America Trip Part 2: Chicago

The first and only ever time I was in Chicago was with Shane back in 2014, just before we moved to the Netherlands. We were there for our friend Brian’s 30th birthday, and the only thing I really remember is that the famous Bean was right next to our hotel. That, and we all went out for massages. It was my first one ever (at 28 years old), and while everyone else came out relaxed, I was disappointed. I remember sitting there listening to “oh! and when they did this and that!” and thinking “I got none of that!”

Needless to say, I was excited to see Chicago again. Plus, the Wolfpack (Shane, Brian, and me) hadn’t been together in roughly three years.

So, we spent our final few days in America letting Brian and Shannon tour us through some new and some of their favorite spots. I won’t lie, the itinerary was ambitious and involved pre-made Google maps. We didn’t make it all the way through, but we did our best!

first up,

The beach!

To be honest, this lasted for about 10 minutes. It was a beautiful idea, but the weather just wasn’t cooperating. However! Shane and I did put our feet into (very cold) Lake Michigan while Brian and Shannon held down the blankets… literally. It was that windy.

The river!

We walked it. We biked it. We took cute pictures.

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery!

Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but Starbucks isn’t my favorite. I would have never thought to visit the roastery. However, if you like coffee, then I would absolutely recommend a visit and a tour! I didn’t realize that Starbucks had a reserve coffee line, and I definitely didn’t realize that there were only six reserve roasteries worldwide!

If you want to just have a coffee and experience the place, then it’s free, but we did a tour of the four-story Starbucks with a coffee tasting that goes in-depth into their coffee process, from beans to brew! You won’t leave un-caffeinated.

Oh, and their espresso martini is not to be missed! Yes, this Starbucks has a bar.

It’s covid-friendly with separate straws, right?

Bikes, baby!

Chicago was a surprisingly bike-friendly city, at least the little bit of biking we did. The biggest difference was the turn signals or the lack thereof. Here, sticking an arm out when you’re turning left or right is engrained, but Shane and I seemed to be the only ones giving turn signals in the city.

We hit the Lakefront Trail towards the end of the day, which had spectacular views! It’s a walking and biking path, so I highly recommend it.

Rooftop bars!

We hit several rooftop bars in between stops for tacos and ice cream. I’m a sucker for a good view. So, my favorites were The Robey (which had the tiniest rooftop pool I’ve ever seen) in Wicker Park and The J. Parker in Lincoln Park (which had a bonus city + lake view)!

Views from The Robey.
Views from the J. Parker.

360 Chicago (the John Hancock Tower)!

If you’re looking for an incredible view, then the 360 Chicago observation deck is the place to be. If you want to enjoy that same incredible view with a semi-overpriced cocktail, then you should check out the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor. I say semi-overpriced because for the price of one admission to the observation deck you can get two fancy cocktails with a great view (although not 360 degrees). Since we went at night, we decided on the cocktail option.


Like I said before, we had an ambitious list that went partially unfulfilled. Guess that means there’s gotta be a next time!

We’re on the final countdown, folks! Two weeks from now, we will be on the way to Ecuador!

Until then, we’re cramming in all the Munich we can handle.

Tsch√ľss,

Whitney

Charlotte, NC USA

My instinct for the title of this post was “Eating My Way Through America”, or more accurately, “Eating My Way Through Charlotte”, because I felt like that’s all I wanted to do on this trip home.

Since the majority of the food I ate ended up in my stomach before I remembered to take a picture, it didn’t make the final cut.

Despite my inability to re-brand The Shwits as a food blog, I had a fantastic week at home with my dad and sister. The weather was warm and I was able to hit all my favorite spots, even some new ones!

First stop (duh)…

12 piece tailgate box for three of us? Yup. That’ll do.

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As I mentioned before, I was able to play tourist a little bit this time. I think when you live somewhere, you often don’t take advantage of all the things the city has to offer. That’s definitely been the case for me, and to be fair, a lot has changed since I last officially lived in Charlotte. Therefore, I present to you the new things I did while I was home.

New Thing #1 – BB&T Ballpark

Home of the Charlotte Knights AAA baseball team!

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This is by no means my first Knights game. We went a lot when I was a kid, but the stadium only recently moved to uptown Charlotte. And for good reason… what a view!

