day trip, Europe, family, Germany, hike, island

Helgoland, Germany

An archipelago in the North Sea

Heligoland (Helgoland in German) is a small archipelago in the North Sea and is the only high sea island of Germany. It is actually composed of two islands – the Hauptinsel, which is the main island and the Duene, which is the smaller island.

Helgoland is famous for its dramatic red chalk-like sandstone cliffs, colorful wooden shacks, the seals on the Duene and duty free shopping. The main island measures only one square kilometer in size (0.39 square miles) and the Duene is even smaller measuring only 0.7 square kilometers (0.27 sq miles).

The island is about 60 kilometers from mainland Germany. The island can be reached by plane or boat. There are different daily ferries arriving from Büsum, Hamburg, Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven and Wilhelmshaven from the beginning of April until the end of October.

We took the high speed ferry “Halunder Jet“ from FRS from Hamburg with a stop in Cuxhaven to Helgoland. The ferry took about 4 hours to get to Helgoland. We first cruised along the river Elbe until Cuxhaven, which was the first part of our adventure and essentially feels like a river cruise. The last 1 hour and 30 minutes was on high sea which can be quite rough and choppy depending on the weather. Our ride was very smooth and the kids even got to visit the bridge and talk with the captain

Helgoland is the perfect day trip from Cuxhaven or Hamburg. We had 4 hours time on the island before our ferry returned back to Hamburg. Since the island is pretty small, it can be explored in that time frame, but I would have loved to stay longer. There are several hotels, but they do fill up quickly during the summer months and need to be booked in advance.

My favorite part of the island were the colorful and vibrant “Hummerbuden” which mean lobster shacks and used to be work sheds for the lobster fisherman. The Hummerbuden greet the tourists upon arrival and line the walkway from the ferry terminal to the main city area. Some of them are regular houses, some are small galleries and others are small shops or sell snacks. They are very charming and a great picture opportunity.

Helgoland is divided into Unterland (lower part of the island), Mittelland and Oberland (upper part of the island). Unterland is the main city area of Helgoland with shopping and restaurants while Oberland has mostly walking/hiking trails! An elevator and stairs connect the different levels.

We took the elevator which was only 60 cents per person and were rewarded with the most amazing views of Unterland, the port and the neighboring Duene. With an elevation of about 40 meters above sea level, the views of the cliffs and ocean are one of a kind.

The most famous geologic feature of Helgoland is the Lange Anna, a 47-meter high sea stack of red sandstone on the northern end of the island. It is so much fun to hike the upper part of Helgoland which is called “Oberland”. The “Klippenrandweg” is a 3 km (2 miles) circular trail along the top of the cliffs with gorgeous views all around.

About 1.5 kilometer next to the main island lies the “Duene”. It is only about 1000 meters long and about 700 meters wide and can be reached with a small ferry or a Boerteboot, that is a traditional boat that has been used in Helgoland since 1826.

The main island and the Duene were once connected when a huge storm surge separated them on New Years Eve in 1772. The main attraction here are the wild grey seal and harbor seal colonies on the beach.

It is such a special moment to see the grey seals laying and playing in the sand for the first time. We couldn’t get enough watching them in their natural habitat right on the beach next to us. Although there is not an exact count for the total of seals, about 500 new seals are born each year.

There are rules and it is not allowed to approach or interact with the animals. Even though they are really cute and we all had the urge to touch and love them, they are wild animals and could be dangerous. You have to keep a distance of at least 30 meters. I recommend to bring a good camera to get great shots of the seals.

As I mentioned before, the seals are wild and free. Most of them were laying in the sand, but some where swimming in the water. They just melt your heart with their beautiful big eyes and cute faces. We could have stayed all day watching them.

Even without the seals, the beach is a spectacular beach with soft white sand and crystal clear shallow water. Nobody lives on the island, but there are several colorful vacation cottages just steps away from the beach.

We learned lots of fun facts about the seals from a local guide that made sure all the rules were enforced. My kids were mostly interested about baby seals and we learned that the cubing season of grey seals lasts from November to January. Every year in winter, female grey seals come to the beach of the Düne to give birth to a young with a white fur which will change after two to four weeks. It must be wonderful to experience this but I don’t think this Florida family could handle it.

We like to taste regional cuisine and try different food on our travel adventures, therefore we had to stop for a snack. There was nothing that we did not try before, but we love fresh seafood and the “Fischbroetchen” a fish sandwich looked and tasted amazing.

Before taking the ferry back to Hamburg, we wanted to take advantage of the duty free shopping. While Helgoland is part of Germany and the European Union, it is not part of the European Union VAT area and customs union. Therefore, it has a duty-free status that attracts a lot of tourists wanting to buy chocolate and other sweets, perfumes, tobacco goods and, of course, alcohol. 

