27 November 2014

Flying to Australia with a baby - I think we might be mad

In a few weeks time, we are flying to Australia with our 12 week old baby boy. 

I've flown to Oz four times previously. And each time, I have been completely inebriated the whole flight as it's the only way I can cope with the boredom and also knock myself out enough to sleep. One time, I actually fell asleep under the departure signs at Heathrow and nearly missed my flight. And another, I got off at Singapore and could not for the life of me remember where I'd put my passport. 

This time, however, I will be stone, cold sober. Not only will I have a small infant to look after but I will also be breast feeding. Oh and he has colic and reflux which means he throws up significant amounts following a feed and sometimes cries uncontrollably for no apparent reason. 
My husband and I enjoying a few drinks on a previous flight
We are flying with Etihad and they have assured me that we have a bulk head seat with a bassinet for the baby. But we have really limited carry on luggage allowance for him (just 5kg) so we can't bring all of the luxuries that he would usually have at home. This 5kg has to include change of clothes, nappies, cotton wool, baby wipes, dummies, blankets, toys and all the other things a child would usually need in a 24 hour period. 

This is all I can find on the Etihad website about what happens on board with the bassinet http://www.etihad.com/en-gb/experience-etihad/family-travel/prepare/. And this is the only image I can find of a bassinet on an Etihad flight, but this baby is much bigger than mine and I can't see the whole bassinet: http://baloneks.blogspot.co.uk/2008/01/micaiahs-first-airplane.html

Frankly, although I can't wait for my holiday, I am dreading the flight. 

Will I be able to play him his little bedtime tunes on my iPhone? Will I be able to play him my white noise app if he starts screaming? What if he drops his dummy on the floor, how will I sterilise it? Do I need to bring bedding for the bassinet and if so, what size? What if he won't sleep in the bassinet and I have to carry him the whole flight? What if my fellow passengers hate me for having a child that sometimes screams uncontrollably for hours for no apparent reason? 

If anyone has any advice or guidance for me on what they have found useful on long flights with babies I'd really appreciate it. Or if anyone has flown with Etihad and can give me a bit more information about what I'm allowed to do on the flight or how big the bassinets are, it would be a massive help. 

2 September 2014

Taking your dog on the Eurotunnel

In June, we travelled to the South of France to the Languedoc region for a week's holiday. I love this region of France, not least because my favourite white wine is grown here, Picpoul de Pinet.

We wanted to bring our border terrier puppy, Baxter, with us as we would prefer not to put him in kennels and because we knew he would have a lovely time playing on the beaches. 

There are two options for taking your dog abroad; by ferry or by the Eurotunnel, Le Shuttle. We chose Le Shuttle because we wanted Baxter to stay without us throughout the journey.

Baxter travelled in his little crate and
was very happy for the whole journey

It's really easy to book your dog on Le Shuttle. You simply add him on when making your online booking and it cost us £16 each way.

Before you travel with your dog, you need to get him a pet passport which you can get from your vet and he'll need to be microchipped. He will also need to have an up to date rabies vaccination. Baxter already had his chip, so for the passport and the rabies jab, plus a health check cost us around £90. 

If you're travelling from the UK, they don't check your pet or the passport as you leave, so it's your responsibility to get these completed properly. 

At Folkestone, they have little play areas for the dogs. They are enclosed and have water bowls which meant Baxter got to have a good stretch of his legs and go to the toilet before the journey and also meant that we could entertain him while waiting to board the train. 

Baxter had a lovely time in the pet exercise area

You then just drive onto the train and travel with your dog in the car with you. If you haven't travelled by Le Shuttle before, it's a really easy way to travel. The total journey only takes about 35 minutes and you get mobile reception the entire journey (yes I did tweet from under the Channel). You can get out of your car to go to the toilet, but your dog has to stay in the car for the duration. 

If you travel Dover to Calais with P&O, your dog has to stay in the car without you. It costs about the same for your pet (£15 each way) but takes quite a bit longer (75 minutes) and I think we would have been worried about leaving Baxter on his own in the car for all that time. 

The only downside of travelling with Le Shuttle is that you can't have a cheeky drink during the journey (obviously only the passengers!) But since it is such a short distance, even I coped.

Driving on to Le Shuttle

There are then no checks at Calais. You just drive off the train and start your journey.

