I am one of those rare people with a birthday that falls squarely on New Year’s Eve. Most people assume that I would love having a birthday on New Year’s Eve because, well – everyone parties on my birthday. But I don’t. I always feel like I’m competing with all the New Year’s Eve parties so I typically celebrate my birthday on another night. On one year, I decided to skip New Year’s Eve altogether. I stubbornly held a Unicorn-themed birthday party on New Year’s Eve instead and made my friends dress up like unicorns and sing happy birthday to me at midnight. It was awesome.
But this year is different. Daniel and I have been travelling for three months now and we weren’t near any friends to celebrate the holidays, let alone New Years. So we decided to do something epic for my birthday/New Years Eve and headed to Istanbul. I first traveled to Istanbul about 10 years ago for a business trip and absolutely fell in love with the city. I’ve been wanting to return ever since and it seemed like now was the perfect time. A New Year’s Eve birthday celebration in the world’s 5th largest city? Yes please!
Beyoğlu Neighborhood and Taksim Square
Daniel and I booked an apartment in the Beyoğlu neighborhood near Taksim Square for the New Years holiday. Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s busiest pedestrian thoroughfare, was insanely crowded with shoppers and revelers so we peeled off the main drag to visit some side streets. This is my favorite part of Istanbul – the winding pedestrian alleys filled with everything from fish mongers to hookah joints and restaurants with outdoor seating spilling into the street.
There is something magical about Istanbul that is hard to describe to someone who’s never been. Daniel’s heard me talk about it for the past ten years and I was worried that the city wouldn’t live up to his expectations. But I needn’t have worried. It was really fun to be with Daniel as he experienced the allure of the Istanbul and the Beyoğlu neighborhood for the first time.
Istanbul Street Food and other Culinary Delights
We spent our first couple of days in Istanbul wandering around the Beyoğlu neighborhood and stuffing our faces with all kinds of street food. Daniel had a whole list of Turkish dishes to try and so we wasted no time diving right into this endeavor.
Our apartment happened to be located only a block away from Dürümzade restaurant, now made famous by Anthony Bourdain who visited it on his television show. We stopped by to try the wraps and they were everything that we could have hoped for. Two thumbs up.
We also stumbled upon Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi restaurant as we walked down Istiklal Caddesi street and had to go in. Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi is the restaurant of Chef Burak, also known as “the smiling chef”. Burak is a Turkish chef and Internet sensation with a proliferation of YouTube and Instagram cooking videos. He is especially known for his uncanny smile at the camera as he cooks – it is quite… distinctive. And hilarious. The food wasn’t terribly exciting but we did get a kick out of having our pictures taken with the multiple cut-outs of Chef Burak in the restaurant.
If you haven’t seen any of his videos, I recommend checking one out. This video of Chef Burak on Instagram is one of my favorites. I also enjoy this video of Chef Burak roasting meat in a pit oven.
This is only a small representation of the varied and wonderful food that we ate during our visit to Istanbul. We also spent an inordinate amount of time trying different kinds of lahmacun (which is kind of like a flat crispy pizza) – as well as pide (also pizza-like but shaped into little boats) and, by request of my cousin Jim of the Sandwich Tribunal blog, the tantuni sandwich. Oh, and did mention the Turkish breakfast?
If you’d like more details of all the fabulous foods we ate in Istanbul, be sure to check out Daniel’s comprehensive foodie post: Next level street food and the truly amazing cuisine of Istanbul, Turkey.
New Year’s Eve Birthday Shenanigans
And now for the main event – New Year’s Eve! I wanted to meet some new people on my birthday so we signed up for Istanbul’s Most Famous Pub Crawl on AirBnB. At the appointed hour we met up at a tiny little bar called Papillon and began the evening with some ice breaker games. It was an extremely diverse group – we had people from all over the world including Spain, Mongolia, Russia, Libya, India, Jordan, Turkey and Croatia. Soon we were all getting along famously and then we headed off to our next destination.
The next bar turned out to be a dance club already packed with locals who were ushering in the new year. We joined the crowd and just before midnight I turned around to see our host, Oytun, approaching with a flaming birthday cake! I was very surprised and utterly delighted. Soon midnight arrived and we danced in the New Year to the raucous sounds of fireworks.
Daniel and I split off from the group as they wandered along to the next bar since I’m not much of a night person and I was about done in. But we had an absolutely fabulous time.
Epic New Year’s Eve birthday party in Istanbul – achievement successfully unlocked!
Where are we now?
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
Date: Tuesday, December 31, 2019
Vagabonding Journey Status: Day 92
For more details on our vagabonding journey, see my previous posts:
- Day 89: A Tour of Romania’s Castles: Day Trip to Transylvania
- Day 84: Christmas Abroad in Bucharest, the Little Paris of the East
- Day 79: A Tour of Sofia’s Weihnachtsmarkt (German Christmas Market)
- Day 78: The Historic Orient Express Route: Belgrade to Sofia to Bucharest
- Day 73: Making New Friends in Belgrade, Serbia