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Hello from LVIV Ukraine

Hello from LVIV Ukraine.

We departed the Carpathian Mountains this morning and started our journey West to Lviv,

Along the way we stopped at a village market and an Ukrainian Easter Egg Museum.

Our luncheon was an elegant affair.

The drive took us through rural communities where the farmland is picturesque.

The older generation takes pride in their gardens so we saw many bubas working away in them.

Lviv is close to the Polish border so there are more Catholic Churches than Orthodox here.  This city was saved from War Bombings.

This is the cultural centre of Ukraine so it welcomes tourists from all over the world.  The Lviv Jazz Festival is rated one of the best in Europe.

Tonight’s dinner was excellent.  We enjoyed the tradional waffle cake for dessert.

The weather remains perfect.

an Ukrainian speciality.

Our 5 star hotel in located in city centre.

Celebrating with the Hutsul Community

Time floats in the Carpathian Mountains.

This is the home of the Hutsul’s who are Ukrainian’s mountain people.

Experiences with the locals are always memorable ones so we were surrounded by local culture today.  

In my 30 plus years taking groups around the world today’s planned event with the Hutsul’s turned out to be one of the very BEST ones.  

At breakfast I noticed that Ukrainians prefer cold meats and cheese and the North Americans are attracted more to the eggs, bacon and potatoes.  After we finished the excellent quality and boutiful breakfast our days adventure began.

Roads in many parts of the Ukraine are in bad condition.  For locals are use to this – for us it was another experience.  I can understand why a car of choice is an old Lada – you wouldn’t want to ruin an expensive vehicle by driving it down some of these roads.  They are certainly not the worst roads I have been on during my travels but they have made my Worst Top 10 list.

The scenery was spectacular as we climbed elevation.  We saw many picturesque mountain side homes.  The only way to reach them is by walking on paths – there are no roads leading to them.  The children therefore walk down the mountain to go to school and are housed during the week.  When the weekend arrives they make the journey back up the mountain to get home.  

We stopped to visit a very small rural community.  We walked up a hill to their wooden Orthodox Church.  Sunday service was going on – non-holiday services last 2-3 hours – Easter and Christmas services are many hours longer.  The service is amplified so you can hear it throughout the village.  We were fortunate to watch some of the pomp and circumstance – men enter through a man only door, ladies have their own door too – once inside they stand on opposite sides facing one another.  It was explained that the segregated doors force the men to think of the Lord instead of their wives.

The congregational singing was beautiful and there was plenty of it.  Easter hymns  are sung for 50 days.  We couldn’t follow what was going on during the very formal service but our guides certainly knew and sang along.  Those attending service wore their Sunday best.  

We also visited the adjacent cemetery.  It is located on rolling land so its next to impossible to cut the grass.  Picnic tables are found next to some gravestones as locals spend time with family who have passed – they enjoy meals and often traditional vodka shots in the cemetery.  It was explained that if they drink a shot of vodka while visiting they pour a shot on the grave for the one that passed.  If there are fruit trees or berries in a cemetery you are free to consume the fruit while in the cemetery but taking them out is disrespectful and bad luck.

We then strolled into the small village.  A few home owners skipped church as they knew we were coming and this is an opportunity for them to sell their hand made items.  Most of my passengers bought souvenirs from them.  We were intrigued with the architecture   – small mirrors are often used in exterior home design to ward off evil.  We also toured a home that was used during the filming of a famous Ukrainian  movie – “Shadows of Forgotten Ancensters”.  

Finding bathrooms was a bit challenging.  We eventually came across a very basic outhouse and those that were desperate decided to give it a try.  A local lady saw our dilemma so graciously offered the bathroom in her home.  I followed a group of my female passengers as I wanted to see her home interior but I had to laugh because she  put the gate down when I tried to enter.  No way was that buba going to let a man in.  My passengers told me that she was busy making bread.  

A travel break stop was made at a local variety-type store for an ice cream treat.  The ice cream cones were in a cooler already packaged.   Unfortunately they didn’t have the popular poppyseed ice cream.  The store was small but carried the most important items like fresh rye bread but the main staple in the store was of course “vodka” – so many varieties.

We were excited to meet a wool weaver – her entire yard was filled with hanging raw wool.  What a beautiful picture.  Many of us bought smaller items from her.  Her blankets unfortunately would be too difficult to get home.

Our driver ventured down a narrow country road to a tiny village.   I noticed 2 children that were waiting for our arrival.  We all exited the vehicle and were lead down a long driveway.  Of course I knew what to expect but my passengers couldn’t believe their eyes – an orchestra was playing, traditional dressed town folk and children were singing and dancing.