Before you come back to the UK from France, your dog needs to have had an injection for tapeworm. This must be administered by a vet in France between 24 and 120 hours prior to arrival in the UK. The vet has to sign, date and stamp the passport on the relevant page. 

We were staying pretty much in the middle of nowhere and neither the vet nor the receptionist spoke a word of English. When we showed them the pet passport, they clearly had never seen one before, so just be warned that, outside of the tourist areas, vets might not be used to administering this injection. My parents were staying in a much more English friendly area and they didn't have any problems. So I'd advise you learn the French for tape worm which we were told was "ver solitaire". 

We also found the whole vet experience in France very different to that in the UK.  Here we find the vet tries to make the whole experience as enjoyable as possible for Baxter. They make a real fuss of him and give him lots of treats so he loves our little trips to the vets. He didn't even let out a squeak when he had his rabies jab, he just sat there wagging his tail waiting for his treat. 

There was none if this in France. The vets smelt and looked much more clinical and, although the vet was kind to Baxter, she did nothing to calm his nerves. Plus, as she administered the injection, he was wriggling around and she didn't really hold him still. He absolutely wailed when he was given the injection and was not himself for a while afterwards. 

The amount of fluid they inject depends on the size of your dog. Baxter was a small dog and weighed 7kg at the time and so the injection cost us €34. My parent's dog was a large beagle and theirs cost over €60. 

The pet travel scheme paw prints at Calais

When you arrive at Calais, you follow the yellow paw prints to the pet reception building. They recommend you get there half an hour prior to departure. You then take your dog into the building, they check his passport and also check his microchip. It takes about 5 minutes. 

You then board the train as usual and continue on your journey to the UK. They have the same pet exercise areas in France for your dog to stretch his legs prior to departure. And, again the dog has to stay in your car with you on the way home. 

We would definitely take Baxter abroad again on Le Shuttle. He had a lovely time on the beaches in France and the small cost of taking him on the Eurotunnel, the rabies jab and the vaccinations were less than kennels would have been for the time we were away. Plus we have now paid for the passport and the rabies lasts for a year so we won't have to pay that next time. 

Baxter having a lovely holiday in France

And the great thing about taking your car over to France? You can bring a few little bottles of wine back with you from the vineyards. Perfect. 

12 June 2014

Are dogs allowed on beaches in Argeles-Sur-Mer?

When we took our little dog, Baxter, down to the south of France for his first holiday abroad, we were surprised at how few beaches in the Argeles region allowed dogs on them.

Our little dog Baxter having fun on the Marenda beach

If you've never been to this part of France, you're missing out. Part of the Languedoc region, there are miles of beautiful, white, wide, wild beaches. The small towns that litter the beaches are less built up than, say, the south of Spain, and even the more commercial beaches such as Argeles Centre are still reasonably unspoilt. 

I guess they don't want dogs fouling on the beach and antisocial owners not keeping hold of their pets which can irritate other holiday makers. But it means dog owners are a bit restricted. 

There are six stretches of beach within Argeles. If you go further North from Argeles, you'll reach St Cyprien and further South, Collioure.

Racou beach, probably my favourite dog-friendly section

The six beaches in Argeles are called (from North to South) Plage de la Marenda, Plage du Tamariguer, Plage des Pins, Plage Centre, Plage Sud and Plage du Racou. In between Sud and Racou, you'll find the marina. All of these beaches have large, patrolled areas with toilets, lifeguards and swim-safe zones. However, none of them allow dogs!

To take you dog on the beach, you have to go to the sections which are not patrolled. This means that technically you are not supposed to swim in the water and there are no facilities such as toilets and showers. However, they are more remote, less spoilt and far less busy. 

The first dog-safe section is on the edge of the Racou beach, next to the Marina. You can park for free in a large, beach car park which sadly has no shade so the cars get pretty hot. The beach is beautiful, wide and very wild. We went on a Tuesday in June and it was very quiet and although it was hot, there was a lovely breeze. 

To the south, the long beach is cornered by hills topped with ancient watch towers and the buildings are barely visible behind the trees and not that commercial. Like all the beaches in Argeles, the sand isn't soft and fine, instead, it is slightly gritty and fairly white. 

