February 7, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Expat, Madrid, Spain

When talented photographer Izzy Hudgins asks to take pictures of you in your wedding dress for fun, you say YES.

So that’s what I did. And since you’ve all joined me on my wild journey these last couple of years, I thought I’d share the finished product with you, even though it’s not so travel-related.

The offer was admittedly bittersweet. Even though my wedding was amazing in a million ways, my photographers were generally lost and confused, and my hair chica, while talented, did her own Spanish thing. Certainly not the details that matter most, but having another shot at some decent pictures was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up!

So my friend (and fellow Madrid resident) Izzy and I headed out to Madrid’s Casa de Campo – a massive park reserve, scattered with trees and, during this particular time of year, amber-colored leaves. With big hair and an even bigger white dress, I suited up in the middle of a field, while bike riders and cars zipped by on the nearby road.

For this round of wedding dress shots, I stepped up to the plate as my own hairstylist and makeup artist (with curler assistance from a friend). Getting all dolled up minus the stress made me feel like a kid again, but with the added bonus of whistling passersby. Surprisingly fun, really.

Not more than an hour later and we were done. I wriggled back into my street clothes and back to reality. And the result? A handful of shots that I personally think give the originals a run for their dinero. Bittersweet indeed!

No matter where you are, if you’re looking for a well-traveled, talented and sweet photographer, Izzy’s your girl. Now based in Savannah, she continues to make trips to places both near and far – so no wedding locale is off limits. I only wish that we’d met before my big day!

*For those of you following wedding dress fashion trends, I just want to point out that my lace sleeves predate a certain royal wedding ;).

August 3, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Spain, Traditions

The sun rose quickly on the morning of Saturday, July 24th, surely more quickly than it ever had before. There I was with my family and closest friends, dancing in the courtyard of a 700-year-old monastery as the sky seemed to fast forward from onyx black to a glowing navy blue and soon to dawn. Meanwhile the DJ mixed away as though the birds competing for musical attention were nonexistent. Between the alcohol, dancing for hours on end, and being surrounded by people from all chapters of my life, the moment did not seem real. I still ask myself if it really even happened.

The whirlwind really started the week before though when my father arrived, followed by a cousin, and then after that the floodgate of guests opened. In that week leading up to the wedding I played tour guide, perhaps partly out of obligation, but more because I just love Spain so darn much that to not share my bursting enthusiasm with each arriving guest would have left me heartbroken. So that week I packed my schedule with a full list of events and must-see spots: Pedraza, La Granja, Navacerrada, Cuenca, La Ciudad Encantada, Chinchón, a friend’s ranch in Fuentidueña, Patones de Arriba, Buitrago del Lozoya, tours of Madrid, dinner in the caves of El Molar, a tour of Santiago de Bernebéu Soccer Stadium, a rehearsal dinner at Jacobo’s parents house, a bus trip with 30 guests to Segovia, and finally a dinner and wine tasting for all of the Americans. Oh, and then the wedding.

The excessive laundry list of events and excursions during that week surely left me exhausted, but on the other hand, they kept me distracted from the impending wedding – something I was dreading only because I just really dislike being the center of attention (and there’s nothing like being overly dressed in a massive white gown to call attention to oneself). The idea of walking down the aisle with all eyes on me was just mortifying. But soon enough, the time came and I found myself out at a hotel in the city of Guadalajara spending the entire day with seven of my best friends painting nails, getting hair done, flipping through American magazines and developing hotel workout routines using wine bottles and luggage carts. All in all, a very productive day.

Arriving at the monastery, I was in a haze – people buzzing around everywhere, months of my planning coming to life before my very eyes. A part of me desperately wanted to stop and fuss over the flowers, or even jump in to offer a helping hand to make sure that everything was coming along, but these thoughts were quickly derailed as my lace train got caught on age old cobble stones at every turn.

