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?

autumn, city, day trip, family, USA

Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas

The best pumpkin patch in the United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

city, day trip, Europe, free, Germany, hike, Uncategorized

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria, Germany

The most picturesque medieval fairytale town

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the most enchanting and picturesque medieval fairytale town located in Bavaria along the Romantic Road (which goes from Wurzburg to the Neuschwanstein Castle.) Colorful, historic buildings with wrought iron hanging signs, half-timbered houses with flowering window boxes, medieval towers and gates, castles, little cobbled streets and a historic wall around the old town make it truly feel magical like entering a fairy tale storybook in real life or stepping back in time. It is a small town and can be discovered in one day, but it is so magical that you want to spend the night and stay longer.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is located in the Franconia region of Bavaria on the Tauber River, close to Nuernberg or Wuerzburg. There are several “Rothenburgs” in Germany. Make sure to visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber (meaning on the Tauber River). Even though this is one of the most popular tourist towns in Germany, people do get it mixed up sometimes.

One of the most iconic shots of Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Germany is the Ploenlein. Most people think that the name Ploenlein refers to the yellow half timbered house at the entrance of the Spital quarter. But the charming, tilted and crooked house is only part of it. The term Ploenlein is actually translated as a “small square at a fountain”. The Ploenlein includes the yellow timber house, the fountain in front of it and the two towers of the old city wall that rise to its left and right. Fun Fact: The Siebersturm on the left was build around 1385.

One of the best things to do in Rothenburg is to wander around town and get lost in the charming winding cobblestone streets. The entire old town, enclosed by the city walls, is just picture perfect. There are several options on how to get lost. We got a free map ( I attached it at the bottom of the post) at the Rothenburg Tourist Office, which is located in the center of the town on the Marktplatz, in the old City Councillors’ Tavern. The map comes with two different walking tours – “kleiner Rundgang”/ short walk – which takes about 1.5 hours as well as “grosser Rundgang”/long walk – which takes about 2.5 hours. There are also several guided tours available through the city, but we decided to make our own free tour mixing part of the long walk with the short walk and it was just perfect.

The Marktplatz/market square in the center of the old town is the heart of lovely Rothenburg. There is the giant Rathaus (town hall) which is a wonderful example of a renaissance architecture. The back of the building is the oldest section and dates from 1250 and the impressive façade was added in 1572. It is surrounded by romantic timber framed buildings as well as the Ratstrinkstube (Councillor’s Tavern). At each full hour between 10 am and 10 pm General Tilly and the former mayor Nusch appear from the clock on the building façade.

An artful pillar bearing St. George and the dragon has decorated the Marktplatz fountain/fountain of St. Georg for over 400 years. A replica of the statue can be found in the German Pavilion at the Epcot Center part of World Disney World in Orlando.

Part of the long self guided walk is walking on the old town walls. Even if you do not walk the entire walk, walking inside or on the old town walls is an absolute must. It was the favorite thing to do for my kids. The medieval defensive walls from the 12th century  have been surrounding Rothenburg completely and many sections can be still walked around the clock. The wall is open all day every day and is free.

The whole path is 4 kilometers long, offering the most beautiful and picturesque views over Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Six gates and several doors for pedestrians lead through this city wall into the old quarter. There are 42 towers in the town and steps to climb up next to almost all of the towers. There are also several informative boards along the way.

One of the most charming buldings in Rothenburg is an old forge, the Gerlachschmiede close to the Roedergate. It could be right out of a fairytale story. The original house was destroyed at the end of World War II and rebuilt in the 1950s.

The name “Rothenburg ob der Tauber” is German for “Red castle above the Tauber”. 

Other than strolling through the winding cobblestone streets and marveling at the beautiful buildings everywhere, there are plenty of other fun things to do in this historic town. There are lots of unique stores in Rothenburg ob der Tauber filled with examples of beautiful German craftsmanship. From cuckoo clocks, wooden music boxes and beer steins to German cookbooks, traditional Dirndl dresses and Christmas decoration, Rothenburg offers just about every German trinket and souvenir you can think of.

There are several fun and interesting museums to visit. The Medieval Crime and Justice Museum can be a little scary, but really interesting. Cages, medieval torturing instruments and executioner swords are some of the gruesome displays at the museum. A totally different experience is the Kaethe Wohlfahrt Christmas museum. It explains how Christmas was once celebrated in Germany and how certain customs developed in various regions of the country. There are also insights into the craftsmen’s traditions like wood carvings and mouth blown glass. Last but not least, there is the Rothenburg museum about the history of Rothenburg ,from the early Middle Ages and the era of an imperial city up to the time of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany and the rebuilding of the destroyed parts of the town after World War II. 

The Schneeball/ Snowball is Rothenburg’s most famous culinary contribution. This famous dessert was created more than 300 years ago, it is pastry dough layered and shaped into a ball usually covered in confectioners’ sugar and other toppings like caramel, chocolate, nuts or other toppings. Snowballs are one of the must things to try when in Rothenburg. These delightful looking treats can be found all around town on every corner in all kind of sizes.

We tried the mini versions covered in sugar, caramel, dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate.

I was a little disappointed by the “Schneeballs”, because they tasted a little like a dry crumbly pie crust … The kids on the other hand loved them and tried Schneeballs with different toppings. I would still buy them again, just because I love to try any regional specialty that makes a place special. But maybe with whipped cream or a strawberry sauce on the side…

With its fascinating history and fairytale look, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a beautiful place to explore. Have you visited Rothenburg? What was your favorite thing about this magical place?

