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„The historical guided tour will start at approximately 1 pm sharp“, roars the guy at the ticket counter at 12.58 – maybe he thinks himself funny. Around 70 people have gathered for the tour of the Teufelsberg spy installations left from the Cold War area in the southwestern part of Berlin. Fifteen minutes later, the ticket seller is still commanding visitors to sign their names and addresses into a list. Several people comment on his rudeness and the bad vibes he is emitting, so we are glad as the actual guide arrives. Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Westwards
If you do research (or go on holidays) in the Alps you know beforehand that you will have rain on some days, but nevertheless you plan your trip as if there would be no rain at all. And so did we when we started out for our 12-day research trip for a Tyrol travel guidebook a few weeks ago. We left Berlin in warm and sunny weather by train. Six hours later, when we had to change trains in Munich, the sky had turned grey, and heavy rain set in just behind Munich. It did not stop for the next two days. The Tourist Information of Kufstein had provided us with electric bikes ... Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2016 at Westwards
The first blog post we did in 2006 as sort of a test blog post was a report about the „88-Temple-Pilgrimage“ (in Japanese 四国八十八箇所, shikoku hachijū hakkasho ) - a pilgrims path on the Japanese island of Shikoku. The following text is a revamped version of this original first blog post with more pictures! --- “We are now at Temple Nr. 45 of the 88-temple pilgrimage, the Iwayaji-Temple. The main hall is up the stairs, the Kobo Daishi hall is on the left side. Be sure to be back at the bus down in the parking lot in 20 minutes,” the guide urges her group of about 20 Buddhist pilgrims clad in the traditional white pilgrim’s garb from head to toe. It is ten past seven in the morning, and we watch them hurry through the temple grounds … Continue reading
Posted May 30, 2016 at Westwards
Bloggers celebrate their anniversaries: "one year of travel blogging", or two or even five years – but we can look back on ten years of travel blogging, starting from May 2006. Back then there were very few travel blogs around and the concept of blogs in general was quite new to most people. We had lived and worked in Tokyo and when our contracts ended decided to go travelling for an extended period. Wishing to stay in contact with friends and relatives we came up with the blog idea … To be honest over the course of these ten years the blog was a source of struggle more than joy. We enjoy writing and still appreciate the potential to develop our own story ideas and to publish them freely, but on the other hand most of our original motivations for writing the blog did not work out at all. Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2016 at Westwards
This year, Natascha went out to find the place where the world's first atomic bomb (except for the test bomb) exploded on 6 August 1945. We have both been to Hiroshima several times and have visited the memorial monuments in the Peace Park, the area that was completely destroyed by the atomic bomb. But as the actual hypocenter of the atomic bomb neither lies within the Peace Park, nor is it advertised or signed, it is not a place many tourists visit. It is somewhat to the east of the easily recognizable T-shaped bridge connecting the tip of an island in the river with the two river banks that was the official aim for the pilot Paul Tibbets, who dropped the bomb over the city of Hiroshima. A small sign next to a dentist's office proclaims that this is the spot … Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2016 at Westwards
A capsule hotel is a peculiar Japanese type of accommodation. It was invented in the late 1970s in Osaka by star architect Kisho Kurokawa (see also our text about his Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo), and has since become a mainstay of inner-city overnight accommodation. Instead of a room you check into a “capsule”, a sleeping unit barely bigger than a coffin – stacked in two tiers with access to common toilets and showers. While in the past most capsule hotels catered mainly for business men who had missed their last train home, recently some higher class capsule hotels – which also accommodate women – have opened in the bigger cities. The First Cabin chain is expanding very fast and that is where I (Natascha) checked in for one night during my recent stay in Tokyo … Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2016 at Westwards
Fishmongers are shouting outside the massive city walls, showing off their shiny tunas and smaller tropical fish to potential buyers. Not far away the old city gate leads into a long, dark tunnel directly into the past: The town square beyond, surrounded by arcaded buildings and leafy trees, is more colonial than anything we have seen in Sri Lanka. A sign on one of the buildings reads "Court of Justice" and at first we suppose that there will be an exhibition inside about the Dutch or British legal system in the colonies – but then we notice the people standing outside, many of them visibly nervous … Galle, the old fortified harbour town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its mix of colonial and local traditions, because Continue reading