Pops & me with Homer the Dragon.

New Thing #2 – NASCAR Hall of Fame

Opened in 2010… It only took us 7 years to get here! (insert eye roll)

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As I learned in the hall of fame, the birth of NASCAR itself was in Daytona Beach, FL, but the origins of NASCAR date back to the days of prohibition when guys would modify their cars to improve their ability to run moonshine out of the mountains of NC. NASCAR fan or not, the hall of fame was very interactive and absolutely worth the visit!

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Sis & Terry trying their hand at being part of the pit crew.

and speaking of racing…

New Thing #3 – Lancaster Speedway

Dirt track racing! And while technically not in Charlotte (it’s in Lancaster, SC) I’ve never been so I’m counting it.

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And yes, I forced my sister to wear matching pigtail braids with me. 

Not pictured – funnel cake fries. I think you can understand why.

As for the rest of the trip, I was able to see some friends, get my fill of Mexican food, sis and I got matching ear piercings (lol), and we had some nice evenings out in the Queen City.

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I’ll see you again at Christmas, Charlotte!

In the meantime, I’m off to Mallorca, Spain this weekend! My summer of unemployment is pretty rough…

Tot ziens,

Whitney

A Shwitastic Party !

Hi Everyone!

I’m finally back with part two of our wedding adventure in Banner Elk, NC at the Cornerstone Cabins.

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First, we’ve said it before, but we’re saying it again! HUGE thank you to my mom and sister who were the creative geniuses behind this. Shane and I said we wanted an ‘outdoor, cookout, tailgate-feel party with BBQ’ and they more than delivered.

We would also like to say thank you again to my Dad, Shane’s parents, and the rest of the family who helped execute the vision! We know there was a lot of coordination to make this happen, and we can’t thank you enough for it!

Instead of a lot of chit-chat, I’m going to let the photos do the talking.

The Venue
Our suprise bluegrass band!

Our Surprise Ceremony!

Yep, you read correctly! We know we were a little untraditional, having the wedding just the two of us in Croatia. While Croatia was absolutley perfect, we decided that it would also be a fun idea to share this with the friends and family who traveled to celebrate with us.

We made the announcement about the ceremony, Shane and I ran inside to change & our guests were entertained with bubbly!

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The ceremony was written and officiated by my one and only sister! Sis couldn’t have written a more perfect ceremony. It was a fantasitc balance of thoughtful and funny… particularly when she had me quoting Taylor Swift to Shane as part of my vows.

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Many thanks to my awesome cousin, Linsdey Milani, who took pictures during the party, ceremony & all the group family shots!  Love ya cousin! ūüôā

Let the Party Begin!

The ECU crew.

The Family Photos

The Wright Gang 

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The Crosson and Christopoulos Crew

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All in all, we could not have asked for anything better! We went back to Holland looking for excuses to have ‘A Shwitastic Party 2.0’.

Thanks to everyone who celebrated with us in person, and in spirit! We love you all!

Tot ziens,

The Shwits

p.s.- we’re still waiting on the professional pictures from Croatia. Once we have them then we will share! ūüôā ‚̧

Weddings, weather, & more !

So I’m a little late getting this post written but better late than never, right?

Between work, travel, and finishing up things for our own wedding festivities next month, Whitney and I have been very busy lately. It seems like everytime I would sit down to work on a post, we would immediately get drawn into something else.   Anways, enough with the excuses, on to the post!

Weddings

Over the first weekend of August, I was back in the US for the Johnson/Smith wedding in good ole Greenville, NC! For those of you keeping tabs (obviously everyone reading this does…), we can add this to string of travel I have going recently – May: London, England; June: Arolla, Switzerland; July: Amsterdam, Netherlands/Paris, France; August: Greenville, NC, USA.  Of course things will continue into September but we will come to that later.

So Greenville, NC….home of the East Carolina University Pirates and a lot of Walmarts. ¬†It’s hard to believe that this was my first time back to Greenville since Whitney and I completed¬†our¬†masters. Aside from all of the new Walmarts (seriously, there at least 4 there now….two super centers), Greenville has changed dramaticlly since¬†our time there. ¬†Most of our old hangouts are gone now, replaced by classier establishments which, if we are honest, is not necessarily a bad thing. ¬†Greenville and ECU more specifically has always had the repuation as a party school and they are trying to clean it up. It was¬†fun to see¬†all the changes, but I digress from the topic at hand –¬†I was in Greenville for the wedding of our¬†good friend Mike Smith!

