Medellin

3 Days in Medellìn: A Travel Guide

 Medellìn is a beacon of culture and officially one of my most favorite cities ever: the people are generous, enthusiastic and welcoming, the mountains are captivating, the food and coffee is incredible, and the city is incredibly clean and proud.  This city, once famed for it’s violent and storied past, has transformed itself into a star-attraction in a country that has everything going for it.

Medellìn was named the 2013 “City of the Year” by the nonprofit Urban Land Institute for it’s transformation and quick turn-around.  Utilizing revitalized civic spaces, green parks, libraries, art galleries and the creation of a world-class metro system and infastructure that connects the city’s poorest neighborhoods with its center through innovative solutions such as giant escalators and cable cars, Medellìn is now a world-class travel destination thanks to its dedication to the inclusion of all it’s inhabitants.  For those of you who think it’s dangerous: Medellìn isn’t even to be found on the list of the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world anymore, though you will find New Orleans, Baltimore and Detroit on there.

Medellìn is called the “city of eternal spring” by it’s people for it’s permanently pleasant weather.  The people are called Paisas and they are a proud, hopeful culture that loves to talk.  They will serenade you with stories about their city, their past, and their future.  Their pace is a bit slower and they aren’t in a rush.  They are beautiful: everyone in this city is attractive and they dress well.  They have inquisitive natures and they want to talk to you: although we found that Colombians, overall, were incredibly welcoming and generous, this was even more apparent in Medellìn where every person we encountered wanted to know where we were from and why we decided to visit their city. 

Here’s some of my favorite images from our stay and my recommendations on what to do with 3 days in Medellìn.

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STAY: The areas surrounding El Poblado are the most popular with tourists.  This includes the neighborhoods of Manila, which is where we stayed, and Parque Lleras.  The streets are safe to walk at all hours of the day and filled with hip and stylish restaurants and coffee shops.  You can get an entire apartment to yourself for $45-60/nt on Airbnb.  We stayed in a charming apartment in Manila and Al Alma Cafe and Hija Mia both within walking distance.

If Airbnb isn’t your thing, there’s a wealth of mid-range hotels and budget hostels in the area.  If I’d had to pick one, you probably would have found me at the Art Hotel.  If your budget is higher, I’d head to The Charlee Lifestyle Hotel.

EAT:  Medellìn is filled with heavier and more traditional (read: arepas and empanadas) dining options than Cartagena and after a week of travel and eating out, we were ready for some variety and comfort food.

  • Cafe Zorba was our standout favorite in this city. It could have been that two weeks of travel and seafood left us craving fresh salads and something different, or it could just be that it’s exceptional in both it’s food and it’s atmosphere.  Although the cafe is large, it feels warm and cozy thanks to it’s open air upstairs patio filled with small lamps, comfortable pillow topped benches and modest tables that encourage whispered jokes and intimate laughter.  Make sure you order at least one pizza – their brick oven thin crust pies come out crispy and is certainly where they excel.
  • Although we went looking for a vegetarian restaurant that no longer existed, we ended up at the endlessly charming Peruvian fusion restaurant Tal Qual.  Themed around art, the walls are filled with color.  The restaurant is split into a number of small alcoves and rooms that makes it feel both bustling and intimate simultaneously.  Don’t skip the meat skewers or one of their pasta dishes.
  • We should have also eaten at El Cielo, but we didn’t have another three hour dinner experience in us and after a week of eating out already and the incredible eating experiences we had in Cartagena, we weren’t clamoring for food.  El Cielo has made press for it’s gastronomic creativity and is featured on most Best Of lists for both Latin and South America.  If you’re jealous of that time I went to Alinea, this is the budget option.

