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My top five wanderlust inducing books

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I have to admit, reading novels is one of my guilty pleasures, especially when I am finally on holiday and have actually the time for such luxuries. However, I have recently had some great bed time reading, which made me want to travel even more and especially to some unusual places. And since I am not the only one, who cannot travel as much as we´d like, here are some inspirational tales to travel in your own mental cinema.

1) A son of the circus by John Irving – India

This great novel by John Irving is mainly set in Mumbai, India. The main character of the book does not travel around the country, yet, sheds light on certain aspects of Indian culture and beliefs, which leaves you longing to know more about this marvelous country. I certainly do!

2) The moment by Douglas Kennedy – (East) Berlin

That Moment by Douglas Kennedy is for a great part set in Berlin, while it was still sperated in East and West. It gives one a great impression on life in both parts of the city at this time as well as how different Berlin became after the wall fell. For a German person from the south this contrast is something absolutely fascinating and when I visited Berlin the Museum dedicated to the DDR was one of the most memorable experiences of the whole trip. And the best part about Berlin, divided or not, as reflected in this book, is that it is a melting pot of cultures and absolutely mezmerizing place to be.

3) A thousand splendid suns by Khaled Hosseini -Afgahnistan

A thousand splendid suns by Khladed Hosseini shows Afgahnistan to the world from the side of a native, not international media. It tells the story of two woman on the verge of the Taliban take over. You feel like you are traveling with them on their escape and want to explore more of this marvelous country.

4) Manduchai by Tanja Kinkel – Mongolia & China

Manduchai by Tanja Kinkel tells the story of the last Mongolian Queen as well as the most influential of the Chinese emperors Konkubines, whose lives intervene serveral times. One can imagine exploring the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, as well as crossing Mongolia on horseback and cannot wait to actually do it in person!

5) Silk by Alessandro Baricco – France, Japan and everything in between

This book follows the adventurous journeys of a young French silk worm breeder, who when silk worms in Europe are threatened by an epidemic, travels all the way to Japan to retrieve healthy silk worm eggs. Alessandro Baricco has such a way with words, pure poetry in the form of a novel.

What about you? What are your favourite wanderlust enducing books? Please share them with me in the comments below as I am always eager to discover new favourite novels 😉

Photo credit: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier via http://www.flickr.com

4 things you always need on you when travelling through China

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Travelling through China can be a challenge for Europeans not only due to the language barrier. Besides the usual travel gadgets and necessities I would recommend everyone going to China to carry the following items on you at all times:

1) Scarf

Despite the high temperatures one can encounter in China during the summer months one should always carry a scarf as it proves to be more multi-purpose oriented in this country then anywhere else: it keeps you when it is cold both outside or inside (due to the strong air conditioning everywhere during the summer), you can put it over your mouth and noth when you encounter a sand storm (which are not uncommon in the north of China) or bad oudours as well as keeping you save from burns when the sun is too strong.

2) Tissue or toilet roll

Yes, it can happen to you anywhere in the world to come upon a bathroom where the toilet paper may have run out, but in China the great majority of toilets I encountered were without tissue. And who wants to be without any tissue at the ready when you are on the road realising that last night´s dinner, while being delicious, did not sit as well with your tummy as one would hope? An important point to make in regards to toilet paper is that it is important in rural areas not to flush it, but pop it in the bin next to the toilet instead. You may think that this must start smelling unpleasently very fast, but do not worry, just put use your scarf to protect you from the smells.

3) Hand sanitizer

Other than the lack of toilet paper the lack of water (not to mention soap) at a lot of public toilets even at tourist attractions actually suprised me. Carrying a wee bottle of hand sanitizer can therefore come in handy when you use the bathroom and plan having some food soon after. I would always recommend the wee bottles to sanitizing tissues as once empty they can be recycled whereas the the tissues make a lot of non-recyclable waste from beginning to end.

4) Schnapps

Our local guide urged us to always have some schnapps with us, which you can buy locally. Having a tablespoon of it before and after eating reduces the chances of get sick in the stomach he said, and I never had any issues. It can also be used to desinfect your plates or cutlery if you see it not clean enough in some cafès or restaurants.