Posted Apr 29, 2016 at Westwards
The elderly couple study the bus timetable: The bus goes not even once an hour, and the last one departs around 4pm - visiting the spread-out sights around Asuka involves some logistics. Most visitors had better advice, I soon discover, as they have rented electric bicycles. From Japan's old imperial city of Kyoto, a short train ride has brought me to the town of Asuka and directly into the past – where Japan's history gets deeper, and muddier. Nara, a town between Kyoto and Asuka, was the country's first permanent capital, because Buddhism, which had recently been introduced as a state religion, both required and enabled such permanence. Before that, an archaic belief system full of taboos and cleansing rituals had been the prevalent religion. And the state of Yamato … Continue reading
Posted Apr 24, 2016 at Westwards
„If someone gets angry, I let him. I just say 'Allah karim' and he will calm down. Never say something about Jesus to a Muslim,“ advised our taxi driver in Doha – like practically everyone we met in Qatar not a Qatari himself. The taxi driver is from Nepal, raised by a Hindu mother and a Christian father. Although there is a huge Hindu population in Doha, there is no Hindu temple because the community lacks influence, but there are a few Christian churches. „Right now, I go to church with a friend on Sundays, because he is paying for the taxi anyway,“ our taxi driver goes on. We love this down-to-earth attitude. When we booked our flight to Sri Lanka with Qatar Airways we knew that we wanted to do a stopover in the gulf country. After some discussion on what to see and do, and about the costs, we settled for three nights, still unsure whether this would turn out to be too long in a city we imagined to be very clean and strict. In the end we totally loved our stay. Doha is not a city for pedestrians. … Continue reading
Posted Apr 18, 2016 at Westwards
„Let us create a chocolate bar that fits into every pocket without breaking, but with regular weight!,“ suggested Clara Ritter in 1932 to the rest of her family of chocolate producers. Although the chocolate company had already been founded in 1912, it was the characteristic square chocolate bar, which they named "Ritter Sport," that brought success. … Today you can buy the colourfully packaged chocolate squares in 103 countries, almost all over the world. At the Gendarmenmarkt in the centre of Berlin the company has set up their „Colourful ChocoWorld,“ basically a shop containing a small exhibition and restaurant … Continue reading
Posted Apr 12, 2016 at Westwards
A large triumphal arch marks the entrance to the pedestrian zone of Innsbruck. The tour guide is talking to a group of Indian tourists about Maria Theresa, who had the arch erected at the occasion of the state wedding of one of her 16 children. Unexpectedly, one of the elderly Indians jumps in: 16 children?! No way, he knows for a fact that Mother Teresa had no children at all! While Indians might not be so familiar with her, in Innsbruck, and Tyrol in general, the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa is a well-known and important figure nonetheless. … (As is the architect Zaha Hadid)… In the South of Innsbruck, she designed the huge "Bergisel" ski jump that is part of the illustrious Four Hills Tournament. An elegant free-standing shape with a visitor area-cum-restaurant on top. From there you can admire the view the ski jumpers have before they set out to fly: The slide leads down very steeply, and the next thing you see is … Continue reading
Posted Apr 4, 2016 at Westwards
And then Angkor Wat. I just went to Asuka in Japan which has the earliest Buddhist remains in Japan - from the early 7th century. There are more similarities to the Longmen grottoes than elsewhere in Japanese Buddhist sculptures.
Toggle Commented Mar 31, 2016 on The Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang at Westwards
The beginning of 2016 was quite filled. Currently we are writing two guidebooks, a new book on Tyrol (Austria) and a Central Asia guidebook that will focus on history, architecture and art. We also started writing content for the German-language homepage of the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO), a work we tremendously enjoyed because it gave us a chance to write about our second home in a very free format. … In mid-January we finally escaped the European winter and went to Sri Lanka for four weeks. We had for years wanted to see the remains of some of the oldest Buddhist cities in the world, and when we found an affordable airfare with Qatar Airways we booked it, with a three day stop-over in Doha … Continue reading
Posted Mar 29, 2016 at Westwards
Actually, we had read similar (or worse) accounts by female travellers just before we started out and were somewhat apprehensive. But then it wasn't so bad at all. We had only one unpleasant encounter with a tuktuk driver (one too many, but we had expected, like, one per day...), and we met some other, younger women complaining about the attitude of local men. It might be about age, dress (Western women in Sri Lanka do tend to wear items in town that they wouldn't in a European city) and general demeanour.
