Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Searching for the perfect honeymoon

Picking a honeymoon destination is one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. 
(Yes I live a lovely, fluffy, care free life!)

As we had a destination wedding in January, we decided it would be nice to come home and have a honeymoon to look forward to later in the year. I also knew I would need to occupy my once filled wedding brain with something post nuptials.

But it is oh so difficult to pick a destination.
I already have my own personal top three honeymoon location:
But the issue is, we have already been to these locations.

Driving along the rural roads in Cuba

Before the wedding, we had thought that Vietnam would be an ideal location. Asia intrigues us both and this beautiful country would allow us adventure, relaxation and culture.
But now that the grand event is over (and all the money is spent!) the gloss is wearing off it. Flights are expensive, we only have two weeks to play with and we have a conflict with the ‘best time of year’ to visit.

Giza Pyramids, Egypt 2012
So now my mind has been refocused back to Europe and the Middle East. There are some fab beaches and resorts scattered about this continent and obviously there is culture and history galore to explore, but which one do I pick for a honeymoon?
Ideally we would like to do some sightseeing, partake in a fun activity and spend a few days relaxing.

Fiji islands, 2008

Crete, Sicily, Croatia, Malta, Greek islands, Jordan and Tunisia are all on my radar.

Do any of you have any tips, advice or indeed destinations you would think suitable?

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Geneva doesn't need tourists

Geneva is a city that we all know well, the second most populous city in Switzerland, a ‘global city,’ a financial centre and a City of Peace  ... but not a holiday destination.

Lake Geneva with Jet d'Eau

I don’t really recall seeing Geneva advertised much as a place to visit, it certainly hasn't a large reliance on the tourism market and this is for two reasons:

1. It doesn't need tourists
2. It is very expensive.

In case you think I am starting off too negative, let me confuse you further - Geneva is beautiful.
Geneva has culture, it has grace, it will entertain you and the food is exquisite.

The French speaking city which boasts the Headquarters of the United Nations and the Red Cross hosts a number of international talks and meetings between different countries and groups each year. The city is home to a large number of diplomats and sees an enormous number of foreign visitors each week on various business, so they don’t necessarily need "tourists".

Geneva is in fact, a very travel friendly city, public transport is free to those staying in hotels in or around the city, the landmarks are well signposted and easily accessed, everyone speaks English (along with a host of other languages) and there is plenty to photograph.

But it is expensive, hotel rooms cost a bomb, food and drink is on the very high end, most of the shops only sell designer items and Swiss Francs (CHF) do not last long in your pocket.
Yummy cafe mocha!

When I visited the city for three days, I used the location as a buffer zone (as many do politically). I arrived after a hectic ten pays in Courmayeur, Italy from my Winter Wedding and a ski holiday. I was wrecked. From Geneva I would be returning home to more celebrations.
So I needed to rejuvenate in Geneva, I wanted the city to give me balance, restore my spirits and yet also entertain me.
And as it usually does for countries all over the world and rivalling groups seeking resolution, 
Geneva thankfully delivered.

Due to high prices for accommodation we stayed Novotel Geneve Centre in the Red Light District. The location was perfect, and the area was lovely during the day, at night there was security outside the hotel and plenty of ladies pacing the streets, but nothing intimidating.

The broken chair at Place des Nations

As our time was short, and my energy was low we went to see some of the city’s main highlights, while stopping regularly for coffee, drinks, and food. The coffee, pastries and food were truly French inspired culinary treats.

The Jet d’Eau fountain of water which is pumped 140m into the air is a real spectacle. The spurt of water was once an occasional pressure release for hydro-power generation on the Rhone River - but it was so popular that in 1891 they made it a permanent exhibition. Stunning at night when it is lit up - this is a sight to be seen from a distance as the surrounding half kilometre will have you soaked in water!

Cath├ędral St Pierre is also worth taking the time to admire. Originally built as a Catholic place of worship, it embodies the high point of the reformation.

Place des Nations - home of the United Nations Headquarters is a must see when in Geneva. We didn't actually go inside the centre (energy levels were low) but the square which usually hosts a colourful protest and the interesting broken chair sculpture as well as the flags, the large building and the security (you might even spot a few blacked out limousines carrying some important people!)

Shopping - Geneva’s city centre rivals New York, Paris and London for designer shopping. Even if all you can do is stare into the windows drooling a walk through the expensive street is part of the Geneva experience.

Finally for me Geneva was a food heaven. Admittedly it steals from the French, but it packages it up nicer, puts a hefty price tag on your dinner and makes it feel more exclusive, more delicious, even divine!

Cathedrale St Pierre, Geneva


- Flew into Geneva International Airport with Aer Lingus from Dublin

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Discover The Titanic in Belfast

Harland & Wolff, Titanic Quarter

Have you been to the Titanic Belfast museum yet? And if not, why not??

