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Before we travel in a new country, we usually have a look at the UNESCO World Heritage list. Most of the time we have an idea of the major designated monuments and parks, but there are also others that we have to look up. One of these less-famous places that not even everybody living in Mexico City has heard of was the house of Luis Barragán in Mexico City. Luis Barragán was a 20th century self-taught Mexican architect. ... Only after the New York MOMA had held a retrospective in 1975 did he finally receive the prestigious Pritzker Prize, awarded to him in 1980. His own private home in Mexico City was declared a World Heritage site in 2004. On this particular sunny October day, we have difficulties finding the house ... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Westwards
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Fuji-san is not only Japan's highest mountain, but also its most important one, an icon of Japaneseness, one could say. A mountain that every self-respecting Japanese should have climbed once in their lives, according to a Japanese proverb. The „san“ in the mountain's name means „mountain“, but it also evokes the honorific „san“ used to address persons – to Japanese, therefore Mt. Fuji is also Mr. Fuji, in a way. The honourable mountain can be rather shy: The first time we went to Hakone to see Fuji-san (was that really back in 1991??) we arrived at the shore of Lake Ashi and ... Continue reading
Posted Apr 10, 2015 at Westwards
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"Kandinsky was quite old when he came to Dessau. He already had furniture. So he made himself comfy in the modern Bauhaus architecture with his Biedermeier style sofas …" The museum guide almost apologises for Wassily Kandinsky's lack of style in his own home's interior design. The living room was painted in old rose and gold. His students, apparently, were appalled by his personal taste. "Well, he was Russian," one of the other visitors comments. We are visiting the Dessau buildings of that icon of modernist style, the Bauhaus school. Kandinsky, ... Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2015 at Westwards
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„Rambo, Rambo!“ A small-framed man points agitatedly towards the courtyard of a wooden mansion. A brawl, we suspect, but a quick glance at our guidebook clarifies that the building with the nicely carved gables and the colourful window panes is the house where the French author and adventurer Arthur Rimbaud lived for a while during the 1880s and which now has become a sightseeing spot. Rimbaud came to Harar as a coffee trader for a Yemenite agency, and stayed. He made not so bad a living as a portrait photographer – charging the natives one Dollar per picture. Today it is the other way round – the tourists have to pay for every picture they take. On the upper floor we stroll through the exhibition of Rimbaud's black-and white impressions of Harar. Back then, it was also called the "White City“, because of the numerous white buildings. Today most of them are painted in gaudy colours like pink, lime green, purple, and yellow, but the city, which is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site since 2006, is still famous for its dark full-bodied Arabica coffee roasts. In the café „Mermaid“ in the main street an Espresso Macchiato costs only 50 cents and it goes well with a piece of "Black Forest" butter-cream cake. In the afternoon the old town and the market get quiet… Continue reading
Posted Mar 29, 2015 at Westwards
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Two very large men are facing each other in a kind of circular boxing ring in a central Osaka arena. They show off standing on one leg, balancing their 150 kg or more in the air before throwing salt in the ring, turning around, throwing more salt, and finally getting down in the centre of the ring, only a meter or so apart. Following a sign from the referee, both touch the ground with their hands and storm into each other. In less than a minute the fight is over. The Japanese Sumo tournaments, which take place only 6 times a year, follow strict rules based on centuries-old Shinto rituals. The parades, the ritual entry of the participants, the show-off before each contest … Continue reading
Posted Mar 23, 2015 at Westwards
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The restaurant scene in Berlin leaves nothing to be desired – one might think. Really nothing? So far we had not found a good Southern Indian restaurant yet, where you can indulge in dosas and idlis, but last week we tried the recently (in November 2014) opened Chutnify in Mitte. „Indian Street food,“ promises the sign at the front. We went with a friend who (similar to us) considers himself "a good vegetarian and a bad vegan". The Chutnify is in fact not even a vegetarian restaurant: they do have meat dishes on the menu, mostly chicken, some pork. But they offer a number of vegetarian and vegan choices. The core of the menu is made up of different varieties of dosa, a thin lentil-rice pancake … Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2015 at Westwards