Extra tip: While I would personally recommend to anybody who does not already know how to eat with sticks taking  their visit to China as opportunity to learn this skill, if you want to be on the safe side bring your own re-usable fork and knife in your hand bag since a lot of places are not able to offer these for your convenience.

Photo credit: Mark Nye via http://www.flickr.com

Ode to my home town, Munich, Germany

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Oh Munich, it is time again for us to meet anew

The hours we used to spend together were far from few,

Yet, for a while now I have been away

And every time I visit you beg me to stay.

Despite my absence, though, you should know,

How dear you are to my heart,

Yes, being away from you is oftentimes pretty hard.

You are part of me like no other,

Except maybe my father and mother.

We have a bound impossible to break –

Believe me, even with my absence it is never at stake.

I promise you there will come the day,

When I come to you saying “I´m here to stay.”

 

Picture credit: barnyz via http://www.flickr.com

3 reasons to visit Social Bite in Edinburgh

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There are a lot of great places in Edinburgh, some of which Fran introduced to you a few weeks back if you are looking for purely vegetarian or vegan food. One of my favourite eats, however, in Edinburgh is the Social Bite, which is present at two locations in Edinburgh and two more in Glasgow. My three main reasons why you should give it a go in either of these locations are as follows:

  • Treat yourself

The menu at the social bite has been created by a Michelin starred chef, which gives this place a competitive edge. There is a delicious variety of sandwiches, wraps and other treats freshly prepared every day. The prices are absolutely affordable as well, so it´s the perfect food on the go when exploring Edinburgh.

  • Support the local community

As a social enterprise, the social bite supports the re-integration of homeless people with one out of four members of staff being formerly homeless. Social bite helps them find accommodation, make sure their hygiene is perfect and give them an income to start over for a better life. Furthermore, you have the possibility to pay for food or coffees in advance for homeless or generally people in financial difficulties to pick up in a moment of need. These are both great ways to support the local community.

  • Aid national and international development

Besides being a social enterprise, the social bite also describes itself as a fully social business with 100% of the profits going to national and international charities. These range from supporting children living in poverty in Scotland from to supporting microloans for women in Africa. And as a guest you even have the chance to give your vote on which charity they should be supporting next.

What is your favourite bite on the go in Edinburgh?

Don´t miss the Hidden Door Festival in Edinburgh (2015 edition ends on May 30th)

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Yesterday I had a marvelous time at the Hidden Door Festival in Edinburgh. The Hidden Door Festival is an independent not-for-profit festival that takes place every year in Edinburgh in hidden or unused buildings. It features visual art, cinema, music and theatre performances over nine day, which are free to participate in during the evening and charged at night. This year it is in a former factory just off Grassmarket.

One of my favourite pieces wants to raise awareness of the importance of bees for our world.

One of my favourite pieces wants to raise awareness of the importance of bees for our world.

This was the first time I went to this Festival and absolutely loved it. It features local and national artists, giving many of them the opportunity to showcase their work for the first time.

I just loved this piece in one of the purpose built bars of the festival

I just loved this piece in one of the purpose built bars of the festival

They have three purpose built bars as well as food booths with Organic Burgers and Japanese Street Food (their vegetarian dumplings with garlic chilly sauce are just absolutely amazeballs!!!).

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So for all culture vultures such as myself, put down your cup of tea and come come come!!!

Chongqing, my ulitmate favourite city in China

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A green haven on the Yangtse river.

 

When you look up Chongqing in most guide books they don’t say much about it other than it being the biggest city in China with 32 Million inhabitants, which is not even true. It actually “only” has 8 Million inhabitants itself and the remaining 24 Million live in cities and villages around Chongqing in an area of the size of Austria, who just are responding to the same municipal.

While much can be said about Chongqing’s former party chief Bo Xilai, and he apparently left the city with a great debt, he still had a positive impact on a lot of aspects of life in Chongqing. In his reign he focused of five points:

1) He instructed each neighbourhood to have their own police station, which has the duty to patrol their district regularly. Since this has been put into action, the crime rate is said to have diminished over 50%.

