We had a honeymoon! We went to the UK and France! It was pretty amazing! (Though the best part was probably being totally disconnected from the internet and email for 11 days.) A ton of photos from it are posted at photos and my photo journal has been updated as well.

We made stops in Manchester, London, Grenoble, and Paris. We walked a lot (didn’t really take public transit, other than long distance trains, in Manchester and London), and hiked a couple of days, and saw all sorts of awesome things and places. It’s going to be so weird having to return to work now.

We flew out Monday, April 20 from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to Manchester, landing on Tuesday after not having slept much due to a crying baby on the plane. The Manchester airport was really nice… not too busy, and reasonably easy to get through. From there it was a train in to the city and our hotel to drop off our bags, and then a tram over to Media City UK to watch some filming of the TV game show Countdown. It was pretty awesome to see a rather behind-the-scenes look at how game shows are made. (Due to the reportedly strict “no cameras” policy, we didn’t bring along any, and therefore missed photo opportunities with the hosts at the end. Oh well. At least we got Rachel Riley’s autograph. :D)

Wednesday was spent hiking in the peak district up by Hathersage, reached by train. It was really beautiful up there.

Thursday was spent wandering the city, seeing the Museum of Science and Industry, and the John Rylands Library.

Friday we hopped on the train down to London, then did some exploring of the British Museum, which was conveniently open late for Friday.

Saturday we spent wandering through Hyde Park and visiting a couple of museums in Kensington: the Victoria and Albert museum and the Natural History museum.

Sunday we took a train to Oxford and wandered to see the universities and explore the area.

Monday we spent wandering London itself to do the “touristy” things, walking from our hotel at King’s Cross to the Twinings tea shop (of course), around to see the National Gallery, Buckingham Palace, and Big Ben/The London Eye, then over to see Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
Here’s our entire route for the day. It felt like the most walking we’d done, although the peak district hiking the previous Wednesday apparently was a bit longer (see below).

Tuesday we took the Eurostar to Paris, then a train to Grenoble.

Wednesday we spent hiking the mountains around Grenoble.

Thursday we spent travelling back to Paris on the TGV, then seeing the Musee d’Orsay.

Friday we flew home via Charlotte.

Overall I found that European public transit is awesome, albeit a little expensive to take regularly. But all of the UK seems to have frequent train service (a train from Manchester to London every 20 minutes!), and there’s tons of public transportation (subway, buses, railcars) besides. Even Grenoble, a city of ~156,000 people, has multiple tram lines running frequently, tons of buses, and a busy train station. I wish we had stuff nearly that good in the US, outside of places like New York.

We stayed in four hotels over our trip, and I think all four of them were rather different. The Manchester hotel, Hotel Le Villé, looked like it was trying to be really hip and modern with glass and wood everywhere. The room itself was rather small, but functional. It was in the basement, which proved awesome for sleeping since the sun didn’t wake us up.

The hotel in London, La Meridiana, was more like an apartment building or house that had been converted into (still small) rooms, complete with tall and narrow staircases. They served a full British Breakfast (fried egg, sausage, bacon, beans, toast) every morning, and we got incredibly sick of them, especially because we’d had some in Manchester as well (back when it was a new thing).

The hotel in Grenoble, Hôtel d’Angleterre (amusingly “the Hotel of England”) was much larger than the previous two, and also fancier (it had a minifridge and bidet). Breakfast was not included, but we tried their buffet once (€14/person?) and it wasn’t bad… it was nice to have a break from the meat-and-carb breakfasts in the UK, anyway.

The Paris hotel, Grand Hôtel Lévêque, seemed fancier still, with its recently-remodelled (and therefore rather unusable) room. We were only there a night, but I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with its shower for longer than that… I was getting the entire bathroom wet when I showered, and the sink and toilet seemed more decorative than functional. It also had a hilariously small elevator that barely fit one person and a bag.

