• Girls’ Education Gets A Boost In Bhutan


    A raven mask. The raven represents one of the chief guardian deities of Bhutan. (Photo credit: Krista Waddell)

    Bhutan is an amazing country, a fact I discovered while doing research for my recent article. It is beautiful and mysterious; it’s a treasure for any traveler. It is also difficult to get to, but it’s absolutely worth the journey.

    One woman decided to take that trip – not once, but twice – and she plans on returning for a third time. Krista Waddell, an American now living in Australia, decided to join a group of ladies planning a trek to Bhutan in 2012 to support girls’ education.

    After learning that the students were lacking basic school supplies – even furniture for their classrooms – the women decided to act by raising funds and getting many of the supplies there personally.  I asked Krista what it was like, and why she decided to take part in the journey.

    What inspired you to be a part of this charitable cause?

    When I first moved to Australia, I met some amazing women in a hiking group who were going to Bhutan (2012) and doing some fundraising. New to the country, I thought it would be a wonderful way to get involved in the community, even though I wasn’t going on the trip. After a month, the ladies invited me to join them for the adventure. I was thrilled! One trip and I was hooked. RENEW, the NGO established by Her Majesty Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck, is dedicated to helping women and children in domestic violence situations. The organization focuses on education scholarships, vocational training, and shelters.


    Trekking through snowy terrain [click to enlarge]. (Photo credit: Krista Waddell)

    How did you prepare for such a physical challenge?

    Hiking at altitude is extremely rigorous. To prepare, Heather [McNeice] and I do our best to over-train. We believe that if we minimize the issues with muscular soreness we are then able to focus on our breathing. Some of the schools we visit are a week’s walk from the nearest road, forcing us to cross several high passes (in excess of 5000m) along the way.

    What did your family and friends think when you told them you were going to do this?

    Everyone has been extremely supportive. Last year (2013), when we set off on the Snowman Trek, everyone was slightly worried due to the extreme conditions. My husband just asked that I keep in touch via satellite phone.

    What was the toughest part of the trek?

    Trekking at altitude is the hardest aspect, simply because you can’t train for it and you never know how your body will respond. Altitude sickness isn’t predictable, one year you could be fine and the next you find yourself sick. We’ve even had our crew end up asking us for medicine.

    What was your favorite part of the journey, aside from the joy of giving the children their much-needed supplies?

    Of course, seeing the children are on the top of the list, but personally, I love the ability to lose myself and clear my mind. Being in the majesty of the Himalayas make you realize how small you actually are. It’s important to remember that.


    Heather McNeice (left) and Krista Waddell distribute supplies [click to enlarge]. (Photo credit: Krista Waddell)

    How are the children progressing with their schooling now that they have their supplies?

    They seem to be doing well. We’ve received school newsletters from a couple of the larger schools and next year we will be revisiting schools from the past trip. I’m excited to see the difference. In January, the Australian Himalayan Foundation will start a pilot program in Lingshi which will mirror a program already established in Nepal. The four-prong approach will include scholarships, teacher training, materials, and community outreach.

    The culture must be vastly different up in the mountains of Bhutan. What was the biggest culture shock? Was there anything that seemed to be universal?

    People are essentially the same all over the world. It’s wasn’t so much a shock, as a relief to see how truly happy most people are in the villages. People work as a community; women weave in their front yard and watch the children tend the yaks and other animals. Everyone is working to live, not living to work. Of course, there are still issues in the land of “Gross National Happiness”. Queen Mother Ashi Choden Sangay Wangchuck is working to mold the culture to expose the problems so they can be addressed.

    What was it like meeting Queen Mother Ashi Choden Sangay Wangchuck?


    Heather McNeice and Krista Waddell with the Queen Mother [click to enlarge]. (Photo credit: Krista Waddell)

    The queen is a beautiful woman both inside and out. Speaking to her I could sense her passion for the projects that she has undertaken. Having trekked through Bhutan herself, she explained to me her motivation. Apparently, a number of women spoke to her during her visits about [the problem of] domestic violence. Having not been exposed to that type of upbringing, she was appalled and realized something needed to be done.

    After chatting about the program, Her Majesty chatted about her shopping day in Sydney. She is amazingly down to Earth. Honestly, it was like talking to an old friend.