Time went by too fast and we had to hurry. The ferry was waiting. Hopefully we will be back one day…

Europe, family, free, Netherlands, Uncategorized

Alkmaar, Netherlands

Cheese Market in Alkmaar

Alkmaar is a small town about 45 min away from Amsterdam. It is famous for its cheese market that has been taking place since 1365. It is normally held every Friday at 10am from April until September. (unfortunately because of the Pandemic, it currently is suspended until further notice)

UPDATE: The Alkmaar Cheese Market was closed for almost 2 full seasons, but it will be back for 2022! The first Cheese Market takes place on Friday, March 25th from 10am to noon on Waagplein in Alkmaar! After that there will be a Cheese Market every Friday until September 30th.

Alkmaar is known for cheese and one of the best cheese markets in the Netherlands, but it is also a charming town with a beautiful old city center with water canals, historic buildings, a cute shopping area and lots of inviting cafes and restaurants. It was fun to watch the cheese carrying boats along the canals as a first glimpse before arriving at the cheese market.

We came specifically for the Alkmaar cheese market, where cheese has been bought and sold on Waagplein square since 1365. I had heard about this fantastic spectacle while visiting Gouda and we couldn’t pass up this opportunity. It is such a special experience to see how the cheese wheels are weighed, carried and traded by the cheese-carrying guild in traditional costumes. Today, no real trade is going on anymore. The cheese market is largely a show or demonstration to preserve this cultural tradition. 

It’s important to arrive early to the cheese market to witness the entire ceremony from the ringing of the bell to the inspection to the cheese carrying. It officially starts at 10am, but there is lots of interesting activity before. Everything must be on display and set up at 9.30 am.

Even though they were lots of people, we loved the entire atmosphere of the cheese market. It was really fascinating to see the stacks of cheese on the floor and the ‘kaasdragers’, or cheese porters carrying the cheese. There is so much tradition and we learned about the ‘zetters’ (loaders), ‘ingooiers’ (cheese tossers) and ‘waagmeesters’ (weighers). They belong to a guild with many traditions and it felt like being transported in a different time. We learned that the cheese carriers’ guild once consisted of 30 men as well as the cheese father. There are still four different groups in the guild and each of the group has their own color. Red, green, blue, and yellow. The colors are seen in the cheese carriers’ straw hats, bow ties, and barrows. Other than that, they wear all white, down to their socks.

The estimated weight of the barrows is between 120 kilos (264 pounds) and 160 kilos (352 pounds). The cheese carriers have a special “dribble” walk that requires a straight back and careful movement of the arms to help offset the weight on the back while running. 

The boys were cheering from the side behind the gates, when somebody came up to us and invited us inside the cheese market. Everybody was so friendly and answered all of our questions. They explained us every step of the market and we tried some cheese. The highlight was being carried like cheese by the kaasdragers. It made the trip to the cheese market one of the most special days of our trip.

It was such a surreal and special moment for me to see the boys being carried around the market with hundreds of people watching and makes me happy to this day…

There are over 2000 cheese wheels set up on the Alkmaar cheese market each week. Giorgio’s favorite piece of information about the cheese wheel was the reason why they are round. Because of its shape, the cheese can be rolled and transported easily. That was such an obvious answer that made him laugh out loud and he still remembers today.

After the boys were carried around the market square, we went to the weighing station to get weighed. It is the opposite way the cheese travels, but was just as much fun.

First, the cheese gets inspected by knocking on it. A special cheese scoop is used to cut a piece, which is then crumbled between the fingers and smelled. There is more inspecting before the price is determined by clapping hands and shouting prices. There is a final clap before the deal is closed. Cheese carriers use a barrow to take the sold cheese to the Waag, where it is weighed in the Waaggebouw. The tasman (purse man) weighs the cheese, and the waagmeester (weighing master), supervises the correct weight being passed on to the buyer. Once the batch is sold and weighed, the cheese carriers carry the cheese across the market to the buyers’ lorries.

There was a small fee to get weighed and to take pictures on the scale (which was totally worth it). We did receive certificates afterwards which was such a cute detail. Everything at the market was really authentic and so interesting.

Cheese bearing is an honorary job that involves lots of tradition and many rules. Their wages are only 5 Euros a year, 2 almond paste cakes for the wives to keep the outfits in perfect shape and a loaf of bread with butter and cheese for the children. And still everybody was so nice and seemed to really love being part of this tradition.

Before leaving the cheese market, we bought some cheese to take with us. We spent more time exploring Alkmaar before driving back to Amsterdam.

During late July and August, there is a miniature children’s cheese market for younger children (6-12). We have only visited the regular cheese market and it was a great experience for a family, but I would love to go back for a children cheese market.

There is also a cheese museum next to the market square.

florida, Uncategorized, USA

La Belle, Florida

Blueberry U-Pick at Blueberry Bunch Farms

One of our favorite things is to explore our home state of Florida. We love outdoor adventures and are always looking for fun things to do with the family. We were thrilled to find the Blueberry Bunch Farm in La Belle, which is Florida’s most southern Blueberry farm. La Belle is a historic little town along Caloosahatchee River about 30 miles away from Ft. Myers.

