The Honeymoon: London

After Edinburgh, we took a train to London. Although eating as locals eat is one of my main travel objectives, we broke down and ate at McDonald’s at the Edinburgh train station. Even though it was American fast food, they had local specialties on the menu, and Barry had a bacon roll, which we had earlier during our trip at a local diner (not as good as the real thing).

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The train ride was Barry’s first, and the scenery was beautiful. We rode down the east side of the island, passing through Newcastle and York (what seemed like MILLIONS of bicycles covered the platforms at York), and following the coast line for the first hour. We enjoyed the lighthouses, beach houses, farms, and rolling green hills dotted with sheep while listening to podcasts we’d loaded on our phones. I listened to Rick Steves talk about places we’d been and were going, and he listened to NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”

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We arrived at London King’s Cross Station (no Platform 9 3/4 that we could find) and set out on a bus to our hotel. We walked a few blocks and found it on the bank of the Thames. The room was huge and beautiful, with a gorgeous view of the river just outside. Barry had included the fact that this was our honeymoon on the reservation, and we found the bed covered in silk rose petals and, just inside the front door, a note congratulating us on our marriage with a plate of cookies and sweets. Very sweet and romantic. Also, the bathroom was huge and glorious.

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We only had a little time before we needed to leave for the evening, so we walked a few blocks to a Lebanese restaurant, where I had a tasty lamb gyro. We walked back, changed into nice clothes, and rushed to the bus, which took us to the historic Old Vic theater. Near the Waterloo train station, the Old Vic is a famous playhouse built in 1818 with a long, rich history of Shakespeare. Laurence Olivier was a major company player here, and Kevin Spacey is currently the artistic director. The black-and-white photos lining its walls were incredible, reminding me of the history we were right in the middle of – Richard Burton, Judi Dench, Zeffirelli, Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney, Anthony Hopkins, Maggie Smith, Ben Kingsley and others. I’m not a big Shakespeare fan at all, but Barry is, and we were both amazed by the history of this place. As if that weren’t enough, the show we were there to see was “Much Ado About Nothing,” starring James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave! It was SO awesome to hear that booming voice coming not through a television or radio, but from just a hundred feet in front of us, reverberating up off the ornate paneling lining the theater. But as much as I love James, Vanessa Redgrave stole the show. I had no idea what was going on most of the time due to the outdated language, but she helped me understand through her inflection and body language, something no one else in the show really pulled off.

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The view from our hotel is even better at night, and we walked down by the water for a while. The Thames fascinated me the first time I visited London during my college semester abroad – I just imagined the immense change its banks have seen over the centuries and wonder if the city’s first inhabitants would even recognize the waterway now.

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Day #2 was mostly spent walking through the city in the rain. We started off with a trip around the London Eye, the giant ferris wheel on the river near Big Ben (now called Elizabeth Tower). The pods are huge and fit about 15 people at a time, and there are iPads around the perimeter that help you figure out what buildings you’re looking down on. It moves almost imperceptibly, and it took a long time to reach the top. It was a great way to get an overview of the city before delving into it. I’ve been to London before, but it’s very different as an adult with a bigger worldview; plus, one other big difference – MONEY. I was on my parents’ dime the first time, and I felt terrible spending much. I saw a lot then and had amazing experiences that I am immensely thankful for, but this trip was very different – and wonderful!

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We crossed the Westminster bridge to get to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Parliament. Crossing the river, I learned how windy the city is when my umbrella blew inside out! You can only tour Big Ben tower and Parliament building if you’re British, so we just admired it from below in the rain. We wandered through the Jubilee Gardens and made our way to Trafalgar Square.

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We ate lunch at a SoHo pop-up restaurant I found on Trip Advisor called “The Full English.” It’s inside a nightclub called Zebrano, so during the day, you can eat there, but after dark, they whisk all the restaurant stuff out of the way and turn it back into a nightclub. It was traditional English food; I had a breakfast corned beef hash, and Barry got the Full English breakfast (he detests the idea of hot tea but ordered it just to warm up, and he didn’t hate it). The hash, which I make versions of all the time, was made with surprising ingredients – pickles and coarse-grain mustard. I would never in a million years think to add either of those things to a hash, and the fact that both of them worked together surprised me! SoHo is an adorable, fun area of town, and it was fun to walk through it.

