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Elizabeth & Ryan’s Basque Country Wedding

It still seems surreal today but a year ago I was in the heart of the Basque Country to photograph Elizabeth & Ryan’s wedding. They had already showered us with several days of hospitality, showing us the Frank Gehry designed Marqués de Riscal winery in Rioja, touring the beach hamlets of Elantxobe and Mundaka, running into the most amazing traditional Summer festival in Paresi and finally taking us on a 20km+ hike that showed us (all of) the lush hillsides that surrounded the town of Mendata, where Elizabeth’s Mother and Step-Father now live. On top of that, all of the meals were memorable, but the ones that stick out the most were on the return from Rioja, in town in Gernika and, most notably, the intimate rehearsal dinner at the social club which, if I’m not mistaken, was prepared by Elizabeth’s Mother and and all of her Aunts and Uncles. It was such an amazing experience and my thanks goes out to them all for making me feel like a guest even though I was just the hired help, particularly to Seve (Elizabeth’s mother) for welcoming me into her home and giving me an honest peek into Basque life. And that’s all just in the lead up to the big day, the icing on the cake, though, was the wedding itself, and the incomparable location in the Hermitage on the tiny island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Little did Elizabeth & Ryan know that I would have paid them for the privilege of photographing their wedding once they told me about the location.

Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan

The couple prepared separately at the family farmhouse and then Elizabeth’s uncle showed up with his new car, festooned with ribbons and roses, to whisk us off to the Hermitage about 45 minutes away. The one caveat of the venue is that there is one, and only one, way up, and that is a long switchback staircase that needs to be walked. No matter, Elizabeth kicked off her heals and, with her Sister minding her dress, she essentially ran up all 237 steps. Ryan was waiting at the top with the largest of smiles and soon we were under way. The service was largely in Euskara (Basque), and possibly some Latin, so I looked for visual cues and Seve’s extremely helpful nods and points to stay ahead of the action. Following a few beautiful solos, the couple was happily married. One of the coolest parts of the festivities was when the entire entourage recessed to the plaza outside where Elizabeth’s cousin did an amazing Basque dance to honor the new couple. After allowing all of the guests to get a shot with the couple, what I discovered was another Basque custom, Elizabeth, Ryan and I sneaked off to grab candids at all of the significant spots in town, including the Tree of Gernika and the great mural reproduction of Picasso’s famous Gernika (Guernica for the Spaniards) painting.

Elizabeth & Ryan Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan

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Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan Elizabeth & Ryan

From there it was off to the party, where the food kept coming until you just couldn’t eat any more. All of the courses were amazing, each seemingly capped off with a dance, traditional or otherwise. The band was an adorable couple who played traditional songs with a large helping of accordion. They were followed by a DJ who played a healthy mix of the latest Euro-Pop along with some American classics that had the dance floor filled for hours. With an early start, things wound down shortly after the sun set but that just meant the start of the party. We all headed home on chartered buses and, after a quick recovery, the hardiest of the guests reconvened at a bar in Gernika for the post-party. After a few rounds of champagne and some of the more colorful toasts, the group was off to paint the town red. A few stops later and after the clock struck midnight, I and several others, just couldn’t hang with these two anymore. They hit the clubs and may not have beat the sun up the following morning opting, very wisely, to save their amazing castle honeymoon suite for the night after the wedding.

Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan Elizabeth & Ryan

I can’t thank these two enough, for such an awesome cultural experience and such an amazingly fun event. All I can say is happy first anniversary Elizabeth & Ryan!

Elizabeth & Ryan