New Year’s Nomads

New Year’s Nomads

By Ann Wlazelek

For years, my husband and I spent New Year’s Eve at home, playing games with family or watching the ball drop in Times Square on TV.  The next day we ate pork and sauerkraut in the Pennsylvania German tradition for luck. It might not have been the most exciting or glamorous way to welcome the New Year but we were safe from drunken drivers and in the company of people we loved.

Then, two years ago, we were offered a chance to spend a week in Berlin, Germany, and raise a glass at midnight Dec. 31 with hundreds of other Lehigh Valley tourists, including a
few relatives.

Should we go? In the middle of winter? It would involve a 6-hour flight and could be really cold or snowing! What would we pack?

Titillation took the place of trepidation as we weighed the pros and cons of such an adventure. Brian and Cindy, my brother- and sister-in-law, had taken a similar trip the year before and assured us that the tour company was top-notch and the celebration in
Scotland, outstanding.

Titillation took the place of trepidation as we weighed the pros and cons of such an adventure.

“We were singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ with a hundred thousand people to ring in the New Year,” Cindy recalled. “Amazing!” Her husband Brian liked the idea of a year-end get-away: traveling when most Americans are putting away the Christmas putz.

Why not, we decided.  We might not have this opportunity again. My husband Bruce loved the idea of finding out first-hand how people from another country usher in a new year. I was excited at the possibility of visiting the birthplace of my ancestors.

Being able to speak directly with the owner of the tour company helped us decide. Kevin Arawjo, owner of the Bethlehem-based Arawjo Tours, started offering New Year’s Eve trips to world capitals in 2003.

“We did it because we heard amazing things about Prague and the party on the Charles Bridge,” he said. “And we weren’t disappointed.  It was still one of the best New Year’s Eve
trips ever!”

Since then, he’s led thousands of his “global nomads” on year-end vacations to different world capitals, including Paris, London and St. Petersburg.  This year’s destination is Barcelona, Spain; next year, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

A variety of factors contribute to the annual trip’s growing popularity, Arawjo said, mentioning the history, the culture, the tourist attractions, and a chance to beat the post-holiday blues.  “New Year’s Eve celebrations abroad are public events that are warm-spirited and entertaining, and the fireworks displays are extraordinarily wild,” he said.

Traveling over New Year’s Eve also is affordable because it is considered off-season and the cities are not inundated with tourists. The weeklong stays at four-star hotels run $1,500 to $2,000 per person, INCLUDING AIRFARE!

Before our first trip, Arawjo went over travel details, the optional excursions and New Year’s Eve party. He also answered questions and provided tips for packing. Bruce and I prided ourselves in being able to pack a week’s worth of winter clothes in one carry-on bag each.  The flights were smooth and the weather warmer than back home.

Berlin presented a newer, more modern European city than others we had seen. But then so much of the capital had been lost to the bombs of World War II and had to be rebuilt. Some of the more moving sights included remnants of the Berlin Wall still evident in streets and sidewalks; an artistic memorial to the city’s Jews who lost their lives; and the human ingenuity captured at the Checkpoint Charlie museum by photos and stories of families who found inventive ways to dig under, fly over or circumvent the Wall during Hitler’s reign.

Instead of turning on the TV at midnight, Bruce and I joined other Lehigh Valley nomads on the hotel balcony to clink glasses of champagne and watch as fireworks lit up the sky over the Brandenburg Gate. We also ducked a few errant Roman candles being shot upward from the street.

So taken with the trip, we signed up for another – to Vienna, Austria.

In both cities, Bruce put his high school German into practice, surprising himself with how much he remembered and could understand. It was not necessary, however, as most Europeans are fluent in English.

Some of our favorite sights in Vienna included the Schonbrunn Palace and Schnapps museum.   Schonbrunn was the summer palace of the Hapsburgs, the Imperial family of the 18th and 19th centuries. To say the palace and its grounds put to shame the million-dollar homes on today’s HGTV is an understatement. Each room on the 40-room audio tour was more opulent than the next.

The 138-year-old Alt Wiener (old Vienna) Schnapsmuseum featured an entertaining historic tour  and informative lesson on schnapps, which is fruit marinated in alcohol for three weeks then infused with varying amounts of natural essences. The tour ended with a tasting of cream liquors, brandies and, of course, schnapps.

In addition to the similarities in language, the Austrians and Germans both set up Christmas villages with handmade crafts and called their New Year’s festivities “Sylvester” after a certain Pope. “Sufferin’ succotash” my husband said in a Sylvester-the-cartoon-cat toast on the hotel rooftop as colored lights exploded against the night sky in every direction.

In neither Berlin nor Vienna did we find it the custom to eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day.  However, just like at home, the pig stands as a symbol of good luck.

At dinner with with Brian, Cindy and a table full of travelers who had become fast friends, the rolls were made of pretzel dough and shaped like pigs’ faces, with hazelnuts for eyes. The house specialty was boiled beef, which arrived on the table in its own pot with a soup bone filled with marrow.  Waiters instructed those who turned up their noses at it to spread the marrow on a slice of crusty bread for a “Viennese Viagra.”

Instead of greeting Austrians with “Happy New Year” the next day, we learned to say, “Gute rutsch,” for a “good slide” into the
new year.

For more information about New Year’s Eve trips ala Arawjo Tours, see the Web site

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