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We rode a red double-decker bus to Westminster Abbey. Again, I’ve seen it before, but we really took our time and used the audio guides (narrated by Jeremy Irons). The amount of intricate stained glass was mind-boggling, and seeing the memorials to poets, playwrights and writers in the Poet’s Corner was really neat. Barry lit a candle and filled out a prayer card for my brother, and we said a prayer. We also saw the oldest door in Britain from the year 1000! Mary Queen of Scots’ tomb was there, and that was neat to see after coming from Scotland and hearing her story.

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We walked to Buckingham Palace and saw the Queen’s Guard, the Victoria Memorial, and the elaborate gates (too late in the day for a tour). Then we walked nearby to St. James Park and Green Park, both of which are beautiful, calm, and green, despite the number of people milling around. We sat in St. James for a while and just enjoyed the view. And the squirrels. The squirrels were entertaining.

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We wandered for a while after that – or at least I thought we were wandering. Barry the Master Planner had found the original site of the Republic of Texas Embassy, and he led me around a corner and down a short hallway, and there it was! So neat! Fun surprise for this sixth-generation Texan.

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The evening was full of foodie fun that I just can’t skip over, despite my father’s imperative before we left to stop taking pictures of everything we eat and take pictures of cultural significance (I believe local food when traveling IS of cultural significance, but that’s another post). Dinner was at Union Jacks, a Jamie Oliver restaurant! Barry got a pizza with crust so fresh, you could taste the water, flour, yeast and salt. We shared house-breaded fried haddock (with wasabi tart sauce!), which we knew we needed to try while in the UK; it was light and crispy and flavorful. I got a Warm Roast Pumpkin and Squash salad (it was October and in season) with ricotta, apple balsamic and honey-roast chestnuts. I watch Jamie on TV and have read his magazines, and I immensely respect the ideas behind his Food Revolution. I know he’s usually not there, and it’s run mostly by other people, but it was a real treat to eat at one of his restaurants.

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The adventure began after dinner, when Barry wanted dessert. We walked in the direction of Chinatown looking for a candy place we found online (score for free wifi!). The Candy Cafe was really hard to find, just an unmarked doorway with sign near an interior stairwell. We went upstairs wondering what the heck we were getting ourselves into. It opened into a tiny room with about 8 small tables, an open kitchen, two windows, and a wall-mounted TV playing Chinese music videos. Barry got a banana nutella crepe, and I had an amazing mango-y…extravaganza. It had diced mangoes, tapioca balls, mango ice cream, shaved ice, and mango syrup. People would just appear at the top of the steps, and the Chinese staff would seat them if there was room. It was the most amazingly-bizarrely-awesome food adventure.

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Day #3 was all about Wimbledon! We had a traditional English breakfast at Jax on the Junction (a little disappointing after The Full English, although I kind of dig the baked beans with breakfast) before taking a bus about 30 minutes to the sleepy little town. We walked about 10 minutes through residences and a golf course, and then all of a sudden, there it was – The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club! We were both tennis players in high school, and Barry was a certified tennis coach for a while, so this was really fun to see in person. We took a tour of the club, which apparently you can’t pay to be a member of – you have to be chosen for your love of tennis and willingness to take part in putting on the tournament every year. The easiest way for a regular person to become a member of Wimbledon is to WIN Wimbledon. The tour took us past all the major courts (with paper falcon kites waving in the wind to deter birds), Henman Hill, the giant scoreboards, the interior broadcast studios, and the court where Isner and Mahut played for 11 hours, the longest match in tennis history. We got to sit in the stands of Court 1, where you have to win a lottery to get a seat for the finals. There’s a Wimbledon museum, too, and they’ve got every piece of tennis history you can imagine.

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When we got back into London, we spent a couple of hours in the British museum. It’s huge, and all we had time for was the highlights tour at warp speed. We saw Cleopatra’s mummy, the Easter Island statue, the Rosetta Stone, some incredible Asian vases, and a huge collection of ruins from the Parthenon. It did feel a little weird looking at so much British Empire plunder that should really belong to their respective countries, though.

