Marrakech

Last week, I surprised my husband with a trip to Morocco for his 30th birthday. Morocco has been on my bucket list for a long time (if you have any interest in design, you’ll understand), and riding camels through the Sahara seemed like something Anthony would enjoy. Plus, since his birthday’s in February, I figured this would be the perfect time to warm up in a desert — less than seven weeks after we had gone snowmobiling in Iceland!

We spent about half of our trip in Marrakech, a stunning terracotta-colored city that consists of a medina (old walled city) surrounded by more modern neighborhoods where the locals actually live. After we landed at Marrakech’s glitzy airport, we exchanged money and looked for our driver outside. Eventually we spotted a man holding a tiny sign that read “Dar Jaguar,” the name of our riad. A quick 15-minute drive took us to the edge of the medina, where another man greeted us, placed our luggage in a large rolling cart, and led us through narrow winding alleys to our riad. We never would have found our riad without him!

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Marrakech Menara Airport
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Turn right after the moped for the entrance of our riad

In Marrakech, you should stay in a riad, a traditional Moroccan home in which rooms face an inner courtyard with either a fountain or a pool. Dar Jaguar is a gorgeous, intimate riad owned by a British fashion designer. While most Moroccans prefer to live in the newer parts of town, Europeans (especially the French elite) have bought up a fair amount of real estate in the medina and converted old buildings into stunning riads for tourists. We were upgraded to the largest room in the riad, which was an impeccably decorated suite that included a four-poster bed, fireplace, copper bath tub, small balcony, and more space than our entire Brooklyn apartment.

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Each morning, we had breakfast in our courtyard (or in an adjacent dining room if it was chilly that morning), and each breakfast was served by two sweet Moroccans who ran Dar Jaguar. One morning, we went grocery shopping in the souk (a traditional Berber market) with our riad chef, took an afternoon cooking lesson with her, and ate our cooked food for dinner later that night. Marrakech has the largest souk in Morocco, where you can find all sorts of unique Moroccan goods, from rugs to ceramics to spices. The souk was chaotic and overwhelming — and we’re New Yorkers! Imagine bikes and carts whipping through the alleyways, carrying fresh bread for the day; cats slinking by, hoping for scraps of food; vendors beckoning tourists into their shops; and beggars sitting on the street with their children. Walking through the souk takes agility as you’ll be constantly trying to dodge the motorbikes that plow through at top speed. Haggling is an essential part of shopping in the souk. After some hesitation, I was actually able to haggle down to a third of the original price for one rug, and a few dirhams less for a customized leather purse and a magnet.

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Breakfast in our riad’s courtyard
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Altering my new leather purse in the souk
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Two of the dishes we cooked with our riad chef: fish tagine and vegetable tagine

We visited a few landmarks around Marrakech, such as Ben Youssef Madrasa, Musée de Marrakech, Dar Si Said, Bahia Palace, Jardin Majorelle, and Koutoubia Mosque. Ben Youssef Madrasa, a former theological college, was my favorite site. It was constructed by a Saadian sultan and is one of the most stunning structures I’ve ever seen, with ornate carvings in cedar wood, and lots of zellij (Islamic mosaic tile art) in beautiful geometric patterns. Most of these sites are either free or very cheap and located right in the medina. Jardin Majorelle, famous for being Yves Saint Laurent’s home, is the only site located in the new town and costs a bit more to enter.

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Ben Youssef Madrasa

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Musee de Marrakech
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Dar Si Said
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Bahia Palace
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The color of Jardin Majorelle was inspired by French workmen’s coats, and you can purchase the paint at the museum gift shop

Most of our meals alternated between three-course dinners in riads (some of the most talented chefs in the city are actually the ones who work in riads) and cheap meals from food stalls. For meals in riads, it’s good to book in advance because there’s limited seating. I recommend Dar Cherifa, a romantic restaurant located in one of the oldest riads in Marrakech. However, my favorite meal of the trip was a lucky find in Mechoui Alley, a small alley in the medina full of meat stalls. A man led us up two flights of stairs for a view of the rooftops below, and without offering a menu (the best meals are always from places without menus!), ordered us a tray of succulent roasted lamb. The lamb fell right off the bones just with our hands, and it was served with salt and turmeric to sprinkle on, as well as two rolls of bread.