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. 

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.

florida, Uncategorized, USA

La Belle, Florida

Blueberry U-Pick at Blueberry Bunch Farms

One of our favorite things is to explore our home state of Florida. We love outdoor adventures and are always looking for fun things to do with the family. We were thrilled to find the Blueberry Bunch Farm in La Belle, which is Florida’s most southern Blueberry farm. La Belle is a historic little town along Caloosahatchee River about 30 miles away from Ft. Myers.

One of our yearly traditions in the beginning of the year is strawberry picking with friends. My kids love to pick their own fruit and vegetables and it is always an exciting day. When I heard about U-Pick Blueberries, I knew we had to visit the farm and I am so glad we did…. it was amazing.

Blueberry Bunch Farm is a family owned farm and has approximately 50,000 blueberries bushes. One part of the farm is dedicated to U-Pick and has five kind of different varieties of the tastiest blueberries. The U-Pick season started in the beginning of March and ends in the end of May. It is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 2pm.

There are rows and rows of blueberry bushes and even though there were other people, there was so much space and it felt like we had the farm for ourselves. It was the perfect day to pick blueberries with blue skies and a light breeze.

Blueberries are sweet, nutritious and are packed with antioxidants and phytoflavinoids. They are high in potassium and vitamin C. Not only are they super good, but they were also super fun to pick. The bushes have the perfect size for kids as well as for adults.

One bucket fits about 5 1/2 pounds of blueberries and is $25 per bucket. Blueberries are also available by pound.

One of my favorite things other than picking and tasting the blueberries, was the big blueberry mascot B.B.

The little store has all kinds of blueberry products from blueberry sparkling water, blueberry plants to blueberry jalapeno jam. The Blueberry Bunch Farm also sell locally grown delicious Macadamia nuts from their own Macadamia farm in Arcadia.

Blueberry Bunch Farm is located at 2754 Howard Rd, LaBelle, FL 33935 (239-298-3471) .

Blueberry Bunch Farm

What is your favorite Blueberry recipe?

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.

Uncategorized

Cape Spartel, Morocco

Caves of Hercules, Camels and a Lighthouse

Located about 14 kilometers west of the city of Tangier, Morocco, lies the famous Cave of Hercules, which is a fascinating archaeological cave and the most North Western point of mainland Africa. The cave has two openings. The one that faces the Mediterranean Sea resembles the shape of Africa. It is said to have been created by the Phoenicians, while other stories claim it was carved by the waves. I found the shape so interesting and love that it resembles Africa. The opening facing the land was carved by local Berbers, who cut their millstones from the rock. You can still see many indentations on the cave walls and ceiling.

Legend says Hercules, one of the most famous heroes of the Greek mythology, parted the continents Africa and Europe with his hands, forming the Strait of Gibraltar. He later rested and slept in a cave off the cost of Africa before he went on with his adventures.

The cave is free to enter and to explore on your own, but there were also guided tours available. We did not have a tour guide and it was lots of fun.  The cave system is open daily, year-round. July and August are the peak season and have the most visitors, including at the nearby beaches. 

There are so many myths and stories about the caves, which was definitely my favorite part and made it feel like we were visiting inside a magical story book. It was also a great way to get the kids interested about it. Climbing any kind of rock and visiting a cave, is a happy place for my boys, but adding the stores, made it even better and more adventurous. We still talked about the caves and stories days later…

According to one of the myth and legends, Hercules slept in the caves on his way to steal three golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides. He had to fulfill 12 tasks in total and stealing the apples, which were believed to gave immortal life to anyone who ate them, was the 11th of the “12 Labors of Hercules.” The garden of Hesperides was located near the Atlas mountains in North Africa. When Hercules was on his way to the garden he found he had to cross these mountains. Because his way was blocked, Hercules smashed through the mountain with superhuman powers, splitting its rocky face in half and separating Europe and Africa. This was how the Strait of Gibraltar was born and the reminders of this act can be found in the Rock of Gibraltar and the Jebel Musa, east of Tangier.

We loved the stories so much that we ordered several books about the Greek mythology for kids afterwards.

Discovered in 1906, the cave extends for 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) and is both natural and man-made. 

Another story about the Cave of Hercules was that it is the one end of a 15-mile-long (24 kilometers) tunnel between Morocco and Spain. People say this is how the macaques who live at the top of the Rock of Gibraltar made their way from Africa. Click here to see our adventure with the monkeys in Gibraltar:

Gibraltar – Away we wander and discover the world… (myfamilytraveladventures.com)

The pictures are a little dark with the light coming through the opening mirroring the shape of Africa. This was the place with most of the tourists and the highlight for most people. I still think the best part is the story about the cave.

We didn’t find Hercules or monkeys at the caves, but they’re worth exploring nonetheless. And the stories make it even more exciting. Again its my favorite part…

After visiting the caves, we continued to drive to Cape Cartel to see the lighthouse. We also drove by a few camels sitting with their babies. They were so cute and of course we had to stop. 

Cape Spartel is a promontory in Morocco about 1,000 feet above sea level at the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar, about 15 min drive West of Tangier.  It is where the Mediterranean sea meets the Atlantic Ocean! 

The Spartel lighthouse that was built in the 1860s by an international coalition (including the USA, France, Spain, and Morocco) in order to mark the entrance of the Strait of Gibraltar.

There also lots of tour companies that offer half or full day tours of the caves, the lighthouse and some other places as a package.