Friday, 5 August 2016

Getting Hitched in Hanko? Hell yeah!

The wedding season is long and even a professional bride like me needs a weekend off. And where better to escape all routine than Hanko, the Finnish version of the Caribbean, 137 km from the capital Helsinki.  

I'd promised myself I wouldn't write about my visit, but what do you know... The creative juices started flowing as soon as I saw the endless horizon! Even though I live by the sea, I don't always see it or have time to really appreciate it. At Villa Tellina in Hanko I couldn't take my eyes off it. It was a bit like when you first get a crush on someone: You take every opportunity for eye contact.

Pensionat Villa Tellina offers the most gorgeous sea views through Hanko -esque lace curtains.

Almost a Wedding Region

As a cosmopolitan bride, I know a wedding town when I see one. Hanko is definitely "the" wedding location of Finland if you ask me - and if it was in Denmark it would be making millions by now. Hanko and neighbouring Raasepori seem to have everything a wedding region needs to be a hit, yet they are not making the most of it.

For example: 

1. There is a local tourism website named lovepeaceharmony with no mention for weddings on it. (In fact the site has an internal server error on it.)

2. Hanko gets pretty quiet in the winter time - something that doesn't necessarily need to be that way - wild winter weddings, that's all I'm saying!

3. What the area needs is a few feisty people, including a brand manager, just like the Danes have. And of course, great community spirit to make things happen. If you haven't been following my series from the wedding island this summer, check it out now. This week even the New York Times followed in my footsteps and visited the tiny island of Aeroe, Las Vegas of Europe (minus the plastic). 

Who wouldn't love waking up right here on their special day...

...after spending a night in the very bed C.G. Mannerheim slept in!?

The room rates for Villa Tellina  - because I know you want to know!

The view from the Casino - a perfect beach setting.
Getting hitched in Hanko is just fun!

Getting Hitched Hanko Style

On my getaway to Hanko I met some friendly people, just by taking a walk along the gorgeous sandy beaches - which there are 30 km of, by the way. First I bumped into a very excited couple outside the town's Casino, a popular wedding venue. It turned out they were the proud mother and father of a bride, making the last finishing touches to the decorations of an extremely cool-looking beach wedding. 

I sort of got invited to the church by the mother of the bride but decided not to upstage the bride. I was on holiday. The sign for skinny dipping did tempt me though! I hope the happy couple had loads of fun - the weather really couldn't have been better. Btw: This couple had decided to come and get hitched in Hanko from as far as Abu Dhabi so organising your wedding in Hanko from afar clearly isn't a problem. Congratulations, well done and happy ever after, #ENP2016! May the force be with you.

An un-Finnish Holiday Destination

For me this wasn't the first time in Hanko. I'd already seen it in the autumn (oh-so-romantic), winter (wild!!!) and in the heat of the summer (Ibiza). So I knew what to expect: book your stay early! But the one thing that surprised me again was the town and its people's decidedly un-finnish relaxed mode, which captivates your mind just like the endless horizon draws your gaze. Hanko forces you to relax from the word "go".  And before you know it, you've planned your next stay whilst enjoying the deep house beats at Beach Bar Plagen.

 Villa Tellina has a lot of regular guests who return year after year.

Mira Haahti and her husband Christian, who run both Villa Tellina and neighbouring pensionat Thalatta (on the other side of the road), always leave a room available for anyone wanting to extend their stay. So even if you decided to get married in Hanko on a spur of a moment, they may well be able to accommodate you - a real rarity in a traditional Hanko "lace villa" during high season.

Ending on A High  

Despite missing out on the skinny dipping I did get to experience a real thrill in Hanko. Something only a pink-haired nutcase of a blogger would do: walk up the steepest and most narrow staircase (with only one handrail) to the rooftop tower of Villa Tellina for some pictures. Thank you to my brilliant host Mira for the chance to be scared sh*tless! The views were worth it. #hullunahankoon 

The rooftop tower of Villa Tellina is not for the fainthearted.

Made it!!! (Now how do I get back?)