There are toilets on the main beach and also bars and restaurants. The main beachside restaurant is Hotel L'Oasis which allows dogs on their outside area and serves a good selection of salads, sandwiches, cold drinks and ice creams. They stop serving food at 2 though, so don't get caught out!

Marenda beach. A bit more crowded, but still pretty remote

The second area that allows dogs is to the north of Plage de la Marenda. This is part of the Northern section of the Argeles beaches and is very beautiful. Behind the beach lies huge campsites which seem to be popular with Germans in particular. There are lovely views of the Pyrenees from the beach and the campsites are hidden by wild plant dunes of flowers and pine trees. It has a very remote and wild feel to it. The sand is white and again pretty gritty.
We went on a Wednesday in June and, although still quiet, was busier than the Racou. However, the beach is incredibly long and, if you are less lazy than us, I'm sure you'd leave the people behind if you were prepared to walk up the beach. 

Again, there is a free beach car park, with no shade. The walk is slightly longer than Racou to the beach, but probably only about 5 minutes. To the south of the unpatrolled area is the Coco Beach restaurant that does typical takeaway food. As it is on the Marenda beach, you can't take dogs there. 

I can see why the Argeles beaches are some of the most popular in France as they are very beautiful. And, if you are prepared to go to the more remote parts, you can experience a very wild beach experience which your four legged friend can enjoy too. 

The Argeles beach region with details of the different patrolled areas

7 June 2014

Which alcohol free beers taste the best?

I haven't been drinking for about five months now (I'll let you draw your own conclusions). And the question I most frequently get asked is whether I miss alcohol.

What do you think? I write a blog on wine and travel, OF COURSE I miss alcohol. I miss drinking a nice gin and tonic on a Friday night or having a glass of wine with a meal. I miss Pimms in the sunshine, frankly, I miss it and haven't really found any soft drinks that have quite filled that place in my life where booze used to live.

So, I found myself trying some alcohol free lagers and ciders. I never thought I'd bother with these as I've always been of the opinion of you're not "drinking" then, what's the point? In the past few months, I've tried quite a few, if only as an attempt to fill the sad, pathetic gap booze has left in my life.

A glass of Bitburger Drive. Nearly like the real thing

The first thing I realised is that most alcohol free drinks are not technically alcohol free. It seems that, in the UK, there can be a small amount of alcohol in drinks and they can still be labelled alcohol free. So I guess if you were being truly strict about cutting out all alcohol then you should probably not drink them. And, if you went on a proper binge, you could probably get caught out by the breathalyser test. But you would have to drink a lot!

The tipple I've most commonly found in pubs and bars is Becks Blue. By all accounts, it is brewed in the same way as Becks (and to the same high German standards) but the alcohol is removed at the end of the fermentation process. This means that it is supposed to taste the same as its alcoholic counterpart. Even though it is apparently the UK's number one alcohol free lager, it's certainly not my favourite. It has quite a metallic taste and is so fizzy that it's hard to stomach more than one bottle of the stuff.

I also found Cobra Zero pretty disappointing. There's nothing like a glass of Cobra with a hot curry, but the alcohol free version is much sweeter and has a strong, buttery taste to it. I couldn't even finish the bottle.

Bitburger Drive has got to be one of my favourites. Again, the alcohol is removed at the end of the fermentation process which is designed to preserve the taste. It has less of a metallic taste that some of the reduced alcohol lagers have and it has only 26 calories per 100ml. Unfortunately, I've never found it in a pub or bar and have only purchased it in Tescos, which I think is a real shame.

Kopparberg cider - a bit too sweet for me

My other favourite is Erdinger Alkohol-Frei. Although this is a wheat beer it isn't too strong, heavy or citric. Apparently brewed in strict accordance with Bavarian Purity Laws, it is crisp and refreshing and seriously drinkable. Plus, as it is a wheat beer, it isn't too fizzy and contains around 25 calories per 100ml. I've found this in a few pubs and bars, so maybe Britain is catching on. 

To be honest, I'm not a massive fan of cider, so I'm not sure why I thought I'd like alchohol free cider. However, I thought I would try the Kopparberg ones as I thought they would be refreshing in the summer. They make an alcohol free pear cider and an alcohol free mixed fruit cider. Well, sweet is not the word! It is like drinking a melted ice lolly! For me, it's not like experiencing alcohol and so doesn't fill the gap that I'm looking for. But if you like sweet drinks, then knock yourself out. 

