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A London girl’s guide to getting hitched

So, The Chef and I got hitched just over a month ago – hurrah – and, while I slowly sink back to earth, catch up on sleep, and enjoy being able to EAT and DRINK again, I thought I’d write down some stuff I learned along the way *:

1. The dress – there’s nothing like wedding dress shopping to drop a giant big turd on your “special day”. They tell you you need 6 months to order your dress, then say they haven’t got any free appointments for 2 months, and sometimes even say you have to pay £20 for the privilege. Some make you take off your shoes at the door, wear gloves and rush you to be in and out in an hour. Importantly, there is far too little champers handed out (big up to Mirror Mirror and Teokath for bucking this trend). Fact is, unless you get it made, buy it second hand or go vintage, you’ll pay an average of £2,000 for your dress and the alteration process is a nightmare that goes on for hours. The upside is that if you pick the right one, you’ll feel incredible on the day, and its a great lesson in what suits you so I found my wardrobe also improved. These are the dress shops that I think are worth going to:

  • Teokath in Wimbledon – where I got my lovely Lusan Mandongus dress. They have a great selection of dresses, are friendly, have a lovely dress fitter who will patentiently address all your concerns (pull it in! more! shit I can’t breathe!), and you can also buy jewellery there.
  • Jenny Packham in Pimlico – hard to get an appointment, but gorgeous beaded 1920s Great Gatsby style dresses. Best suited to tall skinny people though.
  • Mirror Mirror and Morgan Davies in Islington for great selection of dresses, although at Morgan Davies you have to pay £20 for appointments.
  • Alice Temperley in Notting Hill – amazingly different, electic dresses, perfect for the actresses and extroverts amongst you. Lovely room to try on stuff and great to try something different.
  • Suzanne Neville in Knightsbridge – lovely dresses and lovely staff although I was slightly put off by their posters of Danielle Lineker that adorn the walls.
  • While I’m at it, Bridal Rogue Gallery on Chiltern Street has an amazing selection of shoes and jewellery, and borrow the veil from a friend (sooo expensive).

2. Self-preservation, head fuckwittage and general wellbeing -while getting married was the happiest day of my life, and I am absolutely loving being a newlywed, I put my hands up and say not only it is bloody stressful, for me the pre-wedding preparations was a time when I needed to work at staying happy. I remember when I was single I got annoyed at my engaged friends moaning, thinking you should be happy – I’m having to go to Tiger Tiger this Saturday and you’re sticking me on the single table! And I too found that when I moaned about the pressure, I had people saying I should be happy and why was I sweating the small stuff, which I found pretty unhelpful.

But I now know (and sorry to my married freinds who I was unsympathetic to before!) that weddings bring to the fore issues of self-esteem, highlight family problems, make you miss people who can’t be there, shine the spotlight on friendships, showing who you can count on and who are always too busy.

And, more than that, the fact that you have now got what you’ve always wanted, have all this attention on you, is a little overwhelming and sometimes, there is a tiny little voice that says

why me? how could I be this lucky? I don’t deserve this happiness!

…and you have to organise lots, and think about things you don’t normally give a crap about like flowers and hairstyles and ribbons and napkins and garters.

And you suddenly feel bad about all your married friends who you were a bitch to when you were single and unhappy, acting with indifference to husbands and children, getting horrifically drunk at weddings and snogging the best man. It made me feel guilty that they were all so lovely to me and didn’t hold my previous bad behaviour and impatience against me (apart from one – who pointed out when I emailed accomodation details 4 months before that I RIPPED brides apart for doing this at previous weddings).

And you don’t sleep brilliantly and you are dieting, and you might get cold sores or excema, and start being a fucking bitch to your husband-to-be, and then you worry he might not marry you after all and then…. Argh!