Hanko is the sunniest place in Finland - and even when it's cloudy it beats most places.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Rebellious Bride - The Story So Far

Go on, you only get married once, said the young lady at the till after watching me sweat at the wedding magazine stand just over two years ago. Little did she know I had been here before – 13 years before in fact. I’d bought "the" magazine, worn "the" dress, had my day as fairy princess. And now I felt almost criminal picking up a wedding magazine for the second time. My life wasn’t supposed to go like this, my marriage was supposed to last forever!

Minna Dufton is Rebellious Bride. Dress: OverSkinDesign, Pics: Elina Manninen.

I was a recycled bride heading for the altar with issues – and not least because I was going to say “I do” in the same church in which I said it for the first time. Surely I should be shot for this? Cupboard under the stairs was the place where I should read my wedding magazine this time – if I plucked up the courage to buy one.

It wasn’t until I’d heard “you only get married once” a few more times – at a wedding dress boutique, at a hugely popular national wedding fair – that my angst turned into anger. How was it possible that in Finland, where 40% of first marriages have ended in divorce for the past twenty years, most of us could still not really face the fact that people’s lives go on? That we might, just, find happiness again? 

Becoming Rebellious Bride

I set out on a mission to shake up the stigma around getting married again by becoming Rebellious Bride, a feisty pink-haired wedding blogger with rock attitude. My blog Second Time Lucky? was to be a summer project, a little break from my day job in hardcore journalism. In fact I wanted to throw all rules of journalism out of the window for a bit! My blogging was supposed to end once my new guitarist hubby-to-be and I had had our joint “number two”. He, too, had found happiness again.

I began saying things out loud. That I had the right to celebrate being a second-time bride, swing from the chandeliers if I wanted to. That I had been to check the exits at the church - just in case I panicked when the moment came to walk down the same aisle again. That I was furious when our extremely traditional vicar told us we didn’t need a wedding rehearsal - because we’d “done it” before. That I wasn’t going to make all the decorations myself this time and get all stressed out. This time I was going to borrow, hire and recycle as much as I possibly could. That it was not necessarily a bad thing to be a bride with experience.

Minna Dufton has got married twice in her home town of Nurmes.

From the word go I noticed that there was a gap for the recycled bride. I was the only wedding blogger in Finland writing about the big day with this level of realism.  Brides-to-be wrote to me and told me how relieved they were that at last someone was saying what they were thinking. That it was not only acceptable but absolutely essential to mark the encore with personality, flare - and pride.  

One thing lead to another and my blog turned into a book just over a year after Rebellious Bride came out. Through her I could write about getting married from fresh angles and stir up some much needed discussion. Of course I knew that not everyone was going to like to hear what I had to say but I was surprised by how supporting the wedding industry was towards Rebellious Bride. It was as if the industry had hoped someone stirred things up a bit.   

Rebellious Bride wedding dress shopping in downtown Helsinki.

Mini happiness, anyone?

One of the most eye opening interviews I did for my book, The Rebellious Wedding Guide, was with Pastor and Journalist Hilkka Olkinuora, a popular wedding vicar amongst recycled couples. Hilkka, also politician and author, has been married three times so doesn’t throw stones at couples like us!  Because let’s face it: A lot of the anxiety that comes with planning your wedding day again is rooted to the views church has on divorced couples. 

Hilkka told me that only in the 1980’s the mainstream Lutheran church in Finland tried to cut down marrying “sinful” divorced couples by bringing out a new, much shorter version of the church wedding service. A so called mini service. In the church’s eyes all recycled couples had committed adultery regardless of what the reasons behind their divorces were - and therefore deserved only mini happiness. My pink blood was boiling. This deep-rooted stigma was there at the magazine stand, in the wedding boutiques and at the wedding fairs. And still is in 2016. 

Raggarimorsiamen hääopas, The Rebellious Wedding Guide, is published by Gummerus

So, while there are the 40% of first timers ready to tie the knot again at some point in their lives, fewer and fewer Finnish encore couples want to do it under the judging eye of their local vicar.  A problem the church still has and one that no single person can solve. 

With Heikki Leppä!

Still, some people, like “motorbike priest” Heikki Leppä, are      really pushing the boat out in welcoming encore couples to marry again in church. Heikki, Doctor of Theology, came up with the idea of Wedding Night, an annual event at the Church of St Lawrence in Vantaa. 