So I found a couple of German beers that pretty much hit the spot. And I also found this great UK-based website which promotes alchohol free drinks called www.alcoholfree.co.uk and you can also purchase online from there. They even have some wines and spirits which I might give a go. 

I still look forward to opening a lovely bottle of Pinot Noir and drinking two or five glasses with a plate of nibbles. Sigh, aren't I pathetic? 

Happier days!

25 January 2014

A day trip to Burano

Travelling from Venice to the island of Burano by vaporetto

If you've ever been to Venice, you'll know it is very beautiful but very busy. As we had time, we decided to get away from it all and catch a water bus to one of the islands. The crop of surrounding islands tends to be quieter than the main tourist areas and you get to see a different side to this historic city. The main ones are Lido, Burano and Murano.
A sea view of Venice
We'd seen Jamie Oliver recommending a restaurant in Burano called Al Gatto Nero as the best place to try fresh fish in Venice. And, as we are the sort of people to take a day trip purely to try a restaurant, we decided on Burano.

It takes about an hour to get the island and its a stunning, relaxed journey. As you depart from Venice, you watch the huge crowds of people fade away like ants and get a sea-view of all the historic domes and towers of Venice without anyone stood in front to restrict the view.
The picture postcard island of Burano
The island itself is like an assault on the eyes. Every building is painted a bright, vibrant colour. Meaning that the canals crossing through the island are lined on either side with a patchwork of different coloured buildings. It is really, really pretty. Even as amateur photographers, every photo we took was like a picture postcard.

Burano is famous for lace, so you'll find it hanging up in all the shop windows. But having just got married, lace was the last thing on my mind! After months of dieting, I wanted food. I wanted wine. 

After five minutes or so we found the restaurant. We hadn't thought to book and, even at 2 in the afternoon, there was a long queue of diners waiting to be seated. In the end, we ate inside because it would have been a huge wait for the outside tables. But if we went again, it would be nice to sit canal side and watch the boats floating past.

As soon as we were seated, a glass of prosecco was put in front of us and a lovely selection of bread and crackers. To start, we ordered the "Al Gatto Nero" experience to share. It was described: "encounter the Adriatic and the Venetian lagoon by savouring these hors d'oeuvre selected and created by Ruggero. (Fish proposed will depend on the night market)."
Me canal side in Burano
Essentially, we had no idea what we were getting. But for just 30 Euro, we were presented with two huge plates over-spilling with an incredible selection of seafood. It included scallops, large prawns, razor clams, baby clams, squid, octopus, mussels and a few other fishies we couldn't identify.
Before and after, the Al Gatto Nero Exerience
We washed it down with a cold and crisp bottle of Monte Grande Soave Classico 2012. Tasting of peach, almonds and citrus, it was the perfect accompaniment to our fishy treat. 

It was incredible value and very delicious. For lunch, the starter platter would probably have been enough but we'd both ordered substantial main courses! My spaghetti alle vongole was the best I tried in Italy, although I was ashamed by how much I left!

Not only was the food delicious, the service was first class too. Our waiter was from the Dominican Republic and had photos of his children above the bar. I obviously played the honeymoon card (well, you only get the chance once). So he brought us a little present of a glass, black cat from Murano. Very sweet. 
After a few glasses of wine. Well, it was my honeymoon...
After browsing the dessert wine menu for a while, our waiter brought us another gift. A glass of sweet prosecco with Venetian biscuits for dipping. We spent five minutes or so trying to decipher the taste of the drink. Apple? Pear? He finally let us know it was strawberry. Absolutely mouth watering. 

Afterwards, we wound our way back through the streets to the vaporetto terminal. Very full, slightly inebriated and having enjoyed a lovely, romantic meal. 

It's a bit of an effort to get to Burano, but in my view, 100% worth it. Especially for the trip to Al Gatto Nero. Without a doubt the best meal I had in Italy and a great experience in a pretty little town. 

But remember to book a table at the Black Cat restaurant. 

Getting there:

We'd been walking around Piazza St Marco, so took the vaporetto (water bus) route number 24 from the San Zaccaria terminal just a short walk away from the square. The vaporetto goes via Lido for a change at Punto Sabbioni. You can then hop on the vaporetto route number 12 which stops at Treporti before finally arriving at Burano. It cost 39 Euro for a pair of return tickets.

