The New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday. To make it unique and memorable my husband and I try to spend it abroad. Not all of our New Year’s Eve celebrations were amazing, but since they happened in other countries, I remember them very vividly.
Our independent trip package to London included the flight, hotel, show, and one lunch in a pub. We went everywhere by foot, visiting free museums, parks, strolling along the banks of the river. We planned to greet the New Year on the North bank of Thames, opposite the London Eye.
I gathered all information I could find about the fireworks from the London Eye. I was glad I did that. To get a better spot to view the fireworks, the travel book advised getting to the river several hours before the midnight.
When we came to the waterfront at 8 pm, we saw that we were not the first ones. The crowd was already quite thick. We walked around trying to find the place to sit. Some locals brought folding chairs. Finally, we came upon a wrought-iron fence. In front of it, there was a low cement wall, wide enough to sit on.
We prepared well for the cold night: turtlenecks, sweaters, parkas, thermal underwear, and a small bottle of whiskey. This bottle helped us to stay warm closer to the midnight when the temperature dropped. What kept us warm the best was the crowd, which protected us from the cold wind from the river.
We saw many drunken people. They all behaved reasonably well – no fights or other disturbances. Probably the heavy police presence held them in check. However, I got relaxed about these drunkards a little too early.
Just as I was getting comfortable, sitting on a low cement wall, a heavily intoxicated man stood close to me, opened his fly and started urinating through the metal bars of the fence. He just couldn’t make it to the portable toilets installed in many areas. I jumped to the side.
My husband wanted to interfere and pull the drunkard aside, but the guy was so intoxicated that he would not stop urinating and could sprinkle everyone around him. It was safer to let him be. After he finished, he zipped up his pants and stumbled away. This was an unpleasant but memorable incident.
Like many other people, we prepared a bottle of champagne to open at midnight. When the Westminster Abbey’s Big Ben struck 12, and the London Eye exploded with the fireworks, the champagne corks started flying all over the crowd. These incredible fireworks were worth all the waiting. They lasted for a long time.
As soon as the fireworks were over, the crowd started dispersing. The last thing I remember from that night was the sound of champagne bottles rolling on the pavement under people’s feet.
I read that the Japanese people take the New Year’s Eve celebration very seriously. I also learned that Yokohama, the Tokyo suburb, has Chinatown which would be a great place to see the fireworks. We decided to take a train to Yokohama for the New Year’s Eve party and then spend the rest of the night in a hotel in Tokyo.
When the fireworks were over, we took a train back to Tokyo and then a subway to hotel. This hotel was a block from the river. I read that Japanese people try to see a sunrise on January 1st. The first rays of sun on New Year’s day assure that you will have a good year. We decided to follow this tradition.
By the time we checked in, it was almost 3:00 am. I set up the alarm clock to wake us up 30 minutes before the sunrise. I was sure that we will be strong enough to get up after just a few hours of sleep. I was wrong. The alarm clock woke us up way too early (in our opinion), and we slept in.
After breakfast, we came down to the lobby. There, we saw lots of delighted Japanese people. Very quickly we discovered the reason: the hotel was providing free unlimited sake and tangerines. The delicious aromas wafted through the lobby. We poured the mild, milky sake (called Nigori) from the wood barrel using an old-fashioned wooden dipper with a long handle. The tangerines were kept in the oversized basket.
Needless to say, we had several helpings of both. Despite the missed sunrise, it was an extraordinary beginning of the 2002 year!
On December 31 we arrived at the Hluhluwe Hotel, located next to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve. Next morning we had to go on our first safari to see wild animals – giraffes, hippos, rhinoceros, elephants, lions, and leopards.
We were told that the hotel will hold the New Year’s party for its guests. After dinner, we took a short nap, to be able to stay awake till the midnight. Our slumber was interrupted by loud music. We quickly got dressed and went downstairs to join the party.
The hall was empty. On the small stage, the DJ played music at the full volume. On the side table, there were a few trays of juices and lemonade. We couldn’t stay in this hall for even a minute – the sound level was intolerable!
My husband and I went to the lobby, where we saw a few people from our group. They said that they also couldn’t stay in the hall. I went to the reception and asked a clerk to help us with the volume of the music. His response was: this is how we play music here.
Disappointed, we returned to our room, watched the New Year’s concert on our computer, and went to bed at 12:10 am, still hearing the ear-splitting sounds from below. Happy 2012 New Year!
Our group tour had a great itinerary: Singapore, Bangkok, and Hong Kong. We spent Christmas in Singapore, flew to Bangkok and arrived in Hong Kong on December 30.
Our hotel was conveniently located in Kowloon, just two blocks from the famous waterfront of Victoria Harbor. During the daytime and early in the evening we walked on the promenade admiring the skyline of the Hong Kong Island and watched the Christmas lights show across the Harbor.
We read that the fireworks on New Year’s Eve are spectacular. They shoot the fireworks from the boat in the middle of the Victoria Harbor, and if we are lucky, we’ll get to see them with the Hong Kong’s landmarks in the background.
The crowds started gathering before 8 pm. It was quite cold, and we decided to spend a couple of hours in the restaurant near the waterfront and then to join the crowds sometime after 10 pm.
Big mistake! When we came out of the restaurant, we saw the barricades which did not let us come close to the water. Instead, the crowds were sent to the small streets leading away from the Harbor. We joined other people who were as eager as us to get a glimpse of the famous fireworks extravaganza. It was a slow going. We would walk for 10-15 yards and then would be stopped for a few minutes.
When we entered a very narrow street, I started feeling claustrophobic. People were packed like sardines. It would be impossible to get out of the crowd, doesn’t matter in what direction we would try to move. We were stuck! From time to time people started screaming, and to me, it sounded pretty scary. I could hear this awful sound starting far away and gradually moving in our direction.
It was getting closer and closer to the midnight. Surrounded by the wall of buildings, we had no way of knowing how much farther we had to go. It seemed that at the pace we were inching forward, we will make it to the waterfront only by the morning.
We had a bottle of champagne. But how to open it? We were packed so tightly that it would be impossible to get the bottle from the bag. We kept frantically checking our watch.
At about 11:50 pm I saw an open boutique with a little Christmas tree on its steps. It was about 10 feet ahead of us. We decided to reach this store despite the extremely tight place we were in. My husband grabbed my hand and saying “excuse me” in all the languages he could (unfortunately not in Cantonese), started pulling me towards that Christmas tree.
At about 11:55 we were standing on the steps of that store. I was happy to see that our plastic cups were not crushed in the melee. We opened the bottle, and drank champagne on the steps of this tiny store, next to the whimsically decorated Christmas tree, and pressed against the sales girls who were smiling at us and wishing us “Happy New Year”!
We offered them champagne, and they happily accepted. We did not get to see the fireworks, but we will never forget that New Year’s Eve in Hong Kong!
The trip to Vietnam and Cambodia (Angkor Wat) had to end on December 30. We could return home, but we wanted to spend the New Year’s Eve in an exotic location. We decided to buy the extension which included visiting the mountain tribes in North Vietnam. It sounded intriguing. $600 per person for 3 extra days? We could afford it.
Our group had 27 people, but only 5 of us went on the extension tour. It was my husband, I, and an older couple with an adult granddaughter. Our tour guide wished us farewell, before taking the rest of the group to the airport.
A new guide, Tom, loaded us into a van. The ride to the mountains took several hours. We arrived at the small hotel in a tiny village. We loved the view from our second-story window: a pond with pink lotuses, green rice paddies, and picturesque mountain.
As soon as we finished exploring the hotel and its surroundings, we went to find a grocery store where we could buy a bottle of champagne for the New Year celebration. We found a tiny store which had no wine or champagne. They were selling only rice, chips, crackers and a few vegetables. We remembered that on the table in our room, there was a platter with fruit and a ceramic bottle with the rice wine. Instead of champagne, we decided to use that rice wine.
Our guide informed us about the next day schedule. In the morning, we’ll go to the mountains to observe the life of the small tribe. In the evening, hotel guests are invited to the New Year’s Eve dinner scheduled for 6 pm.
The day started early. Somehow I left my jacket in the hotel room even if it was pretty cool In the morning. We drove up the mountain for a couple of hours. By the time we reached the first village, it had become much colder.
The guide took us to one of the shacks. Inside, it was very dark. A lonely man was sitting by the small fire where he was preparing a meal in the pot. The only light came from the fire and from the cracks in the walls. He said that his wife went to the local market and he was preparing food for her return.
After a few minutes in this depressing shack, we left a few coins for this poor man and got outside. Next stop was at a big house where we met a large extended family. There were a few sets of grandparents, aunts, and uncles, many barefoot children with running noses and a few mangy-looking dogs. Our small group left that house as soon as it was polite to do so.
Outside, the cold wind was blowing harder and harder, but the guide told us that we still have a hike on our program.
By that time our group was ready for a revolt: grandparents could barely walk, their granddaughter was fighting a cold, I was chilled to the bones due to the lack of warm clothing. Only my husband was a game. But looking at our sorry lot, he said that he does not care for the hike either. We begged our guide to cut the tribe visit short and go back to the hotel.
The hotel provided us with picnic lunch to enjoy during the hike. None of us wanted to eat the cold sandwiches from the cooler. All we wanted was to come to the warm place and eat something hot. The guide called the hotel, and by the time we returned, the large pots with two different Vietnamese hot soups were waiting for us in the warm dining room. I was in heaven.
In the evening, all hotel guests came down to the restaurant for the New Year’s party. We were served excellent Vietnamese food and champagne. After a long, cold day and an excellent dinner with champagne, I was ready for bed. Forget the party!
Other guests at the hotel were not as sleepy as the two of us. A large group of German tourists was celebrating with lots of laughter and loud singing of German songs. Somehow we fell asleep, despite the racket outside.
Just before the midnight, the alarm clock went off (my husband set it in advance). I refused to get up, but he wanted to make sure that we will stay awake for a few minutes and will celebrate. He made me sit up on the bed and poured the rice wine into my throat.
This was the worse drink I had in my life. I tried rice wine before, but the taste of this one was just disgusting. My husband hated it too, but he felt that it was necessary to drink it precisely at midnight. So we clinked our glasses as the clock was striking midnight and the German tourists were yelling outside.
At the end of our third trip to Japan, we arrived at the central station in Nagasaki on December 31. Immediately, I went to the tourist office and asked what will be happening in that city for the New Year’s Eve. The answer was “nothing really, but you could go to the Dutch Gardens, they will have the New Year’s Eve celebration.”
Unfortunately, that place was very far from our hotel, and we decided to spend New Year’s Eve in our room. We stopped at the mall by the train station (there is a shopping mall at every major train station in Japan – extremely convenient for travelers!), bought champagne, a platter of sushi and went back to the hotel.
We ended up spending that evening in the hot tub in our room. We felt like Japanese people who like soaking in a hot tub after a cold winter day. There absolutely nothing exciting to watch on the TV – just silly game shows, but we kept the TV on to know when the clock will strike 12. Happy 2004 Year from a hot tub in Japan!
I love New Year’s Eve! And I love it, even more, when we spend it in the faraway locations. The location alone can make this celebration even more festive. As you could see, not all our festivities in foreign countries were successful, but the unique surroundings made them unforgettable. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone for this special holiday. It will be worth the effort.