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Lamb from Mechoui Alley
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A romantic dinner at Dar Cherifa

The main square, Djemaa el-Fna, was once used for public beheadings and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It later attracted tradesmen and musicians, and now you can find tourists from all over the world. During the daytime, it feels like Times Square so we tended to avoid it, but at night it transforms into a lovely night market. Food stalls are set up, where you can get cheap dinners such as fried seafood or grilled kebabs. It reminded me of Singapore’s wonderful hawker centers. While you’re dining on the square, you’ll see men pushing around carts of tea and cookies, as well as women selling napkins for you to clean your hands after the meal.

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Kebabs from a food stall, which had fresh ingredients displayed in front of the stall. When you order, the chef will hand select each ingredient from the display and grill them on skewers right in front of you

We spent one day on a quick excursion to the coastal town of Essaouira. Our driver picked us up in the square and made a couple of stops during our three-hour journey. We pulled over to see a bunch of goats high up in a tree! Apparently these goats can climb up argan trees to eat the fruit and leaves. They then poop out the indigestible seeds, which are collected, filtered, and transformed into the coveted argan oil that we put on our skin and in our food. The collecting and filtering is done by hand by all-female co-ops across the country.

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Essaouira, also known by its Portuguese name of Mogador, is a major port city with a fascinating history. Roman artifacts were found here from the 3rd century. In the 16th century, the Portuguese controlled many of its town, while Spain, England, the Netherlands, and France also made attempts to conquer the city. The present city of Essaouira was built during the 18th century when Mohammed III aimed to reorient his kingdom toward the Atlantic. He chose Essaouira because it was the closest harbor to Marrakech, and its trade route brought goods all the way from sub-Saharan Africa, through the desert and over the Atlas mountains. Thanks to trade, the city is fairly diverse, with Jews handcrafting ornate silver jewelry, Arabs constructing gorgeous wooden furniture, and Berbers specializing in spices.

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Felt very European
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Grilled seafood is a must in Essaouira
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Recognize this place from Game of Thrones?

Essaouirans take a lot of pride in their city, and during our tour, our guide repeatedly asked us, “It’s not like Marrakech, is it?” It wasn’t. In fact, Essaouira reminded me of southern Italy – think Amalfi without the steep hills. But after a few hours in Essaouira, we were ready to return to Marrakech, where it felt a little less like Europe-lite and a little more like the Africa I had fallen in love with.

Soon it was time four our three-day desert trek into the Sahara. Stay tuned!

Tips for future travelers:

