Credit: Flickr CC: Richard Rydge
Rio de Janeiro / Sydney / Cape Town
Come December, these are the world’s three most beautiful cities, the cool kids at the back of Planet Earth’s bus. They all have pristine beaches basking in the glow of a gorgeous summer, fuelled by an urban population all shook up and ready to pop, not to mention thousands of foreign invaders with no other purpose than to party their tans off. In Rio, it is traditional to wear all white on the Copacabana, where around two million people gather to watch the fireworks. Cape Town has its own smaller carnival, as thousands flock to the streets and beaches for outdoor parties, raves, and live music. I’ve witnessed the fireworks spectacle in Sydney on New Years Eve, duplicated at various points along the inlet, observing how locals excitedly judge the annual theme and pyro performance. Hold on to your purse and wallets, take a deep breath, and dive right in.
Stone Town, Zanzibar
It’s New Years Eve, and I find myself at a traditional ceremony, in which I become the subject of a tribal mating dance. It’s awkward enough for me being at a club and watching girls do the bump and grind, but tonight, the intensity and eroticism of the ritual gives me the clear impression that if I react in the wrong manner, I might wake up with a wife, a chicken, and three goats. It was approaching midnight by the time I left the compound, shaken but not stirred, and I found myself walking alongside a thick iron gate. Making sure the coast was clear, my friends and I climbed over it, and walked quietly amongst the giant marble columns of this former Sultan’s palace. Coconut trees ushered in the warm sea breeze, the clock struck 12, and we toasted to health, peace and safe travel, on the stairway of the House of Wonders.
Credit: Flickr CC: Bill Larkin
Times Square (New York) / Trafalgar Square (London)
Millions will gather on this frigid, bone chilling night, celebrating the end of yet another year in which humanity somehow avoided destroying itself. It all looks very fun on television at home, where you can gather with your friends in comfort, refuel your eggnog from the kitchen, and use a bathroom without strategies and maps. My own memories of Trafalgar Square on New Years Eve recall extreme cold, overwhelming crowds, belligerent Scandinavians, and tons of garbage. Sure, it’s great to be in the world’s most hip and happening cities on New Years Eve, but as with all the suggestions on this list, your immediate company makes all the difference when the ball drops. Unlike the summer beach cities, it’s a more tense in the northern hemisphere, so dress warm, smile lots, and be sure to empty your bladder whenever you get the chance.
All the amenities and attractions that make cruise ships such a luscious holiday option double on New Years Eve. Together with the guests (and crew), it’s a massive floating house party, where every detail has been thought of, and every whim catered to. The food buffet, enough to feed a mid-sized town in Botswana, is stocked with festive treats, as are the various bars around the ship. For the crew in charge of entertainment, they’ve no doubt planned something special – confetti, balloons, bad 80’s music. Everyone’s dressed up, couples in their love bubble, singles relaxed by the fact they can always blame their behaviour on New Years shenanigans. Tropical skies and strobe-light stars are just a few feet away, and the best part of the whole lot: you don’t have to drive anywhere. In fact, in stark contrast to navigating the immense crowds and traffic of a major city, when it comes to a cruise ship on New Years Eve, you don’t have to worry about much at all.
This is a true story. It’s New Years Eve, I’m backpacking alone, with a horrific case of flu. Woe is the traveller who feels sorry for himself, so I haul my sorry butt over to Temple Bar, Dublin’s rocking entertainment district. Like many other bars, Eamonn Dorans has an incredible Irish band burning the roof, raising my spirits, confirming that it’s no accident U2 come from these parts. At midnight, a cute girl approaches and tells me that it is tradition for girls to ask guys to kiss them on New Years Eve. Then another. Then another. This is why Dublin has found its place on my list, even if I did wake up in a strange bed with a stranger woman, hours outside of Dublin, a demolition crew wrecking havoc in my skull, and no recollection of how I ended up there. Bless me leprechauns!
Your Friend’s Place / In the Lounge with Your Family
Much like our other commoditized joys for celebration, the spirit of New Years Eve has been waning in recent years. It is a time to come together with friends, reflect on the joys, sorrows, triumphs and highlights of the previous year, and make blessings for the year to come. You can find an excuse to go clubbing (or party to excess) on any night of the year, but tonight, as the 08 rolls into the 09, we have a closet to hang all we that have to be grateful for. We have an opportunity to share our thoughts and dreams with those who matter most. Take it from me: If you are with the people you love, you are not missing anything, anywhere on New Years Eve. Wherever you are is exactly where you’re meant to be.
Here's to another inspiring, fun and safe year of travel.
I'm posting this from the domestic airport in Buenos Aires in early December, and like the Christmas decorations are up. This got me thinking: How is Christmas celebrated around the world? Never one to let a question go unanswered, let's begin in:
Japan has only a small percentage of religious Christians, but many Japanese enjoy the spirit of gift-giving and decorating home and stores in tribute to the seasonal festivities. Instead of Santa Claus, Japanese children look to a legendary Buddhist monk named Hotei-osho, known for bringing children gifts, and making sure they behave.
Ethiopia’s calendar differs from our western calendar, which is why they celebrated the year 2000 seven years after we did, and why Christmas takes place on January 7th. They also have a different clock, but that’s another story. Christianity in the country dates back to the 4th century AD, and its famous rock churches were built as a new Jerusalem by Ethiopian kings. The Xmas church ceremony has three rings of prayer: men and boys sit inside a ring of women and girls, with a choir on the outside circle. Candles in hand, worshippers also walk around the church three times during mass. Instead of turkey dinners, traditional feasts involve injera (the pancake-like bread of Ethiopia) and various stews and curries.