I was invited along as witness to some of the couples last September and I can tell you most of them weren’t tripping up the altar for the first time!   

The past is a different country

On Wedding Night Heikki weds around 30 couples within the space of a few hours. There is no dress code and the atmosphere is similar to a rock festival. Once the formal part is over and Heikki and his colleagues have had the initial chat with all the couples, there are no rules on how they should walk down the aisle. And what’s best: Heikki really doesn’t want to know whether the bride or groom have been married before.  

 - I don’t even look at that part of the paperwork. The past of these couples is none of my business. The number of times someone has been married before isn’t that person’s whole history – it is just a number, Heikki says.

Heikki married 30 couples on Wedding Night at Church of St. Lawrence, Vantaa. 

Oh how I wish I’d heard Heikki’s words of advice before meeting our vicar! Then again, I’m thankful that things went exactly as they did, as the whole experience of feeling like a second class citizen has given me fuel for writing. According to Heikki, the best thing an encore bride or groom can do if they want a church wedding is to simply ask for their local vicar’s view on marrying again:

- Tell your vicar you do NOT wish to be preached or judged upon your number two - or whatever the number may be. Your journey to the altar will be much smoother if you choose to be brave and speak up. 

Staff at Wedding Night at Church of St. Lawrence, Vantaa. 

A mature bride has "balls"

One of my followers, Johanna Turunen, got married on April 16th. Johanna was 21 when she got married for the first time. By the time she walked down the aisle for the second time, she was 39.

 Johanna Turunen with her hubby on their big day. 

- At first I wasn’t sure whether I was allowed to get this excited about wedding planning - even more excited than I was the first time! Thankfully my bridesmaids and wonderful new hubby-to-be encouraged me to go for it and little by little I began to relax, Johanna tells me.

Johanna felt every inch the mature bride-to-be. She, like many other encore brides, didn’t want a day as a princess, but a day as the queen! She also wanted to avoid doing anything like she did the first time round – something most of us recycled couples can relate to.

As an example of her new-found bravery Johanna had a set of boudoir pictures taken as a wedding gift to her husband:

- I’ve never enjoyed posing for the camera and most definitely not like this. The photographer was a friend of mine so we got through it together. Right now in my life I feel braver than I ever have before and I want to show it.    

Johanna's beautiful boudoir pictures were taken by Johanna Kivelä Photography.

It takes balls to let happiness back in your life after much sadness, but I believe that the things we fear the most are usually the ones worth doing the most. I am now a professional bride, standup comedian and ice breaker at wedding fairs. I have even learned to play stunt guitar (air guitar with real electric guitar) – something my former self would definitely roll her eyes at. Hellyeah.    

MINNA DUFTON is a 39-year-old TV Journalist/Scriptwriter, blogger and author. She lives in Helsinki with her 8-year-old daughter and musician husband. Before returning to her native Finland in 2009 she lived in the UK’s least romantic city of Hull for 13 years. Her first book, Rebellious Wedding Guide, was published in August 2015 by Gummerus. Her dream is to publish a book in English. Stay tuned for the new Las Vegas style website, out soon!

"Ice lady" Johanna Nordblad is behind the visuals of Rebellious Bride's new website.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Voita itsellesi kauhupolttarit!

Mikä kaikki voi mennä pieleen hääpäivänä? Mitä, jos omasta hääpäivästäsi tuleekin valvepainajainen, jossa katkenneet rakennekynnet ovat vasta alkusoittoa?


Mitä ehdottomasti ET haluaisi omassa hääjuhlassasi kokea? Onko hääseurueessasi joku, jonka pelkkä läsnäolo saa olosi vaivautuneeksi jo etukäteen? Osallistu Raggarimorsiamen ja draamakouluttaja Krissu Sirolan järjestämään kilpailuun ja tule herättämään ystäviesi kanssa pahimmat kauhukuvitelmat henkiin Kauhupolttarit -draamatyöpajassa! Jos suurimmat epäonnistumiset käy läpi ennalta, voisiko juhlapäivään olla enää valmistautuneempi? 

