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Istanbul, April 2024

Back in 2007, a friend moved to Istanbul to get married and has lived there ever since. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the wedding. The city opened my eyes and ears to a whole world of music I'd not previously encountered, the trip led to wanting to find our more about music from places outside of my previous experience and played a key role in starting Best Foot Music. Laila and I visited in April 2024.

3rd April

We arrive at our hotel around 5.00 in the morning, just on time for the first call to prayer of the day, the narrow street, with high buildings either side and location of several large mosques nearby cause the sound to echo around the street, it's quite dramatic.

The hotel is on a cobbled back street in Küçükpazar, near Eminönü, about 5 minutes walk from the waterfront. There’s not a lot of traffic, but it’s a fairly lively street, lined with cafes and small shops. It’s Ramadan at the moment and toward the day end, as the sun set, the call to prayer rang out across the city, the street filled with people, groups sitting together for their evening meal. We met a couple from Bulgaria who come here regularly and another couple from Pakistan, who were working here for a month. They told us they weren’t massively keen on the food, and preferred to take it back to their rooms to add their own spices.

5th April

Istanbul, is a treasure trove for record shopping, picked up some Bulgarian folk albums today, before heading up to the 16th Century Süleymaniye Mosque. It’s was about an hour before Iftar, the grounds full of people preparing for their evening meal. We finished the day back down our neighbourhood with a couple of cups of ayran and some soup.

8th April

We catch a ferry from Eminönü to Büyükada, the largest of the Prince’s islands. There are no cars here. Previously, horse and cart had been a way to travel the island, however many of the horses were badly treated, so public pressure had them replaced by electric bikes, rickshaws and the occasional electric powered mini bus. Apart from a couple of police cars, there are no petrol engines.

There are loads of places to hire bikes and we get chatting to one guy who runs a hire place. I’m not sure how it comes up, but he tells us he’s Kurdish, we mention a Kurdish musician we know, and it turns out he’s a fan. The weather’s hot, and the island hills are steep, but we head from Adalar the main town to Aya Yorgi (St George) a Byzantium church. It’s too hot and we only make it to Luna park in the island centre.

When we return the bikes the guy invites us for a glass of island tea. He tells us it’s a busy time of the year as it’s Bayram (holiday) for Eid. Eid isn’t until the 9th, but people have already been coming to the island for holidays, it’ll go on for 9 days. We talk about family, he’s originally from Van, in the south east, nearer the border with Iran & Iraq. I say I’ve heard of it because of the Orhan Pamuk book. Oh yes, I know him says the guy, he comes by here sometimes. Laila writes him a message and he promises to pass it on if he comes by again.

Tuesday 9th April

The last day of Ramadan. We visit the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Outside we meet a Turkish PHD student, studying the relationship between Egypt & the Hittites. She’s at a university in Warsaw, but lives in Istanbul, attending sessions online. She tells us our entry fee to Hagia Sophia is more than many locals earn in a day, and the visitor centre is only open to foreigners. The floor area is only open to Muslims, since the building was converted back into a Mosque in 2020.

As it’s the last day of Ramadan, people are gathering in the Sultanahmet Meydani (square) for Iftar. There are 1000’s of people, crowds start to gather hours before Iftar, many bringing blankets and picnics. There’s also a free meal stall, serving a fairly substantial take away meal, with a huge queue of easily over a 1000 people. The atmosphere is warm and chatty, the people are hugely diverse. We chat with a large group of students from Indonesia, meet several families from Pakistan, and people from Kyrgyzstan, and hear a few English voices and some Slavic languages among with some we can’t place. I’ve never spent time in Ramadan in a predominantly Muslim place, and there is something incredibly peaceful and warm about this evening, in a space with thousands of people, there is no shouting or boisterous behaviour. Most people are sitting in groups chatting, waiting to break their fast in a shared community space. Not everyone is fasting, and there are snack stalls around the square selling chestnuts , corn on the cob and sweets, some vendors walk among the crowds selling doughnuts. As soon as the first words of the call to prayer sound from the two large nearby Mosques, there’s a notable drop in volume as people immediately start to eat. The sun sets behind the Blue Mosque. As people finish their meals, the atmosphere changes again as people stroll and chat, we meet another family from Pakistan, they chat with Laila in Urdu, and are enjoying their stay. A local guy tells us people will stay up, drinking tea. We head back to the hotel, feeling happy to have spent such a nice day.

Podcast notes

We visited Istanbul for a holiday from 3rd to 11th April 2024. These recordings were made whilst walking around the city, predominantly in the ⁠Fatih⁠ district, which includes the ⁠historic peninsula ⁠. We also visited Kadıköy & Büyükada. Recordings are made with a Zoom H6 recorder with the XYH-6 X/Y MIC.

All recordings made in public spaces.

Istanbul has an estimated population of 15.46 million and covers 5461 square km², compared to London’s population of 8.9 million and size of 1573 km². Considering its size and population, it’ve very easy to find peaceful quiet spaces. This episode includes street musicians, nature sounds, cafes and memories of life in the city.

⁠The call to prayer⁠ (⁠Adhan⁠) is recited 5 times a day and so is a regular part of the soundscape of Istanbul. Our flight arrived in Istanbul early morning on the 3rd April, we arrived at our hotel around 5 in the morning, coincidentally Fajr, the first of the day happened just as we stepped out of our taxi. The street we stayed on was narrow, with high buildings, near several large mosques, causing the sound to reverberate, not dissimilar to being in a canyon. In other places, its a quiet background sound.

We were visiting during the last few days of Ramadan, including ⁠Eid⁠, with a ⁠major public holiday the following three days (Bayram⁠)

00 - 7.10 April 3rd

Arriving at our hotel, near küçükpazar, early morning call to prayer (Fajr) then Beyoğlu, near ⁠Galata bridge⁠.

7.15 - 10.50 April 4th

Balat and Fena.

10.50 - 14.40 April 5th

Near küçükpazar, walking to Beyoğlu, then walking to ⁠Suleymaniye Mosque⁠, Eminönü. 14.40 -  18.10 April 6th

Ferry to Kadıköy, then Fener in the evening, including drummer. His family have been drumming for generations, he collects money during Ramadan, wishing people happy holidays. 18.10 - 27.00 April 7th 

⁠Venerable Patriarchal Church of Saint George, Fener⁠. Street sounds Balat and Fener, including drummer. 27.00 - 31.00 April 8th

Early morning bakery in küçükpazar, then Büyükada, Princes' Islands. 32.00 - 53.42 April 9th

The last day of Ramadan, we spent the whole day around Sultanahmet, visiting the ⁠Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque)⁠, ⁠Hagia Sophia⁠ and sitting in the ⁠Sultan Ahmet park⁠ with 1000’s of people as they waited for the final Iftar meal of this Ramadan. It was really beautiful. 53.42 - 1.07.20 April 10th 

Beyoğlu 1.07.20 - end April 11th

Early morning call to prayer from our hotel window,  with Simit bakery in background, walking through the neighbourhood early morning and ⁠Basilica Cistern sounds.

There are a few bits of recognisable music being played from passing cars, restaurants etc.

These are just the ones I recognise, if you know more, please message.

We stayed at Hotel Victorious in Küçükpazar (Highly recommended)

about 5 minutes walk from a tram station, one stop to Eminönü, with easy access to all the main tourist places.



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