As I said, we also walked a lot. Here’s the pedometer-recorded steps and time walked and distances (which are estimates, and likely overestimates) by day:

Flights Monday 4/20 7117 steps 5.25 km/3.26 mi 0h 48m
Media City UK / Countdown Tuesday 4/21 11,403 steps 8.14 km/5.06 mi 1h 13m
Hiking in Peaks Wednesday 4/22 32,420 steps 23.98 km/14.90 mi 3h 57m
Manchester Thursday 4/23 17,420 steps 12.88 km/8.00 mi 1h 41m
Train to London / British Museum Friday 4/24 15,179 steps 11.17 km/6.94 mi 1h 28m
Museums Saturday 4/25 30,312 steps 22.42 km/13.93 mi 3h 06m
Oxford Sunday 4/26 29,935 steps 22.13 km/13.75 mi 3h 11m
London Monday 4/27 30,063 steps 22.20 km/13.79 mi 3h 38m
Trains to Grenoble Tuesday 4/28 9648 steps 7.10 km/4.41 mi 1h 09m
Hiking in Grenoble Wednesday 4/29 32,396 steps 23.9 km/14.85 mi 3h 53m
Train to Paris / Paris Thursday 4/30 20,239 steps 14.95 km/9.29 mi 2h 22m
Flights Friday 5/1 9976 steps 7.33 km/4.55 mi 1h 00m

Food was rather interesting during the trip. We did our obligatory afternoon tea (twice), although we couldn’t really stomach the £15-20/person charge for full tea, so we just did tea and scones or tea and cake. We did our obligatory crepes (savory and sweet). But otherwise we ate a variety of things, from Italian (very nicely done in Manchester) to Indian (buffet, in London) to Vietnamese (at a very cheap and friendly shop in London) to Thai (at Bien Bien in Paris, a place I’d been before with a Thai tour group). Also had a ton of sandwiches… they were convenient for hiking days and train days, and also every grocery or drug store in the UK seems to have a sandwich meal deal for around £4. Also tons of full English Breakfasts, which I never again feel the desire to eat.
Hotels seem to serve food early though… we had to set an alarm every day of the trip so we would wake up in time to not miss breakfast. The breakfast that went the latest (at our Paris hotel) we actually missed because we had to leave for the CDG airport before it started (at 7 AM). But we made up for that instead with an amazingly nice breakfast (at the cost of €40 :X) in the airport instead.

London apparently is doing a thing right now with Shaun the Sheep, and there are 50 statues up all over the city by various artists. We only found 8 during our wander-the-city-by-foot day.

My favorite of those is the second one we found: the royal one. It’s located, appropriately, close to Buckingham Palace.

As far as souvenirs, we brought back 2 art prints from the National Gallery and Musee d’Orsay, a ton of tea (both from Twinings and Casino, a French grocery store), and madeleines. Kind of amusing.

I’ll probably edit this later with more things as I remember to add them, but it was a very nice trip. Tons more photos of everything can be found at photos.

Carnival, moar post-wedding thoughts

There was a Carnival! Lots of photos are at photos. A lot of people weren’t in town though — out of the Fairfax group, it was just Al-Tim and Ian that stuck around after the wedding. It seemed a lot of the usual CS and KGB crowds were also missing. I think the timing of our wedding, instead of allowing people to stick around for both, instead forced people to choose, and most of them chose the wedding. Oh well.

Went to photograph buggy both days. It was interesting this year, with a lot of accidents: One buggy took the chute turn too wide and crashed, and the other buggy spun out trying to avoid it (and lost a wheel); one buggy almost came to a stop in the chute, but the hill 3 pusher went and got it and completed the course; one pusher lunged for the pushbar at the finish line and basically got dragged across across the finish line by the buggy; and a few buggies got disqualified for missing the pushbar at the finish. In the end, less than a second was between the first and third places on the men’s side.

In general though, Carnival this year seemed really sub-par. Suresh didn’t speak at the opening ceremonies, which were rained out and therefore held in the tent. The booths were fewer in number than usual, and not up the their usual quality (and a few didn’t open until Saturday, and one didn’t open at all). Buggy seemed more sparsely attended, particularly on the first day. The SCS reunion, defector’s parties, and Tartan reunion all seemed to be less crowded than previous years. So while it was good to see the people that came (and stayed), it generally left me disappointed.

But there were lots of board games!

I also wanted to get out some wedding-related thoughts that have been bouncing around my head for the last few days. This is (hopefully) my last post about wedding things.

