Well, I’m officially a married woman. Who in the heck thought that would ever happen? Not me. But alas, I’m Mrs. Russian…. Still known as still Liz Rau.
And I, for one, would like to thank the media for creating world-wide hysteria during the time of our traveling plans. Lines were short, service levels were fantastic and planes weren’t overcrowded. Traveling felt like a luxury whilst in Europe.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning and how I chose to go to Europe from the beginning, and exactly how COVID-19 played a major role in my small, intimate – and what was supposed to be simple – wedding.
I decided over a year ago that I didn’t want a big wedding – hell, I didn’t even want a wedding. I have been a bridesmaid more that I’d like to admit and every single time, it seemed like the couple getting married didn’t get to enjoy their day. People are stressful and I wanted zero stress. I didn’t want to worry about friends and family not getting along, guests not filling out their RSVPs and then go-showing the wedding, paying for food that people ultimately won’t be satisfied with, etc. etc. The more I thought about what everything would entail, the more my anxiety rose. So, where is my happy place? Europe. It’s magical fairytale land with history and stories around every single corner – and we know how much I like magic.
Thus, we priced out different locations we loved and settled on France and Italy. The goal: take our parents with us to France for a small ceremony and a week-long vacation of memories. Then, jet set off to Italy for a little mi amore just for the two of us. Months of planning went into this trip.
Then, COVID-19 got in the way. Over and over, I watched the media grow the hysteria to new heights. Thus, a week prior to departure, we were forced to change our Venice destination to Naples (with no refund, I might add) as we watched the northern region of Italy shut down. We called the airline and changed our flights, found a new hotel, all was good.
It wasn’t until I was checking in for our flights a week later that we got our sign that things may not turn out in our favor. I have traveled the world and come face to face with potential diseases since my first international trip 19 years ago. Good heavens, I can get the West Nile virus in my own backyard. So, quite frankly, I was giving all the hyped-up news in the media a small grain of regular old-fashioned table salt.
But upon checking in, one of our flight segments was canceled and the airline neglected to even tell us. I won’t name the airlines we traveled, as they have enough happening, but I still expect quality customer service. What’s that obnoxious quote? “But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best." It’s an awful quote and I hate it, but I often think about best business practices… sorry, I digress. The airlines had bigger problems than my wedding/honeymoon, I get it and I’m not holding the grudge. The flight was smooth and the flight attendants were nice.
But the foreshadowing that occurred from that day on was legit.
The trip went something like this:
Day 1: Checked in and sat on the phone for hours trying to get a cancelled segment re-protected. It never happened, so I had to book a different carrier for our France to Italy initial segment. Then, we go to the airport and check-in. As we are sitting in our departure lounge (yes, I sprung for a pass for my mother-in-law because I’m a classy broad), I get a DM on Instagram from my Naples hotel. First and foremost, Macchiato Suites in Naples was the absolute best for reaching out to me directly and letting me know she was choosing to shut down the hotel for the remainder of March as a precaution – ahead of the government mandating it in Italy. The owner was a sweetheart and told me she would personally call the tour operator I was booked through to ensure I would get a full refund. Follow @MacchiatoSuites on Instagram – they are awesome.
So then, I sat in our departure lounge and canceled the CDG-NAP segment I had just re-protected mere hours earlier. I also sent an e-mail to my Rome hotel and asked about a refund there. As I waited for a response, we boarded our flight to Paris and didn’t look back.
Day 2: Did I mention we had to connect in Frankfurt? Ahead of boarding or flight in Denver, we were delayed due to the pilots chair being broken. Thus, we missed our connection in Frankfurt and hung out for an additional four hours. Bored and cranky, having not slept at all on the overseas flight, I tried to keep my head up. For those that know me – well – I get easily annoyed. So, to be sleep deprived, delayed and Italy being cancelled… I think I was a real trooper. Meanwhile, our Rome hotel responded saying they would not offer us a refund as they were not personally affected by the novel coronavirus. Really? Um, okay.
My parents, having flown a different carrier and from KC, arrived on time and took the private transfer I had booked for all five of us, and started their trip early by getting the lay of the land. They made friends with the staff at our hotel, as well as the café next door, so by the time we arrived – we were known. It was like hanging out with friends and daily we were treated so well.
When we arrived at Madeleine Plaza Hotel, the excitement finally crept in. (Follow this hotel in Instagram @madeleine_plaza_paris). This hotel was perfectly located in Paris. We were central to everything, which made it a great location for our parents to see all the best of Paris. The front desk staff checked us in (very small style, they house the keys behind the desk) and we walked next door to meet my parents at the Madeleine Café Paris. This little café became our homestead for meals and they were all good. We went to other, fancier and more refined locales, but this was better.
