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Another Wonder Day in Peru

I needed to look after an emergency matter first thing this morning that required me to stay back in Cusco so I didn’t join the group until they arrived at tonight’s hotel.  They were well looked after by 2 exceptional local guides.  Our main guide stayed with me and was a huge help.  It was wonderful having a personal translator but overall many of the locals manage well speaking English.  

I recall when I first came to Peru three decades ago.  Back then  Peru’s most famous attraction, Macchu Picchu was pretty quiet the day I visited – had it pretty much to myself.  We are currently visiting Peru in the shoulder season.  High season starts in April.  This time of year 2500 tourists a day visit Machu Picchu.  When high season arrives they welcome 8000 tourists a day!  

Cusco is filled with tourists and its just shoulder season – in high season it must be like Disney World!

The locals understand the financial importance of attracting tourists and they have done an exceptional job welcoming them.  

My passenger have noticed how many US student tourists are currently visiting.  I recall when I was in school the big school trip went to Northern Ontario – how times have changed.  The senior groups come from all over world.  

Even with this massive tourism boom we have no idea how all the little stores/restaurants make a go of it.  

The locals are just trying to survive and in Peru like much of world it can’t be easy.  I asked our main local guide (at times we have 3) if he often goes out to eat with his family – he said of course, “maybe once a month” – how many North Americans dine out a few times a week?

You need to be careful everywhere you travel and Peru has a bit of a bad wrap but so far we have not been in a situation where we have felt uncomfortable.  Pickpockets are a worldwide problem so men need to remember to keep wallets in a front pocket.  The local guides told me to make sure that 4 of my passengers who were wanting to go to the “highest elevation Irish Bar” on St Patricks Day in Cusco, cab back to the hotel.  The streets are narrow and at night are dark.  Anywhere in world one needs to take the same precautions.  

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Want to become a cab driver – there are thousands of them but only a small percentage are legit.  Anyone can purchase taxi signs for a couple of dollars.  So its always best to have a restaurant/lounge/hotel staff member call a cab for you instead of hailing one from the street.

With so many cabs on the road that adds to traffic gridlock.  Female traffic police are everywhere – we were told that females are hired because they are more strict than the men!  They certainly look official.

It was mid afternoon before the local guide and I were transferred by a private driver/car to the restaurant where my group had enjoyed an excellent luncheon (2 hours from Cusco).   As usual the Peruvians were so accommodating, leaving this restaurant open passed their lunch time just for the two of us.

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This restaurant was just beautiful and the setting a postcard with green covered mountains in the distance – reminded me of Hawaii – without the palm trees but flowers blooming everywhere.

After lunch the “Sol Alpaca” store which is located in the the end of the restaurant was still open so of course I had to take a peak – they saw me coming and showed me their 50% off table… beautiful products.  

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Many of the restaurant staff came over and wanted to know how I liked their food (they insisted that I need to try the local sweet potato Picarones) and they asked me questions about Canada.

Considering there are thousands of taxis in the country when we asked the staff to call a taxi for us they looked bewildered – there are no taxis in this rural area!  After a number of phone calls our local guide finally found one with some help from a co-worker all the way in Lima.

When the taxi arrived the driver was once again dressed professionally and his car was sparkling clean inside and out.  When filling cars with petro the locals rock their car claiming they can get more fuel in the tank that way?  

We traveled down many country roads where the school children are dressed in their red uniforms, ladies walk with their alpacas, and we passed a lively outdoor fiesta event (decorated pavilions, bbq) in honor of married couples.

Many homes have a unfinished upper floor.  In much fo the world this is for a tax savings but here that floor is reserved for children that come home to live with their parents later in life.  The family saves funds and when the children are going to move in they finish the construction.

When we arrived at the hotel the settling took my breath away.  What a beautiful 5 star resort. 

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We were warmly welcomed.  I was able to arrange for sweet goodies to be delivered to my passengers rooms.

7D78B35A-BDBC-4B40-B646-FFC68C8C5B5DIn turn the local guide and I were presented with a Pisco Sour – the national drink – so refreshing but sweet – Pisco (often infused with ingredients such as turmeric, lemon grass, pineapple), fresh lime juice and finally egg whites – all blended with some ice.

