Cartagena, Colombia: A Gem on the Caribbean

You’re standing atop a hundreds of years old stone wall, looking out over waves of the Caribbean Sea crashing into the beach. The city is relaxed, cosmopolitan, and tropical. It is a foodie’s, and a history buff’s, paradise. Low key and luxurious. Very old and very new.

What it isn’t is a drug war zone, but that’s what people might think when you tell them you’re going to Cartagena, Colombia. Blame it on lingering news images from the 80s. While Colombia has rebounded generally, people in Cartagena told me their city was never quite like that.

I spent 5 fantastic days in mid July in Cartagena. It’s full name is Cartagena de Indias, Cartagena of the Indies, and that accounts for why I felt like I was right at home among the Caribbean people my West Indian family came from – because I was.  The city has a dual personality, split between an old town – La Ciudad Antigua – defined by 16th- century fortress walls and a new city, soaring up from a peninsula with highrise hotels and apartment buildings. Construction is booming on the peninsula, with several new hotels going up.

The night I arrived, a wedding party was being held on one of the galleons that are docked in the Las Ánimas Bay. Fireworks from the reception lit up the sky.

Fireworks over Cartagena

Fireworks over Cartagena

 

Cartagena is on the rise as a destination wedding location, but note that if you are not Colombian, your civil and legal marriage would have to take place in your home country. Still, Cartagena opens its doors to you – even the nearly 500-year-old Castillo San Felipe fort that overlooks the city is available as a venue for your special celebration.

Dancers, Castillo San Felipe fort

Dancers, Castillo San Felipe fort

 

Same sex marriage is legal in Colombia, so a same-sex couple should expect a welcoming environment for their wedding festivities. The Cartagena Chamber of Commerce will be launching a program to help couples plan weddings in their city in the coming months.

You and your party would certainly be well-fed. The food in Cartagena is delightful. Given its Caribbean location, I was on a mission to eat as much fried fish and ceviche as I could. I tried both at several restaurants. My favorite fried fish was served at Pizza & Pasta in the Old City. For the bargain price of around 11,000 pesos (about $6 USD), not only was I served an entrée of fried fish, rice, salad, and lentils, but the meal was preceded with a banana and a delicious bowl of ajiaco, a soup with beef, chicken, corn, and other veggies. I washed it all down with agua de panela, a light, refreshing, not too sweet drink made from sugar.

My favorite ceviche restaurant was the aptly named La Cevichería, also in the Old City. I tried a sampler of various flavors of ceviche, made of shrimp, fish, and octopus, as an appetizer, and had a wonderful paella for my entrée. La Cevichería, despite being nestled among high-end hotels, was incredibly inexpensive.

What else to do while in town? The Old City is the place for historical and cultural explorations. The Gold Museum showcased the intricate and beautiful jewelry of the ancient indigenous people of Colombia. Next to the Church of San Pedro Claver sits a museum dedicated to his memory, housed in the house where he lived and worked. San Pedro Claver was the patron saint of slaves, who fought a dedicated fight throughout his life for the rights of enslaved people. The Church has beautiful courtyards, an impressive collection of religious art, and – during my visit – was showcasing a collection of Afro-Haitian art. I took a private walking tour of the Church and the Old City, which I highly recommend, and learned about Cartagena’s history as a major port during the time of Spain’s conquest of the Americas.  The Old City is also host to public events such as concerts and festivals throughout the year.

 

Concert in front of San Pedro Claver Church

Concert in front of San Pedro Claver Church

 

Colombia is known for the quality of its emeralds and gold jewelry, so come prepared to shop, as well.

Far more beautiful than the city beaches are those in the Islas del Rosario off the coast. It takes about an hour to reach the islands by ferry from the Cartagena city pier, and a round trip visit package including lunch is easy to book from tour operators throughout the city. The water is clearer and the sand is softer than that of the beaches in the city, so a trip to the Islas del Rosario is a must during any trip to Cartagena.

