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On a lovely Sunday afternoon in August, the federal ministries of the German capital of Berlin held their annual open day and we were looking for some undemanding diversion from work. We checked the information home page: The Ministry of Finance wooed visitors with international organic street food in the garden (now that was something) and a talk with Mr. Schäuble, the finance minister. And it will also be possible to take part in a guided tour through the historic building – we love historic buildings and street food! The Ministry of Finance was built in the 1930s by the German architect Ernst Sagebiel, who also built the now abandoned airport in Berlin-Tempelhof. Planned as a representative building for the Reichsluftfahrtministerium, the Aviation Ministry of the Third Reich, it was finished within two years, just in time for the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. But then … Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Westwards
We are trying a new format this week on the blog: a summary of the last three months in real life and on the blog. As we not only posted about current travels, but also did some blog posts on the UNESCO sites we have visited longer ago, it may not always be clear from the blog posts where we are right now, or where we have been recently. It might not look like this, but after a longer Central Asia trip in June we spent the better part of the summer in Berlin working on two different guide books (Central Asia and Japan), only interrupted by 16 days of wonderful hiking and sightseeing in Switzerland. We also did … Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2015 at Westwards
The large halls with dozens of brick domes are empty and quiet. Light only filters in through the open skylights in the domes. The design of each of them and each of the many columns is slightly different. The place looks a bit like a deserted Central Asian bazaar, but also more serene and quite old. The columned halls in the South of Isfahan's Great Mosque actually date from the Seljuq period in the 11th century. The first mosque was erected on this site as early as the 8th century, and then rebuilt and extended over the centuries. … It consists of a huge courtyard with surrounding columned halls and four high, open niches in the interior walls facing the courtyard. The design was originally take from (pre-Islamic) Sassanid palace architecture. … We get rather lost in the flight of empty rooms, passing an area where supposedly a Zoroastrian temple once stood, and then near the Western Ivan Continue reading
Posted Sep 23, 2015 at Westwards
The interior of the cupola is covered in colourful tiles that form a complicated net of stars and geometrical figures. Every sector within the net is filled with a different pattern – and the design is full of surprisingly diverse details but still a perfect unit. The cupola of the Turabeg Khanum mausoleum in Kunya Urgench is about 700 years old and might very well be Central Asia's most beautiful cupola (we have seen many). We are on the fourth day of our five day transit visa through Turkmenistan and have already travelled in a shared taxi since early morning … Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2015 at Westwards
That's the tourist price. In nearly all Iranian tourist attractions, locals pay only a fraction of the tourist price - often around 20 000 Rial (about 0.60€), which is quite affordable for most.
Toggle Commented Sep 12, 2015 on Strolling through the gardens of Persia at Westwards
The old Persian word for garden is „Paradaidha.“ There must be a reason so many languages have adopted that word as the word for paradise … A long and narrow water basin stretches in front of us in the Chehel Sotoun garden in Isfahan. Twenty slender wooden columns supporting the entrance pavilion of a summer palace are reflected in the water. Chehel Sotoun, we learn, means "forty columns". The small palace behind the columns and the impressive entrance houses colourful frescoes and tile work. The garden itself, stretching to the left and right of the water basin, consists mainly of lawn with pines and, very sparsely, some flowers … Continue reading
Posted Sep 11, 2015 at Westwards
It's true, drinking water and the landscape are the only two things that are free in Switzerland. So hiking in a hot summer is probably the most cost-efficient option to visit ... Especially Geneva is considered one of the most expensive places anywhere.
To us, even groceries were rather expensive there - but then that doesn't mean much coming from Germany, and the quality was always very good. So, do go! All the countries around are also worth visiting...
Total cost of travelling in Switzerland for 14 days: 932 CHF, or 66.60 CHF per day for both of us. Travelling in Switzerland, especially right now with a very strong Swiss Franc, is not cheap, but there are ways to make it affordable. Altogether we spent 14 days in Switzerland. Seven of them we went hiking over the mountains, the second half of our trip we stayed in the Rhone Valley and at the Lac Leman, doing day hikes and some sightseeing. For the two of us these two weeks came to less than 1000 CHF (not including access to Switzerland). Hiking in the Alps was the main reason for us to visit Switzerland and the hiking is free (no entrance fees for National Parks) – so no expenses here. Accommodation: As we had our own tent, … Continue reading
Posted Sep 5, 2015 at Westwards
Thanks for stopping by. Indeed, Switzerland has, to us at least, the most beautiful mountains and the best hiking. We are planning a post about travel expenses in Switzerland soon - it doesn't have to be overly expensive.