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After sitting on a bus in gridlocked traffic, we got off and RAN the rest of the way to the Tower of London to make it before it closed. We made it with about 3 minutes to spare, and we followed the map straight to the Crown Jewels. They were breathtaking – the sheer volume of gold was staggering, and displays showed the glittering items in use over the years, which was really neat. We also saw instruments of torture, climbed narrow stone spiral staircases, wandered through a huge store of historic armor (as in, Henry VIII and William the Conqueror historic), and watched the sun set over the castle walls while we had a snack of fish and chips from a street vendor (although we had skipped lunch, walked/ran several miles, were starving, and anything probably would have tasted great, they were excellent!).

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Dinner was at Masala Zone, an Indian chain (this Covent Garden location had Indian dolls hanging from the ceiling…not sure why, but it was festive). My unimaginative husband got grilled meat, and I got a thali platter so he could try bites of several different things (I will never stop introducing him to healthy new foods, some of which he will like), and we had gulab jamun with pistachio ice cream for dessert. There may have been more red wine. Covent Garden was beautiful, with a lot of night life (including another Union Jacks location). We walked across London Bridge, which had a view of the Tower Bridge – beautiful at night, with boats and seagulls above and below us. We came across the Monument, a 202-foot-tall obelisk built in the 1670’s in a tiny square to memorialize the Great Fire of London.

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We couldn’t leave London without a trip to the Globe Theater, so we dragged our 4 suitcases at least a mile over cracked and uneven sidewalks, up and down stairs, and on more than one bus. After that exhausting trip, we hid them in some curtains and took a tour of the Globe. It’s not on the site of the original, but it’s very close and modeled after it (we saw the Rose Theater down the street). We sat in the ground and top-floor seats, saw the thatched roofing, and got close enough to the stage to see the trap doors and mural-like painting designed to look like marble from the audience.

London was a really fun part of our trip. The subway system is world-class and much cleaner and more pleasant than any other we used on our trip. I was also struck by how everything is designed in a compact yet decorative way, from the street signs to gates to park benches. I’m so glad I got to return and really do it right, and being there with someone who loved every minute made a big difference.

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The Honeymoon: Scotland

We spent the months after our wedding getting the condo unpacked and in order and preparing for our two-week European honeymoon in October. My husband the planner had never been to Europe, but I lived there in college and have been back since on a trip with my sister, so I let him choose the cities he wanted to see, and I picked all the restaurants. Our itinerary: Edinburgh, Scotland; London, England; Paris, France; Venice and Rome, Italy.

We started the trip with Edinburgh, the only city and country I hadn’t seen yet. As soon as we arrived, we took a cab ride to our hotel and enjoyed the scenery – lots of greenery and stone, as opposed to Texas’ brittle brown scrub and cement. We checked into the Oakhill Apartments, and the woman from the front desk actually took us up to our room and walked us through it, pointing out all the features – that was a first for me! We were exhausted from the long plane ride and stayed in the room for a while, unpacking and settling in. Then we went in search of dinner and ended up at Persevere’s pub, where Barry got his first Scotch of the trip. A lesson in cultural differences – we asked for a chicken Caesar salad to split along with our entrees, and we got a plate of mostly chicken, cheese and croutons with a few green leaves under it. Not really what we were going for. The weather was in the 40’s and 50’s the whole three days we were there, with occasional light rain. We’d both bought new walking shoes before we left, and we were SO glad we did – they made all the difference, because we were on our feet a LOT.

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We walked around the neighborhood for a while. We walked down by the water and enjoyed the city condo and apartment architecture with old stone churches every couple of blocks. The cemeteries were ancient-looking. We went into a Scottish casino and gambled 1 pound – fun to see the different machines. We also found an old-fashioned candy store, and we sampled and bought some traditional Scottish candies – yummy! We also walked through a Tesco’s supermarket – fun to see the different brands and kinds of food! There was a whole case of savory pies, and I vowed to perfect my pie dough recipe so I could try some out.

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We went home and slept off the jet lag for a LONG time, about 14 hours, off and on. The windows didn’t open like ours – instead of moving up and down, they move inward on a hinge, and the heat was a little stifling, so we left them cracked a bit overnight for fresh air. We had two bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a living room with cable TV and a kitchen and dining table. We devoted one bedroom to our luggage. There was even a pint of milk in the fridge, an electric kettle, and a supply of coffee, tea, and sugar. They even had decaf, which was perfect since I gave up most caffeine recently. It was probably my favorite of all the hotel rooms we stayed in, and I really didn’t want to leave it.