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Mike, Whitney, and I began our masters at the same time and have been friends ever since. Sadly, however, Whitney was unable to accompany me on this trip to due work (but as shall see in the next section, she is probably glad she didn’t).  Much as Whitney did last year when she traveled back to the US for a wedding, this was an extremely short trip – leave on Wednesday, back on Monday.  Not fun travel-wise but worth the trip!

I arrived in Greenville late on Wednesday night, so Thursday was a relax, recover, and explore Greenville day. Friday night and Saturday brought wedding festivities and seeing long lost friends! First and foremost, the wedding and all related activities were fantastic. Congratulations Heather & Mike – it was an honor to be a part of your big day!

As I said, the wedding was also an excuse to see lots of friends, many of which I had not seen in a number of years.

All-in-all, it was a great weekend.  Beautiful wedding, good friends, and warmth/sunshine (something we don’t get here in Holland). At this point I should also mention that the majority of the wedding and friend pictures were not taken by me.  Luckily all those long lost friends like to share photos – thanks guys!

In other wedding related news, I think Whitney and I are finally all set for our own wedding extravganza in a couple of weeks. ¬†We just finished up confirming all the details for our Croatia ceremony and we hear that our celebration stateside is looking equally exciting (although we aren’t allowed to know the details). ¬†To say that we are excited for both parts is an understatement. ¬†We leave in three weeks!

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Weather

I could have easily called this section “Travel” or more appropiately “How can this many things go wrong with travel in one trip?!” but weather is actually the common theme throughout.

As I said previously, my trip stateside was extremely fast and my time in Greenville was excellent.  However, everything outside of Greenville was not so great.  The trip was book ended by some pretty bad travel.  In retrospect, I can laugh about it, but at the time, not so much.

As is always the case when we travel from Groningen, we have to take a 2+ hour train ride to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. So, off I go at 5:00 on Wednesday morning to catch the first train out of the city.  As is expected from dutch weather, it was raining that morning so I had a nice, wet 20 minute walk to begin my trip (too early for buses and too much luggage for the bike).  Despite the wet start, I made it to Amsterdam with no problems and off I went to Philadelphia, PA. So far so good.

At this point, I cannot help but to call out American Airlines – my Amsterdam to Philadelphia flight was on a very outdated plane. ¬†Small, leather seats, no seat back entertainment system, and tv’s hanging from the ceiling.

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Now I am by no means a travel snob – we always travel economy and we love to fly with budget airlines – but come on, it is 2016!  Why is this plane still being used for an 8 hour, international flight?  I get that planes are expensive to upgrade/replace, but my airfare from Amsterdam to Greenville, NC certainly wasn’t cheap! I don’t think I am too out of line to expect a little more.  Anyways, off topic, back to the post.

Because of some changes in my flight plan, once making it to Philadelphia I had a 6 hour layover.  Not enjoyable, but doable.  Six hours later, I boarded for Charlottle, NC only to be delayed due to weather for roughly an hour (not in Philadelphia, but in Charlotte).  As such, I landed late in Charlottle and had to run through the airport to make my final flight to Greenville, NC.  I made the flight and, despite some more minor delays (again, weather related), I finally landed in Greenville around midnight, ~25 hours since leaving our apartment in Groningen.  Should be the end of the adventure, right? Well, in normal circumstances, yes.  But this trip was not normal.  Since I arrived at midnight, the car rental desk (where I had a reservation) was closed.  The next logical thought would be to get a taxi but once again, this is Greenville.  For whatever reason, taxi service in Greenville is TERRIBLE.  Calling any of the operating taxi companies results in nothing more than a “we can get you one there at some point, no estimate of the time”. From three years living there, I can tell you with near 100% confidence, they never come. Yes, I tried and no, they never came. Being that Uber or Lyft do not operate in Greenville, I was stuck, with no phone (I had yet to get a SIM card for the US and was only making calls using google voice on airport wifi), no ride to my hotel, and the airport was closing.  Luckily, the kindness of an airport employee saved me by givng me a ride to the hotel after he got off work.  This type of stuff never happens when Whitney and I travel together…

So that was my travel experience just getting to Greenville.  Not so bad right? A few delays, one long layover, a bit of airport running, and a rather comical method of getting to my hotel.  It could have beeen worse.