2) He wanted a city of movement, not congestion, so he invested a lot of money into infrastructure. And indeed all the time we were in Chongqing we not once got stuck in traffic (compared to the hours we spent on standstill in the traffic of a lot of other cities in China).

3) He wanted Chongqing to be an economically well situated city and therefore put a lot of time and effort in its promotion as an industry investments and developments.

4) He dreamed of a city in the forest and therewith initiated a grand reforestation of both the city itself and it´s surrounding. Apparently he even launched “The day of the trees”, where all party officials and everyone who thought something of himself had to plant a new tree.

5) He wanted Chongqing to be a city of community, which is why it was important for him to ensure that there was a community space maximum 500meters away from all residential areas for the community to come together.

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Morning at the square of the people. The group in the front of the picture is doing Tai Chi, wheras the group in the back is dancing to modern Chinese pop songs.

The Square of the people in the middle of the city centre of Chongqing is just one example of such a space. I was advised to visit this square twice once in the evening between 7.30pm and 10pm and once between 6.30am and 8am. Both times one can magically immerse in Chinese everyday life. In the evenings young and old come together to play cards, do gymnastics, dance to various types of music (people just bring music player with their favourite songs and start a dancing group), go roller skating or just have a wee picnic while watching the world go by. Anyone can just join in the fun, but be aware as a) all the ichnographies look much easier than done as when the Chinese people do them they probably have already been practicing these moves for a while and b) even once you finally get the moves you will get a lot of laughs and stares being a Westerner in a sea of black hair.

While the morning is not as busy as the evening on the square of the people, it is still packed with people doing Tai Chi, Qui Gong or Kung Fudance. Some dance like in the evening and some jus jog around the square and do other gymnastics. The importance of physical health as base of spiritual and emotional health is much more integrated and accepted in the Chinese way of life than one can see in most Western societies.

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Walking down the main alley of Chongquing´s old town it is easy to get lost…

Another point that fascinated me was that even though the sense of constant progress, which you can feel in a lot of Chinese cities, is apparent here as well, it is paired with a sense of conservation and proud of their Old Town and University district. It is a labyrinth of deep and narrow alleys full of a diverse range of merchants, musicians and street artists.

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Buddha on his way to the Nirvana. This picture shows only the upper body, while the acutal carving goes on for more than ten meters up until the Buddha´s feet.

Furthermore, Chongqing is a mere hour drive away from the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Dazu rock carvings dating from the 9th to the 13th century, which are absolutely amazing. They are said to be the most Chinese of all Buddhist rock carvings in China, including influences of Confucianism and Taoism. They are also home to one of the biggest Buddhas ever carved out of rock in one piece in the world. In the words of UNESCO: “They are remarkable for their aesthetic quality, their rich diversity of subject matter, both secular and religious, and the light that they shed on everyday life in China during this period.”

What is your ulimate favourite city in China and why?

Travel Quote #5

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Travel Quote #4

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Where to go for vegetarian food in Edinburgh

To start, I have to admit that I am not a vegetarian. I was raised vegetarian and also tried being vegan for a while, but it didn’t work out for me. Still, I absolutely enjoy vegetarian and vegan food. The variety of flavours and options is highly underestimated, especially here in the UK I found. This is why I wanted to share my three favourite places in Edinburgh with you, which are amazing for vegetarian and vegan food: one for food to go, one for laid back eating in and one for a lovely dinner experience. Enjoy. 🙂

1) Filled tatties, a very British experience – The Baked Potato Shop

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Just on Cockburn Street, which is pronounced without the “ck” my lovelies 😉 you can find the wee Baked Potatoe Shop which offers, guess what…..baked potatoes. They come in three sizes small, medium, large, with various kinds of fillings. I haven’t tried all of them yet, but I will keep working on it. And as the Brits think anyway a meal is not a proper meal without some potato in it, this is a very cultural experience as well. My favourite fillings at the moment are the quinoa salad and avocado salad. But they also have an amazingly spicy humus, which is delicious. The only downside is the amount of packaging you get with it. All the cutlery, etc. is disposable and creates loads of trash. And it is rather a place to grab food to go than to sit in as it just has one table available. It doesn’t have a website, but the address is 56 Cockburn Street, Old Town, Edinburgh.

