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TRAVEL WITH BRADLEY! Bradley has always put his clients first and his tours reflect just that. Making travel dreams a reality is his speciality. Follow this blog and he'll take you around the World!

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The Pope Has Arrived on Bulgarian Soil

Late this afternoon we were standing in the sanctuary of Sofia’s spectacular, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral watching the formalities of their Mass.   This cathedral holds 5000 parishioners.  Its renowned choirs angelic voices filled the massive space, their sound gave us a tingling feeling.   Tim, one of my passengers came up to me and said – “Bradley when people go and get their hair done they come out of the hair studio and say that was awesome but they are wrong – THIS IS AWESOME”.  I think we all felt the same way.

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Earlier in the afternoon the Pope was conducting mass right behind the deluxe hotel we are staying in.  Some of my passengers passed through relatively short lines to clear security so they could see the Pope.  One gentleman said – “I never thought I would ever see the Pope” – thank you Bradley.  The closest side street to our hotel was filled with diplomatic vehicles from various embassy’s and there was security but nothing in comparison to what I have seen at similar events.  This is the 2nd time in history that a Pope has walked on Bulgarian soil.  For some this was a very special day but this is an Orthodox country so there was some controversy about his visit.  If nothing else for my passengers and I, Catholic or not it was an exciting event – watching all the pomp and circumstance – and knowing in a small way that we were part of this historic, special event.

Another wonderful experience was when we spent time with some locals in a small town of 400 – Golyam Ivzor.  In its prime this place had a few thousand residence but now there are less than 10 jobs here – no doctor – no pharmacy – no store – a kindergarten school but no students – a crumbling Orthodox Church that the local seniors are doing their best to preserve – no weekly mass, the only time there is one is on a special day.  The sad reality is there are many towns just like this one in Bulgaria.  The younger generation have left to find work in other European countries.  Bulgaria is experiencing the fastest shrinking population in the European Union.  These people have gone through so much hardship but through it all are very proud.  We were so warmly welcomed with homemade bread – visitors to a home are traditionally welcomed with bread – you accept 2 pieces – and dip one piece in salt and the other in honey.   The meal the local ladies prepared for us was amazing.  We also tasted the important brandy’s – plum (for the men) and apple (for the ladies) that the local man distill in their basement.

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Our farewell dinner was at a beautiful restaurant in the foothill of the mountains.  Here we tasted a delicious array of local cuisine and were entertained with folklore music and dancers.  Canadian singer, Bryan Adams is one of many celebrities that have dined here.

Sunday’s is the most popular wedding day in Bulgaria.  We heard car horns echoing throughout the city – announcing the newly married couples.

What a spectacular day – one, most of us will never forget.

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Veliko Tărnovo / Arbanasi – Bulgaria

This morning after a scrumptious buffet breakfast in a dining room (with an amazing view over a valley) we departed for the town of Arbanassi, Bulgaria.  This small town has a population of around 500.  Years ago you could tell the wealth of a town by how many churches they had.  Back in the 17th Century the population of Arbanasi was around 1000 people and it was considered wealthy because of its 5 churches.

Today was a summer, “25C – shorts and t-shirt” kind of weather day – how wonderful!

We visited Arbanasi’s most famous “Church of Nativity” – which features 2800 symbolic wall-murals.

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Later we walked a short distance to the “Church Archangel and Gavrail” where I arranged a private concert for my passengers as a “Travel With Bradley” SURPRISE.  What an amazing experience.   The 3 singers filled the sanctuary with beautiful harmonies – was very touching.

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The spring flowers surrounding the church were full of colour.

I felt our luncheon at a very popular restaurant in Veliko Tărnovo was the best yet.  The restaurants interior  was artistically decorated and their cuisine exceptional.  Who serves “orange sherbet” with an entree – ok, it was mashed carrots and potatoes but it sure looked like dessert….

After lunch we visited the Tzarevets Fortress where we enjoyed more spectacular views.

We also explored Veliko Tarnovo.  The downtown core was packed with tourists who were shopping, eating gelato and soaking in the sun and breathing in the fresh air.