You can also get to Burano from the terminal on the other side of Venice called Fondamente Nove. This is a slightly cheaper and quicker route, but I guess it depends on what side of Venice you happen to be.

We travelled at the end of September when it was warm and dry. Around 26 degrees C.

19 January 2014

Why are there so many padlocks on bridges in Italy?

Lock your love in Italy

For a wedding present, a friend of mine gave me a padlock with the initials of my husband and I scrawled on it in permanent marker. In the attached card, she wrote for us to go to Venice and "lock our love". I had no idea why but it was a wonderful, mysterious present.

Once we got to Venice, we soon saw the answer. All along the Rialto Bridge, the Ponte dell'Accademia and Scalzi Bridge are rows and rows of padlocks, all with a pair of initials inscribed on them.
Rows of padlocks on
 the Ponte dell'Accademia

If you go to Florence, you'll find the same on the Ponte Vecchio. And in Rome you'll find them on the Ponte Milvio.

Apparently it's a trend that started in Rome a few years ago. Young lovers would inscribe their initials on the a padlock and then throw the key into the river Tiber as a symbol of eternal love.

It's thought a novel by Federico Moccia inspired the cult. The book, called Three Metres above the Sky was later followed up with I Want You, in which a young couple from very different backgrounds begin a romance. They attach a padlock to Rome's Ponte Milvio in order to seal their everlasting love.

I say apparently, because unfortunately, the book doesn't seem to have been translated into English. And, my Italian is pretty much limited to wine and food.

Unfortunately, the Italian authorities don't like it much.They claim the padlocks damage the historic bridges and that they are an eyesore. So they've been removing padlocks from the bridges in Venice and Rome and 5,500 were removed from the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence with the reason provided that they were scratching and denting the metal of the bridge.
The romantic view from the Ponte dell'Accademia

There were signs up everywhere giving threats of fines for anyone caught attaching a padlock to the bridges. And, in Florence, the Ponte Vecchio bridge was patrolled by police (we weren't sure whether this was because of the padlocks or the pickpockets).

It doesn't seem to stop people carrying out the ritual though. As there was little evidence of any locks being missing with the rails and posts of the bridges literally bulging. And, on nearly all the stalls surrounding the bridges there are locks being sold for a few Euro and they will even help you out with a permanent marker so you can brand your padlocks.
The Ponte Vecchio in Florence
And I think they look lovely and not an eyesore at all. Plus, the whole romance of the act really helps add to the romance of the cities. I think it is a lovely thought to imagine thousands of couples throwing keys into the river, with the same hope in their souls that this symbolic gesture will help ensure their love survives the rocky waters ahead.

And did we attach our padlock to the bridge? Well of course not. It's not allowed....

18 January 2014

A different side to Venice

The other side of the Canal

We were lucky enough to spend the first and second nights of our honeymoon in Venice. Having never been there before, I was delighted to discover that it was every bit the romantic and magical city I hoped it would be.

However, it is hectic. Very, very hectic.

The view from our bathroom at Hotel Dalla Mora
There are street sellers on every corner flogging all manner of tat. From fake Gucci bags and purses to toys that shoot up in the air or splat on the floor. Add to that the hoards of tourists streaming around the narrow streets and bridges, stopping to take photos and videos of all the things you want to stop and take photos of.

That's why we were so glad we were staying in a quieter area of Venice.

We'd read that the Santa Croce region was quieter with more of a residential, local feel than the really touristy area San Marco.

Yes, there are still stalls selling One Direction t-shirts and Venetian masks, but there is a quiet calm to the canals which is lovely to enjoy. When you turn the corner into Santa Croce, it's like the world stops a bit, the noise disappears and you can breathe.

Reverse of Hotel Dalla Mora
The hotels tend to be a bit cheaper too. We opted for Hotel Dalla Mora which is just a five minute walk from the main bus terminal and car park area, Piazzale Roma. The hotel is pretty basic. Well, very basic. But it is right on one of the canals and our ground floor room literally faced onto the water so we could watch the gondolas floating past. Plus we got our own bathroom which is bit of a luxury in Venice.

We had a couple of really nice meals in the Santa Croce area too.

