Out In Dubai

What a difference a day makes!  We woke up in a tiny village at the top of the Greek mountains and ended up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where everything is bright lights, tall buildings and the bigger the better.

Standing in front of our apartment building, The Silverene Tower B

View of the balcony from our balcony on the 22nd floor
Most people know the Burj Khalifa is here, which is the tallest building in the world (also the tallest man made structure, has the tallest restaurant, and the tallest observation deck), but did you know that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) holds at least 165 different Guiness Book Records 129 of which are from Dubai?  They range from the largest fireworks show to the most people of different nationalities washing their hands at the same time.  The even have a world record for having the most world records!  It seems to be a point of national pride to try and get as many records as possible, no matter how ridiculous.  As a family with three boys who look forward to the new Guinness Book coming out every year, it was fun for us to come across these as we toured Dubai.

Guiness World Records 

World’s Busiest Airport by International Traffic

This is only one of the many titles the airport holds.  In 2015 it saw over 78 million passengers!

On our flight to this world record holding airport I had to take a picture of the flight tracker.  Flying in between Baghdad, Mosul and Tehran…looks like a map I would see on the nightly news not somewhere I would by flying to!


After disembarking from the plane it was exciting to see the different culture we had entered.  Arabic writing and prayer rooms were two new things noticed by us right away, but we were excited to see some familiar things as well, particularly American restaurants!  While we did have Arabic food while we were there, we also enjoyed Cheesecake Factory, Texas de Brazil, IHOP and Cinnabon!  In fact, they had almost every American restaurant you could imagine.

 

World’s Largest Mall

The Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world by area.  It has over 1200 shops and is larger than 50 football fields!  In 2015 it was recorded to have over 92 million visitors in one year.  To put that in perspective, in the same year, New York City had a record breaking (for them) number of visitors at 58.3 million.  That’s over 33 million less visitors to New York City than to this mall.  Not only is it big, it is the nicest mall I have ever visited as well.  We aren’t big shoppers (we can’t fit much more in our packs!) but it was fun to explore around the mall, and there is so much more to do there than just shop.  We saw the aquarium, the largest candy store, and some really fun toy stores.  As we made our way around the mall, we even got lost a few times.

Candylicious…World’s largest candy store

Right next to the mall is the entrance to Dubai’s most famous record holder…

World’s Tallest Building

The Burj Khalifa is an engineering masterpiece.  This building is not only the tallest building in the world at 2722 ft., but it breaks 18 other world records as well (tallest observation deck, highest nightclub, highest restaurant, longest elevators, etc.).  It was truly amazing to see and to be able to go all the way up to the world’s tallest observation deck.  Honestly, from the top, you are so high it almost is like looking out of a plane window.

My favorite view of the building was from outside in front of the next world record holder that we saw, The…

World’s Largest Choreographed Fountain

Now this was something incredible to see!  Every night they have a choreographed water show ever 30 minutes that lasts about 5 minutes.  Each show is different with various music, fountain, and light displays.  We stayed to watch two different shows and they were magnificent.

World’s Heaviest Gold Ring

While most of Dubai has been built up within the past 20 years or so, they have made an effort to keep a few older areas to stay true to the history of city.  We took a boat over to the Old Gold Souk and Spice Market one morning and got a little bit of a feel of what Old Dubai would have been like.  While at the Old Gold Souk, we just happened to run into another World Record Holder the “Heaviest Gold Ring.”


We also explored around the spice market and the boys tried camel milk chocolate.

Postcard for Grandma and Grandpa!

When you are walking around, the shopkeepers are very persistent and at one point Parker got pulled into a shop and dressed in traditional dress before he had a chance to say no.  I had to go in and try on a scarf before I could pull him out of there.  It made for a great picture though!

World’s First Indoor Mountain Resort

Ski Dubai!  When it’s 40 degrees Celsius outside come in and cool off!  This was too much of a novelty not to try.  You can walk in in flip flops and shorts and they suit you up and get you ready to go.  Parker and Tyler snowboarded while Luke and I opted for the snowpark and sledding area.  Jeromy was in need of some time alone (I had my spa day in Athens) so he decided to go to the movies and spend the day on his own.