The six story exhibition museum is a must visit when in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Just steps away from the actual birthplace of the world’s most famous ship (the area is now actually called the Titanic Quarter) it showcases the fact, figures, journey and personal histories of the “unsinkable” ship of dreams.

Titanic Belfast
Well if you have or have not made the memorable trip there is more great news for this construction marvel. The award winning museum which only opened in 2012 (read about the grand opening) is undergoing a refreshment with a new gallery addition to be launched in March, while a number of other popular galleries in the Titanic Belfast Experience will be developed.
The development highlights includes a new Discovery Tour – a walking-tour insight into the building’s concept and design that also sees the historic Harland & Wolff Drawing Offices re-open to Discovery Tour guests.

The attraction will also welcome the return of Ocean Explorer Dr Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the wreck of RMS Titanic in 1985, on March 20. He will host a public lecture, and ‘An Evening with Dr. Ballard,’ an exclusive conversational event boasting with it a White Star Line theatrical 5-star dining experience in the building’s breath-taking Titanic Suite.

In addition, while preparing to host the much-anticipated Giro d’Italia 2014 start in May, Titanic Belfast will be extending its temporary exhibition portfolio this year on the back of the popular Games of Thrones exhibit in 2013, which was viewed by more than 12,000 fans of the HBO series.

I visited the huge awe inspired museum in December 2012, and although the information is vast, the design and interaction of the exhibits means that even those who bore easily are kept entertained. The history of Belfast before and during the building of the Titanic was interesting, Belfast was much more than a city of The Troubles, it was an industrial hub. 

From the social history you physically move through the shipyard on a ride and watch as the Titanic is built before your eyes with sparks flying and deafening noise. You get the facts and figures of the launch of the ship as you look out on the actual Harland and Wolff Shipyard. Obviously you learn about the sinking, you hear the story from several different angles including the aftermath and the myths and legends surrounding that faithful night. And then you get to see the ship wreck you watch as it is discovered and look through what was left behind.

Movies and moving objects, interactive screens, an amusement ride through the building of the ship, the artefacts, the underground water discovery of the ship and remodels of the actual rooms are all presented in a way that keeps all the family tuned in.

If you do one thing this year - visit Belfast and see The Titanic!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Fulfil your winter fantasies in Courmayeur

Close your eyes and dream of your perfect Winter Wonderland, does it include soft sparkling snowflakes, warm fires, traditional alpine buildings, hot chocolate, woolly hats, dramatic mountains, comforting food, holding hands and a slightly magical atmosphere … open your eyes and welcome to Courmayeur, Italy.

Snowing on Monte Bianco, Italy

As someone who is new to skiing (and not very good at it), I am not an expert on the best ski resorts in Europe, but I do know a stunning destination when I see it and if you are looking for an all encompassing Winter holiday, then you can’t look past the sunny side of Mont Blanc (or Monte Bianco in Italy).

This is not a purpose built ski resort, it is an historic alpine village, located on the most northerly point of the Italian alps, and just under the highest mountain in Europe. On the other side of the peak (and through the Mont Blanc Tunnel) lies Chamonix in France, a popular ski destination.

Courmayeur oozes chic, it is fashionable to be seen here, the Italians look good on and off piste and the rest of the ski tourists follow their lead. There are over 60 restaurants to choose from and each one of them deliver delicious Italian fare. There are just as many boutiques, and although most are out of a modest tourist’s budget they too add to the upmarket atmosphere of Courmayeur.

Via Roma, Courmayeur at night

If you are new to skiing, or if you are introducing a friend or partner to the joys of downhill snow plough then do it here, where the skiing is challenging but also provides jaw dropping scenery. The resort is known all over the EU for it’s amazing mountain dining. For those who ski, this is a a welcome treat for weary legs and hungry tummies. For those who don’t ski it is an added bonus to be able to take the cable car up to enjoy the ski air and still be able to fulfil your appetite.

Courmayeur is romantic, walking through the streets hand in hand is good for your heart, your memory will keep that picture close to your heart forever. The cobblestone narrow streets, St Pantaleon Church on the hill, the soft street lamps it all adds to the exclusivity of this town.

The skiing is good, so good that they started off the Freeride World Tour there this year, and off-piste is one of the best around. The ski slopes are challenging for those who have skied a few times before, if you are an expert La Thuille and Chamonix are a short ride away.

The Mont Blanc Cable car bring you up to Puta Helbronner for a view of the glaciers and you can even head over to Aiguille du Midi and continue onto Chamonix for a day away.

If you are after some pampering  Pre Saint Didier is just ten minutes out the road. This is pampering like you never knew it. Ladies, you cannot visit Courmayeur and not pop down (for an entire day) to this facility. The jacuzzi and hot pools flow outside where you can sit back and look up at the snow covered mountains while keeping toasty - heaven on earth.

In Courmayeur you can also go ice skating in the Olympic sized indoor rink across the river in Dolonne, there is also an opportunity to go dog sledging outside of the town.