This is the home of the village school principal and his family.  Four family generation homes are located on his property.  It was interesting to see the differences in the home interiors.  All the homes were basically laid out the same.  You enter into an open space that is often used for dancing as neighbours get together to enjoy their own entertainment.  To the right and left of the entrance room are bedrooms.  Every room has a large wood burning oven – used for cooking and heating.  Of course the principal and his family live in the newest and most modern home  – the same design but we noticed a television instead of the gramophone that was found in the original home.  Decorating is very modest.  There is a well for freshwater – you put the pail down in the well and bring it up filled with water.  

Todays event was planned so we could experience the typical Hutsul wedding – one of my passengers commented she could not believe that we are visiting the Ukraine, in the mountains at a wedding!  We needed a bride and groom – I was nominated as the groom – my wonderful passenger, Merl as the bride.  

When we arrived and met the family we were presented with a welcome shot of vodka.  This is also customary at many Canadian Ukrainian weddings.  In the Ukraine, vodka is used  to welcome guests.  Many make their own and this home-made brew is also sold at roadside stands or in restaurants.  Our welcome vodka was infused with ginseng – there are so many flavours.  Platters were also brought around with the same sugar coated donuts that my Grandmother use to make (they are served as appetizers not dessert – can also be coated with salt and garlic) and heavy European type bread topped with a smooth pork fat.  Butter is not typically used to top bread.  

As bride and groom we had to dress in traditional wedding clothing.  The parents of the bride (my passengers – Tony and Pat) were also dressed in Ukrainian fashions.  

All guests decorated an artificial tree.  After a real wedding the couple would take this home with them to symbolize their marriage.   Merl and I broke the wedding bread – our bread pieces split evenly meaning we were both are equal as the boss.  We then shared the bread with our guests – it was delicious.

Wheat and candies were thrown instead of confetti.  Afterwards children get to collect the candies.

After all the formal wedding formalities finished we sat down for the wedding feast.  The head table was already filled with so much food.  We thought this was the entire meal but we learned this was just the appetizers.  More food soon arrived including the traditional borsh, tiny rolled cabbage rolls (almost like a thin cigar – never seen this version before), and a variety of meats (beef is typically not served – chicken and pork are the main staples).  Dessert was corn meal that was bowled with sour cream and topped with cheese – delicious!

The orchestra kept us entertained and there was lots of dancing.  The tradition of toasting guests is just as common today as it was years ago – especially at a wedding/special event – even at home when company arrives.  The sayings during the toasts are always meaningful and heartfelt.  There plenty of toasts during the wedding reception and then a vodka shot is poured.  The most meaningful toast was made by our hosts Father and then everyone sang for us – some of my passengers were dabbing their tears afterwards.  

We truly felt like we were at a wedding.  Most of the community members that were involved with today festivities are school teachers wanting to promote their tiny mountain area to tourists.    

We couldn’t have asked for more wonderful experience.  

Of course as we boarded the coach to head back to our hotel the band reappeared and the entire family was there offering hugs, kisses and a final vodka for anyone that was interested.

Email addresses were exchanged – new friends in the making!

Our tour hosts decided to return on better roads but SURPRISE those roads were just as bad as our earlier journey.  Itwas wonderful traveling through the local towns.  Groups of men often congregated outside – while the ladies were busy chatting inside homes.    Sunday weddings are popular too – their were celebrations in every town – a flower covered arch entrance announces the location of the wedding reception.  As we passed these  celebrations we always saw a band waiting to play music to welcome the well dressed town people and family that were walking to the special event.  

Dinner was held in an excellent Italian restaurant close to our mountain top hotel  – everyone was free tonight to order off the menu – after our wedding feast we didn’t need a big meal so most of our ordered and shared pizzas.  

——

Monday

This morning after breakfast we were met by Hutsul craftspeople who taught us a Master Class in Easter Egg decorating and pottery.  We decorated our very own painted Easter Eggs and created pottery vases and plates.  We also bought their supply of for sale painted eggs.  To be honest I wasn’t sure how this class would go over but it was a huge success.  We all had a fantastic time.

Lunch was in an very eclectic restaurant – wonderfully decorated.  The meal was exceptional.  The potato filled perogies melted in our mouth.  The salad and soup were excellent and beautifully presented.  The layered honey cake was a perfect ending.  

How exciting it was to ride on a chair lift to the top of a mountain for picture taking.  

