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Today is my 39th birthday. I’m celebrating today with my husband in the little town of Perast on the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. There’s no place in the world more beautiful than here!
Most of this year was defined by one thing: the wedding. WeddingS, that is. Charlie and I got married three times — an elopement in April, a big Prague wedding in May, and a smaller Boston wedding in July!
We got engaged in July 2022, so pretty much my entire duration of being 38 has revolved around the weddings.
Each year, I do some kind of birthday post that kind of sums up the year. This year, I don’t really have a big recurring theme or news to share — so I’ll share a bunch of things I’ve learned.
The Prague wedding and elopement photos are by Teru Menclova and the Boston wedding photos are by Joe Gonzalez-Dufresne. We are thrilled with their work and recommend both highly!
Weddings don’t go by in a flash — American weddings go by in a flash. Everyone always talks about how your wedding goes by in the blink of an eye, and to concentrate on the memories!
At the end of the big Prague wedding, I looked around at everyone and thought about how it felt like the whole day was NICE and LONG. I had so many memories and got to spend time with everyone.
But the Boston wedding was over in a fraction of an instant. You know why? BECAUSE AMERICAN WEDDING RECEPTIONS ARE USUALLY FOUR HOURS LONG. That’s how venues price them out. Culturally, most of the world has much longer wedding receptions! Even the British, our closest cultural relatives!
Our American wedding reception started at 5 PM and ended at 9 PM. By contrast, our Czech wedding reception started at 5 PM, Charlie and I left at 1 AM, and the bar staff were disappointed we left so early! Czechs go till dawn!
If you’re having a typical American wedding, plan for some kind of after-party. You don’t necessarily have to pay for it — we went to the bar next door in Boston and everyone bought their own drinks. (Do inform the bar ahead of time when people are coming.)
Try to get married within a year of your engagement if you can. I know this isn’t a possibility for everyone, especially if you need to save up money or you live in a place where venues book out years in advance, but if you can get married within a year — DO IT.
Getting married quickly lets you power through the work and finish it sooner so you can get on with your life. I didn’t love the feeling of being in limbo so far between engagement and wedding.
But another good reason to get married sooner is because you don’t know what the future holds. Everything can change on a dime. You could lose someone you wanted to be there. Have the wedding sooner.
Elope beforehand if you can. Charlie and I decided to have a tiny elopement for our civil wedding — just us, two friends, and our photographer. We initially did this because Czech weddings must be done in Czech, and we didn’t want to bore our wedding guests.
But it turned out to be SUCH A GOOD IDEA. That day, we were able to focus solely on each other and our commitment. After the ceremony, we went to have champagne overlooking Old Town Square at U Prince right after, then hit up two of our favorite spots, Kantyna and Bugsy’s Bar!
The other wedding days, by contrast, were all about our guests — taking care of them, helping them, making sure the event ran smoothly. Not so much about each other, despite it being, well, a WEDDING.
So if you’re planning on getting married, consider doing the legal wedding beforehand. And if your family would freak out…nobody has to know!
Choose good vendors and let them do their thing. I didn’t have strong opinions about flowers, but I showed my Prague florist a cool bouquet I saw on Reddit, went over the colors I liked, and asked her to stick to local and seasonal (well, seasonal at least — all the flowers in the Czech Republic come from the Netherlands, it turns out).
She knocked it OUT OF THE PARK. I loved those flowers SO much.
So what did I do for the Boston florist? Just sent them photos of the Prague wedding photos saying “Something like this.” And THOSE were great, too!
Also, you don’t have to micromanage everything. If you have a good band or DJ, they know the songs that get people on the dance floor. Your venue manager will know how much food will realistically feed your crowd. Your photographer knows how to set up a good shot.
If you don’t prioritize engagement photos, you’re never getting them done. Whoops, we forgot to set a date for our engagement photos, and they never happened. Oh well!
It’s possible for your bridesmaids to have unique, flattering dresses while still looking like a cohesive unit. I didn’t want them to be in identical dresses, but I also hate how mismatching dresses look in bridal party photos.
Turns out you can look cohesive by choosing similar styles from the same brand: I chose Azazie, which has a million affordable bridesmaid dress options. I ordered a bunch of swatches, chose five colors that worked well together and assigned them each a color, and told them to choose any style that was long and chiffon.
And it was so nice to see my friends pick the styles they love, and look amazing!