Venice is a bit renowned for ripping tourists off in restaurants. With over inflated prices, poor quality food and often short changing diners. So we made sure we did our research first. 

The quiet water ways of Santa Croce
On our first night, we ate at the Trattoria Alla Ferrata which we picked because it had an outside, walled garden area. I had a delicious clam and mussel starter, followed by a perfectly cooked beef Tagliata (which is sliced beef steak cooked on an open fire, served with rocket and balsamic vinegar), all polished off with a really good bottle of Chianti.

We also had a nice meal at Ostaria al Vecio Pozza. Their menu boasts 100 different types of pizza and it was pretty good too. Shame the waiter was so grumpy, but this is quite common in Northern Italy.

If you're staying in Santa Croce and want to take a gondola ride, you can do this from just outside the Piazzale Roma, however, they are unlikely to take you as far as San Marco square. 

We found the walk from Santa Croce to San Marco a pretty comfortable one and gave us a chance to wander through the streets, see the Grand Canal and Palazzo Ducale and cross all the bridges covered in padlocks where lovers have padlocked their love like the Ponte de Rialto, the Scalzi Bridge and the Ponte Dell'Accademia.

Taking a gondola ride from Piazzale Roma
And then, when you've done with the sight-seeing, leave it all behind and return to the calm of Santa Croce.

We drove to Venice from Bologna which took a couple of hours. We chose to park at the airport as parking can be expensive in Venice. The Marco Polo 2002 car park has 24 hour security guards and provide a free shuttle to the airport terminal for around 12 Euro a day. The bus into Venice (the ATVO) then costs around 5 Euro per person to Piazzale Roma.

2 January 2014

My 10 top tips for planning an italian wedding

It's been over three months since my wedding in Italy and I am finally sitting down to write about it.

Immediately afterwards, I just couldn't face it. After months of planning with my brain constantly saturated with things to do for the wedding, I didn't want to have to plan anything else. Even so much as putting a few words down on a keyboard.

However, on a wet and wild January evening it seems strangely appropriate to be thinking about that lovely warm day in September which seems a world away now.

Our wonderful wedding in Italy

I won't bore you with every detail. But I will say that, even with the stress, expense and worry, they were the best few days of my life. So I thought I would give you some of the top tips I have for surviving an Italian wedding. I hope you find them useful.

1. Even in Italy, it can rain
One of the main reasons we chose to get married abroad was the weather and the idea of getting married outside with the sun shining down on us. But you have to keep in mind that the weather might not go your way. In the two weeks leading up to our wedding day, I was obsessed with my weather forecast app on my phone. Constantly refreshing the feed as on our wedding day, it was due to rain in Tuscany. In fact, it was forecast for very heavy rain, with thunderstorms.

Getting married outside in Italy

Our venue had a banqueting hall which meant we could get married inside if it were to rain. So technically we were prepared. The issue was that I was not mentally prepared for it. All our planning had been done with the assumption that we would be outside. Our flowers and colour scheme had all been picked to benefit from a backdrop of rolling, green hills. Our dream wedding was not in a hall.

My advice, therefore would be - don't bury your head in the sand about the weather. It might rain and make sure you plan in case it does. Consider, will the flowers look as nice against paintwork as they would against greenery for example.

2. Don't become a tour guide
Our wedding was amazing because we had 50 of our friends and family in Italy with us for the best part of five days. But, if you do the same and hire a venue where your guests can all stay don't fall into the trap of becoming a tour guide.

It's great to help people organise things like flights, transfers, car hire and excursions during the week. And, you want to organise these things because you want your guests to have an amazing time. But it can get too much and you can become the go to person for all questions. On my wedding day, I was even asked whether I could find any fly spray because there was a large wasp in the villa and whether there were any more bin bags.

If I were you, I'd let your guests know that you're not there to solve all their problems. They can solve the dilemma of the large wasp all on their own.

3. If you have a great venue, it can do most of the hard work
We had this unbelievably glamorous place called Villa Di Ulignano in Tuscany which was equipped with a bar, swimming pool, barbecue area, cinema room, pizza oven, games room, table tennis table and sauna.

Our venue was an amazing back drop

It meant that there was lots of things for our guests to entertain themselves with over the five days. So there was less of a need for us to organise lots of day trips or activities. And, as the venue and grounds were so spectacular, they were the ideal backdrop to the proceedings. Everyone felt like they were staying someone special and all of photos look amazing as the villa was so beautiful.