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Our group dinner was excellent.  The dining room was full because there are many senior groups staying here – mainly US and German.  The dining room is well designed – groups have their own private sections.

The fireplace was roaring in the lobby.  In the hotel rooms heat comes on automatically at 5pm – I haven’t noticed AC units in any hotel.  

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We experience a wide range of weather temps daily.  We definitely need to wear layers.  Mornings and evenings are often very cool – by late morning/afternoon its usually hot.

My group reported having a wonderful day and they are getting very excited because our visit to Macchu Pichu is around the corner.

Exploring Cusco, Peru

Today we explored more of the Cusco, Peru area.

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We really enjoyed our time at the San Pedro Market.  What a colorful place.  This indoor market is open 7 days a week and attracts more locals than tourists.  It is extremely clean and well organized.  The locals enjoy drinking fresh juice for breakfast so there had to be at least 50 ladies preparing fruit for the fresh juice you can purchase.  Meats are not refrigerated (not even the guinea pigs)!  There are rows of homemade cheese to choose from, flowers, handicrafts, many varieties of potatoes and the big kernel corn on the cob (I find it tasteless).

We were amazed as we roamed around Inca sacred sites.  Some of those stones weigh over 10 tones.  They used rocks to cut rocks and the edges are perfect.

Peru is a beautiful place – this dog was admiring the scenery just like us!

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We were well entertained during lunch.  When a big group of tourists invades a restaurant the local entertainers show up in hope they’ll sell some CD’s.  I leave them a donation on behalf of my passengers.  We enjoyed traditional potato soup, fresh local trout – many of my passengers thought it was salmon and tropical fruit for dessert.

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We are soon heading out for dinner – I keep telling my passengers that I selected a gourmet guinea pig dinner!  Its the local delicacy but I think we’ll skip the opportunity!

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Peru!

We are having a great time in beautiful Peru.  

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I have a terrific group of 32 with me.  There are 6 newbies!  This is basically the largest size group that the local operator can handle.  In some historic areas, motor coaches are not allowed so we will fill 2 smaller vehicles.  

I met my passengers at Toronto Pearson.  Air Canada Rogue flies direct to Lima  – that’s a huge advantage.  I met a wonderful Air Canada supervisor at Pearson who graciously allocated a number of check in agents to only look after my passengers.  In a few minutes everyone had their boarding passes and were on their way to security.

As usual everyone enjoyed lounge access prior to travel – another Travel With Bradley perk.

The aircraft was packed – not an empty seat.  I am not a fan of Air Canada Rogue but the flight crew was gracious, the food ok and most importantly they kept the bathrooms clean!

Our flight was 8 hour in length and was uneventful.  We landed in Lima at 1230am and after we cleared immigration, grabbed our luggage.  I then led my passengers into the main terminal where our local guide, Daniel was waiting for us.    As a guide he could stand closer to the baggage hall than other individuals waiting for passengers .  He was also able to put us in a cordoned off area where nobody other than my passengers were allowed.  Porters were hired to take our luggage to the motor coach.

The motor coach we chartered was ultra deluxe.  I wish we had similar ones in North America.  The leather seats were wide and plush – just like flying in an airlines business class.

After a 40 minute drive we arrived at the JW Marriott Hotel, Lima.  I truly feel this is the best luxury hotel in Lima.  JW Marriotts are the very top tier in the chain and their Lima hotel is exceptional in every way – comfort, staff, facilities, cuisine.  The views from our rooms which overlooked the Pacific Ocean were stunning.

We slept extremely well.  We then gathered for a delicious, big variety buffet breakfast before we started our private Lima City Tour.

We enjoyed seeing the impressive city highlights.  Everyone remarked how clean Lima is.  We could not get over how many Chinese restaurants there are – Chinese restaurants are the locals favourite place to dine – they offer a reasonable menu.  The average wage is 600. USD a month, a teacher makes 700. USD.  Peru is therefore a poor country but surprisingly they do not have a homeless problem – our guide explained that other than some extreme circumstances (eg drug addict on the street ) everyone has a home.