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Most countries we visited were exciting, new and friendly, but there are some that we didn't enjoy so much or where we even had difficulties detecting any positive aspects: Kazakhstan, for example, decidedly lacked charm at our first visit, and India proved troublesome. Djibouti ranges at the bottom of our country ranking list. We went there on a crammed overnight bus from Dire Dawa in Ethiopia. Maybe we had a bad start with the country from the very beginning, when we applied for our visa. We got the wrong dates stamped into the passport and the embassy claimed there was no way to change them, although it was them who made the mistake. Because we could not go at those specified dates we had to buy new visas, which was time-consuming and not cheap. Once in Djibouti we did the things we always do in a new city: Wander the streets, stroll through the local market, just to get the vibe of the place. And gosh, we did: What a bad vibe it was in Djibouti! Already used to Africans who often get angry at you if you take their pictures, we quickly decided … Continue reading
Posted Mar 12, 2015 at Westwards
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The conference room is packed with men in suits with little flags or logos pinned to their lapels and wearing id tags around their necks. On the large front screen, a young woman in a bikini is snorkelling with dolphins, and happy tourists are shown participating in a "traditional dance" with locals. Having done plenty of research in Egypt for our guidebooks, we recognize it as a tourist-only event, the so-called "Egyptian Evening" that is standard programme on every Nile Cruise, which involves dancing and oriental dress-up as well as some Egyptian food on the all-you-can eat buffet. The term “experience” is a recurrent tag line in other events and presentations we attend. According to surveys by the tourist industry, today's tourists do not want mere sightseeing but “authentic experience" of the local culture … Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2015 at Westwards
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It is 4 am - the streets in the centre of Basel's Old Town are lined with people waiting for the "Morgestreich" that marks the official beginning of the carnival in Basel. With the chime of the cathedral clock, all lights, street lanterns as well as the lights in private houses and shops, go out. At the same time small and big lanterns go on and some groups of masked people start to play pipes and drums. The active participants are dressed in full costume including sculpted masks and smaller lanterns mounted on top of their head, larger ones with intricate painted images are fastened onto carriages. With these lanterns as the only source of light and the strange, mediaeval music, the slow procession of dressed up people through the streets is eerie. The carnival clubs (which are called cliques in the Basel carnival jargon) don't follow a fixed route, but roam the streets in small bands. Everyone who is not a participating member of the Basel carnival cliques is not supposed to wear any costume or disguise – … Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2015 at Westwards
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„Is this the right place to watch the famous carnival fire procession?“ Crowds of people are expectantly lining the dark street of Liestal, but we are not so sure of the proceedings and whether the actual fire event will be everywhere in town or along a fixed route. „The best spot is the old wooden city gate“ someone had advised. But where is the city gate? And is it worth pushing forward through the crowd? The locals nod and shove, but curiously nobody wants to get into the front row. We have been warned, too, and taken to wear old jackets and hats in case we get hit by sparks of the fires to come. Finally, a group of people wearing demonic face masks come along the street: They have smaller lanterns mounted on their heads, and larger ones ... Continue reading
Posted Feb 25, 2015 at Westwards
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Poland has over a dozen UNESCO World Heritage sites, but only one of them, the Białowieża Forest, is a natural heritage. And yet, our single visit enabled us only to see a very tiny part of it because the world heritage property consists of nearly 150,000 ha of woodland, some of it in neighbouring Belarus. The main draw of this huge Białowieża Forest is the population of wild European Bisons roaming the area. Actually it's a wonder that there are any European Bisons left today: The largest land animals in Europe were a popular prey for enormous feudal hunting parties, so that their numbers dwindled especially during the 19th century. In 1919 the last free-ranging bison was killed, but … Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2015 at Westwards
