Art, city, day trip, Europe, family, food, free, italy

Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Bologna is the beautiful and lively, historic capital of Emilia-Romagna, a region in northern Italy. It is full of rich history, culture, amazing architecture and it might be the most delicious city in all of Italy. And if this is not enough, there is another great reason to visit Bologna. While most cities are overrun with tourists in summer, Bologna is still very much undiscovered by foreign tourists. There were only a few other tourists, which made for a special, authentic, immersive local experience which was so delicious.

Bologna has three nicknames that sum up this wonderful city perfectly:

La Rossa, which means the red, referring to the beautiful terracotta-hued, yellow and red medieval buildings and the UNESCO-protected porticoes, as well as its communist past.

La Grassa which means the fat, referring to the rich and delicious cuisine making Bologna Italy’s gastronomic capital. Handmade Pasta, hearty meat sauces, cured meat, salty cheese and lots of other delicacies can be all found in Bologna.

La Dotta, which means the learned or the studied, referring to its university, founded in 1088. The University of Bologna is one of the most ancient and prestigious in the world.

We loved wandering the endless streets covered in Porticoes, we marveled at the painted walls and ceilings, soaked in the beauty around us and ate our way through Bologna.

La Rossa

One of the first things in Bologna that visitors will notice are the medieval buildings in different warm hues like terracotta, orange and other earthy colors. They influence most of the city center and are embellished with matching porticoes, which are beautiful roofs that are supported by columns. The special thing about the porticoes in Bologna is that they are all interconnected. They are an important cultural and architectural heritage of Bologna and represent a symbol of the city together with the numerous towers.

No other city in the world has as many porticoes as Bologna. In the historic center alone, they are about 40 kilometers long, and more than 60 kilometers long including the porticoes outside the medieval city walls. It is an international record that Bologna has been holding for more than 900 years and that today, together with the towers, the terracotta facades and its delicious food like Tagliatelle al Ragù, Tortellini, Mortadella (to name a few) – are the identity of this city.

La Grassa

The cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna region is some of the best in Italy and Bologna is called the gastronomical capital of Italy. With so much delicious food in Bologna, it can be a challenge to order only one dish… We wanted to taste it all and are so happy we did….

Bologna is the birthplace of Pasta Bolognese, or Tagliatelle al Ragù. One of the most popular pasta sauces in the world, Pasta Bolognese is never served on Spaghetti. There is no such thing as spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna. The ragu sauce is topped over Tagliatelle, a thicker flat-ribboned pasta that holds the sauce better. And it is.. Oh so good…

And then there is handmade stuffed pasta like Tortellini and Tortelloni, the different sized versions of pasta dumplings. Either Tortellini in Brodo (served in a broth) or Tortellini in Panna (a cream sauce) are so delicious. We also tried the Lasagna Bolognese which is served with green pasta and the Cotoletta alla Bolognese. One of our favorites was the fried Mortadella. Other traditional dishes and food to try from the Emilia Romagna region are of course Parmigiano Reggiano, or parmesan, Prosciutto from Parma – ham, balsamic vinegar from Modena, Passatelli, Tigelle, Balanzoni, Aperol Spris and many other delicacies.  

Eating is quite simply one of the best things to do in Bologna.

La Dotta

The exact date of the University of Bologna’s founding is uncertain but believed to have been 1088. During the Middle Ages, scholars from all over flocked to Bologna to pursue their intellectual studies. Some of the University’s most famous students throughout history include Dante, Petrarch, Erasmus, and Guglielmo Marconi. Today the University has a diverse range of programs at all levels. It also houses a vast collection of Medieval art and illuminated manuscripts.

