city, day trip, Europe, free, Germany, hike, Uncategorized

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria, Germany

The most picturesque medieval fairytale town

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the most enchanting and picturesque medieval fairytale town located in Bavaria along the Romantic Road (which goes from Wurzburg to the Neuschwanstein Castle.) Colorful, historic buildings with wrought iron hanging signs, half-timbered houses with flowering window boxes, medieval towers and gates, castles, little cobbled streets and a historic wall around the old town make it truly feel magical like entering a fairy tale storybook in real life or stepping back in time. It is a small town and can be discovered in one day, but it is so magical that you want to spend the night and stay longer.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is located in the Franconia region of Bavaria on the Tauber River, close to Nuernberg or Wuerzburg. There are several “Rothenburgs” in Germany. Make sure to visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber (meaning on the Tauber River). Even though this is one of the most popular tourist towns in Germany, people do get it mixed up sometimes.

One of the most iconic shots of Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Germany is the Ploenlein. Most people think that the name Ploenlein refers to the yellow half timbered house at the entrance of the Spital quarter. But the charming, tilted and crooked house is only part of it. The term Ploenlein is actually translated as a “small square at a fountain”. The Ploenlein includes the yellow timber house, the fountain in front of it and the two towers of the old city wall that rise to its left and right. Fun Fact: The Siebersturm on the left was build around 1385.

One of the best things to do in Rothenburg is to wander around town and get lost in the charming winding cobblestone streets. The entire old town, enclosed by the city walls, is just picture perfect. There are several options on how to get lost. We got a free map ( I attached it at the bottom of the post) at the Rothenburg Tourist Office, which is located in the center of the town on the Marktplatz, in the old City Councillors’ Tavern. The map comes with two different walking tours – “kleiner Rundgang”/ short walk – which takes about 1.5 hours as well as “grosser Rundgang”/long walk – which takes about 2.5 hours. There are also several guided tours available through the city, but we decided to make our own free tour mixing part of the long walk with the short walk and it was just perfect.

The Marktplatz/market square in the center of the old town is the heart of lovely Rothenburg. There is the giant Rathaus (town hall) which is a wonderful example of a renaissance architecture. The back of the building is the oldest section and dates from 1250 and the impressive façade was added in 1572. It is surrounded by romantic timber framed buildings as well as the Ratstrinkstube (Councillor’s Tavern). At each full hour between 10 am and 10 pm General Tilly and the former mayor Nusch appear from the clock on the building façade.

An artful pillar bearing St. George and the dragon has decorated the Marktplatz fountain/fountain of St. Georg for over 400 years. A replica of the statue can be found in the German Pavilion at the Epcot Center part of World Disney World in Orlando.

Part of the long self guided walk is walking on the old town walls. Even if you do not walk the entire walk, walking inside or on the old town walls is an absolute must. It was the favorite thing to do for my kids. The medieval defensive walls from the 12th century  have been surrounding Rothenburg completely and many sections can be still walked around the clock. The wall is open all day every day and is free.

The whole path is 4 kilometers long, offering the most beautiful and picturesque views over Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Six gates and several doors for pedestrians lead through this city wall into the old quarter. There are 42 towers in the town and steps to climb up next to almost all of the towers. There are also several informative boards along the way.

One of the most charming buldings in Rothenburg is an old forge, the Gerlachschmiede close to the Roedergate. It could be right out of a fairytale story. The original house was destroyed at the end of World War II and rebuilt in the 1950s.

The name “Rothenburg ob der Tauber” is German for “Red castle above the Tauber”. 

Other than strolling through the winding cobblestone streets and marveling at the beautiful buildings everywhere, there are plenty of other fun things to do in this historic town. There are lots of unique stores in Rothenburg ob der Tauber filled with examples of beautiful German craftsmanship. From cuckoo clocks, wooden music boxes and beer steins to German cookbooks, traditional Dirndl dresses and Christmas decoration, Rothenburg offers just about every German trinket and souvenir you can think of.

There are several fun and interesting museums to visit. The Medieval Crime and Justice Museum can be a little scary, but really interesting. Cages, medieval torturing instruments and executioner swords are some of the gruesome displays at the museum. A totally different experience is the Kaethe Wohlfahrt Christmas museum. It explains how Christmas was once celebrated in Germany and how certain customs developed in various regions of the country. There are also insights into the craftsmen’s traditions like wood carvings and mouth blown glass. Last but not least, there is the Rothenburg museum about the history of Rothenburg ,from the early Middle Ages and the era of an imperial city up to the time of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany and the rebuilding of the destroyed parts of the town after World War II. 

