportunity to visit the ultra new and extravagant Dubai as well as the “Old Dubai” that gave us a

Dubai aquarium hint of its roots. How can I complain, as Niko absolutely loved the most amazing aquarium and fountain show at the Dubai Mall… not to mention the white sandy beaches with turquoise and warm waters (30+ Celcius).

It is well worth the visit with the family and I wish one day to return to explore this country further.

One tip for those who plan a transit visit.  UAE offers Canadian visitors a 96 hour transit visa if you have proof of an ongoing destination and a booked hotel.  The issue we encountered is that one of the very few places that offers that visa when you arrive is Marhaba Services that will facilite the process of obtaining a visa but only if you book a hotel stay with them. This proves rather unfavourable to any budget traveller. After some digging, we found out that Arabia Adventures offers the same visa for a cost of $180 CND per person. Pretty steep for a 4-day stay but less than the $250 minimum fee for 30-day visa.  The other option is to ask the hotel you are staying at, to sponsor your stay. Beware of large deposit requests and 3+ days to have it processed prior to your arrival. Good luck and enjoy.

Here is proof that Dubai is the city of gold. 
Gold Vending Machines In a few key locations around town you can find gold vending machines for cash only:) Here are some pics from our short yet interesting stay.

Do you agree? Is Dubai worth the gold it defines? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Here are some of our photos from this trip:

Final thoughts: Canary Islands and Barcelona

As one of the Canary Islands ( El Hierro) shakes and a volcanic alert is in effect, we are reminded of our unforgettable adventure on this volcanic archipelago The turbulent archipelago is as beautiful as it is unique with the perfect weather of eternal spring. The islands bear the name Insula Canaria, meaning “Island of the Dogs” and not, as I erroneously believed, from the bird Canary. In fact, the bird is named after these islands, where they are native.

We had an opportunity to explore only three out of its thirteen islands. Every island delivers breathtaking views and its own unique character. Tenerife is the largest and most developed. It provides the mix of luxury, topographical variety, dark-sand beaches and great infrastructure, yet it’s still full of small hidden gems. Fuerteventura however, is all about beach life, adventure and R&R. Lanzarote is breathtakingly cute with its uniformly coloured houses (green and white) against the dark volcanic backdrop and charming little towns and villages.

We also had a 2-day stopover in Barcelona, the Catalan capital. It has been a while since our last visit, but we loved the city even more this time around with its welcoming and relaxed atmosphere, Gaudi’s architectural influences and amazing tapas. So far, it’s our favourite small city, with a big attitude.

1. What we enjoyed the most or the least:


The sky was often covered with dark clouds suggesting an approaching storm, but the rain never came. The island of Eternal Spring is truly a sub tropical paradise with temperate weather. Volcanic beaches followed by pine trees, fed by clouds a few hundred meters up the mountain and mars-like dry and orange panorama around el Teide, are all examples of its geological richness. We liked the variety of activities you can enjoy on the island from adventuresome drives on “forgotten” roads, discovery of its ancestral (Guanches) and colonial past, unbelievable views from tiny villages or its rich infrastructure.

Here are some highlights:

Parque Nacional Las Canadas del Teide is centred around 3718m Mount Teide, the highest mountain in Spain and the islands of the Atlantic (it is the third largest volcano in the world from its base) and was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007.

E Teide Volcano

Masca is a small mountain village in Buenavista del Norte on a small mountain road (accessible only since the 70’s). The village is home to circa 150 inhabitants. The views are spectacular and reminded us of Machu Picchu in Peru.

Garachico is a little unspoiled gem in the northern part of the island with a very Spanish character and natural volcanic rock pools made into swimming pools.

Fuerteventura (strong winds and strong adventures)

This island is every surfer’s paradise with its waves, open waters and perfect winds. The island is home to over 150 white sand beaches compliments of the Sahara desert, just 100 km east of the island. During sand storms that originate in the African desert you can expect visibility to drop to just a few meters and temperature to rise by 10 degrees Celsius.

I particularly loved one hour of glory as a body-board surfer on the largest waves I have ever met. I also loved spending time with Niko and Natasza on the widest beaches we have ever seen with naturally formed lakes or lagoons. The Island is more laid back than its siblings to the west with its surfer community and sun worshippers. That makes it the perfect place to catch some much-needed R&R.