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.

city, day trip, Europe, food, italy, Uncategorized

Strada delle Orecchiette, Bari Vecchia, Puglia, Italy

Making Orecchiette Pasta with an Italian Nonna

Pasta comes in all different shapes and sizes and each region of Italy is renowned for its own special pasta shapes and traditional recipes.  The Pugliese region is no exception and is known for lots of different pasta varieties like Cavatieddi, Trocoli, Cavatelli or Capunti, but Puglia’s most famous pasta shape is of course handmade Orecchiette pasta which translates to ‘little ears’ in Italian. It’s used to make the most iconic dish of Puglia – Orecchiette con Cima di Rape (which is orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe).

Bari is famous for the Strada Arco Basso, better known as Strada delle Orecchiette where women prepare, dry and sell fresh orecchiette pasta right outside of their homes. This is the most charming street and it’s absolutely one of the best things to do in Bari. 

Bari, the capital of Puglia, is the third largest city is southern Italy after Naples and Palermo, and it is full of charm and history. This old and quaint city right on the shores of the Adriatic Sea is full of beautiful piazzas, churches, museums, little shrines, orecchiette and it is just full of character.

We met this older gentleman, and he walked a little around with us for a while telling us about Bari.

Bari Vecchia, which means Old Bari, is the ancient heart of the city, which in fact is medieval, with mazes of entangled little streets, beautiful shrines devoted to the adoration of the Virgin Mary, plants and flowers, colorful banners and laundry hanging from balconies wherever you turn. One of my favorite ways to explore a new place is walking aimlessly around and getting lost for a little while. The narrow streets and alleys of Bari Vecchia are the perfect location for wandering around and exploring this way. White cobblestone streets open to charming corners, small piazzas and reveal picturesque churches and colorful buildings, it is full of character everywhere.

If you have a little extra time, there is also the Murat Quarter. Built in the 19th century, this is the heart of modern Bari and the city’s main shopping district. It is located just south of the Old Town and extends from the promenade to Bari Centrale, the city’s main railway station.

There are lots of things to do in Bari, but we came here exclusively for the Orecchiette. No trip is complete without a visit to Strada Arco Basso, better known as Strada delle Orecchiette watching the women of Bari make fresh pasta in front of their homes. 

About 100 meters from Castello Normanno-Svevo is an archway known as Arco Alto at the edge of Bari Vecchia. It is not difficult to find at all. Rustic wooden worktables, dusted in semolina, spill out onto the street with local women handmaking orecchiette right there in front of their homes. It was such a great experience to see the local women making pasta with amazing speed whilst at the same time chatting back and forth in local dialect and watching the world pass by.

Orecchiette pasta resemble little ears, which is where they get their name. Traditionally it is made simply with a combination of fine semolina flour and water. Not even salt needs to be added… It is a culinary tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation and the ladies make it look effortless.  

Making fresh Orecchiette pasta together with an Italian Nonna on the side of the street, was on our bucket list the moment I knew we were traveling to Puglia. Travel experiences like this is what I cherish the most. I want our kids to learn, try and experience different things, food and cultures. Making our own pasta was exactly all of that and I am so glad we were able to make it happen.

We first received a lesson and demonstration on how to make Orecchiette. The semolina flour and water are mixed together to form a dough. The dough is then kneaded and kneaded into tidy mounds and cut into pieces. Then it was our turn:

Starting in the morning until the afternoon when all the pasta is sold, the women are sitting outside or just inside their doorways, making and selling fresh pasta. The doors of the houses were wide open, so we got a glimpse into their kitchen and lives as we passed by.

We learned that the perfect orecchiette is about 3/4 of an inch across and slightly domed shaped to hold pasta sauce well.

First the dough is rolled out like a snake. The skinnier the snake of dough, the smaller the final orecchiette pasta will be.

The next step looks easy, but it takes years of practice. A small kitchen knife is used to cut off a piece from the snake of dough and in one smooth movement, smush and drag the piece to flip out and make the shape of the orecchiette. We had a very patient teacher that showed and taught us over and over.

Finally, the formed Orecchiette are left to dry on wooden-framed screens for several hours.

We took our self-made pasta and bought some more, got a couple more ingredients at a market and headed to our rental home to cook our Orecchiette pasta.