Tonight’s we enjoyed a private bbq banquet on the outdoor terrace of the hotel which overlooks the mountains.  As soon as we arrived a special Hutsul orchestra performed just for us.  The chef grilled meats on the bbq and there was enough food for an army,  Afterwards we danced and got to try playing some of their orchestras musical instruments.

It was a wonderful farewell evening to the Carpathian Mountains and its people.

Tomorrow we are off to our next Mystery Destination…..

The weather remains beautiful – shorts and t-shirt temps.

Wedding Day in the Ukraine

Wedding Day in the Ukraine!

Today we flew domestically to the West side of Ukraine.  It was a wonderful 1 hour flight on a small jet with beautiful views of the countryside.  

The airport that we landed in was at one time a military base.  This wasn’t a busy airport but it serves the local community well.

We met our two young and very friendly new hosts and coach driver.  They were dressed in “Travel With Bradley” polo shirts and the one host had BW put on his cheeks – he towers over me so there is no problem with my passengers spotting him.

I thought todays lunch was possibly our best meal yet – massive tossed salad mixed with a delicious fresh dressing, chicken soup, cabbage rolls and an awesome dessert made with sweet Ukrainian cottage cheese- the chocolate that decorated the plate was a work of art.  The restaurant was also a work of art – so creative!

We were met by another local guide who toured us around the compact downtown core.  A highlight was when we crashed the end of a wedding service in the impressive Orthodox Church.  The family then arranged themselves on the church steps for pictures and my passengers ended up being their secondary photographers.  We were all flashing pictures of them.  It was lovely to see the Buba Grandmother dressed in traditional attire and 2 men carrying decorative Ukrainian wedding breads.  

You probably think we have visited lots of Orthodox Churches and yes, we have but they are all completely different.  We’ve been so impressed with all of them.  They are truly beautiful and each one is unique.

Believe it or not we even spotted a Canadian food restaurant!  We were too busy to go in to check the menu but we got a great chuckle out of it.

The drive into the mountains was so scenic.  Our 3 hosts gave my passengers 3 guesses of overnight destinations since this is a Mystery Journey – only 1 person guessed right.  Nobody imagined that the Ukraine would have a world class ski resort which would be our home for 3 nights.

The views on our way to the mountains were beautiful – small towns with wedding celebrations in ALL of them – we saw farmers planting potato’s – oxen pulling wagons – ladies selling preserves and homemade vodkas and many small chapels on family properties.  The mountain people work so hard and travel is not always easy so chapels are often set up at crossroads where neighbours can come to pray.

Our 5 star hotel for 3 nights is another world class one.  Its just passed ski season (we did see someone skiing today) so this ultra deluxe resort is quiet which is wonderful for us.  

We gathered for pre-dinner cocktails and then dinner followed in the main dining room.

There is one other group in the hotel – all business men – they were eating before we took our seats and they were still eating after we were done.  Since we are usually on a time schedule the restaurant staff have been doing their best to serve us quickly but this isn’t their norm – Ukrainian patrons will often sit in a restaurant for 4-5 hours so they can visit with one another and there are long pauses between meal courses.  Most of our meals have been mega course feasts – where the delicious food keeps coming!

The weather today was in the 20’sC – wedding guests were beautifully dressed but most others were enjoying Saturday strolls wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  Before we left the predicted weather wasn’t this warm so my shorts and t-shirts are at home…..  I might have to go shopping!

Spring Has Sprung in Kiev

We enjoyed another jam packed day in Kiev, Ukraine.  After we enjoyed a very delicious buffet breakfast at the Hyatt Regency (lovin the beet juice) we boarded our coach and visited the impressive famine memorial.  The famine was artificially created by Stalin – thousands in rural areas died while those living in Ukrainian cities had no idea this was going on.

The famous Kyle Percherska Monestary sits on 80 acres.  We toured this complex and were so impressed.  We held candles as we entered very narrow caves where saints are buried.

Our guide at the Second World War Museum was superb and so was this museum.

Lunch was at a beautifully decorated traditional Ukrainian restaurant.  The 3 courses served were delicious.  I especially enjoyed the borsh soup and breaded chicken cutlets.  .

We then headed to the downtown core for ice cream desserts. – how does cherry ice cream served in a chocolate cone sound?

There was just enough time before leaving for our evening activities for me to enjoy the state-of-the-art gym and spa at the Hyatt.

We toured a typical 2 room locals apartment in the downtown core.  Its not unusual for 6 people to live in a similar space.  Street-sold cherry vodka made an appearance.