While it wasn’t the best snowboarding of all time, it was very impressive for being inside!  We had a great time!

 

They even had a little “lodge” half way up the chairlift to get hot chocolate or something to eat.

World’s Largest Water Slide (Aquaconda)

I don’t have a picture of this actual record breaking water slide, but the whole Atlantis resort where it is located is a blast!  If not the biggest water park in the world, it is certainly the biggest and best we have ever visited.

Honorable Mentions…

Largest Fair Prize (we have ever seen)

We rented an apartment from AirBNB in the Jumeirah Palm area of Dubai.  This is a really fun area with tons of restaurants, shops, and even a little fair area.  In the evening of our first full day there, we went out to walk along the beachfront and have dinner.  While we were walking down, we came across a booth with a bunch of people gathered around.  It was essentially a fair game where you had to hang onto a bar for 2 minutes and you would win a prize.  We watched a couple of men try and they didn’t even get close.  At that point Tyler said, “I could do that.”  He is one strong kid and I believed him.  So we paid the money for him to give it a try and just as he said he would, he did it!  It was so fun because a big crowd gathered around him yelling encouragement and counted down the final 10 seconds before he won.  The owners took a picture of him and said that people hardly ever win, and rarely kids.  Tyler was so excited and loved the attention.  Then we found out what his prize was.  A GIANT pink gorilla.  We were all laughing so hard as he heaved that huge gorilla all along the waterfront and back to our apartment.  Along the way everyone stopped and stared or cheered him on because they knew what he had to do to earn it!  He said the hardest part of the whole thing was carrying the prize home.



Now of course we couldn’t bring it with us when we left, that huge thing wasn’t fitting in our carry on backpacks!  But we had plans to find someone on our last day to give it to.  It was a stroke of luck or divine intervention that we ran into one of the administrators of the building in the elevator. She let us know they collect items for needy families when people move out.  This was perfect!  We then knew that it was going to someone who would truly appreciate it.  When we dropped it off, the people in the office were so grateful to Tyler they even took his picture to send out in their newsletter.

A Day in the Desert

This was something I knew I wanted to do from the moment we decided to go to Dubai.  My friend had told me about her experience going out to a Bedouin camp and I really wanted to see what this was like.  We set up for our excursion and had a great experience 4X4ing through the sand dunes, riding camels, watching the sun set over the dunes, driving ATVs, and then ending with dinner at a Bedouin camp while watching belly dancing.  It was a really fun experience for us, and nice to get out of the city and into the desert.

Interesting Facts About Dubai

Language:  Arabic, but every person we came across spoke English as well.

Population: There are only about 1.4 million people living in Dubai.  Only about 350,000 of those are women.  This is partly because of the huge numbers of immigrants who come from other countries for work, in fact, only 10% of the people living in the United Arab Emirates are native to the country.

Religion:  The National Religion is Islam and there are prayer rooms in the airports, malls, and hotels to accommodate their religious practices.  They do allow other churches to be built if they receive special permission from the government.  Any form of proselytizing is illegal.

Attire:  You must not show excessive skin while in Dubai.  Swimming attire is only allowed in hotels or on hotel property.

Weekends:  In Dubai their weekend is on Friday and Saturday, with their work week running Sunday-Friday.  We actually saw a TGIFriday’s restaurant there, but since their weekend starts Thursday night it was aptly renamed TGIThursday’s!  No joke!

Laws:  While Dubai seems very western with all of its shops and pop culture, it is still a conservative Muslim country.  Here are a few laws that those of us from western countries might find surprising…

  • You can be arrested for hugging or kissing in public.
  • Jewish people are not allowed in the country but can come to the airport if they are just flying through.
  • Living together (or staying in the same hotel room) with the opposite sex if you are not married or closely related is illegal and will get you arrested.
  • Driving with any amount of alcohol in your system, public drunkenness, or consuming alcohol outside of the few places that serve it can get you arrested and maybe deported.  Alcohol is not served in restaurants and there are no bars in Dubai.  The only place it is served is in hotels and people who live there can apply for a license to have it in their home.
  • Working without the proper paperwork will get you imprisoned then deported.
  • You will be arrested for bouncing a check.
  • Any amount of immodesty, foul language, or inappropriate behavior can be reported and you can be arrested.