One of our yearly traditions in the beginning of the year is strawberry picking with friends. My kids love to pick their own fruit and vegetables and it is always an exciting day. When I heard about U-Pick Blueberries, I knew we had to visit the farm and I am so glad we did…. it was amazing.

Blueberry Bunch Farm is a family owned farm and has approximately 50,000 blueberries bushes. One part of the farm is dedicated to U-Pick and has five kind of different varieties of the tastiest blueberries. The U-Pick season started in the beginning of March and ends in the end of May. It is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 2pm.

There are rows and rows of blueberry bushes and even though there were other people, there was so much space and it felt like we had the farm for ourselves. It was the perfect day to pick blueberries with blue skies and a light breeze.

Blueberries are sweet, nutritious and are packed with antioxidants and phytoflavinoids. They are high in potassium and vitamin C. Not only are they super good, but they were also super fun to pick. The bushes have the perfect size for kids as well as for adults.

One bucket fits about 5 1/2 pounds of blueberries and is $25 per bucket. Blueberries are also available by pound.

One of my favorite things other than picking and tasting the blueberries, was the big blueberry mascot B.B.

The little store has all kinds of blueberry products from blueberry sparkling water, blueberry plants to blueberry jalapeno jam. The Blueberry Bunch Farm also sell locally grown delicious Macadamia nuts from their own Macadamia farm in Arcadia.

Blueberry Bunch Farm is located at 2754 Howard Rd, LaBelle, FL 33935 (239-298-3471) .

Blueberry Bunch Farm

What is your favorite Blueberry recipe?

Africa, city

Tangier, Morocco

My Top 10 Favorite Things to Do and Visit in Tangier

Located on the Strait of Gibraltar where Africa meets Europe, Tangier is the perfect location for a day trip from Spain. There are different ferry lines that connect Spain and Morocco in less than one hour. We took a ferry from Tarifa, the most Southern point of Spain and stayed several days in Tangier.

Tangier has a rich history and is one of North Africa’s most ancient places that is over 2000 years old. It was ruled by Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs and Portuguese. Even today it is still a melting pot with a blend of different cultures, countries and influences like North Africa, Spain, Portugal and France.

Tangier has the most interesting history and beautiful sights like the medina, Kasbah, bazaars and souks. The sounds from the muezzin and smells from the market made us feel like walking in an old Middle Eastern folk story.

Many parts of old Tangier, the Medina and the surrounding areas are very accessible by walking. We walked directly from the port along the old city walls to our hotel in the middle of the old city. There are several entrances and stairs leading into the Medina.

The two official languages of Morocco are Modern Standard Arabic and Berber, but Moroccan Arabic is what’s most commonly spoken on the street. Most locals and people we met, spoke English perfectly.

There are many great things to do in Tangier and in Morocco. Here are our top 10 favorite things and places to visit in Tangier:

Get Lost in the Medina

Getting lost in the Medina is an absolute must when visiting Tangier and it will happen when you step inside! The Medina, which is the old walled city, feels like stepping back in time. It is labyrinth of small streets and alleyways, miles of tiny, narrow, endless paths. Some streets only have colorful buildings on both sides, some have tunnels and other streets are filled with vendors. People sell ceramics, rugs, trinkets and more. There is everything from spices, metals and tanned leather to textiles, traditional clothing, silks and more.

Walking through these magical winding streets, felt like being in a fairytale and we could have spent hours just walking and looking and experiencing it all. We let the boys lead the way and it was very exciting for them to find new corners and to decide which direction to go. I really like to involve our kids in planning our travels and to decide what they want to see. It makes it much more interesting for them, makes them feel important and connects everybody. (A little tip on the side that works so well everytime. Each member of the family picks something that they like – for example in Puerto Rico my son wanted to go to the children museum while I wanted to do a horse carriage ride. We did both. Rather than complain about the carriage ride, he accepted and respected that it was my pick.) It just makes a much happier travel environment to involve the kids.

Other than lots of little streets, we also found many street cats. Around every other corner were little cats. Many of the cats were injured or dirty and it was rather heartbreaking for me. My kids found them very cute and tried to convince us to take some home with us. (we did not)

Visit a Traditional Souk or Carpet Store in the Medina

While inside the Medina, go and visit one of the souvenir stores. Morocco’s crafts are beautiful and carefully made; experience for yourself the centuries of traditional artisan techniques in the chiseled wood, stained glassware, and each knot on the hand-pulled rugs. The stores are charmingly clustered with lanterns, ceramics, carpets, textiles and so much more. Many of the stores have different rooms and levels specializing in carpets or clothing or something else. It almost feels like a museum and we spent over an hour in one of our favorite stores. The owners were very gracious and let us take pictures, served sweet peppermint tea and showed us carpet over carpet. They were extremely friendly. We ended up buying most of our things right at that store and were able to haggle with the prices. I wanted to buy the souvenirs anyways, so I was happy to buy it from them.

