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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 from below in an unfavorable angle, the Salvator looks somewhat chubby. A small gallery on the upper floor of the westwork is easily the most interesting part of our visit. From here bishops and emperors could oversee the entire church, some of them have even been enthroned here. On the walls, the remains of old frescoes can be seen. Should you visit Corvey? The historical value of Corvey might appeal more to the specialists than to the interested public. The site is difficult to reach by public transport and explanations are so far exclusively in German. Also a day without the garden fair might be a better choice. Continue reading
Posted Aug 15, 2014 at Westwards
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 who had been doing this all along. We learn that the only trees that may be cut in the forest are the American Red Oaks which are alien to the region. Even private persons can do this with a permit, but they have to present a special “Sawing License” which requires a two-day training course. One would also need expensive protection clothes, and even then it's a dangerous activity. “Who would do that?”, wonders the mother who at first had seemed interested in some logs for her fireplace. “For some people it is a hobby,” shrugs Mr Best, “especially academics and such.” Two hours into the tour, the exhibition room can already be seen across a moor, but Mr Best gets ever slower, explaining every little swamp flower in great detail. Something to do with overtime pay, we assume, and everyone respires when we reach the exhibition and cafe. Should you go? Definitely yes. On the tour you get only a small impression of the ancient beech forest, but you learn a lot about fungi, mushroom and trees in general from a specialist. Walks are for free and start every Saturday at 10 am (in summer) from the hikers' parking lot in Zinow near Neustrelitz. They take about two to three hours. Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2014 at Westwards
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
Seifa Utaki must be one of the least visited world heritage sites in Japan, and it is also very unique. It belongs to the set of monuments from the Ryukyu Kingdom on the island of Okinawa... Continue reading
Posted Jul 24, 2014 at Westwards
Showa period retro is all the rage in Japan. Even though most items in a retro restaurant such as this one center on the immediate postwar period, we still find many of them quite familiar from our first visits to Japan. Strangely, we realise that we have been involved with Japan for long enough to ... Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2014 at Westwards
The Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo's Ginza area may not look so impressive at first sight, but it is a landmark of metabolist architecture. Built by Kurokawa Kisho in 1972, it consists of dozens of prefabricated boxes fixed to a central staircase. Today the tower is in a state of disrepair but still inhabited. It is not possible to visit the inside. Related articles A walk through Orestad, Copenhagen's new architecture laboratory Continue reading
Posted Jul 3, 2014 at Westwards
Absolutely. They have their temple festival in August, so maybe you can see an Itako who would get you in touch with dead relatives...
Toggle Commented Jun 29, 2014 on The world's northernmost monkey at Westwards
There are hundreds of temples in Kyoto, and they all start to look the same when you visit, say, five or ten at a time. But then, suddenly, the atmosphere is different... Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2014 at Westwards
The village of Shirakawa attracts not only tourists collecting UNESCO world heritage sites, but also manga and anime fans seeking out ... Continue reading
Posted Jun 24, 2014 at Westwards
We spent this spring in Japan researching for a guidebook update – and still found some (unexpected) highlights. Takaoka in the Hokuriku area of central Honshu is not exactly a fixture on the tourist route. Not yet. ... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2014 at Westwards
The world's northernmost colony of monkeys lives near Wakinosawa on the Shimokita Peninsula in North Japan. Osorezan, the gates of hell, is even further north... Continue reading
Posted Jun 15, 2014 at Westwards
Japanese food – washoku – has been named an intangible world heritage in 2013. Dengaku Dofu is a hearty dish of tofu grilled with miso (the same fermented soybean paste used for miso soup) While Japanese rice-and-fish dish sushi (or its varieties from numerous other Asian countries) has become commonplace in most Western countries, many other items are virtually unknown outside Japan. Simmered radish The Japanese cuisine is rich in vegetable dishes – for example, radish is often simmered or fried instead of just being eaten raw. Soy beans appear in numerous variations – they are made into tofu, miso, soy sauce and much more. A traditional home-cooked dinner such as this one consists of sometimes a dozen different dishes served in individual plates and bowls. There is no particular order in eating the dishes, and not all of them are eaten hot. Continue reading
