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The vegan Brewhouse Vaust has been on our restaurant list for a while, but as it is located in Charlottenburg (quite far from where we live) we postponed the visit several times. Last Thursday, a freezing cold day, we finally made it. After one hour of cycling through the cold, we were already somewhat grumpy and demanding: the restaurant would have to be quite good to make up for the hassle. Vaust didn't do too badly by that standard. The menu is quite straightforward and changes according to season: some starters and small dishes like salads and quiches, two main dishes, and two desserts. We started with some dark bread with a small bowl of oil and boletus mushroom salt. In addition we ordered a vegan „currywurst“ … Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Westwards
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The queues that snaked their way towards the entrance gate seemed endless. "How long will it take?" "Less than an hour to get into the premises," the ticket clerk assures, "but if you want to go up into the donjon (the main tower), be aware that there's a one-way system and it's very crowded inside!" Just before the main castle tower of Himeji Castle was scheduled to be closed for restoration works in 2010, half of Japan had decided to have one last look at the splendid white fortress. Himeji-jo is the largest of Japan's traditional castles, and it is also extremely well-preserved. Built at the end of the 17th century with all the most modern and elaborate defence features of the time, it was never actually attacked as a long period of peace followed. Instead, the rulers kept the castle in good repair and it is now a prime example of the peculiar Japanese castle architecture with its pyramid-style multi-storied donjons and tiled roofs. Himeji-jo became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. With a fixed train ticket to move on in a few hours, it may have been wiser to take the tour around the gardens and subsidiary buildings, take some photos of the donjon with cherry blossoms and leave it at that. But no, … Continue reading
Posted Jan 18, 2015 at Westwards
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Officially, the small island not far from Hiroshima in the Japanese Inland Sea is called Itsukushima Island, but it is better known as "Miyajima" (shrine island), because it is home to a very important and perhaps the most-photographed Shinto shrine: The Itsukushima Shrine, a Shinto shrine, with its distinctive red gate standing in the waters of the bay. For its unique architecture it became a world Heritage site in 1996. Tourists arrive from nearby Hiroshima by tramway and need just a 10-minute hop on the ferry to get to Miyajima. For the following 500 m from the ferry terminal to the shrine, they need much longer because the small road is lined with souvenir shops on both sides and is always crowded with visitors. Originating probably in the 6th century, … Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2015 at Westwards
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"Welcome," shouts a girl's voice into the microbus when we arrive in Korgalzhyn. Saika and her mother Bibi Nur have been waiting to pick us up from the minibus stop as there are no street names or house numbers in the village. Bibi Nur and her family are taking part in a tourism development project designed to enable visitors to see the extensive wetlands around Korgalzhyn, which are home, stopover points or breeding grounds to about 300 species of birds, many of them migratory. In 2008, nearly 500,000 ha of steppe and wetland were declared a UNESCO World Natural Heritage for the diversity of the birds to be found here – as some of the lakes have fresh water and others salt water, it is an ideal place for all birds to rest. For tourists, however, the infrastructure is quite limited. ... Continue reading
Posted Jan 11, 2015 at Westwards
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Getting to Lalibela from the capital Addis Abeba by bus was sort of a nightmare. It was freezing cold and pitch dark. Hundreds of people were already waiting and busses arrived and departed in no special order and without any destination panels on the buses or on the ground. At 7 am an old American school bus showed up and passengers were piled into the cabin. It was three persons on one bench and Isa had to sit half-bum for the next two days. That was how long it took to cover the 650 km. The reason why one would endure such a strenuous bus ride is to visit the 11 rock-hewn churches in Lalibela. The monolithic churches are not built from stone, but amazingly carved out and into the natural rocks. Continue reading
Posted Jan 7, 2015 at Westwards
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Sfizy veg was the recommendation of one of the woollen hat guys who staff Dr. Pogo's vegan supermarket when we asked about a vegan pizzeria: "There are others, but Sfizy Veg is the best!" he beamed. On a Sunday several weeks later, we arrived ravenous after a day of cycling along the Berlin Wall. It wasn't even 6 pm, but it turned out that most tables were reserved from around 7. There aren't so many tables anyway, and these filled quickly over the next 20 minutes. … Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2015 at Westwards