There are so many things to buy. Its possible to fill up an entire suitcase. Souvenirs worth buying are Argan Oil for the hair, saffron and some other spices and mixtures like Ras El Hanout, a tagine cooking pot, the famous blue and white ceramics, lanterns and of course a magical carpet. My son bought himself a traditional dress. He did not wear it very often since then, but was very happy about this treasure and still keeps it in his room. Seeing him being passionate about this clothing is one of many fond memories I have. We also bought a small leather camel for my daughter which looking back is such a great little souvenir standing on a shelf in her room.

Some street vendors have a more aggressive approach and really try to push selling their things. Just make it clear that you are not interested and after a couple more tries the vendor moves on.

Visit the Grand Socco Market

The Grand Socco Market is a pleasure for they eyes and for the nose. Vendors sell all sorts of loose dried spices, nuts, fruits, olives, herbs, breads and much more. The smells are incredible fragrant and Vendors attract customers by offering samples of their wares. Again it is such a special atmosphere and a must see when in Tangier.

Drink the Sweet Mint Tea

The most popular drink in Morocco is a sweet mint tea that is actually green tea with fresh mint inside. It is often called Moroccan mint tea because of how enmeshed it is in the local culture. The hot green tea brewed with spearmint and lots of sugar is served year-round and at all times of the day. We had so many tea ceremonies in Tangier and it quickly became the favorite drink of the family. It also was Luca’s favorite thing about Morocco.

In my opinion, the best way to enjoy the mint tea is on top of a roof terrace together with a cookie and a view, but it tasted just as great and sweet anywhere else. Moroccans are famous for their hospitality, and it is Moroccan etiquette to offer tea to any visitors that might stop by. It is served in beautiful tea pots and we love everything about it.

After tasting the mint tea, it was very interesting for us to sea the vendors selling the fresh mint on the side of the street.

Eat Moroccan Food in a Traditional Restaurant

I was hesitant before eating traditional Moroccan cuisine for the first time, because I don’t like too much spice in my food. I was really surprised how good it was, tasting intriguing flavor combinations with a subtle hint of different spices in just the right way. Everybody probably heard of couscous. I had eaten it before in the United States, but the couscous in Morocco tasted so much better. It’s no wonder, because it is a North African staple that’s been eaten by the indigenous Berbers for thousands of years. Couscous is served topped with slow-cooked beef, lamb, or chicken, spices and vegetables and is called Tagine. It is the unofficial national dish of Morocco and it’s served in the earthen clay pot called a tajine. 

We tried several other dishes including a delicious soup (which I forgot the name) and a traditional Moroccan sweet chicken pie and loved it all. I am so happy we tried several dishes and I really recommend to go to a small traditional restaurant and do the same.

Try on Traditional Clothes

I highly recommend to try on traditional Moroccan clothes. Many stores will be happy to help and let the customers try on several outfits. Again, everybody was really friendly to us and I was impressed by the hospitality. We were served mint tea, tried on several beautiful dresses and hats while getting a cultural lesson about the garments.

The traditional dress for men and women is called djellaba and is a long, loose, hooded garment with full sleeves. It signifies purity, virtue, good fortune, and honorable moral qualities. 

Olivia, our youngest daughter did not want to participate to try on clothes and watched us instead. I loved how the clothes looked and felt and immersed us in Moroccan culture.

Visit the Palace/ Kabash Museum

This museum was once known as “Dar el Makhzen,” which translates roughly to “The Sultan’s Palace,” and was the residence of Portuguese governors between 1471 and 1661. The museum contains many exhibits and artifacts showing the history from prehistoric time to the 19th century. The entrance fee is 20 dirhams per adult and 10 dirhams for kids and is open from 10am-6pm every day except Tuesdays.

While the information is only in Arabic and French, the architecture is still very fascinating. I loved the different mosaic tiles on the walls and floors as well as the gorgeous courtyard. There are several small rooms around the courtyard with different exhibitions.

It also has a magnificent Andalusian garden with lots of great picture opportunities.

Visit the Main Square

This large open plaza in Tangier that is also called the Grand Socco is the most central point for anyone visiting. It has a big fountain in the middle and is a great place to take a break. There are several cafes nearby but we just had a seat on one of the benches and watched people go about their daily lives.

It also connects the old part of the town with the new city and has several gates (with a street map and your location) that lead to the Medina and the Nouvelle City.

Listen to the Muezzin

The Muezzin is the official who proclaims the call to the daily prayer five times a day, at dawn, noon, midafternoon, sunset, and nightfall. .The muezzin is the servant of the mosque and is chosen for his good character.

Historically, a muezzin would have recited the call to prayer atop the minaret in order to be heard by those around the mosque. Now, mosques often have speakers on the minaret and the muezzin will use a microphone, or a recording is played, allowing the call to prayer to be heard at great distances without climbing the minaret.