    Many thanks to Krista for her insights and her photos from her journey. You can help support girls’ education in Bhutan by visiting Bhutan Girls 2014 fundraising page or directly through the Australian Himalayan Foundation.

  • The Way of the Dragon: Bhutan’s Royal World

    Emblem of Bhutan

    Emblem of Bhutan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Bhutan’s history is vibrant, but turbulent. In 2006, after centuries of warlords, a theocracy, and an absolute monarchy, one king made a seismic decision that would change everything. Six years ago today, his son would take the reins of his father’s dreams and drive Bhutan to a more democratic future.

    Royal Roots

    Bhutan’s monarchy is comparatively young, beginning in 1907 with Ugyen Wangchuck. He ruled with support from the ever-expanding British Empire, just around the corner in neighboring India.

    The British were influential friends to have and governed Bhutan’s foreign affairs, but they remained outside of the country’s internal affairs. The two nations even signed a treaty to that effect. This lack of interference was mostly thanks to Bhutan’s geographical location within the Himalayas. It was nearly impossible to colonize, and as a result, British and other foreign influence were slim.

    Bhutanese are proud of their royals and their culture. They have the distinction of being one of the last Buddhist monarchies in the world. To retain their way of life, former King Jigme Singye and Bhutan’s leaders only recently allowed things like television and tourists within the last twenty-five years. The king felt it was time to integrate Bhutan, but swore to uphold Bhutanese culture. Cautiously optimistic, he opened the doors to the world.

    Continue Reading…

  • Happy Post-Halloween!

    No show today folks. I’m sorry!

    After suffering through a bad cold all week, then participating in Halloween with a toddler (with some singing and dancing) my voice feels shot.

    So I hope you will all pardon me while I recover. This is a bummer. On the bright side, it will give me a little more time to finish up my super-amazing royal posts coming up.

    Cheers! x


  • The Queen Tweets, Makes History

    The Queen Tweets, Makes Digital History

    Sent by HM herself. I wonder what Queen Victoria would make of that!

  • Singapore State Visit, Kate Amazingly Well Again

    Kate looks amazingly well. Hypermesis Gravidarum has made the Duchess of Cambridge horribly ill for weeks now, but it now looks as though it hasn’t made one dent in her spirits. It’s incredible.

    This state visit is a big event, and no one thought Kate would be well enough to attend. Happily, she pulled through just in time.

    Tony Tan Keng Yam is the first president of Singapore to make an official state visit to the UK.  He is Singapore’s former deputy Prime Minister, elected as the nation’s seventh president in 2011.

    This visit highlights the UK’s increasing economic ties to Southeast Asia.


  • Cambridges To Welcome Royal Baby #2 in April!

    William and Kate are expecting their second royal baby next April.

    April 29th, 2015 will mark the Cambridges’ fourth wedding anniversary. This baby will be a good wedding anniversary gift! When my daughter was born last September, we put a little gold bow on her and said she was our fifth wedding anniversary gift. Her birthday comes just one week prior to our anniversary date in October.

    What better way to celebrate than have a new baby in the family? Lots of good wishes to the Cambridges, the Middletons, and the whole Royal Family.

  • Guest Post: A Tiny Country’s Fairy-Tale Wedding

    A Tiny Country’s Fairy-Tale Wedding

    How is your geography today? Luxembourg? Since the lavish wedding of Hereditary Prince Guillaume and Countess Stéphanie de Lannoy, more Americans probably now know a bit more about this little constitutional monarchy in Europe, a separate entity away from Belgium, Germany, and France.

    One could write about this wedding as being merely a social, “people” event, but it was much more than that. Of course, one could also compare this royal wedding to the one recently celebrated in England. But there is no reason for venturing down that road. It is my personal opinion that the wedding of Prince Guillaume and Countess Stéphanie outshone all other royal weddings in the recent past.

    The overall atmosphere in Luxembourg since the official announcement of the couple’s engagement in April 2012 has been one of joy and participation. Perhaps of relief as well, because the Hereditary Prince had finally found his match. But I really think that the great interest comes from the population’s genuine affection for the Grand Ducal family. Critics voiced their opinions, but they do not make up the majority.

