The Lead up to Our Wedding

I really don’t know where to start with writing this. I also cannot believe how quickly the time has gone. We’ve already been married almost three weeks. In the build up to the wedding everyone told us how fast the day would go but you don’t realise it until you’re actually there, in the day. I had to stop and have a few moments to try and take it all in.

Ryan and I arrived in France on the Wednesday with a luggage allowance of 75KG! We picked up our hire car and headed straight to the venue. The weather was a bit hit and miss on the drive to the venue but I didn’t want to let it put a downer on things so we headed straight out to Ikea and Carrefour to get some of the final things we needed for the weekend. As our wedding was dry hire it meant that we had to source everything through vendors. However, there were somethings that were definitely cheaper to source ourselves, for example the caterers wanted to charge €2 per shot glass whereas you can get a pack of 6 for €1.60 in Ikea. The same with water and soft drinks. So after approximately 5 hours in the shops with a stop at McDonalds in between we were tired and headed back to the Chateau. On the drive back the heavens opened and I was sat in the back of the car surrounded by Coke and glasses and just cried. I thought, I can’t believe everything we have planned over the course of the last year is now going to be ruined by the weather.

We got back to the Chateau and unpacked everything into the caterers kitchen connected to the marquee and sat in the lounge with a bottle of wine and wrapped up our gifts for our family.

The Family Night

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The next morning we went out to the shops again and stopped at a local bakery to order some sandwiches ready for when the family arrived. We asked the lady if she could speak English and her expression was shocked so she ran to get her son to help! We ordered 20 huge baguette sandwiches and some eclairs and little pastry bits for the family lunch and headed back waiting for them to arrive. Literally as the coach turned into the Chateau the sun burst through! It was so exciting to have all of our family there to show them what we’ve been talking about for the past year. We showed everyone to their rooms and all gathered in the marquee for lunch. It was exactly what we wanted, having all of our family there just relaxing and enjoying time together.

That evening was the first event of the wedding weekend and we had hired the caterers to prepare a 3 course meal. It was so lovely having all of our family together and the food was amazing. As people were on the first night of their hols and it was the first night we could properly relax and enjoy ourselves a few of us got a bit rowdy and didn’t make it to bed until almost 2.

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The BBQ

The morning of the BBQ, Ryan wanted to laze about in bed and nurse his hangover but I was up and out of bed at 8am to tidy the barn as we had a list of tasks we needed to do that day! Me, Ryan, Mum and Ryan’s Uncle headed back out to the shops to pick up the remaining soft drinks and some bits for lunch for the family. The soft drinks were one of the things we were really struggling with, how do you quantify how many cans of coke are going to be needed for 80 people for a two day event?!

When we got back to the Chateau the weather was beautiful and everyone was sat outside in the sun so we had a little picnic, opened some wine. It was just perfect. It was exactly how we had pictured having all of the family together and one of the reasons that we decided on a destination wedding in the first place.

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That afternoon, we had a rehearsal with all the people who would be walking down the aisle. Ryan and his best man, our mums, the flower girls and page boys, the bridesmaids and me and dad. That was the first time I got emotional and had to fight back tears a little bit. Ryan’s little cousins Rufus and Rafferty were so funny and I was kind of hoping they would be a little bit naughty walking down the aisle on the wedding day, but they were absolutely perfect on the day.

After the rehearsal, Sheree (bridesmaid/hairdresser) took me upstairs and treated me to a hair wash and blow-dry so I could get ready for the BBQ. Luckily the weather held off for the BBQ and we still had lovely sunshine. For the BBQ we had a selection of garden games and our wedding planner had set up some picnic blankets under the trees for people to sit and chill out. We had giant connect four,  corn hole, Bowles, beer pong and rounders. The rounders was a hit and at one point almost everyone was there playing rounders together, I even managed to run in my dress and heels! It was so surreal seeing so many of our amazing friends and family from all different walks of life playing games together, drinking and just having the best time.