Toggle Commented Mar 23, 2016 on Thoughts on travelling in Sri Lanka at Westwards
"Sri Lanka? Oh, how pleasant, I've just been there myself!," a lot of people comment when we mention that we are going to Sri Lanka. In recent months, the diamond-shaped island just south of India has become a very popular destination, not least, undoubtedly, due to some cheap flight offers from Europe, which was also one of the reasons for us to go. Altogether we spent four weeks in Sri Lanka. Our main motivation for the trip was to visit the early Buddhist sites … "Oh, they are looking at a dandulena," some locals comment unsurprised when they pass us excitedly taking photos of a strange animal eating the flowers of a tree we haven't ever seen before either. The nature in Sri Lanka was exotic, omnipresent and overwhelming … Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2016 at Westwards
It's a rather large area, and the modern town is another 3 km or so away from the sights. Many people hire a tuktuk for the day, but then you rather give up the opportunity to stop and explore. You could take a tuktuk one way and then work your way back if you prefer walking.
That's a pity indeed, especially as there aren't so many Mackintosh buildings left to see anyway...
During the 10th century the South Indian Chola rulers invaded Sri Lanka, conquered the Singhalese capital of Anuradhapura and took control over the country. They moved their capital to today's Polonnaruwa: they thought it safer and easier to defend, and apparently there were less mosquitoes than in Anuradhapura (we could not verify that in our experience). Over a span of a few hundred years the Chola made Polonnaruwa a thriving commercial and religious centre. Today it is just a small tourist village, but the historical ruins have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982. … About the first place we visit is the Royal palace of King Nisankamalla right behind the museum. "The Stone Lion was used as a throne by King Nisankamalla," we read in our guidebook and wonder how he held court there. It doesn't look comfortable. Did he sit astride on the lion, or did he have to balance on it cross-legged? Continue reading
Posted Mar 15, 2016 at Westwards
A group of students with headphones is sitting in a class room, some of them looking up distractedly through the huge glass window to the corridor as we pass. We are wandering about the convoluted building of the Faculty of Islamic Studies trying to locate the mosque. The floor plan showing emergency exits only makes us more confused. And the building – although already in use – still being only partly finished does not make it any easier. … Towards the East of the other universities and closest to the city, the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University, basically consists of several huge white blobs with two tilted spikes, the minarets of the stunning University Mosque. It is not only the most daring and unconventionally built mosque we have ever seen, but one of the most impressive examples of contemporary religious architecture in general that we have visited. … Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 2016 at Westwards
"Don't push!", a young Chinese woman complains to the Singhalese family behind her. The atmosphere on the stairs winding up to Sigiriya Rock is aggressive by any standards, evenfor Chinese, who are used to a lot of pushing. It seems that on the Sri Lankan Independence Day, locals and tourists alike want to visit the Sigirya UNESCO site, one of the top sightseeing spots in Sri Lanka. The Sigirya rock is a huge monolith, on top of which, 200 m above the plain and in a stunning location, is perched a palace Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2016 at Westwards
Five out of six historical UNESCO sites in Sri Lanka are concentrated in the so-called cultural triangle, in the northern part of the small country. In the midday heat it is somewhat exhausting to reach the rock temple of Dambulla, which is hewn hewn into a rocky cliff about 160 m high above the street. The Dambulla temple actually consists of five caves, each of them full of buddha statues (average quality and not very old) and wall and ceiling paintings (many of them amazing). The site has been a place of worhip since the 1st century BC, when a king ... Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2016 at Westwards
Today, the ruins of Anaradhapura, the first capital of Sri Lanka, cover a widespread area on the outskirts of the modern town and we spent a wonderful day cycling around the ruins of several monasteries that are among the oldest in the Buddhist world, as well as palaces, ponds, and gardens. We were specially intrigued by the Abhayagiri Monastery in the north. It was something of a progressive university when it was founded in the 2nd century BC, compared to the conservative Maha Vihara in the town center that had been established a century earlier. The Abhayagiri monks soon began to dabble in Mahayana Buddhism and by the 4th century AD this was the leading place for Mahayana studies in the whole Buddhist World. ... As we make our way around the site by bicycle we reach the so-called Elephant pond: Beside the basin are old residential complexes of a monastery that are completely overgrown ... Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2016 at Westwards
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 Feb 3, 2016 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