Weekday nights can be tame in the town, but the place fills up at the weekend and provide bars, discos and live music.

If you have less than 5 days for your Winter trip, Courmayeur is ideal. For a longer holiday you may need the entertainment of a larger resort.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Jumping ship - A Wedding Abroad

Less than a month after my own magical Winter Wedding in Courmayeur, Italy I want to impart my advice and lessons learned from organising a Winter/ Snow/ Ski Wedding abroad.

If you are engaged or planning on getting married soon, congratulations! Although you will feel some stress and worry as the months slip by, you will look back fondly on this time, so do try to enjoy it all!
If you are not getting married soon, but just stumbled upon this post, congratulations to you also and enjoy reading (try some others posts too!)

1. Wedding Abroad
The decision to have your wedding abroad can for some be obvious but for others may take some time. Everyone has their own reasons for deciding to jump ship, but just make sure that BOTH of you really want to do this.
This is important because as soon as you announce the decision, people will be disappointed, they will question your choice and they will tell you that you are being selfish strong and be sure.
The major qualm for most people about weddings abroad is that you must realise loved older members of your family may not be able to attend, and despite giving people plenty of time and trying to keep costs down some of your good friends may not be able to attend.
If you are BOTH ok with this, then congrats you on the way to your fairytale wedding!

2. Location Location
Sun, snow, sea, mountains, lakes, castles … what do you want from your location?
We wanted snow, so when looking at locations that was our first demand. Then we wanted a ski resort, the ability to get married in a Catholic Church, Euro currency and easy access for guests (a good frequency of flights, short transfer etc)
Know your priorities, keep them small and then make your lists. This is fun and frustrating, use the internet, but be thorough.
Once you have the most suitable country or area then you need to start trawling the internet for reviews, ideas and inspiration.

3. Get a Wedding Planner
Yes they are expensive, but they are worth every penny.
If you are someone who does not speak the language, are not native and have never organised a wedding before, then going without a planner is a very brave choice. For us there was no other option, especially as snow destination weddings are a little unusual. A wedding planner will help, advise, warn, suggest and book all parts of your wedding.
Religious and/or civil paperwork, logistics and wedding details all come under their remit and you will feel better knowing they will be there on the day to sort out any problems as they crop up.

4. Lose control
I am the sort of person who feels that if I want something done right, then only I can do it.
But with a foreign wedding I couldn't do everything, I could actually do very little and so I had to lose control. I had a vision for the wedding, I shared that vision with the planner, the hotel, the photographer, the florist etc but I had no control over their interpretation of it. I had to let go, look at the bigger picture and hope that it all came together.
And it did and the wedding was better than anything I could have imagined.

(c) fifiheavey 2014

5. Prepare for Questions
Everyone will have questions, different questions, sensible ones, outrageous ones and some that will fill you with anger. This is all part of a foreign wedding, the more guests you have travelling the more questions there will be.
Write out information to go out with your invite, set up a website ( ) set up a Facebook Group and keep everyone informed.
Also maybe take a bath and try to stay calm when people ask questions that you can’t answer, there will be many!

6. Remember your partner
Try not to have a greater relationship with your wedding planner than you do with your actual partner! Keep him/her involved, make sure you both get to make decisions and have input. Most men like to tell everyone their girlfriend is planning the wedding, but they really do want to be involved. It is nice to know that parts of the wedding reflect you both.

7. Money
You thought I forgot to say budget didn't you …?! Budgets are so important, especially when for many money is tight. But I hate to say that despite readjusting our budget several times, we went over it significantly and I understand most couples do the same. 
Remember that no one will recall the flower arrangements or the quality of paper in the ceremony booklet, they will remember how much or little fun they had and how happy the couple looked.
We were worried about paying all our suppliers before the wedding, but were delighted when we travelled there it was all done and dusted.

8. Visit the location
You must visit the location of your wedding, before the big event. Not only will be able to see all the locations, you will be able to speak with (learn a little of the language if necessary) with some of your suppliers. Visiting will help put your mind at ease, the place is real, the people do exist, your wedding is going to happen. It will also allow you to get excited and give you and your partner a little vacation time!

9. Honeymoon
So you are going abroad to get married - will you stay there for your honeymoon? Are you ok with your friends and family being there with you? If you do a ski holiday like we did it was perfect, but maybe a beach holiday with everyone might be a bit much. Do try to get some time alone with your new husband/ wife. Otherwise delaying your honeymoon is a popular choice, so when you get home you have something to look forward to.

10. Relax and Enjoy
Part of the reason we chose to get wed abroad was to try and skip the stress. It worked too, although we had to calm down everyone around us, we sailed through the experience. Make sure everything is ready to go, try and arrive at the destination a few days before to check everything out and to settle in.
If you are here for the snow or the sun please do get out and enjoy it.

I will be posting more details on our snow wedding, Courmayeur and skiing in the next few posts, so stay tuned!