Monday, 8 August 2011

9 hours in Kyoto

Japanese capsule hotels have always intrigued me. Who stays in these places? How do you sleep in a space barely bigger than a coffin? And don't you get woken up by the snoring of your neighbours? On my last trip to Kyoto I decided to check out 9 hours - a new capsule hotel with a difference.

As you can see from the video - 9 hours is definitely a uniquely Japanese experience. Virtually everything follows a colour pattern of white, black and a few spots of red - all carefully designed from the shoe lockers to the slippers, pyjamas and tooth brushes. 9 hours even developed its own fragrance for its shampoo, conditioner and body wash. Flat, form and texture - all the objects fit into one of three design categories.

The highlight of course are the capsules or as the hotel refers to them: "sleeping pods". It's all high-tech with sleep control systems designed to make you sleep more comfortably and wake-up with the gradual increase of light. Significant research - I was told - has also gone into designing pillows and mattresses in order to create a cozy space that promotes peaceful sleep.

The traditional market for capsule hotels are businessmen needing an affordable place to stay. 9 hours takes it one step further and creates a stylish place of transit. It also offers the same amenities for women hence the women's only elevators that lead to women only capsule floors to make them feel comfortable, safe and secure.

For those of you who are thinking of visiting Kyoto and maybe staying at 9 hours - definitely try it for the experience. The design is great, the pods are comfy and I slept really well. But anything longer than one night might leave you - as in my case - wanting a few more comforts from a normal hotel room. I missed a comfortable lounge to chill and read. And the lockers on the floors are simply not big enough for overseas travellers with a lot of luggage. Though I must say after a couple of nights in Ms Hashimoto's quaint traditional Japanese B&B smack bang in the old town (which I loved!) 9 hours couldn't have made for a starker contrast. Tradition and high-tech, elaborate rituals and minimalist design - in Japan it's all side by side and that's one of the many reasons why I find this country so fascinating.


Thursday, 4 August 2011

Hau den Lukas - a Hamburg institution

I'm a big fan of Hamburg. I love strolling through the HafenCity with its modern architecture and the old beautiful brick warehouses that give the city a worldly flair, or catching a boat to tour the massive port, eating Fischbrötchen or Sushi or going on a shopping spree.

Now I'm not a big fan of fun-fairs - but if you're out for some roller coaster action, want to enjoy the view from the ferris wheel or nibble roasted almonds or tasty waffles the Hamburger Dom might be an option.

The name sounds a little misleading. I first expected some religious landmark, but it goes back to a group of merchants, craftsmen and jugglers, who in 1337 were granted the right to seek shelter in the cathedral Marien-Dom whenever the weather was particularly bad. At the end of the 19thcentury, the fairground showmen had to move to Heiligengeistfeld, the location of today’s fairground. But the name Hamburger Dom stuck and today the fun-fair runs three times a year.

I found out about this Hamburg icon while co-producing a short multimedia piece during a workshop led by Bombay Flying Club at the Akademie für Publizistik earlier this year.

So, meet H.J.H. Schroeder - the merchant who runs Hau den Lukas - an institution that's been around for over 50 years and something you don't want to miss if you're touring the Hamburger Dom.


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Recipe wanted!

This was the treat that meant Sansibar was nearly always included on our walks: the warmer Schokoladenkuchen mit flüssigem Kern auf Himbeeren und Vanillerahm!

Hot and melting chocolate cake on raspberries and vanilla cream
I've emailed the chef to ask if he would be willing to share the recipe as this dessert does not appear in the various Sansibar cook books. So far I have not received a reply, but I've been experimenting on my own.
Barb's hot and melting chocolate cake on raspberries

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Sylt - an island holiday a train ride away

Who would have thought that you can catch a direct train from Bonn and end up on Germany's most northern island? And given that it's in the middle of winter, I did get a few strange looks from friends about choosing Sylt for an island holiday.

After a week on the island I must say that it's been a great choice. Yes, it's cold, sometimes really cold even under blue skies with glorious sunshine. But long winter walks through almost frozen sand dunes, flying kites on one of the beautiful deserted beaches or strolling through the little historic villages, such as Keitum, makes for a really relaxing time. Oh, and did I mention the island is a foodie paradise too?

We found a great place to rent in the picturesque little village of Rantum, in the south of Sylt. The island is particularly narrow here. You're surrounded by nature reserves and it takes only minutes to walk from the Wattenmeer (Wadden Sea) on the eastern side to the wild beaches of the North Sea on the western side. Almost every house in the village boasts a traditional thatched roof, which is very quaint. Being low season it feels like we're the only tourists here. The local shop only opens for a few hours in the morning and they seem very happy to see us every morning when we buy delicious crusty Sylter Brötchen and pick up a newspaper. The shop owner says she loves this time of the year, as summer is too crowded.

Photo: Fieldreports
Rantum is quite a few kilometres away from the über-trendy village of Kampen, where the rich and famous come to party in summer and can pop in to their local Louis Vuitton boutique just in case they need a new beach bag. It is a little surreal wandering around the most expensive addresses in Germany, but at least you're sure to find all you need for cooking up a storm - the gourmet supermarkets are great!

Our little house has bikes, but when we've needed to cover longer distances we've been getting around on the local buses. They come every 30 minutes like clock work. And with a little bit of planning we haven't missed having a car on the island.

And for some reason we've been planning our trips to include a little stop at Sansibar, but I'll tell you about that in my next blog post.


Monday, 24 January 2011

Ouagadougou's best kept secret: Lebanese Manoushe

Now that I have a few days off work I've finally got around to post a recipe that I meant to share from my last trip to Ouagadougou, the vibrant capital of Burkina Faso.

We conducted our journalism workshop at the Hotel Splendide and every day for lunch we whizzed up to Chez Simon just a block away. It's a buzzing little Lebanese food mecca known for its cheap eats and delicious pastries.

I was keen to try their Manoushe, a kind of Lebanese pizza. Their selection of different Manoushe is rather extensive, so I asked Simon for his favourite. He recommended the Manoushe Spéciale. And, dear reader, it was so special I had it every day for two weeks in a row!


  • 250 gr white flour
  • Salt
  • 20 gr yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • Butter
  • 100 gr of Labneh cheese
  • Fresh tomatoes 
  • Black olives
  • Onions
  • Peppermint
  • Olive oil


  1. You should first make the Labneh (creamy yogurt cheese) as it takes a day to drain. It's actually much more straight forward than I would have thought. You make Labneh from plain yogurt by using a cheese cloth to drain the extra water out of it. Just pour the yogurt into the cheese cloth, bring up the sides and tie them together, then place it in a colander with a bowl underneath (keep it in the fridge) and let it drain for a day.
  2. Now, it's time to prepare the dough. Add flour and a tsp of salt into a bowl. Mix in the yeast, then add sugar and a little warm water. Knead the dough, adding flour if necessary. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise for 10 minutes.
  3. Add 2 tbsp of oil and knead into the dough. At this stage the dough should not be wet and not stick to the bowl. If you think it's too dry add a little warm water. Then roll the dough into a ball and leave in a warm place for an hour.
  4. Using a rolling pin flatten out very thin pieces and roll the edges up a bit with your fingers.
  5. Pre-heat oven to 200°C.
  6. Add a small slice of butter in the middle of the dough, so it melts inside the oven.
  7. Wait till the manoushe becomes golden brown. Now add the Labneh and serve with plenty of fresh tomatoes, black olives, fresh peppermint and olive oil.
  8. Enjoy!


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