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The street is full of people, many of them standing with folded hands and looking up to the town gate. The Gate of Dawn is the only remaining gate of Vilnius' old city walls and it escaped destruction because of the image of St. Mary hung on the second floor above the gate. The small room in front of that holy image is so crowded that a prayer from the street in front of the gate (there is a window, so the pious can see the holy image) is much more convenient than queuing to get in upstairs. The huge Church of St. Therese next door, a Baroque dream in pink and gold, is equally crowded and during mass (on a weekday morning!) the throng of worshipers is spilling out into the street. Unable to get into the church on two consecutive days, we pick some other of Vilnius' many sights. After all, the whole Old Town of Vilnius is a UNESCO World Heritage site, ... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Westwards
The hillside is so steep that steps lead up to the top of five strangely shaped, almost conic hills at the edge of the Neris valley. All five of them are covered with grass and besides the hills there is not much else to see. An old woman with a knitted hat and a cool bag walks past us between the hills. She must be on the way to the brightly lit shop next to the bus station. The village of Kernave became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004 not only for the curiously shaped hills, which are in fact hill forts, but for the fact that about 10,000 years of continuous human occupation can be traced in the swampland by the river and the adjoining river terrace. Next to the river, a source of fresh water and a trading route even then, fire places were found where palaeolithic semi-nomads produced flintstones and hunting gear. Later on, there were bronze age settlements on the river banks. By the early centuries AD, ... Continue reading
Posted Nov 17, 2015 at Westwards
The sand really is that red, but so are the rocks around which also make for beautiful sights like the ancient rock city of Petra: There's a lot to see in Jordan anyway, and it is probably one of the few places in the Middle East that are currently ok to visit ...
Helwan is foaming at the mouth. Literally. Sometimes he blows impressive pink chewing gum-like bubbles, but without the strawberry taste. Helwan's in rut and he's the lead camel, our Bedouin guide Salem explains. He has come to pick us up in Rum Village with Helwan (his own camel) and two other camels, Belhan and Waraan. Mounting a camel isn't so easy. Even lying down they are relatively high, and then the Bedouin saddle makes them even higher. Once you have folded your legs around that saddle (think lotus position on stilts) the camel is given a sign to stand up which it does in stages throwing you to the front and to the back or the other way round, anyway somewhere where you don't expect to be thrown. And sitting up there finally the ground seems rather far away. Belhan, Natascha's camel, is a male, too, and Helwan's rut makes him nervous and a little bit aggressive. He starts jumping around and Natascha has a hard time holding on to his back. How embarrassing – we are ten minutes into our one day camel ride in the desert of Wadi Rum in Jordan, and one of us is already falling... Continue reading
Posted Nov 11, 2015 at Westwards
Bathing in Japan is an experience of its own, anyway. In natural onsen (thermal baths) which are often in hotels but also in ordinary public baths which look basically the same.
A path leads up through a wooden gate and past some tiny weathered stone shrines. The Hachimangu Shrine (dedicated to the god of war) stands upon a hill above the small harbour town of Honmura, surrounded by old trees and bamboo groves. The smaller shrine, Goo Jinja, behind it looks rather like a normal, if somewhat rustic, Shinto shrine in the Japanese countryside – were it not for the optical glass steps leading up to the main sanctuary. The old shrine was deteriorating so much that it was to be torn down but then was made part of the island's Art House Project and handed to artist Sugimoto Hiroshi to turn into a work of art. Naoshima used to be an island of fishers, and perhaps coastal pirates, until industrialisation swept the Japanese Inland Sea and Mitsubishi Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2015 at Westwards
"You will need long rubber boots for the walk to Lake Rausu: it's quite muddy there. Also it would be safer to go accompanied by a ranger because of possible encounters with bears …" The original plan was to hike to Lake Rausu and then do a boat trip on the Pacific side of Shiretoko Hanto, Japan's north-eastern tip which has been declared a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site in 2004 for its unrivalled nature and wildlife. It is perfect autumn weather with brilliant sunshine but the cruise company calls to tell us that the afternoon boat trip is cancelled due to an approaching typhoon, so we have to … Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2015 at Westwards
Looking forward to your photos of Harman and Sinpetru!
They look like toys. Some of them have the size of a fuzzy football, but most are smaller, and all of them are green and live in the water. Marimo are sometimes called moss balls in English, but in fact they are not moss, but colonies of algae. These tiny string algae cling together to form a globe and then grow slowly outward so that they eventually become these fluffy green balls. But to our disappointment, no green balls are to be seen from the small excursion boat on Akan-ko, a large lake in the east of Hokkaido / Japan. From the shores near the village … Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2015 at Westwards
You certainly don't have to be vegan to like this food!
Even for a vegan restaurant not a perfect choice of name, but we would visit again, and there were apparently others who thought the same. On a Friday evening, the place was packed. let it be is one of those Berlin eateries undecidedly half-way between a fast-food joint and a restaurant where the procedures are not quite clear and everyone coming in meanders awkwardly between the counter and the tables. The menu's on the wall, but there are also smaller menus at each table. Is it self-service or should you find a table first? Do you pay at the counter or the waitress? The small backroom is crowded with 7 tables and once you have folded onto one of the wooden benches, you won't get up again, so ... Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2015 at Westwards
In front of the chapel of Babur stands a shady tree. Most visitors sit down on the low walls in the shade for a while to rest from the 100 m ascent to Sulaiman-too in the Southern Kyrgyz town of Osh, before entering the chapel for prayer. Sulaiman-too means "Solomon's Throne" and it is the reason why most visitors come to Osh. The small but very unusually shaped mountain abruptly rises from the flat high plain, the long, narrow ridge looking like the back of a dragon, or a sea monster rising from the ocean. … For millennia, the mountain has been a place of worship – the oldest remnants of religious activities are petroglyphs on the rock faces, supposedly dozens of them Continue reading
Posted Oct 11, 2015 at Westwards
The booze ban is not as strict as it seems. But you have to know where you can get it... So it's probably better to have a contact in Iran beforehand.