    At the beginning of January 2012, I watched Prince Guillaume answer positively to an interview question regarding his being in a relationship. He replied discreetly, but with a contented smile on his face.

    “Hmmm,” I thought. We can be expecting an announcement from either the Palace or the Prime Minister in the near future. Indeed! On April 26, 2012, the official announcement was made. During the days to follow, newspapers and television in Luxembourg reported at length about this happy news. Many were the articles introducing the heretofore unknown young Belgian Countess, Stéphanie de Lannoy. On the online Luxembourg newspaper editions news of the young couple and the wedding plans increased on a daily basis. The media enjoyed a veritable field day as Countess Stéphanie received her first public introduction as the official engagement photos were shot by an army of photographers. I was impressed by the evident ease and mutual affection between the Prince Guillaume and Countess Stéphanie.


    Tragically, their engagement was marked by the sudden death of Countess Stéphanie’s beloved mother, Alix de Lannoy. The news service photos showed Prince Guillaume by her side. This heartbreak was evoked by the groom’s father, Grand Duke Henri, during his address to the happy couple during the gala dinner following Friday’s civil ceremony.

    The Civil ceremony

    The Civil ceremony
    ©Reuters and DailyMail

    As is the law in most European countries, a marriage must take place at city hall. If the couple wishes to hold a religious ceremony as well, this second wedding is conducted subsequent to satisfying the law on the books. Prince Guillaume and Countess Stéphanie decided to go this route, making them the first in their family to have done so. This gesture endeared them even more to their country. The short, private ceremony was attended by family members and officiated over by the mayor of Luxembourg City, Xavier Bettel. Mayor Bettel switched to Luxembourgish when it was Countess Stéphanie’s turn to say “I do”. Although she is still learning the language, she answered without the least hesitation. She’ll have no problem learning the language since she already speaks fluent German, among other languages. Besides, she is certainly aware of how important it is to learn the language of her new country.

    After the civil ceremony, the young newlyweds left the city hall to a loud round of happy applause. Prince Guillaume and his bride waived joyfully, almost as if to say, “one ceremony, down and one more to go.” As they made their way back to the Palace to prepare for the Gala dinner scheduled for that evening, the princely couple crossed the Place Guillaume taking much time to accept little gifts and drawings prepared by small school children. At one point, a little girl asked Countess Stéphanie for a kiss, whereupon an entire chorus of little voice joined in “me, too! me, too!” Stéphanie kissed about 6 children. Their little faces could have lit up the city afterwards. One especially delightful sight was an employee of the Palace, following the couple with his arms overloaded with gifts, mostly from children, for the newlyweds.

    The public atmosphere during the two days of festivities was electric. The weather had surprised everyone by turning into a lovely, particularly balmy “Indian summer” weekend. Tourists from all over milled about downtown Luxembourg City enjoying the festive mood and the orange and blue monogram of the couple decorating the main squares. The storefronts displayed beautifully framed copies of their official engagement photo. Tourists as well as the inhabitants carried little Luxembourg Flags adorned with a heart-shaped photo of Stéphanie and Guillaume. One of the vineyards had the excellent idea to bottle a special number of sparkling wine labelled with a photo of the couple.

    The gala dinner took place on Friday evening and was attended by many crowned heads of Europe.
    Queen Silvia of Sweden, her two younger children and, of course, Crown Princess Victoria accompanied by Prince Daniel, Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik of Denmark, King Albert and Queen Paola of Belgium; the list goes on.

    The groom’s father, Grand Duke Henri, gave a moving speech to the young couple, addressing them individually and as a couple. He also evoked the memory of Countess Stéphanie’s late mother. The television cameras left the dinner after Grand Duke Henri’s toast. Most of the male guests wore their military uniforms and looked quite dashing. The ladies were, of course, dressed elegantly. The dress worn by Countess Stéphanie, as is seen in the photos, was made of silver lace.

