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„Trash-Chic, that's the pub behind the retirement home, isn't it?“ - „Behind Käthe's retirement home? But there is nothing! Only the suburb of Vingst, maybe …,“ our relatives speculate. But the Trash-Chic is right there in Cologne-Kalk in a quiet residential neighbourhood where you wouldn't necessarily expect a specialised restaurant. In fact, it looks like a traditional corner pub, and also has the atmosphere of a traditional corner pub: Wooden benches and robust tables, a bar and a popular table football set. Most tables are already taken when we arrive, but there are no reservations and we manage to get a nice seat. We order vegan gyros with chips and “home-made veganaise” and a vegan classic burger; the draft beer served is Sünner Kölsch which is brewed right around the corner. The service is quick and efficient and the portions are huge: Especially the Soja Gyros is a plate full of quite good chips, and very crunchy and rather small particles (probably made from soya and gluten?) resembling gyros. We find it a bit too crisp but very well-seasoned. The “tzatziki” coming with it is very tasty (although it appears more like mayonnaise than tzatziki), and the “veganaise” is surprisingly good and strikingly similar to mayonnaise. ... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Westwards
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Having visited some very interesting prehistoric sites in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan last summer, which we are currently doing a lot of research on for our new guide book, we were thrilled to learn about the prehistoric Talaiot culture on Menorca (and to a lesser extent on Majorca) during our recent hiking trip. Several of the sites have been excavated and are accessible to visitors. So on our rest day we took the opportunity and walked the 7 km from the main town of Maó to the prehistoric site of Talati de Dalt. The site is fenced off and behind the open wooden gate it looks very disappointing at first: Green grass and some stones, which may or may not have been housing structures long ago. But as we follow the recommended itinerary (yes, there was an information panel at the entrance!) we get to a menhir-ish stone formation in a stone circle. The standing stone in the middle is topped by another flat stone; these so-called taula are typical features of the Talaiot culture. ... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Westwards
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The long-distance trail Cami de Cavalls is about 180 km long and leads around the perimeter of Menorca: mostly along the coast, with regular ups and downs but no longer ascents. We walked at the end of November / beginning of December and divided the trail into 8 stages of up to about 30 km plus a rest day in the middle of the trip. Also we took a tent and provisions because off-season almost all the hotels along the way are closed and we didn't want to pay for taxi transfers to and from the trail heads. Off season most shops and restaurants/ bars are also closed and it was especially difficult to get water. Due to bad weather conditions we had to cancel day 6 and skip part of the last day. In total, we walked 160 km on the Cami de Cavalls, with a cumulated ascent of 4000 m. This is a practical account of our hiking schedule, noting some peculiarities of each stage and the possible water sources along the way. Despite the difficulties with water, food and weather it was a great trek, we liked it even more than the GR 221 on Majorca. Locals recommended Mai and October as the best hiking season. ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 11, 2014 at Westwards
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Although it is one long-distance trail, the Northern and Southern half of the Cami de Cavalls (GR 223) around Menorca offer a very different hiking experience, even in winter. Both are about equal in length (around 90 km each), but the Northern coast has somewhat higher cliffs, fewer settlements and a rougher atmosphere – more North Sea than Mediterranean. We walked almost the whole trail in November / December, which is complete off-season and the villages along the Menorcan coast are practically uninhabited. ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 7, 2014 at Westwards
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Everyone visiting Madrid who is only remotely interested in art will have a look at one or two, or possibly more of the numerous art museums of the city. The most famous one is of course the Prado. It was ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 5, 2014 at Westwards
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The long-distance path Cami de Cavalls on Menorca (GR 223) is a beautiful trail that leads along the coast around the whole Island. The end of November with its still mild weather seems perfectly suited to hiking it, but stocking up on water and provisions turned out to be quite difficult. View over the bay of Cala Macarella The woman in a “Patisserie Something” T-Shirt walking her dog chuckles when we ask whether there is an open shop or bar in the village. She is only the third person we have seen today, it is already noon, our snacks are almost finished because we couldn’t find an open shop for the last two days, and we have almost crossed the village. We also urgently need to get some water. „Yes,“ the woman says and explains the way, delighting in our excitement. It turns out there are even three open bars next to the Hong Ye supermarket, and we eagerly treat ourselves to a coffee with milk, two bananas and chocolate cookies. The deserted harbour of Cala en Bosch We started walking the Cami de Cavalls in Ciutadella on the Western coast, and as our first hiking days would lead us... Continue reading