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We had the same caterers for the family night, the BBQ and the wedding day and the food was amazing. We had chosen a selection of meats such as lamb chops, pork, sausages, chicken, salmon skewers and it was all so tasty. At around 10pm it started raining, to be honest I’m just glad the rain held off that long! Our wedding planner, Sarah, was on hand straight away handing out umbrellas and pashminas to keep us dry. At around 10.30 the fireworks started. They were brilliant. I was stood next to Ryan and Dad watching the fireworks under an umbrella just trying to take it all in.

When the fireworks finished, me and Katie snuck off and went up to get ready for bed as Ryan was spending the night with his Best Man, Harry. I can honestly say that that night was the worst night’s sleep of my entire life! Me and Katie were convinced that we had food poisoning which resulted in me calling my Mum at 2.30am in tears as I had convinced myself that there wouldn’t be a wedding because all of the guests were ill with food poisoning! That obviously wasn’t the case and it must have just been a combination of nervousness and excitement. Katie also wanted to keep the light on the whole night as she was worried about seeing a ghost in the Chateau (which I did actually see the previous two nights). I managed about an hour and a half’s sleep and once we noticed it started to get light outside, Katie turned the light off. Then within about 15 minutes our alarms went off to start getting ready!

A look back on 2018

2018 was an amazing year for me, travel wise, in my work life and also in my personal life. I visited 6 new countries, returned to 4 countries and visited home three times to see family. I wanted to write this blog to reflect on some of the amazing memories I made last year. 

2018 NYE in Germany

We saw the new year in from Frankfurt in Germany. Although it’s a country I’ve previously visited it was the first time Ryan and I visited together. Frankfurt was also a new city for me. When we booked the trip a lot of people asked “why Frankfurt?” Honestly, the reason was because we got such a good offer on flights from London to Dubai with a 3 day layover in Frankfurt so we thought, why not?! One of the highlights of this trip was stumbling across a wine and food market where people were out dancing and singing in the streets, drinking wine and it was only 10am! Inside the marquee was a huge food market and we went from stall to stall trying cuts of hams, cheese, breads and olives, we were absolutely in our element!img_0512

To celebrate New Years, we went for dinner at a teppanyaki restaurant called Kabuki. There was a chef for every table of 8 and the food was absolutely delicious. We finished our meal at around 11.45 and headed out to the bridge to watch the fireworks. It really was the perfect way to see in the new year. 

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Tbilisi, Georgia

This was the first new country of the year for me, and honestly, not a country I had ever really considered travelling to. Ryan loves to ski and since we moved to Dubai in 2015 we hadn’t been skiing together. Georgia was the perfect option for a ski holiday from Dubai. The flight was less than 4 hours, ski passes and equipment hire is super cheap (especially compared to Europe) and we had the slopes almost to ourselves – which was great for me only just being off the training slopes in Ski Dubai!

We spent three days skiing followed by one day in Tbilisi to explore (and drink lots of wine). It’s given us the bug to look at skiing elsewhere in 2019 (please Ryan!) and we are exploring options close to Dubai such as Romania, Azerbaijan or Lebanon. 

It was after this trip that I first decided to start documenting our travels, and you can read about skiing and Tbilisi here.

The Philippines

Our second new country of the year and I have to say my favourite holiday of 2018 (obviously Italy will always hold a special place in my heart and I will get to that soon) but, I have such a connection with Asia, I think it’s because when I first travelled solo at the age of 19 I spent two months in Asia exploring Thailand. The Philippines really was everything I imagined it to be and more, it is the most breathtaking country I have visited with so much natural beauty, the people are some of the friendliest I have met and we just loved the chilled out island vibes. 

We spent time on Coron island, which is an island just of Palawan, and also in El Nido. I would love to return to explore more of what the Philippines has to offer.

