A Florentine Revival

I did not realize just how close Florence was to Innsbruck until we started to think more seriously about going on a spring trip. By car it only takes 5.5 hours! That’s less than it used to take me to drive to Elon from Marietta! Pretty awesome. So we loaded up the Skoda (Reini got us an automatic car sort of as a wedding gift because y’all know I can’t do the manual thing…) and headed south to Italy! The drive through the Dolomites was gorgeous – rocky mountains jutting out from terraced greenery. The drive through Tuscany was supposed to be gorgeous too, but we were unfortunately greeted with nasty storms, hiding the view of the rolling hills.

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I really had fun planning this trip, reading through old posts on here from my school study abroad times, picking out the must dos, sees, and eats. I knew Reinhard would be starving when we arrived so our first must eat stop was at the Mercato Centrale. It definitely got remodeled since 2011 and the 1st (or 2nd, for the Americans) floor was really modern and a cool place for locals and tourists to have a nice sit-down lunch. I got an excellent meat and cheese platter, and Reinhard was served some excellent ravioli. We then scurried (very quickly as it was pouring) over to get our first glimpses of the Duomo. Reini was afraid that I was totally overhyping the Piazzo del Duomo, but even with the nasty weather, he agreed that it was stunning.

IMG_1675Both totally soaked despite having umbrellas/rain jackets, we made a detour to go back to the hotel to seek a little shelter. We stayed at the Hotel Tornabuoni Beach directly above the Burberry shop and Florence’s high fashion street. We used the excuse of drying off in order to spend time at the bar with some glasses of wine and explored the rooftop terrace.

IMG_1677Our next stop was over to the Palazzo Vecchio. We had been watching a series about the Medici family on Netflix, so naturally we walked around pretending like we were Cosimo and Contessina. Then the saddest thing happened. On our way over to Santa Croce, I planned to stop by Gelateria dei Neri, my absolute favorite gelateria ever. But, it looked like they moved locations. It was further down the street than I remembered.. and IT WAS CLOSED!! Aww man I was so sad when I saw the little sign that said something about being closed until the following day. I was really looking forward to my caramella mou with panna. Totally defeated, I settled for Grom near the Duomo later that night.

fullsizeoutput_1043We then went over to Santa Croce, touring the insides and outsides before making the trek to the Oltrarno where my old apartment was. I’m proud to report that we were able to find it, and it still has the same little restaurant underneath and bakery just next-door. On our walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo, we made a detour through the rose garden before heading up the stairs. Also on the must see list was San Miniato al Monte where we sat for a little bit and observed a church service. The Priests’ voices really echoed through the building. The weather was not so cooperative so we decided to head to dinner at Il Gatto e la Volpe to relive my study abroad days. We had penne alla vodka, gnocchi, and an abundance of wine and focaccia with balsamic vinaigrette.

fullsizeoutput_1095The next day was a little less rainy so we started just as the Piazza del Duomo attractions were opening. We climbed the bell tower and gazed at the roof of the baptistry. Back in the olden days, people were not allowed into the church unless they had been baptized. So in the baptistry building (separate from but adjacent to the main cathedral), the roof depicts the entire bible. Literacy was not a high priority back then (hey, they were combatting multiple plagues and attacks from neighbors), so the visual representation was key. And the gold tiles are sparkly and cool to look at, too. 🙂 We did not reserve a time to clime the actual Duomo and that was a total mistake – I definitely recommend to book in advance because it a really awesome experience and sells out thanks to the scalpers.. Go figure… So we ended up just waiting in the line to go into the cathedral. We got there about 15 minutes before it opened and ended up waiting an hour total to get in. The dome was definitely the coolest part of the cathedral, but the rest of the church was just not as impressive inside as we had hoped for. We were really wowed by the baptistry but we felt like the the hour long wait for the cathedral wasn’t worth it. But not to worry! We still had many more fun things planned for this trip!