Flower kids are so much better than ring bearers. What’s more fun — carrying rings or throwing flowers? OBVIOUSLY THROWING THE FLOWERS!
We knew we would be having three kids in our wedding party — a two-year-old girl in Prague, a four-year-old boy in Boston, and a five-year-old boy in both — and since there was no need to exchange rings after we had already done so in the elopement, we decided to have all three kids be flower kids.
They didn’t call themselves flower kids — they simply told everyone, “I’m throwing the flowers.” And they LOVED their job and had so much fun both practicing and in the actual weddings!
How long does it take to feel normal when you say “my husband”? Or not to giggle when he refers to you as his wife? This is still weird!
The number of places I would visit in Europe during the summer is sadly dwindling. Kotor in 2023 is nothing like Kotor in 2012, thanks in part to it becoming a cruise ship port. There is one narrow road that runs along the bay, and it is absolutely clogged with traffic.
Want summer weather in Europe? I highly recommend aiming for early June. Even September, once an offbeat month, has become prime season in a lot of destinations. Early October is another great choice for summery weather in places further south like Sicily, Puglia, and Andalusia.
But for travel in Europe, spring and fall is the best time to visit the popular places like Paris, Rome, and Barcelona.
So where do you go in Europe in July or August? Head north — think the Nordics or the Baltics — or head to the mountains. These months may be high season in Copenhagen or Stockholm, but it’s nothing like the crowds of Rome or Paris.
I feel like people aren’t traveling very off the beaten path these days. Charlie and I literally just had this conversation while eating burek on our guesthouse’s terrace, so forgive me for transcribing it somewhat sloppily.
Once people started traveling again in 2021, there was one place in Europe that dominated above all: Italy. Massively so. In the years since, we’ve both noticed that people are traveling to the most popular places in Europe, but aren’t going off the beaten path so much.
You know what we’re seeing a lot of, in both my influencer colleagues and regular people? Amalfi Coast. Venice. Santorini and Mykonos. Paris, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lisbon, Budapest.
You know what we’re not seeing much of? The Caucasus. The Balkans (beyond Croatia and Slovenia). Romania. The Baltics. Or even second-tier European cities like Strasbourg, Granada, Rotterdam, Brussels, Innsbruck, Torino. And we saw a LOT more of those destinations in 2014-2018.
It seems that since the pandemic began, people have been seized with the urge to travel to the Big Names, the bucket list destinations. Which I completely understand. And we have been besieged with “IT’S SO CROWDED!” pieces on social media as a result.
So we are honestly wondering when we will see people returning to the quirkier destinations. They could certainly use the tourism.
I used to think Iceland was overtouristed. I was wrong. Parts of Iceland are overtouristed — Reykjavík, the Golden Circle, the South Coast, and the Lake Myvatn region are all very busy — but most places are not.
But even though I visited in August, so much of Iceland was empty, or only had a few tourists. The Snaefellsnes Peninsula was incredibly quiet, to my shock. Most of North Iceland was empty. The Westman Islands were lovely.
But even places in the busier regions of Iceland, you can easily get off the beaten path. I think the secret is going to places where buses can’t go!
Kvernufoss waterfall was practically next door to the bus-filled parking lot at Skogafoss, yet less than a dozen people were there. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon was incredibly busy, but nearby Fjallsárlón and Múlagljúfur Canyon were empty.
January is best as a no-travel month. We spent January 2022 living in Puerto Vallarta and realized in retrospect that this wasn’t the smartest idea — January is when we get big work energy and have the desire to hit the ground running for the year. That doesn’t jive with Mexico!
January 2023, however, was spent based in Prague. We got a TON done and were ready to hit the road in February. Which leads me to…
I’m not feeling the Mediterranean in winter. Sure, it’s the warmest area you’ll find in mainland Europe, but our winter visit to Sicily was much colder than we expected.
None of the buildings in the southern Mediterranean are properly insulated, so we spent the whole time working with blankets thrown over us. Going out to restaurants, we would be seated next to a window, and cold air would blow in through the jamb. When we finally got into a heated car, I sighed because I hadn’t been warm for days!
Our friend Klara was spending the same month in Andalusia, Spain, and went through similar issues.
Sure, there were a few days in sunshine that were exceedingly pleasant. Just the days, though. As soon as evening set in, it got cold no matter what the weather had been that day.