  1. How should you dress? While you might see some embarrassing tourists in shorts and skimpy tops, be a decent person and respect Morocco’s culture. Always bring a shawl, and wear pants or long skirts to cover your legs. It can get pretty chilly at night, so you’ll want an extra layer anyway. The streets are cobblestone and can get dirty (the souk consists of produce markets and food stalls, after all!), so sneakers are recommended. Even as someone who can walk hours in heels, I wore sneakers almost the entire time we were in Marrakech.
  2. Save enough room in your luggage for souvenirs. We almost never go shopping while abroad (we prefer to relive our memories through photos), but we ended up buying our most souvenirs ever in Morocco. You definitely won’t want to leave without some leather goods, rugs, tagines, lamps, spices, and argan oil.
  3. Morocco has a closed currency, which made me nervous since I usually like to enter the country with some currency on hand. However, exchanging money was simple. Before you exit the airport, there’s a large currency exchange in the center of the arrivals terminal, and in the medina there are dozens of ATMs surrounding Djemaa el-Fna. Once in Marrakech, always have cash on you (especially smaller bills and coins) because pretty much everywhere is cash only.
  4. Stay in a riad in the medina. A riad is the best way to experience Marrakech to the fullest, and inside the medina is where most of your time will be spent. Our riad was just a few minutes from the Djemaa el-Fna, so we were able to walk back to our riad whenever we wanted to, and it was convenient for all our drivers, who pick up passengers in the square. To get to your riad from the airport, have the riad staff organize a driver to pick you up. Riads are often hidden behind unassuming doors, and there’s no way we would have found ours without a guide.
  5. Brush up on your French. Besides Arabic and Berber, most Moroccans speak French. At all the museums, captions were either in Arabic or French — not English. When we had an issue with our water heater at our riad, the only staff available that night couldn’t speak much English; Anthony and I definitely regretted learning Spanish instead of French in school.
  6. Tip everyone, from your guide to your masseuse to your waiter. Moroccans survive on these tips! Before you go, you might want to print out a list of who to tip and how much to tip, as we had to look these up multiple times.
  7. Find a rooftop for lunch. I recommend the top floor of Café des Éspices, which has a relaxing view of a colorful square and very good hot chocolate.
  8. At meals, be wary of anything you didn’t specifically order. When we were at one food stall, we received a dish of tomato dipping sauce for our bread and a plate of sweets after dinner. We assumed these were complimentary, but at the end of our meal they charged us for each item. The meal was still cheap, but if you don’t want any surprise charges, make sure to tell them when you don’t want certain dish.
  9. If you’ve never been to a Muslim country before, prepare yourself for those infamous Islamic prayer calls. Adhan occurs five times a day and won’t usually affect you — except the one that occurs at 4:00 am. Every morning, we woke up at 4 due to the prayer call, which is recited by a muezzin from a microphone in Koutoubia Mosque. Speakers are mounted up high in the mosque’s minarets, and even though our riad was quite far from it, we heard everything loud and clear. Fortunately, we eventually got used to it and were able to fall back asleep right away.
  10. Like Venice, getting lost in the medina of Marrakech is part of the experience. However, if you have to be somewhere specific, try to take a screenshot of the route when you have WiFi. Don’t be afraid to ask Moroccans for directions. Everyone we met genuinely wanted to help us – and they didn’t demand a tip after, like our guide book had warned!
  11. While Moroccans are fine drinking the tap water, most tourists can’t handle it and should drink bottled water instead. We kept a huge bottle in our bathroom for brushing our teeth, and I usually carried a small bottle in my purse so we wouldn’t have to purchase a new one at every meal.
  12. What to eat? For breakfasts, you can look forward to fresh orange juice (there are oranges everywhere in this city), crepes, chocolate croissants, and fruits. For other meals, you’ll most likely have a tagine (a traditional Berber stew made of succulent meats and vegetables cooked in a conical clay pot — also called a tagine — to allow the steam to rise, condense, and drip back down to the stew). You can’t come to Morocco without having at least one lamb tagine. Almost every meal will include bread, which I think is one of Morocco’s most underrated food items – their bread is fantastic! The bread is typically made from durum wheat semolina, and bakeries pumping out fresh bread can be found all over Morocco. Moroccan food is full of wonderful spices like saffron, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, ginger, paprika, sesame, coriander, cloves, fennel, anise, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and oregano. A good souvenir to take back home with you is “ras el hanout,” which is a mixture of 27 Moroccan spices – though, many locals like to call this “the spice for women who can’t cook.” Since this is a Muslim country, there will be no pork and very little alcohol. You’ll drink a lot of Moroccan tea, which is green tea mixed with mint and sugar. The tea pots have long, curved spouts, which allows the tea to be poured evenly into tiny glasses from up high.
  13. This is a developing country, so just get over the fact that your riad might have limited hot water, weak WiFi, and toilets that can’t handle toilet paper. You’re not in a Marriott in the middle of Pennsylvania. Remember why you travel.

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Bautista Ramil Professional Wedding Photos

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An obligatory lei surrounding the invitation to our travel-themed wedding in Hawaii
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My bridesmaids and I got ready in my hotel room at the Kahala Hotel. How’s that for a wedding morning view?

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It never made sense to me why bridesmaids should wear the same dress, when they  might look their best in different things. I’m all about celebrating diversity — plus, I trust my girls’ tastes — so my only instruction to them was to find a long blue dress. I was absolutely in awe with what they brought back.

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Meanwhile, the guys got ready at my parents’ house a few minutes away from the Kahala Hotel

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Our photographer took advantage of my parents’ coconut tree in the front yard.
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Anthony joined me at our hotel for the first-look photos. No peeking around the corner!