After a recommendation from a friend,  who commented very kindly on how ragged I was looking, I became a walking pharmacy of things-that-help. This stuff calmed me down and zenned me out, so much so that I was surprisingly cool and calm on the big day:

  • A sleepy time dream pillow spray of lavender
  • Valerian herbal anti-anxiety tablets (I had one called Quiet Life that was amazing)
  • Herbal sleeping pills (I used Nytol)
  • Buy bottles of Bach Rescue remedy for work, in your handbag, in your car, at home. Use frequently, especially when he says “but there isn’t anything to do!“.
  • Vitamin B complex helps with stress and energy and cold sores.
  • I’m not ashamed to say that due to my erratic behaviour and feeling a bit overwhelmed I had a “maintenance” session with my amazing counsellor (email me for deets) – she made me realise what was upsetting me and why I was finding things difficult because I just didn’t t hink I deserved all this wonderful stuff happening to me. She made me realise I did deserve it – I’ve worked so hard on my faults, on my happiness, on this blog, on relationships and life and family. I’ve worked bloody hard and I do deserve it. I deserve The Chef – he’s my reward somehow. And I am lucky, I won’t forget that.

3. Grooming. I found it stressful thinking I had to be the thinnest I’d ever been, the most beautiful. And what if you wake up with spots? Or excema? Or a cold sore? My friend pointed out that a bride’s beauty comes from within, from the fact that she is so happy she’s glowing, and on the day itself I was in this smiley bubble all day, but we all need a little help so here’s where I went:

  • Linda Meredith in Knightsbridge does amazing facials and oxygen facials where they push oxygen into your skin. Made me glow for about a week. Not cheap (£100 for a facial and £100 for the oxygen thing) but I got a voucher from Keynoir at half the price.
  • Lorraine at Expressions gave me a set of amazingly natural-looking eyelash extensions (to avoid the Sam from TOWIE look, just ask for a lash on every 2nd or 3rd lash and volume rather than length) which looked amazing on the big day and meant I didn’t have to wear any make-up for the week before and for almost 3 weeks afterwards so perfect for honeymoon. She works from her rather hard-to-find flat in Hammersmith but its well worth going.
  • Michael Becman who works at Space NK in Edinburgh did my hair and make-up – we kept it very light and natural, and as I was getting married outside in a garden, we put flowers and pearls in my hair. Mikee’s not only a great make-up artist, he is hilarious and kept us all laughing on the big day.

4. The cake. Oh my look at that beauty above. We utterly lucked out with the cake. I found cake shopping quite disappointing, the fact that a simple, boring-looking, traditional three-tiered cake costs minimum £300 and often didn’t taste or look that great. And then through twitter we met Lisa Brunton-Stocks (@harbourhussy), who is mad about cakes, and actually, pretty mad full stop. She drove all the way from Aberdeen to Edinburgh to let us taste her cakes which were incredible, and for the first time I got excited about what a wedding cake could be. She was amazingly inspired and creative and spent ages getting it perfect – sending me pictures of edible pearls and meringue to match my dress, matching the decoration to the lace on my dress and my bouquet. It was a jaw dropping cake and amazingly delicious. And on the way to honeymoon, I read this blog her friend wrote about the work that went into it: http://willtravelforcake.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/an-epic-wedding-cake/. If you can’t find your own Lisa, then I reckon M&S has some brilliant, unique cakes at good prices (check out this upside down white choc version).

5. The photographer. We used Paul Raeburn who took these amazing photos. We hated posed photos and interminable group shots that last for hours and he was perfect. Really artistic photos in a journalist style capturing amazing moments – The Chef kissing my forehead during the service, my sister crying and waving as she said goodbye before I walked down the aisle, my bridesmaid pouring her drink into my glass as I was “thirsty”. We wanted to spend the day enjoying ourselves and being with our friends so he was the perfect photographer.

6. The wedding. As neither of us is particularly religious, and we wanted to marry somewhere unusual and unique, and not particularly traditional, we had a Humanist ceremony undergiant redwood trees in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Being in Scotland, it rained a bit, but I loved the freedom of us all huddled together under these trees and we loved the Humanist ceremony where our celebrant talked about how we met, what we loved about each other, and about how much we loved our friends and family. We sang Happy Together by the Turtles, had a piper playing me down the aisle, and my friends read a poem they’d written. It was moving, emotional, funny and we loved it. We then ate haggis, neeps and tatties, ended with deep fried Mars Bar with an Irn-Bru chaser and ceilidhed the night away. Humanist ceremonies aren’t legal in England sadly but we’re hoping this will change as its a fantastic alternative to a registry office ceremony.

