Days #11,188-9: After a youth spent despising New Year’s Eve for its empty, sequined promises that never met the enormity expected of Last Night of the Year (ugh, or the Millennium… NYE 1999 was particularly horrid) my old age hath brought wisdom.
The key to a good New Year’s Eve somehow isn’t good planning (this concept alone kind of shattered my anal-retentive view of the Universe). The key… drum roll, please… is the exact opposite: randomness. Add as many disparate ingredients as possible, and ta da! The more closely your evening approximates the set-up for a bizarre improv sketch, the better.
Without further ado, my own personal recipe for New Year’s Eve 2012:
*Start the evening off with an epic life event, if possible. (Bash + Jess went off for a walk before dinner and came back… engaged! Eeee!! I will admit, the rest of us had an inkling this was happening. L.P. & I prematurely freaked out in excitement, made a pact to play it cool, then subsequently, did not play it cool. Jess is awesome. I’m so glad we get to keep her.)
*Add in the obligatory fancy-schmancy New Year’s dinner. Drink too much champagne. Drink too much wine. Drink too much port. Put on your Serious Stealth Face like the previous three things have not happened.
*Mix in a healthy dose of wandering. Be open to The Strange, which serves as seasoning and can make or break the evening. (This year’s Strange involved a street party with the worst DJ ever… the “Baywatch” theme song was the siren call that originally lured us over… and a very brief stop in what was either an 80’s-themed dance joint or a Portuguese strip club. Very brief.)
*Do the robot to Slavic folk music. Ignore pointed looks from the British couple mad-dogging your style. Keep dancing until music gets so bad that even dancing the running man cannot save it. Decide to curl up on a stairwell landing somewhere along the four floor climb up to the apartment. Thank the Lord that you have a Responsible-Adult husband to make sure you wake up to 2013 in a bed and not in a Portuguese stairwell.
The morning after this particular beautifully random New Year’s Eve, the time seemed right to take our first road trip into the cork forests of Portugal. The boys were put in charge of procuring a Little Miss Sunshine-esque van capable of carrying six and returned with a stick-shift hatchback the size of a Honda Civic.
An insistent Portuguese woman at Hertz swore it would fit 7 adults plus luggage and climbed into the dungeonous third row bench to demonstrate.
I imagine the Hertz woman has shared a similar anecdote from the opposite viewpoint: “The minivan wasn’t even big enough for them!” while shaking her head and laughing about the ridiculousness of Americans.
L.P. confirmed that, even crammed into the 3rd row bench, the scenery through the middle Alentejo region of Portugal is beautiful. After seeing something about a Portuguese Stonehenge called Cromeleque das Almendras in the middle of the vineyards and cork forests, Mr. M- our Responsible-Adult designated driver- pulled off onto dirt roads to find it.
The Cromeleque was underwhelming at best; some modern enterpriser had apparently “replaced” the rocks where he imagined the ancients would’ve put them if they’d wanted to make a Stonehenge. Right.
The highlight ended up being the drive out there, where we got our first close-up of a cork tree.
Our ragtag road trip continued on to Evora, a medieval walled city in the center of the country, where we stopped for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall doner kebab place assuredly missing from any guidebook and were offered up the best meal we’d have in Portugal. Who knew?
“Walking it off” led directly into the Evora town square, where the locals were all congregated around a massive bonfire.
An elderly gentleman ushered us over to warm ourselves by the fire. He smiled and stepped out of the way so we could get up close to the crackling flames. This was my favorite memory of Evora. Not the cathedral or the Roman ruins that we were supposed to see…
…but standing around that bonfire watching kids evade their parents and old people gossip and the general, pulsing hubbub of Portuguese humanity.
Like the recipe for a successful New Year’s Eve that took me twenty-something years to discover, our trip to Portugal revealed that sometimes a loose & adaptable recipe works better than my usual stringent regiment. A dash of this and a pinch of that.
There’s something to be said for randomness, no?
To explore the next day’s adventure eating goat ear stew at somewhere called “O Bizarro,” click here!
To explore the previous day’s adventure channeling my inner Swashbuckling Explorer, click here!
Details of the Day:
Transportation: As in all other European countries- and much of the rest of the world- if you’re renting a car in Portugal, it’s likely gonna be a stick shift. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue, as newer manual cars are fairly easy to drive (an aside: when did kids stop learning to drive stick shift cars? Am I really that old?) except that Lisbon is a city built on hills. It’s best to make your designated driver someone who really does know his or her way around a manual transmission. Especially if you’ll be driving a Portuguese minivan without benefit of a map like us.
Also be sure to invest in the Portuguese version of California’s FastTrak when renting your car, as this allows you to pay immediately and electronically for the many (many) highway tolls, rather than digging through seat cushions scavenging for Euros.