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.

Great Mother Han Istanbul

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.


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.


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.


This is 12 o’clock…


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

Some Pretty Pics


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.


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!


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


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.


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?


The Police…


The Paramedics

The Garbage Man...

The Garbage Man…


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


Delivery guys…


The craftsmen who make the Gondolas.


A not so busy Gondolier.


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.


So far, so Mediterranean…


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


A Day in Budapest Part 4 – ruin pub, ruin restaurant and one very ruined tourist

Budapest it seems is just full of surprises.

As we wobbled around Budapest’s Jewish district, I realised that this was the first time in I don’t know how long that I hadn’t researched a trip. As discussed with some fellow bloggers recently, many travellers are of the ‘I’ll just walk around and discover things‘ persuasion. I am more the ‘I must devour blogs and travel websites for weeks to discover unique things’ type. In Budapest I had Julia, a born and bred local, so I had no issues leaving the itinerary in her hands. But when we walked away from a ruin pub because of the rather large crown hanging out the front and she steered me toward another with a defeated ‘oh, let’s just go here’, I didn’t have high expectations.

Like Szimpla, Fogas Haz also hides itself pretty well. But the two burly security guys standing out the front were a pretty good clue that something interesting was behind them. One of the security guys checked our bags before letting us in. Julia told me this is something she’s never come across in Budapest, which perhaps explains why she looked at him like he’d asked her to bear him five children.

Fogas Haz has the same run down vibe as Szimpla, it’s layout also having a large open-air space in the middle and a second floor rimmed with balconies and rooms to explore. While it has none of the socialist kitsch of Szimpla, it does however have an Escape Room. We stayed only for one drink, but that was long enough for Julia to run into a friend, who coincidentally was one of the organisers of the bicycle exhibition we had seen earlier at the Ethnographic Museum. Apparently Captain Customer Service’s apathy had not gone unnoticed and he was soon to be fired. Maybe there were comment cards there after all (for this sentence to make sense, you’ll need to have read Part 1).

As they spoke, I watched a gypsy folk band who were playing at the back of the building. They had a strange instrument which Google later told me was  a Cimbalom. From afar it looks like a piano, or perhaps a harpsichord since it’s small. It’s really more of a xylophone, with the top open so the musician can play the strings with two beaters. Cimbaloms are a traditional Hungarian instrument but can be found in other Eastern European countries like Romania, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. Yes, Google told me that too.

Phot: The band at Fogas Haz looked similar to this, with a Cimbalom in the back.

The band at Fogas Haz looked similar to this, with a Cimbalom in the back. Photo:

As I watched the band, Julia saw two hulking security guards wandering through the crowd. “Who do they think they are, walking around trying to be all imposing like that?” she asked incredulously. When I replied that that’s what security are supposed to do – walk around and act all imposing so nobody misbehaves – she insisted “That doesn’t happen in Budapest”. But Julia’s been in the UK for a few years, so perhaps this is not so unheard of anymore. Nevertheless, her horror amused me. As we left, the doorman confiscate a half full bottle of vodka from an unlucky girl on her way in. Julia groaned. (more…)