Before I knew it I was being summoned to the church – the time had come and panic was setting in. I knew the whole thing could go south very quickly (translation – me breaking down from nerves and refusing to walk down the aisle) or that I could just suck it up, which was not at all something that I was certain was within my skill set. My music was cued, though, and before I could even decide which path I would take, I felt my parents pulling me from each side into the monastery. I guess there would be no turning back at that point.

I arrived at the altar clutching onto Jacobo’s hand the first moment that I could – palms sweating, I held it in a death grip. Given the perfectionist that I am, one might think that I had hoped this ceremony to go off without a hitch, when in reality I hoped that there would be flaws, humorous flaws, to lighten the mood and distract me from the intense gravity of what was about to happen.

As I analyzed the altar flowers (hmmm, some of them were wilting….ah, they used birds of paradise, never a favorite flower of mine, but they did look lovely in the arrangement) my cousin Nate, an ordained minister in the US, concluded his introduction and warily nodded to the Spanish Justice of the Peace who would manage the official part of the ceremony. This Justice was someone we could not choose, but rather the Justice from the miniature pueblo, Lupiana, below the monastery. He began his introduction by slowly and delicately removing his eyeglasses from their case, then gently pulling each paper from his manila folder and placing them thoughtfully one by one across the table as if they were tarot cards. To me this was beyond hilarious. He began his speech, which included multiple mentions of Jacobo’s and my name – well, something that should have been my name. It was incredible how he enthusiastically struggled with it, each time warping it further, and declaring his mispronunciations as though they were triumphs. “E-line! Bet! Ril! Bley!” This was fantastic.

The poor little Justice was on his own planet though. As we enjoyed his ramblings we realized that his dissertation had carried on far longer than we had anticipated and that he’d just gone and done the whole darn ceremony, meaning that we would need to move things around and do the rest on the fly – no problem. When we “thought” the ceremony had finally ended, the quartette began to play, signaling the end, meanwhile the judge started hollering into the microphone that the ceremony was not over, everyone must sit and that we were doing horribly, really horribly (the word is actually “fatal” in Spanish, which was especially touching) over and over again. I’m not going to lie, I kind of thought this was funny too, but I suppose after he said it a few times it just started to get a little awkward. I think at some point he managed to snap out of his stupor, though, and then declared in a soft, friendly grandpa-tone that if we needed anything from him in the future, he’d be happy to help. And that was that. It’s important to note (for me anyway) that my affection for Spanish grandpas may have diminished somewhat as a result of this experience. I was kind of disappointed too that he didn’t bring his cane and messenger hat. A real pity.

Tons of pictures and a cocktail hour later and it was time to enter the cloister where dinner would be held. The hallways of the three story courtyard were filled with 18 tables adorned with soft orange runners, Spanish cork oak trunk vases, bilingual menus and countless wineglasses. Seated in the corner at table 7, I gazed at the row of tables to each side and the illuminated garden in front of me, which changed each minute as the sun went down and the lights went up casting an ethereal glow on the stony walls. The fountain softly babbled and light music drifted hauntingly into the night air. It was the definition of breathtaking. I tried so hard to take in the moment and bottle it up inside of me somewhere so that I might never forget it.

After three courses, coffee and cigars, it was time for the first dance – the waltz (I should mention that we took classes for this in which I was taught actual “moves” – I quickly vetoed that idea though, and thankfully so considering that I could hardly remember how to do the basic waltz itself after a couple glasses of wine and days worth of built up nerves). So, we headed back out to the courtyard, which overlooked the tiny pueblo below (where the crazy Justice Jeronimo was probably sound asleep). Under the trees and bathed in the romantic monastery lights, we literally danced the night away. Hour after hour disappeared like sand through my fingers. At 3AM platters came out with a whole new assortment of snacks to ensure we remained at top dancing performance for the rest of the evening. When 7AM finally rolled around, there were probably 35 of us (my dad included) still celebrating the magical night and ready for more. Our wedding had pretty much been 12 hours of straight celebration and nothing short of epic.