    Being practicing Catholics, the bridal couple had their church wedding on Saturday, October 20th at the cathedral Our Lady of Notre Dame, just around the corner from the palace. Already in the wee hours of the morning spectators began to secure the best vantage point along the wedding route. Well-wishers came from near and far. It isn’t every day when most crowned heads of Europe and scores of princes, princesses, dukes, etc, gather in little Luxembourg. The crowds hoped to view favorites, such as Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Spain, Princess Caroline of Monaco, the Crown Prince couples from Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and Holland. The Luxembourgers were excited as well, but when members of their royal family appeared it seemed to me that the cheers were louder and more heartfelt. After all, their hereditary Grand Duke was finally getting married.

    Cathédrale Notre-Dame • Luxembourg

    Cathédrale Notre-Dame • Luxembourg

    At the appointed times the honoured guests arrived in chauffeur-driven vehicles in front of the ornate side entrance of the Cathedral on Boulevard Roosevelt. Gardeners had done a magnificent job converting the paved area running along the entrance of the National Library up to the doors of the cathedral. At the arrival of Prince Guillaume and his mother, Grand Duchess Maria Theresa, the crowd of well-wishers cheered enthusiastically. The Grand Duchess was visibly touched by this gesture as was Prince Guillaume, who turned and waved in appreciation to the crowd. On the way up the red carpet leading to the open doors of the Cathedral, where Archbishop Hollerich waited to welcome mother and son, the Prince turned and waived to the crowd as they acclaimed him. One of the endearing qualities of Prince Guillaume is the manner in which he seems pleased and thankful that so many well-wishers patiently wait for the big moment. He rewards the onlookers with what could be called, a “sunny boy” smile.

    Countess Stéphanie arrived in a chauffeur-driven Daimler accompanied by her eldest brother, Count Jehan de Lannoy. It was he, in his sharp blue Belgian officer’s uniform, who would walk his younger sister up the aisle. The health of their 90-year-old father, Count Philip de Lannoy, would not permit him to do so.

    The Daimler containing the bride pulled up in front of the Cathedral. The joy emanating from this young woman was palpable. Her manner of greeting and acknowledging the excited onlookers was heartfelt and graceful. Such emotions of anticipation, nervousness, and perhaps joyful gravity cannot be faked. She was simply radiant.

    After making their way over the red carpet to the door of the Cathedral, the Archbishop of Luxembourg received them with a beaming smile and words known only them.

    As Countess Stéphanie processed down the aisle on the arm of her brother to very fitting music, all eyes turned towards her. She smiled a radiant happy bride’s smile.

    Perhaps the most poignant moment of the entire church wedding ceremony was the moment that Guillaume asked the father of the bride a second time for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The Count de Lannoy had been helped to stand by his son and carefully accompanied to the side of the altar so that he could truly give his daughter away. This may sound corny, but the faces of the couple and the recently widowed Count shone with joy. Just beautiful.

    The music was chosen by the couple, who are both great lovers of music. Stéphanie is said to be a skilled violinist. The Archbishop evoked the memory of Countess Stéphanie’s late mother, Countess Alix. This detail was known to the general public, but the sincerity and poignancy of the gesture spoke volumes. The cathedral remained silent for the minute of recollection and prayer.

    The wedding of Prince Guillaume and Countess Stéphanie took place like most weddings.
    However, the fact that this was a royal wedding put it into a different light. The media couldn’t resist comparing this wedding to the OTHER royal wedding having recently taken place in London. Luxembourg does not need to look towards England to know how to throw a royal wedding. The crowned guests were present, the flowers, the festivities, the red carpets and the list goes on. The original aspect of the Luxembourg Royal wedding was the contagious joy in the crowd from the moment of the civil ceremony at the City Hall until they stole away for their honeymoon. But the electricity was especially evident when, after the wedding ceremony in the Cathedral, the Newlyweds presented themselves on the Palace Balcony to the enormous crowd. The well-wishers waited for the kiss. Guillaume did not disappoint them. Not once but three times did he gather his bride in his embrace and kiss her smartly. No peck on the cheek, but firm kiss on the mouth. The crowd roared their approval.

    Fireworks over the fortress city carried the well-wishers along the river of good cheer. Fireworks in all shapes and colors celebrated the newlyweds before they were whisked away to their unknown honeymoon destination. They waved to the crowd of well-wishers in their now familiar endearing way. As their chauffeur-driven car slowly inched its way past the Palace, the concert on Guillaume Square commenced for Luxembourgers and the numerous tourists in town. The party went on into the wee hours of the night.

