Thursday, October 16, 2014

Beautiful. chilly Finland

Celebrated Columbus Day Weekend by taking a trip to Finland with my friend Natalie.  We stayed with Natalie's friend Amiee who had come to Germany for Oktoberfest.  Finland was quite gorgeous and we were there for their abbreviated fall, so all of the leaves were splendid in golds and reds.  The weather was quite chilly - a good 15 degrees cooler than in Frankfurt, but the rain stayed away.

A few observations - the Finns were fantastically nice people, almost all of whom spoke perfect English.  It was quite chilly, but not quite cold.  Think Thanksgiving weather in the mid-west.  You need a coat and a hat if you are going to be out for a while.  It is really expensive - about 40% higher than Frankfurt (which is not in itself cheap).  Practically every Finn has a sauna in their house.  We used Amiee's sauna every day.

(Note - this trip reaffirmed that Frankfurt has the worst housing outside of the war zones.  Absolutely no charm, small kitchens, meh location and no sauna.  Amiee's house had a fantastic kitchen, great living room, was in a cute neighborhood and had the sauna.)

These pretty red berries were all over Helsinki

It's a moose

Boats

Cannon

Natalie and weird statue peeing


That guy is getting way to close to the weird alien peeing statue

Church

Boat

Island

Soldiers

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wedding Day

The day was hot.  I feel like its important to remember how damn hot it was.  It had been hot all week (hottest week of the summer according to Sara) and Saturday morning was no different.  The day topped out at 95 degrees (F), only three degrees from setting a record.  The temperature was already in the 80s when my day started - waking up in my parents rental house.

After a quick breakfast, I sat on the back porch with my Dad and best man and played a game of backgammon.  We had played the game fairly often growing up - my Dad sitting in his chair in our living room and me on the step next to him.  When I saw the ornate boards available at the markets in Istanbul, I had to get him a board as a best man gift.  I wanted to play a game before the day began.  He kicked my ass -- so we had to play a second.  I won and we left the house tied.

We had appointments for a professional shave at 9.  We had gone to a barber shop the morning of my sister Katie's wedding and wanted to make it a tradition.  Conscious of the timing, we arrived ten minutes early only for the barber to arrive almost half an hour late.  Joining me was Dad, my best man; Paul and David, my groomsmen and brothers-in-law; and Sam and Kris, my two best friends from high school and make-shift ushers.  We had a really great time and the shave was awesome.  After the shave, we raced home to get dressed, hopped into an Uber and made it to the church on time.



I was calm before the wedding -- not nervous at all.  Guests had already begun arriving, so I chatted with a few aunts, uncles and cousins.  As Sara arrived, I was sent with the groomsmen to the sacristy to wait for the wedding to start.  My mom and sisters came in to pin on our flowers and I had a final moment with both my parents.  As the bells rang out to announce midday, I made my way to the back of the church.  While everyone else got to hang out in the entry way, I had to remain inside the church, so I didn't see Sara in her dress.  Suddenly, Shelley hands me a card from Sara.  It was the perfect card, complete with an inside joke to make me laugh.  That, in a nutshell, is the woman who was about to become my wife.

I walked down the aisle with both my parents on either arm. Paul walked my grandparents down the aisle.  David walked Sara's aunt and Dad down the aisle.  The bridesmaids all walked down alone.  As the music paused, I looked to the back of the church and saw my absolutely gorgeous bride.  Seeing her at the back of the church with her mother, the doors opened and I saw Sara take a deep breath.  As she walked down the aisle, the last two years flashed in my mind.  From our first few dates to our short break-up (3 days, I was an idiot) to our last weeks before I left for Germany.  The difficult separation and the fantastic reunions.  Meeting her family and getting engaged.  And planning the wedding.  I love this beautiful woman and she was walking towards me to spend the rest of our lives together.  I choked up and shed a few tears.  Then she was there and I held her hand.

The ceremony was mostly a blur.  I don't really remember the readings or the priest's homily.  I remember watching our friends and family from the side of the altar where Sara and I were sitting.  I remember the vows.  I know everyone else was there, but all I could see was Sara and the priest.  As far as I could tell, it was just the three of us in the church.  As we said the words and exchanged the rings, I choked up a bit again.  Before I knew it, the priest was done and I got to kiss my bride.  We walked out of the church and into the outdoor sauna.  The sun beat down on us and we quickly scrapped any plans to shoot photos outside.


