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Summer-time and no queues at check-in counter at the airport. Actually the check-in area is almost empty and there are only a handful of counters, some of them bearing the names of exotic airlines such as Bourbon Air. The single baggage carousel for arriving passengers stands still because nobody has arrived at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin since 2008 when operations ceased. Nowadays, the terminal building – or parts thereof – can be rented for events such as upmarket trade shows. We have joined a tour of the airport terminal, which is still one of the world's largest buildings, … Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Westwards
In fact, considering that we were there on a "happy" holiday (on the "trist" holiday the day before the site was closed) the crowds were quite bearable. By far most of them were Iranians, and the few foreign tourists come in groups and rush through in an hour in early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat. So, presumably, on a summer weekday around noon you would be all alone. If you are looking for *really* empty archaelogical sites we know dozens of them in Central Asia. Some examples: Uzbekistan: Tajikistan Kazakhstan
We had our carrot juice with ice cream, very nourishing! And no, there is no vegan ice cream in Iran as yet...
How much did it cost to travel in Iran for 16 days? We haven't posted any budget pie charts for a long time, but still thought it might interest you how much our Iran trip in June did add up to. Expenses per day in Iran (for two people) We spent 16 days and 16 nights in the country which cost us an average of 52.43 € per day for the two of us. During this time we visited Teheran, Isfahan, Yazd, Shiraz with Persepolis and Mashhad (day trip to Nishapur). This figure includes all local costs such as accommodation, public transport, food, entrance fees and some additional items such as a SIM card, but not the flight from Berlin to Teheran and visa costs. Apart from a photoshopped picture of us in the holy Reza Shrine in Mashhad we did not buy any souvenirs. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter most parts of the shrine and even pilgrims are not allowed to take pictures inside. That is why a lot of photo studios offer pictures of pilgrims digitally altered so that they appear to be INSIDE the holy shrine area. Our only souvenir: an edited version of our visit... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Westwards
The small burger joint has only one table and a counter inside, but there's a bit of space on the pavement for another two tables. The room looks down-to earth and more or less like a regular Berlin Imbiss-style diner. What is unusual is that this burger bar only serves organic vegetarian and vegan burgers, for which they have developed a special spelt bun together with the whole food bakery Beumer & Lutum. Burgers and fries are served on a tablet with a sheet of paper without no dishes (even for the mayonnaise) – which also means no plastic at all. The menu changes a bit every week, but the “Orient Express” is one of the burgers that are always available. Apart from the vegetable patty, it includes beetroot, a tiny speck of feta cheese, and some dark sweet chutney which rather dominates the taste. Natascha has a “Red Hot Chilli Chick”, which features a vegan fake chicken patty, plus, obviously, chilli sauce and ample amounts of cheese, roast onions and sweet ketchup. The French fries are crisp enough but the taste of the seasoning mix applied before frying is quite strong. We ordered them with the "homemade mustard elderberry... Continue reading
Posted Jul 21, 2015 at Westwards
Ah, how strangely different it must have been. We have been to some places that were both spectacular and empty of tourists - Abu Simbel after the revolution, or the petroglyphs of Tamgaly in Kazakhstan. But never on this scale ...