The Jungfraujoch is not only spectacular (in good weather) but also quite an experience on a different note. Even 15 years ago, the announcements on the train were in Japanese and Korean, plus English and 3 of the 4 Swiss national languages...
After a few weeks hiking in Switzerland we feel like lingering there for a little longer – even if it's only on the blog - and doing another UNESCO post about the Jungfrau-Aletsch glacier we visited a few years ago. The Aletsch Glacier was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage in 2001, and the protected area was extended considerably in 2007. As the longish title of the World Heritage site suggests, this is the backyard of the Jungfrau region: You get a look at the famous Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau rock massif from the Southern side instead of from the North as usual. Conveniently, this also means that you stay in sun-bathed Swiss canton of Valais with over 2000 hours of sunshine per year. With a length of 23 km the Aletsch Glacier is the largest and longest glacier in Europe. It is not merely notable for its size, but also … Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2015 at Westwards
They say it's because of the snow-covered forests and the general landscape... So it's apparently not about language, although to our surprise, we found that there were many English-speaking tourists in the French-speaking part of Valais (we had expected mostly French). The Germans, obviously, prefer the German-speaking Eastern part. Many locals speak all three languages anyway.
Just over 100 km, but with an accumulated altitude difference of 6300 m – we spent 8 days in July and August hiking from Chamonix over the mountains to Nendaz in the Rhone valley. The hut on the Col de Balme at 2191 m marks the border between France and Switzerland. It looks like an ancient relic from the early days of Alpinism and the caretakers are possibly just as ancient and quite grumpy. Nevertheless, they serve us a cup of hot cocoa, and we are glad for it as we have been walking up here in constant rain and fog from Argentière near Chamonix (France). We arrived in Chamonix on a pleasant afternoon with a tent, warm clothing and a view to possibly walking all the way to Zermatt, from Mont-Blanc to the Matterhorn, on the famous Haute Route that crosses major mountain chains directly west to east. With 30 kg of luggage between the two of us, we would see how far we could get. The first day brought us to a fabulous campsite near Argentière on the end of the Chamonix valley, and the rainy second day was luckily the only one with really bad weather. On... Continue reading
Posted Aug 24, 2015 at Westwards
Yes, prices have gone up considerably in the past years (since, for instance, the research for the current LP guidebook). We have been to Yazd, and the hostel we stayed in (Kohan Hotel, did offer tours. They did seem rather expensive to us, but we don't quite remember how much it was. Perhaps around 50$ for a day trip. They did reply to e-mails (which by far not every hotel in Iran does) so you can enquire directly. Enjoy your trip, it's a fascinating country!
Toggle Commented Aug 19, 2015 on Isa's delicious budget pie charts: Iran at Westwards
They do have this once-in-a-generation wine festival, which sounds rather intriguing... It reminded us of the Sigi Festival in the Dogon Country in Mali ( which is only held every 60 years and lets you wonder how they keep the tradition alive over that time span.
Red and blue routes criss-cross the light green wine terraces on the leaflet we get at the Vevey tourist information. “It's very easy to find your way”, the woman from the information desk assures us: “You just follow the blue arrows!” After all we are in well-organized Switzerland and for sure they have implemented a tourist infrastructure at their UNESCO World Heritage sites, we conclude. The wine growing tradition in the Lavaux goes back to Roman times and up until the 19th century, the vineyards started right behind the Old Town of Vevey. The Confrerie de Vignerons, the Brotherhood of the Winemakers, controlled an area as large as today, but … Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2015 at Westwards
At the turn-off to the archaeological site of Nisa in Turkmenistan, there is a small hut where the caretaker, a friendly old man with only one tooth as far as we can see, sells the admission tickets. It seems individual tourists are rare – he invites us for a cup of green tea and from one of the desk drawers he even produces some chocolate (the temperature was around 36° C!). From the hut it is still a 1.5 km walk to the ruins. Nisa was a town since the Parthian era (3rd c. BC) and abandoned in the middle ages. The famous trade routes of the Silk Road ran through Parthian territory, and the Parthians earned good money from taxes on the merchandise, as well as from … Continue reading
Posted Aug 5, 2015 at Westwards
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 Jul 31, 2015 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...
Toggle Commented Jul 30, 2015 on Isa's delicious budget pie charts: Iran at Westwards
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 Jul 28, 2015 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 ...