  • We overshot our original budget of $12k, then $15k, then $20k fairly significantly. Yet, with the exception of the alcohol costs (which we had no control over), I don’t feel like we overspent on anything. Food and drink alone accounted for almost $12.5k, and other necessities (the officiant, the photographers, the venue rental, the marriage license fee) combined with that were already over $20k. So I think we did well, in the end, at $23.3k. I certainly don’t regret our choices for the food, venue, photographer, or officiant.
  • One of the debates early on was whether we wanted a more or less comprehensive venue. We could have done much cheaper at something like the Union Project in Pittsburgh, where everything was DIY. We could have picked something like the Children’s Museum, where you have separate vendors for the venue, the food, and the other stuff (plates, silverware, tablecloths, etc). But in the end, it was really, really, really worthwhile to pick an all-inclusive place that took care of everything. I think it ended up being a little more expensive, but not having to worry about obtaining plates and tablecloths, or coordinating catering was worth it in the end. The benefit of everything being in one venue is also better coordination between things (food, moving people around, setup of rooms, etc). I think all-inclusive was definitely a good idea, and I would definitely do it again this way.
  • Adding additional guests costs very little compared to the overall cost. I was rather stingy with the guest list at first, both because “ahhh venue capacity” and also because “ahhh so much money”. But I was convinced upward (from my “ideal” wedding size of ~100 people to a theoretical ~150 people), and we ended up with almost 200 invites being sent out. In retrospect, I actually kind of regret not inviting more, given we only had 122 end up showing up, and therefore could have easily fit in a few more people. (We kept telling ourselves that a 60% attendance rate seemed really low, and we’d get higher. But you know what? We didn’t.)
  • Actually, I didn’t want a wedding at all. I would have preferred to just elope and then have a nice meal with friends or something. But, in retrospect, I’m really, really, really glad we threw a party instead and got to share the day with a bunch of awesome people. There’s something really nice about knowing that all of these people are here for you, and because of you, and came willingly to celebrate with you. So I’m really, really glad things turned out this way, and I’m really glad we did this, and went with a larger thing instead of just having some immediate family there.
  • Argh why didn’t I get photos of the food, or the cake, or more photos of the bar setup, or of completed place settings/tables? I guess I was just distracted by people and stuff, but it would be nice to have a record of those things (especially given how much of our overall cost the food was).

Oh, and that whole IRS possible-identity-theft thing? Turns out it was all okay. Their system rejects addresses with a # character by reporting an “account already exists” error message. Oops. Would have been nice if I’d known where to call in the first place to find that out.
(See here for some more infos on that.)

Wedding behind-the-scenes, costs, and thoughts

Ever since we started planning our wedding, I was looking at various cost breakdowns (such as this awesome post, and things like this and this) and trying to figure out how much we would end up spending… even as our budget kept increasing. I wanted to do a cost breakdown, both because numbers are fun, but also so people planning weddings might have some idea of what something like our celebration costs (at least in Pittsburgh). (Err on the side of sharing data, I guess it is.)

Again, our wedding was non-standard, and did not have a dance floor (and therefore no DJ), nor rings. We used an iPad hooked up to a Bluetooth speaker for the ceremony music, and built an ITG machine and bought board games for the reception. We also (painstakingly) assembled our own save the dates, invitations, and centerpieces.
These numbers also do not include the rehearsal dinner, which was paid for by parents (and which I don’t know the numbers for).

Total guests: 122
198 invited, 127 “attending” responses, 4 cancellations, 122 actually attended. Numbers below account for 123 guests + us + 2 photographers.
Saturday night at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association in Oakland, Pittsburgh, PA.
6 wedding party members (3 male, 3 female), 4 parents.
Total cost: $23,338.15