DRINK:

  • Drinks with a view: head up to the top of the Envy Rooftop Bar to where bartenders fun and tropical cocktails like watermelon basil margaritas while DJ’s spin tunes to accompany one of the best views in Medellìn.
  • Bonhomia is a great place to park yourself for a late afternoon snack and a drink.  The huge patio of outdoor seating and bright lights is attractive and offers great street views while you feast on platters of house-made charcuterie.  There’s a large wine list that also offers half bottles.
  • Viva Italia! had the best wine list we found in the area and although you are welcome to stash yourself on their 2nd story patio and watch the locals cruise by in their fancy shoes, they also offer all their bottles for sale in this hybrid Italian Restaraunt meets wine bar.
  • Established in 2008, 3 Cordilleras offers five craft brews in a happy hour like setting every day after 5 PM.  For about $5, you get 5 beers (beers, not tastings) and an explanation in rapidly spoken spanish about the history of the brewery and the brewing process.  We opted to skip the tour and just stick with the beers.
  • Downtown’s historic Salon Malaga is like stepping back into a time machine.  The walls are covered in memorabilia and old jukeboxes litter the floor.  The tables are filled with locals during the day who stop in to chat and drink tinto.  If you’re lucky, they have a selection of 3 Cordilleras craft brews on hand, but they stock up on Thursdays for the weekend crowds and were mostly sold out the day we were there.

EXPLORE

  • Real City Walking Tour’s free tour of the downtown area of Medellìn is a must do for every traveler.  I’d reccomend doing it on your first day in the city as their expansive four hour tour provides you with scope on the area, it’s troubled history and the Paisa culture.  The tour occurs twice a day and reservations are required.
  • Wander the lush pathways of the Botanical Garden, which feature, in addition to other things, 40 acres of exotic orchids. The entry is free.  When you’re ready for a break, stop for lunch at In Situ, where contemporary dishes are served up while you gaze out through wide open doors that leave you feeling as if you’re in the garden itself.
  • Head to the Plaza Minorista to sample Colombia’s wide range of tropical fruits.  Although you can do this by joining any number of organized tours, there’s really no reason why you can’t go on your own, as we did.  The Colombian people are incredibly kind, generous and inquisitive and they are more than ecstatic to see tourists, and gringos especially, wandering their stalls.  They were eager to chat with us, asking where we were from and why we were there and each vendor we purchased from explained the fruit and cut it open for us to sample.  Our favorite was the pitahaya, similar to an Asian dragon fruit.
  • Ride the cable car.  Medellìn’s people are incredibly proud of their metro system and in fact, it was the cleanest metro system I’ve ever seen in the world.  There wasn’t a speck of trash to be found, people never ate or drank on the subway and the cars themselves were in pristine condition.  As part of a social and economic development strategy to help revitalize the poorer areas of the city, Medellìn installed cable cars to provide connectivity to it’s massive hills.  The views are tremendous and you can get off at various stops and explore the barrios all for less than $2.

WHAT NOT TO DO

  • A Pablo Escobar Tour.  Paisas do not like this man and they do not want him immortalized or paid tribute to.  In fact, during our walking tour of the downtown area, he was the man-who-was-not-named and in discussion, we used code names to reference him as to not incite anger from nearby locals who cannot speak English and may have misinterpreted our discussion as praising him.  Escobar brought years of pain, violence and fear to this city and the memories are both recent and tragic.
Cartagena

Cartagena Travel Guide

Be still my heart.

Colombia was just named Lonely Planet’s 2nd best travel destination for 2017 and with good reason: the sheer variety of landscapes, cultures and welcoming people make it a dream travel destination.  When I met my Colombian friend Christian Cardona in Portugal this past year, he convinced me that travelling to Colombia had to be next on my list because it was the “gem of South America.”

He was not wrong.  I have fallen in love with this country again, and again, and again as I explored it the last two weeks.  Around every corner is a surprise waiting to delight you and in Cartagena this is especially true.

 Cartagena is incredibly special: it’s a place of vibrant color, late nights of dancing, romance and seafood.  It is everything I want in a vacation destination and it is clearly the backbone of Colombia’s tourist economy.  Cartagena is unbelievably charming, affordable, and engaging.  We easily spent five days in this city and never tired of wandering it’s streets.  

The humidity is off the charts in Cartagena so be prepared to drink lots of limeade and wonder why you even took a shower.  Be prepared to be wet, sweaty and hot the entire week: dance close to someone and embrace it.

Here’s some of my favorite images from our travels there and my personal mini Cartagena travel guide for navigating this beautiful city.