Day 3: Bright and shiny, full from our yummy café next door, we set off to the Louvre. Now, a week earlier, the Louvre had shut down for a few days as they decided what to do amongst the virus concerns, then reopened. No cash was accepted, hand sanitizer was everywhere, and the only people wearing masks were the typical tourists that also hog every single picture taking opportunity. Now, they were posing with their masks (that by the way, aren’t going to help you. Just saying, read the facts). Again, I digress.
Then we walked through a beautiful park towards the Champs Elysees. As the rain started to trickle, we ducked into a restaurant and ate a delicious lunch. Once the rain stopped, we returned on our path towards the Arc de Triomphe. My mother and I did make a pit stop in the four level Louis Vuitton. We did not buy anything but… one day. One day I’ll be able to buy my dream purse without questioning the cost.
After the Arc, we trekked over to the Eiffel. I cannot speak highly enough about buying your tickets in advance. The line to buy tickets was insane. The skip the line option? Totes empty. Know that your time is valuable and skip that line!
Day 4: Well, we finally decided where to change our honeymoon location to. If you know The Russian, you know that decision making in a timely manner isn’t his strength. That’s where we ying and yang, as I can decide things in seconds. So, when he does make a choice, I’m able to act immediately upon it. To Scotland we were going!
But first, we were off to Versailles! Or… were we? Five minutes into our drive, we get a call that the Palace of Versailles is closed. My first thought? Oh, come on! But then, my amazing tour guide Anna Maria explained that their board does this anytime anything is in the news whatsoever, and she was sure they would open. So, we hung out for about an hour, as I re-routed our return flight home to be from the UK vs Italy, and then we got the word that the palace did indeed open. Multi-tasking at its finest.
The palace was stunning and beautiful. And packed who school groups touring it. The thing that amazes me when traveling is how other cultures seemingly pay no attention to their surroundings. Or perhaps it is that Americans simply pay too much attention to their surrounds? The amount of times I had to elbow my way to take a photo and re-take a photo because an oblivious person just walked right in front me… let’s just say I could be a millionaire if I was given a penny for every instance. Those moments made me extremely grateful for our private tour guide, Anna Maria, as she was able to express Marie Antionette’s story to us from any corner of the room. Look up Hidden Gems in Paris. Great experience!
Once we returned, we all took some free time. The Russian took his mother to Musee D’orsay, my parents went shopping and, true to my nature, I took a nap.
Then we regrouped and ate dinner at Café de l’Homme. Known for its famous view of the Eiffel Tower as it lights up at night, this was my jam. The food…eh. It was very pricey and other than my mom falling in love with Escargot, I would recommend packing a picnic and a bottle of wine, and watching the sparkle in Trocadero Park. Unless you like super expensive small portions, then by all means ;) But the glittery sparkle of the Eiffel Tower – magical.
Day 5: Off to the Champagne Region! When traveling in France, spring for the private transfer vs going by rail. It’s more comfortable, comes with WIFI and charging cables, and it makes for a clean, comfortable nap. Just a little tip from me to you.
Two years ago, when The Russian and I traveled to London and Paris, we took a one-day trip to champagne. We loved it. It’s chill, quaint and absolutely stunning. And thus, we chose to have our wedding ceremony in a place hit all those qualities for us. We rented rooms at Michel Gonet (@champagnemichelgonet) and I’ve never felt more at home - maybe because they gave us the whole house? We had a sitting room, kitchenette, unlimited champagne and very comfortable rooms. Every morning was serene and evening was chill, the owner (Sophie) and the event coordinator (Chloe) were amazing! Plus, as a girl who loves the sparkling vintage, staying on Avenue de Champagne was a dream come true. And that night, after several hours of champagne tasting with the Michel Gonet owner, Sophie, we went to a traditional French restaurant. Fat and happy, we all went to bed.
Day 6: *knock, knock, knock* “Honey? Are you awake?” It’s 3a.m. and I spring from my bed, thinking something is wrong with my mom and dad. I open the door and she comes in. “Travel has been canceled to the United States from Europe. Trump just announced it.”
Great. I literally booked my hotel stays and rail passes in Scotland and London 6 hours earlier. Fan-freaking-tastic. My mom looks ill. She doesn’t handle stress well and I knew there would be no sleep for her the rest of the night. Her phone was blowing up with concern from my siblings, her friends and her colleagues. My phone – zero contact was made. Probably because of my “I-don’t-give-a-damn-attitude” I maintain at all times. So, after expressing my opinion to my boo about how tired I am of re-booking plans for this trip after months of planning, I went back to bed. The UK wasn’t on the list and The Russian said that we should just go to Scotland & England as planned. After all, things in France weren’t anywhere close to the levels of distraught frustration the media was saying. How could the UK be worse?
