New Year’s Eve day, we made a trip to Portobello Road in Notting Hill to check out the weekend market that runs the length of the street. We met my mother and brother, who are midway through a month-long Euro-trip and linked up with us in London for a couple days. Portobello Road is lined from end to end with pastel colored townhouses adorned with ivy and flowers, intermingled with shops and pubs. We perused the various stands with antiques, jewelry and cups of mulled wine before stopping for some crispy fish and chips topped with lots of malt vinegar (the only acceptable condiment), mushy peas and pints of beer at The Duke of Wellington–a friendly pub full of chatty patrons, swirling with the aroma of wooden tables and hot food.
That night, we took advantage of the kick-ass free wine and cheese at our hotel, expecting to find some cheap Pinot Grigio, a few blocks of grocery store cheddar, and saltine crackers. Instead, there were café-style tables lined with sparkly wine glasses, an array of bottles to choose from (with table service), blocks of specialty cheese, fresh hummus, fruit, smoked salmon, chocolate, and warm bread with spreads. After topping off our glasses once or twice more, we went off to find the NYE fireworks.
London does NYE very differently than NYC. Their version of “Times Square” centers on a huge fireworks display instead of a ball drop. You can view the fireworks on either side of the river, and the event attracts the same throngs of partiers as New York’s version. Because of this, they started ticketing entry for a mere 10 Pounds, or about $12, which gains you admission to an outdoor viewing area, access to food stands, and tons of porta-potties. We bought our tickets 2 months back, and got actual paper tickets in the mail along with instructions informing us that “alcohol is permitted as long as you only bring enough for yourself”—whatever that means. We gambled on 2 water bottles full of champagne and rum cocktails (and dollar store plastic champagne flutes) per person as “reasonable”. There is a level of trust within those instructions that would never fly in America.
Ticketing the fireworks meant that we could go into the viewing area between 8pm and 10:30pm—so no need to stand around all day in the cold. Inside, there was far more space than I expected and we picked a spot with a view of the London Eye and Big Ben. Cracking open the champagne (err…unscrewing the water bottle), we sipped away next to a group of older adults with multi-colored shimmering wigs. By the time the fireworks flashed, dazzled, and shot rainbow blasts directly off the side of the London Eye, we were feeling saucy, popping noisemakers, and chanting along with the crowd. After the show was over, the DJ’s continued to blast music over the outdoor speakers as we danced through the streets singing Auld Lang Syne – “Happy New Year” –in unison with the masses of partiers. We skipped away and unintentionally wound up ending our night at 6am—bopping through after-hours bars and crashing in our hotel like lead balls, with a box of takeout pizza. I learned that a person can most certainly walk into the Tube (Underground) with an open cup of beer and avoid hassle—though I wouldn’t recommend it.
Thank god it’s 2017. Seriously.