I think taking the photos was the worst part of the day.  We were trying to corral a few dozen family members to take some photos in a short amount of time, as another wedding was starting at 2 p.m.  After changing our photo shoot locations, we had trouble getting Ubers to take the wedding party to the next location.  We got a bit snippy at each other and I am pretty sure this was the low moment of the day.  Once we finally got to the next location, things improved as we took some really awesome photos.  After we finished the photos with our bridal party, we made our way across the street to the National Portrait Gallery to shoot photos with just Sara and me.

Sara and I had a few moments alone in the gallery and we relished our time together.  I pulled out my iPhone, turned on some music and we had our first dance with just the two of us in the beautiful gallery.  We spent about an hour or so taking photos in the portrait gallery and they are awesome.  I will post photos later when we have them ready for upload.  We had a few moments before we need to depart for the reception, so we checked into our hotel where they had upgraded us to a suite.  It was awesome and they even gave us a free bottle of champagne.



Everything at the reception went just about perfectly.  We started the evening with a cocktail hour on the reception hall veranda.  The big weather worry for most of the day, besides the heat of course, was the threat of rain storms.  A cold front was scheduled to come through and was threatening the outdoor cocktail hour.  Sara, who had designed and created an amazing and beautiful table set-up in the hall (I'll post pictures later), had her heart set on a big reveal of the dining hall before dinner. The hall was set with four long banquet tables running lengthwise down the hall.  With the brick walls and candle light and high ceilings, it reminded me of a medieval hall.  Green garland infused with flowers lined the center of the table with candles of various heights twinkling.



 Fortunately, the weather gods cooperated and kept us dry through the end of the cocktail hour.  As the guests made their way into the hall and we prepared our entrance, the clouds moved in and the thunder began to sound.  The wedding party entered to Coldplay's "Sky Full of Stars."  Then, Sara and I began our first (really our second) dance to John Legend's, "All of You."  When I was in DC in April, I had surprised Sara with dance lessons so we could have a great first dance.  It was a disaster and we both hated it.  But, we both remembered a few things as we danced around the room - all eyes on us.  On the radio, a four-minute song doesn't seem too long.  But when all of your family and friends are watching you, it seemed like it took forever.  After the dance, I welcomed our guests (coming from three continents, six countries and at least thirteen states) and Sara led us in a prayer.

Our dinner was pretty awesome.  We hired one of our favorite restaurants, Lebanese Taverna, to do the catering and put together a fantastic menu.  The most unusual aspect of the dinner is that we had the dinner served family style so that everyone could share and swap plates and talk to each other.  All told we had three different courses (plus passed appetizers during the cocktail hour) and more than a dozen total dishes.  The salad was fantastic, as were the hummus and baba ganoush.  The rest of the dishes had great flavor, but unfortunately they were cold.  I remember trying everything at our tasting and the food is simply so much better when it is served hot.  The service was fantastic and I really loved how the long tables allowed different groups of people to interact with each other.

One of my favorite parts of the night was the Anniversary Dance just after dinner.  The DJ invited any guests who had been married for more than 60 years to lead off the dancing.  My grandparents - married for 63 years now - took to the center of the dance floor, dancing to Jason Mraz's "I won't give up."  The guests gave them a much-deserved standing ovation.  The DJ then invited those married for over 40 years and a few more couples joined in.  My parents joined in with the couples over 30 years and the dance floor began to fill up.  20 years. Husbands took their wives by their hands and led them out onto the floor.  10 years.  I loved the look on couples faces as they made their way to the dance floor - you could see them all reminiscing about their own wedding days.  5 years.  Our generation began to fill in the floor.  1 year.    More married couples on the floor now than people still at the tables.  6 hours.  Sara and I join in.  By my rough estimate, there were over 500 years of marriage on that dance floor.  That is awesome.  The DJ followed up this up with Pharrel's "Happy" and the dance floor exploded with everyone going crazy.  At this point, I knew the night would be a blast and that we would have a "fun" wedding.