Posted Nov 30, 2014 at Westwards
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The coal mines in South Wales used to be among the biggest in the world, and the miners' strikes in the 1980s when they were closed shook the UK, as the currently running film "Pride" aptly demonstrates. We both do not remember the miners' strikes back then, but our first encounter with Welsh mining was in the National Coal Museum near Newport, where we met Peter, our first miner. Not much older than us, he worked in the Welsh coal mines for five years in the 1980s ... Continue reading
Posted Nov 27, 2014 at Westwards
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“La Latina is a nightlife hotspot”, we read in the guidebook, and "do not miss out on the tapas bars in Huertas", and then there are a few other places that sound really nice and we make a mental note to go there some evening during our one week stay in Madrid. But on the strength of past experience we know how these evenings on city trips usually end: At 5 or 6 pm, we leave the last museum or church for the day and all we want is some rest and food!! We rarely manage to go out later in the evening for pub-crawling, making our way to the liveliest area in town, because we are plainly exhausted and tired from walking all day long. So instead, we stay in and read in the guidebook where we could have gone. Or where we could go tomorrow evening… We left for Madrid determined to do better this time. Continue reading
Posted Nov 23, 2014 at Westwards
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Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784. Its location (not far from today's Kyoto) had been selected by geomantic principles and the city lay-out was fashioned after the then biggest city in the world, namely the capital of China, Chang'an (today's Xian). A total of eight different historical sites belong to the UNESCO World Heritage of Ancient Nara. The most impressive and famous of them, and the one most tourists to Japan will visit, is the Todaiji, the „Great Eastern Temple“. Continue reading
Posted Nov 20, 2014 at Westwards
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In the small, winding alleys of Toledo, all the tourists are clutching a folded or flapping sheet of paper in their hand: It is the free map available in the numerous tourist offices around. Even with frequent consultation of the map we walk in the wrong direction several times, but getting lost is part of the charm when visiting the Spanish town of Toledo, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1986. Origina lly a Roman settlement and then seat of the Visigothic kings, Toledo became the capital of Christian Spain after being reconquered from the Caliphate of Cordoba in 1085. At that time, it was a very liberal multicultural city of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions. This was where the scientific advancements of the Arab world were translated into Latin and made available for then-backward Europeans (at least until the Catholics put an end to such liberalism and scientific exchange again in 1492). In the 16th century El Greco settled here and left the town dozens of his colourful dramatic paintings. The alley swings a little to the left, forks, rises up, and then ends in a square. Wasn't it supposed to lead straight to the cathedral? Toledo is too... Continue reading
Posted Nov 14, 2014 at Westwards
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„The edifices were planned as a monastery-cum-palace complex modelled on the Spanish El Escorial, but unfortunately the money ran out and only a fraction of the plans could be realised.“ That was in Klosterneuburg near Viennaalso a huge monastery. When we actually visited El Escorial, a few years later, it was indeed first and foremost, large. Although the tour starts with numerous floor maps and architectural models, almost never during our three-hour visit do we have a clear idea where we are in the complex Continue reading
Posted Nov 10, 2014 at Westwards
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The priest is holding a chubby toddler on his lap, while another man with a bald patch clad in a crimson-red cloak is kneeling in front of them. If you look closely you can see him holding the knifelike instrument with which he is going to perform the circumcision. From one side the Virgin Mary is gazing affectionately down onto her son Jesus, and on the other side a servant is holding a golden plate in order to collect the Holy Foreskin. The church of Biertan however, built by Transylvanian Saxons at the end of the 15th / beginning of the 16th century is most famous for the massive defensive works that enclose the church on the hill … Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2014 at Westwards