This evening we dined a little later than usual in order to see the very popular “Light and Sound Show” that is presented a few times a year over Tzarevets Fortress.  Since our hotel faces the Tzarevets Valley our view was perfect,

The hotel piped in the show music for us and this  production was a true spectacle – sort of Walt Disney World arrives in Bulgaria.  A number of my passengers said it was “fantastic” and “how will explain it to our friends”.

Truly another “Travel With Bradley” Bulgaria highlight!

Bulgarian Roses – Thracian Tomb – Veliko Turnovo

We enjoyed a wonderful jam-packed day of touring.  Much of the day was spent in the mountains where the trees are currently a vibrant green colour.7B7EBC55-CB0C-4383-B69F-F67047D57E08

Bulgaria is known world-wide for its “Rose Oil” production.  The harvest season starts in a couple weeks and lasts for a month.  Roses are picked in the early AM.  We visited a large rose oil producer and admired their multi-million dollar facility.  Of course after our tour and tasting (rose jam and 40% alcohol rose liquor) everyone purchased rose products in their well-stocked gift store.

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A delicious luncheon was held in a wonderful restaurant in the town of Kazanlak, Bulgaria.

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Afterwards we visited UNESCO’s, Thracian Tomb of Kazanaik – AMAZING!

Later we continued to ETAR – an impressive representation of a Bulgarian Village in the revival period.  Many local craftsman were working in their shops and I purchased a “few” of their high-quality products to bring home – so did a number of my passengers.

Daniel, our local host enjoys the authentic Turkish Coffee that they prepare in one of the little very unique cafes at ETAR.  The server put the coffee pot on a bed of hotel sand and then prepared his coffee.

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For two nights we are staying in the touristy town of Veliko Turnovo where the views are spectacular!

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Dinner was served in one of the towns finest restaurants – we basically filled the place.  Their food was scrumptious – the piano player extremely talented – and the interior was awesome.

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Bulgaria’s Plovdiv – Villa Yustina Winery – Bachkovo Monastery

This morning after a delicious breakfast buffet, Daniel our guide toured us throughout the historic Old Town of Plovdiv.  We were SO impressed with this beautiful place.  One could spend a number of hours exploring.

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Our time at Villa Ustina Winery will definitely be a tour highlight for everyone.  When we arrived a talented Bulgarian Piper welcomed and entertained us as we sipped on a Welcome Glass of Wine.

A knowledgeable and very bubbly tour hostess toured us through their impressive cellars where we learned how they manufacture state-of-the-art stainless steel vats which they ship all over the world (even to wineries in Niagara, ON).

Villa Ustina’s  founder is quite the entrepreneur.

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Later in their tasting room we enjoyed a homemade 3 course luncheon that many of my passengers felt, “was our best meal yet”.  The founders son and his mother-in-law were the superb cooks in the kitchen.  This operation is very much a family affair complimented by an excellent staff who told us how much they love their jobs.

We started with a fresh salad followed by pork loin stuffed with plums.  Dessert was a luscious torte-like cake that SO good!

We are the first large Canadian group that they have welcomed.  Their entire team worked so hard to impress us – they succeeded – we so appreciated their hospitality.

My passengers loved this experience so much many of them are bringing home, “MANY” bottles of their premium wines.

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I was fascinated as we drove passed a Bulgarian Gypsy community.  We were told that the Gypsies often start building homes without permission after they decide to settle in an area.  Gypsies often travel using horse and wagon.  This morning when we toured beautiful Plovdiv we saw a number of Gypsies working to keep the streets clean – they were doing a stellar job!

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The scenery we took in today was spectacular once again.

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Mid-afternoon we arrived at the 2nd largest Monastery in Bulgaria – Bachkovo Monastery.  This is the first one where we were allowed to snap some pictures in the unique and very  beautiful Orthodox Church.  A monk was very quick to collect our group admission money.

My passenger walked up the RED CARPET in order to enter tonight’s dinner restaurant.  The restaurant interior was trendy and our entree was a little lighter and definitely the healthiest one yet.  We enjoyed it.

