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A lookout seems to be rising over the bridge of an enormous ship: long and massive, it looks more like a battleship than a cruise ship. And indeed the Japanese word Gunkanjima means “Battleship Island” - but what we see from the tourist boat is actually not a battleship but a small island with a huge concentration of concrete tower blocks. At some point in the 1950s, the 6 ha island had a population of over 80,000! This weird and fascinating island has speedily become a major tourist attraction in Nagasaki since its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015. It used to be an even smaller island, just a few rocks really, not suitable for living, but a coal stratum had been found to lead from the neighbouring island of Takashima down below the sea. … In 1887, Mitsubishi – who by then owned the Takashima coal mine – started a new mine shaft from Hashima to access the coal. And since there was a lot of coal (and the newly industrialising country needed all of it!), housing units had to be built even on the limited space of the island for the pitmen and their families. And this meant building high. As early as 1916, Japan’s first seven-storey ferro-concrete apartment house was built on Hashima, followed by … Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2017 at Westwards
„Can you use Japanese toilet?“ is one of those questions foreigners get frequently asked in Japan, along with „Can you eat with chopsticks?“ (probably something appearing early on in the English textbooks). The toilet question usually refers to the kind of squat toilets that don’t have a seat … With the rise of “Western Style” toilets in Japan (yes, you have to wear a cowboy hat to use them) this question is also less frequently asked – but in reality, using Japanese toilets has become more difficult! In our work as tour guides, it happens regularly … Continue reading
Posted Jul 31, 2017 at Westwards
We have lived in Berlin since 2011. Natascha studied in Berlin as well in the 1990s. It is a great city - multicultural and very affordable!
Toggle Commented Jul 26, 2017 on Our personal Top Five in Copenhagen at Westwards
„Oh yes, that is very blue!“ - „Oh, look - how blue it is!,“ shout the Japanese tourists, looking in awe at the Aoike. Aoike means Blue Pond, and the water is indeed very clear and blue against the backdrop of the fresh green beech trees of the Shirakami Sanchi Forest. In the Japanese summer, the clear ponds of Juniko (“12 ponds”) emit a pleasant atmosphere of coolness. The “12 ponds” are one of the most accessible and most visited areas within the huge expanse of Shirakami Sanchi Forest– which has, for its ancient beech trees, been designated as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage since 1993. Actually we have toyed with the idea of visiting the Shirakami Sanchi Forest for quite a while, but have never been quite able to figure out what there is to see and to do. Even in Japan, ... Continue reading
Posted Jul 25, 2017 at Westwards
At the end of May, we spent a few days in Copenhagen. As it was our second visit to the Danish capital we had already seen some of the must-sees and were eager to explore a bit more of the city this time. Luckily the weather was fine and we could stroll through the parks and city quarters. Once we were back in Berlin we both made a list with our five highlights and gave points according to rank. The best experience got 5 points, the second 4 points and so on. Interestingly enough, we chose the same sights and experiences albeit in a different order. And we had two second ranks with 7 points each! It was fun to rank our Copenhagen experiences and we might do more posts like this in the future. And these are the things that made it into our personal top five! # 1: The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde On our travels we always try to visit UNESCO sites, ... Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2017 at Westwards
Thanks for reading. Have a nice summer in Spain!
We are already half into 2017 and it is time for another 3 month wrap-up on the blog: Actually we spent the better part of the last three months in Japan working. In April we were both busy with tour-guiding work. Cherry blossom season was a bit late in most parts of Japan but we could experience it with every group and we also managed to get a good view of Mt Fuji with every group. Natascha also went to Japan for a 10-day tour in May and since mid-June we are both back in Japan for researching the new edition of the Loose Japan guidebook (in German) due next year. This time we split up for the research work, and while Isa is covering the Hokuriku and Chubu region, Natascha is researching Tohoku. So far everything is going fine – except for spells of bad weather – after all it is rainy season. But we have also planned some hiking and sightseeing together. When not tour-guiding in Japan we had writing work to do ... Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2017 at Westwards
PS: It was a copy of the Egypt visa in the passport (we had only brought copies of the passport main page).