The rest of the reception is pretty much a blur.  I remember doing the cake cutting and eating the delicious and awesome cake.  I danced with my mom to "93 Million Miles" by Jason Mraz.  Sara danced with her mom to "The Best Day" by Taylor Swift.  Half way through her song, she invited all of the other mother daughter pairs at the wedding (there were an inordinate number of them at our wedding) to join them on the dance floor.  I remember Sara's friend Katie watching the Michigan game on her phone and brooding as the Wolverines lost to Notre Dame.  I remember Nebraska barely beating McNeese State earlier in the day and the amount of shit I took for scheduling my wedding on a Husker Saturday (c'mon, it was McNeese State).  Sara and all of her Aggie friends did some Aggie dance to the Aggie War Hymn.  I danced with both my sisters.  I remember stepping outside for a few minutes with Sara and enjoying the cool air after the storms came through.  I remember dancing and talking with what seemed like every person I ever knew.

A couple of the other details I don't want to forget: La Perla - our specialty cocktail that Sara and I made up the weekend before.  The pink vodka lemonade drink reminded Sara of the Pink Panty Droppers she made in law school, but fancier.  So, we named the drink after fancy underwear.  They were super popular.  We elected to skip a more traditional guest book and instead had guests write messages to us on a chalkboard and then take their photo with the message.  The messages definitely got better as the night wore on.  We had a guy wearing a kilt, who was not the most strangely dressed because Aaron was wearing a canary yellow tuxedo.

Yes - that is a yellow tuxedo


Then, all of a sudden, the DJ was calling Sara and I back to the dance floor for our last song.  Nine months of planning was about to be over.  As Van Morrison sang "Into the Mystic", I danced with my wife surrounded by those that loved us dearly.  I held her in my arms and smiled.  Then I stepped on her dress again (sorry, Sara).  As we made our way out of the hall and to the bus, we said goodbye to everyone still inside.  I wisely grabbed two beers for the road and we made our way outside.  We had tried to plan a fun send-off for the wedding, but had never really put anything in particular together and what we ended up with was a massive disappointment.  Half the people were already on the bus - half were still inside and only a few people cheered us as we left the church.  But, if this was our big failure in planning, I am okay with that.

The bus took all of us to the after party at RFD, the bar where Sara and I first met.  Our table that we sat at was even open for us to sit in.  Most of the younger crowd had joined us at the after party.  We got the chance to hang out some more with my cousins and Sara's friends.  We were also judging the finalists for the Drousin award which goes to the drunkest cousin at a wedding.  As a prior recipient (at my cousin Mike's wedding) and back-to-back finalist (2012 was a strong year for me), I was initially disappointed in the effort put forth by my cousins.  Then, my cousin Colleen arrived at the bar and took the trophy hands down (or more accurately, head down - since she got kicked out of the bar for napping on the table).  I heard my sister Katie and cousin Mike made valiant efforts for come from behind victories, but Colleen held on.  Too be fair, it wasn't her fault - she was hanging out with Nigel at the wedding.

Sara and I left the after party around 1230 or 1 and walked back to our hotel.  I loved all the strangers wishing us congratulations.  Makes me want to put our wedding attire back on one random Saturday and go bar hopping.  The night was cool and clear and the Caniglias walked, hand in hand, back to our hotel.

(FYI - good pictures to come)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Oktoberfest

I got to cross an item off my bucket list this weekend when I attended the opening day of Oktoberfest in Munich.  After driving down Friday night, we had a hearty German meal, followed by some pretzels and schnapps shots in the hotel room.  On Saturday morning, we started off nice and early - leaving the hotel around 815 in the morning.

We got the fairgrounds and the beer tents around 9 in the morning so that we could get a table for the noon tapping of the kegs.  This is what we found...at NINE in the morning...three hours before they could serve beer.


Over 2,000 people already packed into the beer tent.  We had to settle for two tables outside in the beer garden.  Normally, I'd be happy to be outside, but the weather forecast called for scattered rain all day.  And rain it did.  We passed the hours by chatting and playing some iphone games.  After seeing all the experienced Oktoberfest goers playing cards, I found a deck at one of the gift shops.  We passed the time by playing the game "bullshit."  It wasn't until later that we discovered the German deck we were playing with only contained cards 6 and above.  None of us had actually realized this while playing.  This is while we were sober.

During our three hour wait, it rained off and on and we bought umbrellas and ponchos to stay moderately dry.  At noon, cannons announced the start of the fest and the began serving beer...and we waited.  It took us an additional 45 minutes or so to finally get our first beer.

The beer was delicious.  Served in a glorious Maß, which is German for "measure", which means that they measure beer in liters. Round one went down fairly quickly and we had lunch with round two.  The sun came out and the beer garden cheered.  It really was spectacular and made the wait worthwhile. 

Prost!


That's 7 full liters of beer!