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First of all, the hotel where we will be staying is worth the trip all on it's own. The Kybele is a little gem of a specıal category hotel in the middle of the old Ottoman/Byzantine part of town Sultanahmet. It is a 2-minute walk to the Aya Sofia and 4 minutes to the Topkapı palace. The hotel is run by my Turkish friend "Mike" that I have known for 15 years. He is a collector of Anatolian and Central Asian textiles and the hotel is stuffed with antiques, textiles, little lamps, etc. It's even more special to me because 28 years ago, before Mike's family bought it, I worked and lived there.
We will be accompanied on many of our activities by my dear friend and colleague Sinan Erdemsel, an outstanding musician and our connection to many of the exciting events that are taking place in the Istanbul music and dance scene.
Here's the program I have set up for us and, İnşallah, we will be able to take advantage of all these wonderful opportunities. However, please allow for some spontaneous changes especially in the order of events...in fact the actual order of events is different everytime! We may also provide extra opportunities at an extra charge as they come up or make substitutions in the program if a special event is taking place. If you would like us to set up private lessons for music just let me know.
Arrival (preferably by the early afternoon).In the evening we will walk down to the Train station Sirkeci by the docks to attend a Mevlevi concert (sufi music and whirling dervishes with women) in the grand salon of the train station. This will be followed by a welcoming dinner in our hotel.
We will take a short introductory stroll around our neighbourhood. Then we will have a folk dance workshop with a folkdance teacher. In the afternoon Sinan and I will give us a small talk introducing us to the various different styles of Turkish music...particularly those that we will be encountering on our adventure and some basic rhythm theory, which will prepare us for our dance classes. The talk will take place in Mikes "hangout". It is so filled with interesting textiles, carpets and jewelery that I hope you will be able to concentrate on the lecture! In the evening we will stroll down İstiklal Caddesi, the grand European center of 19th century Istanbul. Today it houses fashionable clothing stores, exclusive confectioners, nice restaurants and....lots of good music stores! In the evening every one is out for a stroll and a good time. We will have dinner in the Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage), famous for its strolling Roma musicians and wonderful meze (Turkish appetizers). A great opportunity to get up and dance or watch the locals show their stuff.
This morning we will head up to the end of İstiklal Caddesi called Tünel which is full of music stores...instruments and recordings. Sinan will be glad to help people in buying instruments. We will then go to the Galata Tekke (dervish monastery) for a Mevlana Sema...this is sufi music in it's original setting. Tünel gets it's name from a little tram in a tunnel that goes steeply down the hill. Built in 1875 it is one of the oldest metros in the world. We will take this little tram down and hop on a ferry to take a stroll in Kadıköy on the Asian side of town. Then if we manage to time it right we will do my favourite thing: come back on the ferry, drink tea and watch the sun set over one of the most incredible skylines in the world: the minarets of Aya Sofia and the Sultanahmet mosque. In the evening we will go to a Gazino with a floor show including Oryantal and Folk dancing...this is your chance to see what kind of dancing tourists are usually presented.
In the morning we will have another folk dance workshop. In the afternoon we will have the special opportunity to accompany Mike into the depths of the Kapalı Çarşı, Istanbul's grand bazaar. Mike will lead us away from the tourist traps to the special places where he buys his treasures. If we have time we can also visit the booksellers and miniature paintings. The main drag of the bazaar is also mind boggling with its dazzling TONS of gold jewelery on display. In the evening we will go to Kum Kapı, a part of town full of special fish restaurants and Roma musicians. Time to dance again!
This morning we will visit the Byzantine Cisterns, which are right next to our hotel and then visit the Aya Sophia, built in 537 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, then converted to a mosque in 1493 by the Ottomans and converted again in 1935 by Atatürk into a museum. Afterwards we will relax over lunch in Caferağa Medresesi, a Quran school built in 1559 by Sinan, the Ottoman Empire's most famous architect. Today it houses a school for traditional arts. Following lunch we will have a workshop in Roman dance with Reyhan Tuzsuz, a very, very sweet woman and wonderful dancer and wife of a violinist. She is the best of the real thing and has become a favorite with visiting dancers from around the world...a kind of secret celebrity!!! The evening will be free to explore our lovely neighborhood on your own...perhaps döner kebap in a fast food restaurant or a more elaborate meal in one of the open-air restaurants lining the Hippodrome?
In the morning we will visit the Topkapı Museum, Treasury and Harem. Prepare to be overwhelmed by such treasures as a pair of gold candle sticks as tall as me, set with 6,666 diamonds each, or emeralds as big as your fist, or hairs from the beard of the prophet Mohammed (PUH). Following lunch we will return to the Caferağa Medresesi for a practical lesson in making Ebru, the Ottoman art of paper marbling. Since we learned the basics of Roman the day before we will spend the evening in at the Hirdellez festival surrounded by music, dance and parites! Be prepared to dance, make wishes and have lots of fun!
We will spend today in Eyüp Sultan, at the upper end of the Golden Horn. We will start by visiting Minia Türk, where we can see all of Istanbul in miniature. We will visit the holy mosque of Eyüp Sultan. Eyüp was the banner carrier of the prophet Mohammed (PUH) and is said to be buried here. It is the most holy place in Istanbul and many important personalities of the Ottoman Empire have been buried here. Turks make pilgrimages to the mosque to ask the saint for special blessings. Then we will visit the cafe that the French writer Pierre Loti (1850-1923) used to frequent on the hill overlooking the Golden Horn. In the afternoon we will go to Sinan's family's house...a very special place. It is a Türbe (mausoleum) and Tekke (Sufi monastery) of the Sinani order. Sinan’s family has lived in this spot for 450 years. The house is full of paintings by his grandmother, the wife of the last great sheihk of the order. In the house we will have a singing workshop with Sinan's brother Faruk, also a professional musician with a golden voice. Following a dinner cooked by Sinan's mother we will have a house concert of İlahi (devotional songs).
Finally a free day! You could sleep...but there are more corners of the bazaar to explore, palaces to visit, delicacies to taste! In the evening we will convene for a dinner in an elegant restaurant on the Istiklal Caddesi with Fasıl music.
On our last day we will have an excursion sailing along the Bosporus and munching on snacks baked by Sinan's mother. In April this should be spectacular! Then it's on to an evening of great food in the caverns of the Victoria restaurant...with very special house musicians...including our very own Sinan!
Even though we now realize there are still a million things to see it's time to leave...