On Sunday, I¬†was scheduled to leave Greenville at 6:00 in the afternoon. So following brunch, I had some time to kill and decided that seeing a movie was as good an¬†option as any. ¬†During the movie, I got a notification that my 6:00 flight was delayed due to weather in Charlotte. ¬†Not a big deal. ¬†This process continued for the next 20-30¬†minutes, with each notification bringing a later flight time. ¬†Again, no big deal, these things happen. ¬†It wasn’t until the 4th or 5th notification that I really began to worry and, sure enough, my flight got canceled. ¬†A perfectly clear, sunny day in Greenville and weather on the other side of the state had canceled all flights for the day. ¬†So following the movie, I¬†was able to reschedule for the next¬†day (Monday). ¬†Because the cancellation was due to weather or “an act of God” in airline terms, this meant I was to recieve no help for the extra night in Greenville. ¬†Luckily, I was able to extend my car rental for no additional cost (how often does that happen?!) and avoided additional hotel costs by staying with the parents of our good friend Brian Sufrinko. This worked out rather well because it meant more Sufrinko time!…

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…and more Sufrinko dog time! ¬†Juneau and Anika are our buds from our time in Greenville and¬†Pittsburgh and I hadn’t seen them in a long time!

Monday morning brought the news that Delta flight systems had crashed and flights world-wide had been canceled.  Luckily, I was on American Airlines but heading to the airport, I was not optimistic.  Everything worked out and I successfully made it Charlotte, only to have another 6+ hour layover. The first long layover was doable, but this time it was torture.  On a positive note, the Olympics were on so at least I had some entertainment. 

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When I was finally able to board for my flight to London, we were, surprise surprise, delayed due to weather.  So there we sat on the tarmac, waiting for all East and North bound flights to be rescheduled.  Nearly two hours later, we finally took off.  Again, trying to see the silver lining here: at least this was a nice, new plane and no one sat beside me.  A window seat, with extra room, and an entertainment system.  Nice!

If you have ever flown into London Heathrow, you are aware that it is a very large airport. I you haven’t – London Heathrow is a very large airport. As such, it’s nice to have some extra time to navigate switching terminals, going through customs and security, having a cup of coffee after an all night flight, etc.  Well, due to my delay weather delay in Charlotte, I had none of these luxuries.  I had exactly 40 minutes until my final flight to Amsterdam and I used every second of it.  I made it to my gate just as they were doing final call for boarding.

And finally, to top off the whole experience, my luggage did not make the short connection. So, while I was in Amsterdam waiting at baggage claim, my luggage was still sitting in London.  Remember how I said this was during the whole Delta power outage fiasco? Well this meant that I had to stand in line for an hour and a half just to file a lost luggage claim (it was successfully delivered to our apartment a few days later).  My flight landed in Amsterdam at 2:00 and I finally made it home to Groningen a little before 7:00.  As I said eariler, this type of stuff never happens when Whitney and I travel together…

& More

Now that the majority of our wedding and party details are set, we plan to take the next few weeks to do a lot of nothing! The only thing we have scheduled is a quick diving trip to a local indoor facility this weekend for a few practice dives before Croatia.  Other than that, we will be trying our best to soak up every bit of sunshine we can so that we don’t look like ghosts in our wedding pictures.  Don’t believe that summers are really that bad here? The National Dutch Weather bureau just officially declared this summer a disappointment.  We used to say that the weather here doesn’t bother us, but I think it’s starting to wear on us a bit.

Until next time,

Shane

Oh America, how we missed you… Special Events Edition !

as promised…

Special Event #1:

We’re Engaged!!!

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to be married of course!

Shane mentioned in the previous post that we spent some time back in Pittsburgh visiting friends. What he didn’t tell you was that he proposed while we were there!

It’s New Year’s Eve, and he wakes me up at 5:30am. “Get up, let’s go somewhere!”

How did he get me out the door that early with no questions asked?