Kilpailu toimii näin: lähetä oma kauhukuvitelmasi omasta hääpäivästäsi osoitteeseen Olipa se sitten oksennustauti, uima-altaaseen putoaminen kesken vihkimisen tai sarja uskomattomia omassa mielessä pyöriviä epäonnen mahdollisuuksia, kerro se meille omin sanoin.  Lähetä mukana yhteystietosi, kerro meille hääjuhliesi paikka ja päivämäärä ja keitä polttariporukkaasi kuuluu. Juhlat tulee siis olla vielä edessä päin! 

Alla esimerkkejä, millaisia teemoja tarina esimerkiksi voisi sisältää: 

Nightmare before the Big Day - Painajainen ennen vihkimistä 

Painajainen alttarilla

Morsiamen painajaisuni

Paras tarina palkitaan koko polttariporukalle järjestettävällä draamatyöpajalla merellisessä Suomenlinnassa ensi keväänä. Illan aikana leikitellään, tarinoidaan ja improvisoidaan ryhmässä. Koetaan ja fiilistellään, miten kaikesta selviää, jos hääpäivän "käsikirjoitus" ei pidäkään. Vai selviääkö? Tilaisuuden lopussa juhlakalu saa mukaansa ystäviensä laatimat arvokkaat ohjeet elinkautiseen. Kokonaisuuteen kuuluu pientä suolaista naposteltavaa ja juotavaa. 

Kauhupolttarit -draamatyöpaja järjestetään Suomenlinnan tunnelmallisessa Ruutikellarissa.

Työpaja järjestetään Suomenlinnassa, Unescon maailmanperintökohteessa, Ruutikellari -juhlatilassa. Ruutikellari on maksimissaan 60 hengen tunnelmallinen kokous- ja juhlatila, joka on 1700-luvulla toiminut Ruudin säilytystilana. Ruutikellari sijaitsee rauhaisalla alueella Susisaarella. 

Lisätietoja Ruutikellarista ja muista Suomenlinnan vuokrattavista kokous- ja juhlatiloista löydät täältä

Huom! Voittaja valitaan 1. maaliskuuta 2017 ja parhaat palat kilpailun sadosta julkaistaan näillä sivuilla. Kilpailun voittanut työpaja videoidaan ja järjestäjät saavat käyttää kuvamateriaalia tulevien Kauhupolttarit -työpajojen markkinoinnissa. 

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Rebellious Trip Advisor for Aeroe

So, you've decided to get married on Aeroe, the Las Vegas of Europe without the plastic. Now let me give you some advice: don't rush off when you get there. Enjoy the romantic city of Aeroeskobing and let the Danish Caribbean take your breath away. Make it your honeymoon location - no need to fly to the Seychelles! Here are Rebellious Bride's recommendations on where to stay in the capital of THE wedding island.


1. På Torvet, owned by the lovely Gunnar and Lili 

At På Torvet, right in the town square of Aeroeskobing, you will be at the heart of doing everything very Danishly. In the self catering holiday apartments you have everything you could possibly need. If you are lucky enough, you may even get to enjoy some live music in the cafe downstairs.

Gunnar Schmidt Hansen, an AC/DC fan, was Rebellious Bride's host.

Check out the video tour of apartment No 10, where Rebellious Bride stayed in På Torvet!  

2. Pension Vestergade No 44, owned by the fabulous Susanna 

At this patrician house and gorgeous garden with huge trees, you feel as though you are in England, but without any of the hassle! Susanna Greve is the No 1 English Lady of Denmark if you ask me. She makes you feel at home as soon as you walk through the door. It is not a surprise Susanna's place is also the winner of Trip Advisor's Traveler's Choice 2016.

Susanna Greve and Rebellious Bride met over the most perfect bottle of wine.

Susanna's Pension Vestergade No 44 has an artistic but warm feel.