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We wish you a happy and successful year of the sheep, 2015! Wir wünschen ein gutes, glückliches und erfolgreiches Jahr des Schafs 2015! Herdwick sheep with their distinctive twisted horns are typical of the British Lake District – a perfect hiking destination in spite of the often unpleasant weather. Continue reading
Posted Jan 1, 2015 at Westwards
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Travel-work balance 2014 was a very productive year for us, as many of you will already have read in our seasonal mail (New Year's / Christmas greetings). We revised the new editions … Culinary tops and flops One of our favourites was Beni-imo, a purple variety of sweet potato used in Okinawa for an array of dishes: Fried as Beni-imo Chips in a local pub, … The movies! Unfortunately we usually do not have time to go to the cinema or watch DVDs when we travel, but we try to make up for that when we are at home in Berlin. In 2014 we even managed to see … What else happened? After a long break we started going to the climbing gym again … Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2014 at Westwards
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On Christmas Day in the year 800 AD, Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Two weeks ago we went to see his main residence and cathedral in Aachen / Germany. Charlemagne, king of the Franks, was among the most successful politicians and military rulers of his time. The coronation as Roman emperor was unexpected nonetheless – the last emperor in West Rome, Romulus Augustulus, had ruled in the 5th century. Like all Frankish kings, Charlemagne was used to travelling constantly in his kingdom and holding court in different places. But as he got older – and his gout became more painful – he preferred a more permanent residence. Aachen, ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 25, 2014 at Westwards
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Essen is a city in the middle of the "Ruhrgebiet", Germany's traditional centre of mining and heavy industry – but today there is no mining left and not much industry. The main reason for our trip to Essen was an art exhibition at the Museum Folkwang, but as we have never visited the Zollverein Coal Mine it was a welcoming opportunity for the afternoon programme. The Zollverein Coal Mine used to be one of the largest mines in the area, but none of it has been in use since 1993 when the coking plant was closed for good. The site is being rededicated as a cultural and leisure space, thereby conserving some of the architecture and its historical importance. Mining at the Zollverein Coal Mine began in the mid-19th century and was in operation until 1986. The coal extracted in Essen was especially suitable for coking, and from the beginning the mining of coal went hand in hand with the production of coke. Therefore a coking plant was also built on the premises. The building is lit up in red after nightfall, and contains exhibition spaces, a book shop and a café instead of coal-black machinery. The permanent exhibition is also located in the coking plant. ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 21, 2014 at Westwards
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„Trash-Chic, that's the pub behind the retirement home, isn't it?“ - „Behind Käthe's retirement home? But there is nothing! Only the suburb of Vingst, maybe …,“ our relatives speculate. But the Trash-Chic is right there in Cologne-Kalk in a quiet residential neighbourhood where you wouldn't necessarily expect a specialised restaurant. In fact, it looks like a traditional corner pub, and also has the atmosphere of a traditional corner pub: Wooden benches and robust tables, a bar and a popular table football set. Most tables are already taken when we arrive, but there are no reservations and we manage to get a nice seat. We order vegan gyros with chips and “home-made veganaise” and a vegan classic burger; the draft beer served is Sünner Kölsch which is brewed right around the corner. The service is quick and efficient and the portions are huge: Especially the Soja Gyros is a plate full of quite good chips, and very crunchy and rather small particles (probably made from soya and gluten?) resembling gyros. We find it a bit too crisp but very well-seasoned. The “tzatziki” coming with it is very tasty (although it appears more like mayonnaise than tzatziki), and the “veganaise” is surprisingly good and strikingly similar to mayonnaise. ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 18, 2014 at Westwards
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Having visited some very interesting prehistoric sites in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan last summer, which we are currently doing a lot of research on for our new guide book, we were thrilled to learn about the prehistoric Talaiot culture on Menorca (and to a lesser extent on Majorca) during our recent hiking trip. Several of the sites have been excavated and are accessible to visitors. So on our rest day we took the opportunity and walked the 7 km from the main town of Maó to the prehistoric site of Talati de Dalt. The site is fenced off and behind the open wooden gate it looks very disappointing at first: Green grass and some stones, which may or may not have been housing structures long ago. But as we follow the recommended itinerary (yes, there was an information panel at the entrance!) we get to a menhir-ish stone formation in a stone circle. The standing stone in the middle is topped by another flat stone; these so-called taula are typical features of the Talaiot culture. ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 14, 2014 at Westwards
