I have celebrated the year changing exactly thirty-four times. That is a lot of ball drops, backward counting and champagne toasts. In the thirty-four times I have seen the calendar progress another year, I have experienced elaborate dinners, small family gatherings, massive ballroom parties and cozy nights in. I have had “the night of my life” and “the disappointment of a lifetime.” In all this time, I have learned that a valuable life lesson. When you place an unhealthy amount of expectations on any one thing (in this case, an evening), it is hard to meet or exceed the vision you’ve created in your own head.
Fireworks light up the sky behind Milan’s Duomo
Fortunately, disappointment was not the theme as we rang in 2014. The stakes were at an all-time high and the night came together as well as anyone could have hoped. A couple months ago we got an email from our friends Matt and Lindsey that they wanted to come to Italy and ring in the new year with us. Our plans for a low-key Italian New Years with the traditional zampone and lentils quickly changed as I scoured the dinner venues of Milan. After a lot of research, we came up with a plan that we thought was perfect. A prix-fixe meal at a lounge just steps from Milan’s Duomo in the main piazza (square). Jen read that there would be fireworks visible at midnight and so the plan sounded perfect.
A stage was set up in front of the Duomo for live performances throughout the night
Matt and Lindsey arrived the night before New Years and we enjoyed a low-key dinner that Jen prepared. Matt got to the train station in typical “Matt fashion”… three hours late, without any warning of his delay and a frantic look in his eyes. We were both glad I waited for the last train to pull into the station!
When I made our New Year’s dinner reservation, I was told that we should arrive at 8:30pm. I knew the Italians wouldn’t be arriving at that time, so I planned our arrival at 9:00pm. We were still about an hour early! So much for looking like a local! We started our evening with a little prosecco (Italian champagne) and moved through our four course meal accompanied by some great red wine and sparkling conversation. The atmosphere for a New Year’s dinner was perfect. The music and lights were set just right, as if to say, “this place is hip and you’ve still got it” as opposed to saying, “this place is entirely too formal – what are you doing here, you’re still sort of young!” Or even worse, “this is a club with twenty-somethings and you old fogies don’t fit in at all.” By the time all the Italians had arrived, it was evident we picked the right place for dinner. We were surrounded by some of Milan’s elite – fashion designers and models.
Matt and Lindsey
Greg and Jen
We’re ready to have some fun!
Our group at dinner
Out of nowhere, it was almost midnight. We surprised our server by telling him we wanted the bill, as opposed to staying for their champagne toast. We had bigger plans in place! We rushed to the Duomo, a five minute walk through a dense sea of people. We arrived with just a couple minutes left until midnight and I struggled to prepare everything. We had brought bottles of prosecco and Jen insisted on plastic champagne glasses. While thousands of other people were counting down and swigging from their bottles, I was fiddling with the bases for the plastic glasses. I had only finished two glasses when the countdown reached five, so I threw the remaining glasses on the ground in desperation. I’d be damned if “etiquette” was going to get in the way of us having our bubbly at midnight!
Jen and Lindsey in front of the Duomo
Me and Jen just after midnight
In keeping with tradition, Jen tried calling our family to wish them a “Happy New Year”
We had been excited to see the fireworks light up the night’s sky behind the Duomo all night. When we arrived in the piazza, we learned that the firework show Jen had read about was a different kind of event altogether. Please allow me to give a small background for our international readers. You see, Americans do fireworks right! I think it’s in our DNA, like baseball and childhood obesity. So when we read that there would be fireworks, we assumed it was going to be a major production – administered by professionals at a safe distance from the crowd. We have never been so wrong. All the fireworks being set were ignited by people from within the crowd. There were literally explosions at our feet, above our heads, behind our backs at regular minute-long intervals. It was not uncommon to see a huge gap in the crowd as dozens of people pushed and shoved their way away from a ready to explode M-80 or Excalibur Artillery Shell. It evoked a strange sensation of festive revelry with an ever-present sense of impending doom. The Outkast song “Bombs Over Baghdad” kept playing over and over in my mind.
Fireworks above the crowd
Jen and Lindsey show their sheer terror
Someone (ehehm… Jen) spilled prosecco all over Matt
We all agreed that the night would land in the “Epic New Year’s Eve” column as opposed the other column, “How Much Did I Spend For This Awful Disappointment?!” We stayed in the piazza until roughly 1:00am before heading home. We didn’t want to get back too late, we had to depart early the next day for the road trip of a lifetime. Matt and I were ringing in the new year by checking off a lifelong bucket list item… skiing the Swiss Alps!