One of the most exciting parts of an upcoming vacation for me is counting down the days until it has finally arrived. I love to share this excitement with my kids and my favorite way is with a countdown vacation calendar. I started to make the first countdown calendar for my oldest son when he was a toddler. We went on a family cruise and I drew a giant ship on a wooden panel. Each window represented a day until the vacation. Every day he drew a smiling face in one of the windows. It was such a success that I started to make a calendar for every vacation. Even though my kids are bigger now, everybody still likes to have a calendar.
It is a great way to get children interested in traveling and builds up excitement. I created six different calendars with different counting down methods like stickers, markers, stamps or crayons and I am happy to share them with you.
For the best results, I recommend to print the calendars on white cardstock paper (it is sturdier and holds up better). Regular printer paper works as well! Or even laminated to use more than once.
This calendar is the favorite calendar of Olivia and I designed it especially for her. Instead of crossing days off, one sun gets a happy face each day. I laminated the calendar for her and used special markers, so she can use it again and again.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
The Teufelstisch in Hinterweidenthal is a 14 meter high mushroom rock that looks like a huge table in the Rhineland-Palatinate. Deep inside the Pfaelzer Wald/ Palatinate Forest, one of the largest forests in Germany, lies the Teufelstisch which means “devil’s table” and is the most famous rock formation in the area.
The table is a big sandstone plate resting on two narrow columns of rock and was created by erosion. But there is another story. The Rhineland Palatinates is not only a place of wineries, vineyards and old castles, it is full of legends and fairytales. There story about the Teufelstisch goes as follows:
Once upon a time, the devil traveled through the forest with glowing fiery eyes. As the day went by, he became tired and hungry, but could not find a place to sit down to rest and have dinner. He grabbed three huge boulders and made his own table and chair. After finishing his meal, the devil shouldered the chair to take it along with him, but left the table behind. The local villagers were shocked, when they discovered it the next morning. Many were afraid and believed the devil had been there. Only one was brave enough and decided to dine with him the next evening. As the sun slowly disappeared behind the rocks, the young man went out. At Midnight, a horrible and gruesome cry interrupted the silence of the night and the young man was never seen again.
Olivia does not seem to believe this old tale…. What about you?
My parents grew up in Rhineland-Palatines and we love to visit my grandmothers who still live in the area. This place was recommended by my father, because it is not far from Kaiserslautern. One late afternoon, we decided to go on a little adventure and visit this magnificent rock formation.
We were really excited to discover the great playground beneath the rock. We only knew about the Teufelstisch, so the playground was an added bonus. The extra long rock slide (50m) was one of the best slides we have ever been on and definitely the boys favorite part. It was very fast to say the least. There was also a water playground, nature trail, cable swing and mini golf.
After playing for a little while, we followed the path and stairs up to the Teufelstisch. There are several great hiking paths through the forest and to neighboring villages. An entire day could be spent hiking in the area.
There are several other mushroom rocks in the area, but the Teufelstisch is the highest and most famous.
It was such a fun little day trip and I hope to discover more places in the area where my parents grew up.
The Stockyards in Fort Wort feel like stepping inside an old Western Movie. I loved the whole feel of this Western Town from the cobblestone street to the saloon doors of a bar. The Texas Longhorn and the American Cowboy are two of the most famous symbols of the Old West. They are a big reason why Ft. Wort earned the nickname “Cowtown”
We tried on cowboy hats, belt buckles and boots and felt like real cowboys. Actually we do not know how real cowboys feel, but we felt great, ready for adventure….
We first watched a traditional Western Show and learned some interesting facts and then watched our first Rodeo Show. The boys loved it and we were fascinated by the entire atmosphere. A trip to the Stockyards is not complete without going to a Texas Rodeo.
One of the highlights of our day was the great cattle heard drive – Texas Longhorns driven by genuine Texas Cowhands. This drive is held twice a day and is free. (for more information, see below). Every detail of the drive – saddles, chaps, boots and hats – is authentic and historically true. The Fort Worth Herd Steers can be viewed daily between drives in their pens behind the Livestock Exchange Building on East Exchange Avenue. Drovers are available before each cattle drive for photos and questions. (for a small fee)
In my opinion, there is no better way to experience the essence of what this historic district is all about.
We finished the day at Cooper’s Old Time Pit-BBQ, where it’s all about the meat….