  • Officiant (inc. tax): $500
  • Photography (inc. tax): $2850.70
  • Food and Drink: $12,440.24
    • Gluten-free cupcakes: $16.15
    • Wedding cake: $44.97
      • Costco cakes and cookies.
    • Rehearsal dinner depost: $50
      • The rehearsal dinner itself was paid for by parents, but was probably around $600 after tax and gratuity. Food was around $18/person without tax and tip, and we had an open bar.
    • Hors d’oeuvres: $875
      • Veggie tray, cheese tray, baked brie, spinach dip, and fruit “tree”; we had the first three at cocktail hour and the latter two a bit into the evening while gaming and bowling were happening.
    • Buffet: $4826 ($38/person)
    • Bar service: $3813 ($31/person)
    • Soda service: $40 ($10/person)
    • Tax: $668.78
    • Gratuity: $2106.34
  • Venue: $4500
    • Ceremony room: $1500
    • Reception room: $1500
    • Bowling: $1200
      • Three hours at $400/hour.
    • Cake cutting: $100
    • Bar setup: $200
  • Paper and Craft Supplies: $312.84
    • Stamps: $118.41
      • Covers the save the dates, invitations, and thank you cards, with extras.
    • Save the dates: $46.64
      • Designed them ourselves. Cost was for 2-sided color printing at Kinko’s.
    • Paper cutter and invitation supplies: $114.12
      • Heavy paper, vellum paper, ribbon, parchment-y paper, and calligraphy ink.
      • We had a bunch of parchment-y paper left over from the invitations that we used for the programmes and escort cards, so those costs are in here.
    • Centerpiece supplies: $33.67
      • Paint, brushes, cardboard boxes, glue, and some more heavy paper.
      • We had CMU print quota to work with, so the printing was free.
  • Wedding Party Clothing: $750.16
    • Shirts, ties, vests, and pants: $268.39
      • We bought outfits for all the groomsmen. Apparently this isn’t standard? But we felt weird asking people for their time AND to spend money on an outfit.
    • Dresses: $383.85
      • We similarly bought the dresses for all the bridesmaids.
    • Shoes: $97.92
      • Just for us; the rest of the party provided their own shoes.
  • Board Games: $200.22
    • We had an extensive board game library already, so we just augmented it with a few things, hence the low cost here.
  • ITG Pads: $650
  • Wedding Favors: $231.31
    • Playing Cards: $70.12
      • 40 decks custom printed with 4 different designs.
    • Thank You Cards: $13
    • Pencils: $13.86
    • Notepads: $134.33
      • 144 custom-printed color notepads with 25 sheets each.
  • Other: $902.68
    • Marriage License: $80
    • Website domain + hosting: $63.14
      • Not actually this much, but we needed more funds in our Nearly Free Speech account anyway, so we just threw in another $50, and it’s hard to figure out exactly how much goes to each website.
    • Flowers: $50.26
      • Just a few things for the bridesmaids to hold and for the escort card table.
    • Bluetooth Speaker: $118.47
    • Photo frames, glass beads: $7.56
    • Video camera: $299.59
    • Hotel: $214.43
      • We assumed we’d be getting out after midnight and wouldn’t want to make it all the way home, so we got a room at the hotel next to the venue. Ended up being more than worth it.
    • Photo guestbooks: $69.23
      • Would have been less, but we printed two, one at Costco and one at Shutterfly, and used the one we liked better. (Which was the Shutterfly, both because we had an extra page to work with to include wedding info, and also because it opened much flatter than the Costco book, for signing.)

Also a few random thoughts about wedding things in general, and a few fun stories from our experience. (And photos, because this post has become a wall of text.)
A gallery with more photos is here.

  1. Don’t expect to have time to do anything at your wedding, unless your wedding is small or you are good at forcibly exiting conversations and groups of people. I gave someone the job of bringing me drinks throughout the evening, and that was the only reason I actually got any drinks.
    In retrospect, I would have given someone the job of bringing us cake and cookies, and forcing us to play a round of Nertz or a quick board game. We spent basically the entire evening in conversation with people. Which was awesome in its own way, but it would have been nice to also get a slice of cake or fit in a board game.

  2. Divide and conquer if you have a large guest list. There’s no possible way we would have had time to talk to everyone during the evening. Instead, we split up (kind of unintentionally, but I think it worked out better) to cover our respective groups of family and friends. Hopefully we got better coverage that way, and didn’t neglect as many people as we would have otherwise.