We needed just the passport and we had to fill in a form we got at the Sudan embassy. We had to do some copies as well - can't remember what, but there was a copy shop around the corner. The embassy is not open every day and I think it took them five days to procure the visa. Might be quicker, if you are in a hurry and make it urgent. Have a safe journey and a good time in Sudan!
Yes it is expensive - sigh....We tried to keep costs down by staying at a cheap campsite. But it was still expensive.
The elderly woman is slowly moving up the slope from the bay towards the Old Town and the Roskilde Cathedral. It’s Sunday, and she has only a few minutes left to reach the church service in Denmark’s oldest brick church in time. In fact, the Roskilde Cathedral is the prototype of a Gothic brick cathedral, which set the tone for any number of churches around the Baltic Sea. The building of the Roskilde Cathedral started as early as 1170 and took around 100 years. At this time master architects in France were just experimenting with new vertical building styles and the architect of the Roskilde church had seen these new Gothic churches and was keen to try something similar in his home country. Contrary to France, where they used sandstone as a building material, the traditional material in Denmark was brick, since there are not enough mountains and rocks that could be used. Some details had to be adjusted to accommodate for the different material, but overall it turned out that building such a huge and tall cathedral with bricks was indeed possible and sturdy. For the Danish people the cathedral is tremendously important … Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2017 at Westwards
Upon leaving the station of Helsingør we can already make out a massive, square fortress in the grey sky, looming above the Oresund sound: Kronborg Castle, home of Hamlet! Shakespeare made the splendid castle of "Elsinor" the home of his fictional Danish prince, thus ensuring its worldwide fame. There used to be a castle on the cliffs as early as the mid 15th century. But it was the Danish king Frederick II who fortified the walls, added bastions for the cannons and built a modern three-storied castle at the end of the 16th century. It turned out to be a worthwhile investment: Every time a ship passed through the narrow sound below the castle … Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2017 at Westwards
"I take a flashlight when I go out late," Sarah of the Seasir dive base on Aka Island says: "occasionally I have bumped into a deer standing in the middle of the village when I came home from the bar." Aka Island is one of four inhabited islands of the Kerama island group and it is very peaceful: There's only one small village. And there's a colony of sika deer (shika) who came here with settlers from Kyushu in the 17th century and have developed into a sub-species endemic to the Kerama Island group. The human inhabitants of the Kerama islands, about 40 km to the west of Okinawa mainland, used to be fishermen, but today, like Sarah, most are involved in the tourist business – mainly whale watching and diving. The village of Aka … Continue reading
Posted Jun 12, 2017 at Westwards
Thanks, Dennis! It is very likely that your bank accounts in Japan are still valid ... (Just don't expect much interest)
“More pickles? - Do you want more pickles?” The staff in the Yamamotoya restaurant near Nagoya Station‘s Shinkansen exit prowl the room offering second helpings of pickled vegetables, rice and tea. Yamamotoya is popular with Japanese travellers passing through Nagoya for its salty miso-boiled noodle dishes and the generous portions … Nagoyans like hearty food and good deals. And they also like the convenience of cafés and restaurants they already know at every street corner. They like their sweets really sweet and the savoury food really salty, or spicy. They like kitsch and practical, modern but not avant-garde, they like horoscopes and chiromancy. Nagoya is rather like inaka (backcountry) turned metropolis, and in our opinion it is a very convenient city for travellers, too. Nagoya is Japan's fourth-largest city, situated right between Tokyo and Kyoto, but certainly not on the tourist trail… Continue reading
Posted Jun 4, 2017 at Westwards
As the new edition of our guidebook „Usbekistan“ (in German) published by MairDumont got into the bookstores in May, we had a little recap of our research tour last year and decided to pick five newly researched favourites that made it into the guidebook. Since we have already visited all the obvious tourist sites and most of the off-the-beaten track sites, our research focus these days is mostly on hotels, restaurants and food in general. But in this personal highlight list we have nevertheless included two sightseeing spots and one nature site as well - the requirement being that we had not visited the site on previous trips. -- The solar furnace in Parkent -- We met Ben from Young Pioneer Travels at a newly opened hostel … Continue reading
Posted May 26, 2017 at Westwards
Thanks. Are you planning a trip to Okinawa maryjane?
