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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 4 days ago at Westwards
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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
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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. http://mama-africa-berlin.de Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2014 at Westwards
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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: www.vux-berlin.com Continue reading
Posted Feb 16, 2014 at Westwards
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“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
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Before the winter starts in earnest, here are some last pictures of a glorious autumn in Japan: http://westwards.typepad.com/photos/japan_20131011/ Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2014 at Westwards
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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
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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: http://westwards.typepad.com/westwards/egypt/ Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2013 at Westwards
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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
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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
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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
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Did we mention that Uzbekistan is not a vegetarian's paradise? In the Fergana Valley ... Continue reading
Posted Oct 5, 2013 at Westwards
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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
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The Mizdakh Khan cemetery in the vicinity of Nukus held one of the hidden highlights of Uzbekistan: ... Continue reading
Posted Sep 21, 2013 at Westwards
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In three weeks in Uzbekistan, we have already spent at least 50 hours in long-distance share taxis and buses. The best option on the more or less bumpy roads is to fall asleep on the back seat immediately as the drivers speed over potholes... Continue reading
Posted Sep 7, 2013 at Westwards
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Busy market activities on the Urgut Sunday Market This time we are visiting the more out-of-the way places in Uzbekistan, such as the Sunday market in Urgut and the abandoned fish cannery in Moynak. We spend much time in shared taxis and seemingly even more in streets and bazars asking for the right place to board the taxis. Click here for more photos from August 2013 in Uzbekistan. Continue reading
Posted Aug 29, 2013 at Westwards
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On our way to Taschkent with Czech Airlines we had a four hour stop-over in Prague. We took the bus and subway into town, had a late breakfast at Bohemian Bagel and a quick look at the Charles Bridge. Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2013 at Westwards
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The Wannsee Lido without bathers, on a sunny Sunday in Summer… Summer in Berlin usually means that it is either rainy and cold (not this year), or that the swimming pools and bathing places (including baroque parks) are teeming with people and splashing with water. For some reason, however Continue reading
Posted Aug 15, 2013 at Westwards
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Coming from Central Asia, Riga is clearly Europe. "Straight on for transit; turn left for the passport control." Our flight back to Berlin only leaves in five hours' time, so we head left and enter the Schengen area. Strange how a country like Latvia… Continue reading
Posted Aug 7, 2013 at Westwards
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The old town of Khiva is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, being a rare example of a nearly fully preserved Islamic town ensemble in Central Asia. Most of the impressive palaces, madrasas and monuments date from the 18th and 19th century when the Khanate of Khiva was an independent city state known mostly for its thriving slave market and ruthless ruler. But there is much to see in the surrounding countryside, too... Continue reading
Posted Jul 26, 2013 at Westwards
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Termiz is situated at the Afghan border. It is not quite the end of the world, but it feels close… For more Uzbekistan photos, click here During the day it may be 45 degrees, or 50 perhaps. We seem to have picked the hottest day in the always hot province of Surkhandarya to find the Bronze Age ruins of Jarqoton. Somewhere in the vicinity of the small town Sherabad, Jarqoton is not exactly a well-known tourist site. We knew that before, but it takes us about an hour to find someone who actually knows the place and points us towards a waiting Damas – a very small Hyundai van. In fact it then turns out that all the other passengers in the Damas marshrutka, which is going to a village called Pakhtabod ("Cotton Town"), recognize the name "Jarqoton", since the archaeological site is situated right by the roadside and has a rusty iron sign at the entrance (if nothing else in terms of infrastructure). At 10 am, the young man sitting next to Natascha is just opening his second bottle of cheap beer and muttering in Uzbek. “You are from Germany, eh?” “And you are from Pakhtabod, I guess? Actually, alcohol is not good for your health...” Stunned, he stops drinking for the next ten minutes. Jarqoton was not the only ancient city we hunted down during our stay in Termiz and while most people spent the heat of the day in the shade, we trotted through mud brick walls and tried to figure out the lay-out of long forgotten towns and settlements, while drinking bottle after bottle of water without ever noticeably sweating. By the evening we could scrape a salt crust from our décolleté. Nor did we feel hungry, but the vegetarian choices in Termiz were very limited anyway. There's always soft ice in one of the many ice cream parlours that have one flavour each (caramel with chocolate sauce, mostly, but one had strawberry ice cream). As for dinner, we ended up with bread and tomato salad and something called “Greek Salad” on most evenings. The waitress in the Malika restaurant also recommends a different salad when we ask for anything without meat, or chicken, or ham, or fish, or bacon. When she brings the dish we point to the obvious chunks of meat. "No meat!," she insists, pointing to her tongue: "~o ~eat! ~o ~eat!" Later, in the Internet café, we make the acquaintance of Yulduz and Rocham, two German teachers from Boysun who came to Termiz in order to download some German news texts – the mountain town of Boysun does not have Internet. "What is the name of the German President?" "How long is the river Rhine?," they raid their memory of their own latest German language quiz for conversational topics. As we part, they comment: "We are quite content with your German!" After five days in Termiz we moved on to Bukhara, where Isa got ill with fever and a very strong headache.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2013 at Westwards
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Now that the Elbe flood has receded, we are posting the remainder of our photos from the Elbe Cycling Path. We visited just before the flood, but the path is apparently cleared again, and it is possible to cycle along the river again. In fact, visiting the region (and spending a little money there) is probably the best way to help the locals recover from the flood damage. Click here to see our photos from the Elbe Cycling Path, May 2013 Continue reading
Posted Jul 10, 2013 at Westwards
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Man praying at a mausoleum in Shah-I Zinda For more Uzbekistan photos, click here The huge necropolis of Shah-I Zinda was turned into an open-air museum during Soviet times, but now it has become a centre of pilgrimage again. Shah-I Zinda means the “Living King”. Legend has it that Qusama Ibn-Abbas, a relative of the Prophet Muhammad, who brought Islam to the Samarkand region in the 7th century, continues to live in a cave underground. In the following centuries people wanted to be buried close by this holy man and a row of beautiful mausoleums were built next to the (empty) mausoleum of Qusama Ibn-Abbas. There is huge modern cemetery behind the Shah-I Zinda complex. We are writing this from Termiz in the south of Uzbekistan, where Internet is rare and slow (and dangerous, as some may have noticed). Since we are very busy, updates are also rare and slow. We are working on it. Continue reading
Posted Jun 24, 2013 at Westwards
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Against the advice of many forum contributions and several guidebooks we decided to cycle downstream from Magdeburg towards Cuxhaven, against the prevailing north-westerly winds. Wind there was, but not necessarily Continue reading
Posted Jun 1, 2013 at Westwards
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After hiking, we spent a day in Scotland's largest city. The focus of our sightseeing trip through the industrial town was Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a 19th century Scottish architect... Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2013 at Westwards