4. Expect an Italian approach
We hired a wedding planner to help us. I'm a bit of a control freak which meant that I wanted to know exactly what was happening and when. However, my experience of things in Italy is that this is unlikely to happen (although I appreciate this might be my wedding planner).

We had a contract which detailed what we had paid for. And, although we had exchanged numerous emails detailing exactly what we wanted, this was never supplied to us as a "running order" for the day or as a complete package for what we should expect on the day. In fact, despite all the correspondence, most of it was actually organised the day before when we did the run through.

So don't expect a slick, well-run operation. Expect it to be pretty last minute, laid back and not exactly what you thought!

The view from my room as I got ready

5. Visit the venue beforehand
If you organise a wedding at home, no doubt you'd spend numerous weekends visiting different venues. However, unless you have lots of spare time and lots of spare cash, you're probably not going to be able to do this if you are getting married abroad.

We decided to go and visit the venue and it really did put our minds at ease. It also helped us to envisage how the day would run and where we wanted each of the elements of the day to take place.

6. Take time to talk to your photographer
This might sound obvious. But again, if you get married in the UK, you meet your photographer beforehand and have lots of face to face discussions about what you want your photos to be like and how you wanted to be treated on the day.

Our photos took forever

Our photographer was organised through the wedding planner. We hadn't met him beforehand. We hadn't spoken to him beforehand, We didn't know his name beforehand. In fact, I'm not 100% sure of his name now.

I'd put together lots of detail around the sorts of photos I wanted and I'd even put together a Pinterest mood board to help guide the photographer. And, on the day, I'd assumed this had been provided to the photographer. However, I don't think it had as he spent a lot of time taking the sorts of photos I didn't want. And, I'd specifically said that I didn't want to spend more than 20 minutes away from our guests getting photos of Adam and I and we were gone for over an hour. Standing in a field with crickets leaping around underneath my dress.

So, on the wedding day, don't assume that the photographer has read the brief. Make sure you sit down and reiterate what you want from him.

7. Drive over
I read lots of articles prior to my wedding about brides going postal on flights because they had to check their dress into the hold. We didn't have that hassle because my dress, the suits, most of the wedding decorations and the flower girl outfits were driven over. In fairness, not by us, but by my parents.

It meant my dress arrived without a crease and that we could bring lots of candles, confetti, lights and table decorations with us.

8. Bank on currency fluctuations
We did all the calculations for our wedding a year before we actually got married. Working out exactly what each element of the day was going to cost and what we could and could not afford.

What we didn't include in our calculations were potential currency fluctuations or the cost of getting the money to suppliers. During the year, the blessed pound became much weaker against the Euro meaning that our wedding cost us quite a bit more than we originally budgeted.

Our tip would be to pay for things in advance if the pound is strong or hold off if the pound is weak.

9. Where is the food travelling from?

It was lovely getting married outside in the sunshine

It was wonderful to be able to sit outside and have our wedding meal in the warm, tuscan evening air. It was exactly what we wanted and we feel truly lucky that the weather did its business for us.

What we hadn't thought about was where our guests would be dining and how far the food had to travel to reach them. Ours was about 500 yards. Which meant the poor waiters had to carry all the courses out on trays from the industrial kitchen in the villa to the tables. It meant that service was fairly slow and some of our guest's meals were cold by the time it reached them.

Don't get me wrong. Our food was delicious (all the meals we had in Tuscany were delicious). But, if I were to do it again, I probably wouldn't have chosen sea bass as there is nothing worse than luke warm fish.

The tables at our Italian wedding

10. Bring a great group of friends
The days around our wedding were like a five-day party. Not since school had I spent such a long period of time on holiday with a huge group of friends. And, although we both had a few sleepless nights worrying about whether everyone would get on (my mother had even asked me what we would do if there was a fight on our wedding day!).

It couldn't have been more of a dream. Everyone got on so well with each other whether from my side or Adam's. Every night, the bar was drunk dry, the swimming pool as used with and without clothing and the sauna was used on our wedding day by our suited and booted guests. Everyone was absolutely amazing and helped make our wedding truly special for us.

If you want to rent my friends and family to come to your wedding, I'm certain they would oblige.

The sun setting on our romantic wedding day