3. Andelen Guesthouse, owned by the very charming Adam and Anne

Andelen Guesthouse is the Tuscany of Scandinavia. Just look at the views! The historic house has been lovingly restored by Adam Hobbs, also from Britain and by Anne, from Denmark. Andelen also plays home to a tiny cinema run entirely by local volunteers:

Fun and laughter at Adam's place. Andelen Guesthouse also plays host to the annual Aeroe Jazz Festival

For more on the choice of accommodation on Aeroe, go to: Read also parts one and two of Rebellious Bride's series of blog posts from the wedding island: From the Danish Caribbean with Love and Danish Island Weddings - fairytales for 150 nationalities

Friday, 17 June 2016

Danish Island Weddings - fairytales for 150 nationalities

What does a Finnish woman living with an Australian man in Dubai do if she wants to get hitched? She contacts a wedding agency on the Danish island of Aeroe. In fact today she could contact four of them. Louise Moloney runs the oldest one, Danish Island Weddings, founded in 2008 when there were 200 weddings on the island per year. Today, with around 3000 weddings on Aeroe per year, she employs her husband, two sisters and a part-time beautician and stylist.

Louise Moloney with her company mascot. Nice choice of colour!  

Louise is an Aeroe girl born and bred. After working as an air hostess for Japan Airlines she returned home to the island for the Aeroe life - no crime, stress or traffic jams - the kind that is hard to even imagine. Unless you live in Denmark, the happiest country in the world.

- I always thought this place was perfect for weddings. And after 1300 of them we certainly know how to take the stress away from couples so that they can enjoy and learn to "let go". It's back to basics here on Aeroe really, back to what's really important in life, Louise knows. It doesn't take long to understand why everyone on the island loves her so much.

Louise with her sister Yuki in the "nerve centre" of Danish Island Weddings.

The good thing about getting married on Aeroe is that you can get married whenever and wherever you want - no-one is going to get an allergic reaction if you pack your own ideas with you. There are the gardens that make you feel like you're in Tuscany, the beach with the colourful wooden beach huts, the lighthouse, even a plane that can take you up in the clear blue skies for your vows. Unless you own your own private jet, of course (which some of Louise's more extravagant customers do).

On Aeroe the new social reality really comes to the fore: non EU brides and grooms marrying each other, rich Russian and German men marrying much younger women, rock stars wanting to get married in secret, a poor Albanian couple sleeping in their car just to get the official part over and done with. Louise and her colleagues on the island have seen it all. On the wall in Louise's office is a world map with pins on it to mark the 150 nationalities Danish Island Weddings have joined in matrimony, so far. Where you are from really has little significance on this island.
The world map in Louise's office.

Danish Island Weddings is also very popular with same-sex couples. Rebellious Bride had the joy of witnessing the wedding of Rona and Michelle whose story I will share with you here as soon as the happy couple are back from their honeymoon. Usually couples arrive on the island the day before the wedding and leave the day after - and come back for a holiday after falling in love with it.

The island of Aeroe offers many a romantic setting for making things official.

"With goodness you always get goodness back"

- Louise Moloney - 

With so many weddings each year, how do Louise and her family team manage to make all the couples feel special and not like they're on a marriage production line?

- It can never be routine when it is someone's wedding. We always look forward to meeting all of our couples and so are the residents on the island. They actually know many of my couples by name and always make sure they feel welcome, which is lovely. Everyone here sees the weddings as an opportunity to make something good - and with goodness you always get goodness back.

Louise's husband John is also a big part of the success story that is Danish Island Weddings.

Despite being a wonder woman who can magic up a wedding in the matter of hours, Louise does not seem frazzled or stressed and neither do the rest of her family. They seem the perfect team for the job.

- I see last minute requests as a challenge and the end result always inspires me. Our record is 36 hours from first contact to exchanging rings. If there is ever a tricky situation with a wedding dress, I call my mother, says Louise.  

Fancy getting married on Aeroe? Watch a video tour of Louise's wedding rooms at the Old Merchant's Court in Aeroeskobing and see for yourself what you can expect!

Check out Louise's website as well as for weddings and accommodation on Aeroe. Stay tuned for more in Rebellious Bride's series of reports from the wedding island, including recommendations on where to stay when you visit. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

From the Danish Caribbean with Love

What is it like to get married in the permanent paradise of the world's happiest country? Can a place like that even exist, given the world we live in and the news we read? Well, as much as I am rebellious I can also be quite romantic and last weekend I visited the tiny Danish island of Aeroe, known also as "the" wedding island of Europe, to see for myself how a community of around 6000 people have turned challenging financial times into blooming wedding business.

Monique from the US and Sacha from Germany married on Aeroe on Saturday.