The promise of coffee and that he wanted to steal a moment for just us in our old city. Logical explanation.

Why did it have to be at 5:30 in the morning?

We may or may not have had a FaceTime date with Meatball at 8am…

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Anyway! Off we go, up to Mt. Washington. If you’ve ever been to Pittsburgh then you know why it would be our favorite spot in the city. The view there is incredible. Even in the dark & cold.

A little back story. We basically live our lives by the TV show ‘How I Met Your Mother’. It’s the best. In the very first episode, Ted (the main character) steals a blue french horn for Robin as a romantic gesture for screwing up the first date, and the blue french horn remains a theme throughout the entire series.

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Shane didn’t screw up any first dates, but he did give me a blue french horn the morning he proposed on top of Mt. Washington. ūüôā

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And my friends even threw me a mini-bachelorette party (while in North Carolina)!

December 31st was full of reasons to celebrate: New Year’s eve itself, the engagement, and my birthday!

Speaking of birthdays…

Special Event #2:

Harry Potter World!

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For my 30th my parents and sis surprised me with a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!

Sis and I have only talked about wanting to go since before it opened. I don’t know how many years ago that was but it’s too damn long. But don’t worry.

OUR DREAMS CAME TRUE!

(even though sis missed the ‘we’re making an exaggerated excited face’ memo)

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This place is magical.

LITERALLY! (get it?!?!)

We started the day in Hogsmeade where we sipped butter beer, toured Hogwarts & checked out the shops. The Hogwarts ride is probably one of the best rides I’ve ever been on. It’s a blend of roller coaster and 3D. One minute you’re riding your broom around the castle with Harry and Ron, and the next minute you’re zooming down the track escaping a dragon! It’s fantastic.

Naturally, we couldn’t stay in Hogsmeade all day so we hopped the Hogwarts Express to head into London & Diagon Alley.

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When we got there, we were in awe!

Diagon Alley did not disappoint. We saw the Daily Prophet, The Weasleys’ Wizard Weezes, Gringots, Knocturn Alley, and ate lunch at The Leaky Cauldron.

Oh, and took a few goblin selfies.

Thanks again, family, for the perfect present!

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Well, I think this about sums up our American adventures!

We’re heading to Prague in a few weeks, so stay tuned!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Oh America, how we missed you…

And we’re back!

That’s right, after 4 short weeks traveling the eastern half of the United States, we are back in Groningen. ¬†We technically made it back two weeks ago, but it’s taken some time to get caught up on sleep/work/day-to-day life. ¬†As to be expected, we have lots to share, which means multiple posts. ¬†However, for now I’ll keep it simple and just recap the past month (Whitney will follow with more specific and exciting news).

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Major stops highlighted: 11 diferent states visited

It all started one cool, dark December day in northeastern Holland. ¬†Our story begins in the city of Groningen, in a small, one bedroom apartment just outside of city center. ¬†After months of planning, we were finally preparing to head back to the U.S. (the first time in 18 months!). ¬†However, not everyone in the Wright/Crosson household was¬†so excited…

Don’t worry, she was well taken care of while we were away!

Our journey began with an early morning drive to Amsterdam, followed by flights to Munich, Germany and then finally on to Charlotte, NC.

All told, it is about 24 hours from start to finish.  Despite the long trip, we were warmly greeted!

Way too blury, but I guess that’s to be expected in the excitment of seeing family after 1.5 years. ¬†Whitney jump-hugging her mom, while mine¬†hurries past.

Now I could continue on in chronoligical order of our entire 4 week trip, but that would take forever! So instead, I’ll categorize, mostly sharing pictures.

First and foremost, we got to spend time with family (the following of which is only a sample – aka when we remembered to take pictures)!

We saw friends (and met new additions)!

We spent time in our old stomping grounds, Pittsburgh!

We spent lots of time driving and thus had many unplanned stops along the way (only one of which we have photographic evidence of)!

Whitney had a birthday (30!)….

….and quickly¬†embraced this new step¬†in life.

And finally, we ended back where we began: Charlotte!

Interesting side note: we’ve always wondered if upgrading seats for long flights is worth it. ¬†The verdict? Totally worth it! Sooo much leg room!

