Art, city, day trip, family, florida, free, Miami, Uncategorized, USA

Wynwood, Miami, Florida

A fun Miami neighborhood with giant murals, beautiful Street Art and the center of Art and Culture

Wynwood is one of our favorite neighborhoods in Miami. It is the colorful, bright and vivid center of Art and Culture in South Florida and is an outdoor museum showcasing the work of the world’s best street artists.

North of Downtown and West of Miami Beach, this is a must-see neighborhood when visiting Miami. It is fun, colorful and always evolving. Wynnwood is one of the most “instagrammable” places in Miami.

The mural with Chris is on NW 20th Street and NW 1st Ct

Wynwood Walls

The entrance is located on NW 2nd Ave between NW 26th Street and NW 25th Street.

While there are murals throughout the neighborhood, the centerpiece/ heart of Wynwood is definitely the Wynwood Walls. It was established in 2009 as an outdoor museum of international street art. 

A collection of giant wall murals covering six buildings, Wynwood Walls has since become a blank canvas for famed artists from across the globe.

Wynwood Walls General Admission is $12 per adult, $10 per senior or military and $5 per student ticket. Kids under 12 years are free. Admission grants access to the Wynwood Walls Museum which includes over 35 hand-sprayed murals, two street-art galleries, and retail shops. 

Tickets need to be purchased in advance.

There are also several tours available. While we haven’t done any tours and had a great time discovering Wynwood Walls by ourselves, the tour offers a behind the scenes understanding of each mural in a group tour setting. 

The GGA Galley inside the Wynwood Walls exhibits an everchanging roster of the group and solo shows from past and present artists.

Encompassing more than 50 dazzling, cutting-edge murals created by respected street artists from Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States, the Wynwood Walls attracts hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world each year.

And beyond…

NW 2nd Ave and NW 25th Street

There is a lot more to see and to discover than Wynwood Walls. And best of all, it is free. Wandering around and discovering murals, art galleries, eateries, art installations is what is all about for me. Did you know that Wynwood is home to the highest concentration of street art in the United States? Artists from around the world showcase their talent on walls with larger-than-life masterpieces.

NW 24th Street close to N Miami Ave
NW 27th Street and NW 3rd Ave

Outside Wynwood Walls, Wynwood is home to more than 70 art galleries, shops, restaurants and bars.

NE 24th Street and N Miami Ave
NW 26th Street and NW 3rd Ave

Covered in murals that constantly change, Wynwood has so many fun photo opportunities. The street art is the main attraction for sure, but it goes further than the murals only. There is art everywhere you turn. From the sidewalks to streetlights, everything is covered with beautiful and interesting installations.

The loveism mural is on NW 20th Street and NW 1st Place

 NW 2nd Ave is kind of the main street and a great place to start exploring the area, full of creativity and inspiring murals.

Wynwood is the perfect place to spend a full day or an afternoon/ evening with the family, exposing kids to art in the most fun way. 

all of the murals are in the heart of Wynwood close to the Wynwod Walls
NW 26th Street in between NW 2nd Ave and NW 3rd Ave
NW 27th Street and NW 3rd Ave

Walking along N Miami Ave a little further…

on NW 29th Street /between NW 1st Ave and N Miami Ave

There are more murals to discover, and it is worthwhile to walk a little further than the blocks around Wynwood Walls. There are lots of murals along N Miami Ave which is parallel to NW 2nd Ave. Wandering through little side streets is also recommended.

NW 27th Street and N Miami Ave
NW 24th Street and N Miami Ave

I tried to include the locations of all the locations under each picture.

NW 29th Street and NW 1st Ave

Even further away…

On the corner of NW 36th Street and 5th Avenue is another noteworthy building full of interesting murals. From Tiger King Joe Exotic, healthcare workers during the pandemic to colorful shapes, drawing and messages both on the building and the sidewalk, there is lots to see and many pictures to take. It might be a stretch to walk, but just a quick ride in the car.

NW 36th Street and NW 5th Ave
NW 36th Street and NW 5th Ave

Keep in mind that Wynwood is always changing and evolving. The murals are constantly getting redone and updated, and it is possible to find an entirely different mural than expected. There is always new art to discover, and we love to come back all the time. Let me know, if you still need the location of a specific mural and I am happy to send you the location.

autumn, city, day trip, family, USA

Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas

The best pumpkin patch in the United States

There is something special about fall for me. I love the sights, smells, and tastes of the season. One of my absolute favorite fall traditions is going to a pumpkin patch to choose the perfect pumpkin to carve, take lots of fun pictures, participate in all the fun fall activities that go along with it, spent quality time with the family and celebrate this beautiful season.

