Somewhere in Europe, there's a New Year's celebration to fit your mood
When it comes to celebrating on New Year’s Eve in Europe, you don’t have to look far for a party.
Virtually everywhere, from small towns to big cities, has something going on, even if it is just setting off fireworks or toasting the new year with the neighbors.
But that may not be enough for those looking for something extra special. For them, we offer the following suggestions.
If New Year’s Eve conjures images for you of mass gatherings in public squares, London’s fireworks-and-lighting display might be just the thing for you.
The London Eye, the observation wheel alongside the River Thames, will serve as the focal point for the launching of fireworks and a light display. The display will be visible from vantage points throughout the city and broadcast live on television.
Large crowds are also anticipated in Trafalgar and Parliament squares. London’s public transportation services will run throughout the night on New Year’s Eve, and will offer free travel between 11:45 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. For more information, see www.london.gov.uk.
Another unforgettable New Year’s experience is expected in Berlin. Last year, more than a million visitors took up the city’s offer to attend what it bills as the “the largest open-air party worldwide.”
Berlin’s unique atmosphere is derived from a fusion of music, light, stage shows, dance floors, DJs and a fantastic firework display. Events take place along a 2-kilometer stretch of road. To join in, head toward the area between the Brandenburg Gate and the Column of Victory.
Although it goes without saying that adequate winter outerwear is the order of the evening, there will be tents set up to serve as warming stations. Find out more at www.silvester-berlin.de.
Vienna at New Year’s offers a particularly varied program. The city’s Old Town will feature a New Year’s Eve trail winding through its narrow streets, lined by food stalls and music stages. Various styles of music will be played throughout the city. While one area will feature the swinging songs of the Rat Pack, including songs by Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin, another will feature DJs playing Caribbean tunes and rock ’n’ roll. Lovers of classical music should head to the courtyard of the House of Music.
Alternately, book a boat trip on the Danube or attend the Gala at the City Hall. On Jan. 1, the New Year’s Day Concert will be broadcast on video screens throughout the city. For more information, check out the city’s Web site at www.info.wien.at.
Lisbon’s Festas da Passagem do Ano will take place on the waterfront of the Parque das Nações and Belém. Concerts, street entertainment, fireworks and other freebies create a lively atmosphere. More information on Lisbon’s festivities can be found at www.visitlisboa.com.
When smaller is better
If a smaller town is more to your liking, you could head to the Czech Republic’s picturesque town of Karlovy Vary. The Grandhotel Pupp will host a gala show and a fireworks display.
Germany’s mid-sized cities and towns will be in full swing with parties galore, mostly hosted at private venues and for which you need to get tickets in advance. To find out what a specific city has on offer, you can generally find its Web site by entering www., then the city’s name and .de.
New year, old customs
In Switzerland’s Appenzellerland, you might witness a new year’s chläuse (claus), masked and elaborately costumed figures roaming about the village. Generally traveling in groups of six, they ring their bells and yodel, wishing happiness and prosperity in return for money and Glühwein. Their frightening dress is specially designed to scare away evil spirits.
If you miss this event on New Year’s Eve, you have another chance to witness it on Jan. 13, when a new year dawns according to the Gregorian calendar. This event is celebrated in the communes of Urnäsch, Schönengrund, Schwellbrunn, Waldstatt, Herisau, Hundwil, Stein and Teufen. Learn more from the region-specific Web site at: www.appenzell.ch.
Few people celebrate the new year with as much passion as the Scots. Edinburgh shuts down its main streets for its world-renowned blowout, but it is not the only place that hosts a traditional Hogmanay party. Events include a torchlight parade, fireworks, street fest, live music, gift-giving and “first footing.”
“First footing” (that is, the “first foot” in the house after midnight) is still common in much of Scotland. To bring good luck for the year ahead, the first person to enter a home should be male, dark (believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers on your doorstep meant trouble) and should be carrying coal, shortbread, salt, black bun — a rich fruitcake — and whisky. Nowadays, it is mostly whisky and shortbread, shared all around.
In Iceland, locals start their celebration, Gamlárskvöld, with dinner among family and friends, then adjourn, still in fancy dress, to a bonfire. By midnight, the landscape will be dotted with not only these fires but that of privately acquired fireworks being shot off throughout the land. The ships in port blow their foghorns to add to the air of festivity. Then it’s off to the clubs and discos for partying into the small hours of the night. For more specifics, see www.iceland.org.
In Greece, New Year’s Eve is not only a holiday in its own right, but also the night before St. Basil’s Day. To the Greeks, this holiday is even more festive than Christmas, replete with gift-giving, feasting and music.
Central to the celebration is a St. Basil’s cake, or Vassilopitta, into which a coin or charm in the shape of a baby is baked. The significance of an infant dates back to ancient times, when a baby in a basket would be paraded about as a symbol of rebirth and fertility.
The cake is cut ceremoniously, with one piece set aside for St. Basil, one for the house, one for the poor and one for each member of the family. Whoever gets the piece with the charm gets good luck for the next year. Of course, to be part of such an event, it helps to have friends or relatives in Greece.
Fireworks and snow
If you have incorporated skiing into your New Year’s plan, your village will no doubt offer some arrangements for ringing in 2005. The area of St. Veit- Schwarzach-Goldegg in Austria, for example, is awash with small discos, pizzerias and après-ski bars offering a place to meet the new year at no cover charge or only a modest entry fee. These places are popular with both tourists and locals, who empty the buildings at midnight to set off fireworks and then return for more warm cheer.
Most resorts also offer something more elaborate. Frankfurt International Ski Club’s New Year’s package to Interlaken, Switzerland, features a celebratory four-course meal included in the cost of the trip.
No place like home
Many prefer to spend New Year’s Eve in the cozy comfort of home, with snacks and a good movie. Others go to one of the many events on base. Some are geared to families, others to teens. Many bowling centers will offer fun in the form of cosmic bowling, bingo bowling with prizes or other activities.
Whatever you decide to do, check dates and times before heading off, line up accommodations (or a ride home) in advance and dress warmly. That should get your 2005 off to a great start!
Other ideas …
Here are some other New Year’s Eve suggestions from past Travel editions:
Parismay not have the elaborate New Year’s fireworks that other places do, but that does not mean the City of Light is dull. The Champs-Elysées and the neighborhoods around the L’Arc de Triomphe transform into a glittering, Champagne-guzzling sea of people on New Year’s Eve. The Place de la Bastille and Boulevard Saint Michel are also popular gathering sites for party-goers. Another option is to take a cruise along the Seine for a view of the illuminated monuments while enjoying cocktails and a four-course dinner. For details, go to the Paris Web site, www.paris-touristoffice.com.
In Venice, you can join the midnight revelers in St. Mark’s Square, but don’t expect any official fireworks; the city is resting up for the colorful Carnival celebrations, which begin Jan. 28. The city’s Web site is www.venicetouristboard.com.
Spain’s version of Times Square is the Puerta de Sol in Madrid’s Old Town. The site is what Times Square is to Americans and it is televised throughout the country. The tradition of eating one grape after the other in time with the chimes of the clock (if you can hear them over the noise of the fireworks) is supposed to bring luck in the new year. Then it’s off to clubs and discos for parties that last through the night.
Brussels’ pubs, restaurants and discos are good places to party. Fireworks at midnight are on the program with a favorite viewing spot at the Mont des Arts in the city center. The Belgian Tourist Board Web site is www.visitbelgium.com.
In Amsterdam, many restaurants close early so the staff can celebrate, too. Fireworks fill the sky at midnight; a favorite place to watch is the Chinese Quarter in the city center. For information on the city, go to this Web site: www.visitamsterdam.nl.
— Stars and Stripes