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. 

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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Hinterweidenthal, Germany

The Devil’s Table/ Teufelstisch

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.

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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…