Pumpkin patches are fun for families with kids, but they also make for a fun outing for couples and anybody looking to get outside and celebrate the season.

I am always on the lookout for extra special pumpkin patches. And I am so happy to say that I found the ultimate pumpkin patch that I consider to be the best one in the United States. Prepare to be amazed at the sheer amount of pumpkins, the variety of shapes and colors, all the gorgeous pumpkin displays and the fun activities at the annual Pumpkin Festival at the Arboretum in Dallas, Texas.

The pumpkin patch at the Dallas Arboretum has been named one of America’s Best Pumpkin Festivals by Fodor’s Travel and I couldn’t agree more. Every year the arboretum builds an unbelievable pumpkin village with more than 90,000 pumpkins, gourds and squash throughout the garden.

Autumn at the Arboretum, runs from September 18 to October 31, 2021. Though the festival ends on Halloween, the Pumpkin Village remains open through Thanksgiving weekend. We went two years ago when the theme was  “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” There were the signature pumpkin cottages and pumpkin sculptures, a 15-foot-tall Great Pumpkin topiary, a pumpkin doghouse for Snoopy, a Lucy topiary outside of her “Garden Advice Hut,” a Peanuts gang school house, and so much more. 

This year marks the 16th annual Autumn at the Arboretum and the space is transformed into Bugtopia! There will be larger-than-life insect topiaries, fascinatingly bugged-out pumpkin houses, a maze for younger visitors. I wish we could visit again and marvel at all the beautiful displays. 90,000 pumpkins, 3,000 ears of corn and 1,500 corn stalks; 900 bales of hay; and hundreds of thousands of fall-blooming flowers and plants make this the most amazing pumpkin patch in the United States. 

Do you have a favorite pumpkin patch? Let me know in the comments…

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?

florida, forest, Uncategorized, USA

Miami, Florida

Mangrove Trees, Mangrove Tree Crabs and our Favorite Places to Kayak in South Florida

Last weekend was such an adventure. We ventured into the mangrove forest to make a video about Mangrove tree crabs for kidculture.org, a creative platform for kids to make meaningful and save videos. It was such a fun opportunity and the kids loved the entire process. They started with the research, planed and directed the video all by themselves and had a great time making the video. You can watch it here: https://vimeo.com/558536871

We learned many fascinating and interesting facts about Mangrove trees and Mangrove Tree Crabs.

Worldwide, there are more than 50 species of mangroves. There are three species found in Florida; red mangrove, black mangrove and white mangrove.

Red mangroves are probably the most well known species of mangrove trees in Florida. They are characterized by a tangled network of aerial prop roots extending into the soil. It appears as they are standing on the surface of the water. Red mangroves typically grow along the water’s edge and the bark is gray on the outside with a red interior. 

Mangroves are tropical trees that are the only trees that can thrive in salt water. Some species excrete the toxic levels of salt water through their waxy leaves, while others can block the salt absorption all together.

Florida has an estimated of 469,000 acres of mangrove forests and are an incredibly important ecosystem in the Southeast. They provide a protected nursery area for fish, crustaceans and shellfish while providing food for different marine species like snook, snapper and shrimp. Many birds find shelter in the roots and branches of mangroves. The branches are nesting areas, for coastal birds such as brown pelicans, osprey and roseate spoonbills.

Mangrove forests are very important. They stabilize the shoreline with their root system and protect the land from strong winds and floods. During intense storms, mangrove forests act as a buffer, reducing wave action, preventing erosion, and absorbing floodwaters.

The Mangrove Tree Crab

The video was also about the little mangrove tree crabs. It was half the fun to catch some of the little critters.

Mangrove tree crabs are tiny brownish gray crabs with yellow spots, wide-set eyes, hairy legs, and sharp tips on their pincers.

These crabs can be found on mangrove tree branches or tree tops at high tide and venture onto the ground at low tide.  They also like to burrow themselves into the sand and mud.