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STAY: You will want to stay within the city walls for it’s charming historical winding streets.  Pops of bright color, inventive door knockers and churches around every corner are steeped in old world colonialism.  There are tiny amazing restaurants tucked into every corner with incredible seafood.  We ate octopus every single day.  There are beautiful studio apartments that you get all to yourself on Airbnb for $80-160 a night in the area.  We really enjoyed our stay at Luis and Monica’s Old Town apartment.  It was a perfect and incredibly convenient location to explore from.

If you aren’t interested in the straight tourist experience, then stay in the nearby barrio of Getsemani, the burgeoning, borderline hip neighborhood that’s an equal mix of locals and ex-pats.  While the richest originally lived in the northwest corner of the walled city, this is smaller and poorer section of the original city, which now features more modest architecture but an electrifying atmosphere.  Most of the best bars and dance clubs can be found in this hood and it’s starting to fill up with hostels, airbnb options and boutique hotels such as Casa Lola.

EAT:  The most memorable places we discovered in Cartagena were intimate and featured long lists of seafood every way.  Restaurants in Cartagena open late (expect to eat after 7 PM every night), or confusingly, sometimes not at all, and reservations are usually needed, especially with large groups.

  • El Boliche chefs Oscar Colmenares and Viviana Díaz dish out incredible ceviche that honours and partners with the local fishermen.  Each meal starts with a bowl of homemade soup, a tradition in Colombia.  This place is incredibly intimate and only seats 25 – swing by and make a reservation in order to make sure you get a table.
  • La Perla is dim, stylish and comfortable.  Beat the humidity of the streets of Cartagena by stepping into this cool oasis that serves up Peruvian style ceviche and is best known for their tiraditos, thin strips of fresh tuna or sea bass.  The staff is incredibly gracious and attentive and willing to pass around the pisco sours and their wine list was one of the better ones we encountered and was filled with dry whites, reds and roses to accompany any meal.
  • One of my other favorite meals was at Carmen.  Although this restaraunt seats many in multiple different rooms or with the option of al fresco on the patio, the experience feels intimate because everyone is split up.  Our waiter did an excellent job of choosing wines and helping recommend dishes for the night.  The highlight of our meal was certainly the pez negro, a thick strip of barracuda seared in black olive oil and accompanied by raviolis filled with seafood and ricotta.  Reservations recommended.
  • Restaurante Donjuan is collected and cool.  Dishing out Basque style delights in an exquisite setting, the menu boasts a dizzying array of starters and shareable plates.  If you can’t get a table here, try it’s sister restaurant next door, Maria.

DRINK:

  • Alquimico is a new addition to Cartagena but clearly a welcome one.  Reasembling a Manhatten speakeasy, the swanky cocktail focused joint is in a two story dimly lit building and features custom cocktails prepared with local Colombian fruits.
  • Demente is a trendy, hip new staple to the Getsemani barrio and features Colombian craft beers from Bogota Beer Company and 3 Cordilleras, brilliant cocktails and a cool outdoor patio with long communal picnic tables perfect for the large group that failed to make reservations for dinner inside the walled city.  It’s clearly the place for ex-pats and tourists to be seen.
  • Cafe Havana is the local Cuban hotspot packed to the brim for those looking to salsa almost every night after 11 pM.
  • Alma Restaurante is located in the Casa San Augustin, now a boutique hotel that retains the beauty of Cartagena’s colonial architecture with it’s original frescoes and centuries-old wood-beamed ceilings.  The outdoor patio is shaded and perfect for an afternoon snack and a glass of wine.  Their list is extensive and features a fantastic selection of Spanish, Portuguese and South American vineyards.

EXPLORE:

  • Get lost over and over and over again in the streets of the walled city and Getsemani.  The vibrant colors, cascading flowers, overhanging balconies, street performers and artisanal shops supply days of endless entertainment.
  • Get your extra tourist on: Volcàn de Lodo el Totumo” is a strange 15m high volcano mound about a half hour outside of town.  Legend says that the volcano once was active but a local priest, seeing it as the work of the devil, sprinkled it with holy water and the lava miraculously turned to mud.  The mud is silky, at moments gritty, and so dense that you float effortlessly and confusingly on top.  For a mere few dollars you can pay one person to let you climb up into the mud bath, then you can pay another person to give you a questionable “massage,” and then another to carry your shoes around, and then some women to aggressively strip you down in the river afterwards and make sure your orifices are clean.  It’s preposterous and worth the $10 you spent laughing.  Don’t book a tour to do so – simply hire a car for the day to drive you out here and for double the fun, have him take you to the mangroves afterwards where you can arrange for a 30 minute kayak tour through the narrow water channels of the mangroves.
  • Hire your own personal photographer: Flytographer offers two options for photographers in Cartagena.  I love hiring my own personal photographer while on vacation – photos make exceptional souvenirs and I can’t imagine a more romantic or colorful place than Cartagena to be photographed.  I am one of Flytographer’s Lake Tahoe photographers and have utilized their services for my own personal shoots in both Bangkok, Thailand and Porto, Portugal.
  • If you visit during early November, chances are you’ll be here for Cartagena’s Independence Day celebrations when a lively atmosphere takes over the city.  Carnaval de Cartagena starts on Friday with a three hour parade started on one side of the walled city that snakes it’s way through the town.  Bands of teenagers roam the streets with disposable canisters of foam, ready and willing to offload it’s contents into the hair, heads and backs of any likely suspect.  No one is spared.  The weekend’s festivities also include Colombia’s Beauty Pageant where they elect Miss Colombia for the year.
Trinity Overlook Park Portrait

Bishop Arts District Engagement | Dallas, TX | Ashley + Tim

I was thrilled when Ashley and Tim told me they were interested in having their engagement session done in my hometown of Dallas, TX and even more ecstatic when they picked the shooting itinerary that I secretly was the most excited about: a romp around the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff.  I’d been wanting to photograph a Bishop Arts District engagement session for years because of it’s quaint shops and bright colors and textures.  I had a feeling that it was going to be fun, urban and colorful and it totally paid off.  I always like to start sessions off with an adult beverage and this one was no different.  Unfortunately, our original plan was to meet at the uber colorful and outdoor space of the Foundry but I arrived to discover it was closed for a special event.  Womp, womp.

Instead, we ended up at the beginning of the district at Parker Barrows, which had fantastic open windows, local beers on draft, and cool subway tile.  We wandered our way through the district, stopping when inspiration struck and sampling chocolate (a must do!) at Dude, Sweet Chocolate, where the employee went above and beyond to let us sample almost everything in the shop.

We finished up at the Old Kemp House where local artist Eric Mancini has given it his colorful make-over and created a work of art.  There was a swing!   Finally, we drove over to the nearby Trinity Overlook Park to capture some golden hour goodness and the Dallas skyline.

No trip of mine to Dallas ever goes without a stop at Fireside Pies for dinner, usually in the company of my mom and her sisters.  My aunts weren’t available but Ashley and Tim accepted my invitation and we had an awesome evening over amazing pizza and great wine!

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Yosemite Park Wedding

Tenaya Lake Wedding | Yosemite, CA | Catherine + Josh

One would think that I would have photographed a ton of weddings in Yosemite National Park already thanks to it’s proximity to Tahoe and my adventurous outdoor spirit.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet had the opportunity, which is why I was especially excited to be connected to Catherine and Josh via Thumbtack.  They were planning on holding a Tenaya Lake Wedding in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.  Since they were both traveling from afar for their elopement, it was important to Catherine to have someone who not only knew how to photograph outdoors, in harsh sunlight, but also would make the entire day easy and uncomplicated.

I was especially excited about the day because they wanted to have me photograph their small intimate ceremony on the edge of the lake, and then go romp around various places in Tuolumne for portraits.  It was SO MUCH FUN.  I even convinced them to wade through the lake for an epic lake portrait!  Thanks Catherine and Josh for being adventurous!  I think our work paid off!

Venue: Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park | Officiant: Rev. John Paris | Florist: Yosemite Weddings | Bakery: Mimi’s Cookie Bar | Reception and Catering: The Westin Monache Resort | Bride’s Attire: Watters | Bridesmaid Attire: Francesca’s | Groom and Groomsmen Attire: J Crew | Make-up: Jenny Sickler

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“Lauren was such a pleasure to work with for our wedding. Our wedding was in Yosemite National Park and because of Lauren’s creativity we have wedding photos that are absolutely incredible. Lauren has ideas for photos that I don’t think many photographers would come up with which produces some unique and beautiful photos – especially if your wedding is in a destination location.”  