On a lovely Sunday afternoon in August, the federal ministries of the German capital of Berlin held their annual open day and we were looking for some undemanding diversion from work. We checked the information home page: The Ministry of Finance wooed visitors with international organic street food in the garden (now that was something) and a talk with Mr. Schäuble, the finance minister. And it will also be possible to take part in a guided tour through the historic building – we love historic buildings and street food! The Ministry of Finance was built in the 1930s by the German architect Ernst Sagebiel, who also built the now abandoned airport in Berlin-Tempelhof. Planned as a representative building for the Reichsluftfahrtministerium, the Aviation Ministry of the Third Reich, it was finished within two years, just in time for the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. But then … Continue reading
Posted Oct 5, 2015 at Westwards
We are trying a new format this week on the blog: a summary of the last three months in real life and on the blog. As we not only posted about current travels, but also did some blog posts on the UNESCO sites we have visited longer ago, it may not always be clear from the blog posts where we are right now, or where we have been recently. It might not look like this, but after a longer Central Asia trip in June we spent the better part of the summer in Berlin working on two different guide books (Central Asia and Japan), only interrupted by 16 days of wonderful hiking and sightseeing in Switzerland. We also did … Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2015 at Westwards
The large halls with dozens of brick domes are empty and quiet. Light only filters in through the open skylights in the domes. The design of each of them and each of the many columns is slightly different. The place looks a bit like a deserted Central Asian bazaar, but also more serene and quite old. The columned halls in the South of Isfahan's Great Mosque actually date from the Seljuq period in the 11th century. The first mosque was erected on this site as early as the 8th century, and then rebuilt and extended over the centuries. … It consists of a huge courtyard with surrounding columned halls and four high, open niches in the interior walls facing the courtyard. The design was originally take from (pre-Islamic) Sassanid palace architecture. … We get rather lost in the flight of empty rooms, passing an area where supposedly a Zoroastrian temple once stood, and then near the Western Ivan Continue reading
Posted Sep 23, 2015 at Westwards
The interior of the cupola is covered in colourful tiles that form a complicated net of stars and geometrical figures. Every sector within the net is filled with a different pattern – and the design is full of surprisingly diverse details but still a perfect unit. The cupola of the Turabeg Khanum mausoleum in Kunya Urgench is about 700 years old and might very well be Central Asia's most beautiful cupola (we have seen many). We are on the fourth day of our five day transit visa through Turkmenistan and have already travelled in a shared taxi since early morning … Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2015 at Westwards
That's the tourist price. In nearly all Iranian tourist attractions, locals pay only a fraction of the tourist price - often around 20 000 Rial (about 0.60€), which is quite affordable for most.
Toggle Commented Sep 12, 2015 on Strolling through the gardens of Persia at Westwards
The old Persian word for garden is „Paradaidha.“ There must be a reason so many languages have adopted that word as the word for paradise … A long and narrow water basin stretches in front of us in the Chehel Sotoun garden in Isfahan. Twenty slender wooden columns supporting the entrance pavilion of a summer palace are reflected in the water. Chehel Sotoun, we learn, means "forty columns". The small palace behind the columns and the impressive entrance houses colourful frescoes and tile work. The garden itself, stretching to the left and right of the water basin, consists mainly of lawn with pines and, very sparsely, some flowers … Continue reading
Posted Sep 11, 2015 at Westwards
It's true, drinking water and the landscape are the only two things that are free in Switzerland. So hiking in a hot summer is probably the most cost-efficient option to visit ... Especially Geneva is considered one of the most expensive places anywhere.
To us, even groceries were rather expensive there - but then that doesn't mean much coming from Germany, and the quality was always very good. So, do go! All the countries around are also worth visiting...
Total cost of travelling in Switzerland for 14 days: 932 CHF, or 66.60 CHF per day for both of us. Travelling in Switzerland, especially right now with a very strong Swiss Franc, is not cheap, but there are ways to make it affordable. Altogether we spent 14 days in Switzerland. Seven of them we went hiking over the mountains, the second half of our trip we stayed in the Rhone Valley and at the Lac Leman, doing day hikes and some sightseeing. For the two of us these two weeks came to less than 1000 CHF (not including access to Switzerland). Hiking in the Alps was the main reason for us to visit Switzerland and the hiking is free (no entrance fees for National Parks) – so no expenses here. Accommodation: As we had our own tent, … Continue reading
Posted Sep 5, 2015 at Westwards
Thanks for stopping by. Indeed, Switzerland has, to us at least, the most beautiful mountains and the best hiking. We are planning a post about travel expenses in Switzerland soon - it doesn't have to be overly expensive.
The Jungfraujoch is not only spectacular (in good weather) but also quite an experience on a different note. Even 15 years ago, the announcements on the train were in Japanese and Korean, plus English and 3 of the 4 Swiss national languages...
After a few weeks hiking in Switzerland we feel like lingering there for a little longer – even if it's only on the blog - and doing another UNESCO post about the Jungfrau-Aletsch glacier we visited a few years ago. The Aletsch Glacier was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage in 2001, and the protected area was extended considerably in 2007. As the longish title of the World Heritage site suggests, this is the backyard of the Jungfrau region: You get a look at the famous Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau rock massif from the Southern side instead of from the North as usual. Conveniently, this also means that you stay in sun-bathed Swiss canton of Valais with over 2000 hours of sunshine per year. With a length of 23 km the Aletsch Glacier is the largest and longest glacier in Europe. It is not merely notable for its size, but also … Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2015 at Westwards