The crabs are very fast and it was difficult to catch them at first. They hide upside down in the leaves and branches of the mangroves. Luca caught one first , but learned that the crabs are quick to jump in the water when they are scared. The tiny creatures have lots of predators and are vulnerable in the water, so they try to get back to the safe mangrove trees as fast as possible.

 The crabs like to feed on the leaves of the trees they reside in. They will consume part of the leaf by scraping the surface of it and leaving behind brown spots. It was very interesting to study the leaves for any traces of the crabs. They also eat algae and small invertebrates if they can catch one.

We came prepared with tweezers, buckets, nets and magnifying classed that the kids had packed.

Olivia as fascinated on how much they looked like black spiders, but mangrove tree crabs are dark brown, gray and olive green depending on the light.

Even though it was difficult to part with them, we released all the mangrove tree crabs before leaving.

Anybody that visits Florida, should visit the mangrove forests and creeks at least once. The best way to explore is with a kayak or paddle board. There are lots of great places and here is a list of our favorite ones:

Our Top 5 favorite Kayaking Spots in South Florida

We have our own kayak which can easily still carry all three kids plus one adult or the kids plus a couple of friends. We have had many adventures with this kayak and once upon a time fit the entire family on the kayak. (Olivia was still a baby). We love to explore the narrow Mangrove creeks where the water gets really murky as well as the wide wavy bay exploring little islands.

Here is a list of our favorite spots in South Florida. All of the places have kayak, canoe or paddle board rentals available. They are very different from each other and I cannot decide which is my favorite, but I recommend to take enough water, sun protection and mosquito spray for all of them.

Whiskey Creek in Dania Beach

This one is my most visited place on the list and all the pictures on this blogpost where taken at this park. The Park is called Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park and is adjacent to Port Everglades. The parks 2.5 miles beach is the perfect spot for finding corals and building sand castles. It has lots of picnic tables and BBQs, a small restaurant as well as the famous Whiskey Creek. We love to paddle inside the shaded Mangrove tunnels and catch the little Mangrove Tree Crabs. The water levels fluctuate with the tides. At low tide, the water level is too low to paddle the entire creek, but a great time to exit the kayak and explore by foot.

Oleta River State Park in Miami

Only 30 min located from downtown Miami, Oleta River State Park is Florida’s largest urban park. It is a haven for mountain bikers, paddlers, anglers and swimmers. The park has several kayaking trails that lead through beautiful narrow Mangrove creeks as well as big Biscayne Bay. We love to paddle to the little islands, stop at the beach with shallow water or explore the shaded mangrove tunnels.

Kayak or Paddle Board?

Loxahatchee River in Jupiter

The Loxahatchee is a National Wild and Scenic River, one of only two in the state. It is one of Florida’s most unique treasures and flows through freshwater creeks, down into a brackish estuary, and finally empties through the Jupiter Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean. You can kayak under a canopy of overhanging trees and Spanish moss. There is lots of wildlife and it is very easy to paddle

 Turner River Kayak Trail at Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge in Everglades City

This kayak trail is full of wildlife and looks magical. We saw small alligators and all sorts of birds on our last trip. There are water lilies and swamp lilies, open swamps as well as my favorite part, the very narrow mangrove tunnels. They can get so tight and narrow that ii is easier to pull through by hand. This feels truly magical because the mangroves are everywhere.

Indian Key Historic State Park close to Islamorada

We have only visited once, but it was spectacular.  Indian Key Historic State Park is only accessible via kayak launch and is one of those small green islands that can be seen off the Overseas Highway. Indian Key is located only a half-mile offshore but feels a world away. It’s an uninhabited and undeveloped island where you still walk the roads of the original village. This 11-acre island is accessible only by boat and sits just off Lower Matacumbe at MM 78.5. (Kayaks can be rented at Robbies) One of the best ways to reach the island is by paddling over the shallow seagrass flats. 

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.

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.

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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.