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After our first-look photos, we moved to our wedding venue in downtown Honolulu

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The best part of getting married in downtown Honolulu is that you can walk over to the historic Iolani Palace for extra photos.

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Both of our dresses are from Saja, a wonderful little designer boutique in Tribeca

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Setting up the courtyard for our ceremony

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I love that he got to walk down the aisle with his parents, too.
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My adorable cousin walks down the aisle with a “I came for the cake” sign,” very appropriate for our food-themed ceremony

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My brother read us an excerpt about marriage from a feminist writer
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Anthony’s sister read us a quote about love from one of our favorite movies.

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Instead of unity candles or sand ceremonies, Anthony and I represented our union with food that symbolized us — I’m a macaron, and he’s a Ritz cracker.
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Feeding me a Ritz cracker

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Signing our marriage license
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For a seating chart, Anthony used a world map, since each table was themed after a city that we’ve visited together.
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Find your seat!
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My cousin provided us with a live band during our cocktail hour
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It’s not a wedding without a photo booth!
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My aunt baked us four beautiful cakes. Here’s our cake toppers that I ordered from Etsy! They look like us!

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Semi-naked cakes are my favorite.
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To match our travel theme, our favors were little suitcase tins filled with Hawaiian macadamia nuts
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Each table was themed after a city that we’ve visited together. On each table was a book and four pictures that we took in that city.
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Setting up the courtyard for our dinner reception

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Our dinner buffet included Hawaiian food like macadamia-nut mahi mahi and kalua pig.

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Anthony’s cousin danced a beautiful hula to my favorite Hawaiian song

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My Maid-of-Honor’s speech made me cry, of course.
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The Best Man’s speech made me cry, too!
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We played the Shoe Game, but with rubbah slippahs — a nice Hawaiian touch.
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Our first dance was to KCi & Jojo’s “All My Life”

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It’s not a true Filipino wedding unless you have the Money Dance!
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It looked like a music video

 

 

The Bautista Ramil Wedding (Wedding Advice Pt. 5)

 

I think Anthony and I always figured our wedding would be great, but we didn’t realize how life-changing it was going to be for so many people. Our families welcomed new family members, our friends made new friends, and our love for each other felt more supported than ever. Our wedding wasn’t just a day-long event; it was a Hawaiian vacation with loved ones from around the world, some of whom we hadn’t seen in years. It’s been almost a month since the wedding, yet guests have still been telling us how much fun they had and how much they miss Hawaii.

We arrived in Honolulu on Wednesday afternoon, just four days before the wedding. We crammed in every last errand we needed to do in those first 24 hours (e.g., getting our marriage license and buying random food props for our ceremony) so that we were ready to start the festivities as soon as possible.

On Thursday, we organized a small hike up Diamond Head for those who had arrived early. We led our friends across the zigzagging paths, through tunnels, and up staircases until we finally reached the top and were rewarded with stunning views of Honolulu. After the hike, we rewarded some hungry hikers to Waiola Shave Ice, the best shave ice on the island. We taught them why “shave ice” different from shaved ice and snow cones, how to properly order one, and what the best toppings are.

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Diamond Head may be extremely touristy, but it does offer a 360-degree view of the mountains, city, and Pacific Ocean.
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Cheers!

That evening, Anthony and I had dinner at my parents’ house with two of my mom’s siblings and their families from Iowa and Idaho. It had been five years since I last saw both families, and I hadn’t realized how much I missed all of them. I used to babysit Tyler, the youngest of my cousins, and now he was going to be our ring bearer. Making this even more meaningful, I had been the flower girl at his parents’ wedding decades ago!

On Friday, Anthony and I roamed around Waikiki with Anthony’s groomsman James. It was my first time to really get to know him, and I could easily see why he has always been one of Anthony’s best friends. We ate udon for breakfast, got some tips for our honeymoon since James used to live in Japan, and sipped Kona coffee on the rocking chairs at Moana Surfrider (my favorite spot in Waikiki) before Anthony and I returned to my house to finally see all my bridesmaids.

Oh, my bridesmaids… I could write a whole blog post about how much I love these women. Three of them (Isobel, Mariah, and Carolyn) had flown in from New York, Boston, and Seattle for the wedding, and the other (Lauren) was an absolutely perfect Hawaiian host to them. For those of you who don’t have the privilege of knowing Lauren, she is the most charming person you’ll ever meet. It was no surprise that by the time I met up with my bridesmaids that day, they were already good friends despite having just met each other.