So there you have it: 4 weeks of friends and family as told with minimal text and lots of pictures.  To say that we enjoyed our time in the U.S. is an understatement.  We have been looking forward to it since the day we moved and it did not dissappoint!  To all of those that we were unable to see this trip, it’s definitely happening next time! In the meantime, planes also fly this direction….hint hint. We love visitors!

Coming soon: Whitney will follow with a more detailed post of trip specifics.

Looking ahead: 2016 is shaping up to be a fun-filled year. Stay tuned for some new travel adventures and other randomness!

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Did I hear you say more travel?!?

Until next time,

Shane

#LittleLove2015

Well that was a whirlwind trip! Absolutely worth it, but a whirlwind none the less!

This past weekend I headed to State College, PA to see some friends get married!

…and who was waiting for me in the Pittsburgh airport? SISSY!!! ūüôā

So we hopped in our rental car (yes! I still remember how to drive!) and headed to my favorite spot in the city… Mt. Washington!

Coming here really makes me miss Pittsburgh. When I’m here, in Groningen, I’m more than happy don’t get me wrong. I have nothing bad to say about The Netherlands, and I really love my job, but coming back to Pittsburgh felt like coming home. Maybe that’s because it was the first place Shane and I were really “starting out” on our own together? Regardless of the reason, it was really¬† nice to be back even if it was for only 18 hours.

After our detour, we headed to Brian & Alicia’s new house! We may have only been there for a half day but we really packed it in. Friday night we were off to a restaurant downtown with an awesome rooftop terrace. Saturday morning took us to my favorite breakfast place in the city, Square Cafe, and cruising through some of the old haunts. In between I got a little overdue puppy snuggling.

After breakfast, we were off to State College. Two things.

  1. Mountains DO exist! I almost forgot! It was so nice to see elevation changes greater than a bridge!
  2. My love for Sheetz has not faltered.

Car trips are the best!

The wedding was at a country club just outside of downtown State College. The wedding itself & the hotel for guests were both at the country club. This made for a really fun time since all the wedding guests were in the same place. Saturday was the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, with Sis as my date, and the rest of the night was spent catching up with everyone.

Sunday was Wedding Day!

…up bright and early for hair and makeup!

I know it’s kind of awkward to post pictures of my head, but I just really loved my hair. I asked her for a “braided something pretty” and she definitely delivered!

AND it survived all night dancing! Which, if you know my dancing, you know that basically means all night flopping around.

The wedding itself was beautiful. The weather was hot, but perfectly sunny and the bride and groom looked great!

I just have to share one picture the photographer took. It has a little backstory.

All day, we’ve been saving this giant bottle of champagne. Not to drink after the ceremony, but for a picture. Michelle found on Pintrest a picture where the bridal party was surrounding the bride and groom & the picture was taken right as the champagne popped. I’m sure you can imagine this. I expect she anticipated something of this nature (picture courtesy of google)…

So, that champagne is saved! After we take all the other bridal party pictures we start to get together for this last shot. Steve (the groom) is shaking up the bottle… and he gets his finger a littttttleeeee too close to the cork…. and POP! Before everyone is ready the champagnes a flowin! This is the resulting picture. (Photo taken by Philter Photography)

!! I mean, I think it’s the best. The absolute shock on Steve’s face is priceless, and the mix of emotions out of the bridesmaids who were close enough (clearly I was distraught haha). Really, I don’t think it could have been more perfect.

You know what else couldn’t have been more perfect? The selfie sticks. I know Shane ranted on these before, and I still stick to my opinion that in touristy places I want to rip them out of people’s hands, but in this case it was SO MUCH FUN! Each table got their own selfie stick and so the rest of the night everyone ran around taking tons of pictures. You ended up with ones like this….

and this…

and this…

Ok, so that last one is a nice one, but you get the point.

Oh, and don’t worry. Shane was able to make an appearance. He got to hang out with his friend Mike!

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The DJ followed the bride’s rules (no slow songs & no Michael Jackson) so the rest of the night was spent dancing away with good friends…

and taking photobooth pictures of course!

So, it was crazy, hilarious, exhausting yet refreshing, and made me a little bit homesick but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything!

Congrats again Steve & Michelle! I am so happy I was able to be there!

Tot ziens,

Whitney