Our welcome luncheon was held in a restaurant across from the JW Marriott in the exclusive Miraflores area.  This restaurant is built into a cliff and features dining rooms on many levels.  We enjoyed a scrumptious buffet with many local specialities.  Ceviche is a favourite and so is anything made with potatoes (they grow many varieties).   I included a Pisco Sour, the famous Peruvian cocktail and a popular purple beverage which is made with corn.

This restaurant is part of an upscale open air shopping mall.  Most of the stores sell high quality merchandise at very fair prices – much more reasonable than many other tourist destinations I’ve visited throughout the world.  Silver jewelry, puma cotton clothing and leather shoes are all manufactured locally.  

The weather was perfect. 

Next to Cairo, Lima is the second driest city in the world – its basically a desert.  Surprisingly most days are overcast with little sunlight.  Our guide joked that locals hardly ever see their shadow but we enjoyed a day full of sun and hot temps, in fact many of my passengers got a sunburn.

The exceptional dinner restaurant was a quick 20 minute drive from the Marriott.  Service was top notch and the variety of entrees was impressive.   Everyone really enjoyed the experience.

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We arrived back at the hotel around 830pm.  It was a very long day, considering we arrived in Lima just after midnight so I believe everyone turned in early.  

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This morning we were the first ones in the dining room for breakfast at 630am.  By 730am we were on the road to the airport for our direct flight to Cusco.  Porters collected our luggage but when we walked into the terminal we were surrounded by a few thousand people – chaos.  Luckily Daniel our local guide knows a few of the supervisors who were working today for Latam Airlines so we received VIP treatment and avoided all the incredibly long lines of passengers waiting to check in for flights.  Clearing security was fast and efficient.  We eventually boarded a bus for the short commute to the aircraft.  The flight was 1 hour long.  The flight crew came around with water and they sold sandwiches and snacks.

Cusco sits at a very high elevation – 11,000ft.  Most of my passengers started taking altitude prescription meds yesterday so they were prepared.  We were served a special altitude tea when we arrived at our 5 star hotel which at one time was a convent.   

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Our rooms are beautiful and many commented that they wish they could bring the artistically designed bathrooms home.  A private lunch just for us was served in the dining room.  We had a choice of beef tenderloin or breast of chicken.

We ventured to a local jewelry manufactures for a tour and shopping.  My passengers selected many pieces of jewelry to bring home.

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Tonight’s dinner restaurant was located in the main square of Cusco.  The waiters served us a delicious meal while we enjoyed live entertainment.

The French Riviera – Oh La La!

The Travel With Bradley, “French Riviera Sparkling Cote d’Azure” passengers and I returned back to Canada last evening.

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We departed on February 25th with Air France to Nice via Paris.  The weather in Southern Ontario was nasty that day.  Some of my passengers were forced to travel on secondary roads because there were many closed highways due to winter white-out conditions.

The Air France staff at Toronto Pearson Airport were very professional.  Our check-in was seamless and before long my passengers were relaxing in the Plaza Premium Lounge (A “Travel With Bradley Perk”).

Due to heavy snowfall the aircraft had to be de-iced which delayed our departure but strong winds mean’t a shorter flying time to Paris.  After going through security and passport control in Paris I directed everyone to our next boarding gate which was close by.  

Our connecting flight from Nice to Paris was a short, 90 minutes.  One piece of luggage was missing but it arrived on the next flight from Paris and was delivered to our hotel later in the day.  

Waiting for us in the arrivals hall was our friendly and very knowledgeable local guide, Catherine.  Pinto was our driver – from Portugal.

We traveled to the charming medieval village of St Paul De Vence for an excellent welcome luncheon followed by some free time in the village.  We watched some men playing pétanque beneath the towering plane trees.

Our home for 6 nights was a relaxing 4 star hotel.  This highly rated seafront property, is located on the famous Promenade des Anglais.  All of our upgraded, sophisticated hotel rooms featured stunning panoramic sea views.  We spent time on our room balconies, especially when watching the stunning, colourful sunrises.  The staff at the hotel was exceptional and so was their bountiful breakfast buffets which we looked forward to daily.

