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westwards
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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...
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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 2 days ago 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.
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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, http://www.kohanhotel.ir) 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 (http://www.westwards.de/westwards/2009/01/dogon-country.html) which is only held every 60 years and lets you wonder how they keep the tradition alive over that time span.
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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
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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
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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 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: http://www.westwards.de/westwards/2015/06/paikent-varakhsha.html http://westwards.typepad.com/westwards/2013/07/hot-days-and-cool-conversations-in-termiz.html Tajikistan http://www.westwards.de/westwards/2014/10/sarazm-unesco.html Kazakhstan http://www.westwards.de/westwards/2014/10/tamgaly.html http://www.westwards.de/westwards/2014/09/akyrtas.html
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
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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
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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 ...
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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"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