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An Excellent Mayan Riviera Honeymoon

Deciding on a honeymoon destination is tough. There are so many awesome places in the world, but you can only choose one to call your honeymoon destination. We narrowed it down a bit based on some criteria:

  1. Easily accessible from Atlanta (limited connecting flights and no long bus rides)
  2. Beach destination
  3. Relaxing
  4. Included meal plan (this was my wish because my version of a relaxing vacation does not involve researching restaurants – we do that enough on our other trips)
  5. Sporty activities (snorkeling)
  6. Pineapple/coconut drinks with an umbrella straw

After reading countless blogs and TripAdvisor reviews, we (mostly me) decided upon the Excellence Riviera Cancun in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, about 20 minutes south of Cancun. It totally checked off the above list and more.

IMG_1227.jpgWe were there in September, which is known to be hurricane season, but we had the best weather the whole time. Almost too much sun for this fair-skinned girl! We booked a room that led straight into one of the winding pools. We had our own little garden with hammock and daybed that (yay for me!) had shade all in the afternoons. Even though we had our own private area, we enjoyed hopping from pool to pool. Each one was a little different – one more secluded, one with live music and games, one with a bit of a lazy river and a smoothie hut, and a hidden one by the spa.

Snorkling was a must for us, so we arranged for a boat to pick us up on the beach and take us out to the coral reef just off the beach. The reef off of Puerto Morelos is the second longest reef in the world, according to our guides. We were able to see so many colorful fish and got so close to the coral. We even saw a sea turtle!

IMG_1210.jpgWe got very sunburnt while snorkeling (my SPF 50 was no match against the Mexican sun), so naturally we had to book a private cabana for the next day. The service at this resort was all really awesome but especially so at the cabana. Our attendant brought us drinks is both pineapples AND coconuts and a fruit carved basket of treats. It was very special.

DSC_2240.jpgThe food and entertainment staff was great. We attended a butterfly release ceremony on the beach to which only couples on their honeymoons or anniversaries were invited. Then we had a romantic dinner on the beach, where we got some giggles. One doesn’t really think of the logistics of dinner on the beach, but it’s really a pretty difficult thing. Puerto Morelos was really crazy hot this time of year so we had dinner starting at 8 after it was already dark. Our dinner was candlelit but we still couldn’t really see much. And it’s super windy out there on the sand. My salad kept blowing off my fork! The experience was nice though. IMG_1166.jpgAnd man! We loved the food there! I LOVE Mexican food and there was no shortage at this resort! They had creative Mexican offerings for breakfast (Mexican hot chocolate, anyone??), lunch, and dinner. Yes, we ordered poolside nachos and they were amazing. But our favorite dinner spot was their French restaurant (with honorable mentions to their Indian and Asian restaurants).

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I don’t know if we’ll be able to get there again (it’s super convenient from Atlanta but not so much from Innsbruck), but we had a great time and would recommend it to anyone. We had so much fun at the resort that we pretty much just stayed there (other than a bike ride day-trip into “town”) to enjoy the food and entertainment. Oh and the bed was heavenly. 🙂

An American Wedding

Exactly one week after our Austrian castle wedding, Reinhard and I got doubly married in my hometown church, Faith Lutheran Marietta. My mom was totally key in planning this event. Thankfully she already knew exactly who she wanted all the vendors to be. The photographer had done all the family portraits for church members forever. The caterer has done all the church functions. And even the florist does the flowers for the church sanctuary every Sunday. And of course we knew the officiant would be Pastor Carl. I loved getting to Skype with my mom during the weeks before the wedding because she always had something new to show me that she had done for the wedding.

IMG_3036We had family come from all over – some flew from New York, drove in from Virginia and North Carolina, and even took a motorhome journey from Arizona. Not to mention Reini’s sister and boyfriend flew from Austria for extra support. We were sure happy to have all the extra hands with this event, too. We had the professional florist make all the altar pieces, bouquets, corsages, and boutonnieres, but we wanted to cut a couple costs and do our own table centerpieces from Sam’s flowers. There was a hurricane over Miami that Monday and our flowers were late. After an hour on the phone, my mom was told that the flowers weren’t going to be there until the Saturday if we were lucky and the following Monday if we were unlucky. We were sad, but researched alternative means of getting some flowers. But like a little miracle, the FedEx man showed up with our flowers on Friday morning! My mom and aunt ran out to greet him with breakfast treats and hugs! Oh that was one happy FedEx man! And those flowers turned out awesome. We got gigantic white hydrangeas and garden roses in various pink hues.