So I’m a bit soured on the Mediterranean in winter, unfortunately. I’m open to other destinations, though.
I want to fly less. One of my next aims is to take an Italy trip via train — which would probably consist of a five-hour train ride from Prague to Munich, then an overnight train to Rome or Florence or Bologna. Once I’ve done it, it will be easier to do it again and again.
I also want to get in the habit of taking fewer connecting flights. For example, there’s no direct flight from Prague to Rovaniemi, Finland — but I’d be open to flying from Prague to Helsinki and taking the train to Rovaniemi, or taking the train from Prague to Vienna and flying direct to Rovaniemi.
Beyond that, there is SO much to explore within train distance of Prague! A full day of train-ing can get you as far as Copenhagen or Verona or Zürich or Split.
Who knows — I’m turning more Czech by the day. Maybe next summer I’ll be taking containers of schnitzel with me on train trips.
My next big challenge is getting my Czech driver’s license. Unfortunately you can’t transfer an American license into a Czech license, so I need to do the whole process, including 28 hours or driving lessons.
This will be my big project of the fall. And because of last year’s Iceland disaster — I will be learning to drive a manual car. Finally.
This year I said goodbye to my childhood home. My dad sold our home this past spring and moved to a condo a few towns away, close to family members.
I’m fine with it, and SO glad my dad is done with the whole ordeal that is cleaning out and selling a house you’ve lived in for four decades! But as anyone who has watched their lifelong home be sold knows, it’s weird to think I don’t have a home to go back to in my hometown anymore.
At any rate, I’m glad that I did my project of walking every street in Reading in spring 2020. (I mean…there wasn’t a lot to do in spring 2020!) It gave me a lot of time to reflect on the place where I grew up and how it shaped me.
Shorts are awesome — YES, even in Europe! For years I didn’t wear shorts because I didn’t love how I looked in them (DUMB!) but now I am back and rocking them with regularity.
The conventional wisdom says that Europeans don’t wear shorts. This is both location-dependent and gender-dependent, but women in much of Europe do wear shorts. Yes, even in Paris and Milan.
But there’s a difference between wearing denim cut-offs with a plain t-shirt and old sneakers, and wearing shorts made of a nice fabric with a blouse and a belt and nice sandals. If you have the intention of putting together an outfit, suddenly wearing shorts looks a lot nicer.
And all my shorts are from European brands! Especially Sézane and Maje.
I wonder how long I’ll go before I color my hair. The first time I ever noticed gray hairs was on my 34th birthday, when Cailin gleefully pointed them out to me as I got my hair braided at a beach volleyball festival in Vienna.
I name my gray hairs Glynis. There are a handful of Glynises by now.
The past few years, several of my friends in their thirties and forties have chosen to go gray naturally. They are badasses, so gorgeous, and I admire them so much for bucking conventional wisdom in a society that polices women’s looks so hard.
Will I join them? I’m not sure. So far, my gray hairs are more coarse and wiry. What will it look like having two different textures of hair at once? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Coming Up This Year
I’m excited to enjoy the final year of my 30s to the fullest. And to me, the idea of how to live to the fullest has changed over the years. Less about doing the MOST things, or the more extreme things. More about enjoying life, even if life is a bit quieter than before.
I’m typing this from Montenegro, and a few days after I get back, I’m off to one of my most adventurous trips yet — to Greenland. This is a solo trip and I’m so excited to experience the Arctic for the first time.
I’ll be spending 11 days in Greenland, visiting Kangerlussuaq, Aasiaat, Qeqertarsuaq and Disko Island, Ilulissat, Oqaatsut, and Eqi Glacier. There will be hiking, sailing around icebergs, glacier walking, whale watching, kayaking, and more!
After busy seasons of weddings and summer travel, I’m staying put (or trying to) from September through mid-November. There will probably be a UK trip in there, but that’s it.
Then comes the honeymoon — a month in Chile and Argentina! We have pretty much finalized our itinerary: the Colchagua Valley, the Atacama Desert, Puerto Varas, Torres del Paine, El Calafate, El Chaltén, Buenos Aires, the Valle de Uco, and a quick day in Santiago to finish.
We’re playing with the idea of spending a month in Provence in the spring — and bringing the cats! It’s just an idea for now, but the idea of exploring that beautiful region for a month sounds so nice.
Thank you for being here for me, each and every day. I’m grateful to have you in my corner, especially those of you who have been here since I was 25.
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