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We visited “Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild” a French seaside villa, located at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.  It took seven years to build this villa which is located on one of the most beautiful sites on the Côte d’Azur.  The villa was beautiful inside and its formal gardens were superb.  We sat in the sun while enjoying the charming “dancing fountains”.

We enjoyed a luncheon in the villa’s elegant dining room.  

The many meals we enjoyed during this journey were fantastic   We dined in beautifully decorated small restaurants, where the cuisine was artistically presented, service was always spot-on, and the 3 courses were always delicious – as a bonus everyone enjoyed accompanied French wines.  These were relaxing affairs, often lasting between 2-3 hours.

We spent time in Monaco where 1 in 56 people is worth at least $30 Million!  Monaco’s citizens altogether have more private wealth per capital than any other citizens from any given country – the reason they are drawn here is because there is no income tax.  To be considered a resident, a person must live in the principality for six months plus one day per year.  What it lacks in size it makes up in attitude.  This is the Worlds 2nd smallest country.  We toured its famous casino and dined in a very elegant space.  

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The glamour of Cannes (home of the famous film festival) impressed us all but its natural beauty made our visit worthwhile.  The sun shines here 300 days a year.  

When we visited village of St. Tropez we admired its serene side as we meandered its cobbled lanes.  

We visited Menton, the most Italianate and warmest town on the French Riviera.  its colourful Lemon Festival is a major event attracting upwards of 250,000 visitors every February which makes it the second largest event along the French Riviera.  This unique attraction started back in 1928.  This years theme was “Des Mandes Fantastiques – Fantastic Worlds”.   To create one of the worlds most unique events, over 300 professionals and 145 tons of citrus fruit are used to decorate the Bioves Garden fruit sculptures which we visited at nightfall in order to witness them lit up.  We returned later in the journey,  to attend the events 1.5 hour citrus themed parade which featured a mixture of giant citrus-covered floats, lots of confetti, dancers and folk groups.  

This journey also took us into San Remo, Italy – also known as the City of Flowers.  Its setting is beautiful.  We dined at a very small family run Italian restaurant where the Grandmother was the cook.   We felt like we were eating in her home.

I think a highlight for all of us was when we traveled into the remote French countryside, down some hairpin turns and narrow roads in order to visit a family run olive plantation.  The owner was real character and he treated us like royalty.  The home cooked meal they served us in their dining room was scrumptious and the view overlooked a beautiful valley.   We basically had this place to ourselves – what a wonderful experience.  

We attended the world renowned, Nice Carnival twice.  Once during its Spring Flower parade and we returned for the evening spectacular,  “Carnival Parade of Lights”.  This years theme was “King of Cinema”.  We enjoyed prime reserved seating for both events.  The atmosphere was vibrant and lively.  Many family’s attend, dressed in costumes.  Approximately a million visitors from around the world visit this event which is the largest on the French Riviera region.  The Nice Carnival is one of the world’s major carnival events, alongside the Brazilian and Venetian Carnivals.  This event started back in 1294!  

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The “Battle of the Flowers” Parade was brilliant.  Beautiful floats covered with flowers passed us and costumed people on the floats throw flowers into the crowd.  The evening parade featured illuminated mega size floats, lively music, along choreographed dancers – a party-type family atmosphere.  I think we all appreciate the amount of effort that obviously goes into organizing this mega event. 

We enjoyed glorious weather during our stay.  In fact many days we just needed to wear short sleeve shirts.  This sun was always shining.

Our journey home was smooth – especially the skies.  In Paris airport we needed to board a coach that shuttled us from one terminal to another.  This process definitely took time but the biggest delay was getting through the long lines at Canada customs on our return to Toronto.

This magnificent journey provided us the opportunity to discover the charms of Nice and the Côte d’Azur during the mild Riviera winters.  The events I included were amazing.  Put this part of the world on your “must visit” list especially during this time of the years so you can attend the area’s world famous events.  

Absolutely marvelous!  