One of the many benefits of staying at Michel Gonet was that breakfast felt like a scene out of Downton Abbey. Options a plenty and delish it all was. The owner made several homemade jams, the eggs were from her farm, the honey was from her neighbor, as was the locally made French style yogurt. We read the DHS travel ban and it 100% didn’t apply to American citizens, so we went about our day.
Shout out to the social media memes and Americans acting like crazy lunatics by hoarding toilet paper and beating each other up at Costco. None of that was happening in Europe – where the virus is much more serious – but it made for many great laughs. This was the ultimate chill day we us. We toured champagne houses, tasted samples, went to local stores and invested in the local economy, made a picnic for dinner at our homestead. It was awesome.
(Side note: I forgot that around 10pm, we had to rebook a leg of Mama Russian’s flight home, as the same airline that cancelled our CDG-NAP flight, also managed to cancel her FRA-DEN flight. Again, with zero notice. Thank goodness I got travel skills, man!)
Day 7: Wedding day! After our Downton Abbey breakfast, my parents, The Russian and I walked back into Epernay to buy several different small desserts, flowers from a local florist and a few extra candles to set up for our wedding. Simple and elegant. Then my mom and I had a girls day, painting our nails and drinking champagne.
Something to know about me is that I need my time to decompress. I tend to like things “So-so” and I decided that this whole day was in a C’est La Vie day. I let go of my control, took a nice hot bath and watched Made of Honor. My mom set up the room, made the bouquet and did my hair. “How do you want it?” she asked. “Something with braids,” I responded. It was all that simple.
She took our photos, I played “Tale as Old as Time” by The Cairn String Quartet off my phone, and The Russian and I recited our vows. They were sweet and meaningful, and my dad laughed as we both mentioned our cats in them. Hey, they are our babies and we love them! Chloe gave us my favorite Michel Gonet champagne (rose) and we toasted to our new adventure. (I even gave The Russian a new personalized luggage tag in regards to our future world travels), and ate our desserts from the local chocolatier Vincent Dallet. And with excellent dinner at La Grille Gourmande, our wedding day was peacefully serene and blissful. Everything I could’ve wanted and all we truly needed.
We knew we didn’t need a big, blow out party – it just isn’t who we are.
We knew we didn’t need a gift registry – we’re grown ass adults who’ve already furnished a nice home for ourselves.
We knew all we truly wanted was to travel and be with our parents – to celebrate with the people who’ve created us into loving, caring human beings.
We wanted to give our parents and experience.
And I think we did that – with or without the virus I began referring to as “The Plague”.
Day 8: The wedding was over and we were back in reality. The plague was making travel bans worse and we took our transfer back to Paris. I had booked us an airport hotel, which turned out to be the best choice, as we were out of the city that began to slowly shut down schools, museums and more. Although the ghost of the plague had followed us all over France, we still accomplished everything on our list. And as we went to bed that night, saying goodbye to our family, The Russian and I were psyched to head off to Scotland. I was full steam ahead with a positive outlook, I really was.
Day 9: We woke up to the UK shutting down flights to USA. Bloody freaking hell, can’t I just have a honeymoon?!Short answer, no. No, I couldn’t. We ended up talking our airline to changing our flight from LON-DEN to CDG-ORD-DEN and came home on the same flight as mama Russian. The airline didn’t want to do an even exchange on the fare, so I gave the phone to my husband (how weird is that?!) to politely regale how many times I’d been hung up on, how many flights I had changed, how many segments had been canceled without a whisper and magically, we were able to get to the airport in time and travel back to toilet paperless Colorado.
Where we are now self-quarantined since we were in plague-land. I don’t take it lightly that we were in the land of COVID-19. I know I’m a potential carrier. But, the heights of hysteria Americans have gone to with manically buying every possible good from the shelves of stores to hoard it all from themselves, is exactly why I love Europe. They just lived. They weren’t buying all the toilet paper or canned food for themselves. They’ve lived through worse. We lived through worse.
This isn’t a war. We are being asked to stay home and spend time with our families. So chill. Enjoy life and enjoy your family. Maybe play a board game or read that book you’ve been meaning to read.
This, too, will pass. And when I does, I’ll be going on that honeymoon:)
But for now, it’s called a Homeymoon.