If you enjoy nightlife, the bars and nightclubs are located in Getsemaní, an older area of town located right next to the walled city. Whether you enjoy spending late nights dancing and drinking or not, make the time to catch a Chiva party bus. For 30,000-40,000 pesos ($15-$20 USD), you will be treated to a live band playing rumba music, a tour of greatest hits, tour of city monuments (which look all that much more intriguing in the moonlight), and unlimited mixed drinks. The liquor served is what is called the national rum, but unlike other rums it is made with anise and has a distinctive flavor. Most chivas get going around 8pm, and will take you to a nightclub if that’s your thing at around 11:00pm – or return you to your hotel if it’s not.

In fact, it was from my seat on a chiva that I witnessed the wedding that punctuated the night sky with fireworks.

Cartagena was high on my bucket list of places to see.  But I found that it wasn’t just a place to check off my list and then move on.  I cannot wait for my next trip to this beautiful city.

 

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Lets Talk Fashion with British Bridal Designer – Kosibah’s Yemi Osunkoya

Even though it was almost 8 years ago, I remember vividly the excitement I felt when I decided to look for my dream wedding dress. The plan was to buy something off the rack, an elegant statement piece, one that people would ooh and aah and one that would take my groom’s breath away upon first sight. However, my dress was designed and made just for me, my first haute couture experience.

Shall we fast-forward 8 years as I walk into Kosibah to meet with the owner Yemi Osunkoya. Yemi is an impressive man, tall and charming yet eloquent in his approach. As he guides me through his journey, his labor of love shines through when he describes to me his journey of how he came to be one of the foremost British black haute couture bridal designers, still standing for 23 years. I ask if there is any significance with the name Kosibah. It turns out to be a derivation of his mother’s name. She was born on a Sunday and named Cosiba; he changed the spelling to make it a little more user friendly yet different and Kosibah was born.

'Odile''Odette'

Image courtesy of Damien Lovegrove                            Image courtesy of Alakija Studios

I wanted to know more about this important designer, so I delved into his background and how he came to be a designer. He explains that the compromise he made with his parents when he told them he wanted to be a designer it would be for that reason he would go to university. “If I could have gone to university to study fashion design in Nigeria, I would have done so, but there wasn’t any university offering fashion design courses at that time. So I decided to study textile design because I thought fashion and textiles go hand in hand and it could always come in useful afterwards. So when I came to England, I didn’t want to go through another 4 years of fashion school; I just wanted to learn how to sew, how to draft a pattern, how to cut fabric and other practical skills relevant to creating clothes because I could already design and was pretty good at sketching out my design ideas.” In London he attended a private fashion school called the Paris Academy School of Fashion. It’s closed now, but there he was taught old-school couture: “where you take 26 very precise body measurements from your client, you then develop a body block, from the body block you make a pattern draft and then you do a fitting on your client with a mockup/prototype of the garment you are making in toile; there’s usually some slight fitting issues that are flagged up at this stage because everyone’s body is different so I don’t deal in dress sizes, I deal in body measurements for each individual.”

'Ekatarina'

Image courtesy of Kosibah

After starting his business in casual wear, he very quickly realized his methods of production were not viable and would be both too expensive and labor intensive. His business organically evolved into bridal and special occasion wear because of the way he wanted to make his dresses. “I can create whatever my client wants. The unifying factor in all my dresses is the figure enhancing aspect of them, so regardless of whether I’m using kente, or I’m using ankara or I’m using lace, or I’m using duchess satin, it’s the same couture process I use but it’s all client led.”

Kosibah Real Bride Hadiza
Image courtesy of  Kosibah

Ladies, finally a designer that cares about women with curves! Yemi goes on to explain, “they obviously come to me because they’ve seen something I’ve done. I sit down with them, I look at them physically to see what would fit because that’s my basic ethos. I ask myself what can I do for this person in front of me to flatter them and make them look their best? Sometimes we minimize certain body areas and sometimes we enhance other body parts.” As a woman with curves, I begin to smile and Yemi smiles back in acknowledgment that I like his style!

Kente-Oke BridesmaidMother of the Bride Lady Boateng and Yemi
Images courtesy of Kosibah

Dressing his bride is a service he offers because after working for months on a dress, he wants to see the dress in the right setting and wants to ensure it looks exactly the way he designed the piece. A client who he met through Instagram flew him to Abuja to the wedding to dress her. Ladies, you can bring the designer to you! Yemi is not only a 21st century designer but he is engaged with social media and recognizes how powerful a marketing tool it is for his product. He understands the power of Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook, “learning the etiquette of the social platforms he uses” he now has clients he would not have met under normal circumstances.