  3. Things will take longer than you expect. This is true both in prep work and in the wedding itself.
    We went to campus to print photos for the centerpiece, expecting it to take a few hours. It ended up taking something like 6. We assembled each centerpiece as two separate two-page files in InDesign, and exported them as PDFs of each spread. But that wouldn’t print well, so we re-exported each page to get 4 PDFs per centerpiece, then placed those PDFs in a standard 8.5×11″ InDesign document to print. Then we switched buildings to print (as the Windows computers in CFA were too slow, and the Mac cluster was in use, so we were using Cyert). But the CFA printer was having issues and printed with lines.
    So it was off to Hunt and its color printer, except we wanted to print 11×17″ documents there, and they wouldn’t print properly unless they were a PDF. So we imported the 8.5×11″ PDFs into new InDesign documents, PDF’d those, and printed them. So we printed PDFs consisting of two PDFs, each consisting of two PDFs, which were exported from InDesign documents containing 4 photos. Whee.

    We originally intended to just drop stuff off and spend a little time setting things up Friday evening. We arrived at 4 expecting to have plenty of time before the 6 PM rehearsal. We ended up at around 5:50 with plenty of things left to do. (Thankfully we finished the next morning without too many issues.)

    As far as the actual wedding itself, we allocated an hour for the rehearsal. Yeah, not enough. We needed more time to work out timing of music than we expected, and were late to the rehearsal dinner reservation (I had to call and push it back).

    Then, during the actual day, we took longer to eat than we expected, and therefore had less than two minutes per table to go around and get the table photos we wanted to get. Which meant we were super rushed to get through all 17 tables, never mind having time to actually talk to people like we’d originally intended.

    Tying my tie, as covered in the last post, also took much longer than expected. Ties are hard.

  4. Have a rehearsal! I don’t know why some people say you can skip it, or things will work themselves out. Ours was invaluable, and having gone through things a couple of times really helped the day of when we were doing things a little more on autopilot. It also really helps to see things in the actual space you’ll be using, since we made a ton of little tweaks, and were able to figure out how everyone would be standing and facing during the ceremony.
    Actually one of the last things we did as single people, after going to the bathroom, was to double-check our standing angles (agreed upon ~30 degrees outward) such that we were facing outward but still mostly facing each other.

  5. The people you work with are so incredibly important. I think I mentioned before how integral to our planning Mike at the PAA was. But things seriously would have been significantly worse, and more stressful, without him. He helped guide us through laying out the ceremony and reception halls, figuring out a timeline for the evening, and even helping time the procession at the rehearsal. He helped us work through issues with our self-provided sound equipment. He came and got us at the right times during the event for our entrances and exits. He worked with us in our very non-standard reception to get things set up at the right times.
    If the venue you use doesn’t have a point-of-contact that will be there with you during the event, you should hire a day-of planner. Mike played that role for us, and was so invaluable.

    Similarly, our officiant Marguerite was amazing. We had a very non-standard ceremony, and she adapted quickly and built us something beautiful. The lack of wedding rings, non-standard entrances, custom vows, and desire to sign the marriage license during the ceremony didn’t faze her. She got everything together and wrote some amazing text to go along with all of it. I think the ceremony was a huge success.

    Similarly, our photographers were so much fun to work with. My carrying around of a camera and documenting of things didn’t seem to (and hopefully didn’t?) cause too many issues. But more than that, so many people in the wedding party commented to us how friendly and easy to work with they were. I also kind of feel like we got two for the price of one — hired a lead photographer (Lori) plus assistant, and ended up with her and Fred, who is actually a main photographer and the owner of the company. The photos should be awesome.

  6. Take video! We were going to skip the video, until we went to Costco the morning of the wedding to pick up the cake, and decided we should buy a camera. That was the best $300 ever spent. We got a brother-in-law to help film the ceremony, speeches, and first dances, and it was worth every penny.
    I actually didn’t remember much of the ceremony itself… I was too distracted, and too intently waiting for my cues and trying not to screw anything up. Having a copy of the ceremony to watch afterward was very useful, and let me catch everything I’d missed during the event. The speeches were also amazing, and it was good to have a record of those.
    My only regret here is not taking the video camera around with me during the evening, instead of (or in addition to) my camera and recording more video. Photos are awesome, but there’s something to be said about actually being able to see *and* hear the things over and over again.