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Visiting the Food Network’s “Pioneer Woman Mercantile”

It was an easy drive from Ada, Oklahoma to the Tall Grass Prairies –  home of “The Pioneer Woman Mercantile” in the sleepy town of Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

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Ree Drummond started out as a blog writer and gained many followers including the producers at the Food Network.  In 2011 the Food Network started taping “The Pioneer Women” television series which star Ree and in 2016, the Drummond’s opened The Mercantile, a restaurant and retail space located in a 100 year old downtown Pawhuska building.

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When we arrived in town we were warmly welcomed and enjoyed lunch at the Merchantile.  Typically 6000 tourists a week flock to the Pawhuska in order to visit the Drummond’s Mercantile.

Our lunch was exceptional (I ordered the chicken parmesan with a side of carrots in a whisky glaze) and afterwards I took my passengers to the 2nd floor bakery and they could pick whatever they wished for dessert.

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The Drummond’s have also opened an 8 room Inn which is at 100% occupancy for the entire year!  They also run a banquet space, pizza restaurant and are currently renovating a space for a Steakhouse!

A few entrepreneurs have opened additional shops around the Merchantile – Western Clothing Shop, Western Interior Shop and Ladies Clothing Store.

Dennis Brown and his staff at the “Frontier Hotel” treated us like family.  This exceptional boutique 20 room western themed hotel is located in an historic flat iron building – the first one built west of the Mississippi.  In its heyday the building was filled with over 100 law offices.  At one time this western town was booming.

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We were joined by 2 locals after lunch who proudly showed us around the tall grass country side.

Those that live in these parts contend with wild weather patterns,  tornados (May-Sept) and at times Thunder Snow.

This is cowboy ranch land.  There are over 27,000 buffalo that roam the Tall Grass Prairies – we saw a couple herds from a distance.  Fencing for cattle is 5 ft tall and for Buffalo 6 ft tall.  Some of the best hay in the US is grown here.

At one time this was one of the richest parts of the USA due to its oil.  The Osage Indians benefited greatly then.  A Tiffany Jewelry store and Rolls Royce delearship opened in town.

For 20 minutes we drove alongside the Drummond Ranch – they own 100,000 acres, raise 10,000 cattle and look after 2700 wild horses for the US government.  Their main lodge is off the main road – and then 8 miles down a gravel one.  This picture shows the start of that gravel road.

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With the success of the Pioneer Woman Television Show, retail is now in their mix.  They purchased a closed Walmart on the outskirts of town and its the distribution headquarters for their retail mail order business and it employees 35 locals.

In peak season up to 10,000 retail items every hour are moved between the distribution Centre and their Merchantile store!

Other than the Merchantile and their Pizza Restaurant, there is only one other restaurant in town.  It attracts the locals and that is where we enjoyed a casual dinner.  The staff from the kitchen all came out to meet us before we left.   They were excited to chat with some Canadians.

We were back at the Merchantile for breakfast this morning.  Most order the pancakes – with various butters and 3 types of syrup.  The staff at the Merchantile wished us a good journey.

Dennis Brown the GM at the Frontier Hotel showed up extra early to wish us a good journey home too.

Southern Hospitality has shown through during this western journey to Texas and Oklahoma.

Its sad to start our journey home (where freezing rain is in the forecast)!

Thanks to my amazing passengers – everyone is sharing email addresses this morning.  They wonderful folks will keep in contact – they’d like to travel together on another future “Travel With Bradley” journey and are already trying to decide which one!

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Magnolia Market At the Silos – WACO, TX

If you are a fan of Joanna and Chip Gaines, hosts of the TV series, “Fixer Upper” you would have been thrilled to travel with us today.

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Breakfast was served at our San Antonio hotel before we started our journey towards Waco, TX.  

Waco has a sorted past.  You may recall the horrendous Branch Davidian tragedy and then there was a devasting tornado of many years ago that caused massive destruction.

The success of the tv series, “Fixer Upper” has put Waco on the map in a good way.  The Gaines now employee over 500 locals – if you are going to apply to work for them, one of their stipulations is you must live in the community of Waco.