We were entertained by 2 singers and a button accordion player during dinner.  Its the first time that I have ever eaten stuffed potato pancakes (salmon, cheese, beef).  Cabbage rolls and skewered pieces of beef, pork and chicken, fries covered in mushrooms and fried onions were served.  Fruit filled perogies were the perfect dessert – my favourite was the poppy seed ones followed by the sour cherry.

When we arrived back at our hotel a group of us went for a stroll to see more of the Easter Ukrainian Easter Egg displays,

Tomorrow we move on to our next mystery tour destination……

Stay tuned!

Ukraine – My First Impressions

We experienced another fantastic day in the Ukraine.

I’d have to say it was an eye opening one for all of us.  The Ukrainians have had so many struggles to endure.  There was the famine under Stalin’s rule when thousands lost their lives.  The Nazi’s slaughtered over 100,000 Jews a short distance from where we are staying.  The Ukrainians endured Chernobyl.  Just 4 years ago over 1 Million Ukrainians  gathered in what is now called Independence Square demanding their freedom.  Some took thick wads of newspaper and wrapped themselves with it to possibly protect them from gunfire that erupted.  That gunfire encouraged more to gather.  The urge for Freedom was so strong people were willing to lose their lives.  Over a hundred lost theirs and are now honored as hero’s of the cause.  Independence Square is also very close to our hotel.  

There is no middle class here – probably most earn around 300.00 a month.  If one makes 1000.00 a month they are doing extremely well.  In the mens clothing store at our hotel I priced a passport holder that was over 600.00 USD ….. that one price tag opened my eyes to that gap between the rich and poor.  

As Canadians we have been treated so warmly.  Canada has done much for this country.  A local told us that Canada is “a republic of the Ukraine”.  Canadians police come here to train the Ukrainian police.  

Health care and education on the whole is free but if you hand over money to a doctor your care is going to be better.   Private insurance can be purchased like in Canada – if you can afford it.

We visited an incredible Orthodox Church today.  Our guide was excited to bring us there.  She is not a church goer but loves entering this church.  There are no pews or chairs in an Orthodox Church – you stand – often 3 hours for a service – on special occasions like Easter the service may last most of the night.  Our guide feels that the church has turned into a money maker and she is against that.  We saw line ups of people paying to have have prayers said by monks for the ill or those that have passed.  We were surrounded by so many lit candles.  Ukrainians were constantly entering to pray.  It was a touching experience.

We’ve only spend a day and a half here but we have already seen so many amazing things.  We are all so impressed.  My passengers are commenting that they are so glad that I brought them here.  One couple told me this morning that they would never have thought to come here but they are so glad to be here.

Our hotel,  the Hyatt Regency is of world class caliber.  We’ve experienced delicious Ukrainian cuisine at the best restaurants.  If you regularly read my blogs you know how much I love potato pancakes.  My Mom serves them to me when its my birthday.  Here they use to be considered peasant food but the Ukrainians are at the cusp of identifying themselves to the world and have realized it’s important to be known for things like the Easter eggs, their embroidered clothing, the Borsh soup, the potato pancakes and the vodka.

There is one street we ventured down that features local hand-made products.  I was told before I left for the Ukraine that I should barter when buying but for us these beautiful handicrafts that could take days to produce are so reasonable so there is no way I am going to ask for a better price.  

Todays dinner was a true Ukrainian feast.  It was held in a locally owned restaurant.  We have seen North American chain restaurants like McDonalds and KFC but sit down restaurants are locally owned.  The food kept coming – platter after platter.  The vodka shots kept being poured (a Ukrainian tradition).  I especially liked the welcome horseradish shot.  The band was terrific.  The button accordians is an award winner.  He played a waltz that he had written – beautiful.  They also joyfully sang a hit spanish song – Ukrainian style!  I thought I knew what Ukrainian music was all about but I’m starting to realize that I really didn’t know much about their music.  Its much different than I thought.

Tonight the locals were beaming.   Their smiles were intoxicating.  They were so pleased to share with us their food, their culture and their music.

During the many toasts (another Ukrainian tradition) I got a little teary eyed when I said my Grandparents would be so proud that I am here  – I toasted “family”.  When I met with Mark from UniWorld cruises before we left on this journey he told me that I would feel something special when I visited the Ukraine.  He couldn’t explain the feeling but he said that after I was here for a while  I would know what he was talking about.   I also can’t express that feeling other than to say its a good one.