Another terrific day in Bulgaria – the weather was wonderful too – 22C with blue skies.

Bulgaria’s Rhodope Narrow Gauge Railroad

Railway Buffs will be jealous of us  – this morning we rode the Rhodope Narrow Gauge Railway – to the highest elevation station in the Balkan Avramova at 1267 meters above sea level.

The train arrived “on-time” for our departure from Bansko Station.  This is a public train that was originally built to help connect the mountain communities.  Eventually it was used as a way to transport limber.

This is a holiday “May Day – Labour Day” so other than my group,  a couple backpackers and handful of local ladies – we were the only ones who boarded the train.  We took over one of the cars and cracked open Wine bottles at 1030am!  What a party!

Our journey took us through a very authentic part of the country – beautiful.

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When our train journey came to a close we were hungry so we boarded the coach and continued to a touristy Hot Springs Town where we enjoyed a 3 course veal luncheon at a very popular local restaurant.  Very little English was spoken by the staff but the chef really did an exceptional job cooking for us and homemade creme caramel was a perfect finale.

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We continued for a couple hours to Plovdiv where we are staying at the Best – Hotel Imperial for 2 nights.

We were scheduled for a 90 minute walking tour before check-in but I changed the itinerary and we will explore Plovdiv tomorrow morning – the fresh Mountain air tired us out so relaxing time before dinner was my NEW plan and it was appreciated by all.

Dinner was held in a chandelier filled dining room with a beautiful view.  The cuisine was excellent and the service right on the mark.

 

Rila Monastery – Bulgaria’s Famous Attraction

This morning we shared the dining room during breakfast with a fellow Canadian from Kitchener, ON – what a small world.  Breakfast was exceptional – huge variety with many regional specialities.

We traveled most of the day on secondary roads where we really admired the countryside views.  Farmers were working up their fields for planting and we saw many horse pulled wagons.

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Our travels took us to one of the most famous attractions in Bulgaria – Rila Monastery.  This is one of those places where a picture just doesn’t do it justice.  When you enter the Monastery grounds its beauty take your breath away.  Unfortunately no pictures can be taken inside the Church and that is too bad – its so unique and beautiful.  Quite seriously it should be on your “Must See” Travel List!  There are currently 10 monks living in this Monastery which in comparison to neighboring Romania is few – in Romania their Monasteries often have hundreds of monks.  At one time the Monastery was very important – if someone wanted an eduction it was often the monks who did the teaching and they had a major say in political affairs.

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We enjoyed lunch at a spotless restaurant close to the Monastery.  The home cooked meal was exceptional.  The starter was piping hot, navy bean soup.  The  local speciality is trout and it was especially tasty because it was fresh and chargrilled.  Dessert was homemade yogurt with jam – very satisfying.

This time of year Storks nest in a few of the towns that we traveled through.  Look at the size of their nests.  They yearly return to the same nest to have their young.

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We made a stop in Bansko a town that has grown into a major ski resort area.  Here we toured another very unique Orthodox Church – not at all like Rila’s Monastery  but just as beautiful.  Easter displays still dot the town.  There were many shops selling locally produced goods – especially ceramics.  Vendors were selling sweet corn at little stands – smelled so delicious as we walked by.

We are very much enjoying our overnight stay at “Hot Springs Resort Hotel” where the views of the mountains are stunning,  This is a newly built property that has quickly become exceptionally popular,  Easter holidays just finished and tomorrow is Labor Day so many have this time off so are vacationing and this hotel is at capacity.   They reserved a special seating area for us so we could enjoy their bountiful dinner buffet.

Another terrific day in Bulgaria!

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Bulgaria – Here We Come!

I met my passengers yesterday afternoon at Toronto Pearson.  Everyone was so excited about our Journey to Bulgaria!  This is a new destination for them AND me.

Check-in at the Lufthansa counters was pretty quick – line ups at security were long – but eventually we all ended up in the Plaza Premium Lounge for dinner and beverages before boarding a 747-400 series jet for the 7hr flight to Frankfurt.