Final thoughts…

In all honesty, I wasn’t excited when we decided to add Dubai to our list.  I thought  because everything was so new it might not be that interesting, just a city full of big buildings.  Jeromy persisted though and I have to say I was pleased to have been proved wrong!  Dubai has done a great job of creating an environment that is beautiful, fun, and so over the top impressive, it’s worth a trip just to see the things mankind is capable of accomplishing.

Out Among The Ruins Of Greece

After our time in Naxos we felt like we had a pretty good grasp on what Greece was like, but we wanted to explore a little more of the country before we left, and we are so glad we did!  As we explored Athens and then a large portion of the Peloponnesian peninsula we were able to see a whole different side of Greece with tall green mountains, forests and architecture that was very different from what we found on the islands.  We spent most of our time exploring towns with ancient ruins, as we couldn’t pass up this opportunity to experience the rich history Greece had to offer and teach it to our children.

Something to note as I write about these places is that there are many different spellings for these towns depending on where you look.  The Greek language is very difficult and there were more than a few times the translated name on the map didn’t match the name on TripAdvisor, GPS, our even a hotel’s website.  If it was spelled in any way similarly, you had to figure it was the same place.

Athens

We were actually in Athens twice.  A few days before and a few days after our time on Naxos.  Normally, I would say a few days in Athens would be plenty, but in our first few days there, Jeromy and the boys were still feeling pretty sick with the flu so they didn’t leave the hotel much.  I still got out a bit so when we came back the second time, Jeromy and the boys went and saw the sights I had already seen while I spent a glorious day away from everyone at the spa.  I love my family, but being together 24 hours a day 7 days a week can get wearing after awhile.




Giving our feet a break and some fish some food!

Corinth

To us, the highlight of the ruins at Corinth is that this is a place where Paul (the Apostle to Jesus Christ) taught.  You can see the platform where he preached and also where he stood trial.  The ruins were very impressive and they had a nice, if small, museum there as well.  It really brought the Bible to life being there and seeing where the people lived when Paul wrote the letters to the Corinthians that later became books in The Holy Bible.

Nafplio

Nafplio was a beautiful, upscale, coastal town where we were told the people of Athens like to vacation on the weekends.  We enjoyed exploring the beaches, ruins, walkways, shops, and restaurants.


Our first night there we ran into some rock climbers and realized that we were in an amazing place to rock climb.  Whenever someone asked my boys what they missed most about home (besides friends and family) the number one thing Parker and Tyler always said was rock climbing.  At home they went to a rock climbing gym once a week and it was a highlight of their week.  When we got to Nafplio and realized it was a rock climbing destination spot, I looked up a guide and signed them up!  They haven’t had very many opportunities to go rock climbing outside and thanks to our amazing guides, they had a great day climbing.  I even took a turn and made it up one route!  Even though the name of it was “Easy Corner” I was still proud of myself.



On the same rock face as we were climbing was a church in a cave in the rock.  There were so many of these little churches in remote places all throughout our time in Greece.  This was the perfect opportunity for us to explore one.


Olympia

These are one set of ruins that almost everyone has heard about in their lifetime.  The ruins of Ancient Olympia where the first Olympic Games were held.  We were able to explore the extensive ruins and museum learning about the lives of the people in that time.  The boys even had a foot race in the first Olympic stadium…pretty cool.


Delphi

I didn’t know what to expect with the ruins of Delphi; however, I was blown away by not only the ruins themselves, but the incredibly beautiful setting.  It was truly in the mountain tops looking down on the world below.  I can see why people thought that ancient gods would choose this as a place to call home.

Look at that view!

By the end of our time in Greece we had had our fill of Greek food and Greek ruins and were ready to move on to a new culture and cuisine.  We were so grateful however, to have been able to spend such a large amount of time learning, experiencing, and living with the people of The Hellenic Republic.

