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…

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.

Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

Avignon/Nimes, France

The Pont Du Gard Bridge in Southern France near Avignon/Nimes

The Pont du Gard is one of the sites that shouldn’t be missed on any trip to the South of France. The Aqueduct is one of the most beautiful Roman constructions in France and a Unesco World heritage sight. With more than a million visitors per year, Pont du Gard is the most visited ancient monument in France.

After visiting the lavender fields in Sault, we spent the day in Avignon before continue to drive to Spain. I love to revisit places I had seen as a child on vacation with my parents and sister. We had visited Pont Du Gard, when I was 8 years old. Since it was kind of one the way, I spontaneous decided to stop and revisit this beautiful bridge with my children. We arrived pretty late and the museum was already closed for the day, but the golden light of the sunset made up for it. It was a beautiful warm August evening and most of the people had already left for the day.

The bridge, which spans the Gardon, is 48 meters high; it extends over a distance over 272 meters but was originally 490 meters long.

We didn’t bring any bathing suites, but that didn’t stop us from heading directly to the Gardon River to cool off in the perfectly clear water. The boys tried to catch little fish with their hands, Olivia was splashing around happily, and I just enjoyed being there and appreciated the moment. Of course, I also took a lot of pictures.

We could have definitely spent the entire day there. A picnic at the banks, kayaking, the museum , a guided tour of the different levels of the bridge, swimming and the surrounding gardens offer so much possibilities. I do love to revisit places, so we might be back again. This time, I will plan it before and visit the entire site.

I am so happy we stayed for the spectacular illumination of the monument. They started at 10pm and were so worth it. The bridge and surrounding area was transformed with lights and pyrotechnics, to tell a beautiful story. It was the perfect ending to enjoy a warm summer night.

Opening hours of the site

From 9 am to 8 pm from January to March

From 9 am to 9 pm in April and May

From 10 am to 10 pm in June

From 9 am to 00 pm in July and August

From 9 am to 10 pm in September

From 9 am to 9 pm  from October to December

Entrance fee ticket:
– Discovery Pass (Pont du Gard, Museum, Ciné, the Mémoires de Garrigue path, Exhibition)
Adult rate: 9.50 € / pers (8€ On line preserved)
Reduced price: 7 € / pers
Free for children under -18 years

Free entry is granted to :

-People with disabilities, regardless of the degree of disability as well as up to one person accompanying them.

– Guided tour at the top level of the Aqueduct : + 6€ (Free under -6 years)