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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 7 days ago at Westwards
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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...
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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
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"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
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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
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„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
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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
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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
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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 (https://www.reservasparquesnacionales.es/real/ParquesNac/usu/html/detalle-actividad-oapn.aspx?ii=6ENG&cen=2&act=1) 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.
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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
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“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
Actually, we hadn't even thought that far - our intention was to have some sort of tent in case there is no accommodation (and without rain, you don't need the heavy outer tent). But looking back, those "hotel" rooms are exactly what we would recommend to take a tent for.
Well, the sightseeing was our main reason to visit Sudan in the first place, especially with our (professional) interest in Pharaonic Egypt. And to be honest, apart from the historical sights, it's not a country we would recommend visiting. Desert and beans ...
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Tenerife is not exactly known for cultural tourism, but there is one UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site on the island: The historic quarter of San Cristobal de la Laguna – or short La Laguna. Being a World Heritage site, it caught our attention and we decided to visit it on our way to Mount Teide, at 3718 m Spain's highest mountain and a UNESCO Natural Heritage. As the whole old town is part of the UNESCO Heritage we just walked through the cobbled streets, took pictures of the beautifully carved balconies (Moorish influences!) and peaked into several attractive historic courtyards. La Laguna was founded in 1496 … Continue reading
Posted Jan 3, 2017 at Westwards
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We wish you all a very happy and successful Year of 2017! As always around this time of the year we do a little recap of the last year and will give you some ideas what we are up to in 2017. 2016 has been a busy year: we spent almost nine months on the road travelling and working. Back in Berlin, we usually had to write like crazy to meet our deadlines. But on the other hand it was a very productive year, too: We wrote a new guide book for Tyrol/ Austria, which will be out in the book stores in late spring. And we revised three other guidebooks … We visited Qatar, Sri Lanka and Sudan, spent many weeks in Tyrol, did an Alpine climbing course, got around terrorist attacks and drowning, and generally ate well … Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2016 at Westwards
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Wir wünschen euch allen ein fantastisches Jahr 2017! Und wie immer gibt es an dieser Stelle einen kleinen Rückblick auf das vergangene Jahr: Wo waren wir unterwegs? Was hat uns besonders gut gefallen? Auf was hätten wir verzichten können? Und vor allem, was bringt das neue Jahr 2017? Insgesamt waren wir 2016 fast 9 Monate unterwegs. Wenn wir zwischendurch einige Wochen oder Tage in Berlin waren, stand viel Schreibarbeit an. So konnten wir einen brandneuen DuMont-Tirol-Reiseführer fertigstellen, und drei weitere, nämlich … Wir waren in Qatar, in Sri Lanka und im Sudan, sind Fluten und Anschlägen entkommen, haben einen Alpinkletterkurs gemacht und gut gegessen … Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2016 at Westwards
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The Pyramids of Meroe are visible from afar, a dozen or so triangles made from stone bricks sticking out from the hills like a row of broken teeth. The Sudanese passengers in our crowded overland bus are dozing in their seats, curtains drawn, they are on their way to Khartoum and don’t care for the views outside. “Please stop here,” we shout to the driver in Arabic, or at least we hope we do – anyway he gets the point and lets us get off into the desert. From the road we have to trod just about 500 m across the sand towards the ticket office of the huge pyramid compound, but the souvenir sellers and the lone German tourist resting in the shade with his guide and driver are speechless for a moment … The pyramids belong to the ancient Kushite capital of Meroe nearby and served as a royal cemetery from the 8th century BC until the 4th century AD. … Since the Kushite kings of Meroe saw themselves as legitimate heirs to the Egyptian Pharaohs – the 25th Dynasty had been from today’s Sudan, Meroe controlled some important temples, and Egypt itself was meanwhile under the control of foreign powers – they continued to build in a super-Pharaonic style. They built (smallish) pyramids ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 27, 2016 at Westwards
Thanks, Dennis. Good for us that most of their food is vegetarian anyway...
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We travelled overland from Abu Simbel in Egypt to Khartoum in 15 days / 14 nights in November 2016. Travelling in Northern Sudan may not be easy and comfortable, but it's rather straightforward and the opportunities for spending money were quite limited. Altogether we spent a little more than 800 €, not including the bus in and the flight out of Sudan, but including all other fees and visa costs. Nearly half of that amount went directly to the government, covering visa and similar fees and sightseeing. Accommodation, food, and transport on the other hand were almost negligible.... Accommodation - On average we spent 11.65 € per night on accommodation: ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 10, 2016 at Westwards
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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
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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 ...
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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