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The next morning, we rented a car and drove about an hour and a half north to Perthshire’s Edradour Distillery, the oldest and smallest traditional scotch distillery in Scotland. They’ve been making single-malt whiskey there since 1825, and we took a tour of the grounds. I’m not a scotch/whiskey drinker at all, but this was great fun for Barry, and it was neat to see (and smell) the old stills and equipment, including huge rooms full of whiskey barrels. They sat us down and did a tasting of two varieties they produce, we chatted with the tour guide a bit, and Barry picked up a variety they don’t export to the U.S. Before we left, Marius, the owner of the Dallas Irish pub we love called Trinity Hall (where Barry had first tasted Edradour whiskey), gave us a Trinity Hall CD of Irish folk music to give to the people at Edradour, and we passed that on to them. He also gave us 2 TH t-shirts to take a picture in front of the distillery for him, and we obliged.

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The countryside was absolutely gorgeous, and it made the stress of driving on the opposite side of the road with few street signs worth it. Almost. It was pretty stressful. We had lunch in the picturesque town of Pitlochry on the way back to Edinburgh – burgers made with famous Aberdeen Angus beef. It was an enchanting day until we drove back in – the dearth of street signs combined with the darkness made for a stressful time, but we returned our rental car at the train station and made our way home safely. I don’t understand why the city doesn’t put up street signs – the only markers were small street names sometimes etched into the sides of buildings (sometimes not), and some of them were even lit (but mostly not). Thank goodness I’d enabled my phone to receive calls from home, which let us see where we were on the map. We couldn’t actually map our way anywhere, but just being able to see street names in relation to our location was a lifesaver. We will absolutely get GPS next time we drive in a country like this. A note on the buses: they were clean, affordable, with wifi and helpful bus drivers, and we enjoyed using them to get around.

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I should mention that my brother went into the hospital with pneumonia the day we left on our trip, and his condition quickly and shockingly deteriorated into multiple organ failure. We hadn’t planned on using our phones for anything except wifi for e-mail, but I added a basic phone plan so I could be reached in the case of an emergency. It was really difficult to know my family was going through such a horrible time and be so far away, but I did my best not to worry, trust everything would be alright, and compartmentalize it in order to enjoy the honeymoon we saved and planned so long for. I feel bad to have missed his most critical days (he would end up being in the hospital for 2 full months before going home to recover, which is still going on), but it was what it was.

Dinner that night was at the Doric, the oldest gastropub in Edinburgh, continuously operating since the 1700’s. Despite how disgusting it is, I knew I needed to try haggis – when in Rome. This place had fried haggis bon-bons, much like a State Fair food, so I knew this would be my best chance. The haggis balls were rolled in pinhead oatmeal and fried, and the texture wasn’t squishy, like I imagined – more grainy than anything, akin to what I imagine fried pate would be. It was a rainy, cold night, and it was so nice to warm up in a place with such a long, Scottish culinary tradition. Barry had shepherd’s pie, and I had a camembert salad (yes, cheese salad) and a bowl of traditional cullen skink, a creamy haddock stew. And there was lots of red wine.

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The next morning, Barry’s plan was for us to walk the Royal Mile, which is a famous street stretching from Holyrood Palace, former home of Mary Queen of Scots, all the way up to Edinburgh Castle, which overlooks the city high on a hill. We started at the base, where the Scottish Parliament building sits at the base of a beautiful, green mountain. It’s a very modern design, and we toured the inside, including the debating chamber. The Royal Mile was full of ancient buildings, passageways, stairways and wells. We spent some time in the Prince Street Gardens, which was beautiful. We were constantly watching for updates on my brother’s condition, and as it happened, the Royal Mile is full of Starbucks with free wifi; so strange, the juxtaposition of the old and new. We were able to simultaneously view several-hundred-year-old buildings and check e-mail on my phone to keep up with my family thousands of miles away. At lunch at Stac Polly, I had my first colcannon, as well as my first dish using whole juniper berries as flavoring, and Barry got Scottish salmon. Dinner was at Amber, a scotch-themed restaurant. He got a flight of scotches and savored each of them.