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Gibraltar

The Monkeys on top of the Rock of Gibraltar

I like to plan our travel routes in detail and outline what could be interesting to visit and where to stop, but still like to be flexible enough to make an unexpectant detour or interesting stop. We were driving from the southernmost tip of Spain (Tarifa) up the coast to Valencia. Our only planned stop was eating Malaga ice cream in Malaga. Shortly after driving through Algeciras ,we were looking at the map and decided it would be fun to make a small detour and stop in Gibraltar. It was very exciting for the kids because they wanted to see the famous wild monkeys. It is also the location of the opening scene of a James Bond Movie and we love to visit movie locations. And as a bonus, we also got to visit another country. Even though we were in Southern Spain, Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory and we had to pass through a border and show our passports. To get to the city, we had to cross an airport runway. Everything felt very exciting…

Because our time was limited, we drove straight up through tiny and narrow streets towards the rock of Gibraltar. We did not know where we had to go to and just drove until we got to the Gibraltar Nature Reserve. We parked our car close to the Moorish Castle and bought tickets to go inside. I like to be adventurous and it seemed totally possible to hike up the 426 m (1,398 ft) rock of Gibraltar with the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa as a backdrop. Looking back and researching a little, there are much better hiking paths up, but we did not know that at the time and just followed the map. (I would like to see the cave and Mediterranean Steps the next time) . We mainly kept on the paved road at the beginning, which worked out well with the stroller for the little princess who liked to be always barefoot at the time. The boys preferred a more difficult path and climbed the rocks next to the street.

It was a beautiful hot summer day and the views were spectacular. The birds were chirping and the mood was fabulous. Our first stop was the Princess Caroline’s Battery located at the northern end of the Upper Rock Nature preserve. We took pictures and saw the first monkey. Oh, what a happy moment. This little monkey made my day.

We were heading towards the Apes Den, when we discovered the cable car for the first time. All of the sudden the boys long faces could touch the floor. They were not happy to hike up any further, but it was too late to turn around and we kept going. After some complaining, the excitement for seeing more monkeys at the Apes Den returned.

The view from Apes Den is fantastic, and seeing the monkeys in their natural habitat is something really special. Originally from the Atlas Mountains and the Rif Mountains of Morocco, the Barbary macaque population in Gibraltar is the only wild monkey population on the European continent. Currently, some 300 animals in five troops live in the Upper Rock area of the Gibraltar Nature Reserve, though they make occasional visits into the town. There was a cute monkey sitting on the side of the wall and posing for the perfect pictures. He did eye our stroller and backpacks, but did not move.

The Charles V Wall Stairs and upper wall were up next on our adventure to the top. The stairs are bigger than they look and it was a great challenge. The sun was shining pretty hot, so we had to rest a couple times on the way. There are 4 sections with tables and benches in between, so resting is not a problem. The view gets better and better going up. Its so spectacular and can’t even be described properly. There are about 660 steps which Olivia decided to do barefoot. I think Giorgio had the most fun, because he kept on running up the stairs and kept waiting for us. We encountered several more monkeys, but were determined to get to the top. Chris was the least excited to climb up the stairs, because he also carried the backpack and stroller. Looking back, the stairs were my favorite part and I would prefer them over taking the cable car. It such a great achievement reaching the top, but the little things on the way make it really worth it. Take your time and soak up everything around you.

We were so excited when we reached the top of the stairs and the monkey feeding station. Even though it is called the feeding station, visitors are not allowed to feed the monkeys. They are managed by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society and the monkeys medical and nutritional care is provided by the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic (GVC). Each day the macaques receive a supply of fresh water, are given vegetables, fruit and seeds as supplement to the natural food resources that they forage, and are regularly caught and checked to assure their good health.

There was a group of tourists that showed us what not to do with the monkeys. One girl had a pretty deep wound on her back because a monkey had bitten her in the shoulder when she stopped feeding him. They were debating if she should go to a doctor, when we arrived. There was no greater learning experience for my kids. They learned right away that we could not get too close and that these cute little monkeys were wild animals that may react violently. We continued to walk to the Skywalk area which is a little platform with views spanning three countries and two continents. The floor and balustrade panels are made up of 4 layers of laminated glass and makes this experience even more awesome. Of course there were more monkeys.  

I felt the monkeys on the top were a little more confrontational. They really wanted to see what we brought and tried to get into our backpack and stroller. I would avoid taking bags when going specifically to see them, otherwise just try to keep a distance. One monkey was specifically interested in Luca and followed him for a short while. At first he was too terrified to go on the platform, because the monkey got pretty close to us. We made it up in the end and were not attacked by any monkeys.

All in all, a visit to Gibraltar would certainly not be complete without having seen the Gibraltar monkeys up close and be a little terrified of them. It’s an experience of a lifetime and definitely not one that should be missed!