I am not sure if it was because we made the pasta ourselves, the fresh ingredients, my Italian husband/chef or the amazing place we stayed at, but this was one of the best pasta dishes we had ever tasted.

Have you ever been to Puglia?

day trip, family, florida, holidays

Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida

Holiday Magic at Universal Studios

The holidays are here and there is something magical in the air at Universal Studios Orlando. There are lots of places to go during the holidays, but if you want to laugh, cheer, and shout your jingle bells off, this is the place to be. It’s the most magical, extraordinary, greatest, colorful, awesomest holiday celebration of the season.

From dazzling decorations, light displays, holiday parades, Christmas trees and seasonal treats to holiday shows, thrilling rides and so much more, here are our favorite reasons why Universal Orlando is one of the best places to spend during the holiday season….

Macy’s Holiday Parade

My absolutely favorite thing was the spectacular holiday parade featuring the huge Macy’s floating balloons. Most of the characters from the traditional Holiday Parade – which included the casts of the MinionsShrek, and Madagascar film franchises – arrive on floats to sing and dance. There is Christmas music, amazing floats, characters on stilts, confetti rain, snow bubbles, dancers, lights, Christmas trees and a whole lot of magic. And of course Santa Clause is there too. You can catch the parade every night (times change daily)

Christmas Tree Scavenger Hunt

This scavenger hunt was the favorite of Olivia. We had to travel around Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and CityWalk and find 15 different themed decorated holiday trees. After finding the tree, we received a stamp inside our guide at each location. Once we got all the 15 stamps, we redeemed the guide for a special ornament.

The Holiday Tree Hunt brochure costs $10 and can be purchased in most stores at Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure and Universal CityWalk. There are two different ornaments to choose at the end.

The trees are very easy to locate. If you are running out of time, the ornaments can be redeemed at any time. It was so much fun and was perfect for the holidays.

The Grinchmas show and the Grinch

During the holiday season, Seuss Landing is decorated with the holiday charm and cheer of Dr. Seuss’s Who-ville. You can meet plenty Who residents walking around on stilts and singing spreading holiday cheer. There are other Dr Seuss Characters available for pictures, but the funniest and best one is of course the Grinch.

Even though the line can be quite long, a visit with the Grinch is worth the wait. The maven of mischief himself is available for a photo opportunity at “All The Books You Can Read Bookstore”. But this isn’t only a photo opp; it is a funny and extraordinary experience.

The Grinch asked Olivia if she had taken her onion bath that day. When she told him that she had not, he told her that he had a present for her. He asked if Olli wanted a yellow, purple or white present. After she chose white, he opened a box and got out an onion. The Grinch told her to lift the hands in the air and rubbed the onion under her arms and on her head. Afterwards he “cleaned” himself with the onion too. It was such a funny show that was geared only to our family and was one of our highlights.

Your heart might grow three sizes as you delight in the hilarious hijinks of this live retelling of the classic tale starring the Grinch, featuring music recorded by Mannheim Steamroller.

Holiday Decoration and Christmas Magic Galore

Twinkling lights in all colors, sparkling ornaments, huge Christmas trees, cute Nutcrackers, icy snow and glittery Snowmen, lots of beautiful garlands, festive bows, there is so much Christmas magic going on in every corner in both parks.

There is even an entire Christmas themed store. The Tribute Store is one of the best places to buy holiday-themed merchandise while exploring four festively themed rooms. There is Santa’s Workshop during the busy season, the Grinch Lair, a winter celebration, the Yule Ball and Earl the Squirrel.

Christmas treats

Tis the season to be hungry. There are special themed Christmas treats throughout the park. From specialty donuts and cupcakes to holiday cocktails, there is something for everybody.

Hogwarts castle light show

Most nights, Hogwarts castle lights up for the holidays. Unfortunately, there was no show on the nights we were there, but we saw the Halloween light show and it was amazing. There are also several other holiday performances in the Harry Potter world.