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During our walk, we crossed an historic bridge defaced by the best graffiti ever:

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The castle was definitely the main event of our stay in Scotland. We saw the Crown Jewels/Honors (verdict: the exhibits leading up to it are just as interesting as the jewels, so take your time and read their story). We also went inside the oldest building in Edinburgh, a small chapel near the hill’s apex – we had to duck in because the doorways and windows were so low. There are a lot of canons and dungeons and other items that remind you of Scotland’s very bloody history. The view from the castle is expansive; you can see the entire city, nearby islands, and the Firth of Forth, which leads to the North Sea. Our stay in Scotland was such a learning experience, and we’d both love to get back to see more of it!

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Vegasmoon

The morning after the wedding, we flew to Las Vegas for a few days of decompression. We had a European honeymoon planned for October, but we needed a few days to rest and unwind after all the (wonderful) stress of the wedding. A good friend had graciously offered us their timeshare, which was in a nice Hilton property attached to the Flamingo. All we had to do to get to the Strip from our room was take the elevator to the lobby, walk outside past the Flamingo pool, through the Flamingo, and out onto the crazy streets. The room was really warm, even after we asked to switch rooms because of the heat, but it was a large space with a kitchen and living room with a great view of the pool shenanigans going on below us.

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Food was the main event in Vegas, as we’d both been on diets leading up to the wedding. I’d been exercising a LOT, too, so three days of eating, sleeping, and gambling with my new husband was just what the doctor ordered. Since I planned most of the wedding, Barry took on planning the Vegasmoon, and he made everything a surprise. Between all the stress and makeup, I woke the morning after the wedding to puffy, allergic eyes, which you can see in every dang picture. Despite that, I kept up the dresses and jewelry, and Barry brought nice outfits, and we had fun wearing clothes out of our ordinary.

Our first meal was the Wynn buffet. My grandmother, a Vegas expert, introduced me to it. She and my Uncle Boyd and I ate there years ago when I joined them there after a shoot I had in Vegas. It was my first Vegas buffet, and the Kobe meatballs and gold-leaf desserts won me over. Barry had said while we were starving ourselves that the first thing he was going to eat in Vegas was an entire plate of cocktail shrimp, and at Wynn, he made that happen. I have to say, the buffet there has gone downhill a bit since my first trip, and although the mountain of cheese and olives was still awesome, the rest was just adequate. Still really interesting, though – Kobe meatloaf, tequila and mint watermelon cubes, excellent Asian-stir-fry green beans, and braised short ribs. I hadn’t eaten that much in at least 6 months, and I was full until the next afternoon.

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That afternoon, we went to see “The Hangover 3,” complete with movie popcorn, my first in 6 months. You might think we’d want to see a romantic movie on our Vegasmoon, but due to “The Hangover” being the movie we watched the night we first kissed, all the Hangover movies kind of have a special place in our hearts (despite them all being ridiculous) – and hey, they do take place in Vegas. It was a nice brain break after all the wedding intensity. I was full, but the popcorn was awesome!

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Day #2 brought one of my Vegas favorites for breakfast, La Creperie at Paris. I had a walnut pear crepe, and Barry had one with about 20 cheeses. Before the evening’s entertainment, we stopped at a Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill while walking though the MGM casino. It wasn’t planned, but I’m so glad we found it. It was a beautiful little open restaurant where Barry had an excellent lasagna, and I had the first burger I’d had in half a year.

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Barry’s surprise for the evening was a magic show, which I’ve never seen in all my trips to Vegas. The trip out to the Riviera’s Starlite Theater was quite a hike, though, at least in a dress after the most exhausting event of my life. It was worth it, though, to see a really talented magician in such a small space – German Jan Rouven’s “Illusions.” The older theater was small, and the seats were arranged like a comedy club, with a small bar in a back room. What gave him credibility in my eyes was that one of his illusions is based on the classic Siegfried & Roy prop where the woman enters the box, which is then run through with swords. It was a gift from the magic duo after their retirement from show business. He is young, energetic, and witty, which made the show really fun. Barry had a girly drink, and I had a beer, which made me giggle.

