Preparing for the big day

After getting engaged, if all goes well, one will get married, thus calling for a wedding to be organised. There are various ways to get married, and to organise a wedding. We could have eloped to a tropical island, stopped by a wedding chapel in Las Vegas, or throw a big party for all our friends and family. Naturally, we went for the latter :).Also, we (OK, mainly I) wanted to do as much as we could ourselves, so no wedding planner, because we were going to keep things simple. The thing is that we were pretty much wedding novices; Paul attended 3 friends’ weddings, and I attended one wedding when I was 5, and one of Paul’s friends’ weddings. On the one hand, this is quite liberating, as we weren’t hampered by tradition, on the other hand it also means there is a lot of stuff we didn’t know, but that’s OK, we learn fast. Also, every time Paul had the opportunity, he would buy me a wedding magazine, so I would (because apparently even though two people are getting married, the lady has the reigns when it comes to the wedding) have access to all the things I needed to know (and really didn’t need to know!) about weddings. Of course I diligently read everything (well, there isn’t much to read in these magazines, as it’s mostly ads for ridiculously expensive engagement rings, wedding dresses and the most horrendous bridesmaids dresses, and the textual information that is in there largely covers topics that I don’t care about, such as which handbag to take on your honeymoon, or find total BS in general such as reader’s comments about the weird wedding dreams they had (“I’ve had several dreams about teeth. When I open my mouth to talk at the wedding my teeth turn to rocks and crumble”, what does this mean??? I don’t know, perhaps you should marry a dentist?)).

Anyway, here’s an account of our adventures in wedding planning land.

Dress shopping

My first dress shopping experience was in December 2009 in Florida with my mother-in-law-to-be. Dress shopping is quite an interesting undertaking. First I found out that dresses in the shop come in one size: big (or well, “average size”, which for me is just huge). So to make sure that the dress doesn’t fall off you (as the choices are strapless, strapless, or strapless) they have some sort of clamps that they put on the back to keep things up (the black things in the picture below, and don’t worry, that’s not THE dress).

In one afternoon I tried on some 15 dresses in two different shops. However, I wasn’t ready to buy a dress, also because I wanted to let my mother in on the decision, but it was really good to get a feel for what’s around and what works for me (hint: a dress that I wear, instead of one that wears me).

So in January, back in the Netherlands, it was time for dress shopping part II. The first thing that struck me, was that apparently there are more weddings happening in the Netherlands than I thought, because it was quite hard to get an appointment at some of the bridal shops. Anyway, we did get one, so on a snowy Saturday morning I found myself in a bridal shop in Breda with my mother, my sister, my uncle, my brother’s girlfriend and Diana. The first shop was ‘interesting’. They had me put on some funky corset and a hoop-skirt and shoes before I got to try on any of the dresses. The lady did not seem to understand what I meant by “I don’t like lace and frills” because all the dresses she picked off the rack for me had either lace or shiny beads or whatever, so we also didn’t find what I was looking for in that shop. I did  contemplate a dress with a fur lining because the heating was broken in the shop and it was seriously uncomfortable to try on strapless dresses.

In the next shop, the heating worked (which was nice) and they had a plan. Which involved working our way through first a bunch of dresses in very different styles, evaluating what I liked about each, and from there narrowing down the search until we found the dress. In the end, there were two amazing dresses left, from which I chose the more comfortable one (which also turned out to be only half of what the other one cost). So I paid half of it, and the order was placed. They expected it to arrive sometime in May, which would give us plenty of time to get it fitted (as the skirt is normally too long, and confection sizes are an approximate, which is fine for a t-shirt, but not for a wedding dress).

Indeed sometime in May, I got a letter that my dress had arrived and in the last week of May I found myself at the dress shop again with my mother. Only, the dress was too big. Waaaaaay to big (the black clamps were needed again). Not good. So another dress was ordered, two sizes smaller and early July I received word again that my dress had arrived at the shop. Back to Breda, and this was indeed a lot better, although it still needed a little bit of work here and there, so it got pinned to me, and two weeks later there would be another fitting. It turns out that I chose a rather difficult dress to get fitted, as the fabric is very thin, and every little wrinkle is visible, so the seamstress spent some more time straightening stuff out (pinning it on me in the morning, and having another fitting in the afternoon), but it all worked out, and a week before the wedding (after another two trips to the shop) they managed to get it all sorted out and I got to take it home.

Finding a Location

Paul and I knew that we wanted to get married in Amsterdam. But that still leaves you with a few hundred options, as the City of Amsterdam has quite a few designated wedding locations, plus you can ask the city to temporarily designate a location as a wedding location, so we could have gotten married in front of our house if we’d wanted to (well, actually, we couldn’t, but more on that later).