Holidays at Universal are from November 13th, 2021 to January 2nd, 2022 and are included in the theme park ticket.

Prices, times, dates, entertainment, event and/or experience details are subject to changes and/or cancellation without notice.

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…

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.

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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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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!

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Dunnellon, Florida

Tubing on Rainbow River and Rainbow Springs State Park

One of my favorite summer adventures last year was Tubing on the Rainbow River by Dunnellon….. In case you have never heard about this town, it is about 100 miles northwest of Orlando. There’s no better or more relaxing way to experience this magical river than tubing! At least it is for me…. I wasn’t sure if Chris or Olivia would be too excited to float in the rather cool water….The water temperature averages 72 degrees year-round. It is a little fresh going inside, but I promise it will be perfect about 1 mile down the river and the sun will be almost too much by mile 2.

There are different tubing experiences available. We decided to launch from K.P. Hole, a Marion County Park, and floated approximately 3 1/2 hours down the river. There was also the shorter option available from the State park which would have lasted only about 2 hours. I was unsure before if tubing from K.P. Hole park was not too long, but time went by way too fast and I wish, there would have been a 6 hour experience available.

We went tubing together with my sister and her husband, which made it even better. To stay attached, we tied our tubes together with ropes. We also brought waterproof bags, reusable water bottles (the only ones allowed), goggles, snacks, hats and of course sunscreen.

Despite being 30 feet deep in some places, it feels like you could reach out and touch the bottom since the water is crystal clear. We saw turtles, fish, dragonflies and forests of aquatic grass that provide food and habitat for many of the creatures that live here. Although everyone wonders about alligators, we did not see any.

As I mentioned before, Oliva would have not liked to be in a float for that long or even touch the cold water, so we resolved that problem and rented a kayak in addition to the tubes. It was the perfect solution, because we also transported all the drinks, snacks and even towels.

It was the perfect day and it was over way too fast. It was peaceful and beautiful. And it inspired us to visit more springs in the future.

 Tubing season runs April to October. On summer weekends, both Rainbow River tubing operations generally reach capacity, so early arrival is important,

The next day we visited the Rainbow Springs State Park to see the waterfalls. We love to visit waterfalls, but Florida doesn’t have too many…. So I was excited to find out there were some at Rainbow Springs.

Rainbow Springs State Park is magnificent and we strolled through shady gardens laced with azaleas, oaks and magnolias. The walkways are paved and even though some are a little steep, they are still pretty easy to navigate.

The walkways pass by three man-made waterfalls and a native plant garden. When we visited in August 2020 only two waterfalls were working at the time. We continued through the garden and passed many relics (remains of old animal cages) of the glory past, when the park was a private attraction.

At the end of the path, begins a small Butterfly Garden. The sun was casting the perfect shadow on the entrance gazebo, it was warm and other than butterflies, we were the only ones there. It felt so peaceful and perfect.

To our surprise, there was more… A small trail right out of a fairytale lead us to three nature trails through natural oak hammock and sandhill communities.

We did not have a map, so we just followed the colored markers of the trail. There is a blue, yellow and white trail and we decided to follow the blue trail.

It had rained the previous days, so the blue trail (which is the closest to the water) became muddy and inaccessible. We decided to go for the yellow trail instead. The trails offers both river and phosphate pit overlooks…..

This area was the first place where phosphate was commercially mined in Florida. The deep pits and spoil piles left behind were recovered by the forest and are looking unreal in a normally very flat Florida. What a surprise when the first pit suddenly appeared in front of us. (My batterie had died, so I didn’t take any pictures.)

The most fascinating thing were the changes throughout the trail. We started in a forest, followed by sandy terrain punctuated with ravines created by mining and restored by nature. It did not even feel like Florida. At times we felt lost, because we couldn’t see any markers. I would have loved to see more along the paths, but it made it also more adventurous. It was also very overgrown and felt a little longer than the miles on the sign. I still found it magical and we did not meet anybody during our walk. I highly recommend a hike on these trails and hope we will be back one day…