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There were two grand meals in Vegas that are a tie for best of the trip. One of them was dinner at Todd English’s Olives at Bellagio. Barry made us a reservation, and thank goodness he did, because it was an Olympic event to get into this place without one. We weren’t very hungry when dinner rolled around because our stomachs weren’t used to such decadence and abundance – if there’s one thing I viscerally remember about our Vegasmoon, it was feeling FULL the whole time. We decided to gamble in the most beautiful casino of them all for about an hour and then get to dinner, so we had to wait about 30 minutes once we got there. Watching people walk up expecting to be seated and being told no was very entertaining. One beautiful woman wasn’t having it, and she pestered the hostesses the whole time we waited, and we ended up being seated next to her party out on the patio. We were seated up against the outer wall, overlooking the beautiful Bellagio fountains. I’ve been to Vegas several time but had never seen the fountain show due to high winds or just being there at the wrong time. Our amazing dinner took at least two hours, and we got to hear and see the fountains dance over and over and over. It’s not just one program – it’s different music and choreography every 20 minutes. I remember the Pink Panther song, Michael Jackson, and Celine Dion, among others. Barry had a sidecar, and I had champagne while we watched the show, and it was such a wonderful evening. We were so close to the water that we could feel the spray of the cascading jets as they crashed down in synch with the music. Bellagio is across the street from Paris, so we sat and drank in the sparkling Eiffel Tower and hot air balloon, the pedestrians passing under the olive and cypress trees lining the street across the fountain from us, and the beautiful skyline.

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The pre-meal bread at Olives comes with a trio of olives and tapenade, and they were excellent.  I had a big steak  on a bed of roasted potatoes, topped with sauteed portabellos, a balsamic glaze, and a watercress salad. Barry’s entree was epic: a steak on a bed of mashed potatoes and tempura asparagus, served with a crab cake and frisee salad. We also got a lobster mac and cheese!! What? I lost 14 pounds and was hungry! I was completely stuffed and tried to talk Barry out of dessert, but if you’ve met him, you know that’s a losing proposition, especially when you’re on your honeymoon at a famous chef’s restaurant. I’m glad he ordered it, though, because it was unique: s’mores panna cotta with housemade marshmallows and chocolate-dipped ginger cookies. YUM.

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The next “morning” (time really is different in Vegas…), we decided to give the Flamingo pool a try. Apparently, so did everyone else in town. It was so crowded that we couldn’t find a single lounge chair on which to leave our things, so I asked a random guy if he wouldn’t mind us leaving our towels under the edge of his. The pool had waterfalls and caves, and we spent about an hour in it soaking up a little sun. The drinks were ridiculously expensive, and the sun was hot, so we headed back to the room after just a little while. It looked more fun from our hotel room window that it really was.

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The other grand meal was the Bacchanal buffet at Caesar’s. Oh. My. Goodness. Please eat here if you find yourself in Vegas – you will be so happy you did. This buffet is huge, with an entire room for Asian food. We spent several hours here, eating in slow courses, in order to do it justice. When you pay, they give you grippy, rubber finger protectors so you can comfortably pick up the dishes. Being a huge buffet, the portions are small to promote experimentation and less waste, and many come in their own adorable ramekins, small bowls, and shot glasses. There was so much amazing food here, but the highlights included the best brisket I’ve ever had (and this Texan has sampled a LOT of brisket) and an amazing Asian baked fish (and I don’t really like fish). Barry found cake pops, but my dessert was a trip to the chips and salsa bar.

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We were blessed with an incredible number of wedding presents, some of which was cash, and we took some of that cash with us to Vegas. We really didn’t end up losing very much, considering we were there for three days, and the greatest fun would be when we’d start the day and Barry would hand me a $100 bill. When we go to the Native American casinos in Oklahoma, $40 is big money for me, so starting the day with $100 was grand, extravagant fun. We did a LOT of walking in between giant, extravagant meals, and we gambled at dozens of casinos: Paris, MGM, Planet Hollywood, Caesar’s, Treasure Island, Bellagio, the Venetian, Palazzo, Wynn, and many others we passed through on our way to somewhere else. We wandered the indoor malls and enjoyed the sights. We stuck to the strip and didn’t make it downtown on this trip. Mainly, we played slot machines (well, I did, and Barry followed me around and played the Superman and Ghostbuster machines when he found them), but Barry entered a poker tournament at MGM and played for a couple of hours while I wandered around the machines. I think my favorite night was at the Mirage, my grandmother’s favorite casino, where he played for hours on Ghostbusters on the same $20, and I won a bit on a few different machines. Mimi gave us good luck there!