Out Taking Pictures 

While I was in Greece, my inner photographer came out and I was able to take some amazing pictures. I think it had much more to do with the subject matter than any latent talent I have, but it was fun for me. I really have no photography skills and the only camera I used for these pictures was my iPhone 6, but I tried my best to capture the beauty of this country. I couldn’t fit them all in to my other Greece posts, so I thought I would do one post with just some of my favorite photos from the month we spent in Greece. To break it up for you, I thought I would also intersperse some interesting facts and quotes about Greece.  Enjoy!

Did you know the people of Greece don’t consider themselves “Greek”?  One of the first nights on Naxos we went out with the couple downstairs and he was quick to correct me when I referred to them as Greek.  He told me how he hated that term.  “It sounds like something you get on your hands while fixing a car.  Dirty grease!  We are Hellenic!”  With the language barrier and my own ignorance, I have to admit I didn’t know what he was really saying until I made it home that night and looked it up.  Greece’s official name is The Hellenic Republic and is also known as Hellas.  The people consider themselves Hellenic and at least Eddie from downstairs doesn’t really care for the term Greek.

Approximately 16.5 million tourists visit Greece each year, more than the country’s entire population which is about 11 million.

Angry citizens or those who don’t care for their candidates cannot abstain from voting. Voting is required by law for every citizen 18 or older.

Greek men must serve from one year to 18 months in any branch of the Armed Forces.

Nearly 80% of Greece is mountainous.  It has no navigable rivers.

Retirement homes are rare in Greece. Grandparents usually live with their children’s family until they pass away. Most young people live with their families until they marry.

Soccer (called football in Greece) is the national sport.

The capital of Greece is Athens.  It has been standing for 7000 years, making it one of the oldest cities in Europe.

98% of Greeks are Greek Orthodox

The saying “Take the bull by the horns” comes from a Greek myth in which the hero Hercules saves the island of Crete from a raging bull by seizing it by its horn.

Greece has more than 2000 Islands, of which, approximately 170 are populated.

No matter where you are in Greece, you’ll never be further than 85 miles from the coast. The country has about 9,000 miles of coastline, the 10th longest in the world.

The ritual of toasting originated with the Greeks.  Traditionally, the host would take the first sip to prove to his guests that they would not be poisoned.

Greek has been spoken for over 3000 years, which makes it one of the oldest European languages.

Underground burial usually only lasts for five years in Greece. After which the bodies are dug up, bathed in wine and the bones are kept in an ossuary.

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Greece is the leading producer of sea sponges and the third leading producer in the world of olives

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The beautiful blue you see doors, church domes, windowsills and more painted is called kyanos and is thought to ward off evil

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Greeks do not wave with an open hand.  In fact, it is considered an insult so they wave with their palm closed.

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Greece has been said to have been around long enough to have tried every form of government

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The beauty, history, and culture of Greece will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Out on Naxos Island

After over 2 months of non-stop traveling, we finally arrived at our first long-term stopping point: Naxos Island, Greece.  We had three weeks to spend there and nothing on the agenda.  In fact, we told the boys that they did not have to go to a single historical site, museum, or do another touristy thing the entire first week.  Here is a look into our life, for three weeks, on the island of Naxos…

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Our Home

We rented a three bedroom apartment which took up the entire second story of a house owned by a sweet octogenarian couple.  The apartment was spacious compared to most of the hotels and apartments we had been renting and we were excited to have the opportunity to spread out a little bit.  We unpacked our bags, and I stored our backpacks and packing cubes away so I wouldn’t have to even look at them for the three weeks we were there.

Our house was located right on St. George Beach just a 10 minute walk or so to Naxos town.  It was the perfect location because we didn’t even have to rent a car except for the few days we wanted to explore around the island.

On the road to Naxos town, our house behind them


Our home away from home was Flisvos Restaurant, just a few meters down toward the beach. (Did you catch that metric system reference?  We have been in Europe for almost 3 months and are adopting it!)

All of the pictures of signs in this post come from the walls of Flisvos

Buy a drink and stay all day!

