Part 2- Mainland Europe
There are certain adventures in life that one feels excited to tell to their grandkids or young friends someday. We don’t really feel like waiting that long, so we hope you are excited to hear the story!
We have been hearing wonderful things about Budapest for ages from lots of friends who have spent time there. Our arrival was a bit rough, I lost my subway ticket in my sleep deprived haze, and we were stopped and fined by some thuggish security guards on our way out of the public transportation system. Our first day busking was terrible, with not only very few tips, but very little interest, and even scowls from the older folks. Our experience in Budapest was saved by the excellent company of our friend Kjartan, of the Szkojani Charlatans, and his crew of friends. We had a good gig on July 4th, and a very strange experience involving ice cream soup and an unpermitted dinner party. The visit ended with a sort of parade to Liberty bridge, with a balalaika and a bottle of pink wine mixed with sparkling water, the Budapest refreshment of choice.
After just three days, we took the train to Prague to meet up with our friend Max. There was a heat wave over most of Europe during this time, and the AC on our train broke. It was sweltering, but still probably better than the bus. Our time in Prague consisted mainly of wandering the beautiful streets, and quality time with rad American friends.
We chose to take a bus this time, and headed to Berlin. We weren’t sure where we were going to be staying there until the last minute, when we were rescued by the ever so helpful folks at Berlin Street Music, who set us up with our temporary host (Thanks Georgie and Lala!) till we could go stay with our slightly more pre arranged host, Sabine. Berlin was a whirlwind. We went with just two shows booked, and ended up playing three more times through the week. We had the pleasure of playing most of those gigs with Pete Olynciw, who we play with sometimes in New Orleans. He was on tour with another band of old friends, and they were on break in Berlin. There was a magical night when some of the Underscore Orchestra folks (more old friends, look em up if you don’t know!) were also in Berlin for one night, and all three bands met up in a back room of a Flammerie bar. We ended up moving another time, and staying at a super rad collective apartment complex that used to be a squat. On our last night there, we played a concert on their roof, and randomly ran into the same friends that we saw our last night in Istanbul! It’s a big world, but circles of friendship can make it feel small.
We also played a fair bit of swing music with Oliver Bonie, a saxophone player from New Orleans who was hanging in Berlin for a season. He had been invited to provide the music for a Balboa weekend camp on a lake outside of Berlin, and Giedre, the organizer, asked us to be his band. We were picked up by an old VW bus and whisked to a lake outside of town. Taking dance lessons in a wonderfully dilapidated old space, feeling awkward around the naked swimmers, and playing lots and lots of jazz. When the weekend was through, we caught a ride to Hamburg with one of the swing dancers.
We stayed in Hamburg with the one and only Renee De La Prada, and her then finance (now husband!) Ingo. They were so wonderful to get to know and spend time with, we felt like old friends even though it was our first time meeting. We had a successful busk there, and a lovely bike ride, and a backyard barbecue show.
It was a silly idea to try to hitchhike to Amsterdam, since the bus is cheap and fast, but the adventure turned our heads and we heard it was easy. Well, it should have been easy. There were other hitchhikers at almost every stop, and we got a ride that took us to the very wrong place, far south at the Germany/Netherland border. It was getting dark by then, and the place we were dropped seemed hopeless. It was a rough stretch of very normal, conservative, middle class feeling road, and not much sympathy for two musicians with all of their stuff. We ended up getting a ride to a train station, and grudgingly paid our fare to Amsterdam.
We were nervous about Amsterdam, because we only had one show booked and we weren’t sure where we were staying, but it turned out to be one of the most incredible experiences of our journey. The squatting culture in Amsterdam is really, really awesome. The laws there are much more squatter and tenant friendly, and there are many long term, well cared for, established squats. Many of these places have community spaces that host weekly free volunteer run vegan benefit dinners.