Kosibah Real Bride TemiKosibah Real Bride Chinyelu I

Images courtesy of Kosibah

I asked Yemi whom would he consider as his ideal client. He explains, “she is a full-figured woman because anybody that is a size 14 or under, people might just assume she’s got great body.” A full-figured woman that wears one of his dresses should expect a significant amount of body sculpting in order to make more of an impact. If you’re not sample sized, it might be more difficult to just get something off the peg which is where getting something bespoke might be your priority. Because of “the quality of the fabric, embellishments that I use in my dresses and the line and the silhouette of the finished gown, I want it to always scream class and grace.” I ask him if he could dress any bride, or create a bespoke dress, who or what would that be? Yemi immediately responds, “if Oprah ever decides that she wants to marry Stedman, she should come and knock on my door, and I will create the most amazing dress for her because she has the perfect figure I’d like to get my hands … ’cause she has an hourglass figure.” I smile and tell him we’ll have to get that message across the pond to Oprah.

Check out Yemi at the following:

http://www.kosibah.co.uk
https://www.facebook.com/YemiKosibah
http://www.twitter.com/yemikosibah
http://uk.linkedin.com/in/yemiosunkoya
http://www.yemikosibah.com

 

Michelle Lowe is the travel editor for World Bride Magazine and is based in London, UK.

GETTING MARRIED IN A MAGICAL LANDSCAPE ‘Expect the unexpected’ by Gwen Cover

jokulsarlon-glacier-lagoonJökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon (Iceland’s Iceberg Bay)

Forget debating over the benefits of the sun, fresh food and the white sandy beaches of the Caribbean when Iceland can offer a wedding destination that is unique, stunning and picture perfect beyond your imagination.

Couples who choose to have their ceremony in Iceland will have a vast choice of adventure with breathtaking backdrops.

Not for the faint-hearted, but for the bride and groom who are super excited to have an Iceland wedding adventure on an island of active volcanoes, snow-covered glaciers, hot springs and mountains near geothermal pools.

Affectionately named the ‘land of fire and ice,’ this beautiful North Atlantic island can cater to your fantasy of an epic wedding day.

iceland.wedding.bouquetrist

The question is . . . what type of ceremony would match your fantasy?

Here are some suggestions and tips to consider!

You can opt to wed in a romantic countryside church in a valley among the backdrop of tranquility and natural surroundings. You would need to book 6-12 months in advance as there are few small romantic churches in Iceland due to their small population (just over 328,000). Therefore, careful planning, especially in the summer months is advised in order to have the church of your choice.

northern.lights.at.hotel.budir.iceland

Above – Northern lights at the famous black church for Iceland Weddings.  Budir Church Wedding Snæfellsnes Peninsula (and below).

budir.church.weddinghttps://www.hotelbudir.is/weddings/

hellnar seaside church

 Hellnar Church Seaside Country Church Snæfellsnes Peninsula.http://icelandweddingplanner.com/?attachment_id=3547

The vibrant and artistic hub of downtown Reykjavik (pronounced Rey – ka – vik) – the capital of Iceland – is also a popular choice for ceremonies.

Below is the majestic Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Cathedral (the official church of Iceland), the tallest and most prominent building in Reykjavik. There are specific requirements to marry in this church and so to avoid disappointment, you would need to plan at least 12-18 months in advance and consider the help of an Iceland wedding planner.

Reykjavik's-churchhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallgr%C3%ADmskirkja

If you would rather have your epic wedding day outdoors, there are numerous options to explore. A few are mentioned below.

Your ceremony can be set against a 60 feet stunning waterfall such as the Seljalandsfoss below.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

The fabulous advantage of this waterfall is that you can walk behind and marry right in front of it. The practical issue to overcome is the noise level. The Seljalandsfoss waterfall is remarkable with a roaring natural sound. For your guests to hear the exchange of your wedding vows, you will need a microphone and speaker system. No kidding!!!!!

seljalandsfoss-waterfall.ann

http://icelandweddingplanner.com/?s=Seljalandsfoss+Waterfall&submit=Search

There are also safety factors to consider, such as wearing appropriate shoes so as not to slip on the rocks and taking an umbrella and coat to protect yourself and your guests from the waterfall sprays. With planning and good advice, you will marvel in the splendor of your surroundings and have wonderful memories of your wedding day.