Our first choice was the Muziektheater, in the city centre of Amsterdam, so in November 2009, we had a meeting with there with the party staff, and we found out that the place hadn’t been booked yet on the date that we had in mind. So excellent! Well, no, as it turns out, the agenda was empty because they were going to renovate in August. So, back to square one. A co-worker mentioned that the city office of ‘Oud-Zuid’ is nice (right next to the Vondelpark), and as getting married at a town hall is also cheaper, we thought that would be a good option. We still needed to get our marriage licence, so we gave them a call to get an appointment for that, and try to book the place for the ceremony as well. The good news is that we good get our marriage licence there no problem (due to Paul’s superduper visa, he didn’t even need special permission from the immigration services to marry me), the bad news is that the town hall would move to a new location before our wedding date and they didn’t know whether they would have space for wedding ceremonies there (there being all the way out of the city centre near a motorway so that didn’t sound too attractive anyway). In the meantime, we had already found a cool place for the party, in Oud Zuid. So we started looking for other places in that area to have the ceremony, but they were not quite our thing, didn’t respond to email, or they were too expensive (€ 2,500 just to have the ceremony somewhere is just a bit ridiculous). Then we started thinking out of the box. Let’s do something funky! Paul and I like to hang out at Bagels and Beans. Amsterdam has quite a few, but there is one near where we live, on the water, with a nice view, and it’s pretty big too. Perhaps we could have the ceremony there, since it’s a public space. According to the website of the City of Amsterdam we could file a request to have it designated temporarily as a wedding location. The city website also said to call the office of the part of the town in which the place is located to get more info. I spent three days trying to get the right person on the line. Who then took 5 mins to tell me that they can’t accept any new requests for the next 4 months because this part of the city was going to merge with another part of the city and no-one knew what was going to happen. Bummer (and this also meant that plan B, a wedding with a barbecue in front of our house, in case all else would fail would also not happen).

It turns out that Oud Zuid wasn’t the only pretty town hall building the city had, another co-worker said that Westerpark was quite nice too. And this time we got lucky: the offices wouldn’t move from that building until September (so not until after our wedding), and it wasn’t booked yet on our day.

Culture Clash?

I have been told that in Dutch weddings, you have day guests (the people close to you, whom you feed and water the whole day) and evening guests. But this probably implies that your guests don’t have to come from far, for example, you don’t send a friend that came all the way from the US off after the ceremony to come back after dinner for the party because dinner is only for close family. So we decided to feed all our guests through a simple, but tasty buffet. Then, at American and British weddings, a cash bar is acceptable, at Dutch weddings, this is just not done: weddings have open bars. Solution: beer, wine and soda are on us, if you want a special drink, you pay.

The Cake(s)

Apparently, the things that people remember from weddings are a) the bride’s dress, b) the cake. Even though we’re both highly allergic to fluffy icing and the silly little figurines on top of wedding cakes, I obtained some information about wedding cakes. And I was shocked. The price of a wedding cake is not by cake, but by piece. And the pieces of the places I checked around Amsterdam start at around €8.50. We had already figured out that we would have somewhere close to 100 guests, so that would be a rather expensive cake (is the dairy that wedding cakes are made up of infused with gold or something?). Then there is this thing that is called “bordjesgeld” (“little plate money”). Apparently, in some places you have to pay extra (per plate) to have them serve the wedding cake (because of course the plates you use for the wedding cake, you can’t put in the dishwasher with the other plates that will already be used for the dinner??). The quote I got from that from one of the places we looked at for the location was €1,50 per plate. Oh and don’t forget the deposit for the cake stand!

Sooo, we decided not to go for a traditional wedding cake but for a selection of different cakes that we like, so that our guests would also have different flavours to choose from. This did mean we had to test some local bakeries 🙂

We also wanted our wedding to be personal (well, most weddings are personal I guess, but we wanted extra-personal). We hired a friend as the photographer, the invitations were designed by Paul’s dad, the bouquet was made by a good friend of my family (kind of family), the dresses of the bridesmaids were made by the mother of my brother’s girlfriend, and in addition to the cakes from the bakery, my grandmother baked one of her killer apple pies (seriously the best apple pie in the world, ask any of the wedding guests who were lucky enough to get a piece). Getting the apple pie to the wedding turned out to be a bit of a feat. Of course we wanted to have it at the venue before the party and all that because it wouldn’t be nice to drag it around all day (as we didn’t have cars or anything). Frank was supposed to bring it from “the South” to Amsterdam on the Thursday before the wedding, when he would come up for Paul’s bachelor party. But he forgot, probably because he was already bringing a bunch of other stuff, such as a guitar and 13 emergency ponchos. Luckily, Diana and my dad would come on Friday to drop off the dresses of the bridesmaids and the flowers, so they also brought the cake. But then, it still had to get to the reception venue. The reception venue happened to be quite close to the place where I would get my hair done on Saturday morning, so Judith, dear friend and one of the bridesmaids, was kind enough to pop over to the reception venue while I was at the hairdresser’s (and to subsequently get lost in Amsterdam, but luckily she made it back).


So we would have our ceremony at Westerpark, and the party at Museumplein. Amsterdam is a very car-unfriendly town, and we also didn’t want to break up the party by having all our guests figure out for themselves how to get from A to B. We could of course take the tram (tram 10 runs from near our house, to Museumplein all the way to Westerpark) but that’s not very elegant. We then looked into boats, as we absolutely love boats (every time someone visits us we take them on a boat tour through Amsterdam, so we’ve done pretty much every tour boat company and every route). We first enquired with some companies, but it would be a bit of a costly undertaking. But then, a co-worker had a boat after his PhD defence, so I got the number of his boat contact, and all of a sudden we had three boats. They were simple, open boats, but we figured it’s August, it should be fine. But then, the five days prior to the wedding it rained at least once every day, and not just a few drops, but proper rain, as in you will be soaked in less than 10 seconds. The emergency plan was found in 100 emergency rain ponchos:

And that was really it…OK we also did loads of not so interesting stuff such as writing invitations, making a budget (forgetting to put rings on the budget), putting together a menu, having a chat with the registrar but that’s all really straightforward and boring to write about.