My bridesmaids and I made our way to Makapu’u Beach for the Welcome Gathering. The waves were rough that day, but when we weren’t struggling to swim, we were eating spam musubi and wasabi chips. Anthony and his groomsmen remained at Makapu’u while my bridesmaids and I left early to start my bachelorette party.

You can really tell how well your friends know you by how they plan your bachelorette party. The first thing we did? An epic photo shoot, of course. We changed into proper bachelorette party attire and took silly photos overlooking the windy coastline. I will cherish these photos forever.

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My loves

Then we made our way to the Modern Honolulu, a chic hotel in Waikiki, perfect for a girls’ night out. After we got settled, Isobel and Mariah distracted me with some poolside tanning, while my other two bridesmaids fixed up our hotel room. When I returned to the room, Lauren and Carolyn had set up games, decorations, and booze throughout our room. Those next couple of hours, drinking champagne while playing adorably kinky word games and lingerie scavenger hunts in our room, were the perfect bonding experience, and knowing that my four best friends from different spheres of my life had Skyped and emailed for the past few months to organize everything warmed my heart.

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Welcome drinks

For my bachelorette dinner, we went to Morimoto Waikiki, the Iron Chef-owned restaurant that I used to frequent when I still lived in Hawaii. We shared two 8-course omakase meals and a few entrées — more than enough food for five slender women. After dinner, we met up with some of my other friends at the bar downstairs, went dancing at Addiction, and sobered up (or fell asleep, in Isobel’s case) at a 24-hour diner.

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Drunk dancing with strangers

The next morning, we did yoga by the pool and ate at a new organic restaurant called Goofy Cafe & Dine. It was a wonderful way to conclude my bachelorette party.

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Kalua pig eggs benedict on taro muffins with sweet potatoes
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Good morning from Waikiki!

After breakfast we rushed to the wedding venue for rehearsal. The officiant, the DJ, the venue contact, and our families were all there on time — quite an accomplishment! We ran through the ceremony twice and worked out the kinks. However, I still felt nervous. The speeches we wanted our siblings to read at the ceremony didn’t sound right anymore. What if Anthony dropped my ring as he moved it from my right hand to my left hand? What if I messed up during our vows? After rehearsal, we met with our DJ to discuss the reception timeline, which still needed a lot of work. By that point, the stress that had started to build inside me almost became overbearing. We should have had a rehearsal for our reception, too! It was hard for me to enjoy the rehearsal lunch, even though the 8-course Chinese banquet that my parents hosted at Mandalay was incredible as always.

Best cure for a stressed-out mind? Staying at the Kahala Hotel. After rehearsal lunch, Anthony and I checked into our hotel, the hotel of my dreams. The Kahala Hotel has played such a significant role in my life — my family and I have celebrated numerous special events here, I used to sneak in with my friends to conduct amateur photo shoots; and I grew up just a few minutes away, so I always felt like it was mine. When we got to our room, all the stress I felt earlier melted away. Anthony and I didn’t even consider leaving our room until dinner that night.

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Tropical vibes
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Complimentary champagne and chocolate strawberries!

That night, my parents hosted an epic Hawaiian feast at their house for our pre-wedding dinner. There was poke, kalua pig, lau lau, lomi lomi salmon, haupia, and too many other things, but to top it off, they also served a huge chocolate mousse pyramid from JJ French Bistro, my favorite pâtisserie in Hawaii. The dinner was such an ideal way to introduce some of our guests to more Hawaiian food. The night was also full of productivity. Our Best Man and Maid-of-Honor perfected their speeches together, and an assembly line of friends helped us organize the table decorations.

On the morning of the wedding, I woke up early and refreshed, still in bliss that we were staying at the Kahala Hotel. One of my bridesmaids, who was staying at the hotel as well, is also an early-riser, so Anthony and I picked up some free coffee in the lower lobby and met her on one of the peninsulas on the hotel’s beach. The sun was just rising, and a few fishermen were out in the water. The skies were overcast, which should have made me nervous, but I was too happy to care. An hour later, the rest of the bridesmaids met me in my hotel room, ready to get the big day started. We changed into our matching robes, opened a bottle of champagne, and inhaled our Zippy’s breakfasts before the hair & makeup artists arrived.

