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A hot desert wind is sweeping across the sand dunes as we walk towards the pyramids in Nuri in Northern Sudan. White animal bones and skulls are bleaching in the relentless sun, while in the distance someone is leading a group of camels. There are about 6 or 8 stone pyramids, smaller but still similar to the Old Kingdom Pyramids in Gizeh/ Egypt. The largest of the pyramids is so eroded and weather-beaten that it might be mistaken for a very peculiarly-shaped hill; but it is the pyramid-tomb of Taharqa, the greatest Nubian king and Egyptian Pharaoh of the 25th Dynasty. By the 8th century BC, the might of the Egyptian Kingdoms had waned and the Nile country had seen several divisions and foreign rules. On the upper reaches of the Nile, in today's Sudan, the Nubian Kingdom of Kush grew stronger – and the Black African Nubians, who had once been colonised by Egypt and adopted the Egyptian gods, customs and civilisation, felt as the appropriate heirs to revive the Pharaonic Kingdom … Continue reading
Posted Nov 26, 2016 at Westwards
Girls are walking in groups up and down Aswan's Corniche in the early evening light, sporting colourful headscarves and daring knitwear jackets that cover only the back part of the hips. Even those accompanied by stern older women in textile-intensive black garb and who are wearing black as well, manage to accentuate their waists or let some strains of hair come through the headscarves. The fashion-conscious young women talk to us freely, asking us a lot of curious questions, and they also interact with men quite normally. The surprising thing about this is that Aswan, far in the South of Upper Egypt, is one of the more conservative places in Egypt. At our last visit in 2012/13, at the height of the Mursi administration, people had been timid and depressed … It seems to us that by far most Egyptians appreciate the newest change of government: … Continue reading
Posted Nov 17, 2016 at Westwards
Thanks, Sarah - we have managed half-way so far ...
We had started before nine am from Cairo in order to reach Hurghada by the early afternoon. It was supposed to be an uneventful, boring bus ride of a few hours through the desert with glimpses of the Red Sea and the Sinai Mountains beyond, and we had brought a sweater against the air-con in the bus but nothing to read or work. After dozing for three hours, the lunch break seemed unnecessary... Oh had we skipped the break! Half an hour later we are among the first to be stopped in a roadblock near Ras Gharib, a small town at the Red Sea coast ... The onward coastal road is closed, nothing unusual, it seems. “Due to the bad weather”, our hotel in Hurghada confirms when we call to say we are delayed. “A few hours,” assures the bus driver when we have relocated to a small cafeteria at the edge of the town. “No, not tomorrow,” he laughs at Natascha's suggestion. Meanwhile it has gone dark, and heavy rain has set in. ... Continue reading
Posted Nov 1, 2016 at Westwards
The plate is heaped with deep-fried vegetables and squares of manioc, various pastes made from pulses or aubergines, salads and crispy ta'miya balls, garnished with a generous amount of peanut sauce and served with a small flat Arabian bread. There's a lot of cumin in the ta'miya (like falafel, but made from beans), and spices we don't recognize in a fried lentil stick they call "nile fingers". In the run-up to our planned Sudan trip in November (we'll still need to get the visa), we test another couple of Sudanese diners in Berlin. There are quite a few of them, but taste rather alike, and … Having attended to the basic needs, we went to see Sudanese culture in Berlin – or rather: archaeological finds from Sudan. The New Museum's Egypt collection … Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2016 at Westwards
Thanks for your kind words - and I already bought a new bike. Hopefully I can pick it up today....Natascha
Time is flying or so it seems, and autumn has arrived. The last three months again were a very busy time for us, and we didn't have much time for updating the travel blog. At the end of June we came back from the one-month research trip for the new edition of our Uzbekistan guidebook and in mid-July we left again for Tyrol in Austria. And that is where we spent the best part of the summer – in the mountains of the Alps, doing research for a brand-new guidebook on Tyrol. Seven fun- and action-packed but exhausting weeks. One of the absolute highlights was a five-day Alpine climbing excursion … Continue reading
Posted Oct 6, 2016 at Westwards
We had been warned by the locals - every time we mentioned the Drau River Cycling Path, they frowned and murmured something about "the Italians". But nevertheless we stuck with our plan of cycling the first leg of the Drau River Cycling Path. Our one-day cycling trip begins in the small town of Toblach in Northern Italy, and by the time we reach Innichen … later we reach Sillian, a somewhat nondescript small town and yet home to one of the best chocolate makers around, perhaps in the whole of Tyrol: Pichler chocolates. We had already come across their fabulous products … Continue reading
Posted Sep 24, 2016 at Westwards
We are still writing, but with different priorities ...
