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It is a busy afternoon at the Sri Dalada Maligawa, the major sanctuary in Sri Lanka's former royal town of Kandy. Many of the visitors are clad in white, the colour of pilgrims, and everyone had to remove their shoes before entering the inner temple area of the Buddhist sanctuary of the Sacred Tooth (of Buddha). In the outer precinct near the sacred Bodhi Tree we pass a box set up there to discard Buddha statues and images, such as those you put in your car or on the house altar and that you replace or otherwise no longer need (which makes us wonder if Christian churches also have those boxes for old crucifixes and such?). A pudgy man is walking up the temple stairs towards the reliquary carrying a 500g box of margarine. In fact visitors and pilgrims can't even see the reliquary but only the door behind which it is kept. In front of the door there is a long table ... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Westwards
Did you do a tour to get inside one of the apartments? Apparently they have quite interesting features, but we have never been inside. There's a similar Hundertwasser building in Magdeburg, and a weird train station in Uelzen.
When we arrived early in the morning, Doha was shrouded in fog. But an hour later we stand at the Corniche and look up at the towers of “City Center”. This northern part of the bay is several kilometres away from the old town but has been built up as the Doha skyline with dozens of highrise buildings including such signature skyscrapers as the Burj Qatar Tower … On the other side of the bay, the skyscraper district is complemented by a single distinctive building, the fortress-like Musleum of Islamic Art designed by the famous IM Pei. It features an atrium with a dome inspired by islamic religious architecture and one huge multi-story window directed towards the City Centre Skyline. Two days later our plan is to explore Education City, a newly developed quarter of the city with even more modern architecture ... Continue reading
Posted Jan 26, 2016 at Westwards
In that case, Uzbekistan isn't for you,although they don't have giftshops (at all) ...
When we arrive at the Würzburg Residence it is raining cats and dogs. And all the other tourists visiting this cute little town in Northern Bavaria must have had the same idea: to escape the rain by visiting the Würzburg Residence, a huge inner-city palace and UNESCO World Heritage site. „Temporarily closed due to overcrowding,“ a sign at the entrance informs us, but at least it is possible to buy a ticket for a guided tour in the afternoon. … The residence was commissioned by Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, in 1720 and completed a little more than 20 years later in 1744. The chief architect entrusted with the work was Balthasar Neumann, now famous for his ornate baroque churches … Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2016 at Westwards
As we are preparing our trip to Sri Lanka we read up on Buddhism and we also recall some of the impressive Buddhist sites in the world we have visited over the years. Particularly stuck in our mind are the Buddhist grotto complexes of China, which is why this post will be about our visit to the UNESCO-listed Buddhist Longmen grottoes near Luoyang in the Chinese province of Henan. During the course of the Chinese history Luoyang has several times been the capital town of the whole realm. Notably, Luoyang was the place where the first Buddhist temple in China was built in the 1st century AD: The „White Horse Temple“ – a sightseeing spot in its own. But the main tourist draw of Luoyang is 13 km south of the town: the Buddhist Longmen Grottoes. In 493 AD, the Northern Wei Dynasty … Continue reading
Posted Jan 13, 2016 at Westwards
Actually it almost coincides with 10 years of freedom!
Toggle Commented Jan 11, 2016 on Happy 2016 – Year of the Monkey at Westwards
Eggs, perhaps ...
