DT & New Year’s Eves

As a kind of follow-on from last Thursday’s post about dark tourism & Christmas, I now give you another photo essay composed of photos from my archives that were all taken on a New Year’s Eve, mostly when travelling abroad. Of course, the New Year’s Eves themselves were not the dark elements here, but took place in countries with a dark reputation and/or where we had undertaken dark-tourism fieldwork during the day.

I’ll do it in reverse chronological order and begin with last year’s New Year’s Eve – when we were in Ethiopia, namely at an upscale eco lodge on the edge of the Simien Mountains, which are seen here from the lodge’s veranda in the early evening before it got dark (but the shadows were already getting long):

 

shortly before dusk at the Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

 

Later that evening there was no party after dinner, everything stayed quiet, so we grabbed a bottle of Ethiopian white wine (very decent, by the way) from the free help-yourself bar and retired to our bungalow for an early night. But we set an alarm for just before midnight, got back up and grabbed the wine bottle from outside our bungalow’s door (where the night served as a fridge – because it gets pretty cold at night at nearly 3000 metres above sea level). Then we sent a few text messages to friends & family, clinked glasses and said a few toasts, and when the bottle of wine was finished went back to bed. Good job it wasn’t a heavy party night resulting in a potential hangover, as our safari in the Simien Mountains National Park the next day involved a lot of hiking along steep cliff edges and some slightly precarious clambering about rocks. Not something you’d want to be doing when you’re feeling a bit unsteady on your feet.

The year before we saw in the year 2019 in Valletta, Malta. A stage had been set up in a city centre square, with bands playing and a countdown to midnight, followed by a firework display.

 

in Valletta, Malta, getting ready to see in 2019

 

Afterwards we wandered the streets a bit more, found that “The Pub” was still open (remember from the DT & Bars post, that is the place where Oliver Reed had his “last order” before he collapsed and died in 1999), so we grabbed a beer and talked to some strangers outside. By about one in the morning we were back in our little pension’s room and went to bed. So it was also one of our not so wild New Year’s Eves.

Two years earlier we had been in India, and on New Year’s Eve 2016 we were in Lucknow, where we stayed at a large hotel that put on a New Year’s Eve gala dinner. It cost a fixed flat sum and covered a vast range of food and free-flowing drinks, including Indian wine (which is also really not bad at all), as well as entertainment in the form of a band playing in a corner. I took this photo early in the evening:

 

in India, New Year’s Eve gala dinner at a hotel in Lucknow

 

The next morning I felt rather rough but soldiered on when we were picked up for our guided city tour in the morning. After visiting The Residency, which offered loads of photo ops to concentrate on, I felt better and enjoyed the rest of the day exploring this highly intriguing city.

For New Year’s Eve 2013 we were in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, and after a day of battlefield tourism on Mount Longdon we were dropped off at our B&B. From there we set off in the evening for the islands’ only hotel’s restaurant where a special set meal on a Chinese theme was offered. Not the type of cuisine I would have expected in this remote corner of the world, but it was good. Afterwards we had a little pub crawl around Stanley and ended up with a group of islanders in a cosy little, and very, very British, pub for midnight. “Auld Lang Syne” was sung and there was some dancing, so it was a cool night. Perfect combo of DT and unplanned partying. Again, this photo was taken well before midnight:

 

in Stanley, Falkland Islands, for New Year’s Eve in a pub … with cat

 

In 2011, we were in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Again there was a gala dinner at the hotel followed by dancing, but for midnight we walked to the town’s central square where the traditional burning of effigies took place – a different kind of fireworks display:

 

San Pedro de Atacama, midnight burning of effigies

 

The year before we travelled around Rwanda, and for New Year’s Eve we were in Kigali where we stayed at the legendary Hotel des Mille Collines (the real “Hotel Rwanda”). We had hoped they’d put on some sort of party, but it turned out that New Year’s Eve in Rwanda is traditionally a family affair, so it was totally quiet in the hotel – even the bar was closed. Fortunately we had grabbed a bottle of banana beer from a roadside shop on the drive from the Virunga mountains to Kigali, and also got a bottle of wine from the hotel, so we didn’t have to stay dry. For dinner we returned to a nice Indian restaurant near the hotel where we had been on our first night in the country and had another lovely curry meal, before retuning to our hotel room for a twosome little “party”. Here’s a photo of the curry dinner:

 

curry on New Year’s Eve 2010 in Kigali, Rwanda

 

The very best New Year’s Eve party we ever had on our travels was eleven years ago on Montserrat in the West Indies … and it was a stroke of luck we got to go to it. We initially had rented some self-contained holiday accommodation and self-catered for a week, but for the last few days of the trip we had a room booked at the main hotel on the island. That was partly in the hope that they would put on a New Year’s Eve dinner/party of some sort, as we hadn’t fancied being on our own and self-catering. But it turned out that there were only a couple of other guests, nothing special was happening and the woman serving breakfast said it would be very quiet that evening. Fortunately, at a dive operator’s bar by the harbour we again bumped into a funny guy from Lancashire who we had met at the same place a few days before and when he heard about us possibly getting stuck at the quiet hotel he revealed that he was putting on a private party at Olveston House and still had spare tickets. We quickly grabbed the opportunity and bought two tickets.