IMG_1142Part of the crew and I went to the church on Friday just after lunch time to start setting up. It definitely took a while to make the church cafeteria look nice (the castle didn’t take much effort), but we were very satisfied with the result. However, we didn’t have much time at all left to get beautified before our rehearsal dinner. We all changed in the school locker rooms (no time for hair fluffing), had a quick ceremony rehearsal, and then drove over to Ray’s on the River. This place is fantastic. They had an amazing menu to please both fish and meat lovers. The location is really beautiful too – we had a private room with direct access down to their Chattahoochee River garden area. We all loved their drinks and service. I highly recommend them for such an event.

The next day was the big day (part II). I felt relatively stress free. We had our regular hair dresser come over to do our do’s in the church youth room. Suz and I popped over to Zaxby’s for a little lunch treat while the guys (plus Kathrin) went over to a sports bar to watch a football game.

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fullsizeoutput_cdfEveryone came back in time to get dressed up (yes, I got to wear the same dress for both weddings!) all pretty and head down the aisle! Our organist learned the Sound of Music wedding march just for me and it was perfect. Pastor Carl did a great job – short and sweet. My godfather did a reading for us. I could hear my grandma crying in the front row behind us. And my daddy seemed very proud.

fullsizeoutput_d14We took some family pictures after the ceremony then met everyone in our reception space. My dad gave a sweet toast and people cheersed to us! People seemed to enjoy all the specialty beer my dad had collected from various places (including Red Oak from my university town – Elon). I got my dream wedding cake for this wedding – from Publix! The bottom layer was chocolate cake with a raspberry filling and the middle one (for Reinhard) was vanilla and strawberry with a strawberry and whipped cream filling. It was all coated in delicious buttercream. And I got to have my parents’ cake topper on my cake too!! Ahh it was a dream!

I really enjoyed getting to visit with all the people at the wedding. Since moving to Austria, I can’t see my friends, family, and neighbors nearly as much as I would like – so it was really wonderful having all of them in one place! Our American wedding was definitely different from the Austrian one but I know my family and neighbors were very happy to be able to celebrate with us too.

 

 

An Austrian Castle Wedding

DSC07071Reini and I had been planning up a storm and it truly paid off! The ladies and I started the day (September 9) at the Chaos hair salon. We had fun getting our make up and hair done together, and even got to sip some champagne! They did an awesome job on us, making us look like a bridal party! Once glam, we went over to our hotel at the base of the castle, the Auracher Löchl Träumerei. Let me tell you, this hotel was really cool! Each room had a special theme. Reinhard and I stayed in the Las Vegas room. My brother said his room had a Transylvanian/Dracula theme. Kate loved her Hawaiian destination room. It was all great fun. And they have an amazing breakfast which everyone loved even in their hungover state the next morning. I have some friends in the area that say they want to go back to Kufstein for a weekend stay just to check out a different themed room in the hotel!

_MG_6438On our way over to the hotel we picked up a party pretzel to munch upon. The men (not allowed to see the bride, of course) were given some pretzel sandwich pieces which they had to eat in their own room. The bridal party got dressed and then went to the castle! We turned quite a few heads as we marched through the Kufstein Old Town and up to the Festung lift. I found the photographer (the amazing Christina Ehammer – all the good photos on this post are her’s) and ran off with her, Kate, and my dad to take a few pre-ceremony glamor shots. I was maybe 5 minutes late getting to the ceremony site and they sent the Festung manager out to find me. Apparently they were afraid I had changed my mind and ran away! Nope – just having some “me time”!