“The trail is not easy: After passing ladders and iron clamps, you finally have to draw yourself up a rock face to stand upon a narrow ridge”. That's anyway what Natascha remembers having read about the "Klamml Steig" (ravine track) in the Eagle Trail booklet detailing our trekking tour through the Kaiser Mountains. Being in the mountains for three days, we do have some luggage and it is quite foggy today – so she's nervous. … Only when we climb some particularly high rock steps, and stand on a small trail with meadows falling off to the side, we realize that this must already have been the difficult part! … The "Wilde Kaiser" Mountain (lit. “wilde emperor mountain”) doesn't relate to one of those Habsburg emperors of which the Austrians – and the Tyroleans for that matter – had quite a few. The term denotes … Continue reading
Posted Sep 10, 2016 at Westwards
Apparently they haven't yet reinstalled any exhibition inside the castle building - so if there are crowds (which can happen in the tourist seasons in spring and autumn) there's not really a point in going inside the main tower. From the gardens and side buildings you get the best views, whereas from inside you see mostly the town of Himeji from above, which is not really worthwhile. But the whole layout of the walls and structures, yes, that's the castle to visit in Japan.
In a guest house in Samarkand we met Ben from Young Pioneer Travels, a travel agency that specializes in budget trips to North Korea and strange former Soviet places in general. He told us about the solar furnace north of Tashkent and a few weeks later, coming from the small town of Parkent, we see a huge and rather indefinable building on one of the foothills of the Chimgan mountains: A somehow pyramid-shaped tower in metallic white and yellow – a type of building we would otherwise associate with a weird religious cult, but we are in Uzbekistan and that's clearly out of the question. ... Continue reading
Posted Jul 23, 2016 at Westwards
Some of the hotels at Lake Akanko Display moss balls in water jars in their Lobby.
Yes, and it's easy to organise and a brief day trip from Berlin.
Half of the year 2016 is already over and it is time for our second quarterly review: We both spent April travelling in Japan doing tour guiding work for different German tour operators. Everything went rather smooth, and with nice guests and interesting itineraries we had a good month. In mid-April, several earthquakes hit the area of Kumamoto, …We spent the bigger part of May in Berlin, with writing assignments for travel articles and the preparation of several upcoming research trips for our travel guidebooks. In between we went to Tyrol for 12 days to check out … Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2016 at Westwards
„The historical guided tour will start at approximately 1 pm sharp“, roars the guy at the ticket counter at 12.58 – maybe he thinks himself funny. Around 70 people have gathered for the tour of the Teufelsberg spy installations left from the Cold War area in the southwestern part of Berlin. Fifteen minutes later, the ticket seller is still commanding visitors to sign their names and addresses into a list. Several people comment on his rudeness and the bad vibes he is emitting, so we are glad as the actual guide arrives. Continue reading
Posted Jun 25, 2016 at Westwards
If you do research (or go on holidays) in the Alps you know beforehand that you will have rain on some days, but nevertheless you plan your trip as if there would be no rain at all. And so did we when we started out for our 12-day research trip for a Tyrol travel guidebook a few weeks ago. We left Berlin in warm and sunny weather by train. Six hours later, when we had to change trains in Munich, the sky had turned grey, and heavy rain set in just behind Munich. It did not stop for the next two days. The Tourist Information of Kufstein had provided us with electric bikes ... Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2016 at Westwards
The first blog post we did in 2006 as sort of a test blog post was a report about the „88-Temple-Pilgrimage“ (in Japanese 四国八十八箇所, shikoku hachijū hakkasho ) - a pilgrims path on the Japanese island of Shikoku. The following text is a revamped version of this original first blog post with more pictures! --- “We are now at Temple Nr. 45 of the 88-temple pilgrimage, the Iwayaji-Temple. The main hall is up the stairs, the Kobo Daishi hall is on the left side. Be sure to be back at the bus down in the parking lot in 20 minutes,” the guide urges her group of about 20 Buddhist pilgrims clad in the traditional white pilgrim’s garb from head to toe. It is ten past seven in the morning, and we watch them hurry through the temple grounds … Continue reading
Posted May 30, 2016 at Westwards
Bloggers celebrate their anniversaries: "one year of travel blogging", or two or even five years – but we can look back on ten years of travel blogging, starting from May 2006. Back then there were very few travel blogs around and the concept of blogs in general was quite new to most people. We had lived and worked in Tokyo and when our contracts ended decided to go travelling for an extended period. Wishing to stay in contact with friends and relatives we came up with the blog idea … To be honest over the course of these ten years the blog was a source of struggle more than joy. We enjoy writing and still appreciate the potential to develop our own story ideas and to publish them freely, but on the other hand most of our original motivations for writing the blog did not work out at all. Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2016 at Westwards