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In autumn 2014, Berlin is full of temporary installations and memorial exhibitions commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago, a wall 3.60 m high and about 160 km long. Today that border is the route for an unusual cycling trail. Most of the time one wouldn't even notice where the wall was. But by cycling along the former border the knowledge sinks in that the broad green corridors between some quarters of the city – nice enough as local recreational areas – used to be the death strip, not green at that time, but completely without vegetation so that the border guards could better see and shoot "defectors" … Continue reading
Posted Nov 1, 2014 at Westwards
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Near the docks of Port d'Andratx the GR 221 starts, a 132 km long hiking trail leading through the dry stone landscape of the Tramuntana mountain range in the north of Majorca. The Tramuntana has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011, for its network of devices regulating the water supply in an environment with scarce resources. The landscape here is formed by artificially constructed terraces, water channels and dry stone walls to contain cattle. Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2014 at Westwards
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The women in the tourist information are delighted to try their English: You are visiting the Golden Hall of Chusonji? It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage and has such a great history! The patterns for the textile coaster they present me with can be traced back to the trade routes of the Silk Road in the 11th or 12th century, when Hiraizumi – this off-the-beaten-track region in the North of Japan – was an important cultural centre. At that time the local ruling clan of the Oshu Fujiwara held their own against the central government in Kyoto. But not only cloth patterns came along the Silk Road, also new ideas and concepts, like Buddhism and new concepts of garden architecture. Hiraizumi is one of the first examples where this new ideas harmoniously mixed with the older ideas of Nature worship. Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2014 at Westwards
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At the ITB Berlin this year, we walked through the Romania section and saw some pictures of the painted monasteries of Bucovina in one of those glossy brochures on UNESCO World Heritage sites in Romania. The exterior walls of those churches are completely covered with frescoes of saints and biblical stories – and in a second we knew that we had to see the real thing ... Amazing ... Continue reading
Posted Oct 18, 2014 at Westwards
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We sit in a No. 3 microbus towards the Uzbek border, with two very cool 10-year-old boys in leather jackets, when five voluminous peasant women cheerfully enter the microbus. “Ah, Sarazm – archaeology!” they nod and point to the high metal roofs a short distance from the road. Sarazm is one of the oldest towns (or rather "proto-urban settlements") in the world. The first settlement existed here in around 3500 BC, and archaeological excavations have confirmed several layers of inhabitation from the 4th to the 2nd millennium BC – from the Neolithic Period to the Bronze Age. Not surprisingly, Sarazm is the first UNESCO World Heritage site in Tajikistan. Continue reading
Posted Oct 11, 2014 at Westwards
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Since we started our research trips into the Central Asian countries we have developed a growing interest in the petroglyphs that can be found in the area. Some of them, like the Tamgaly petroglyphs about 160 km away from Almaty, are inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. In the Gorge of Tamgaly more than 5000 petroglyphs can be found, the earliest of them dating from around 2500 BC. Getting to the actual petroglyphs involves a 15 minute walk from the parking lot and most of the rock carvings are concentrated in a few groups of several hundred images. Clearly marked paths bring you close to the beautiful oxen, horses and camels. Although we have visited a few other petroglyph sites in Central Asia, this is the first time we see the famous sun-headed persons, and also depictions of a sort of cart. Although archaeologists and scientists still ponder if these are images of real carts or if they depict a mythological scene, they have clearly wheels with spokes. Again this hasn't been resolved yet, but it might actually have been Central Asians who invented the wheel more than 4000 years ago. Reasons for visiting the Tamgaly Petroglyps: The images on... Continue reading
Posted Oct 5, 2014 at Westwards
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On the road to Turkestan, we look out over the steppe for the blue cupola rising above all the modern houses. The mausoleum of the Sufi Sheikh Ahmed Yassawi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is visible from far away. But once we come closer, the view of the impressive dome is blocked by one of those monumental portals that the great Amir Timur liked to put on his megalomaniac buildings. Only few of them have survived the centuries and the following dynasties, and the Ahmed Yassawi mausoleum is the best preserved. Built by Iranian architects, the portal alone is 44 m high. Like proper pilgrims, we were following the sequence of holy sites relating to Ahmed Yassawi. We first visited the mausoleum of his mother, followed by the one of his teacher, Aristan Bab. His mausoleum, often rebuilt, stands in the middle of nowhere, but believers flock to it nonetheless. While we visit, a huge group of Kazakh pilgrims push in behind us. Conveniently, the otherwise locked tomb room of Aristan Bab is opened for them and we are swept in with a mix of devout babushkas and newly or vaguely religious people. “Hands in prayer!” their guide commands, and... Continue reading