    At the end of the day, Luxembourg had a new member of the Grand Ducal family with whom to acquaint themselves. It was a personal success for the Newlyweds despite some factions complaining about the cost of the wedding. In comparison to the English royal wedding, it was a drop in the proverbial bucket. As the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, remarked in his televised nuptial message, the country can do well with a brief and joyful interlude during these difficult financial times. The days can be bleak, but during the wedding weekend, many citizens were able to forget their worries. The union of Prince Guillaume and Countess Stéphanie has assured the first step towards the continuation of the constitutional monarchy. It is hope for the future of the tiny, but important European country.

    Written by Yvonne Koechig
    Luxembourg, November 2012

    Find Yvonne at her new blog, yvonnekoechig.wordpress.com

    Cathedral photo credit: fs999 via photopin cc

    Window dressing photo credit: Marc Ben Fatma – visit Benymarc.com and like my FB via photopin cc

  • Good Lord, Gorgeousness!

    The stunning Princess Sibilla of Luxembourg was dazzling in an aquamarine set that once belonged to Queen Victoria Eugenia (Ena) of Spain. It was a beautiful choice for the recent royal wedding celebrations in Luxembourg. And Ena’s aquamarine parure more than rivals that of Elizabeth II. Nice choice!

    sibilla of Luxembourg

    Sibylla of Luxembourg
    © svenskdam.se

    Speaking of, the tiara Sibilla wears here is remarkably similar to the British queen’s Vladimir tiara when set with emeralds.

    Vladimir tiara - color

    Vladimir tiara
    © The Royal Collection

    Good Lord, gorgeousness indeed!

    The loops of the aquamarine tiara are more delicate, with room for the gems to swing. I may actually prefer the Ena tiara to Elizabeth’s tiara (Shh!! Don’t tell her).

    Princess Sibilla (née Weiller) wed Prince Guillaume of Luxembourg in 1994. Sibilla’s Guillaume is a son of Grand Duke Jean, and younger brother of Grand Duke Henri.

  • Luxembourg’s Royal Wedding – Style Commentary

    Luxembourg’s Royal Wedding – Style Commentary

    On October 19th, Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume married Countess Stephanie Marie Claudine Christine de Lannoy in a civil ceremony.

    The Civil ceremony

    The Civil ceremony
    ©Reuters and DailyMail

    The following day, October 20th, Stephanie walked down the aisle for the religious ceremony in a classically beautiful Elie Saab wedding dress. Her hair was adorned with her family’s Lannoy tiara.

    Stephanie detail


    The Lannoy tiara

    The Lannoy tiara (Thanks to Luxarazzi)

    Stephanie’s dress was layered with delicate lace, though I had predicted that her gown’s bodice would be heavier in silk for an Autumn wedding. It is absolutely stunning, however, and I’m glad I was wrong!

    According to Wort.lu, the dress has 50,000 beads, 50 metres of Chantilly lace, 40 metres of Calais lace, 30 metres or satin organza, and 70 metres of tulle!


    The Wedding gown

    The representatives of the British Royal Family, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, looked wonderful. The Countess usually wears one of two tiaras when attending foreign weddings – her wedding tiara or the single large aquamarine as a headpiece. For Guillaume and Stephanie’s nuptials, Sophie displayed a beaut – a stunning multi-aquamarine tiara. Not only that, but she paired it with the Queen’s King Faisal necklace. Bravo, Sophie!

    The Wessexes

    The Wessexes at the wedding gala dinner

    Grand Duchess Maria Teresa walks into the Cathedral on the arm of her son, Guillaume. It must’ve been such a wonderful moment, full of memories of her own wedding to Grand Duke Henri in 1981.


    Guillaume & his mother, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa

    Guillaume speaks four languages, has studied international politics, and is a lieutenant colonel in the Luxembourg army. Stephanie has studied the influence of German romanticism on Russian romanticism, and speaks fluent French and German. She has been studying Luxembourgish for her new role as the Hereditary Grand Duchess.

    Congratulations to Guillaume and Stephanie! We wish them every happiness and look forward to the chapters they add to their royal family’s story.

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