9. The extras that no-one really cares about but you bend over backwards to do anyway:

  • The Chef was right – favours are indeed largely ignored so don’t spend much money (we got married at Easter so we gave everyone little bags filled with Easter eggs).
  • One thing we did that everyone loved though was table names of our favourite restaurants and we told the story of the time we went there.
  • We didn’t have an order of service as the ceremony was so special we wanted people to be engaged and surprised all the way through, and stop people flicking through to see what was next and when they could get a drink. We did get amazing creative invitations through Nirvana CPH – we did the invite in the guise of a menu and they looked amazing.

* for another point of view, you might also want to read my thoughts on being single in London.

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A guide to Argentina in 2-and-a-bit weeks

No, I’m not writing this now to piss you off. I’m writing this guide because I know at least two people who are off to Argie (I hate this abbreviation too but quicker to write it like this) in December / January and I promised, sorry.

Anyway, if you, like me, were worried that your backpacking days are over; or you regret never travelling in South America but think because you only get 25 days holiday a year it’s not worth it, the good news is that 2 weeks is plenty to see a decent amount of Argentina. I saw a lot and never felt rushed (which might have something to do with the relaxing night buses). And you can backpack it or do it in style – travel is easy, fun and friendly and you can go from posh restaurants to hostels and back. Here’s some ideas of what to do (and I’ve also written about Argie hospitality and steaks here,  Argie food here and travelling  on  your own here):

1. Buenos Aires

Like everyone, I stayed in Palermo, the Notting Hill / NY West Village of BA. Filled with cool graffiti and art galleries, great restaurants, bars and pavement cafes, it also has amazing clothes boutiques so make sure your bag is only half filled when you arrive. I stayed in a mixed 4-bed dorm in Palermo Hostel Suites which was brilliant – they book trips and tours and buses and meeting people was as easy as “Hi I’m [insert name], do you fancy a beer?”. I keep banging on about it, but eat steak at Palermo’s La Cabrera for an incredible feast to introduce you to Argentina. If you go and have the cash, the Home hotel looks amazing.

Head to La Boca to watch Tango at a pavement cafe eating a giant steak (see photo above), admire the colourful houses and take in a football game (but avoid if you are claustrophobic or have tummy issues – no doors on the loos). It’s very touristy but worth a look and don’t wander down sidestreets, I met people who had been mugged. The Sunday market in San Telmo is huge and fantastic with brilliant leather bags and hats and streetside tango. You have to see the Plaza de Mayo and if I had more time I wanted to check out the Eva Peron museum, the Jardins Japonaises and the Recoleta Cemetery where Eva is buried.

2. Iguazu

I was going to head to the beaches of Uruguay (especially Puerto del Diablo) but it wasn’t hot enough in November and to be honest I wanted a tan, so I took an overnight bus from BA (with free dinner, reclining beds, wine and a film) to near the Paraguay and Brazil borders to see the Iguazu waterfalls. Now before I went up there, I had the rather patronising thought that yeah yeah its a waterfall, I’ve SEEN frickin’ waterfalls before. But these are truly amazing – huge, vast, stunningly beautiful – you really should go. You should see them from the Argentina side to get up close, and the Brazil side to see the vastness of the whole area.

You can stay in the town of Puerto Iguazu but I stayed about 5 kms outside at a 6-bed dorm at the Hostel Inn – noteable for its amazing pool and poolside bar but the food and dorms weren’t that great. Remember it’s HOT and HUMID up there (30 degrees at about 8am) so a pool is a lovely luxury. I grabbed the roadside bus to both sides (7 pesos to Argentina and 85 pesos or so to Brazil) and took half a day at each (yes not a lot but its so rammed with people that I couldn’t sit and marvel and started getting impatient). Thanks to Still Travelling Sarah, I found a great restaurant which I think is called Terra in Puerto Iguazu, a few doors downhill from the bus station, which does caipirissima cocktails and Asian fusion food (honestly you’ll sicken of steak after a while) and the nearby Timbo Iguazu shop which sells hand-made clothes and jewellery including some beautiful pale pink rodocrosita stones, speciality of Argentina.