The plane was filled to capacity.  Service was very good.  The on-flight meal  was a choice of beef or pasta and a hearty snack was served prior to landing.

Surprisingly there wasn’t a gate assigned to the plane in Frankfurt so we walked down stairs and boarded buses that took us to the terminal – surprised they would do that with a mega size jet like a 747 – I’ve had it happen many times when traveling on smaller jets.

It was a fun adventure going up and down stairs in the terminal in order to board another bus that took us to a different part of the terminal where our connecting gate was located.  I think everyone appreciated my guidance to get them there.  We were just glad that we didn’t have a quick connection.

The stores in the airport concourse were all designer brands with prices to match – no bargains to be found.

Our connecting flight to Sofia was also with Lufthansa and this time we flew on an Airbus.  The connecting  flight was a short 90 minutes but that didn’t stop the friendly  flight crew from giving us a choice of sandwich with beverage choice.

Its Orthodox Easter Monday so Sofia is like a ghost town.  The streets that are typically clogged with traffic are empty.  Many locals leave the city and head to the Black Sea or Greek resorts to celebrate the holiday.

After we landed at Sophia, we quickly cleared customs and our luggage already appeared on a conveyor belt.

We met our knowledgeable  guide, Daniel and our motor coach driver,

We were soon on our way to lunch.

The restaurant was an authentic one with great atmosphere.  It’s highly regarded – Putin, has eaten here a few times.

Our 3 course meal was delicious – hearty potato soup, a yummy chicken dish (similar to a stew topped with an egg – so much flavor) and a traditional pastry thin layer cake (I’m sure a labor of love to prepare).

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Daniel then showed us some landmarks in this very clean city that has a population of 1 Million in the core and 1.3 Million including the suburbs.

We made a stop so we could exchange some money at a GREAT rate.

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We are staying in the finest and most highly regarded 5 star hotel in the city.  They might as well refer to their rooms as suites because they are suite size.  Some of my passengers commented that they are larger than many apartments in Toronto.  Green is the decorating colour of choice but it nicely compliments the rooms dark woods.

Our welcome dinner was in the Red Room – very elegant – a few of my passengers said the pork was the BEST they EVER tasted – so tender.

The Prime Minister of Bulgaria was dining in the room next to us so there was a great deal of security around.  Some of my passengers saw the Prime Minister giving a press conference in the lobby of our hotel – I missed it by a couple minutes.

This hotel has attracted a huge list celebrities and they proudly post their pictures in their beautiful coffee cafe.  “Travel With Bradley” passengers stay at the best!

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Temperatures were in the 20C range today and it was such a warm evening almost everyone went for a stroll after dinner to admire this beautifully lit up city.

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In honor of Orthodox Easter in the hotel lobby I purchased a hand made Easter Egg Nest – made of wool – a charity project for needy children.

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My passengers are tired after a day of travel but we are having a great time and are so impressed with our first day in Bulgaria.  Looking forward to what we are going to experience in the upcoming days.

Day 4 – American Barn Stories – Ft. Atkinson, WI

We woke to cooler temperatures and some rain but by early afternoon temperatures were in the 70’s and the sun was shining.  Locals had their car windows down so they could enjoy the warm fresh air.

We stopped at an unique store in the “middle of nowhere” – down a dirt road, on a family farm.  I had asked them a number of months ago, to open early for us.  The owner is a lovely lady who was thrilled that a group of Canadians had invaded her large store which is filled with Amish products. Wisconsin products and even some antique.