Of course when we travel we often say we are so lucky to be Canadian and it is so true but I somehow feel that Ukrainians are stronger people than us.  Their lives are so much more complex.   They have had to endure so much.  They are so proud.  

Our journey has just begun and I think I can speak for the rest of my passengers when I say they are going to come home and tell you that you need to put Ukraine on your must travel list.  

We anxiously await our next experience.  

KIEV – International Mystery Destination 2018

The Yellow Brick Road International Mystery Journey is finally here.

We are heading to Kiev, Ukraine!

My group is currently enjoying the inflight service on board an Austrian Airlines 767 aircraft.   After 8hrs and 15 minutes we will arrive in Vienna.  We then have 80 minutes to make our connecting flight to Kiev.

I admit the last couple of days have been a little stressful.  Who would imagine in the middle of April that we would be still contending with winter weather  – ice and snow.

When I checked into the Hilton Hotel, Toronto Airport early last evening the staff informed me that their occupancy had quickly doubled due to the number of cancelled flights at Pearson Airport.  I met frustrated passengers who were going to have to wait a few days before getting to their destination.

Luckily for my group our Austrian Airlines 767 flight left on-time today.  Yesterday it was 90 minutes late and the flight was cancelled 2 days ago due to the icy weather that has plagued Southern Ontario.

I originally was going to come into Toronto today but when I heard there was snow in the forecast I decided that I better come in early.    Luckily I did, because an accident this morning on highway 401 delayed traffic for hours.

Many of you will remember Mark, the Canadian Sales rep for UniWorld Cruises.  He has presented at many of my travel shows.  Last night he invited me for dinner and shared his knowledge about the Ukraine.  He has visited the country 5 times and absolutely loves it.  Thank you Mark – I learned a great deal from you.

I met all my passengers at 2pm this afternoon in the International Departure area at Pearson Airport.  I admit I was a little anxious because this is my first “International” Yellow Brick Road Mystery Tour.  I’ve run many mystery coach tours over the years but this was my first one involving an International flight.  Were my passengers going to be excited when they heard where we were going?

I handed everyone an envelope which contained a note plus their e-ticket and then I announced when they could open them.  It felt like Christmas Morning – I could feel the anticipation and excitement.   I then saw smiles and expressions of amazement.  Not one of my passengers has been to the Ukraine – a new destination for everyone.

Almost everyone  that booked this mystery journey has travelled with me in the past and for months they have been guessing possible destinations.  In fact Tim was certain he knew where we were going.  He spent hours researching and on the recent Galapagos Island Journey he was certain he knew our destination.  I of course knew he was wrong.

For my first International Yellow Brick Road Mystery Tour I felt it was important to pick a destination that most of my travellers had never been too so I did all kinds of research and finally picked the Ukraine.

After spending time in the Toronto Premium Lounge (a Travel With Bradley perk) we boarded the Austrian Airlines 767.

Soon after we reached cruising altitude beverages and snacks (from Italy) arrived.

Dinner followed – choice of a moist chicken breast with mashed potatoes and vegetable ratatouille or vegetarian pasta.  The chicken was very flavourable  and the potatoes were buttery.  The coleslaw had a bit of a zing and the chocolate cake was light and luscious – just like you would expect in Vienna.   Impressive for airline food.

A jumbo muffin with beverages was served before our arrival in Vienna.

Once we got off the plane in Vienna it felt like we were walking through a maze but I leaded the group – finally we arrived at security then our gate.  After a 5 minute wait we boarded coaches and headed to an Austrian Air Airbus A320 aircraft for the 90 minute flight to Kiev. A snack and beverages were served on board.

We are all impressed with Austrian Airlines – great job!

After we retrieved our luggage in Kiev we met Vincent from Edmonton, along with our local hostess and driver.  All of them were wearing “Travel With Bradley” polo shirts – what a great surprise.  We couldn’t wish for better hosts – my passengers were asking me how I find these wonderful people in destinations all over the world.  Vincent is one-of-a-kind – after just 1 day I know I will be working with him on future departures in the future.

A delicious luncheon was served at a lovely restaurant overlooking Independence Square in the downtown area.    

We also toured the beautiful core of Kiev  – filled with people, very lively, stately communist architecture.

We arrived at our exceptional hotel, the Hyatt Regency at 530pm.  Many rate it the best in Kiev.  It lives up to its 5 star status –  a very classy place.   I so appreciate  the heated marble on the bathroom floor and the rain shower head  in my hotel room.