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Overcast Hawaiian skies
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Wedding prep
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The finishing touches

Our wedding photographers were Anthony’s Uncle Scott and Auntie Jen from Seattle, and it was such a pleasure working with a couple full of so much love. Auntie Jen photographed the five of us at the hotel, while Uncle Scott photographed Anthony and his groomsmen getting ready at my parents’ house. Later, Anthony returned to the hotel for our first-look photos, which began in a bright hallway, climaxed on the beach, and ended in the lobby before we headed to the venue.

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Taking advantage of the Kahala Hotel’s stunning lobby

When we got to our wedding venue, almost everything was already taken of, thanks to our friends and families. We were able to complete our wedding party and family photos well before the ceremony. Cafe Julia is a fantastic venue for photos, and we were able to use the historic Iolani Palace as another backdrop since it’s just across the street. The only issue we had was some miscommunication with my florist, who was completely MIA. But unlike the previous day, I couldn’t care less. It was too late to fix anything at that point, and flowers were never much of a priority to me. (But, don’t worry, turns out she had already dropped them off.)

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The ceremony went perfectly. I loved that it was egalitarian — Anthony walked down the aisle with his parents, just as a bride would, and I walked down with both of my parents instead of with just my dad. I loved that it was secular — my dad’s friend, Judge Nakasone, was our wonderful officiant; and there was nothing even remotely religious about the ceremony. Most of all, I loved that it felt so personal. Our siblings performed readings that we had selected earlier — mine was by a feminist writer, and Anthony’s was from a movie. And instead of conventional unity candles and sand ceremonies, our union was symbolized by the sharing of food that represented us — I dramatically opened up a Ladurée box and fed Anthony a macaron, while Anthony, equally dramatically, opened up a sleeve of Ritz crackers and fed me one, causing our guests to chuckle.

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Instead of bearing rings, my cousin walked down the aisle with an “I came for the cake” sign, continuing our food theme at the ceremony

While staff set up the outdoor courtyard for our dinner reception, guests were ushered to the open bar and served spring rolls and dim sum during the cocktail hour. My cousin provided a live band, led by the extremely talented Amanda Frazier, and it was a huge hit. The photo booth, which I had found last-minute after our original photo booth company cancelled on us, exceeded my expectations. Anthony and I were able to meet with each guest individually, which meant we didn’t have to roam around during our reception and could instead enjoy the program.

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Love my cousins!

Our wedding reception wasn’t perfect, but I think it was as perfect as it could have been, considering we planned it from the other side of the country. People loved the authentic Hawaiian food served for dinner, but it rained for a minutes so our guests had to run into the hall while staff set up some umbrellas. Fortunately it only rained when most people had already finished eating, and the rain stopped as quickly as it had started. Our travel theme was able to manifest itself in the seating chart map and table decorations, but we had to shut down our slideshow of travel photos due to the rain.

Our DJ did an incredible job with the dance party, lights, and shoe game, but he told some awkward jokes throughout the program and played sappy love songs during dinner that almost put Anthony to sleep. (Celine Dion and that song from the Lion King were played; those were definitely not our choices!)

The four — yes, four! — wedding cakes that my Auntie Becky baked for us were gorgeous and exactly what I had hoped for, but Anthony’s cake topper broke and his head comically rolled off every so often. Bad omen?

Nevertheless, there were so many good vibes from all our guests, and everything — from the untimely rain to our DJ’s odd jokes — made our wedding seem more genuine, more Hawaiian, and thus more charming. It was an emotional night — at least two of our guests cried over our Father-Daughter dance; both the Best Man’s and the Maid-of-Honor’s speeches brought me to tears; and even a groomsman cried of happiness (I won’t name any names). One of the best moments of the wedding was when my cousin Kawena and Anthony’s cousin Jordan finally met. For the past four years, we’ve been wanting them to meet. As soon as they did, they were like long-lost brothers and even competed in a dance-off on the dance floor. The Ramils and the Bautistas may seem like very different families, but the fact that they both have a Kawena/Jordan in the family means those differences are superfluous.