The wide approach to the ancient site of Persian Persepolis is full of lively families and small groups, having an outing on the last of three consecutive holidays. Early picnickers had already begun to select good spots on the lawn between the pine trees along the road side and beside the huge parking lot. We join the long queue at the ticket office, where two men hand out tickets and change from a huge drawer full of banknotes. … The ruins of the Achaemenid city are one of the best-preserved sites from ancient Persian history and one of the top sites in Iran. After filling up the water bottles (yes, tap water is drinkable in most places in Iran), we walk up the grand staircase to the palaces. We rather like the idea that visitors have done so for more than 2000 years. Like them, we arrive at the Gate of All Nations with its huge figures of lamassu, an ancient Persian deity similar to a centaur but with a bull's body and a man's head. It's midday, the sun is vertically above us … Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2015 at Westwards
Before we left we had no doubt that we would enjoy our visit to Iran and we never worried about safety in the country. What we had in mind when we thought of Iran was mostly top-notch sightseeing, very friendly people and good food. On the other hand we also noticed that many articles and blogs, perhaps in response to the bad image they had had before they went, or to the bad image of Iran in their own country's media, tend to paint Iran in very rosy colours. We feel these black-and-white descriptions only mirror the propaganda apparently prevailing in both Iran and the US (at least we cannot confirm the bad press for Germany). As we wrote in our previous post, we loved our almost three weeks in Iran and we will for sure come back, but (as in all countries) there were also some annoyances. The most unnerving detail about our visit to Iran was, in fact, the hijab law … Continue reading
Posted Jul 3, 2015 at Westwards
Over the years, our interest in the old silk road routes has brought us to quite a lot of old mud brick ruins in Central Asia. This time we have set our mind to the ruined towns of Paikent and Varaksha. Both settlements, we know, are not very far away from Bukhara, so during our two days in town we set out to explore them. „To Qoraköl? Ah, to the border, yes?“ Although we have only a small daypack between the two of us the shared-taxi driver naturally assumes we want to go to Turkmenistan – there's nothing else in the direction of Qoraköl where tourists might want to go. Except for the ruins of ancient Paikent:... Continue reading
Posted Jun 26, 2015 at Westwards
The very first newspaper travel article that we wrote and got published in a German newspaper, back in 2006, was about Turkmenistan. „Unzugänglich and bizarr“ (unapproachable and bizarre) we had titled it ... Some of the obeservations we made back then are still valid, but a lot has changed. Turkmenistan is one of the world's most reclusive countries and not exactly welcoming to tourists. You can only visit with a tour or a private guide and driver, making it a quite expensive and also very nannied experience. The only way to enter without a guide and move quite freely is on a transit visa, which we had already done in 2006. Back then we came from Bukhara in Uzbekistan and took the ferry over the Caspian sea to Baku in Azerbaijan. This time we applied for our tranist visa in Tehran ... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2015 at Westwards
When we enter the museum in the town of Mary (the modern city near the ancient Merv), a whole platoon of soldiers is waiting in the archaeological section for a guided tour. "Too many men in that room", we are told and advised to start with the ethnographic exhibition instead, which turns out to be quite interesting, too…. Merv is the oldest of the oasis cities on the Central Asian Silk Road, dating back as far as the 3rd millenium BC. The Bactria-Margiana region in today's Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, was one of the earliest centres of agriculture and sedentary life, where the first Neolithic settlements appeared nearly 8000 years ago, … Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2015 at Westwards
A waiter is carrying a huge tray of ice cream and chilled faludeh (sweet starch noodles in rose water) to a group of friends sitting on low stone walls – the ice cream shop doesn't have seating facilities but the Naqshe Jahan Square offers enough of them. Extended families are sitting on carpet-patterned plastic sheets on the lawn, while their children are playing around, and in between you can see young couples discreetly flirting. It is Thursday evening and thus weekend in Islamic countries. The sun is low enough not to burn anymore, and it is the perfect time for a visit to Isfahan's largest and most famous square. Its official name is Meidan-e Shah, but everyone still says Naqshe Jahan, meaning „Image of the World“. To Isfahanis, it seems forgivable if you don't see the the world itself. Officially, the square is designated as a World Heritage site because it is „an urban phenomenon which is an exception ... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2015 at Westwards