Nepal

The third new country that we visited for a long weekend in June at the end of Ramadan was Nepal. As I’ve said previously, we really try to make the most out of the long weekends and public holidays we get in the UAE and a long weekend in Nepal was the perfect escape from hectic Dubai life. The flight to Nepal is less than 4 hours from Dubai and you can pick them up relatively cheap (we don’t mind budget airlines). When we landed in Nepal, my ele pants were straight on, my backpack on my back and we were off to explore for the day. Kathmandu was a world away from the built up shiny city that is Dubai but the vibrant, crazy, chaotic streets of Kathmandu captured me. 

Although we only spent two nights in Nepal, we worked the flight times so that we had three full days, packed full of activities and we felt like we had been away for a lot longer. 

England

I decided to take a short trip back to England in April as I was feeling a bit homesick, Ryan stayed in Dubai whilst I travelled back alone and spent the full four days in Lowestoft with my family, which was exactly what I needed. Our second trip home was in July, the reason we were flying home was a surprise 80th birthday party for my Grandad and we decided to make a little holiday of it. 

Every time we travel home we split the time between Kent and Lowestoft. This trip was lovely because we spent so much time with our families, the weather was amazing and the World Cup was on! We spent a day in London at Hyde park – you really can’t beat London in the summer!

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Mini Euro Trip

We were lucky enough to be invited to a wedding in Scotland in August and decided to make the most of being in that part of the world. So we spent four days in Prague, three in Scotland followed by five in Italy

Our euro trip ended in a way that I didn’t see coming, with Ryan proposing on our first night in Positano. I know I said the Philippines was my favourite holiday of the year, but Italy really was a dream. 

France

We returned to Dubai after our engagement and started looking at wedding venues for 2019. We fell in love with the idea of a wedding in France and found some stunning venues which meant we had to take a last minute trip to France to view them! Ryan and I got engaged on 28th August and confirmed our venue on 29 September – there was no hanging about!

Our trip to France was unexpected but extremely important and we now have plans to return to our wedding venue in April to trial the food etc. and then of course we will be returning in August for our actual wedding day!!

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Turkey

Turkey was my fifth new country of the year but Ryan wasn’t invited on this holiday, it was a girls only trip! Cappadocia truly took my breath away and it was a definite bucket list moment for me. I know social media often portrays things to be better than the reality and having seen so many amazing photos of Cappadocia I was worried it would be the same.  But honestly, the photos don’t even do justice to the magical sunrise with 150 hot air balloons coming up over the mountains. And riding in a hot air balloon basket 500ft Up in the air over the valleys and the mountains, this holiday was definitely one of the highlights of my year. 

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Oman

Last but not least, our final new country that we ticked off this year. Muscat was a real treat and took us by surprise with its natural beauty and all of the amazing outdoorsy activities you can do. The highlight of this trip was another bucket list moment for me as we swam with turtles out at sea (and didn’t get a single photo but I don’t care, the experience was amazing!)

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I wrote this post on the flight from Abu Dhabi to London as we were flying home for Christmas. I feel truly grateful for every country we visited, all the people we met and all of the new experiences we had in 2018. I know that Ryan often jokes that we go on too many holidays (and that we need to save for the wedding blah blah blah) but I love travelling, I love holiday planning and I can’t wait for the new adventures that lay ahead for 2019. Currently we have our March holiday booked which consists of two nights in Kuala Lumpur, four nights in Langkawi and two in Singapore so if anyone has any recommendations for those, they are always welcome!

Our Tour de France

I’m a little delayed in writing this post, I had two weekend breaks in quick succession last month and haven’t had time to write! I still can’t believe how fast everything is moving! Engaged for two months already, a whole month has passed since visiting France and confirming our venue and now we have confirmed our wedding planner, photographer, and can start ticking other vendors off our list! As long as we continue to make progress at this rate we will be fine – we’re now just over 9 months away from the wedding ahhhh!