Now I’m sitting here on a layover in the Bangkok airport before setting off to Vietnam, then Cambodia, Laos and Thailand (again) and still can’t help but wonder if maybe I’m still dreaming. How did I get here? Did I really meet some random Spaniard in a bar in Madrid nearly four years ago and did I just marry him? I suppose the ring on my finger says yes, but I’m still working on convincing myself that sometimes fairytales really do come true.

Photo credits go to Bibiana Fierro, and also my dear friend Holly Khushal who should clearly pursue a career in professional photograpy. A big thanks also to Ashley Smith, Founder of BuzzWorthy Events, who made the long journey to Spain to execute all of our crazy multicultural wedding plans.

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December 2, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Traditions

This year I spent my second Thanksgiving here in Madrid. Last year it was particularly hard being away from home, but we made the best of it and cooked up a proper turkey (and by proper, I mean 22 lbs worth of Thanksgiving love) with all the fixings.

This year, however, would be different because I would have family here to celebrate with me – my mom, an aunt and a cousin. We decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to share the uniquely American holiday with my entire Spanish family. And considering that my family was here, Jacobo and his family thought it would also be a good time to introduce their very own tradition – the “pedida.” What’s the pedida? It’s basically the official asking by the groom’s family for the bride’s hand in marriage. But it’s accompanied by much, much more – all which was a very pleasant surprise for me, and the very reason why I would like to get engaged over and over again.

We arrived at the Jacobo’s family household around 3PM with pumpkin pie and a raw turkey in hand. First line of business was to get that turkey basted in butter and beer and roasting in the oven. When we arrived though, I was quickly pulled into the living room where I found a jungle, yes a JUNGLE, of flower arrangements. Six lush, gigantic, gorgeous flower arrangements, all from a florist in Madrid that I had discovered and given my stamp of approval (no fern, baby’s breath or carnations in site!!!!). I was in heaven – pure bliss. I’ve been surrounded by lots of flowers before, but never all for me, so this was pretty much the best thing ever.

I think I remained in shock for the rest of the day. My aunt was cooking up a storm in the kitchen with her sioux chefs – my cousin and my mom. Dinner came and who would have ever thought that the most delicious Thanksgiving ever would take place in Madrid? Between the turkey, the stuffing, the green beans and Jacobo’s mom’s mashed potatoes, I was in Thanksgiving heaven! The food felt like real soul food as a result of my aunt’s amazing cooking skills, the love put into everything, and probably me missing home.

Following dinner, it was pedida time! It started with Jacobo’s father giving a brief speech and presenting me with the ring (which Jacobo had previously given me). This is when the surprise came in though – Jacobo’s mom then said that since Jacob wanted to follow US tradition by getting me the ring, they wanted to follow Spanish tradition by getting me something as well. And at that point his parents gave me the most gorgeous sparkling diamond earrings!! They are absolutely stunning and I hope to wear them for the wedding (must figure out the dress first!).

After this, my mom gave a short speech and then presented Jacob with a fancy watch (as is Spanish tradition). Then we all drank the evening away, laughing, translating and blending traditions in the best of ways. It was a really special evening – and I still have the sweet scent of the flowers to prove it! It sure will be hard to top a Thanksgiving like this one.

P.S. – Yes, my eyes are closed in the picture above….I figured it could act as a tribute to the fact that I was incapable of keeping my eyes open during any photo taken by my mom’s camera (probably in subconscious rebellion of my family’s paparazzi-like tendencies).

December 1, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Travel, Travels in Spain


Last week I was lucky enough to have some family come visit me for the Thanksgiving holiday. My mom, aunt and cousin came for a week of seeing Spain, preparing for the wedding, and enjoying some turkey!

On Sunday they were all jet lagged, but determined to stay awake, so Jacob set out to show them Madrid. From Retiro Park, to Puerta del Sol, to Plaza de Santa Ana, Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace, Plaza de Espana, Gran Via and more – we saw it all! We even went for a sleepy ride on the Teleferico, which departs near the Parque del Oeste and heads out west of the Casa de Campo.