Posted Apr 29, 2014 at Westwards
In the Osaka Tournament this spring, Mongolian wrestler Kakuryu won the Makuuchi divison championship for the first time. Kakuryu's victory over Hakuho On the second-to-last day of the tournament, Kakuryu defeated champion Hakuho, who has been a Yokozuna for seven years. His victory caused turmoil, shock, and ecstasy among the viewers, and dozens of seat cushions were sent flying toward the ring (but then it was only 10 minutes before the end of the session and most people could do without their cushion). Kakuryu has meanwhile himself been promoted to the highest Sumo rank of Yokozuna. Continue reading
Posted Apr 12, 2014 at Westwards
The Trattoria Ponte Verde, located right opposite the vegan Café Vux, offers some vegetarian dishes, i.e. with real cheese, but most pizzas can also be ordered in a vegan variation. The atmosphere and the design are pleasant, more or less a modern pizzeria style ... Continue reading
Posted Mar 10, 2014 at Westwards
Considering that Africa is such a huge continent and that it is, compared to let's say Asia, not that far from Europe, there are relatively few African restaurants in Berlin. But recently a new West African restaurant opened in our neighbourhood and last week we went to test it. Mama Africa is a completely no-frills eatery in the lately fashionable Schiller Kiez in Neukölln. It consists only of two small rooms with a large shop window out front. Actually it looks as if one of those ubiquitous local late-night corner shops had been converted into someone's living room: A few tables, a fridge, a computer with attached speakers on the counter, functioning as a sound system. The walls are painted yellow and white with darker dots. Everything is strikingly handmade. Clearly, no interior designer has had a hand in this. The menu lists only a few dishes, such as Egusi Soup and Krin Krin. Once we are seated, the owner Alpha Dialla comes over and explains what he has cooked today. Usually he offers three different dishes; at least one of them is vegetarian. The choice being thus limited, we end up with Granat Soup and fried plantains. Everything is available as either a small or a large portion, for an easy-to-calculate 5 € or 7 €. The Granat Soup is a bowl of peanut butter sauce with a few bits of vegetables in it, served with a huge plate of rice. "We'd always rather have too much than too little", Alpha smiles when we stare sceptically at the pile of rice. The plantains are perfect. They are just fried with a tiny bit of salt and are cross on the outside and a little bit chewy on the inside. And all this is served with an unimaginably spicy chili sauce. Our visit at Mama Africa evoked memories of our travels and food experiences in West Africa. We found the food as well as the atmosphere very authentic, the service friendly and the prices ok. A very welcome addition to the restaurant scene in Neukölln. Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2014 at Westwards
Over the last year or so, several vegan cafés and restaurants as well as a vegan supermarket have opened in Neukölln. What better opportunity for long-term vegetarians (but not quite vegans) and Neukölln residents to try our taste buds at meatless salami, milkless cheese and eggless mayonnaise? In online ratings, people are continuously raving about the Café Vux, and we had already made two futile attempts to visit it: Once on a Monday, which was their day off, and another one on Sunday, when they do Sunday Brunch and the café is filled to the last seat 10 minutes after opening. But today only two tables are taken. The interior design is bright and mostly white and evokes something like a Baltic Sea Spa at the turn of the century (the previous one, that is). Music plays unobtrusively in the background. There is no table service; you have to order at the counter. To cover a broad range of different tastes and textures we went for a bagel with vegan chorizo, peanut butter and fresh bean sprouts (3.20 €), and a carrot cake with coconut topping (2,30 €). The bagel was difficult to eat (not enough hamburger experience), but the mixture of the hot chorizo and the creamy salty peanut butter was very interesting and delicious (immediately after the visit we went to the vegan supermarket and bought a package of this brand of chorizo). Toasting the bagel would have made the experience perfect. The carrot cake was also quite good, but it tasted a bit too much of the very sweet coconut topping. We also like the gender-neutral toilets with „here you can sit“ and „here you can stand“ written on the door. The food as well as the atmosphere were great and will for sure come back for the brunch on Sunday. Internet: Continue reading
Posted Feb 16, 2014 at Westwards