We never planned on having an abroad (or destination wedding) the reason being we wanted to ensure that all of our family members would be able to travel and attend. But we were so surprised at just how quickly venues get booked up in England and we definitely wanted to have the wedding in 2019. The majority of our venues were completely unavailable, those that were available were only on random days like a Tuesday or Wednesday! So we looked further afield into other counties in the UK which meant that both families would have to travel and stay over night regardless. So we decided to branch a bit further out, across the sea and into France. Every wedding planner we have spoken to has asked “why France?” Well we love French food and definitely French wine, our family members can travel by train, plane or even drive across to Calais and we are hoping the weather will be easier to predict than it is in England!

As soon as we started looking at venues in France we realised they too were booking up very quickly. We found three venues that fitted our criteria of being less than two hours from Paris airport; onsite accommodation for at least 35 people and a building that has the “Wow factor”. When searching for a venue the part we struggled with the most was on side accommodation for guests in the northern region. We settled on the three venues:

– Chateau de Bonnemare;

– Chateau de Carsix; and

– Chateau Cheronne.

Once we contacted the venues to determine their available dates for 2019 they informed us they would only hold our venue for two weeks! So we had to book a last minute weekend trip to France (which I’m definitely not complaining about!) we flew over night from Dubai, arriving in Paris at 8am and had arranged a hire car for the weekend and we were both so excited to explore and hopefully find our venue!

Chateau Cheronne

Starting from the last first, the third venue we viewed as Chateau Cheronne a stunning castle built in the 1700s in the French countryside, just over a two hour drive from CDG airport. The grounds of the castle were huge with a lovely pond, old horse stables that had been converted into accommodation and of course the castle. The castle itself had so many hidden rooms, we felt like we were walking round in circles but it actually could sleep 30 people in the castle. We really loved the venue however it definitely felt the most outdated of the venues interior wise, even though it wasn’t the oldest chateau that we viewed. It was also further out than the other venues we viewed and so we needed to be able to justify the extra journey time.

The chateau had some amazing features, for example it was fully self-sustainable until quite recently and still has the damn and water pump from the 1700s. The grounds and garden area were also beautiful, we just felt this venue was a little outdated and not quite the right fit for us and what we would like from our wedding day.

Chateau de Carsix

The second venue we viewed was actually my favourite from looking online and I was so excited to view it. But, the night before our viewing, the wedding planner called to say she wouldn’t be able to make it to show us around… as you can imagine that did not go down well with me whatsoever. We had flown 7 hours to Paris, driven almost two hours to the venue and the woman who will potentially be planning and over seeing our wedding cannot be bothered to show up?! That was a big red cross against the venue and we hadn’t even viewed it yet!

When we arrived in the morning, we were told that the groundskeeper would be showing us around, but she didn’t speak a word of English – and we don’t speak any French! So we were a bit stuck! Ryan had the genius idea of downloading a translations app so we literally communicated by talking through an app and surprisingly it worked quite well!img_4455

The venue really did have the wow factor, a gorgeous chateau built in the 1800s which slept 96 people in the grounds. This was a huge bonus for us because it meant the entire wedding party would be able to stay together on the same grounds. However, the rooms were all quite basic and also smelt a bit musty, kind of like an old people’s home. There also wasn’t a specified Bridal Room or area for the bridal party to get ready in the morning, it felt more like a boarding school. The onsite accommodation was one of the key selling points but there’s no point in having a lot of basic accommodation, we decided we would rather have less onsite accommodation that’s of a nicer standard for our venue.

Chateau de Bonnemare

The first venue we viewed was chateau de Bonnemare, a gorgeous family run chateau built in 1555 approximately an hour and a half drive from CDG airport. Neither of us wanted to admit it right away, but we fell in love with this venue.

I obviously don’t want to give too much away, but from the very entrance point we were in love. This was then complimented by the fact that it’s a small family run chateau by a lovely French family who have had the chateau in the family for several generations. Although the owners aren’t fluent English speakers, their son has excellent written and spoken English which really helped with choosing this venue.