We had dined one evening at Olveston House so knew the venue. This plantation-style mansion was the island home of Sir George Martin, the legendary music producer (aka the “fifth Beatle”) who also used to have an acclaimed recording studio on Montserrat, AIR Studio, where many a seminal album was produced, from Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” to the Rolling Stones’ “Steel Wheels”, to name but two. Sadly the studio was destroyed in a hurricane in 1989, but, until he passed away in 2016, Martin still kept coming back regularly. After the devastating volcanic eruptions that started in 1995 he had donated generously to relief and reconstruction initiatives, so he’s well remembered on Montserrat. Olveston House is these days normally run as a guest house and part-time restaurant (not open daily). And in 2009 we were to attend a party at that house! It was mainly for the ex-pat community, so many Brits and Americans were there, also some scientists both from a biodiversity research project and from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Here’s a photo taken, again, at the beginning of the party:

 

great New Year’s Eve party at Olveston House, Montserrat

 

It got much livelier later on, a Caribbean band was playing, there was dancing and at midnight our Lancashire host took over the microphone and led us into “Auld Lang Syne”, first in original tempo, then sped up to twice as fast. The merging of dark tourism and partying climaxed with the band playing “Ash in the Air”, one of several volcano-inspired local hits, which came with its own special dance routine. It was smashing. We felt very privileged to have been made so welcome by this lovely bunch of people. Montserrat in general, I have to emphasize again, is one of the friendliest places I’ve ever had the pleasure of travelling to!

The year before we were travelling in Indochina and for New Year’s Eve were in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi. Here we joined the festivities in the streets, and especially around the central Hoan Kiem Lake, where thousands of locals and tourists alike congregated. Lit lanterns were let off and there was much cheering. Best of all I found the festive decorations made of fruit, vegetables and flowers, such as this chilli chicken:

 

chilli chicken in Hanoi, Vietnam

 

In 2007 we were travelling around Venezuela (obviously that was well before the country descended into chaos, hyperinflation and violence in the wake of Hugo Chavez’s demise). And for New Year’s Eve we were in a most remote and secluded location: a river lodge in the middle of the Orinoco Delta, only reachable by boat. We had already arrived at midday and been on a boat tour around the delta spotting wildlife. Then in the late afternoon a large group of East Germans arrived. I’m normally not that keen on encountering my fellow countryfolk in other countries, but this bunch was OK … and they had brought cases of sparkling wine with them to augment what the small lodge bar was able to offer. Later in the evening it got livelier, with some dancing, even including the hostess and some of the guides/rangers. Here’s a photo taken, yet again, much earlier that evening:

 

New Year’s Eve party at a lodge in the Orinoco Delta

 

In addition to the wildlife outside in the jungle, including howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, river dolphins, anteaters, various snakes and other reptiles, and of course abundant birdlife, the lodge itself also had its own resident animals, including a tame toucan, some parrots, dogs and cats, a large tortoise, and a pair of small capybaras. The latter even waltzed in during the New Year’s Eve dinner and lingered around under the tables, obviously comfortable to be with us:

 

… with two tame capybaras

 

Our very first New Year’s Eve that we had while travelling to faraway exotic countries was in Sri Lanka in 2006. Around New Year we stayed at a very remote, private mountain retreat, as the very first paying guests – and the only ones at the time. Our host marked this by leaving us a bottle of cava, gave us a tour of the premises, including instructions on how to deal with the resident leeches in the garden, introduced us to his servant, and explained to us how to use the sound system and electricity supply. The latter was limited to a solar-panel-fed battery, as the house is off the main grid. Then he headed off to Colombo with his two sons and left us to it. Despite – or because of – its remote location lacking some amenities, it was a magical place:

 

Illuks, Sri Lanka

 

The best bit about staying at this place was the outstanding home-cooked Sri Lankan food. In addition to the servant there was a woman (his wife, we presumed) who collected herbs and vegetables from the premises’ own organic garden and then toiled away for hours in the kitchen to prepare the most wonderfully varied dinners (and similarly excellent breakfasts). Our driver-guide had picked up on us liking really spicy authentic food and thus had a word with the cook, urging her not to hold back on the chillies and to introduce us to some more distinctive Sri Lankan dishes that you’d never see at more touristy places. That way we encountered jackfruit curry and roasted jackfruit seeds, milk curry, garlic curry, river fish curry and so on, accompanied with home-made hoppers, parathas, puffs or pittu, and always various freshly made sambols (spicy condiments). Here’s the spread we had on New Year’s Eve:

 

New Year’s Eve dinner at Illuks

 

But since we were the only guests and it was a very quiet evening afterwards, I don’t think we even made it to midnight on this occasion. It was after this experience that we decided to try and find more lively locations for future New Year’s Eves, which, as you have seen from the above, we sometimes managed well, sometimes less so.

There were also years when we didn’t travel to any exotic destinations but instead visited friends and family in the UK, and on a couple of occasions we even stayed home in Vienna and celebrated with friends we have here. One year, in 2012, we went to see the large-scale professional fireworks show at Prater. This will not happen this year, of course, as all mass gatherings are cancelled, and the sale of private fireworks has also been banned. So it will be literally quiet in the streets (unless some people have stockpiled fireworks and dare set them off against the regulations). Like at Christmas, my wife and I will stay in and do our best to make it a little private party with nice food and drink and music.

As a fitting finale to this post I’ll finish with a bang, several bangs in fact, if only visual bangs. But pretty ones: namely three photos taken during that 2012 fireworks display at Prater. You can even spot the famous Prater Ferris Wheel in these frames, on the right. I took well over a hundred photos of the fireworks display, so it was hard to be selective, but I think these three are amongst the best:

 

Vienna fireworks

 

Vienna fireworks

 

Vienna fireworks

 

And with that let me wish you as nice an evening as can be under the circumstances and then a Happy New Year 2021!

 

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