Our Neighbors

We were fortunate to have some pretty great neighbors while we were on Naxos.  A welcoming couple originally from Greece, lived in Montreal for 60 years and then had recently moved back full-time to Naxos.  They adopted us right into their family. On the first night, Eddie took us to the local restaurant and introduced us to “make sure they would take good care of us.”  It felt like having our grandparents living downstairs.  Eddie was always ready with advice on everything from what the good restaurants were in town to how much we should run our air conditioning.  His wife was often stopping us to offer fresh baked cookies, home-canned oranges in syrup, and fresh vegetables from their garden.  Jeromy even spent quite a bit of time helping them with their Wifi and other computer issues. Just like a grandparent!

As my friend Kelsey said, “How can you not love a guy who wears glasses like that.”

 

Fresh vegetables from the garden
I’d never prepared eggplant before so they taught me the right way to prepare it!

One other fun member of the household downstairs was their dog, Achilles.  He was just over a year old, so still a puppy, and loved to chase the boys around and the boys loved it right back.  Jeromy and I, not really pet people, found this to be the perfect scenario.  We were able to have a dog for 3 weeks that we didn’t have to feed, clean up after, or take to the vet when he got caught in fishing hooks.  Achilles followed us to the beach in the day and into town for dinner at night.  At the end of our time, I think the boys really missed him and I’m sure Achilles missed having the boys around to play with as well.

Tyler especially loved having Achilles around.  Such a sweet friendship.

Our Schedule

On an average day in Naxos, we would start the day with breakfast at home and then do school for a few hours.  After lunchtime we would head out to the beach and build sand castles, swim, snorkel, or just lay around and read.  Then, after watching a beautiful Naxos sunset, we would head back in to shower and get ready, then walk into town for dinner and wandering through the passageways.  We spent pretty much every day like this the first week and it was nice to settle into somewhat of a schedule after so long without one.


We generally gave the boys Saturdays off from school and we would spend Sundays having our own little church at home where we all took a part in teaching, praying, leading the music, and speaking.  These were particularly special times for me to learn at the feet of my children.

Watching a church video on Sunday

World Schooling

While we all have been learning so much throughout our travels, it wasn’t until Naxos that we started doing more structured learning  for the kids.  The two things that we found missing in our more unstructured learning of the past two months were Math and English so we spent the most time on those at home on the computer or iPad.  Before we left we talked to their schools to see what they would be missing and came up with our own “curriculum”for the year.  Here’s a basic look at what we did:

Math:

We are using IXL and Kahn academy for Tyler and Luke and as long as we have consistent wifi (not always the case) it is going really well.

While Parker is only in 8th grade, he is a grade ahead in math so we had to get an accredited program for him for Algebra so it would count as high school credit.  We decided on BYU’s online program and it has worked seamlessly so far.

English:

Luke buys postcards for his grandparents and writes those to them as well as writing answers to questions I come up with in his journal.  He is also doing language arts IXL.  Then of course, we read with him.

Tyler and Parker spend time free writing (usually a journal entry), reading, and IXL for language arts.  We also plan to have them write papers on topics we have studied throughout our traveling.

History:

We have had an abundance of history lessons along the way in our travels, but in Naxos we were able to really dig in further to this specific area.  There is evidence of civilization on the island since the Neolithic Era (about 10,000 BC) and during the 8th and 7th centuries BC Naxos dominated commerce in the region and was known as one of the most prosperous Greek islands.  It has been continuously inhabited since that time and after being ruled by many different empires, it finally became a member of the Greek state in 1832.

Naxos also has a rich mythical history as well.  In Greek mythology the young Zeus was raised in a cave on Mt. Zas, and Dionysos was said to have been born and married on the Island.  Add to that stories of Apollo spending time there and Ares, the god of war, finding shelter in the bowels of the island, and you have an island steeped in mythological history around every corner.

In addition to learning history through worldschooling, Parker is taking a US History course online through Khan Academy.

Temple of Dionysus, the god of wine, celebration, and fun.  This is the 4th temple built on this spot the first being built in the 13th century BC.  This one was from the 5th century AD.
Ancient Kouros statue dated back to the 6th century BC. Just laying 30 ft off the side of the road.
Bell tower of The Church of Panagia Drossiani built in the 4th century.
The Temple of Apollo. This was one of my favorite spots on the island! The boys got sick of walking up here to watch the sunsets on the evening, but I could have done it every night.