After one week travelling in Iran we can say for certain that we like the country tremendously. Actually we never once thought that we might not like Iran. We had seen pictures of the beautiful Islamic architecture and had some historical sights in mind – big names such as Persepolis and Isfahan that send you dreaming just by the sound of it. If we go it should be at least 5 weeks or so, we had always agreed. Now finally, we have made it, albeit just for a little more than 2 weeks and as a prequel to a work trip in Central Asia. Just as expected, our first impression of Iran is very advantageous, with friendly people and a cheerful, relaxed atmosphere. And yet, whenever we talk to Iranians they seem concerned: „I hope you have a good impression of Iran? ... Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2015 at Westwards
The young guardsman appears slightly uneasy: A group of German tourists is jumping up and down in front of the Marble Throne Hall in Tehran's Golestan Palace. A large glass screen is blocking the view of the enormous marble throne and its famed decorations, and it's angled in such a way that the sky reflects and it's all but impossible to take a decent photo of the pomp. Finally one man is taking his wife on the shoulders so that she can take a picture. Like most women in the group, she isn't exactly clad according to the stricter interpretations of Iranian dress rules, and the guardsman is probably mulling whether he should intervene for reasons of modesty, but decides against it. Golestan Palace, the palace of the Qajar rulers from the late 18th century onwards, is Tehran's only UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and along with the jewelry museum the city's main tourist draw. Actually it is more a collection of royal residences Continue reading
Posted May 28, 2015 at Westwards
"Buy coffee", people advise us when we mention that we will pass through Luxembourg on our way to Burgundy and "Calculate how much petrol you need before you get into Luxembourg, and then you can fill up there!" For most Germans, the tiny country of Luxembourg with its favourable tax laws is mainly a shopping or a tax paradise, but not necessarily a sightseeing destination – although the mighty structures of the former fortress are a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1994 and well worth a visit. Armed with the leaflet “Wenzel Walk” dispersed by the tourist information in the city centre, we feel geared up for our self-guided walk through the fortifications. The walk is named after … Continue reading
Posted May 24, 2015 at Westwards
Hopefully, we are going to find out soon!
Last Friday we went to Stralsund, a hanseatic town on the German Baltic Sea Coast. It was not so much a holiday in itself as an escape from Berlin, where we had been urgently waiting for the reference number from the Iranian foreign ministry. … In spite of our distress, the sun is shining when we arrive in Stralsund, and people relax in front of the historic City Hall. Children are taking flight from the fountain on the Old Market Square with its erroneous burps of water. The long bridge over the Strelasund to the island of Rügen (where the camp site is located) is popular with anglers, and from the harbour of Altefähr on the opposite bank of the sund, Stralsund looks sparkling in the evening sun. But the next day it is cold and windy, so we decide for indoor sightseeing. Stralsund boasts the allegedly most-visited museum in Northern Germany, … Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2015 at Westwards
Maybe you should try the German poetry form of Schüttelreim in English? ("shaken rhyme": a rhyming couplet with a humorous effect caused by swapping of initial consonants) Es klapperten die Klapperschlangen bis ihre Klappern schlapper klangen. That should be possible in English, too, although it's not so popular. I've only found a few: From rose to rose they flutter by, hummingbird and butterfly. The expedition (polar) soured because the gear was solar powered. from
You might think it weird for us as vegetarians to visit a „Wurstmuseum“ – a museum that is dedicated to a specific variety of German sausage. But we went out of curiosity rather than of culinary interest, and it promised some undemanding diversion in an otherwise busy writing day. As one would expect, there is not much actually to see in such a museum in terms of "original art work" or artefacts – it is more like an entertaining read plus hands-on activities loosely grouped around the Currywurst theme. Currywurst is a fried pork sausage cut up into slices, seasoned with a curry-tomato sauce, and topped with curry powder. …. Currywurst is such a famous fast food in Berlin that people visit explicitly to taste it, and guided Currywurst tours are offered here. Berlin is where the Currywurst was allegedly invented, but the dish is also widespread in the West German Ruhr district. A novel by the German author Uwe Timm even claims … Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2015 at Westwards