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Gleich zwei Bücher von uns sind Anfang Februar erschienen! Neben dem Stefan Loose Reiseführer Japan auch das Reise-Handbuch Usbekistan. Usbekistan. DuMont Reise-Handbuch: mit Extra-Reisekarte. Von Isa Ducke und Natascha Thoma. MairDumont. 1. Auflage, 2015. 408 S., 620 g. ISBN 978-3770177394, 24,99 € Das Reise-Handbuch Usbekistan ist eine Erstauflage und mit 408 Seiten der umfangreichste Reiseführer zu Usbekistan auf dem deutschen Markt. Wir waren mehrere Monate vor Ort unterwegs, haben Hotels und Restaurants für euch ausprobiert, Sammeltaxipreise recherchiert und neben den Hauptsehenswürdigkeiten auch (bisher) weniger besuchte Orte im Süden und Westen, wie Boysun, die Gegend um Karshi und Termes mit aufgenommen. In den "Aktiv unterwegs"-Kapiteln… Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2015 at Westwards
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Er ist da! Der neue Stefan Loose Reiseführer Japan! Wie gewohnt in Orange, aber mit nur 460 Gramm um einiges leichter als die Erstauflage (weil auf dünnerem Papier gedruckt). Daher fällt er vom Gewicht her im Gepäck kaum auf, sondern hebt sich vor allem durch seine Fülle nützlicher Informationen – vor allem auch für Individualreisende, die Unterkunft und Transport selbst organisieren –, von anderen Reiseführern ab. Stefan Loose Verlag, Reiseführer Japan. Von: I. Ducke, B. B. Fürst, K. Grimm, H. Pohling, A. Schwab, N. Thoma, J. Zollickhofer. 2. Auflage 2015. ISBN: 978-3-7701-6746-3. 27,99 EUR .... Continue reading
Posted Feb 12, 2015 at Westwards
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A school of bright fish pass over the luscious blue of the TV screen, two divers floating behind them. So far, the diving course at the ORCA Dive Club Soma Bay is easy and pleasant enough. The video then goes on to explain the history of diving, the equipment and how to use it. By lesson 3, we have learned about decompression sickness and enormous pressure changes in lungs and ears, inadvertently fingering our ears and swallowing nervously. Without transition the sugary voice goes on, "Diving is a wonderful experience!" By now we have slight doubts, but are nevertheless still curious and full of positive anticipation. The next step is to get the rental equipment … Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2015 at Westwards
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The majority of guests at „The Breakers Diving & Surfing Lodge“ are sitting at the outdoor tables for dinner, although it is getting quite chilly in the evenings. „All right – divers are cool folks“, we conclude and settle down inside where only some older people have already found a seat. But over the next evenings the indoor tables get more popular, even with the cool divers. It also turns out that divers aren't quite as cool as we had expected. Actually most of them are just normal people, who would have thought that? For our SSI Open Water Dive course, we are issued long 5.5 mm wetsuits, as well as a host of other items necessary for diving: A buoyancy jacket, fins, a regulator, … Continue reading
Posted Feb 4, 2015 at Westwards
Let us know when you are in Berlin and maybe we can meet up for dinner there!
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The vegan Brewhouse Vaust has been on our restaurant list for a while, but as it is located in Charlottenburg (quite far from where we live) we postponed the visit several times. Last Thursday, a freezing cold day, we finally made it. After one hour of cycling through the cold, we were already somewhat grumpy and demanding: the restaurant would have to be quite good to make up for the hassle. Vaust didn't do too badly by that standard. The menu is quite straightforward and changes according to season: some starters and small dishes like salads and quiches, two main dishes, and two desserts. We started with some dark bread with a small bowl of oil and boletus mushroom salt. In addition we ordered a vegan „currywurst“ … Continue reading
Posted Jan 25, 2015 at Westwards
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The queues that snaked their way towards the entrance gate seemed endless. "How long will it take?" "Less than an hour to get into the premises," the ticket clerk assures, "but if you want to go up into the donjon (the main tower), be aware that there's a one-way system and it's very crowded inside!" Just before the main castle tower of Himeji Castle was scheduled to be closed for restoration works in 2010, half of Japan had decided to have one last look at the splendid white fortress. Himeji-jo is the largest of Japan's traditional castles, and it is also extremely well-preserved. Built at the end of the 17th century with all the most modern and elaborate defence features of the time, it was never actually attacked as a long period of peace followed. Instead, the rulers kept the castle in good repair and it is now a prime example of the peculiar Japanese castle architecture with its pyramid-style multi-storied donjons and tiled roofs. Himeji-jo became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. With a fixed train ticket to move on in a few hours, it may have been wiser to take the tour around the gardens and subsidiary buildings, take some photos of the donjon with cherry blossoms and leave it at that. But no, … Continue reading