We stayed at the ADM, a huge squatted dry dock just outside of town. This community has been around for almost 20 years, and the place is just incredibly beautiful. The houses, caravans, sculptures, gardens, playgrounds, crazy art and music and people. We ended up playing these benefit dinners every single night for the time we were there. We had booked one before we arrived, but word must have gotten around, and every day we were offered a new show or two! The culture of generosity and persistent, practical political work was extremely inspiring to us, and we left Amsterdam with a sense of gratitude and motivation to step up our activism.
Part 1- Istanbul
Our two month adventure tour across the European continent started with two weeks in Istanbul with Sparrow’s family. The largest city in Turkey and the 5th largest city in the world, Istanbul is very different than anywhere we have ever been. The music, the architecture, the culture- there is so much to see and learn and experience. Sparrow’s mom, Carol, is a geography and history teacher, so we made it a priority to see a lot of the amazing historical places in Istanbul, like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi palace, the Hippodrome with it’s ancient obelisks, the Basilica cistern, and the archeological museum. We also spent some time taking lessons. Sparrow went and learned some Turkish Romani dance with Reyhan Tuzsuz, a beautiful dancer who has taught many international students her style of this casual traditional dance. We took a darbuka lesson with the incredible Raquy Danziger, a mind blowing drummer and kamancheh player who is originally from the states but has relocated to Istanbul. She was very welcoming and friendly, showing us around her favorite music shops, and bringing Sparrow and Charlotte (Sparrow’s sister) to her favorite neighborhood hammam, or Turkish bath. The women who worked at the hammam had a darbuka hiding in the back, and got Raquy to play a bit, and we had a little dance party in the 700 year old bath house in our towels- an unforgettably awesome and very silly experience. We also played a lot of soccer at the small neighborhood park near where we were staying. The local kids were really really good, and gave us a run for our money. We bought a ball to play with and gave it to one of the kids at the end of our stay.
We stayed in the Sultanahmet area, where most of the really old historical stuff is, but we also spent a lot of time north of the golden horn in the more modern part of the city. Istiklal is one of the main streets in the Beyoglu neighborhood of Istanbul, where Taksim square is. It’s one of the most crowded pedestrian streets we’ve seen, and is home to most of Istanbul’s nightclubs, big retail stores, embassies, and buskers. Taksim is one of the most liberal areas in Turkey, and has been the site of many protests- we saw a demonstration almost every day we went there to busk. We were reminded of how conservative the Turkish government is when we went to see the pride parade on Istiklal street. The government banned it at the last minute and used tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons to disburse the crowd. We went down a side street so we were not directly affected, but it was a scary close call that brought the political atmosphere to light.
We played two shows while in Istanbul, both at a great little bar called Jurnal. The first night we had a hard time finding it, and were walking down the street with all of our instruments, looking very confused. Luckily the owner of the bar was outside and recognized us and showed us where to go! We came back to that bar a couple of other times and saw a great greek rembetico band- 2 girls singing and playing oud and kanun, and a violinist. There were some incredible buskers out there, including a virtuoso 10 year old darbuka player who was playing with an awesome clarinet player- we were watching them play, and they saw our instruments and waved us over. They insisted that we play a song with them, and then the clarinet player came down to our gig that night and sat in with us. Some of the songs were perfect with turkish clarinet, but it was funny to hear some of the banjo tunes with such a foreign sounding instrument! On our last night in Istanbul we went out on the town to hear some music. First we headed back to Jurnal pub to hear the Greek band play again to meet up with one of Keith’s old friends from Wisconsin, who had just been traveling all over central Asia with his girlfriend. Together, we went on a wild goose chase to find the place where my friend’s balkan brass band, the Duma Duma Orchestra, was playing. After a bunch of confusion and running around, we finally found the venue, which was of course on the top floor of a very tall building with an extremely sketchy lift. We danced till we had to get Sparrow’s sister Charlotte home to leave for the airport at 3 AM. After a stressful struggle with mom’s rugs and a broken suitcase, we made our tearful goodbyes, parted ways with the family, and got on a plane to Budapest.