When we visited Vietnam last year, we especially enjoyed the Buddhist vegetarian restaurants that were ubiquitous in the Mekong Delta. They were easy to recognise because "chay" means vegetarian and every such restaurant was called Chay Something. Chay Village in Schöneberg, then, is completely vegetarian, and most dishes are vegan anyway, as eggs and dairy products don't play a major role in Vietnamese cuisine. In any case, they offer to prepare any dish in a vegan version. On a Friday evening, the restaurant is full, and we are glad that a friend recommended making a reservation. The bar area in the front room is decked out in Buddha statues and flower vases, and the interior design with dark wooden tables … Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2015 at Westwards
Seit einigen Tagen ist die Neuauflage unseres DuMont Direkt Reiseführers „Mecklenburgische Seenplatte“ im Buchhandel erhältlich. Der Reiseführer ist ideal für Kurztrips in die Region, vor allem, wenn man wenig Zeit für die Vorbereitung hat. Die 15 Direktkapitel ermöglichen den direkten Einstieg vor Ort, egal ob per Kajak, mit dem Fahrrad, dem Auto oder zu Fuß. … Continue reading
Posted May 7, 2015 at Westwards
A subtle smell of incense wafts from the cone on the small plate. But does it really smell any different from that on the other small plate? Mrs Takazawa, the incense teacher, has only prepared three different fragrances for us – but assigning each one to the matching cone seems impossible. „Kôdô – the way of the scent" is not about winning – it is, as all Japanese traditional arts – about contemplation. Forgetting the daily routines and tasks, pausing for a while. … The town of Kanazawa is situated on the so-called backside of Japan, separated from the big cities and the Pacific coast by high mountains. Since April 2014, the Hokuriku Shinkansen (super express train) has made it easier to reach this little gem of Japanese culture … Continue reading
Posted May 2, 2015 at Westwards
Signs on the walkway below the blooming cherry trees say that tripods are forbidden by all means. The congestion caused by all the visitors taking snapshots explains why it wouldn't be a good idea to let gear-conscious Japanese amateur photographers put up their tripods and massive lenses in this bottleneck of the walking route around Kiyomizu temple. … This spot offers the best views (and photo opportunities) of one of Kyoto's most famous temples. The lane leading up to the temple is lined with souvenir shops and in the afternoon you often have to queue just to pass up or down. Kyoto's most visited site, however, is a Zen temple called Rokuon-ji, or rather, the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji). Originally the retirement villa of a fabled 14th-century Shogun (or military ruler), this gold-coated pavilion was burned down in 1950 by a mentally disturbed novice monk … Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2015 at Westwards
At 5 am in the morning, still tucked into our sleeping bags in the filthy cabin of the Mercury ferry boat, we hear the anchor chain being lowered into the port basin. In the red sky of dawn we have a first glimpse of the skyline of Baku; some of our Turkmen fellow passengers are almost moved to tears. In 2006, we were on our way back to Europe overland, and coming from Turkmenistan we had to cross the Caspian Sea to get to Azerbaijan. From the time of landing it took another 6 hours until we were finally allowed to leave the ferry and enter Baku. We walked with two fellow passengers, a quiet Russian businessman and a gaunt, somewhat shabby guy with a baseball cap, along disused railway tracks until we found ourselves in the centre of town. The Inner City of Baku became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, and is composed of cute winding streets with old houses, wooden covered balconies, and a fantastic mix of different buildings from the Persian, Ottoman and Russian periods … Continue reading
Posted Apr 22, 2015 at Westwards
Before we travel in a new country, we usually have a look at the UNESCO World Heritage list. Most of the time we have an idea of the major designated monuments and parks, but there are also others that we have to look up. One of these less-famous places that not even everybody living in Mexico City has heard of was the house of Luis Barragán in Mexico City. Luis Barragán was a 20th century self-taught Mexican architect. ... Only after the New York MOMA had held a retrospective in 1975 did he finally receive the prestigious Pritzker Prize, awarded to him in 1980. His own private home in Mexico City was declared a World Heritage site in 2004. On this particular sunny October day, we have difficulties finding the house ... Continue reading
Posted Apr 16, 2015 at Westwards