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Our last dinner was at Carnevino, the Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich meat and wine restaurant at the Venetian/Palazzo. If you can get over the fact that it is going to be wildly unhealthy, you will enjoy an extremely memorable meal. Every waiter is pretty much a sommelier, and ours talked to us about the different wines and drinks for each of the meaty selections. We ate relatively early in order to get to a show, so the tables were full of business people there for conventions. I had prosecco, and we got a spago with lamb ragu pasta course, which was excellent. The steak knives at Carnevino don’t have ridged blades – they are smooth, sharp enough to hold their own. I got buffalo, and Barry got steak – both were top-notch. The waiter’s assistant brought Barry’s mascarpone and guanciale mashed potatoes to the table with a poached on top, which he broke in front of us and stirred in. The dessert was a sampler, with pistachio gelato, cannoli, raspberry cheesecake, bread pudding, and a chocolate and peanut butter torte. It was such an amazing meal, and I think if we had ‘t been so FULL toward the end of the trip, it would have been even better. I’ve been wanting to eat at Carnevino since my first trip to Vegas, and my awesome new husband made it happen!

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After dinner, we went to see “Mystere,” the original Cirque du Soleil show at TI, formerly Treasure Island. We made it in the nick of time, rushing in the doors as the ushers closed them behind us. Before the show, an entertainer ends up spilling popcorn on someone in the audience during a joke, which ended up being Barry and the guy next to us. It happened as I was rushing in from the bathroom, so I came in to find Barry with big eyes, brushing popcorn off of his suit jacket! The show was incredible – very impressive music and acrobatic feats in a huge, beautiful theater. The casino was fun, too, and it treated us well.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our little Vegasmoon and didn’t want to come home and go back to work, but alas, it had to end sometime. Coming home to my new home with my new husband helped, though…plus, we had a European trip to plan!

The Reception

We searched a long time for the perfect reception location. We finally found it when we walked into the City Club, which is a private club on the 69th floor of Bank of America Plaza, the neon-lined, tallest building in Dallas. It’s perfectly iconic with incredible views – you can see the buildings of Fort Worth’s downtown on a clear day, which is about 30 miles away. It was a short drive, about 15 minutes, but it was MORE than worth the inconvenience. As a sixth-generation Texan and a descendant of the La Reunion colonizers who helped settle Dallas, it was the perfect place to begin my married life.

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We took a private car there and chatted about the ceremony as we approached downtown. We ogled our new wedding rings, and I showed him the much-talked-about hair pin, as well as my grandmother’s white, silk handbag with tiny stitched flowers.

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We got to skip the long valet line and scoot right in, and we arrived far earlier than we planned for. That gave us a couple of minutes to walk through the space and see all the choices we’d made on paper come to life. We took a couple more minutes to sit alone and were brought drinks (champagne for me, and scotch for him) and canapes. We also pulled the best man and maid of honor aside and filled out the marriage license on top of a grand piano.

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We made our entrance and danced to Ella and Louis’ “Our Love is Here to Stay.” I had an extremely long to-do list leading up to this day, and only two things didn’t get done. One, I didn’t get back to the mall to buy the bracelet I wanted to wear, and two, I didn’t create an edited, shortened version of this song for the DJ. It’s kind of an awkward experience for everyone, the first dance; everyone stares at you as you share a fairly intimate moment with your new spouse, wishing you would finish so they can hurry up and eat dinner already. The fun part, though, during three minutes that felt like a hour, was finally getting to watch Barry dance. He hates it. Refuses to do any more than sway along with me, and even that is dangerous territory. For three and a half years, he always said, “I’ll dance on our wedding day.” And. He. Did.

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The rest was an incredible whirlwind, the best kind of busyness. All the people we love most in the world were all in one room, and our only job, after six months of SO MANY JOBS was to spend time with and enjoy them. After three and a half years, we’ve met most of each other’s important people, but some came from out of town or state and gave us the opportunity to finally meet each other. Our families got to meet our work families.