DSC06582Then we got to the ceremony. Wedding ceremonies are definitely different from what Americans are used to. We have a rehearsal so everyone knows exactly how to march in and where to stand. Not with this one. Reini assured me that it would all work itself out… So I did my grand entrance but my family stood there like deer in the headlights, not taking the seats in the front row saved for them but standing in the back. Oh well! The ceremony was really beautiful. Sister Kathrin and good friend Teresa beautifully played our entrance song, ‘Hallelujah’, on the guitar and flute. DSC06528Then Kathrin got up to the front and did all the English translations with the Kufstein city representative. She did a great job, for sure. Reinhard (guitar) and Suzanne (voice) performed ‘A Thousand Years’, leaving nearly everyone (especially me) in tears. It was such a sweet moment! We eventually got the rings on each other and sealed the deal with a kiss. A little brass ensemble played our closing song.

DSC07006.jpgThen we greeted all our guests before they headed out to the courtyard for cocktails and we went to take some more pictures. The cocktail hour was a ton of fun. One of Reinhard’s music ensembles played for us. Reini even played with them for a bit! Beer and flavored champagne were served and people got to sit under the big trees in the middle of the castle.

DSC06967It seemed like people were so happy sitting in the courtyard visiting one another that they didn’t want to move over to the dinner reception site! But eventually we got everyone to go up into the Kaiserturm and find their tables, labeled with countries that Reini and I have visited together. The room was so beautiful. Reinhard’s good friend and fellow band member Maria was our florist and chief decorator. She and I had fun shopping for ribbon and picking out flowers, but I had no idea how beautiful it would all turn out. Two words: cannon flowers. SHE DECORATED THE ANCIENT CANNONS WITH FLOWERS. Oh I was in love!! Dinner was so delicious. We had beef filets and fish as main courses. The dessert selection was wild. We had friends and family bake cakes for us! So we had tiramisu, Sachertorte, apple cupcakes, and a gorgeous vegan cake. My good friend Selina is a vegan and offered to make a cake for us right away. I had no idea that it was going to be so extravagant! She made it three tiers and crafted edible roses too. Wow!

After dinner we headed down to the first floor of the castle where we had our ceremony. Music was very important to Reinhard so we splurged for a live band, Impressed, for the end of the reception. They were great fun! They played a waltz for our first song and then played a couple traditional dancing songs before moving to modern hits. My friends commented on how great the castle staff was. At the reception bar, the workers kept our friends’ wine and beer glasses full! We had to have a midnight snack, but we chose a less traditional Weisswurst (white sausage) with pretzels. We had a makeshift photo booth in the corner (made from my iPad and a tripod). We had so much fun looking at the silly photos that people took! Young and old got into it!

All in all, the wedding was awesome, coming to an end at 3am. I’m so thankful that we had so much help to put on a great event. All the musicians, bakers, and decorators truly made it special!

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A Tale of Two Weddings (in Two Cities)

My oh my, have the last few months been wild! My best friends and family flew all the way to Austria to help us celebrate our wedding in Kufstein. We had an awesome time but were so very busy (and jet lagged). I wish we had more time just to hang out a bit, but we visited some highlights in the region. We ate cake atop the Bergisel, rode the roller coaster tram in the Schwaz silver mines, and even experienced a bit of Oktoberfest with the Rosenheim Herbstfest. I’m so thankful I had them during the final push of wedding excitement. They were so helpful in setting up the castle and keeping me (relatively) calm as my stress level soared. More on the weddings to come!

Just a few Juliets in Verona

IMG_8585fullsizeoutput_5a4I really have some awesome girlfriends here in Innsbruck. They planned a surprise bachelorette get-away for me months in advanced. Only when we were driving in the car did I learn where we were going – to Verona! The hometown of Romeo’s Juliet! What American girl gets to go to Italy for her bachelorette trip?? So special! IMG_5099We had an excellent Air BNB right outside of the colosseum. We wandered a bit and of course had to stop by Juliet’s famous balcony. Though we didn’t write any love letters ourselves, we read some of the notes that other visitors had left for Juliet. We had a delicious lunch in a charming outdoor café with a canopy of vines to provide shade. We then stopped for some Aperol spritzes at cozy bar along the Adige River that runs through the city.

