This year, I got to celebrate my birthday in Istanbul, Turkey; a diverse nation straddling the eastern side of Europe and the western side of Asia with cultural ties to ancient Greek, Roman, Persian, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. When planning a birthday in a foreign country, Turkey may not be at the top of everyone’s birthday wish list. But for me, Istanbul had everything I was looking for to ring-in the big day: delicious food, drinks, belly dancers, a Bosphoros River cruise, ancient temples and mosques, the Whirling Dervish and more. Here is my ‘How To: Successfully Celebrate Your Birthday In Istanbul Guide’.
From Istanbul With Love. How To: Successfully Celebrate your Birthday in Istanbul
1. Birthday Must Do: Book a Bosphorus River Cruise. You will love it. Between a 5 course dinner menu, bottomless drinks, belly dancers, and blaring Turkish music, you will all of a sudden find yourself wedged between two cologne-wearing locals, joining in traditional Turkish dance until the sun comes up. (see photo above)
2. Birthday Must Do: Night Out in Taksim Square. Known for being a major tourist attraction in the heart of Istanbul, Taksim Square if famed for its restaurants, shops, hotels and nightlife. I ventured out into Taksim Square by myself one night, only to find myself approached by a rather large and hairy club promoter – let’s call him Ahmed. Ahmed offered me a table, and a complimentary drink if I followed him upstairs to one of Taksim Squares renowned night clubs, Machine Club. No, I was not Taken, like the popular Liam Neeson movie trilogy might lead you to believe. I simply met some fellow Turkish party-goers and got to experience Istanbul nightlife at its finest.
3. Birthday Must Do: Visit Hagia Sophia. After a long night of partying, a day of self-reflection is always in order. I recommend heading into town and visiting Hagia Sophia, one of the most prominent monuments in the world in terms of art, history and architecture. There you will find solace, cheer, relief…and air conditioning.
4. Birthday Must Do: Shopping in the Grand Bazaar. What’s a birthday party without any gifts? At the Grand Bazaar, shoppers can find anything from thousand dollar Persian rugs, to brilliant gold jewelry, to knock-off designer purses, to a plethora of spices I can’t pronounce. On my visit to the Grand Bazaar, we visited a young man who sells Persian and Kurdish Rugs. His name was Ramadan and he asked for my hand in marriage several over the course of two hours (seriously). Needless to say, I politely declined, but I did go home with a rather nice, hand-woven Kurdish rug.