Posted Sep 24, 2014 at Westwards
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A number of Silk Road sites in China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyztan have been named UNESCO World Heritage properties this year. There are eight in Kazakhstan, and Akyrtas near Taraz is one of them. According to archaeologists, Akyrtas was a caravan resting station on the Northern Silk Road for hundreds of years. There are several groups of ruins that date back to the time of the Arab invasion or earlier. Most impressive is an enigmatic palace from red sandstone that was apparently never used. The shared taxi drops us at a nondescript turn-off from the highway. “Akyrtas,” the driver says and points vaguely to the mountains on the right. There's a railway line between us and the mountains, and as we can't find any underpass we walk over the rails as everybody else seems to be doing anyway. On the other side of the tracks also no road. So we start walking through the steppe towards a bright speck at the foot of the mountains which we assume is a metal roof on the excavation site. The sun is burning (must have around 30 degrees) and around us nothing but the whining of a power line. Nearly two hours later we... Continue reading
Posted Sep 18, 2014 at Westwards
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Der neue Baedeker ist fertig! Jetzt noch dicker! Mit noch mehr Infos! Hier geht’s zum Baedeker: http://shop.baedeker.com/baedeker/asien-naher-osten/japan-baedeker-reisefuehrer-reisefuehrer_pid_821_24648.html? Continue reading
Posted Sep 4, 2014 at Westwards
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"We are on a round trip through Hungary and Romania", one of the elderly German bus tourists explains to a German father and son who came by car but can't remember the names of the Hungarian towns they passed. Sighişoara is a pretty mediaeval town in Transylvania, and most of the foreign visitors (including us) seem to be German. The town is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site … (read more on www.westwards.de) Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2014 at Westwards
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The newly designated UNESCO World Heritage monastery of Corvey lies in the middel of nowhere near the small town of Höxter. And yet, when we arrived on a sunny summer Saturday, a plethora of volunteers directed the numerous visitors to makeshift parking lots in the former castle ditch. „Are all those people interested in the protected carolingean westwork?“ we wonder. But no, they are here for the commercial garden fair taking place in the castle grounds – basically a more exclusive version of a garden center (with a steep 9 Euro entrance fee). Those already returning are clutching purposeless metall balls and other colourful garden decoration. The monastery itself is less visited. Founded by Louis the Pious in 815 and presided over by Abbot Adalhard (we rather liked that name), a close friend of Emperor Charlemagne, the only part of the monastery remaining from the 9th century is a section of the Western facade and the Western tower structure. Because of this original Carolingian Westwork – the oldest westwork in the world - Corvey has been nominated as Germany's 39th World Heritage site in 2014. Christ the Salvator and the two spires have later been added to the front. Looking... Continue reading
Posted Aug 15, 2014 at Westwards
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At a minute to ten we are ready to start for the guided walk through the UNESCO-listed ancient beech forest at Serrahn. A mother and her teenage daughter are already in conversation with the ranger, Mr Best. “Until last year, I used to be afraid of dogs”, the daughter is recounting. And at ten sharp, another car enters the parking lot and a couple with a German shepherd joins the tour! Immediately, our little group of six starts the walking tour. We have to hike several kilometers into the woods (on a path marked with a beech leaf) because the core zone of the protected forest has been closed for cars since the area was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage. Beeches originally made up most of the vegetation of Europe, and without human intervention the trees would probably still cover large areas today. Unspoiled lowland beech forests are only found in Germany nowadays and therefore got World Heritage status. As we make our way along the marked beech forest trail, Ranger Best occasionally picks up a piece of rotting wood, covered with different types of fungus. Then everyone sniffs at the wood, to the great contentment of the dog... Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2014 at Westwards
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We had read raving reviews about the vegan Döner eatery at Boxhagener Platz near Ostkreuz, and after several futile attempts to eat there we finally made it last Friday. Vöner looks like a typical fast food joint with a lot of light wood furniture, a big open counter and a handwritten menu on a blackboard. Punk music plays in the background, but somehow unobtrusively so. The average age of the other customers must be slightly over 20 … Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2014 at Westwards