Well, we did it!
We rang in the new year in the town of Watford, Hertfordshire, England. It's about 20 miles north of central London, a suburb of about 80,000 people. We'd heard there were bars and restaurants here and a pedestrian district, and we could get there on the Tube, and it is officially outside London - this met all of our criteria.
Admittedly, though, the flock of underage nightclubbers we mingled with en route to Watford was a little disconcerting. I'd never seen so many sparkly minidresses on drunken teenaged girls in the middle of winter. At 10:30, the obnoxiousness was already in full swing on the Underground, and when we got to Watford's pedestrian district, we found long lines of clubgoers, bouncers and cover charges and pounding music pouring out of laser-lit buildings. It wasn't exactly our scene.
We managed to find a lonely little bar at the edge of all this, a place we were glad to spend our time before midnight. This little place seemed to be owned by a middle-aged couple, and populated with a dozen or so of their friends, pretty much hurting for business. We figured that the place is usually a decent adult cocktail bar, but, hoping to draw in New Years partiers, they'd hired a DJ, making the noise level unpleasant, but closer in ambiance to the cooler spots down the road. It was to no avail, anyway - the vast majority of crowds just passed this place right by. When midnight finally came, and "Auld Lang Syne" was sung, and the owner came over to shake our hands and wish us a happy new year, I was genuinely touched.
And we were quickly out the door after that. Even though we were the earliest people heading home, and the trains were nearly empty (and Free!! London runs the Underground completely free all night on New Year's Eve), it still took us over 90 minutes to get back to our babysitter. It was well worth it. Watford, UK, added to the list!
Today, we all dragged ourselves out of bed late, and the kids and I got out the door for some New Year's celebrations ourselves. First stop - the parade.
According to various Web sites, the New Year's Day Parade in London is "one of the World’s great street spectaculars with more than 10,000 performers from over 20 countries, over half a million spectators on the streets, and a live television audience of tens of millions." I was expecting great things.
And truthfully, the kids were delighted with the marching bands, the costumed characters, and balloons. But I was underwhelmed. The quality of the performances was distinctly small-town highschool - from the bands to the cheerleaders to the teenagers wearing bad clown makeup and juggling. Where were the West End shows, the giant floats, the dazzling costumes? No Macy's Thanksgiving, this. I let the kids stay for nearly an hour before I tugged them away.
The London Transport Museum was our next stop. We are big fans of the London Transport Museum. They have a weird admission scheme, for a museum that's clearly very kid-friendly - Adults 13.50 pounds ($21), kids free. What's especially interesting is that your ticket is good for 1 year. So I bought mine last year around this time, took the kids a couple of times in January 2011, and had the chance to go again this year for free! Sweet.
Some other things I love about the LTM. They have an unadvertised indoor picnic area, where families can eat packed lunches. There is a little stand with affordably-priced drinks and snacks nearby. In the gift shop, they had kid-perfect souvenirs for 1 pound! I love that there are loads of things for kids to climb on and in, as they are endlessly entertained by imagining themselves drivers or passengers of any vehicle. My personal favorite exhibit is the digital screen showing the year-by-year construction of the London Underground. And I love that they made such great use out of this beautiful old flower market building (it was converted in the 1970s.) We stayed till nearly closing time.
A good start to the new year. Time to think about resolutions...