Our first stop was at Magnolia Market at the Silos.  This complex is located a stones throw from the interstate highway.  Once you exit the highway you can see the Silos – so a prime location.  Joanna and Chip Gaines saw an opportunity and converted these  run down vacant buildings into a shopping/entertainment complex. Now thousands of visitors flock here.  We are visiting during shoulder season and the place was packed.

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For those that are flying like my group, much of what they sell won’t fit in our luggage but that didn’t stop most of us from buying a few wonderful souvenirs.

Unique food trucks make their home here too.  There were lines of hungry folks forming at many of them.  I purchased a ice tea from the Alabama Sweet Tea Company – it arrived served in a glass mason jar displaying their name – another souvenir.

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Alice, our hostess with the mostess,  kindly waited in a very long line so she could purchase the “must buy” cupcakes at the Silo Bakery for my passengers on my behalf.  They are so decadent and well worth waiting in line for.

If you watch the “Fixer Upper” television series you will be familiar with “Jimmy Don” who is Joanna’s “Go To Metal Guy”.  He recently opened a pop-up retail stand on the far end of the Silo parking lot.  I walked over to see what he had for sale.  I asked his staff if he stops by often and a second later, who climbs out of his pick-up truck and walks over to meet me – Jimmy Don, himself.   He shook my hand and said, “I’m Jimmy Don – its a pleasure to meet you”.  We chatted for a good 15 minutes.  

You may have watched the “Fixer Upper” television episode when Chip Gaines purchased a closed iconic Waco Restaurant.  He then renovated  it into a breakfast/lunch restaurant – oh course its been a huge success so getting a group reservation is impossible.

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My group therefore enjoyed a fantastic lunch at the #1 rated restaurant in Waco – its called Cafe Homestead.

Cafe Homestead is located on the outskirts of town.  They serve 135,000 patrons a year and with the influx of tourists due to the Gaines, they jumped on the bandwagon and expanded their restaurant to meet the extra demand.  

Our meal was so scrumptious – meats/poultry are raised on their organic farm, vegetables are grown and everything on their menu that can be home made is…. even their many flavors of ice cream – (try the pecan sorghum).   We’ve really enjoyed a number of excellent meals during our time away but this culinary experience was one of the very best.  

Next to this awesome restaurant is a unique looking barn that has been converted into a quality retail shop.  From the outside you would never think it was once a barn but once you walk in, its obvious that it once was – its beautiful.  There is also very impressive pottery and furniture stores next door – once again everything is made on site by local craftsmen.

 After lunch we were met by an informative local guide who toured us around the community of Waco.  The name of the television show, “Fixer Upper” describes this community very well.   Much of the town is in a depressed, need to be “Fixed Up” state.

As our local guide pointed out when you watch the show “Fixer Upper” they never show the neighborhood that these homes are located in.  On a positive note the community is benefiting greatly from the influx of tourism and investors have started to move in.

During our tour we stopped at Harp Design Co. (frequently featured on Fixer Upper) – they are soon opening up a new much larger location to accommodate the masses of tourists.  We also stopped at Joanna Gaines original retail store (before their television show).  It is seldom open so our guide was excited that it was today – she had never been in.  It features discounted retail items from the Magnolia Market at the Silos main store.

In Texas there is a wonderful chain called, “Buckees” – a massive store where you can purchase everything imaginable – their food items and BBQ is freshly prepared  –  SPOTLESS  restroom facilities large enough to accommodate a sports team plus many, many, many gas pumps.  They have opened 13 of these mega locations.  They compliment their much smaller convenience stores.  Over the next few years they are expanding to other States – if you spot one stop in – you will be SO impressed!

I was especially thrilled to visit country superstar, Blake Shelton’s home town of Tishomingo, Oklahoma and dine at his terrific restaurant called, Ole Red – which is named after one of his many hit songs.  His staff treated us so well and our delicious 3 course meal was a hit with all my passengers.

Our very comfortable overnight hotel was located in Ada, Oklahoma.

A long day but a terrific one!

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San Antonio Touring plus a Terrific SURPRISE Evening!

WOW what a fun day we experienced in San Antonio.

