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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 6 days ago 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
The island is very quiet and agricultural - most likely you could find a house there, and probably cheap, too. Just consider that there are only 3 small shops and it takes 2 hours or so to get into town (when the waves are not too high). You'll do some home-gardening...
The slender dragons on the roof coil their tails, while long-bearded Chinese sages look down on the visitors. The colourful cluttered structure in the South-west of Ishigaki Island is called the Tôjinbaka: a tomb for Chinese sailors stranded on Ishigaki in the 19th century. A shop nearby sells the fake paper-money used in Chinese funerary rites. But on Ishigaki, the Chinese connection is not limited to those sailors: Although Ishigaki and the surrounding Yaeyama Islands belong to Japan today, for most of their history they have had more Chinese influences. The culture of the first inhabitants (at least around 4000 years ago) was similar to that of Micronesia, Indonesia or Taiwan. By the middle ages – the time of the Kingdom of Ryûkyû and the gusuku castles on Mainland Okinawa ... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2017 at Westwards
"Gaudí was run over by a street car in 1926" we read in the guidebook. The famous architect of Modernisme in Barcelona, who built the Sagrada Familia and coined the very style of art deco in Spain, subsequently died in the city's Paupers' Hospital. He had spent all his income on this dream of a church, wasn't even recognised by the medics – and that old hospital was a shithole of a place apparently. The real tragedy is however that Barcelona's old hospital was in the process of being replaced by a brand-new, state-of-the-art institution. In 1926, the new hospital San Pau was already working, and only a year later, the mediaeval place in the city centre would be closed for good. The new hospital was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, then a much respected architect, who was much more famous than Gaudi himself. Montaner also built … Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2017 at Westwards
The fierce red lion looks down from the tiled roof of a traditional house on Taketomi Island. Those guardian lions are called shîsâ in Okinawa and are said to have come to Okinawa via the Silk Road, and perhaps they are related to the Egyptian Sphinx. When a tiled roof, and thus the house was finished, the roofer traditionally used to fashion a small shîsâ from leftover tiles so that he could protect the house. Today ready-made shisas of all varieties and sizes are sold in shops. At a circumference of just over 9 km, Taketomi is so small that you can walk around the whole island in a few hours. There is only one village with a school, a post office, a couple of restaurants and pensions – and a considerable number of bicycle rental shops. The passenger ferry from the main island of Ishigaki takes about ten minutes, and day-trippers flock to Taketomi because of its rich history, nature, beaches and butterflies. A road sign points out... Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2017 at Westwards
„This is the largest shop, it’s open all day without a lunch break!“, the guest house owner explains on the way into the only village of Hateruma Island. “And this is one of the three restaurants we have – that way, you get to the lighthouse...“ Hateruma Island is the southernmost inhabited island of Japan and belongs to the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. It takes an hour to get there by speedboat from Ishigaki, the main island, but the boat – which should run several times daily – is often cancelled due to high waves. Not surprisingly, the island is largely self-sufficient, and although it has a great subtropical location, tourism plays a minor role – agriculture is trump. Most of the nearly flat surface of Hateruma is covered with sugar cane fields, and to our surprise, ... Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 2017 at Westwards
Riding a car on Iriomote Island is a weird experience: it takes nearly two hours to follow the one and only road from one end to the other around half the circumference of the island. There are two traffic lights, one at the strategic crossing to the island's main harbour, the other one, push-button style, in front of a school. The universal speed limit of 40 km per hour overland, and 30 km per hour in settlements, allows you to observe the landscape while driving. Occasionally we see some goats or birds – once even the rare Kanmuri-washi (Crested Serpent Eagle) – but the most consistent sight is the image of a kind of spotted cat. The cat is depicted on signboards and traffic signs. Sometimes we see cat statues guarding bridges, sitting in public rest areas or in people's gardens. Are the inhabitants of Iriomote fanatic cat lovers? No, the traffic signs warn to watch out for the Iriomote Yamaneko, ... Continue reading
Posted Feb 26, 2017 at Westwards
We have just entered the enormous Cologne Cathedral when an order in long red robes clears his throat: "Please, would you take off your hat," he advises a tourist heading into the nave of the gothic church. It is a few days before Christmas and quite cold – but while it's considered disrespectful for men to wear a hat or woollen cap inside the Cathedral, women can keep theirs on. Good for us! These guards are called Domschweizer, the "Swiss Guard" of the Cologne Cathedral, but are much more than security guards: They are guardians of morale and etiquette, give directions and collect donations. The Cologne Cathedral is one of the most-visited places in Germany, with at least 6 million visitors each year. Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site … Continue reading
Posted Feb 16, 2017 at Westwards
In November 2016 we travelled for 15 days through Northern Sudan. Entering from Egypt by public bus via the new road, we made our way to Khartoum visiting Wadi Halfa, Sai Island, Soleb/ Wawa, Dongola, Karima, Atbara and the pyramids of Bagrawwiya (Meroe) along the way. While transport, accommodation and food were very cheap, the entrance fees for the sites were outrageously high (read our blog post on the costs). As so few people visit Sudan individually and reports about the experience are rare and quite diverse, we were a bit nervous what to expect. Whereas in other African (including North African) countries we have experienced the majority of people to be rather pro-active if not outright aggressive in their wish to communicate with foreigners, Sudan was different. We had heard and read so much ... Continue reading
Posted Feb 7, 2017 at Westwards
We think it should be possible in one day: Hiking up to the peak from the parking / bus stop (about 2100 m) might take 5 to 6 hours, so it's maybe 12 to 14 in total, including breaks, and a rather demanding day. The main difficulty is logistics, as you need to get a permit ( for a convenient midday slot. You can either rent a car and drive up in the morning and back after the hike (an even longer day), or stay in the (somewhat pricey) Parador Hotel in the National Park. By bus, you only arrive at the start of the hike at 10 am and will have to take the cable car down to make it in time for the bus back. If you don't get a permit for the peak, the two-day hike overnighting in the Refugio Alta Vista (as we did) is still an option and perfectly doable over a weekend.
At 5 am, several alarms beep and jingle and shafts of light tremble through the room, until finally someone turns on the ceiling light. The air in the large dormitory is smelly, but the Refugio Altavista is the only accommodation near the peak of Mt Teide, Spain's highest mountain. Almost everyone sleeping here is going to climb the peak in the early morning hours – except perhaps for a few who may have been up there yesterday. At 3718 m, Mt Teide is not only Spain's highest mountain but also a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site and the centre of a protected national park. … When we tried to apply for the necessary permit a couple of weeks before our visit to the Canary Island of Tenerife, all slots were already booked. The only other option to climb the peak is staying at the Refugio Altavista … Continue reading
Posted Jan 25, 2017 at Westwards
“I can put you on the waiting list – could you walk around and come back in around 30 minutes?” the waitress asks. The restaurant space of Shiso Burger in Berlin Mitte is too small and cramped to wait, and there's already a crowd of half a dozen people waiting to even be put on the waiting list. It is 3 pm … When we come back it takes another 5 minutes before we are parked neatly into a tiny slot near the entrance: We have to draw the small table into the aisle, arrange Natascha and our coats and bags on the bench and push the table back towards her. The next table is less than 10 cm away, and nearly all the other customers are foreign tourists. We order edamame as a starter, the two vegetarian burger options, veggie burger and toad burger, and a home-made shiso lemonade. … Continue reading
Posted Jan 14, 2017 at Westwards