photography

Beelitz Heilstatten

Beelitz Heilstatten – a unique ‘scary’ photo tour out of Berlin

If you’re a keen photographer, urban explorer, interested in history or just the type of person who likes to do something different when they travel, checking out Beelitz Heilstatten is a must-do when visiting Berlin. Never heard of it? Well that’s not a surprise.

Beelitz Heilstatten is a small town in the Potsdam district, south west of Berlin. Until recently it’s biggest claim to fame was it’s (I’m sure fabulous) Asparagus festival, but these days tourists are more likely to visit its huge, abandoned hospital complex. Built in 1902, it has over 60 buildings but they’ve lain empty empty since 1994. It used to be just urban explorers who would go there, but the amazing photos they took and put all over the internet led to the place being ‘developed’ into a ‘proper’ attraction. The place is amazing. Well, if you’re into this sort of thing.

The hospital was originally built to try to deal with the tuberculosis epidemic in Germany at the start of the twentieth century. Back then there were no antibiotics, so they had a more holistic approach, believing that the mind had to be well in order for the body to follow suit. So patients were sent to what would have been a stunning complex, out in nature, where they could recuperate, be fed well, do exercise and have lots of medical care and pampering. It later became a military hospital and even Hitler was once a patient after being injured in WW1. More than twenty years of dilapidation means it is now an amateur photographer’s dream.

To get inside one of the buildings you have to sign up for a tour with Berlin photo tour company go2know. You also need to be a little bit adventurous and independent (which you probably are already if this appeals) as the booking procedure, getting to the site (it’s located about an hour from Berlin by train) and finding the tour group on the day can be slightly tricky if you have no German. It took us a few minutes once we got there to realise the meeting point was on the opposite side of the railway station than where we had got off the train, but another German lady who ended up being on our tour and was also looking a bit lost suggested we try the other side and voila. I did the half day tour, which gives you three hours to roam around the ruins of one building, our was the Whitney Houston building – yes that’s a nickname. If like me you speak no German, I recommend reading up on it before you go because none of the info you get at the start of the tour is in English (out of twelve of us, we were the only two who weren’t German). But the guide speaks English and is more than happy to answer any questions later.

Doing a Google search of Beelitz Heilstatten images was what first got me interested in the place, but something we noticed was that nobody seemed to have included people in their shots. So we decided to do a sort of horror/ghost model shoot while we were there, which ended up being really fun.

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Beyolgu, Istanbul’s trendy hood – in pictures

Think Istanbul and what springs to mind? Mosques, markets, kebabs, Turkish Delight? Well, yes probably, if, like me, you’d never been to Turkey and just had stereotypes to go on. But surprise surprise, there’s another side to the city that straddles two continents. Once you’ve ticked off all the usual suspects, hip and happening Beyoglu is definitely an area you should spend a day wandering around.

Here’s why.

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Amidst trendy, tourist magnet shops, much of the area is dotted with grand Ottoman era mansions. Once known as Pera, Beyoglu’s Greek, Italian (particularly Venetian and Genoese) and western European influences are evident in the Neoclassical and Art Nouveau styles of the beautiful buildings you see on every street. They’d been left empty and crumbling for decades, but the young are moving in, the buildings are being done up and cafes, restaurants and bars are doing a huge trade. The area is still very rundown, but walking around the streets it’s very easy to imagine the grandeur of the past. And it’s easy to see how that grandeur may soon return. Personally, I kind of like the current shabby/cool vibe.

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Street art seems to be quite popular here too. (more…)

Istanbul Hans

Most visitors to Istanbul will find themselves in a market sooner or later, and while shopping meccas like this are my idea of hell, there is one little known aspect to them that are well worth seeking out; the hans. And when I say seek, I do really mean seek, because if you didn’t know they were there, well, you wouldn’t know they were there.

Long ago the hans functioned as small inns, places where the travelling merchants who supplied the markets with goods from far and wide would stay for a night or two. These days they are workshops for what’s left of Istanbul’s craftsmen. If you’re brave enough to wander down passages off the main isles in places like The Grand Bazaar, The Spice Bazaar and the Old City Market, you’ll no doubt soon find yourself in a han. Here you’ll get to see workshops where men practice skills passed down for centuries to make textiles, shishas and probably most of the items you’ll see for sale out in the main thoroughfares of the markets.

While the hans are not exactly sign posted for tourists to find, don’t be shy, there’s nothing stopping you walking around and having a look. Some people will be busy and not want to be approached, but if you whip out a smile and a hello, many will be happy to show you what they are doing and let you take a photo. These men are true artists and their skills are dying out, almost as quickly as the hans themselves are. With parts of a roof missing here, chunks of a wall falling apart there, there’s such an ancient and authentic feel to them, but they certainly wouldn’t be passing any health and safety checks.