Our first destination in Barcelona is a metro station called Plaza de Gaudí, and of course we know what to expect when we walk up the stairs. "Turn back", Natascha commands, and lo! behind us are those strange towers that seem to belong into a Science Fiction film or a desert village in Mali. Gaudí's Sagrada Familia is the place in Barcelona we most eagerly wanted to see, so we went straight there with only a brief coffee cortado on the way. The cathedral is the most famous of Gaudí's buildings, and it is the one he spent much of his life planning. Building it, too, but he never finished more than a small part including one of the facades and one of a planned 18 towers. Antoni Gaudí, then a well-recognized but not the most famous architect in Barcelona (that was Lluís Domènech i Montaner), was entrusted with building a new church in a poor quarter in 1883. It was to be built entirely with donations, and the actual work only started in 1892 – and has not been finished yet. Gaudí's ambitious plans … Continue reading
Posted May 15, 2017 at Westwards
Yes, and room size is the most important factor in the huge range of room prices in Japan. Price levels in Okinawa are somewhat lower in general, though.
During our recent four week research trip to Okinawa we stayed one night at the amazingly renovated Spice Motel in Chatan on Okinawa Mainland. The motel was built in American style during the American occupation of Okinawa (1945-72) and has then fallen in decay. In recent years beautifully renovated in the original design of the 1970's by an Osaka design company, it makes a great overnight option. Get inspired by some pictures! Continue reading
Posted May 7, 2017 at Westwards
We still have to try Daluma. I looks as if you had a good time in Berlin, food-wise at least...
Yes - the sea IS amazing. And the best thing is - not many people know about it!
A purple heron is wading through the shallow water, followed by a couple of ducks. Only some unpaved roads and small foot paths lead towards the lakes and wetlands in the interior of Ikema Island, a small island north of Miyakojima Island. Not many tourists venture out here ... Although Ikema has since 1992 been linked to the larger island of Miyakojima by a long bridge over beautiful coral sea, it is among the most distant attractions from Miyakojima's main port town of Hirara. Hirara itself is a rather gritty sailors' town with run-down quarters near the harbour, a couple of streets with pubs and nightclubs, … Fantastic beaches, turquoise blue water and coral reefs surround Miyakojima. When you aren't diving or snorkelling, the fun thing to do is driving around the island and over to several other islands connected by bridges: … Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2017 at Westwards
Long and steep hills, like dragons, on an island in the far south of Japan. Many of these hills are fortified with even steeper walls made from huge blocks of coral stone, not square like the mediaeval castles you know from Europe, but curved along the sides of the hill. Last year Japan was visited by over 24 million tourists … Okinawa used to be a fairly independent kingdom called Ryûkyû before it became officially a Japanese province in 1879. The kings of Ryûkû had trade relations with many Asian countries and paid tribute to China, as well as, from the 18th century, to Japan. … As Okinawa was really badly affected by WWII fighting, not much of the old Ryûkyû Kingdom is preserved today, but there are altogether nine sites that became UNESCO world heritage in 2000, and we have visited all of them! As most visitors won't have … Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2017 at Westwards
The first quarter of 2017 has passed – time to write a summary of our activities during the last three months. We had a quiet start into 2017 in Berlin, finishing the manuscript for the Tyrol guidebook, but two short-trips brought some welcome diversion from work. We went to Munich to visit family and catch up with old friends. Munich is always nice and between all the social life, we could even squeeze in two museums: The superb Egyptian museum and the Lenbachhaus focussing on the art group Blue Rider and contemporary art. The Egyptian Museum has a wonderful… Continue reading
Posted Apr 16, 2017 at Westwards