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The long-distance trail Cami de Cavalls is about 180 km long and leads around the perimeter of Menorca: mostly along the coast, with regular ups and downs but no longer ascents. We walked at the end of November / beginning of December and divided the trail into 8 stages of up to about 30 km plus a rest day in the middle of the trip. Also we took a tent and provisions because off-season almost all the hotels along the way are closed and we didn't want to pay for taxi transfers to and from the trail heads. Off season most shops and restaurants/ bars are also closed and it was especially difficult to get water. Due to bad weather conditions we had to cancel day 6 and skip part of the last day. In total, we walked 160 km on the Cami de Cavalls, with a cumulated ascent of 4000 m. This is a practical account of our hiking schedule, noting some peculiarities of each stage and the possible water sources along the way. Despite the difficulties with water, food and weather it was a great trek, we liked it even more than the GR 221 on Majorca. Locals recommended Mai and October as the best hiking season. ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 11, 2014 at Westwards
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Although it is one long-distance trail, the Northern and Southern half of the Cami de Cavalls (GR 223) around Menorca offer a very different hiking experience, even in winter. Both are about equal in length (around 90 km each), but the Northern coast has somewhat higher cliffs, fewer settlements and a rougher atmosphere – more North Sea than Mediterranean. We walked almost the whole trail in November / December, which is complete off-season and the villages along the Menorcan coast are practically uninhabited. ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 7, 2014 at Westwards
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Everyone visiting Madrid who is only remotely interested in art will have a look at one or two, or possibly more of the numerous art museums of the city. The most famous one is of course the Prado. It was ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 5, 2014 at Westwards
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The long-distance path Cami de Cavalls on Menorca (GR 223) is a beautiful trail that leads along the coast around the whole Island. The end of November with its still mild weather seems perfectly suited to hiking it, but stocking up on water and provisions turned out to be quite difficult. View over the bay of Cala Macarella The woman in a “Patisserie Something” T-Shirt walking her dog chuckles when we ask whether there is an open shop or bar in the village. She is only the third person we have seen today, it is already noon, our snacks are almost finished because we couldn’t find an open shop for the last two days, and we have almost crossed the village. We also urgently need to get some water. „Yes,“ the woman says and explains the way, delighting in our excitement. It turns out there are even three open bars next to the Hong Ye supermarket, and we eagerly treat ourselves to a coffee with milk, two bananas and chocolate cookies. The deserted harbour of Cala en Bosch We started walking the Cami de Cavalls in Ciutadella on the Western coast, and as our first hiking days would lead us... Continue reading
Posted Nov 30, 2014 at Westwards
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The coal mines in South Wales used to be among the biggest in the world, and the miners' strikes in the 1980s when they were closed shook the UK, as the currently running film "Pride" aptly demonstrates. We both do not remember the miners' strikes back then, but our first encounter with Welsh mining was in the National Coal Museum near Newport, where we met Peter, our first miner. Not much older than us, he worked in the Welsh coal mines for five years in the 1980s ... Continue reading
Posted Nov 27, 2014 at Westwards
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“La Latina is a nightlife hotspot”, we read in the guidebook, and "do not miss out on the tapas bars in Huertas", and then there are a few other places that sound really nice and we make a mental note to go there some evening during our one week stay in Madrid. But on the strength of past experience we know how these evenings on city trips usually end: At 5 or 6 pm, we leave the last museum or church for the day and all we want is some rest and food!! We rarely manage to go out later in the evening for pub-crawling, making our way to the liveliest area in town, because we are plainly exhausted and tired from walking all day long. So instead, we stay in and read in the guidebook where we could have gone. Or where we could go tomorrow evening… We left for Madrid determined to do better this time. Continue reading
Posted Nov 23, 2014 at Westwards