Here are some highlights:

Jandia and Sotavento – you can expect only the largest and most beautiful beaches of the island. At high tide, enormous “lakes” form on these grand beaches providing warm and shallow pools perfect for kids.  It is also home to windsurfers and kite boarders practising their sport here. Sotavento Beach in FuerteventuraAs it’s so large (20km), you can run naked without being seen by another human … and yes, I did run around nude with Niko. What a feeling of freedom! Highly recommended:)

El Cotillo – is a small fishermen village at the northern end of Fuerteventura, surrounded by amazing beaches and naturally formed lagoons. El Cotillo surfer's beachYou will also find some charming restaurants here. We kept returning to this part of the island because of the variety it delivered.

Betancuria (and the drive via PAJARA, a real green oasis at the foot of the mountains) – bears the name of its founder Jean de Béthencourt and was founded in 1404.




We took a day trip from Corralejo with a ferry to explore this little gem. Lanzarote is a UNESCO protected biosphere that almost lost its status. The status is well-earned however with such geological world wonders as …

Timanfaya National Park is entirely made up of volcanic rock and sand-like soil giving the viewer unreal visuals. This national park makes up the core area of the biosphere reserve on the island.

Timanfaya National Park - Vulcanic Scenery

El Golfo and Los Hervideros– Imagine the Volcano vs. the Atlantic. The orange, dark brown, black, green colours of the coast mix perfectly with the coastline carved by the waves … truly amazing!

La Geria region is drawn up with mini craters of volcanic stone called Zocos, built to protect each vine from harsh winds of the island. The dark volcanic soil mixed with the green vineyards and the Zacos deliver a wicked panorama.

Papagayo Beach is a protected national park accessible only by a dirt road. It is made up of tiny beaches seperated by high cliffs. I’m glad such a gem still exists, considering the pressures to develop this natural land into hotel-land. I hope it stays this way.

What we didn’t enjoy?:


As Tenerife is highly developed and modern and you can expect many tourists here. You can expect many  signs in English, German and Russian as well as the multitude of British pubs which make up much of the landscape in touristy areas including Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos. Considering the many Europeans who moved here permanently, I’m not surprised they wanted to bring a piece of home here.


The weakened economy is felt in some parts of Fuerteventura with many unoccupied buildings. The unemployment rate there is one of the highest in the EU standing at 20%+. It’s too bad but not too surprising considering the island’s reliance on tourism as the main contributor to its economy.

2. Activities our toddler Niko enjoyed the most:

Running around the Sand Dunes of Corralejo. Every beach was a treat for Niko, he especially loved the lagoons by El Costillo with warmer waters full of fish for him to feed.

Laro Park is a zoo located on the outskirts of Puerto de la Cruz on Tenerife. It is a must see place when you visit with your children. Loro Park Orcas - at the zooSome say the park has Europe’s largest dolphin show pool, the world’s largest indoor penguin show, the longest shark tunnel, the largest Thai village outside Thailand, and second largest place in Europe to house orcas:)

Sand Dunes. As you arrive by car from the airport towards Corralejo you will experience an amazing landscape change. All of a sudden you will migrate from volcanic rock into the Sahara. I’m not kidding, as the enormous sand dunes you see ,are in fact blown in from Africa. This is an amazing sight and loads of fun.

3. Our average expenses: The Canary Islands are affordable (in Europe)


  • Accommodations: This was an amazing treat from our friends Justyna and Arkadiusz … once again thank you!
  • Restaurants: 30 – 50 euro/visit for 3 of us
  • Food, transportation (car rental) and entertainment: 40 euro/day ($60)

4. Our first impressions of the locals, their culture and customs:

People were friendly and helpful. The relaxed atmosphere and the mañana approach is felt at times … and the siesta is still a daily routine (expect closed doors between 2 and 5 PM sometimes longer).

As much as we loved the local cuisine featuring its fresh seafood and the Canary potatoes with mojo sauces, we still preferred the seafood more on the Greek Isles. Our search for the greatest seafood dish goes on:).

We can’t wait to discover other islands in the future as we will return for sure. We truly recommend these islands to anyone, even with the looming dangers of volcanic eruptions in the Canaries!

Volcanos vs beaches? Do you still think it’s worth a visit? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Here are some of our photos from this trip: