Saturday, December 31, 2011

10 Amazing Places to Ring in the New Year

NYC, New York
My 1st year ... my 1st New Year's Eve in NYC was an unforgettable experience.

I had the same crazy idea millions of New Yorkers AND tourists have, celebrate New Year’s Eve in Time Square. So, there I was with a scorching cuppa Joe (aka. cup of coffee) in my hand with few friends by my side, and we began inching our way towards the infamous “ball”. We were more than 10 blocks away from One Time Square, when we began encountering hordes of people.  It took us half an hour to walk four blocks, and when we got to W. 53rd & Ave. of the Americas, we were stuck in a grid of people. I think every inch within 10 block radius of Time Square was covered with people that night, and the closest we’d gotten to seeing the “ball” drop was on TV the morning after.

However, the best part of the night was the festive atmosphere and the energy of the people around us, and although we couldn’t see the ball drop, we certainly felt the excitement of it, as we heard tens of thousands … perhaps even millions of people cheering, hugging and kissing … it was truly an unforgettable moment!

Then, first year after my husband and I’d moved to Germany, we went back to NYC to celebrate the holidays, and this time, we decided to ring in the new year in a more tranquil way. We spent the day reminiscing and visiting the places that we’d enjoyed while living there.  Around midnight, as we were strolling through our old neighborhood in Morningside Heights, we decided to attend the midnight service at the Riverside Church.

Although neither my husband nor I believe in or affiliate ourselves with any particular religion, it was a wonderful experience to ring in the new year at a place that we’d loved so much, amongst hundreds of New Yorkers.

Aspen, Colorado
With all the hype and craziness that surrounded the coming of new millennium, I wanted to be as far away from big cities, and I could not have pick a better place than Aspen.  Spending the day skiing, going for a quiet stroll in the evening after dinner with my family, and watching the fireworks above the mountain at midnight was a beautiful way to end the 20th Century.

San Francisco, California

No doubt there are fabulous parties and New Year’s Eve celebrations all over the city; however, I will never forget our 1st year in San Francisco when my husband and I’d decided to spend a quiet evening at home, just the two of us.

Then, at midnight, as we were about to toast the new year, we heard a loud noise outside our window. When we stepped out onto our balcony, we realized that the fireworks were literally right outside our apartment over the Bay Bridge … one of the big benefits of living in a high rise in SOMA.

So, there we were, huddled up in a blanket enjoying a private fireworks from our balcony!

Paris, France
I know it sounds like a bit of a cliché to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Paris, but the city lives up to and every bit of that cliché … and more! Paris is absolutely gorgeous during the holidays, even more so than usual, and add Christmas illuminations and decorations to the city of light; what you get is pure magic.

There are so many wonderful places to ring in the new year in Paris, but we opted for the most traditional spot, underneath the Eiffel Tower among thousands of Parisians and tourists. Nevertheless, it wasn’t as crazy or crowded as I’d feared, and although we’d arrived only an hour before midnight, we were able to walk through le Parc du Champs de Mars with ease and were able to find a spot where we had a phenomenal view of the fireworks over the Eiffel Tower and the light show.

It was absolutely unforgettable to watch the tower lit up like a Christmas tree and to be amongst all the people screaming joyfully, "Bonne Annee"!

Strasbourg, France
Strasbourg is a beautiful place to be anytime of the year, but during the holidays, the city turns into a winter wonderland.

Being on the border of two countries, Strasbourg has flavors of both France and Germany, and although it embodies the charm of a small village, being the home of the European Parliament, it is one of the more cosmopolitan destinations in France.

I lived in this beautiful city and visited many time, but being there on New Year’s Eve, I'd learned how much the French love to partay! Few friends of ours had mentioned that they wanted to spend New Year’s Eve outside of Germany, and I thought Strasbourg, being only 2½ hours from Frankfurt, would be a perfect place for a quaint celebration. Little did I know, it turned out to be one of the more lively New Year’s Eve festivities I’d experienced.

Rome, Italy
It was a particularly rainy winter that year, and New Year’s Eve was no exception. My husband and I had trudged all over Rome enjoying the spectacular sites in spite of the rain; however, we were too tired to fight the crowd and have to deal with the frenzy of the New Year’s Eve celebration. So, we headed over to the most tranquil place we knew, the Vatican, and indeed, it turned out to be one of the quietest New Year’s Eve I’d experienced.

However, New Year’s Day was quite the contrary. Every year, while the rest of the world sleeps in and tries to get over their hangover, ens of thousands of Romans and anyone else who happened to be in the city gather in St. Peter's Square, filling the streets with pageantry and music, to celebrate and receive the Pope's New Year's Day blessing. A focal point of Rome's holiday season and the Pope's Worldwide Day of Peace, the Rome New Year's Parade celebrates life, cultural diversity and international good-will.

Then, New Year's Parade proceeds along the grand Via della Conciliazione and culminates in St. Peter's Square, and in keeping with the Italian tradition, enthusiastic spectators (dressed to nines, mind you) fall into step alongside the bands, showing their appreciation with whistles and waves.

All this came as a wonderful surprise to us while my husband and I were strolling in the morning on New Year's Day.  It was as if we were invited to a fabulous block party.

Venice, Italy
My first New Year’s Eve in Europe, and I can still remember it clearly as if it was last year.

We’d stayed in a charming little hotel, Hotel Ai Do Mori, literally steps away from Piazza San Marco, and near midnight we heard the crowd began to gather. Once we stepped outside, we were in the midst of a truly festive atmosphere, and when the bell tolled twelfth time, tens of thousands of people cheered "Happy New Year!" in all languages … of course, the most predominant one being Italian, while hugging and kissing everyone and anyone in sight.

Skiing in Austrian Alps & Tyrol
Skiing holidays in the Austrian Alps & Tyrol (mountainous area at the border of Germany, Austria and Italy) are fantastic. You can experience the charm of a quaint little village but yet have access to all the comforts you need as a tourist … and what better way to begin a new year than skiing in the midst of such glorious nature!

Railay Beach, Thailand
Celebrating the New Year’s Eve in Railay Beach was an absolutely unforgettable experience. A paradise for rock climbers and beach goers alike, this small island located 2 hours south of Phuket provided such a wonderful backdrop for a New Year’s Eve Celebration.

At midnight, people gathered on the beach, and quietly, everyone lit their paper lantern and released them into the night sky, adding to the hundreds already up there. For hours on end a constant stream of glowing points drift upwards from all over the beach, and it was absolutely mesmerizing to watch all the lanterns lit up and rising against the darkness and stillness of night.

Kyoto, Japan

New Year’s Eve in Kyoto was a quiet affair.  For many Japanese, New Year's Eve is time for a peaceful celebration with family, and I decided to honor that tradition while there with my husband and friends.

On the night of the 31st, we'd found a lovely Buddhist temple to hear the JOYA NO KANE, which is the temple bell tolling 108 times (symbolizing the 108 worldly desires). Then, after midnight, we headed over to a Shinto Shrine for Hatsu-Mode (first visit to a shrine), where we prayed and wrote our wishes on votive tablets. It was beautifully serene way to begin a new year.


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