Visit the Hercules Cave, Cape Spartel and the Beaches

Located about 14 kilometers west of the city of Tangier, Morocco, lies the famous Cave of Hercules, which is a fascinating archaeological cave and the most North Western point of mainland Africa. The cave is free to enter and to explore on your own, but there were also guided tours available. The cave system is open daily, year-round. July and August are the peak season and have the most visitors, including at the nearby beaches. 

I wrote a blog post about our the Hercules Cave and Cape Spartel. For details, check out the post here:

Cape Spartel, Morocco – Away we wander and discover the world… (myfamilytraveladventures.com)

Cape Spartel is a promontory in Morocco about 1,000 feet above sea level at the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar, about 15 min drive West of Tangier.  It is where the Mediterranean sea meets the Atlantic Ocean! The Spartel lighthouse that was built in the 1860s by an international coalition (including the USA, France, Spain, and Morocco) in order to mark the entrance of the Strait of Gibraltar.

cave, forest, free, hike, Uncategorized

Lecanto, Florida

 Dames Cave in the Withlacoochee State Forest

Most people visit Florida for its beaches, theme parks, Everglades and big cities like Miami or Orlando. But there is so much more to discover and explore like forests and caves.

The Withlacoochee State Forest is the third largest state forest in Florida with thousands of acres of trails, terrain, rivers and caves to explore. This forest is also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. It is managed for timber, wildlife, ecological restoration and outdoor recreation.

We specifically came to the forest for the Dames Cave that I had found searching for kid friendly hikes and activities North of Tampa. The Dames Caves Trail is also called Trail 22 and is part of the Citrus Trail system of the Withlacoochee State Forest. It was very easy to find with our GPS and free parking was conveniently located right on the side of the road off of S. Lecanto Hwy (491). The caves are mostly known locally and even though there were some other hikers, it did not feel crowded.

Trail 22 is about 1.2 miles long and a sandy trail leads directly to the Dames Cave. It’s an easy flat hike on a soft path through beautiful pine flatwoods and is perfect for families.

Two of the most popular caves on this trail are called Dames Cave and Peace Cave. Dames Cave has also been called “Vandal Cave” due to the many graffiti drawings covering the walls. It may look like a giant hole in the ground at first, as the cave’s ceiling collapsed long time ago. We were able to look directly down about 15 feet into Dames Cave and it reminded me of a Mexican Cenote. On the side is a smaller cave entrance that can be climbed down.

The opening is mostly big rocks and roots of the tree and only a very short climb. Once inside the cave, there is a big open area with amazing rock formations, lots of graffiti and the opening that make it look like a cenote. Plants and roots grow on the edge of the walls.

There are several small openings that lead deeper into the rocks and connect to more caves. We explored another smaller cave that was completely dark. Even though the boys wanted to explore even further, we decided to skip any deeper and darker caves.

The Peace Cave is another bigger cave on the trail and is marked with a huge peace sign on a tree. It is more difficult to get inside and completely dark. There is lots of opportunity to hike further and several other trails connect to Trail 22 and to discover several more small caves.

This hike was the perfect combination of fun and adventure and was interesting for all of us.

Uncategorized

Cape Spartel, Morocco

Caves of Hercules, Camels and a Lighthouse

Located about 14 kilometers west of the city of Tangier, Morocco, lies the famous Cave of Hercules, which is a fascinating archaeological cave and the most North Western point of mainland Africa. The cave has two openings. The one that faces the Mediterranean Sea resembles the shape of Africa. It is said to have been created by the Phoenicians, while other stories claim it was carved by the waves. I found the shape so interesting and love that it resembles Africa. The opening facing the land was carved by local Berbers, who cut their millstones from the rock. You can still see many indentations on the cave walls and ceiling.

Legend says Hercules, one of the most famous heroes of the Greek mythology, parted the continents Africa and Europe with his hands, forming the Strait of Gibraltar. He later rested and slept in a cave off the cost of Africa before he went on with his adventures.

The cave is free to enter and to explore on your own, but there were also guided tours available. We did not have a tour guide and it was lots of fun.  The cave system is open daily, year-round. July and August are the peak season and have the most visitors, including at the nearby beaches. 

There are so many myths and stories about the caves, which was definitely my favorite part and made it feel like we were visiting inside a magical story book. It was also a great way to get the kids interested about it. Climbing any kind of rock and visiting a cave, is a happy place for my boys, but adding the stores, made it even better and more adventurous. We still talked about the caves and stories days later…

According to one of the myth and legends, Hercules slept in the caves on his way to steal three golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides. He had to fulfill 12 tasks in total and stealing the apples, which were believed to gave immortal life to anyone who ate them, was the 11th of the “12 Labors of Hercules.” The garden of Hesperides was located near the Atlas mountains in North Africa. When Hercules was on his way to the garden he found he had to cross these mountains. Because his way was blocked, Hercules smashed through the mountain with superhuman powers, splitting its rocky face in half and separating Europe and Africa. This was how the Strait of Gibraltar was born and the reminders of this act can be found in the Rock of Gibraltar and the Jebel Musa, east of Tangier.