  7. Plan ahead for cake, or be specific with your instructions. We had a small sheet cake that we cut as our “wedding cake”, and a couple of larger cakes to augment that, with the expectation that the small cake would be cut up and served along with the larger cake. Apparently the venue treated the small cake as the “top layer” and saved it for us, giving it to us at the end of the night to take home. Only problem — we were going to the hotel and didn’t have a fridge.
    And that’s how we ended up at 1 AM on our wedding night eating chocolate cake in the bathroom using plastic cups.
    (Eventually we decided we could fill the sink with ice, put the cake on top, and cover it with a towel to preserve it… but we’d eaten almost half the cake by them.)
    On the plus side, it makes for an awesome post-wedding memory. :)

Edit: Numbers updated to include everything but the rehearsal dinner.


So, uh. I guess I got married or something.

Yesterday was the first day in months that I wasn’t stressing out of my mind over something, and the first day in many days when I could actually relax and didn’t feel like I was neglecting something important to do. So yeah, weddings are srs bsnss, and are remarkably a lot of effort to put together. Tons of respect to everyone else that has gone through the process — I didn’t think I expected quite so many logistical things to follow and manage and deal with. (Also super props to the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, and specifically, Mike, who made the evening flow in ways we never would have been able to do and who was so instrumental in the entire process of figuring out times and setups.)

But yeah. The wedding itself was pretty much perfect, from our standpoint. (I hear from some people a couple of things didn’t go quite perfectly, like people not being let into the reception hall until after cocktails, and them forgetting to set out forks for the cake.) It was definitely not a typical wedding, but I think for the two of us, it was exactly what we wanted, and went off without any issues.

I somehow made it through my vows without completely breaking down and crying, and didn’t miss too many of my cues in the ceremony. So that was good. (Our officiant Marguerite from My Happy Day was also so, so good, and props to her for creating such a beautiful ceremony for us.)
I’m actually really glad we have a video of the ceremony, because I don’t actually remember much of it. It went by so fast, and I wasn’t really able to concentrate on things at the time. :)

Our centerpieces turned out quite well! It took until Friday morning to finish them up, but I think they were quite successful.

Escort cards! We spent Thursday night (during a huge downpour that left us stuck in Cyert for a bit) redrawing all of the icons to have more consistent line thicknesses. I think they all came out quite well in the end.

Games table! (Well, one part of one of three tables that had games on them.) We printed too many notepads, but the cards seemed to be popular. :)

Our photographers were so amazing to work with. Lori and Fred from FineLine were amazingly personable and friendly and easy to work with. I’m sure their photos came out awesomely as well (but it will be a few weeks yet until we see any of those).

We expected getting dressed to take like 15 minutes (how long can it take to put on a dress shirt, pants, tie, and vest?). Turns out I’m short, and my tie is long, and we had to re-tie it 5 times before it finally ended up a reasonable length with the front longer than the back. Patrick’s knowledge of tie-tieing and formalwear in general was incredibly useful. (Also yayyy Patrick! :D)

Chris! The holding room they had us in was so beautiful.

Once dinner started, we had a bit of a chance to breathe. And all we could think (and say to each other was) that “We made a thing happen. All these people are here because of us, and for us. Wat.” It’s incredible how many people made it out for us.

I really liked our (photo) guestbook.

Wedding bowling! :D :D

More photos and stuff will show up at some point once I’ve had a chance to start sorting them, and put the apartment back together a bit since it is currently full of boxes of wedding things.

Wedding… imminent

As followup to the last post, it turns out we don’t actually have bedbugs. Greg has not gotten any new bites, I have not gotten any new bites, and the inspector that came found no sign of bedbugs. That’s good news.
The IRS helplines are so flooded right now I haven’t been able to get through, so meh. Whatever. It’s not like any more damage can be done now anyway.

But life has been super busy with wedding things, but it’s all small details at this point.
Still on our TODO list are the escort cards, the wedding ceremony programmes, and finishing the centerpieces.

Our tables are not going to be numbered, but rather identified by their centerpiece (for example, an ITG Arrow or a camera). We’ve made the paper mache for all 17 tables at this point (consisting of 20 separate paper mache pieces). Many of them are fully painted already, also. It’s been a rather fun experience.

These paper mache pieces are going to rest on top of boxes covered with photos of people at that table. I think it will be awesome… or hopefully it will at least not suck, given how much of our lives (and weekends) these things have consumed.

I’m getting married in 4 days! Ahhhh!