The main reason we chose City Club was the incredible view. There was so much going on that I didn’t notice the changing light as much as I wanted, but it was a prime spot to watch the sun set on this city that has been the setting for the White/Goetsell side of my family for six generations.

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The food was excellent! We had a tasting many weeks prior, but having eaten so little during the months leading up to the wedding, it tasted better than I remembered. The staff set up a table just for us near the windows, and they served us plates and drinks while the rest of the party ate buffet-style. We would have been happy with the cheapest package, but my parents very graciously went for the beef tenderloin, Madeira chicken, and grilled salmon with dill sauce. There was also a quartet of different salads and roasted vegetables, but my favorite of all was the Asiago cheese mashed potatoes. I lost 14 pounds in the six months between the proposal and the wedding, half of that in the last month, and I don’t think mashed potatoes have ever tasted so good. So many people complain they didn’t get to eat at their own wedding, but we made sure that would not happen to us. I’m pretty sure we even got seconds, and the staff brought me as much champagne and Barry as much Scotch throughout the night as we had time to drink! We consider ourselves foodies, and thanks to my parents, we and our guests ate and drank very well that night.

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Four people toasted us after dinner: my sister Lindsey, the matron of honor, Barry’s best friend Matt, the best man, Barry’s mother, Gay, and my father, Don. It was an honor to hear the nice, funny things they had to say and all the well wishes for our married life together (although I must admit, of all the day’s details, this is the most blurry). I’ve made three maid-of-honor toasts in the last few years, and after all that pressure to be appropriately witty and sentimental, it was really nice to just be able to stand there and drink champagne!

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Some aspects of wedding planning were tedious, but one of the most fun parts was the cake details. It was so fun to see all our choices come to life. Instead of a traditional bride’s cake, I wanted these petits fours a Grand Prairie baker has been making for our family events for years. They have always been delicious, and we had her make white ones with “G” monogrammed in navy and orange, our colors.  We also had a small, white square cake as the top layer. I’d seen it in a magazine and had to give it a try – when you cut into it, the layers are a rainbow!! We both went to SMU, and Barry chose red and blue for the groom’s cake. Go Mustangs!

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Cutting into the rainbow cake was a highlight of the evening for me. Helped alleviate the awkwardness of cutting and feeding each other cake in front of everyone.

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There was a lot of dancing happening for my taste…but it made for cute pictures, so that’s okay. We decided to combine the daddy-daughter and mother-son dances to the Beatles’ “In My Life.” It reminded us of all the people we love, those who were there that night and those who have passed. We remembered Barry’s father, Griff, and our grandparents, none of whom lived to see us get married. My dad’s mother, Mimi, got to be at Lindsey’s wedding, and both my grandmother’s were at Jeff’s. I never felt like I missed out on much not getting married until my 30’s, but I have to say, I wish it had been earlier in life simply to be able to share the day with those we miss so much. I know that hit Barry and Gay hard during this dance.

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The last hour or so was a really fun combination of dancing, talking, drinking champagne, and just having fun enjoying the party we’d planned. Barry appeased me, and the DJ played “Gangnam Style,” which was fun for everybody – okay, mostly just me. We also did an anniversary dance where the longest-married couple was the last standing. It was fun to see so many couples I admire dancing all together to Adam Sandler’s “Grow Old With You.” The DJ handed out glow sticks to the wedding party, and I was a little distracted at the time, but it looks like they had fun! My bridesmaid Emily, my cousin, helped us that night with Mia, our flower girl, and they did a little dancing, too. Emily is so good with kids.

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I was completely shocked when Evie, our planner, told us it was time to go. It was three hours long, and I wish we’d had 3 more. Before we made our exit, the staff cleared everyone out of the reception area to go downstairs and get ready to see us off. We danced in the empty City Club to Harry Connick, Jr.’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” and it was a really great way to soak up the moment without all the distraction, letting us focus for a moment on the most important part of the day – that we had just joined our lives together, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, forsaking all others, ’til death parts us.

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It was the most wonderful whirlwind of a night. When we made our exit, our friends and family showered us with Flutterfetti! We made our way through the fluttering colors to our car, which took us to the Magnolia Hotel, where a beautiful downtown suite and packed-up CAKE awaited. We were so lucky – it really was the best day ever, one neither of us will ever forget!

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