The Schneeball/ Snowball is Rothenburg’s most famous culinary contribution. This famous dessert was created more than 300 years ago, it is pastry dough layered and shaped into a ball usually covered in confectioners’ sugar and other toppings like caramel, chocolate, nuts or other toppings. Snowballs are one of the must things to try when in Rothenburg. These delightful looking treats can be found all around town on every corner in all kind of sizes.

We tried the mini versions covered in sugar, caramel, dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate.

I was a little disappointed by the “Schneeballs”, because they tasted a little like a dry crumbly pie crust … The kids on the other hand loved them and tried Schneeballs with different toppings. I would still buy them again, just because I love to try any regional specialty that makes a place special. But maybe with whipped cream or a strawberry sauce on the side…

With its fascinating history and fairytale look, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a beautiful place to explore. Have you visited Rothenburg? What was your favorite thing about this magical place?

day trip, Europe, family, hike, italy, lake, Uncategorized

Lago di Carezza, South Tyrol, Italy

The most beautiful rainbow lake in the Dolomites – Lago di Carezza/Karersee

Lago di Carezza or Karersee is one of the most beautiful lakes in the Dolomites and it was one of our favorite destinations in South Tyrol. This magical lake is also called the “Lec de Ergobando”, which means Rainbow Lake in the Ladin language. The crystal clear water sparkles magnificently in Emerald green and Sapphire blue with flecks of colors of the rainbow. The Latemar mountains and an enchanting forests in the back of the lake, make an impressive and unforgettable sight. It truly feels like being inside a fairytale.

Lake Carezza is about 30km Southeast of Bozen/Bolzano and is the perfect first stop of the Great Dolomites Road (SS241) from Bolzano to Cortina d’Ampezzo through the heart of the UNESCO-listed Dolomites. Located in the Val d’Ega valley, only 6 km from Nova Levante, Lake Carezza is the perfect stop for a short trip or to spend the entire day. There is a parking lot with reasonable rates across the street of the lake that also has a restaurant, bathrooms and a gift shop.

Walking down the steps to the lake feels like stepping into a fairytale. It is such a magical place.

The lake is fed by subterraneous springs from the Latemar mountains and the water level is constantly changing. The level is highest in spring with a depth of 22 m due to the melting snow, whereas the lowest level in October reaches only 6 m.

We visited the lake in the end of July in the late afternoon and it was the perfect time. I would recommend to go either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Our family tends to visit places in the afternoon and it works for us. Most of the tourists are already gone for the day, the weather and temperature is still perfect and everything has the golden glow from the sun going down.

The different colors of the lake not only make Lago di Carezza look magical, it has also inspired this century old legend of a water fairy and a wizard:

Once upon a time a beautiful water fairy lived inside the lake. She loved to sit on the shores of the lake and sing the most beautiful songs. She was very shy and disappeared whenever anybody came close to the lake. One day the sorcerer of Masaré heard the water fairy sing and fell immediately in love. He tried to enchant her with his magic but wasn’t able to catch her. The sorcerer grew more and more impatient and asked the witch Langwerda for advice. The witch suggested to create a magic rainbow from Latemar to Lake Carezza to intrigue the water fairy. She also told the sorcerer to dress up as an old merchant and explain to the curious fairy on how to make these rainbow air jewels. This way he was able to catch her when she got close to him . The wizard made the most beautiful rainbow but forgot to dress up and the water fairy recognized him. She got scared and disappeared in the water forever. The sorcerer got really angry, tore the rainbow from the sky and threw it in the lake. The rainbow melted in the water and spread on the surface of the lake. That’s how the lake got the name Rainbow Lake.

There are lots of different hiking possibilities and trails in the area. We decided to walk the most popular trail around the lake. It is a very easy and picturesque loop hike that only takes about 30min. The lake is completely fenced and the circular loop winds through the fairytale landscape with several scenic lookout points to view the lake from different angles.

There are plenty of images online and on social media of people sitting or standing on a rock by the lake. This shot is unfortunately illegal and should not be copied or attempted. Lago di Carezza is completely fenced and it is not allowed to swim or approach the water (and the banks of the water). It would have not been difficult to climb the fence, but I want to teach our kids to be responsible travelers, to respect the laws and most importantly to respect nature and not to destroy or damage it for a picture. Nevertheless, Lake Carezza is a very special place, has plenty of picture possibilities and worth a visit.

Have you also visited Lago di Carezza or the Dolomites? Share your experience in the comment section. If you have more questions, let me know and I am happy to answer it. 

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…

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.