We loved the stories so much that we ordered several books about the Greek mythology for kids afterwards.

Discovered in 1906, the cave extends for 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) and is both natural and man-made. 

Another story about the Cave of Hercules was that it is the one end of a 15-mile-long (24 kilometers) tunnel between Morocco and Spain. People say this is how the macaques who live at the top of the Rock of Gibraltar made their way from Africa. Click here to see our adventure with the monkeys in Gibraltar:

Gibraltar – Away we wander and discover the world… (myfamilytraveladventures.com)

The pictures are a little dark with the light coming through the opening mirroring the shape of Africa. This was the place with most of the tourists and the highlight for most people. I still think the best part is the story about the cave.

We didn’t find Hercules or monkeys at the caves, but they’re worth exploring nonetheless. And the stories make it even more exciting. Again its my favorite part…

After visiting the caves, we continued to drive to Cape Cartel to see the lighthouse. We also drove by a few camels sitting with their babies. They were so cute and of course we had to stop. 

Cape Spartel is a promontory in Morocco about 1,000 feet above sea level at the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar, about 15 min drive West of Tangier.  It is where the Mediterranean sea meets the Atlantic Ocean! 

The Spartel lighthouse that was built in the 1860s by an international coalition (including the USA, France, Spain, and Morocco) in order to mark the entrance of the Strait of Gibraltar.

There also lots of tour companies that offer half or full day tours of the caves, the lighthouse and some other places as a package.

Uncategorized

Schaffhausen, Switzerland

The amazing Rheinfall / Rhine Falls

The Rheinfall / Rhine falls is the largest waterfall in Europe and is located close to the border near Schaffhausen in the Northeast of Switzerland. There are many other waterfalls that have greater drops and are much longer, but the Rhine Falls is the most powerful. Because of melting alpine caps, the water flows at an impressive rate of up to 600,000 liters per second during the summer. Even though, it is only 23 meters high, it is about 150 meters wide, making the Rhine Falls very impressive, powerful and loud.

The Rhine Falls is around 15.000 years old and originated during the last ice age. Because of tectonic shifts , the Rhine River was forced into the current riverbed. First the stream met the glacial deposits – gravel, clay and sand. Once the glacial deposits were washed away, it met with a large block of hard rock. That’s why the river became wider and more shallow before leaping over this rock, forming an enormous waterfall.

There are several different parking lots on both sides of the river. We parked very conveniently on P2 and only walked a couple of minutes downhill to get to the site. If you have read some of my other posts, you know we are known to visit many places in the late afternoon and early evening. This works out great for us, because most of the crowds already left for the day and everything is covered in the golden afternoon light. We started our walk at Schloessli Woerth, which also has a restaurant and a boat dock for tours.

We decided to walk the promenade along the water towards the falls. There is an information point, playground, benches and several view points which are all free. The entire walk around the Rhine Fall basin was about 3 kilometers long.

The river Rhine is really special to me. I grew up in a small village right next to it and even saw it from my classroom window at school everyday. (The Rhine is the largest river in Germany and it flows from the Alps to the North Sea. ) We had visited family at Lake Constance, so it was the perfect opportunity to make a stop at the Rhine Falls. I am so glad we did. It is an amazing sight.

These waterfalls have been formed in a sharp bend of the Rhine which is why it offers so many impressive views.

We walked by several little platforms and viewing points, discovering little side waterfalls and different angles.

What a gorgeous view with the castle in the background.

The highlight for the boys was dangling their feet inside the water on one of the platforms. They had seen several people do it and since it seemed harmless with the handrail, I let them join the fun. Little things (if they are not dangerous) makes kids so much more excited about a place. I want my kids to want to travel with me and have fun while doing it. Little things like this can make their day and they will always remember the Rhine Falls. It also gave me a great picture opportunity.

This viewing platform was one of my favorites. The views were spectacular, the sun was setting perfectly and we had the falls almost to ourselves. In the middle of the Rhine Falls stands a large rock that has withstood the elements for thousands of years. The rock can be reached on one of the boat tours, which must be impressive. Virtually in the middle of the waterfall, visitors stand on platforms that jut out and partially hover over the Rhine. We will be back for that Rhine Falls.

Next up was crossing the water to the other side of the falls for more spectacular views.

We continued on the path which led us over the railway bridge that was built in 1857. There is a small pedestrian pathway right next to the railroad, which crosses the river, just above the falls.  I highly recommend to walk across the bridge and admire the falls from this amazing viewpoint. 

We were greeted by these cute cows. I am not sure if they always stand there, but the kids loved it. Of course we had to take cow pictures in Switzerland, even if the cows were made out of plastic.