I bet the mayor of Aeroe will never regret his decision to get back to basics and prioritise on romance. He wanted to start marrying couples on the island with the same level of easiness as they'd get in Las Vegas. The only difference being that breathtakingly beautiful, quaint and peaceful Aeroe could not be further from the tackiness that is the real Vegas.

In Aeroe you get a bit of the Seychelles, Tuscany and Denmark wrapped into one - and without the cost and hassle of travelling to the other side of the world for your big day. So it's not a surprise it is being held as the Danish Caribbean. (There are even t-shirts to prove it.)

On Aeroe you can "I do" anywhere: in one of the beach huts, in the garden or on a plane above it all.

Aeroe - the product of its people

A big part of Aeroe's appeal to a reality-loving bride like me is the fact that things haven't always smelled of roses. I believe that this might also be one of the reasons why people on the island clearly appreciate what they have. On Aeroe, you don't hear anyone moan.

- Around five years ago the financial crisis hit the island. Tourists were going away and shops were having to close, says Louise Moloney, the island's No 1 wedding planner. Louise had started her business, Danish Island Weddings, in the capital Aeroeskobing in 2008 and as an entrepreneur came up with the idea of giving a former Spar market a new lease of life. Together a group of local people turned it from a sad sign of recession into a now bustling coffee shop and food hall for local produce. The concept, now employing five people, was created simply because residents refused to just stand there and watch businesses around them die one by one.

Louise Moloney, the woman behind Danish Island Weddings, outside her office in Aeroeskobing. 

Today weddings bring around three million euro to the island each year and there are no "sorry we're closed" signs catching the eye. As much as the smiley, happy people of Aeroe are the product of their gorgeous and easygoing environment so is the success story of the island the product of its people.

In my special series of reports from the Las Vegas of Europe (without the plastic) I will be introducing you to a few of those people. I will also be taking you for a visit to Louise's world of weddings on a video tour! If you are looking to get married somewhere special but without the usual shenanigans, do not miss this and the story behind Danish Island Weddings.

The residents of Aeroeskobing having a street dinner party on Aeroe Day.

Aeroe - the well kept secret

Last year over 3000 couples from 130 different nationalities got married on Aeroe, largely thanks to Denmark's hassle-free marriage laws. Many of the couples arrive on the island the day before and leave the day after the wedding, some bring families and friends with them, some want to get married in total secrecy. In Aeroe secrecy, too, is possible as the island in itself is one of the best kept secrets of Scandinavia. Not that the Danes have anything to hide:

- In Denmark the law is not as strict as in many other countries. Couples need to have a passport or visa to Schengen (EU). They do not need to show their birth certificates, they just need to fill out a notice of marriage and prove they are not married already. If they are divorced or widowed, they need to provide proof of that. If they are divorced or widowed in a foreign country, then some of them need an apostille or legalization, registar Joan Lykke Ammersboll explains.

For those who are either forced to or want to marry without friends or family as witnesses, there is even a local team of voluntary witnesses to help. The ceremonies are conducted in Danish, English or German and take 15 minutes on average.

Louise and her sister Yuki assisting the registrar with documents on Michelle and Rona's big day. 

Aeroe - the fairytale that's real

As part of my series of blog posts I will also be sharing with you some very special moments from a wedding of two beautiful ladies from Israel (above). As much as you might imagine an island to suffer from island mentality and certain narrow-mindedness, Aeroe couldn't be further from it. Same-sex marriages are on the rise and people on the island welcome LGBT couples with open arms. Denmark legalized same-sex marriage in 2012.

- People here have learned to take people for what they are. We don't have crime, we don't do traffic jams or stress, so we have the time and the energy to focus on the people and what they want. It is quite real here in a fairytale sort of way, smiles Louise. And even though on Aeroe it is possible to marry any day of the week, Louise likes to keep Sundays to herself and her family. The focus on what's really important applies to everything and everyone.

                                             to see for yourself!

Preparations for the annual Aeroe Day, the island's "thank you" for its people. 

Follow Rebellious Bride's posts from Aeroe on, Facebook and Twitter. Email:  Take a look also at the Rebellious Wedding Guide (Raggarimorsiamen hääopas), written by journalist and author Minna Dufton and published by Gummerus.