The couple at the next table use the flashlight function of their smartphones to read the menu because the guest room of the Vietnamese restaurant Soy is very dimly lit. Soy is situated right opposite the Volksbühne theatre, with large windows and a pleasant uncluttered interior and, except for a wall-painting of a Buddha holding a bottle of soy sauce, no ethnic knick-knack. Soy labels itself a vegan restaurant with Vietnamese cuisine but some items on the menu do have dairy products and egg ... Everything can be ordered in a vegan version, though. The Vietnamese cuisine might also better be labelled Vietnamese fusion, ... Continue reading
Posted Jan 6, 2016 at Westwards
Travel-work balance and travel highlights 2015: Again, 2015 has been a very busy year with a lot of research work and tour-guiding work, but we managed to fit in a few private trips in between. Three guide books … Countries visited in 2015: Egypt – we did a scuba diving course …; Switzerland – went to Basel and … Outlook for 2016 – 10 years of travel blogging! In 2016 we are researching and writing a new guide book about Tyrol … Continue reading
Posted Dec 30, 2015 at Westwards
In the South, February is a time for winter sports, but German winter weather can also be quite ghastly, which is why we would recommend larger towns. For the cute towns of Northern Bavaria, Nürnberg would be a convenient hub, or possibly Würzburg. Anywhere near the Rhine (Heidelberg, for instance) is usually warmer – and have you considered the Ruhr industrial area? Good infrastructure, great art museums, and interesting industrial heritage (such as the Zollverein Coal Mine in Essen)
This post is a brief review of the last three months, giving you a chance to catch up even if you missed some blog posts. Both of us were working as tour guides through most of October. Natascha's long Pamir tour, with 24 days the longest she has ever guided, stretched from September into the beginning of October. Back in Berlin she had only five days to clear the backlog, wash some laundry and prepare the next trip to Japan. … Isa also spent most of October with tour guiding work in Japan on a quite unusual trip leading from the far north in Hokkaido to Kyushu in the South, covering all of the four main islands in Japan. For November we had planned a hiking trip in Palestine. Due to the political turmoil and violent outbreaks between Israelis and Palestinians we cancelled our plans and … Continue reading
Posted Dec 23, 2015 at Westwards
In the distance we hear the metallic rattle of cow bells and voices. The dark road is lined by spectators shivering with expectation and cold. Finally, a group of people walk down the hill – Saint Nicholas, the Holy Bishop, accompanied by a strange medley of other characters including angels as well as witches with scraggy hair, large hooked noses, and brooms. And then, behind them, the Krampuses come in sight: Dozens of wild hairy figures with scary faces and huge bells attached to their backs. They stomp down the road in a strange unified gait that makes the bells rattle and sometimes reach out to grab bystanders. The Krampus is an Alpine devilish creature whose origins are unknown … Continue reading
Posted Dec 17, 2015 at Westwards
Yes, you probably shouldn't be shy (but then I guess you aren't) - we asked younger people in supermarkets to translate the labels for us when we weren't sure. There seemed to be a gap between pretty good English, or none at all ...
As some of you know, our autumn vacation plan was to walk on the "Abraham Path" long distance hike in Palestine. Following the news ..., we decided to forfeit the flight to Tel Aviv. So we were looking for a new destination, and unwilling to book another flight. We came up with Lithuania mostly because of the cheap and relatively convenient overnight bus connection from Berlin to Vilnius – and the Baltic country turned out as a pleasant surprise. Since Lithuania has joined the Euro zone in January 2015, price comparisons and financial transactions were quite convenient and easy. Most of the time we did self-catering, and the groceries and food we bought in the supermarkets were really tasty and fresh. Finding out what is vegetarian was a challenge … Continue reading
Posted Dec 11, 2015 at Westwards
Thanks! Yes, Eastern Europe often surprises us because places we never knew about either turn out so interesting. We also have very good memories of Poland although we visited in midwinter ...
In the Slovakian contryside, Banska Stiavnica is a small town that used to be rich, immensely rich even: There are several silver mines around the area, and although there is still some mining today, the town's heyday was in the Renaissance period. … Banska Stiavnica itself is quite hilly (the area is also called the "Ore Mountains") and rather stretched-out. But with a town map from the tourist information, navigation is a doddle. Elegant squares, 16th century churches, palaces and enormous administrative buildings used by the mining agencies for centuries dot the town. A huge baroque column sporting the Holy Trinity on top commemorates the victims of a Plague that hit the town in the early 18th century, killing more than 6000 people. The mining museum is located a bit outside the town … Continue reading
Posted Dec 5, 2015 at Westwards
"It doesn't look like rain today – let's leave the Thomas Mann Museum for tomorrow and head straight for a walk on the Baltic Sea shore," we decide when the local Mare bus drops us around noon in Nida, the main village on the Lithuanian side of the Curonian Spit. From here, the border with Russia's Kaliningrad Exclave (formerly called Königsberg) is just a few kilometres away. … The whole of this strangely shaped island just off the Baltic coast – a narrow strip of sand dunes 100 km long and just about 1 km wide! – once belonged to Germany. Nida was a popular Prussian sea resort that also housed a sizeable artists' community in the 1920s and 1930s. The German writer Thomas Mann first visited in 1929 and spent the next three summers here with his family. … Like all villages on the Curonian Spit, Nida is situated on the interior side overlooking the lagoon. We have to cross the about 50 m high dunes, passing a lighthouse, to get to the Baltic Sea. Without any buildings or other interruptions, this is just one enormous stretch of sandy beach, over the whole length of the Curonian Spit ... Continue reading
Posted Nov 29, 2015 at Westwards
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 Nov 23, 2015 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