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Each table was decorated with a book and photos of us in a city that we’ve visited together

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Desserts

The DJ had us conclude the night with our guests holding hands in a huge circle, surrounding us as we slow-danced to IZ’s “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World”. It was completely cheesy and something I would never choose to do, but somehow it worked. We were all slick with sweat from dancing, and yet it was a beautiful opportunity to face each of our guests and relish their love.

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Sweaty dancing

The following morning, some of our guests met us for breakfast at our hotel, and I can’t recommend doing this enough. A morning-after brunch is a great way to contemplate the events of last night, and to linger in the sentiment of such a momentous day. It was also an excuse to share with our guests another one of my childhood haunts, the Plumeria Beach House, a beachfront restaurant offering an amazing Hawaiian buffet. After brunch, we said good-bye to our family and friends and headed to the airport for our honeymoon.

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Final meal with my bridesmaids

So, to answer my first wedding post, is it possible to plan a semi-destination wedding without hiring a wedding planner and day-of coordinator? Yes, but only if you have family and friends to help you immensely. Much of the fluidity of our wedding is owed to my parents and Maid-of-Honor. My parents housed six relatives and two bridesmaids in their home, transported my friends around the island, and hosted a rehearsal lunch and pre-wedding dinner. I cannot imagine how overwhelmed they must have felt during this time, yet they seemed to do all of this effortlessly.

Meanwhile, Lauren went above and beyond the typical Maid-of-Honor duties. Chauffeur, welcome bag deliverer, therapist, printer, coordinator … the list of roles Lauren took on is endless. She prepared whatever I needed before we even arrived in Hawaii, and she meticulously kept track of everything while I was there so I could enjoy my wedding. I may never know what I’ve done to deserve such a friend.

Anthony was able to meet more of my family than ever before — not just at the wedding, but at the various gatherings that took place in those few days before Sunday. Anthony’s family, though they have been to Hawaii before, were able to experience it through my family’s eyes by trying our favorite restaurants and spending time on our side of the island (they usually don’t spend much time in Honolulu). Our parents finally met each other (yes, they hadn’t met until two days before the wedding!), and their strong marriages continue to be a role model for us.

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Tips for future weddings:

  1. Make everything meaningful. A wedding might be the most personal party you’ll ever throw, so make it feel like your own. Our family members were key to so many aspects of the wedding. All the locations of our wedding festivities were significant to us. Our ceremony was food-themed, while our reception was travel-themed, as our love for food and travel defines us. Since all guests are there to celebrate you — not a national event, not some random cause that you’re helping out with — inundate them with as much of you as possible.
  2. Don’t do a destination wedding unless you are prepared for all the shipping costs. We shipped so many boxes to my parents (thanks again, Mom and Dad!) for the wedding. We didn’t keep track of how much we spent, but if money is a real issue, you may want to reconsider how much you plan to ship.
  3. Don’t choose your bridesmaids too early. Since Anthony and I had a two-year engagement, and I am excessively-organized, I selected some of my bridesmaids way too early. Over those two years, I made quite a few changes, and it wasn’t until just six months before the wedding that I finally had my perfect group of girls. Situations change, friendships change — it’s no one’s fault. But don’t waste emotions choosing the wrong people too early.
  4. While I don’t regret going straight to our honeymoon the day after the wedding, I wasn’t able to do as much travel research as I usually do for our vacations. Unlike our Europe trip last summer, our honeymoon in Asia wasn’t impeccably planned because I had spent so much time and energy planning our wedding. If you don’t think you can prep for your honeymoon sufficiently, give yourself a week or two after your wedding before jetting off.
  5. If you are inviting a lot of older guests, don’t force them to RSVP online. Many of our older guests are internet-savvy and breezed through our wedding website, but others had some trouble. To avoid confusion, just include a paper RSVP card with their invitation. It’s worth the few extra dollars.
  6. If possible, rehearse your wedding reception with your DJ/emcee. Our ceremony was perfect because we ran through it twice the day before. If we had also run through the reception program with our DJ, we would’ve worked out the kinks beforehand.

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