Another outdoor ceremony can be arranged in the expansive moss lava fields that have grown over volcanic rocks for thousands of years.

Hotel ION – The luxury adventure hotel amidst the moss lava fields.

ION_17http://ioniceland.is/

Or on a magical black sandy beach on the shores of Reynisfjara beach, often referred to as Vik beach, if you like the ocean, the wind, puffin birds (if you are fortunate to see them) and the sand.

Vik Beach

http://icelandweddingplanner.com/?s=vik+beach&submit=Search

Skardsvik beach - Snaefellsnes peninsula

Skardsvik beach – Snaefellsnes peninsula

Below is a Basalt rock cave at Vik beach (Hálsanefshellir Cave) where you may have a spiritual Icelandic wedding ceremony inside.

reynisfjara.beach.weddingreynisfjara.vik.beach.cave

Be daring and consider having your ceremony in the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon (Yeah…try pronouncing this!!) in southern Iceland as featured below.

iceland.canyon.fjadrargljufur

And not to mention the stunning location in Iceland’s Iceberg Bay. Officially known as Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.

glacier.lagoon.Iceland

As you can see, there are many surreal backdrops to choose from.

What about the weather you may ask?

Ignore the misconception that Iceland is covered in snow. It is an island of all weathers where rain, snow, wind and sunshine can be experienced in one day!! 

The temperature can range from somewhere between 35-55 fahrenheit. Therefore, expect to cater for the unexpected by being prepared.

Engage the help of your family and the relevant professionals. Learn a little about the culture. Have faith. Do your research. Have a Plan B. And budget wisely as Iceland is a very expensive island. You will be unable to control all potential worries (such as a volcano eruption) but working alongside a wedding planner will ensure plans are in place to cater for eventualities.

Imagine having your wedding day in the early morning of the daylight hours or under the midnight sun. Simply magical!

The summer months of June, July and August are bright with daylight up to 22-24 hours. You could be eating your wedding breakfast and enjoying your reception at a seaside restaurant under the midnight sun.  How awesome is that!

Or you can opt for the quiet, snowy tranquil dark hours of the winter months with less than 4 hours sunshine each day? And maybe have the chance to observe the Northern Lights at the same time.

Hotel ION – the Luxury Adventure Hotel

ION_18

http://ioniceland.is/

Whichever location and time of year you plan to have your ceremony, your epic wedding adventure in stunning Iceland will be magical.

Have a wonderful experience as you say “I DO” with dreamy memories to last you a lifetime.

About the Editor:

Gwen Cover is your Life Design Friend. She provides the space for smart women to nurture themselves, connect with their inner wisdom/beauty, have mind pampering treatments and reinvent their careers. She is highly sought after by private clients and business owners throughout the UK/London. Her clients describe having ‘aha moments’ creating a road map for a new lifestyle and perhaps more importantly, plenty of adventure along the way.

Cover resides in London, England where she runs a successful business through coaching, workshops, writing and kindness retreats named the Life Design Salon.

 Many thanks for the permission to use the Photos above courtesy of :

Iceland Wedding Planner and Photography Team

http://icelandweddingplanner.com/

https://icelandweddingplanner.com/iceland-wedding-planning/

Photos by Miss Ann

http://www.photosbymissann.com/

Hotel ION – The Luxury Adventure Hotel

http://ioniceland.is/

Hotel Budir – Weddings at Hotel Budir

https://www.hotelbudir.is/weddings/

Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallgr%C3%ADmskirkja

DIY vs. Don’t Even Try: Let’s Talk International Destination Weddings

 

