|October 9, 2014 | Europe, Found Sounds, Travels, You Are There
Istanbul, Turkey : new and old, a big, modern city, but still very much the showplace, glittering jewel, of the Ottoman Empire. Famously, the bridge between east and west – half of the city is in Europe, half in Asia.
In travel writing ( I read a lot of it, although I’m making an effort to live vicariously through books and blogs less and actually, uh, travel more ), a common theme is spontaneity – ” leave your return date open ” ” don’t book hotels ahead of time ” ” throw out your guide book and just walk the streets ” ( the core message often being something like ” don’t be a tourist, be a traveler, and seek the authentic “ – whatever THAT means ).
While I have a more extemporaneous travel style than a lot of people, I call bullshit, especially when it comes to research. Why would you not want to know as much as possible about the place you’re going to visit? Which leads me to the giant rookie mistake I made with Turkey – I went to a country in which 99% of the population identifies as Muslim during July, the month of Ramadan, the most important holiday in Islam. Totally clueless, me.
Most of the important tourist stuff was open ( believe me, you want to see these amazing places, like this ), but the Hammams, Turkish baths, were closed, as well as a lot of the cooler restaurants, museums, post offices ( yeah, I still send postcards, a lot ). Add huge crowds to that – something I fully expected, traveling to a major tourist destination in the summertime, but couldn’t help getting a little bummed out by ( not all places were crowded, mind you – when I went to the gigantic and awesome Istanbul Military Museum, I was the only person there ) . Throw in, as well, the weather. One of the reasons I took this trip was to escape the famously unpleasant summer in New Orleans, but here I found myself in a place even hotter than that.
Oh, so, the purpose of this post : Istanbul contains some of the biggest and most famous mosques in all of Islam, and every neighborhood has at least one as well, and every one of these mosques has a muezzin who sings the adhan, or call to prayer, five times daily. In some smaller Turkish cities and towns I visited, you can hear one muezzin at a time, which becomes routine. In a huge city, though, you’re within earshot of 2 or 3 at the same time, which makes a crazy sound – more than once, I stood in the street, transfixed. Here’s a recording I made in the Sultanahmet district.
Dueling Mosques, Istanbul
One evening, I went up to a hotel rooftop garden to get a beer and watch the sun set on the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. ( there’s the uniqueness of Turkey – I don’t think a visit to any other Islamic country would result in a sentence containing the words ‘beer’ and ‘mosque’ ).