2) The Art of Food – Henderson´s

Henderson’s on Hanover Street is not just vegetarian but also organic. It opened in 1962 as an outlet for the produce of husband and wife Mac and Janet’s East Lothian Farm. Today it offers contemporary vegetarian cuisine while holding to its founding philosophy: delicious, wholesome food using fresh, local ingredients and all at affordable prices. In the bistro food is offered in a more canteen style setting to canteen prices, but still relaxing and quite laid back. The adjacent restaurant has more sophisticated dishes to offer (e.g. the polenta tower with portobello mushrooms) and is also a platform for artists and features musical performances in the evenings. Their range of salads is amazing and if you are a student you get a 10% discount.

3) Dinner goes Veggie – David Bann

One place I highly recommend is David Bann on St Mary’s Street. Just reading through the menu makes you feel a little, or maybe a big hunger creeping up. It is a stylish vegetarian restaurant (with also a few vegan options) in the heart of the city and definitely contradicts the still very common perception that Great Britain is behind when it comes to trends in the food industry. Order an olive polenta with roasted vegetables and goats curd as a starter, stir fried vegetables with udon noodles and smoked tofu as a main and for dessert indulge yourself with maybe a whisky pannacotta with warm pear, to keep it Scottish? Oh happy days. 😀

If you are more of a self-supplier and maybe booked yourself into an Airbnb accommodation, where you have the opportunity to cook, check out Real Foods. The online store for fairtrade, organic, special diet and vegetarian produce, which is shipping worldwide, has two location based stores in Edinburgh.

I hope this made your mouth a bit watery. I think I am going out for food now. 😉

Does anyone have any other recommendations of vegan or vegetrian restaurants in Edinburgh? If yes, I am keen to hear them. Please post below. Cheers.

The good, the bad and the ugly of going on a Yangtes cruise in China

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Our boat at arrival in Chonquing.

I never thought I would ever be going on a cruise, but as a Yangtse cruise was a fixed part of my recent trip to China I decided to give it a try. Afterall, it was a river cruise, so the dimensions of the ship were comparibly smaller than of those out in the Ocean. I enjoyed having a bit of a break from the hectic itinerary our trip had had so far, just sitting on our balcony (you have to have your own balcony if you want to enjoy a cruise) and reading a good book.

Still, the experience brought up very mixed feelings inside me and while I knew I would miss the calm moments as I just described above the cruise had other sides to as well.

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Driving through the three Gorges.

The good thing about going on a Yangtse cruise is that you see a part of China which is otherwise hardly accessible. Driving through the three gorges was marvelous and we saw a lot. One could either stay on the big ship or do different excursions to explore some areas further.

The bad thing about the different trips were that not only most of the people of our ship were going to a specifi site at a specific time, but there were always at least three other cruise ships somehow following EXACTLY the same itinerary, so the seeing some sites was at least as annoying as the meal times on the ship. The latter were just insane sometimes with everyone running at the Buffet at the same time pushing and pulling to get everything first.

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Guest coming back from an optional excursion.

The ugliest thing of all, however, was the lack of sustainability of the whole enterprise. Cruises, as I anticipated, are an environmental disaster. I could not imagine the amount of waste water going directly into the river. One of the other participants of our trip swore she saw the sewage going directly into the Yangtse at some points of the day. Not to mention the amount of rubbish which must have accumulated over the period of three days (four nights) we spent on the ship. Economically, the lack of local spilling as all meals were served on the ship were far from sustainable for th local communities, let alone the cultural exploition of some “native tribes” which put on a not very authentic show for the tourists on one of the excursions.

All in all, while I do not regret having done a cruise once in my life, I don´t think I will repeat it anytime soon and would not recommend it to anybody who is conscious about sustainability issues before clearing the frame arrangements of waste, sewage, and possibility to let locals of the places one visits get something out of the whole deal as well. I imagine, there are possibilities to go on similar trips with smaller boats with a more sustainable outlook than this, whereas I am sure, it could also have been worse.

Has any of you ever been on a cruise and if so, what were your experiences? How did you feel about the points mentioned above?

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