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This is the first “Travel With Bradley” group to visit to the “Fireside Dinner Theatre” in Ft. Atkinson, WI.  Fireside Theatre has been on my radar for a few decades SO I am very pleased that I FINALLY fit this attraction into a “Travel With Bradley” itinerary.  The complex accommodates 700 ticket holders – 2 separate areas for dining and theatre.  The facility also features a massive gift shop plus a bustling bakery counter.  If you arrive on a motor coach they assign plastic bins which holds the baking that the passengers on each coach purchases.  These bins are then delivered to the coaches before show end.  Their dining area has undergone a recent renovation and it shows – very classy.  The servers are extremely friendly (the lady looking after the table where I was sitting at has worked at Fireside for 14 years).  The 3 course plated meal received rave reviews.  The theatre space looks a little dated but the theatre seats have recovered.  The ceilings are low but that didn’t effect the production of “Menopause – the Musical” which was excellent.  This hilarious show ran for 90 minutes without an intermission.  I look forward to bringing more groups to Fireside Dinner Theatre.

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After the show finished  it took 2 hours to reach our overnight hotel which was located in an affluent Chicago suburb.  We enjoyed plenty of room in our suite accommodations.  Many of my passengers were so impressed they wished we could spend a few extra nights enjoying this property.

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Dinner was a plentiful Italian affair – the “Pope” overlooked our banquet.  The multi-courses of Italian specialties arrived on platters so we could help ourselves with as much or little as we wished.

Day 3 – American Barn Stories – Lake Geneva

We enjoyed another wonderful day in the Lake Geneva, WI area.

After breakfast we traveled 30 minutes to a rural town of “East Troy”.  I chartered a historic electric train for our excursion to the “Elegant Farmer”.  The “Elegant Farmer” is proudly known for their “Apple Pie Baked in a Bag”.  Many food critics claim its the BEST pie in America.

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The owner of the “Dancing Horses” Show is a real character.  She helped served our early “Easter Turkey” luncheon – very delicious.

The “Dancing Horses” 90 minute performance  that followed was excellent.

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We then watched their 30 minute parrot show – also excellent!

There was a bit of time at the resort so everyone could get freshened up for dinner.

We then strolled down the store lined Main Street in beautiful downtown Lake Geneva.  What a beautiful day to explore.

Dinner was at Sprecher’s German restaurant.  We had a choice of many entrees.  Portions were huge and delicious!

Day 2 – American Barn Stories – Lake Geneva

This mornings breakfast buffet was excellent.  The views from the dining room were wonderful as we overlooked a large pond highlighted with a large fountain.

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We admired the beautiful day – the sun was beaming, the sky a bright blue and the blanket of snow that covered the ground was gleaming.  

Soon after departure we crossed into the State of Wisconsin.  A big “cheese” sign greeted us so I asked Paul to stop at that cheese shop and many of my passengers made purchases – they offered many Wisconsin cheese varieties including a 15 year old cheddar!

When we arrived in the tourist area of Lake Geneva we were joined by a wonderful host who toured us through this rural community.  We saw a number of painted barn quilts and visited a dairy farm where they milk 1600 – 24 hours a day!  The farmers were very friendly and my passengers loved this personal experience.  We are the first Canadian group they have welcomed so our arrival has caused a great deal of “buzz” in the community.  

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Lunch was at a wedding banquet hall – the staff did a terrific job looking after us – their broasted chicken was a big hit.

After a full day of touring we enjoyed a bit of time before dinner in our luxurious hotel rooms at the Grand Geneva Resort – years ago the resort was the former Playboy Club.  This 4 diamond property is definitely upscale but extremely comfortable at the same time.  My passengers are enthused with the embedded large mirror television that is found in the hotel room bathrooms.  We are here for a two night stay.

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The resort gift shop sells Joanna Gaines Magnolia Products so that reminded some of my passengers of the journey to Waco, TX they enjoyed with me earlier this year.

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As a surprise for my passengers we enjoyed a fleet of wine at a local award winning winery (took advantage of a group picture beside the snowman) before dining in a traditional Wisconsin Supper Club where we had a choice of prime rib, bbq ribs, salmon or duck.  The portions were mega size.  Everything from the cheese on the table to dessert was delicious and the ladies who served us did a fantastic job.  This restaurant at one time was a Speakeasy.  

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We arrived back at the resort around 830pm so many grabbed a nightcap in the impressive lobby lounge.

My passengers are already hoping this tour is going to be offered again – they are loving this unique rural experience!