This year, Natascha went out to find the place where the world's first atomic bomb (except for the test bomb) exploded on 6 August 1945. We have both been to Hiroshima several times and have visited the memorial monuments in the Peace Park, the area that was completely destroyed by the atomic bomb. But as the actual hypocenter of the atomic bomb neither lies within the Peace Park, nor is it advertised or signed, it is not a place many tourists visit. It is somewhat to the east of the easily recognizable T-shaped bridge connecting the tip of an island in the river with the two river banks that was the official aim for the pilot Paul Tibbets, who dropped the bomb over the city of Hiroshima. A small sign next to a dentist's office proclaims that this is the spot … Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2016 at Westwards
A capsule hotel is a peculiar Japanese type of accommodation. It was invented in the late 1970s in Osaka by star architect Kisho Kurokawa (see also our text about his Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo), and has since become a mainstay of inner-city overnight accommodation. Instead of a room you check into a “capsule”, a sleeping unit barely bigger than a coffin – stacked in two tiers with access to common toilets and showers. While in the past most capsule hotels catered mainly for business men who had missed their last train home, recently some higher class capsule hotels – which also accommodate women – have opened in the bigger cities. The First Cabin chain is expanding very fast and that is where I (Natascha) checked in for one night during my recent stay in Tokyo … Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2016 at Westwards
Fishmongers are shouting outside the massive city walls, showing off their shiny tunas and smaller tropical fish to potential buyers. Not far away the old city gate leads into a long, dark tunnel directly into the past: The town square beyond, surrounded by arcaded buildings and leafy trees, is more colonial than anything we have seen in Sri Lanka. A sign on one of the buildings reads "Court of Justice" and at first we suppose that there will be an exhibition inside about the Dutch or British legal system in the colonies – but then we notice the people standing outside, many of them visibly nervous … Galle, the old fortified harbour town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its mix of colonial and local traditions, because Continue reading
Posted Apr 29, 2016 at Westwards
The elderly couple study the bus timetable: The bus goes not even once an hour, and the last one departs around 4pm - visiting the spread-out sights around Asuka involves some logistics. Most visitors had better advice, I soon discover, as they have rented electric bicycles. From Japan's old imperial city of Kyoto, a short train ride has brought me to the town of Asuka and directly into the past – where Japan's history gets deeper, and muddier. Nara, a town between Kyoto and Asuka, was the country's first permanent capital, because Buddhism, which had recently been introduced as a state religion, both required and enabled such permanence. Before that, an archaic belief system full of taboos and cleansing rituals had been the prevalent religion. And the state of Yamato … Continue reading
Posted Apr 24, 2016 at Westwards
„If someone gets angry, I let him. I just say 'Allah karim' and he will calm down. Never say something about Jesus to a Muslim,“ advised our taxi driver in Doha – like practically everyone we met in Qatar not a Qatari himself. The taxi driver is from Nepal, raised by a Hindu mother and a Christian father. Although there is a huge Hindu population in Doha, there is no Hindu temple because the community lacks influence, but there are a few Christian churches. „Right now, I go to church with a friend on Sundays, because he is paying for the taxi anyway,“ our taxi driver goes on. We love this down-to-earth attitude. When we booked our flight to Sri Lanka with Qatar Airways we knew that we wanted to do a stopover in the gulf country. After some discussion on what to see and do, and about the costs, we settled for three nights, still unsure whether this would turn out to be too long in a city we imagined to be very clean and strict. In the end we totally loved our stay. Doha is not a city for pedestrians. … Continue reading
Posted Apr 18, 2016 at Westwards
„Let us create a chocolate bar that fits into every pocket without breaking, but with regular weight!,“ suggested Clara Ritter in 1932 to the rest of her family of chocolate producers. Although the chocolate company had already been founded in 1912, it was the characteristic square chocolate bar, which they named "Ritter Sport," that brought success. … Today you can buy the colourfully packaged chocolate squares in 103 countries, almost all over the world. At the Gendarmenmarkt in the centre of Berlin the company has set up their „Colourful ChocoWorld,“ basically a shop containing a small exhibition and restaurant … Continue reading
Posted Apr 12, 2016 at Westwards