“Keep your coats on. There's no heating in the rooms upstairs.” The receptionist of Luther's House Museum in Wittenberg murmurs something about "technicians... Continue reading
Posted Feb 7, 2014 at Westwards
Before the winter starts in earnest, here are some last pictures of a glorious autumn in Japan: Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2014 at Westwards
Petroglyph from Airymach-Too, Fergana Valley, Kyrgyzstan. When the Chinese envoy Zhang Qian brought these "Heavenly Horses" home from the Central Asian Fergana Valley, his Emperor Wu-Di was so impressed that he sent offerings of silk and gold to trade in such horses. The silk, in turn, made its way to Europe, and the Silk Road became for centuries the main connection between East and West. Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2013 at Westwards
Our new guidebook is being published in January: Ägypten – Die klassische Nilreise. Dumont Reisetaschenbuch, 2014. 288 pages ISBN: 9783770173518 17.99 € Dumont Reise / Amazon See also: Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2013 at Westwards
The Bay of Matsushima is one of Japan's "three most famous landscapes" (along with Miyajima and Amanohashidate). A visit is particularly worthwhile in autumn. “Sugoi! - Gorgeous!” marvels one of the elderly Japanese tourists: "That's like ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2013 at Westwards
There are only six complete skeletons of diplodocus dinosaurs known, and one of them, called Misty, was sold at an auction yesterday. For 400,000 GBP, you can actually buy a 17 m long dinosaur… Well, we had to make our own. We go with the traditional view that dinosaurs are green. Matcha does it. Related articles VIDEO: Dinosaur 'Misty' sold for £400,000 Continue reading
Posted Nov 28, 2013 at Westwards
The Tokyo Sky Tree, seen from Asakusa After some belated typhoons have passed, Japan is enjoying a pleasant and mild autumn. Temperatures can go well above 20 °C during the day, although in the evening it does get cooler. Click here for more photos from Japan in autumn 2013. Continue reading
Posted Oct 29, 2013 at Westwards
Did we mention that Uzbekistan is not a vegetarian's paradise? In the Fergana Valley ... Continue reading
Posted Oct 5, 2013 at Westwards
Although we had an early start in Tashkent, it is already noon by the time we arrive at the Bolshoi Kanatka (the Big Chairlift) in the Chimgan mountain range. Click here for more photos from August 2013 in Uzbekistan. The Chimgan Mountains are a spur of the Western Tian Shan, with the highest mountain, the Greater Chimgan, reaching 3309 m. The area offers hiking possibilities in summer and skiing in winter, and with a distance of only 85 km to the capital Tashkent it seems perfect for a weekend day trip. But not by public transport, as we had to realize... We took the Metro as far as the eastern end of the city, then changed into a minibus to Gazalkent, from where we had to go by taxi. Usually, that means a shared taxi in Uzbekistan: You just book a seat and wait for other passengers to fill the car. Although it was a Saturday, however, nobody seemed to have the same idea of a weekend trip and after 45 minutes of waiting we decided to pay for all the seats in the shared taxi. We had recommendations for a nice hike starting from the Big Chairlift. „You just go to the waterfall! The path is easy to follow,“ our friend had said. When we arrive at the Big Chairlift, though, we see several paths, but no recognizable waterfall. „To the waterfall? It's best to take the chairlift up to the mountain and walk from there,“ one of the vendors selling Coca Cola and Kurut, the salty dried cheese balls, advises us. How convenient for us, as this means less time spent walking and the opportunity to research another potential tourist attraction on the way, namely the Big Chairlift. After all, we want to get as many sights, tourist attractions, activities, and restaurant and accommodation tips as possible out of this day trip. Soon we glide over alpine meadows and rocks at a height of about 40 meters. Better not think about the maintenance of this 1970s (or so) Russian chairlift. On top there is another kiosk with Coca Cola and Kurut and a small walkway leads to a lookout point. On one side of the path, tourists have knotted pieces of cloth to a fence, which now appears like a shamanistic sanctuary. "To the waterfall?" The warden points down a steep slope, but what looks like a path at first soon peters out. We end up scrambling down back to the bottom of the mountain to a larger trail, which we would have reached much faster from the road without the chairlift detour, and then up again towards the canyon with the waterfall. Soon the large trail disappears, and a vague path climbs up along a little stream and past some small cascades. In the canyon, the scrambling becomes more and more hazardous. "The waterfall?!" The elderly Russian couple (a stocky guy with hat and walking stick, his wife all in pink) – which may or may not... Continue reading
Posted Sep 28, 2013 at Westwards