Social Studies:

We love talking to the local people to learn about the politics, their culture, and issues happening in the areas we visit.  In Naxos, we learned that the people of the island don’t like answering to the national government.  They have lots of produce, fresh water, and resources so when they have an issue with the government they tell them they don’t need them so they can leave them alone!  (At least that is how it was told by our friend Eddie downstairs, but he isn’t a fan of government in general.  He had a dirt road in front of his house and didn’t like people driving through so he put a gate up on one side and a fence on the other!  It is no longer a through street).

We were also able to explore the island and see the industry on the island including famous Naxos cheese, marble, potatoes, and olive oil.

Learning how olive oil was made on the island

Testing out the olive oil!!  Yum!

Typing:  Parker and Tyler spend about 15 minutes a day on typing.com to hopefully learn that skill as it is invaluable in today’s world.

P.E.:

In Naxos, the boys spent a lot of time being active, but the new thing they learned how to do in Naxos was windsurf!   Actually, all of us but Luke took lessons for 4 days while we were there.  Our apartment was only about a 10 minute walk to a fantastic spot to windsurf for people all over the world.  Fortunately, they kept us closer to shore where the winds weren’t quite as strong.

Luke was a good sport and would build sand castles and play while we were at our lessons

Art:

While on Naxos we experienced all kinds of art, from handmade trinkets made to sell in the local shops, to ancient Kouros carved thousands of years ago.  But our favorite experience with art came when we visited an old half-built hotel on Alyko Beach.  While talking with the owner of the windsurf shop where we took lessons, I asked what some of the out of the way places on the island were that we should visit and she suggested this place.  I’m so glad she did!  We found an old abandoned hotel that had some of the most amazing graffiti I have seen, especially when you look at the setting it was in.  What an experience.

Ancient kouros statue

The Food

We were lucky that we liked Greek food when we decided to spend 3 weeks on Naxos as part of our journey.  While there were plenty of options for restaurants, almost all of them only served Greek food!  Greek food is delicious, but I have to admit that after 3 weeks, I was ready for some variety.


Some of our favorite’s were Gyros, Naxos potatoes and a day didn’t go by that we didn’t eat pita bread with tzatziki.  Flisvos (the restaurant on the beach right by our house) served the best tzatziki and was one of our favorite restaurants to go visit.

Our favorite gyro’s place was To Enitiko.  We got to know the owner there and each time we would go he would teach the boys a new riddle or game.  They also served the best gyros on Naxos for a bargain price of about $2.50 US!

Love this guy, and especially love his gyro’s!

 

Made with fresh Naxos potatoes

Naxos Cheese

The boys also had fun watching them make candy at the local candy store.  We ended up back there a few times while we were there as well.  As a side note, there are a ton of cats in Naxos.  On our way home after dinner one day I told the boys if they saw 20 cats we would stop for candy.  By the time we got to the candy shop, they found 17 (this is over a 5-10 minute walk).  I thought that was pretty close and when we were talking to the owner about it, she said, “You should have stopped by my house I own 21 cats!”  That is a lot of cats and Jeromy’s worst nightmare.  It seems like everyone on the island has this love of cats because they were everywhere!

We passed by these kittens every night on our way to town

The Beaches


While our favorite beach was St. George beach that we were on, we were able to rent a car a few times and explore some other beaches around the island as well.  We did have to be careful though as clothing optional beaches can be found pretty easily (just ask Luke)!

Agios Prokopios

They had guys walking down the beach selling fresh donuts…Yes, please!


Plaka Beach

At Plaka beach we found a really fun swimming pool to hang out at for the day.
We also found our only respite from Greek food in a Mexican restaurant!


Alyka Beach

This old abandoned hotel covered in graffiti looked down on the beach there


As we said goodbye and made our way to the Ferry to head back to Athens, I was sad to leave Naxos and its people behind, but grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know the island so well in the time we had.