Schloss Laufen

Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall on the southern bank towers on a rocky cliff high above the waterfall. Most visitors (including us) stroll directly through the inner courtyard of the castle to the “Känzeli”, a spectacular viewing platform directly over the thundering Rhine Falls. From here you can get the best views of this imposing natural spectacle. In addition there is also a new visitors’ center, a children’s playground and the “Historama” (interactive exhibition about the Rhine Falls and its 1000-year-old history ) . Schloss Laufen has an entry fee:

Entrance per person CHF 5.00 per person.
Included in the ticket price: access to the Historama and the viewing platforms.
Children 6 – 15 years CHF 3.00
For groups from 15 to 29 persons, CHF 3.00 per person.
For groups with more than 30 persons, CHF 2.00 per person.
Tickets for visitors in a wheelchair, with a pram and groups of 15 or more are only available in the Visitor Centre.

Since we did not book a tour and didn’t have too much information beforehand about the Rhine Falls, I found this sign very interesting. I normally plan and get to know some facts before visiting a place, but sometimes like here, I didn’t have time and appreciated this great sign even more.

Facts & figures
 
Width of the Falls
150 metres
Height of the Falls
23 metres
Depth of the basin
13 metres
Age of the Falls
approx. 15’000 years
Capacity of flow in summer
approx. 600’000 litres per second
Capacity of flow in winter
approx. 250’000 litres per second
Lowest capacity of flow
1921, 95’000 litres per second
Greatest capacity of flow
1965, 1’250’000 litres per second

The path to the viewing platform was steep, rocky and had lots of stairs. So much more fun for the kids. We even had to go through the rock several times.

Once we arrived at the platform, we were rewarded with an amazing view and sound. This was my other favorite spot of the day. We could feel the roar and vibration of the water through our entire body. We even got a little wet from the spray of the falls. This was an experience that I will never forget. This is the place to see, hear and feel the power of the falls.

This place is also one of the photo stops of the Grand Tour of Switzerland.

I hope you liked our visit to the Rheinfall. Follow us for more of our travel adventures.

Look through and download the official brochure of the Rhine Falls in English and German. The brochure is also available in French and Italian.

Rheinfall_Prospekt_de_en_2021_web.pdf

Comment below of your favorite place in Switzerland.

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Lake Reschen, South Tyrol, Italy

The sunken Bell Tower inside the Lago di Resia/Reschensee

The sunken bell tower inside Lago di Resia/Reschensee looks like straight out of a fairytale. The real story is not as magical and has no elves, goblins, wizards or fairies. The church tower of Old Curon, dating back to the 14th century, is the only visible remnant of a small town that vanished in 1950. An electric company built a dam, which unified two natural lakes, Reschensee and Mittersee and flooded many hectares of land as well as more than 150 houses and buildings.. The villagers tried to resist, but in the end were forced to resettle somewhere else. Only the top of the bell tower remained visible above the water.

Lago di Resia/Reschensee is an artificial lake located in the Vinschgau Valley in Italy, only a few miles of the Austrian and Swiss border. When the lake freezes in winter, it is even possible to walk out to the bell tower.

I visited the Reschensee the first time in 1995 with my grandparents and sister on the way to Italy. I remember how impressed I was as a child by the church inside the lake. It is a great memory that I cheerish a lot. Since we were driving from Italy to Germany, we had to stop there one more time to show the kids.

Numerous legends and stories swirl around the flooding and the bell tower. Local legend says that on some nights you can still hear the bells ringing — although the bells were removed on July 18th, 1950, a week before the water flooded the village and the church’s bottom half.

It was as beautiful as I remembered and the kids were as impressed as I was as a child. It was already early evening and only a few other people were there. We watched the sun go down and covered the bell tower in a golden light.

We stayed for a while and I let the kids discover and play while the sun was going down. I always try to stay as long as possible which works perfectly for my family. The kids appreciate the places much more when they can discover on their own rather than only taking a couple pictures. And usually one kid – most of the time Giorgio – finds a favorite new stone or stick that will travel along with us (even if it only for a little).

The sun went down way too fast and we continued to our next adventure.

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Tossa De Mar, Spain

Tossa de Mar is a charming and picturesque old coastal town located on the Costa Brava in Catalonia, Spain. Only about one hour north of Barcelona, it is perfect for a day trip, but also worth staying a couple more days.

I really wanted to visit Tossa de Mar with my family, because it was my first vacation by myself (without my parents at the time) 20 years before. I had such great memories as well as some old pictures and I thought it would be fun to revisit with my husband and kids. I am so glad we did. It was as charming as I had remembered it and we spent a beautiful day in Tossa de Mar visiting and recreating pictures. (Scroll down at the bottom to see if I have changed )

The famous silhouette of Tossa de Mar with the iconic walled fortifications of the old town at the southern end make a gorgeous backdrop to the beautiful beach. It is worth visiting just for these views.  The beach is directly at the center of Tossa next to cute little shops and restaurants. The National Geographic magazine ranked Platja Gran, the central beach among the 25 best beaches in the world several years back. Swimming in the crystal clear waters while looking up at the romantic castle or better Vila Vella is pretty special. We didn’t have time to swim, but when I was there the first time, I snorkeled in the perfectly clear water. There are also glass bottom tours available.