The chateau has recently undergone a lot of renovation to modernise the accommodation and even though this chateau was the oldest venue that we viewed, it was the most modern but maintained its authentic, rustic feeling. One of the things we really love about Chateau de Bonnemare is the space that can be utilised for so many parts of the weekend, all of which will make different aspects of it individual and special.

There are a few towns located between 15-30 minutes from Bonnemare and we stayed in a family run b&b in a small village called Les Andelys. The village was so quaint and we bought sandwiches and pastries and sat on a grassy riverbank to have lunch. There’s not a great deal to do in the village so we just used it as a base to get to the venue which is definitely something we will recommend our guests do.

When we visited Bonnemare we could both just picture having our own wedding there, it just felt right. We are so excited to get married there and it’s approaching quickly!

284 days to go!

Three years in Dubai

I’m slightly delayed with writing this post, but, on the 25th of May we celebrated our 3 year Dubai-nniversary! Three years! It is crazy how fast the time has gone.

To celebrate, we wanted to treat ourselves to a little staycation, somewhere that had an authentic Arabic vibe so we chose the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort. When I booked the stay, I didn’t actually realise it was a three hour drive from Dubai and almost on the border of Saudi!

The Qasr Al Sarab is possibly the most beautiful hotel I have ever stayed in, it is surrounded by nothing but vast desert and it felt so tranquil. The resort itself is located approximately 20 minutes away from the main road so it feels almost like you’re dune bashing on the drive up to the hotel! It was such a relaxing stay and I reflected on some of the amazing things we have had the opportunity to do since living here in the UAE, here are a few:

Skydive Dubai

I bought this as Ryan’s birthday present in 2015 and without really thinking about it, I purchased two tickets! I then thought shit I am going to have to do this now too! It was such an amazing experience and we were so lucky that the weather was perfect the day we jumped, you could see for miles! I would definitely recommend doing the skydive, I just wouldn’t advise doing brunch the day before!

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

I am so lucky to have an amazing group of friends that make weekends here so fun, but the best weekend of the year is the Abu Dhabi F1. In the two years I’ve been, I can’t say I have seen that many of the cars but we end up partying for the whole weekend and it’s such a great atmosphere there.

Dubai World Cup Horse Racing

It’s strange watching the horse racing and not being able to gamble, but the World Cup has such a buzz and it’s so nice to get properly dressed up for the races.img_5883-1

Dubai Opera

The Dubai Opera only recently opened in 2016 and as part of my Christmas present, Ryan bought us tickets to go and see the performance of Westside Story! I absolutely love the film and seeing it in the Dubai Opera theatre was so lovely. I am just holding out for Phantom of the Opera to do a tour over here because that is my absolute favourite West End show!

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Learning to ski in the Mall of the Emirates

So Ryan has previously skied quite a lot, I however had only been on one ski holiday and that’s when I was 15 at school. So for Christmas, Ryan bought me ski lessons at the Mall of the Emirates indoor ski slope. How crazy that I learnt to ski in the middle of the desert! The indoor ski slope is great and it actually has real snow so I had my ski lessons there right before we went to Georgia in February.

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Travelling

As I’ve said before, we try to maximise our holiday days as much as possible, so whenever there is a public holiday or long weekend, we try to get away. Since living in Dubai we have visited 10 countries (and counting)! We’ve done a safari in Kenya where I got to see eles in the wild – of course I burst into tears when I saw them! We’ve visited Sri Lanka twice for my birthday; we’ve also had holidays to Bali, Lebanon, Thailand, India, Philippines, Germany, Georgia and Nepal! Due to the central location of Dubai, it’s relatively easy to get around and you can usually be somewhere new and exotic within a few hours!

Making friends who feel like family

Living abroad is hard, and you don’t have the same support system as you do at home with your family, that’s why friends out here are so important because they really do turn into your family.

The past three years have had their challenges, but I wouldn’t change living here for the world. My time living in Dubai isn’t up yet!

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