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A textile workers room

The Great Mother Han Istanbul

The Great Mother Han Istanbul

Within the hans there are little cafes where you can go for a tea or something to eat, or have one brought to you throughout the day by a cafe worker like this.

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Venice Part 2 – the usual suspects

Venice. Sigh. It’s slightly attractive. As I said in my Part 1, there’s not really much I could show you or tell you that you’ve probably not heard before. But I did learn one interesting fact. So below is that one fact, a word of advice and then some pretty pics. For pics of another kind, see Part 1.

Some Advice 

You’re going to go into St Mark’s Basilica aren’t you? I mean, you’ve come all that way, no matter how worn out and weary of tourist attractions you may be, it’s one of those things you just have to tick off. Well, here’s what the queue looks like to get in.

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Eww. So, my advice is to book yourself on some kind of walking tour that includes the Basilica and you’ll waltz right past all those poor people who aren’t in the know. Plus, I mean, hello, if there’s one place in the world where you really really need to find yourself an expert to explain what you’re looking at, it’s Italy. And for that I can highly recommend Walks of Italy .

Of course these things depend greatly on who you get on the day, but our tour guide was amazing (I think he was called Mose, but don’t quote me on that). His presentation wasn’t just a dry spewing out of facts, he really told a story and helped us imagine Venice how it would have been hundreds of years ago. It’s a real skill to be a good tour guide and for me in Italy the best have all been Art History students. So maybe that’s the key.

A Fact to Blow Your Mind (thanks Mose, if that was your name… )

Venice had the world’s first digital clock! Look again at the queue in the photo above. See the clock tower there? It was built in the late 16th century, but in 1855 panels to the left and the right of the virgin and child statue were added. As you can see below, these panels change every five minutes, a kind of Roman Numeral digital clock.

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This is 12 o’clock…

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and ta daaaa… five minutes later it shows 12.05. Very cool.

Some Pretty Pics

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And there it is, well the most famous part at least, with the St Mark’s Basilica bell tower jutting out conspicuously.

And another view from the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore, an island across from St Mark’s square.

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As part of the 2014 Venice Biennale, this sculpture by Heinz Mack will be on display at San Giorgio Maggiore until November 23rd. It’s called ‘Sky Over 9 Columns’. I’m not usually one for modern art and it of course has all sorts of symbolic meanings, but to me it just really looked like it was holding up the sky and that was enough to impress me!

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I spent a hell of a lot of time looking up in Venice.

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Venice Part 1 – the everyday side of one of the world’s most photographed city

What could I possibly tell you about Venice that you don’t already know? Or haven’t already seen? It would have to be one of the most photographed places in the world wouldn’t it? Well, when I was walking around Venice, taking shots of all the most photographed buildings, monuments and alleyways, I even began to bore myself. Well, as much as looking at endless beauty can bore anyone. So I began to snap the locals going about their day instead, trying to get an idea of what it would be like to actually live in a giant lagoon.

The beautiful stuff I’ll post next, but for this one, here’s some of the ordinary, everyday aspects of living, working and visiting Venice.

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This is a Vaporetto station, the Venetian version of a bus or train station. It’s floating too, so waiting for your ride is like a ride in itself.

The Vaporetto’s are usually absolutely packed. This guy makes sure everyone gets on and off safely.

From what I experienced, this is a pretty empty version of a Vaporetto ride.

From what I experienced, this would be classed as pretty empty. Aww, it’s just like being on The Tube in London. With prettier scenery.

Does anyone on public transport ever look happy?

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The Police…

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The Paramedics

The Garbage Man...

The Garbage Man…

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The garbo’s doing their thing. Bet you’ve never pictured this version of The Grand Canal.

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Delivery guys…

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The craftsmen who make the Gondolas.

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A not so busy Gondolier.

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Rovinj – in pictures

At the moment I’m busy using my words for a new blog, which I’ve cheekily called Stuff Edinburgh, so this post is my time saver way to  show you the beautiful Rovinj in Croatia.

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So far, so Mediterranean…

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They do love them a shutter or two and a coat of pastel paint in Rovinj don’t they?

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More pastel and shutters at the end of Carrera Street, Rovinj’s main shopping street.

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OK I think you’ve got it now… Rovinj is very pastel.

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I never go past an opportunity to shoot an arch. Rovinj’s old town has plenty.

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Judging from the postcard stands I went by, this might be the most widely photographed street in Old Town. Snap.

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Oh look, more arches. And a scooter for good measure.

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My biggest disappointment in Rovinj was the food. Now I know they have plenty of upmarket places, but I didn’t want to have to spend a fortune on food, so I stayed away. I tried three places and all the menus were virtually the same. Pretty plain stuff, as was the service.

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