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Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784. Its location (not far from today's Kyoto) had been selected by geomantic principles and the city lay-out was fashioned after the then biggest city in the world, namely the capital of China, Chang'an (today's Xian). A total of eight different historical sites belong to the UNESCO World Heritage of Ancient Nara. The most impressive and famous of them, and the one most tourists to Japan will visit, is the Todaiji, the „Great Eastern Temple“. Continue reading
Posted Nov 20, 2014 at Westwards
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In the small, winding alleys of Toledo, all the tourists are clutching a folded or flapping sheet of paper in their hand: It is the free map available in the numerous tourist offices around. Even with frequent consultation of the map we walk in the wrong direction several times, but getting lost is part of the charm when visiting the Spanish town of Toledo, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1986. Origina lly a Roman settlement and then seat of the Visigothic kings, Toledo became the capital of Christian Spain after being reconquered from the Caliphate of Cordoba in 1085. At that time, it was a very liberal multicultural city of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions. This was where the scientific advancements of the Arab world were translated into Latin and made available for then-backward Europeans (at least until the Catholics put an end to such liberalism and scientific exchange again in 1492). In the 16th century El Greco settled here and left the town dozens of his colourful dramatic paintings. The alley swings a little to the left, forks, rises up, and then ends in a square. Wasn't it supposed to lead straight to the cathedral? Toledo is too... Continue reading
Posted Nov 14, 2014 at Westwards
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„The edifices were planned as a monastery-cum-palace complex modelled on the Spanish El Escorial, but unfortunately the money ran out and only a fraction of the plans could be realised.“ That was in Klosterneuburg near Viennaalso a huge monastery. When we actually visited El Escorial, a few years later, it was indeed first and foremost, large. Although the tour starts with numerous floor maps and architectural models, almost never during our three-hour visit do we have a clear idea where we are in the complex Continue reading
Posted Nov 10, 2014 at Westwards
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The priest is holding a chubby toddler on his lap, while another man with a bald patch clad in a crimson-red cloak is kneeling in front of them. If you look closely you can see him holding the knifelike instrument with which he is going to perform the circumcision. From one side the Virgin Mary is gazing affectionately down onto her son Jesus, and on the other side a servant is holding a golden plate in order to collect the Holy Foreskin. The church of Biertan however, built by Transylvanian Saxons at the end of the 15th / beginning of the 16th century is most famous for the massive defensive works that enclose the church on the hill … Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2014 at Westwards
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In autumn 2014, Berlin is full of temporary installations and memorial exhibitions commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago, a wall 3.60 m high and about 160 km long. Today that border is the route for an unusual cycling trail. Most of the time one wouldn't even notice where the wall was. But by cycling along the former border the knowledge sinks in that the broad green corridors between some quarters of the city – nice enough as local recreational areas – used to be the death strip, not green at that time, but completely without vegetation so that the border guards could better see and shoot "defectors" … Continue reading
Posted Nov 1, 2014 at Westwards
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Near the docks of Port d'Andratx the GR 221 starts, a 132 km long hiking trail leading through the dry stone landscape of the Tramuntana mountain range in the north of Majorca. The Tramuntana has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011, for its network of devices regulating the water supply in an environment with scarce resources. The landscape here is formed by artificially constructed terraces, water channels and dry stone walls to contain cattle. Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2014 at Westwards
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The women in the tourist information are delighted to try their English: You are visiting the Golden Hall of Chusonji? It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage and has such a great history! The patterns for the textile coaster they present me with can be traced back to the trade routes of the Silk Road in the 11th or 12th century, when Hiraizumi – this off-the-beaten-track region in the North of Japan – was an important cultural centre. At that time the local ruling clan of the Oshu Fujiwara held their own against the central government in Kyoto. But not only cloth patterns came along the Silk Road, also new ideas and concepts, like Buddhism and new concepts of garden architecture. Hiraizumi is one of the first examples where this new ideas harmoniously mixed with the older ideas of Nature worship. Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2014 at Westwards