The next day we journeyed out to the monastery that Jacob and I will be having the wedding reception at – I really wanted my family to see it and to get their stamp of approval. They loved it! I think my cousin Angie has already decided that any future wedding of hers will take place there.

Since we still had the rest of the day free, we decided to head to Segovia. Almost two hours later (much to my surprise and disappointment, considering I was tired of driving) we arrived in Segovia (my eighth time, good lord!). We had an unusually good lunch at the famous Candido restaurant – an assortment of cheese, a chicken salad (not the sick mayo kind!) and some stuffed pimientos de piquillo. Afterward we meandered up the main street through the city, noticing that all the shops were closed for siesta, including my very favorite art shop (FortunaEstefa) that I love to take all of my guests to. We carried on toward the Alcazar in hopes that when we returned that the shops would be open once again. But sure enough, when we returned, my favorite shop was still closed. Sooo, I took matters into my own hands and decided to call the number on the shop door to see when they would open. The fellow who picked up said they wouldn’t be open that day, but I told him who I was (the blond American with the tall Spanish boyfriend who always comes by with American guests) and sure enough he said he would come by and open the shop just for us! They came, we purchased, and we left happy :).

The next couple of days were filled with trying on wedding dresses, tasting the food for the wedding, and even another trip to Patones de Arriba and dinner in El Molar. We were keeping extra busy, and starting to get pretty tired too. We had our eye on the prize though – a Spanish Thanksgiving, just days away.

November 8, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Travels in Spain

We’ve managed to secure the date and locations for the big day, which will indeed be going down here in Spain. The ceremony will be taking place at a church right next to Retiro Park, while the reception will be held about 40 minutes northwest of Madrid in a town called Lupiana in the province of Guadalajara.

Last weekend we headed out to the monastery, where the reception will be held, for the second time in order to check it out and start planning more details. It was as beautiful if not more beautiful than I had remembered it. Maybe it was something about the Fall weather – the leaves changing color, the howl of the wind through through the hollowed out church full of trees…it was all very romantic and peaceful.

We first checked out the cloisters where we will be holding dinner. It was rather brisk out, so it was hard to imagine the corridors full of people on a hot Spanish summer night. I did my best though to imagine the warmly lit hallways, the sound of live music and of course lush floral centerpieces that in no will way resemble anything done in Spain. Outside the cloisters is where we will be holding the dancing for the evening. There you will find flower filled gardens and an expansive view of the valley below, which cradles the sweet little Lupiana village. Also on the property of the monastery is an old church, which has long since been destroyed and now has an open roof and is filled with trees and ivy. If you look closely, you can see where old artwork and tapestries might have decorated the cold stone walls.

After wandering aimlessly on the monastery grounds wrapped up in our thoughts of the big day that is just over eight months away, we hopped in the car and headed down the mountainside to the valley below to see the little town of Lupiana. After a quick search online, I’ve discovered that only some 225 people call it home, which was surely no surprise as we clearly received many sideways looks as we walked through the small streets of the town (I’m sure that me being a blond American didn’t blow our cover at all…). I loved the little town though as it had an abundance of darling Spanish grandpas with their messenger caps and canes, sitting on benches just watching the world go by.

Given the miniature size of Lupiana, it was hardly the place to expect to find possible hotels for guests, so we stopped by the city of Guadalajara on the way back home to see what they had to offer. I was admittedly unimpressed by the city, although sure, they did have more hotels. My assumption is that most out-of-towners will stay in Madrid making the journey to and from by using our rented buses. Those from Spain, however, may choose to stay out in Guadalara (I am personally thinking that we will head back into Madrid).

Lots more planning to come! I am very excited to have the opportunity to have a wedding in such a romantic place, but it sure isn’t easy when my family is on the other side of the world. Eight+ months to go….