Dinner was great fun.  The restaurant was located in a picturesque park.  It was packed with patrons.  We enjoyed a tasty salad that reminded me so much the ones my Grandmother use to serve.  The vegetables are not genetically modified here so they taste like they should.  Our main course was a scrumptious Chicken Kiev as we are in Kiev, with mashed potatoes.  Two thin crepes – one filled with apple the other filled with a sweet cottage cheese was our dessert .  The entertainers kept us clapping.  Since we are tired the wine made us giddy.

We should all sleep extremely well tonight.

Its been an exceptional first day at our International Yellow Brick Road Mystery Tour Destination – Kiev!

We enjoyed a picture perfect weather day too – hoping it continues tomorrow.

—- sorry, my photos are not transferring to my blog – I was able to post photos on Facebook today (Bradley Walters and Travel With Bradley). I’ll get caught up with posting photographs to this blog when we hopefully come across more powerful WI-FI

Netherlands and Belgium – Things I Noticed

Things I Noticed – Netherlands and Belgium

Today is our last full day in Belgium. It was a struggle getting to our beautiful hotel in Brussels yesterday as road construction has plagued the downtown core. The ONLY accessible way to reach our hotel was to drive down a one-way street against the traffic – the WRONG way. Of course as we got to the end of the street where our hotel sits there were 3 police standing there looking at us. I guess they were considering giving our coach driver a ticket BUT they finally admitted he had no choice but to travel down the road the way he did. That experience will be another chapter in my long-overdue book….

Today I have a full tour day planned for my passengers. I have changed things around a bit to accommodate the one-way road issue. We are starting the day with a walking tour and will eventually meet up with our coach in an area where the driver can legally pick us up.

Tonight instead of using our coach for transportation to dinner taxis have been arranged.

The sun is beaming, the sky is blue – not a cloud to be seen but carrying an umbrella is a must in both Belgium and the Netherlands.

—-

Here are a few things that I noticed during our travels –

 

Surprisingly even though they are neighbours there are major differences between the 2 countries (just like Canada and the United States)

Dutch are very outgoing – love a party – are very talkative – friendly – you can peak into their homes and they almost seem to welcome it – no curtains – are very open – English is widely spoken

Belgiums are much more private – much harder to have a conversation with them – hedges often hide their homes – English is spoken but not as fluent as in the Netherlands

Dutch homes are often very similar in style

Belgiums don’t want homes that look like their neighbours

A minimalist home interior is the norm in both countries

If you buy a historic home you must abide to a number of regulations – especially when doing exterior renovations

Legally in Belgium store owners can only offer sales before Christmas and in July – this is to make the marketplace fair for everyone – good luck finding a “deal” any other time of the year

Always pack an umbrella because it rains over 200 days a year in both countries

Belgium Chocolate production is regulated by the government – manufacturers must use a high percentage of cocoa so their chocolate remains some of the best in the World

The Belgium Chocolate Line by Dominique Persoone has created the most unique chocolate offerings – all hand made – flavours include bacon, fried onion, curry, gin and tonic – there is even a Rolling Stones chocolate – they also manufacture chocolate powder that you sniff for a different high? Only two locations in Brugge and Antwerpen – extremely popular with the Asians who will gladly pay the top dollar

After a few samplings I feel that Belgium has the best fries – their potatoes are a little salty due to their soil which absorbs salt from the North Sea – they fry the potatoes twice – the most popular topping is mayonnaise and I also prefer Belgiums as its a little sour tasting instead of sweet like the Netherlands

I give the best “chef culinary” frites award to – Frites Atelier Amsterdam – just 4 locations – Chef Sergio Herman’s locations frite toppings are all homemade – what a difference that makes

The Belgiums are more religious and are mainly Catholic – On Easter Sunday I walked into a massive Presbyterian church in the Netherlands while Easter Sunday service was going on and sadly I counted only 18 people in the congregation

Both countries have Red Light districts but in Belgium it doesn’t appear as open as in the Netherlands

Both countries love their coffee

The Dutch enjoy pancakes and the Belgiums line up to buy waffles

In comparison to home prices – Shopping is overall more expensive in both countries

Unlike similar size towns at home the Downtown cores in both the Netherlands and Holland are vibrant – nice to see

A Canadian debit card is accepted almost everywhere

Business men in both countries dress more formal than we do in North America

The Dutch are some of the tallest people in the World but I had trouble finding size 12 shoes in both countries?

Like at home Spring is late arriving in both these countries – Belgium is little farther ahead (many trees are in bud)