3. Mendoza

From Iguazu, I utterly cocked up on geography / common sense and got an overnight bus back to BA followed by another overnight bus to Mendoza. This was stupid – you can go direct (but 24 hours to Mendoza) or via Cordoba. Or just don’t be a tight arsed Scot FFS and fly.

So Mendoza is right by the Chilean border with the snow-capped Andes in the middle and is awe-inspiringly beautiful. It has the San Martin park in the centre with a river running through it which could be in Oxford, its so calm and peaceful. And it has desert outside where you can gallop Argentinian horses in the sand (see photo below). It has hot springs. But better than all of this, it has wineries (bodegas) where they make the most amazing Malbec, and Syrah, and lots of other wines. And like anywhere that produces wine this means it is relaxed and gastronomic and green and lovely. The wine industry is fairly new so it’s not as “rock up and open a bottle” as Hunter or Napa Valleys – you need to call up and book ahead. I stayed in a 4-bed dorm at the Mendoza Inn (friendly and central on the Aristides street by all the bars, but a bit of an oonst oonst party place) and I did the hostel’s own cycle wine tour and it was a bit rubbish – far better to organise and do it yourself. We went to see the wonderful Carmelo Patti, Alta Vista (photo above) and La Guarde bodegas and the wine was just wonderful. The Tempus Alta bodega also has a gorgeous rooftop wine terrace. You can also do great wine tastings at the Vines of Mendoza in Mendoza itself. As a treat, you should try a coffee or beer (or high tea!) at the Park Hyatt hotel overlooking the Plaza Independencia or a steak at Azafran. Again if you have the cash, definitely check out Francis Mallman (Argie’s most famous chef) and his restaurant 1884 – set in a beautiful bodega just outside Mendoza’s centre, it’s a real treat.

Aristides has some great shops – especially La Matera for authentic leather belts – and there’s other good boutiques on Sermiento and 9 de julio, and a market in the Plaza Independencia. The Raices jewellery store just off the main square was lovely too.

4. Bariloche

Yes you guessed it, I took an overnight bus from Mendoza to Bariloche in the Lake District of Patagonia. But this time there was bus bingo and champagne, hurrah, although it was my third bus playing the Bounty Hunter, sigh. I stayed at the Hostel Patanuk which had the perfect view – overlooking the stunning lake with snowcapped mountains behind. Bariloche is wierd – with it’s chalets, fondues and touts flogging photos with a St Bernard dog, you could sort of be in Switzerland.

But there are two things you must do – you must go galloping on horseback through the Patagonian forest to the lake and then up the mountains. I rode with Hugo from Tom Wesley stables and he got me galloping like a pro – even though I’d last ridden when I was about 9 and horses scare me a bit. They will do an asado (BBQ) if you do a full day trek. You must also hire a bike and do the circuito chico – a fairly up and down cycle ride past amazing views. It will take you between 4 and 8 hours to do, depending on how much you stop and if you decide you can’t be arsed cycling and push your bike up the hills instead, ahem. Finally, Bariloche is famous for it’s lamb, trout and venison, I liked La Marca for lamb brochettes, and La Esquina for coffee and dulche de leche alfajores, and you must have a bife de chorizo at El Boliche de Alberto.

Funnily enough, after my two weeks of overnight buses and slumming it in hostels, I decided to treat myself to a flight from Bariloche back to BA and a night in a lovely boutique hotel in Palermo. Only my flight was cancelled so I had to take a 5 hour bus to another town and wait in the airport until 5am to fly. So I got to my nice hotel at 6.30am only to pay an astronomical sum for 3 hours of my head touching the pillow. There is a lesson there, somewhere.