-Catherine and Josh

Botanical Garden Engagement

Botanical Garden Engagement | Berkeley, CA | Jane + Robbie

Jane and Robbie showed up to their botanical garden engagement session in a clown car.  Not literally, but certainly figuratively.  Jane had found these giant air beach balls that say “LOVE” on them and wanted to use them for the session.  They had blown them up ahead of time and they filled the entire back of the car.  But then, they couldn’t get them out of the car.  And then, we decided maybe it would take too long to re-inflate them.  So, in the end, the smallest of them was used and we saved the bigger ones for their wedding.  Although you can find them on the internet as the Big Love Ball, I would not recommend simply googling “love balls.”

Jane and Robbie found me on Thumbtack and I am incredibly happy we were connected.  They are totally my people: smart, engaging, social craft beer lovers.  We had a great afternoon tromping around in the Berkeley Botanical Gardens for their engagement session and then beers at one of their favorite area bars.  Their wedding was just a few weeks ago in Maryland and I’ll eventually be sharing that as well.  It was 110% representative of their personalities: laid back and relaxed with a dash of goofy fun (big love balls, anyone?).

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Sutro Baths Engagement

Sutro Baths Engagement Session | San Francisco, CA | Carolyn and Robert

This could also be titled: the Sutro Baths Engagement Session that almost wasn’t.

Carolyn, Robert and I met for some delicious cocktails and apps at Outerlands which serves delicious food sustainably sourced from local resources.  It was a beautiful afternoon, sunny and warm, and we got to know each other, and their adorable pup, Khaleesi.  Things did not go quite as planned, however, when we left, because all the sudden we realized that no one had a car key.  Cue some scrambling on the street corner, some back and forth back to the restaurant, and some uncertainty as to the fate of the afternoon.  Turns out, the key was in the car door and thankfully both it, and the car, were still there!

The Sutro Baths are a really incredible space that I had been wanting to photograph at for quite some time.  Adolph Sutro developed the baths in Baths in 1894 but they were unfortunately never commercially viable.  At one point, his family turned them into an ice skating rink.  Eventually, there were plans to tear them down and build condos, but thankfully those plans never came to fruition.  They were destroyed by a fire in 1966 and in the next decade they were adopted into the recreational area they are now apart of.  In the evening at sunset, the baths are filled with folks watching the sunset, hiking, and tons of photographers and their clients taking advantage of the awesome and unique area.

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Family Portraits at Lake Tahoe

Fallen Leaf Lake Portraits | Shreves Family

Matt and MC are two of my oldest friends.  They met me before I was even legally allowed to drink or dance until the wee hours of the night in clubs with them (but still managed to do so, of course).  We were young and irresponsible and now we’re old and probably still irresponsible.  Matt and MC spend a number of years away from Austin, right about the time that I moved to Tahoe, and started a family.  They are now back in the central Texas and have three hilarious girls who are as goofy, rambunctious and uninhibited as their parents are.  They brought the girls to Tahoe this summer for a family vacation and I was not only excited to meet the spawn of my friends who I had heard so much about, but to also show off my town.  I took them to see my friend Alex Ramon’s magic show (he’s the best!), we had breakfast together and, of course, took family portraits while they were here.

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Lucie Sterns Wedding

Lucie Stern Center Wedding | Palo Alto, CA | Caitlin + Marcus

Caitlin met me when she was a bridesmaid in a Lake Tahoe Golf Course wedding that I photographed for two of my most favorite clients to date!  Caitlin, Marcus, Christina and Jose all share a similar friend group and based on Christina and Jose’s wedding, I knew that their Lucie Stern Center wedding was guaranteed to be a raucous wild dance party.    They did not disappoint!

Their wedding was filled with wonderful surprises: a farm-to-table caterer with fun small plate food stations, a crying flower girl (who doesn’t love that?), and instead of the standard religious or literary reading, a friend read the lyrics of a rap song during the ceremony, a nod to Caitlin and Marcus’ shared love of both rap and their sense of humor.  They had lawn games in the community center plaza, a photo booth (of course!) on the prints of which I managed to spell both a name wrong and get the date wrong (if you don’t know, it’s 2016, not 2017) (they forgave me), and overall, a wild booze-filled party of the best kind.  The dance floor was packed from the moment they kicked it off.