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Just a trip to Verona was not all these girls had planned. They were taking me to a Lumineers concert in a castle! It was a great show and in such a cool place. Everyone was singing along and went crazy when they started “Ho Hey”. I think I still have “Ophelia” in my head! The girls even got me a sparkly “bride to be crown” to wear! And then after the concert, we did what would be unthinkable in Innsbruck. We went to a café after midnight and ordered pizzas (and more Aperols)!

IMG_7173After an amazing day in Verona, the girls had even more surprises in store for me. We drove to Lake Garda. We stopped at a town that the girls had visited before, Lazise. It was so cute walking through the tiny streets and out onto the lake front. We dipped our toes in the water and giggled as we tried to shake the sand off when it came time to put our shoes back on. IMG_3271We ate a late morning snack (Aperol spritzes and a fruit platter) at a restaurant with a gorgeous view of the lake. We spent the afternoon driving along the lake shore and stopped at Riva at the top of the lake for one last gelato.

It really was a very special trip that I won’t soon forget!

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Polaroids taken by Selina!

Wedding planning abroad: logistics

Once the wedding location was chosen, the real work started. The first struggle was with the invitations. We decided to have two ceremonies, one in the castle and one in my hometown church. People had to be given Save the Dates and invites to both or one of the locations and in a language they understood. So that led us to making 3 different Save the Date designs, 2 different invitations and 3 styles of RSVP cards. For anyone who has planned a wedding before, you’d know how difficult it is to even pick one design! Thanks to our design and print companies in the US and in Austria, they turned out great.

One thing I am struggling with is my need to involve Reinhard in everything. I know it’s getting old for him too. My German knowledge doesn’t contain the necessary negotiation vocabulary involved in wedding planning. So the poor guy even has to call around at the hairdresser to see who can fit in a “large” group of women (there are only 4 of us, but that’s apparently too many for Tirolean shops to handle). I still don’t have one as of today, so if you have any suggestions for a Kufstein Friseur, let me know!

And don’t even get me started about the wedding dress. I really shouldn’t complain, but of course I will. My parents bought my dress for me in the US when I went to visit in February. It was perfect and beautiful and just had to have it. The shop had to order it, which meant it had to be shipped to Austria from the US. Let me tell you that DHL charges an absolutely crazy amount to ship a dress and charges whatever INSANELY high customs fees they feel like. The dress didn’t even leave the US and they were already demanding customs fees – so clearly they were making them up. A tip for you international brides – don’t use DHL unless you like throwing away money. But I got the dress and then I had to be brave enough to go alone to the seamstress for some alterations. Of course bridal dress alterations is not a vocab lesson in German class, so I was struggling there. Fun fact, a train is called a Schleppe in German, as in ‘to schlep around fabric’. I forgot about the need to have the dress bustled for the reception, though I’m sure the seamstress asked me. I was just afraid she wanted to shorten my Schleppe so I kept saying no! So I had to go back a week and a half later (with a German-speaking girlfriend this time!) to describe what I needed. Let’s hope it turns out alright!

There are some pretty funny Austrian wedding customs that I’m not so sure how we will follow. Reini went suit shopping with his Best Man and sister. He said he thought it was so funny how all the grooms’ suits were so shiny! But he wasn’t tempted by the shine – he got a regular one. Furthermore, from what my groom said, it sounds like suit rentals aren’t really a thing here. So once you buy your shiny suit – you’re stuck with it! (kinda like with a wedding dress though….) Another funny tradition in the stealing of the bride. This one I know Reini does want, so we might take it but with some rules… The friends of the groom steal the bride away during the couple’s first dance. And the girlfriends of the bride are supposed to steal the groom away too. Then they go away from the wedding site and get drinks at a bar somewhere for like an hour. I’d much rather stay at the very expensive event I had planned for a year than go to a bar, so we’ll see what happens with this one…