Posted Jan 18, 2015 at Westwards
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Officially, the small island not far from Hiroshima in the Japanese Inland Sea is called Itsukushima Island, but it is better known as "Miyajima" (shrine island), because it is home to a very important and perhaps the most-photographed Shinto shrine: The Itsukushima Shrine, a Shinto shrine, with its distinctive red gate standing in the waters of the bay. For its unique architecture it became a world Heritage site in 1996. Tourists arrive from nearby Hiroshima by tramway and need just a 10-minute hop on the ferry to get to Miyajima. For the following 500 m from the ferry terminal to the shrine, they need much longer because the small road is lined with souvenir shops on both sides and is always crowded with visitors. Originating probably in the 6th century, … Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2015 at Westwards
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"Welcome," shouts a girl's voice into the microbus when we arrive in Korgalzhyn. Saika and her mother Bibi Nur have been waiting to pick us up from the minibus stop as there are no street names or house numbers in the village. Bibi Nur and her family are taking part in a tourism development project designed to enable visitors to see the extensive wetlands around Korgalzhyn, which are home, stopover points or breeding grounds to about 300 species of birds, many of them migratory. In 2008, nearly 500,000 ha of steppe and wetland were declared a UNESCO World Natural Heritage for the diversity of the birds to be found here – as some of the lakes have fresh water and others salt water, it is an ideal place for all birds to rest. For tourists, however, the infrastructure is quite limited. ... Continue reading
Posted Jan 11, 2015 at Westwards
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Getting to Lalibela from the capital Addis Abeba by bus was sort of a nightmare. It was freezing cold and pitch dark. Hundreds of people were already waiting and busses arrived and departed in no special order and without any destination panels on the buses or on the ground. At 7 am an old American school bus showed up and passengers were piled into the cabin. It was three persons on one bench and Isa had to sit half-bum for the next two days. That was how long it took to cover the 650 km. The reason why one would endure such a strenuous bus ride is to visit the 11 rock-hewn churches in Lalibela. The monolithic churches are not built from stone, but amazingly carved out and into the natural rocks. Continue reading
Posted Jan 7, 2015 at Westwards
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Sfizy veg was the recommendation of one of the woollen hat guys who staff Dr. Pogo's vegan supermarket when we asked about a vegan pizzeria: "There are others, but Sfizy Veg is the best!" he beamed. On a Sunday several weeks later, we arrived ravenous after a day of cycling along the Berlin Wall. It wasn't even 6 pm, but it turned out that most tables were reserved from around 7. There aren't so many tables anyway, and these filled quickly over the next 20 minutes. … Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2015 at Westwards
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We wish you a happy and successful year of the sheep, 2015! Wir wünschen ein gutes, glückliches und erfolgreiches Jahr des Schafs 2015! Herdwick sheep with their distinctive twisted horns are typical of the British Lake District – a perfect hiking destination in spite of the often unpleasant weather. Continue reading
Posted Jan 1, 2015 at Westwards
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Travel-work balance 2014 was a very productive year for us, as many of you will already have read in our seasonal mail (New Year's / Christmas greetings). We revised the new editions … Culinary tops and flops One of our favourites was Beni-imo, a purple variety of sweet potato used in Okinawa for an array of dishes: Fried as Beni-imo Chips in a local pub, … The movies! Unfortunately we usually do not have time to go to the cinema or watch DVDs when we travel, but we try to make up for that when we are at home in Berlin. In 2014 we even managed to see … What else happened? After a long break we started going to the climbing gym again … Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2014 at Westwards
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On Christmas Day in the year 800 AD, Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Two weeks ago we went to see his main residence and cathedral in Aachen / Germany. Charlemagne, king of the Franks, was among the most successful politicians and military rulers of his time. The coronation as Roman emperor was unexpected nonetheless – the last emperor in West Rome, Romulus Augustulus, had ruled in the 5th century. Like all Frankish kings, Charlemagne was used to travelling constantly in his kingdom and holding court in different places. But as he got older – and his gout became more painful – he preferred a more permanent residence. Aachen, ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 25, 2014 at Westwards