Venue: Lucie Stern Community Center | Invitations: Wood & Water Paper | Florist: White Oak Flower Shoppe | Catering: The Green Grocer | DJ: Terry Cole of The Spinheads | Bride’s Attire: Trudy’s Bridal | Hair and Makeup: The Blushing Bombshell | Bridesmaid Attire: Weddington Way | Groom’s Attire: Nordstrom | Rentals: The Green Grocer

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June Lake Wedding

Victory Lodge Wedding | June Lake, CA | Julie + Taylor

Julie had me from the get-go.  She was actually the first wedding I booked for the 2016 season and one of the ones I was most looking forward to all year.  Her inquiry email said things like, “come party with us in June Lake” and that they were hoping to find a photographer that would be willing to photograph a group hike instead of an engagement session.  They booked a beautiful lodge at June Lake and had an intimate affair with 50 of their closest friends and family in attendance, most of whom stayed on site or at the adjacent condos, over 4th of July weekend.  They served tacos at dinner (be still my taco loving heart) and margaritas and hired my best buddy and personal DJ, Dave Berkman, to spin the dancing tunes.  They invited Dave and I to wine, dine and hike with them all weekend and we had absolutely the best time swapping stories and having drinks late until the evening with this adventurous crew.  I can’t wait until my paths cross again with Julie and Taylor, and I’m sure they will.  This couple is full of just the kind of spirit I like to surround myself with.

Venue: Victory Lodge | Florist: Red Lily Design | Bakery: Mountain Cakery | Caterer: Convict Lake Catering | DJ: Ascent DJ Productions | Bride’s Attire: Grace Loves Lace | Groom’s Attire: Men’s Warehouse

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Willow Ridge Manor Wedding

Willow Ridge Manor Wedding | Denver, CO | Maya + Dylan

Maya and I met on the internet.  In the days before Facebook and Reddit, Friendster was the best thing going for the internet, and so most of us spent our time in forums.  It was past the days of aol chat rooms but before the days of Myspace.  Electronic music internet forums, focused around house music, birthed friendships of mine with a variety of amazing people from all over the country.  When we finally met in person, we cliqued instantaneously over way too much sangria before either of us ate dinner in NYC.   Eventually, Maya would move to Denver, CO and I to California.  Depsite living all over the world, those of us from our secret forum seem to find ourselves regularly hanging out and meeting up in various cities around the world to this day.

 Maya is an incredibly generous person that is quick to giggle and unbelievably full of life and love.  All the speeches at her wedding echoed these things I’ve felt about her for the 12 years I’ve known her.  She is an incredibly easy person to be friends with.  She is the kind of person that I can not see for years and then show up in her city and brunch is on.  Dylan is such an incredible compliment to her personality: they are unbelievably loving and goofy with each other.  He is the perfect match for my friend and I’m positive that everyone around them agrees with me.

Their Willow Ridge Manor wedding was absolutely perfect.  There were cloudy skies that graced us with beautiful light.  Willow Ridge Manor’s proximity to Red Rocks and overlooking Denver allowed for some expansive views.  There were double rainbows, records for table assignments, and bridesmaid attire handmaid by Maya’s bestie and also a friend of mine, Sophie at Sew Smooth.  PS: if you are looking for an incredible costume or cat tie, Sophie is your gal!  Their wedding was a colorful, vibrant celebration filled with some exceptional dance moves and a lot of laughter.

On a related side note, I’d like to say that Maya’s mother is one of my spirit animals.  For as long as I’ve known her, I’ve been absolutely sure that one day I want purple hair just like hers.

Venue: Willow Ridge Manor | Officiant: Dixie Clark | Invitations: Alex Fisher | Florist: Mark Remmers | Caterer: Fresh Tracks Catering | DJ: Nick Wilson and James Montiel | Bride’s Attire: Modcloth | Bridesmaids’ Attire: Sew Smooth | Groom’s Attire: Ralph Lauren | Groomsmen Attire: Generation Tux | Make-Up: Kayla Murray | Hair Stylist: Leslie Wills

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