There are no rules with a destination wedding.  Not today, not anymore.  Freedom and style, especially for international brides, trump conventional ‘rules.’  The way it was done before still holds some merit, the only difference is that now it’s connected to deeper cultural traditions, the merging of different backgrounds and a real respect for new multi-cultural traditions. That said, it is pretty important when jumping into an international meeting with real brides about destination wedding plans to really get to the heart of what a bride needs to know must be established. Recently speaking to real bride Faz Abdul Gaffa, who intends on having a ceremony in Singapore and also one in New Jersey, it was important to break the ice and give her sound advice that can help her make a decision she feels good about.
So, at 10:00am EST and 10:00pm Singapore time, Faz greeted me on our first Google+ Hangout session with a bright and open twinkle in her eye with that blazing question that every bride-to-be should ask herself and someone else: do I really need a wedding planner? The answer is YES, an overwhelming yes. With limited time for our first e-meet-and-greet, we had plenty of territory to cover. As Faz had already decided on a private yacht in the Singapore harbor overlooking its skyline as her first wedding location, we moved on to the save the date announcements. I suggested that these be sent out as soon as possible, 9-12 months are ideal. The formal invitation should be sent out anywhere from two to three months ahead of your wedding date. Let’s not forget to list your URL on your invite so guests can go online to your wedding site and find out information on places to stay, special rates, location maps, airport transport, etc. Ceremony locations and timelines of your multiple events should be listed among other guest information. As you can see during the second part of our conversation I literally had so much to squeeze in to ensure she knew all that happens during wedding planning that you may notice Google+ Hangouts simply stopped switching the camera between us both and just focused on my attempt to fill her in.  With weddings, there is simply so much to consider.  Imagine, if one 24 minutes Google+ Hangouts session seems to be a lot, what happens once the ball gets rolling with vendors, flowers, guests, accommodations, officiants, etc.
Faz has a vision of a stylish, intimate to medium sized wedding and is considering inviting the same wedding guests to travel to both international ceremony destinations.  I felt compelled to let her know that what actually sounds like one wedding, in this case, is actually two and that this is why getting those save the dates out the door sooner than later was very important. Multi event locations can become very costly and time consuming for your guest and can take a lot of planning on their side as well. We do admire her pazazz but from experience we know that planning has frustrated countless brides in the past. Brides should be free of this burden because the level of stress is literally the opposite of what our bride should feel on her wedding day splendor. It’s a conversation that marks the beginning of a trusting relationship.
To hear Faz tell the story of how she met her fiancé, John, at a Halloween party shows the joy she feels about her approaching nuptials and the love she has for her partner, but I find it’s pretty important for brides to understand that there is a craft to wedding and event planning. Our job is to incorporate your personalities, vision and dreams into your wedding and to take care of every detail, so you don’t have to. Whether it’s day of coordination, partial planning or full planning, for anyone planning a memorable event, let alone planning a wedding (or two!), we don’t only create for the sake of the host or bride and groom to look their best amongst their family and friends.  We become the creators so that couples can enjoy guests and the magic they envisioned. Though the decision making process at this stage can cause some anxiety, it’s not as black and white as many think.  For brides who are reconsidering planning their own event (in lieu of articles like this), who don’t have access to a gratuitous budget, we actually created Weddings in a Box package, an all inclusive must-have kit for those deciding to elope or who prefer to have an intimate ceremony with a special touch but without the ongoing details of a full scale wedding.  With this option brides can keep a close relationship with an upscale planner but from a consulting perspective.  Ahhh, the power of choice.
Faz is a young professional in love, who should be absolutely hassle free on her big days.  Directing her own multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-destination wedding when she’s never done it before is like refashioning the engine of a rare car without all of the parts.  With one year from her weddings, Faz will now have to decide if she will weather the DIY wedding planning storm or if she’ll consider other options.  She can pick up where we left off once she chooses a date. Well, two dates.

About Marc Wilson:

Marc Wilson is the Guest Lifestyle Editor of World Bride Magazine, a 2013 Big Apple Award nominee and the Founder and Creative Director of Weddings by MWD Lifestyles.  Marc’s company, MWD Lifestyles (formerly Marc Wilson Design), is a full scale wedding, event design, production and planning company with destination partnerships and capabilities and has grown to be the name in the decor and events, weddings and destination industry it is today.  Marc’s fifteen years within the events industry has resulted in national and international recognition and, to date, MWD Lifestyles has worked with Rolex, Hugo Boss, Martha Stewart Weddings and MGM Metro Goldwyn Mayer.  Marc’s work has been published in Grace Ormond Wedding Style, Design Bureau, New York Weddings, Manhattan, Essence, Weddings by Design, The Knot, Brides and Town&Country. FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest.