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A small group of hippos is resting in the water on the opposite shore of the small lake in the Pendjari National Park in Benin, their nostrils flaring open, ears twitching occasionally, annoyed with insects. They seem to be standing very close to each other, like in a bathtub slightly too small for such a weighty group of bathing guests. ... We are in the core area of one of West Africa's best and most well-known National Parks: Pendjari National Park, in Northern Benin, covers an area of 2755 square kilometers and is home to lions, leopards, and cheetahs, the largest population of elephants in West Africa, and numerous rare and threatened species. Together with two nearby National Parks of Niger and Burkina Faso it has been inscribed on the UNESCO list as a World Natural Heritage site. We had considered a two-day excursion to the Pendjari Park in order to ... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at Westwards
A tall black man in a fluttering white garment is folding his hands in prayer, then sweeping them over his face. He stands still for a while looking out over the sea from the back corridor of the historic house on the Île de Gorée in Senegal, from the “House of Slaves”. Next to him someone is unwrapping a baguette sandwich. The Île de Gorée is a tiny island not far from Senegal 's capital, Dakar. Today, the small island measuring only 300 by 500 m has a population of about thousand people, but in the 17th and 18th century, at the height of the slave trade, as many as 5000 would have lived in the confined space … Some years after our visit to the Île de Gorée in Senegal, we are back in West Africa but on its southern coast – what used to be called the slave coast. The remains of a similar slave trader's house, the Woold House (maison des esclaves), have been rediscovered in Agbodrafo, a ... Continue reading
Posted Feb 7, 2018 at Westwards
El Hierro, the smallest, newest and westernmost of the Canary Islands is far off from Europe and yet a part of Spain: We had seen pictures of the spectacular cloud forest of El Hierro at the Tourism Fair in Berlin (ITB) and wanted to explore it ever since. The island has only about 10,000 inhabitants and very little tourism and is famous for its falling fogs, people had assured us, but we didn't really know what to expect. ***Day 1: La Caleta – somewhere behind San Andres, 17,2 km, 1300 m up.*** We have started our hike on the coast in La Caleta, not far from the harbour. The long distance trail GR 131 crosses the whole island, so we climb up into the highland between cacti, huge agaves and dry stone walls. Up on the mountains, clouds are closing in, and the higher we get ... Continue reading
Posted Jan 21, 2018 at Westwards
Dear Kemkem, thanks for your kind words. If you have any questions about Japan, just ask. And we are very much looking forward to West Africa (and to escape the European cold!). We definitely will post about the trip. We could not fit in Nigeria this time though...
Toggle Commented Dec 31, 2017 on Happy 2018 – Year of the dog at Westwards
We wish you all a joyous New Year and a very happy 2018! We are looking back on a year 2017 both busy and sad. Apart from brief trips to Barcelona and Copenhagen at the beginning of the year, we spent several months in Japan updating guide books, but we could also add a short visit to South Korea. In summer, we had planned a 10 day hike along the Peaks of the Balkans but had to return to Germany early to attend to Natascha's sister who had been hospitalised and subsequently, and very quickly, died of ALS. This death also dominated the rest of our year, although we had more writing work to do and Natascha did tour guiding in Central Asia and in Japan in autumn. In October and November we managed to fit in a bit of hiking and climbing in Bavaria, on El Hierro and Tenerife. Our most exciting professional achievement ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2017 at Westwards
"Year 5 of Meiji", reads the keystone above the entrance of the Tomioka Silk Mill: The silk spinning factory of Tomioka was built in 1872, in the fifth year of Japan's sudden turnaround towards a modern industrialised state under Emperor Meiji. It was not only one of the first modern factories in Japan, but is also a prime example for the sharp growth of light industry in Japan in the following decades. Mr. Kondo … points out the red bricks of the façade that look very western for a country that had, until the late 1860s, tried to suppress and control any contact with the Western world and continued its practically mediaeval lifestyle. "At the time of the founding of the Tomioka Silk Mill, they didn't have cement yet in Japan", Mr Kondo explains: The bricks are only glued together with lime mortar and not strong enough to hold the roof – the building uses a traditional Japanese timber frame construction instead. The decision, in 1868, to embrace Western life and technology, was sudden. The change of government … Continue reading
Posted Dec 19, 2017 at Westwards
Stepping out of the forest after a few hours of hiking, we see the church on a low hill across an expanse of grassland. The immensely famous Pilgrimage church of Wies is not particularly large – the nave just 30 m long – but standing rather isolated … About a dozen people are walking up the well-maintained path to the UNESCO-protected Pilgrimage church of Wies. Another 30 or 40 visitors are inside, looking up at the frescoes and putti and taking photos. That's more visitors than most churches in Bavaria see during Sunday mass, but the Pilgrimage church, the Wieskirche, can take in a few hundred. When the peasant woman Maria Lori in 1738 noticed tears coming out of a very life-like image of the flagellated Christ in her room, the miracle attracted crowds to see the sculpture. The statue had been discarded a few years earlier by church authorities because they deemed the image too gruesome for the general population! Soon a chapel was built ... Continue reading
Posted Dec 6, 2017 at Westwards
Thanks! There are actually several more of these Late-Byzantine churches in Kosovo, and we were planning to see a few more en route to the Peaks of the Balkans trail (but had to cut the trip short for this time).
"Gračanica" – calls the bus conductor waving in our direction. Only one other passenger gets off in the quiet Kosovan village of Gračanica, just south of the capital Pristina. A bit further on, the road leads to a tall and sturdy-looking gate. This must be the Christian monastery of Gračanica - but for a church the whole place looks very defensive and closed-off. … In the middle of a wide lawn stands a small square building with several metal cupolas. With its tall lattice windows and the light-coloured bricks it fits more with our imagination of Russian churches: A relatively modern church, we think at first, or possibly Tsarist, 19th century… Is this the UNESCO world heritage church we have come to see? But once we peer inside the narthex it becomes obvious that we are in the right place - patinated frescoes of saints and martyrs all over. Not a single wall that has gone undecorated, and this in a typical Orthodox church building with many interior walls, corridors and arches, and therefore a lot of wall space to cover with frescoes. Deeper inside the church … Continue reading
Posted Nov 21, 2017 at Westwards
That's good to hear. We didn't meet any other female Western travellers except a few in larger guided groups (and there weren't so many groups, either).
Dear Dennis, yes we were quite lucky with the warm autumn weather! And it is a wonderful hike; the beer was good too....
„Hello pilgrims! For the pilgrims' stamp, you will have to go to the church office,“ shouts a middle-aged man when we enter the small village of Wessobrunn in Bavaria. But no, we are not pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostela: We are hiking Bavaria‘s oldest long-distance trail, the König-Ludwig-Weg, named after the famous Bavarian King Ludwig II who in the 19th century built (among others) the Neuschwanstein Castle. We have both hiked this trail before: Isa remembers it from childhood holidays in the 1970s when it seemed to be always raining and snowing and outdoor gear (think corduroy knickerbockers and knitted socks) was sturdy and traditional and anything but waterproof. Natascha, who grew up in Munich, knew some of the trail's stages as day hikes and walked the whole distance in one go about 15 years ago. For quite a while we have toyed with the idea of hiking it once more – this time together. ... Continue reading
Posted Nov 6, 2017 at Westwards
Vegan food and no alcoholic drinks right in the centre of Munich – doesn't that sound like a perfect dinner option for one of the last warm and pleasant days of the year? Well, we could cope with a glass of wine, but are curious about the Max Pett all-vegan restaurant. When we arrive at around 6.30 pm on a Monday evening we are lucky to get a table without a reservation. The small vegan restaurant Max Pett is filling quickly and even the tables outside are all already occupied. The restaurant is named for the hygiene researcher Max von Pettenkofer…. During the 19th century, Max von Pettenkofer initiated the first canalization system for Munich as well as a central hygienic drinking water supply in order to fight the Cholera disease. The menu at the Max Pett restaurant is clean and quickly navigated: A few soups and entrees, one raw vegan dish and a handful of vegan main dishes. To Isa the most interesting item on the menu, however, is the … Continue reading
Posted Oct 19, 2017 at Westwards
Having already spent the spring in Okinawa and Japan's top sightseeing destinations, we went back to Japan in June and July for the mountainous and northern regions: Chubu and Tohoku are also areas we cover in the Stefan Loose Japan Travel Guidebook and we spent a few weeks researching for the new edition. This also meant discovering a couple of hidden gems: … After the work part we went to Kyushu … Continue reading
Posted Oct 11, 2017 at Westwards
"Oh, look, a Stegosaurus!" The Asian-American boy is excitedly jumping left and right in the local bus when we pass yet another dinosaur on our way from Katsuyama station to the Dinosaur Museum. His little sister appears only marginally less knowledgeable. "We will see more of those," the parents assure them. The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum is situated in a rather remote area about 30 km away from the provincial capital of Fukui ... It is here, in Kitadani Valley, where already a number of new dinosaur species have been found since 2007, and more of them are still being identified. The bus stops at a large metallic dome on a mountain slope. The museum is built into the ground, and we are first transported to the deepest basement floor and through a corridor full of fossils and petrifications. A huge petrified Camarasaurus bonebed that was found almost intact marks the entrance to the huge Hall of Dinosaurs. Coming up the stairs, a large tyrannosaurus is roaring at the visitors. Huge screens display … Continue reading
Posted Sep 23, 2017 at Westwards
Have a good trip!
"Please, visit the chapel". The caretaker ushers us into a small building near the entrance of the United Nations Cemetery in Busan. With a large gabled roof and some window panels and wooden pews inside, it looks like are chapel, but instead of an altar or a cross we face a large video screen. The chapel in the United Nations Cemetery doubles as a visitor centre. The 20 minute video introduces the cemetery: why it was built, how many United Nations soldiers are buried here, how many there were involved in the war in total. Well over 40,000 United Nations soldiers died during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 … In addition to these war dead, surviving Korean War veterans also have the option of being buried here after their death. Watching the film, we wonder why anyone would wish to be buried in Korea decades after participating in a war that must have been ghastly. Conveniently, the film brings up a veteran: ... Continue reading
Posted Sep 5, 2017 at Westwards
A lookout seems to be rising over the bridge of an enormous ship: long and massive, it looks more like a battleship than a cruise ship. And indeed the Japanese word Gunkanjima means “Battleship Island” - but what we see from the tourist boat is actually not a battleship but a small island with a huge concentration of concrete tower blocks. At some point in the 1950s, the 6 ha island had a population of over 80,000! This weird and fascinating island has speedily become a major tourist attraction in Nagasaki since its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015. It used to be an even smaller island, just a few rocks really, not suitable for living, but a coal stratum had been found to lead from the neighbouring island of Takashima down below the sea. … In 1887, Mitsubishi – who by then owned the Takashima coal mine – started a new mine shaft from Hashima to access the coal. And since there was a lot of coal (and the newly industrialising country needed all of it!), housing units had to be built even on the limited space of the island for the pitmen and their families. And this meant building high. As early as 1916, Japan’s first seven-storey ferro-concrete apartment house was built on Hashima, followed by … Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2017 at Westwards
„Can you use Japanese toilet?“ is one of those questions foreigners get frequently asked in Japan, along with „Can you eat with chopsticks?“ (probably something appearing early on in the English textbooks). The toilet question usually refers to the kind of squat toilets that don’t have a seat … With the rise of “Western Style” toilets in Japan (yes, you have to wear a cowboy hat to use them) this question is also less frequently asked – but in reality, using Japanese toilets has become more difficult! In our work as tour guides, it happens regularly … Continue reading
Posted Jul 31, 2017 at Westwards
We have lived in Berlin since 2011. Natascha studied in Berlin as well in the 1990s. It is a great city - multicultural and very affordable!
Toggle Commented Jul 26, 2017 on Our personal Top Five in Copenhagen at Westwards
„Oh yes, that is very blue!“ - „Oh, look - how blue it is!,“ shout the Japanese tourists, looking in awe at the Aoike. Aoike means Blue Pond, and the water is indeed very clear and blue against the backdrop of the fresh green beech trees of the Shirakami Sanchi Forest. In the Japanese summer, the clear ponds of Juniko (“12 ponds”) emit a pleasant atmosphere of coolness. The “12 ponds” are one of the most accessible and most visited areas within the huge expanse of Shirakami Sanchi Forest– which has, for its ancient beech trees, been designated as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage since 1993. Actually we have toyed with the idea of visiting the Shirakami Sanchi Forest for quite a while, but have never been quite able to figure out what there is to see and to do. Even in Japan, ... Continue reading
Posted Jul 25, 2017 at Westwards
At the end of May, we spent a few days in Copenhagen. As it was our second visit to the Danish capital we had already seen some of the must-sees and were eager to explore a bit more of the city this time. Luckily the weather was fine and we could stroll through the parks and city quarters. Once we were back in Berlin we both made a list with our five highlights and gave points according to rank. The best experience got 5 points, the second 4 points and so on. Interestingly enough, we chose the same sights and experiences albeit in a different order. And we had two second ranks with 7 points each! It was fun to rank our Copenhagen experiences and we might do more posts like this in the future. And these are the things that made it into our personal top five! # 1: The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde On our travels we always try to visit UNESCO sites, ... Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2017 at Westwards
Thanks for reading. Have a nice summer in Spain!
We are already half into 2017 and it is time for another 3 month wrap-up on the blog: Actually we spent the better part of the last three months in Japan working. In April we were both busy with tour-guiding work. Cherry blossom season was a bit late in most parts of Japan but we could experience it with every group and we also managed to get a good view of Mt Fuji with every group. Natascha also went to Japan for a 10-day tour in May and since mid-June we are both back in Japan for researching the new edition of the Loose Japan guidebook (in German) due next year. This time we split up for the research work, and while Isa is covering the Hokuriku and Chubu region, Natascha is researching Tohoku. So far everything is going fine – except for spells of bad weather – after all it is rainy season. But we have also planned some hiking and sightseeing together. When not tour-guiding in Japan we had writing work to do ... Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2017 at Westwards
PS: It was a copy of the Egypt visa in the passport (we had only brought copies of the passport main page).