Tossa is small and quaint. We decided to walk up to the castle first. The Old Town of Tossa de Mar is the only fortified town that remains on the Catalan coast. The castle was built in the 12th century and the stone walls enclosing its historic neighborhood date from about the same time. It is only a short walk from the beach and has three entrances near three large towers.

We passed the ruins of the Gothic church of St. Vincent. This is such a beautiful photo stop. The views are spectacular. The air was warm and sweet and it was the perfect moment.

The old town of Tossa de Mar is beautiful and has fantastic views over the coast. In 1931 it was declared a monument of artistic and historical value. Narrow old cobblestone streets lead through a charming labyrinth of ancient houses and medieval alleys. The old town was one of my favorite parts of Tossa de Mar.

We continued to walk randomly through the streets enjoying this beautiful summer day. And of course we ate ice cream.

Tossa del Mar is the perfect place for a family vacation. There are so many great spots and rocks to climb that make it a dream for any kid. I like to combine the interests of each of our family members. Everybody gets to pick activities and things they like to do and we make sure to include it in our vacation. Tossa del Mar was a place I wanted to visit, but the rocks were the ultimate challenge for my boys and they did not want to leave. It was the perfect combination for all of us.

After visiting the castle and the old and newer part of the town, we walked back toward the beach. We passed the beautiful promenade with restaurants and walked along the street to La Mar Menuda beach. This is another great beach in walking distance from the town center.

At one end on La Mar Menuda beach is a rock formation that surrounds a small cove that is known as “sa banyera de ses dones” (the bath of the women). This is perfect for little kids, because the water is shallow and calm.

The legend says that this rock formation was split open in two and this small cove was created so that Sant Ramon de Penyafort could arrive on time to hear the confession of a dying man. 

Our favorite part of the cove is the single pine tree on top of a rock. This is such a picturesque photo spot.

There are lots of fantastic places in Tossa del Mar and fun things to do. I am happy I revisited even if it was just for a day. We walked, explored, discovered, climbed, wandered and had a great day. This is what travel is all about for me.

And now….. It is finally time for the picture I promised at the beginning.

I really wanted to recreate a picture on a certain rock and it took us a while to find it.

My boys loved climbing the rocks and Luca wants to come back in 20 years to take the next picture. I like that talking about old memories and looking at old pictures, inspired us to visit Tossa de Mar again. We had such a perfect day and now are planning to be back again in 20 years.

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Hinterweidenthal, Germany

The Devil’s Table/ Teufelstisch

The Teufelstisch in Hinterweidenthal is a 14 meter high mushroom rock that looks like a huge table in the Rhineland-Palatinate. Deep inside the Pfaelzer Wald/ Palatinate Forest, one of the largest forests in Germany, lies the Teufelstisch which means “devil’s table” and is the most famous rock formation in the area.

The table is a big sandstone plate resting on two narrow columns of rock and was created by erosion. But there is another story. The Rhineland Palatinates is not only a place of wineries, vineyards and old castles, it is full of legends and fairytales. There story about the Teufelstisch goes as follows:

Once upon a time, the devil traveled through the forest with glowing fiery eyes. As the day went by, he became tired and hungry, but could not find a place to sit down to rest and have dinner. He grabbed three huge boulders and made his own table and chair. After finishing his meal, the devil shouldered the chair to take it along with him, but left the table behind. The local villagers were shocked, when they discovered it the next morning. Many were afraid and believed the devil had been there. Only one was brave enough and decided to dine with him the next evening. As the sun slowly disappeared behind the rocks, the young man went out. At Midnight, a horrible and gruesome cry interrupted the silence of the night and the young man was never seen again.

Olivia does not seem to believe this old tale…. What about you?

My parents grew up in Rhineland-Palatines and we love to visit my grandmothers who still live in the area. This place was recommended by my father, because it is not far from Kaiserslautern. One late afternoon, we decided to go on a little adventure and visit this magnificent rock formation.

We were really excited to discover the great playground beneath the rock. We only knew about the Teufelstisch, so the playground was an added bonus. The extra long rock slide (50m) was one of the best slides we have ever been on and definitely the boys favorite part. It was very fast to say the least. There was also a water playground, nature trail, cable swing and mini golf.

After playing for a little while, we followed the path and stairs up to the Teufelstisch. There are several great hiking paths through the forest and to neighboring villages. An entire day could be spent hiking in the area.

There are several other mushroom rocks in the area, but the Teufelstisch is the highest and most famous.

It was such a fun little day trip and I hope to discover more places in the area where my parents grew up.