Many North American Xmas traditions derive from Scandinavia, with Santa Clause living in Greenland or Finland, depending on whom you speak to. Millions of people have written letters and posted it to Santa’s address, just outside of Rovaniemi on the Finnish Arctic Circle (write to: Santa Claus' Main Post Office, Santa Village, FIN-96930 NAPAPIIRI). Yuletide has always had special significance in the Scandinavia, where traditions were formed to hold off the dark, cold days of winter. The Yule log was an entire tree, fed into the fire over the course of the winter, with much ceremony. In Finland, Xmas dinner is preceded by a visit to the sauna to bathe and clean for the meal. Candles are important throughout the region as a means of ushering in the warmth of light during a dark time of year.
The Bulgarian Christmas Eve dinner consists of 12 courses, with each course representing a month of the year. Made with nuts, beans, vegetables and sweets, no meat is served. Tradition has the family seated on straw, and sitting down and getting up at the same time. In the past, boys and single men would visit houses singing carols for the health of the families (and maybe the eye of a maiden too).
Around the country, in churches, homes and shops, many Brazilians set up nativity scenes called Presèpio, named after the bed of straw Jesus slept on in Bethlehem. Father Christmas is known as Papa Noel, flying in from Greenland to pass out gifts, dressed in silk because it’s too hot to be robed in furs. Religious Catholics head to Missa do Galo, the midnight mass named after the rooster that announces the coming day. Even the streets of Rio de Janeiro are quiet on Christmas Eve, as families gather for their Ceia de Natal feast. Like most days in Rio, Christmas Day is a perfect time to hit the beach.
The only major Christian nation in Asia also celebrates its Misa do Galo, a tradition dating to its Spanish occupation. Unlike Brazil however, this mass takes place nine days before Christmas, and involves reading the story of Jesus. On Christmas Day, masses are held hourly so that everyone has a chance to attend. Pastore are plays based on the birth of Christ, performed at many religious services. Children go carolling for tips and treats and setting off fireworks, with another tradition being the making of lanterns, a symbol of the guiding star. Xmas dinner involves a lavish feast, often started after midnight when the family returns from midnight mass.
The inspiration of Santa Claus, St Nicholas, holds a special place in the heart of Russians. Revered as a saint since the 11th century, his name adorns many churches, and is commonly passed onto Russian boys. During the communist era, the role St Nick was transformed into Grandfather Frost, enabling traditions to be kept without antagonizing the atheist principles of the time. Similarly, Christmas trees became New Year’s Trees, although both traditions have reverted with the fall of the Soviet Union. Russians also talk about Babouschka, a woman who roams the countryside in search of Christ, giving gifts to children as she does so. Eastern Orthodox Russians customarily fast until after the first church service on Christmas Eve, and their feast contains no meat. One traditional dish is called kutya, a sweet porridge symbolizing hope and happiness, eaten from a common dish.
Christians are a minority in Vietnam, but Christmas is celebrated as one of the four major holidays of the year (along with New Year, the Buddha’s birthday, and the mid-autumn festival). Jesus Christ is known as Kito, and Christmas is a big cause for celebration, although this was not always the case. During communist rule, Christmas was relegated to the home and was not the public spectacle. As the country modernized and liberalized, Xmas has returned with a bang, with the usual lights and decorum proudly displayed throughout cities, shops, villages and homes.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and all the best for the silly season!
That time legendary polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and I escaped certain death on the pack ice. Man, that was hilarious.
The story of how continents became continents is quite a fascinating one, and I'll let one of my favourite Youtubers CGP Grey explain it, because he explains things better than just about anybody else out there.
But the fact remains that I've never been to Antarctica, and to miss a country is one thing, but to miss a whole continent, well really, that's just annoying. I mean, what did that continent ever do to you? Besides being the most hostile, desolate, unforgiving, unwelcome and dangerous place on Earth?
To be fair, Antarctica isn't like that anymore, at least not for the vast majority of the people who visit each summer. Instead of fabric tents been torn to shreds, pack ice crushing ships and everyone eating the sled dogs, modern expedition vessels bring thousands of tourists into the peninsular each summer season - in safety and comfort.
I've wanted to go to Antarctica since forever, and now that I'm researching my new book, The Great Global Bucket List, I could not dare leave it out. This is why I'm packing for a 10-night journey on One Ocean Expedition's Russian-flagged Akademik Sergey Vavilov. I'll be flying to Buenos Aires, and onwards to Ushuaia, the most southern tip of South America, catching the boat there. British Columbia-based One Ocean Expeditions are the cream of the crop when it comes to Antarctic adventures. Their 117m boat has a bar, library, sauna, plunge pool, and presentation room for talks about penguins, and the great age of polar exploration. When men didn't complain even if frostbite had bitten off half their face.
Last week, I read Alfred Lansing's classic book about the story of Shackleton's incredible adventure on the ice in 1916. I couldn't put it down...what these men went through over 18 months stranded on the ice is a testament to survival, instinct and endurance. Refreshingly, nobody had to be eaten. But you're probably wondering why visiting Antarctica belongs on the Global Bucket List? Me too. I know the wildlife encounters are supposed to be incredible. There are icebergs the likes I've never seen before, and coastlines that defy description. Sailing the world's roughest crossing - The Drake Passage - is going to be an adventure in itself. However, the activity I can't stop thinking about is that, weather permitting, we will be spending a night sleeping on the pack itself. It's approaching summer solstice down there so stars are not the draw, nor the southern lights. It's the fact that I'll be spending a night on the elusive seventh continent, the one very few people get to see. With little access to the internet, my next post will be post-trip. If you don't hear from me in a month, send a rescue party. And I mean party...with hats and booze and confetti and cups to play beer pong with. I'll invite the penguins.
Please come in. Mahalo for removing your shoes.
After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.