Food plays a big role in any wedding, but it definitely does here too. I saw in one of Reini’s friends’ weddings that the bridal couple breaks a huge pretzel during the ceremony. The person who gets the larger piece (usually turns out to be the bride) is said to have the dominant position in the marriage. Goulash seems to be a topic of conversation. Austrian weddings last super late into the night/morning so a midnight snack is expected. All the castles have talked about their goulash… but I’m just not impressed. It’s hard to eat and messy. So we have an alternative planned that I was told our Bavarian guests will find really funny.

Language and customs differences are definitely providing extra challenges to the wedding planning experience, but at least I have an excellent partner who is willing to learn about wedding hair trials and corsage styles just to make me have the most special day.

Wedding planning abroad: Venue shopping

Wedding planning is no easy task, couple that with a mega language barrier and you’ve got quite a challenge! More about that in another post. After our engagement in Portugal, Reini and I have been planning for not one but two weddings. We decided to have two events so that we would be able to celebrate with both sets of families and friends. As a girl who grew up watching Disney princess movies, I, of course, wanted to have a castle wedding. Luckily enough, Austria has a bunch! Reinhard and I went castle venue shopping this past fall after setting up some appointments. We saw some pretty awesome ones! One must consider that as castles are really old buildings, their layouts are not designed for weddings. These real castles are designed to keep bad guys out and not so much for Cinderella-esque balls. But with a little creativity, a modern bride can see the absolute beauty in these structures. Abundant candle lighting is all an authentic castle needs to create an utterly romantic atmosphere.

viewIMG_1998cyIMG_1972The first castle we visited was Schloss Friedberg. I’m not 100% sure, but I think this castle has some relation to the Von Trapp family… This fact alone almost had me sold before we even got there. It has the most beautiful views of the mountains and is just about a half hour from Innsbruck. They had a really cool cellar/crypt space where I could imagine the guys partaking in a few drinks. The layout of the rooms for the reception did not quite fit in with what we had envisioned, so we had to pass on this gem.

DSCN4770The next castle we toured was Schloss Mittersill and is fit for a queen! (Literally – royalty has stayed there!) I have raved about this place before, and it was high on my wedding choice list too. We were guided around the property and were shown their outdoor ceremony garden and their little chapel. They had a large room converted for a reception space. After our tour we had an excellent lunch and then got to spend some time at their spa. Such a treat!! Unfortunately, the space for an indoor ceremony (must have a rain plan!) and the party room for dancing and merriment were just too small for the guests we were planning to invite. I did think for a bit about inviting less people so we could fit in here!

We went to another castle that was just outside the fairytale town of Kitzbühel. Schloss Münchinau is located in down in the valley. It dates back to the 15th Century, though its series of conquerers over the years have forced it to be rebuilt a few times. This castle features a large outdoor garden area which would have made for an excellent ceremony cite. They have a nice restaurant and boast that their chef can make almost anything. The downside to this place was something that they were very proud of. We were told that this was a hunting castle. And therefore, there were little skulls and antlers everywhere. I wish I had taken a picture! But as “hunting” was not to be the theme of my wedding, we decided to look elsewhere.

CanonIMG_2023This brings us to the last castle and the one we ultimately chose – Festung Kufstein. So technically it is not a castle but a fortress, but who’s counting? We knew it would be an awesome place to host our wedding, as we had visited before and snuck peeks into the Kaiser Turm (King Tower) that they use for such events. This place has it all – awesome views of the valley below and surrounding mountains, a lovely garden with ceremony potential, plenty of space for all our friends, an awesome courtyard for cocktail hour, and endless places for guests to explore. We really loved the space for the after dinner party. There is great antique lounge furniture and plenty of space for Reini’s bands to perform!

We hope our guests will like what we have chosen! But I have no doubts that it will be a magical wedding!

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Here’s a photo from my first visit to the festung in 2013