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A local guide toured us around.  We visited many attractions including the Japanese Gardens, the Alamo, Missions and historic residential areas.  It was a beautiful day, temperatures were in the 70’s.  We noticed many spring flowers starting to blossom.

We learned that years ago when Bill Clinton was campaigning in San Antonio he snuck away from the Secret Service so he could enjoy some Mango Ice Cream at the historic Menger Hotel.  The press heard about this after the fact,  and before long that ice cream was almost as famous as Bill Clinton!  I walked into the beautiful Menger and saw Bills picture.

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We explored the colourful Mexican part of town which was packed with locals and tourists.  My passengers raved about our luncheon that was held in a famous family run Mexican restaurant.  This was the first time many of them had tried Mexican food – they were a little apprehensive at first but after a few bites were surprised how delicious it was.

 

Dinner was held at another family run restaurant that has been in operation since 1963.  The Red Barn is such a busy place you need to register for a table at a hostess stand located outside before you can enter.  This isn’t a fancy steakhouse but a local down home one where everything  is home made including the rolls, salad dressings  and desserts.

 

We were treated like VIP’s at the San Antonio Rodeo.  This is a yearly 3 week event that is run by 35 full time employees and a whopping 6000 volunteers!  Due to our VIP status our coach driver was allowed to drop my passengers at the main entrance vs the coach drop off that was a long distance walk from the stadium.   A friendly hostess from Houston welcomed my passengers and escorted us to the International Welcome Centre where a contingent of Texas hosts warmly greeted us and toured us around.  The Texas Fair Queen even welcomed us – she is very hard working – we saw her many times during the rodeo riding her horse in the arena along with the rodeo prize winners.  We were presented with souvenirs and taken to a behind-the-scenes private entrance –  they didn’t even put us through mandatory security before entering the stadium.  We rode a frieght elevator with a number of excited rural kids who were selected to be part of this 2 hour exciting extravaganza.  This is a touring rodeo but San Antonio constantly wins the “best indoor rodeo” awards.  The Calgary Stampede is on the same rodeo circuit – the show we saw was basically the same as you would see in Calgary except there was no Chuckwagon Races here.  Big Name Entertainment follows the rodeo – Brad Paisley and Alabama are two of the famous entertainers that were on stage a few nights ago.  We didn’t stick around for tonight’s entertainment – it was a full touring day so we were ready to retire for the evening.

This evening was a terrific “Travel With Bradley” Surprise Event that was enjoyed by all.

 

Texas has done an amazing job re-purposing their historic city buildings.  Our hotel was at one time a bank and then an office tower.  Look at this picture from years ago that was on display in the hotel lobby.  It shows a worker hanging from the side of the now hotel! He certainly was a brave man.

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San Antonio Riverwalk Impresses!

Today we traveled to San Antonio, TX.

We enjoyed a break stop at Cracker Barrel of Waco, TX where I purchased Tennessee G0O GOO Clusters for the group to enjoy as a morning snack.  The flowers were blooming in the restaurant gardens.

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Traffic was smooth sailing until we reached the State Capital of Austin where it really slowed up – surprising for a weekend.  I pointed out the Capital Building as we drove by.  Austin really sprawls – similar to Toronto.  

We thought the Gruene Historic District in New Braunfels was fantastic.  We experienced the cuisine at Gristmill River Restaurant – a Texas original since 1977. 

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There were many people waiting to get into the restaurant – they have an interesting, outdoor  reservation system with live entertainment while you wait.

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We were seated inside next to a roaring fireplace. 

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It was such a nice day so the outdoor seating was popular too.  This restaurant accommodates 1000 patrons and they were full!  I noticed that almost every table of diners ordered the onion rings for a starter so I ordered them for our table – they were the best ever. 

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A salad with a choice of homemade dressing followed.  We had to decide amongst some wonderful main courses and quality ice cream topped with fresh strawberries was the comforting dessert.

Texas’ Oldest Dance Hall – “Gruene Hall” is located next door so we walked in to hear the live music.  Gruene Hall has been instrumental in starting the careers of Lyle Lovett, George Strait, Hal Ketchum and many others.  

The stage has also welcomed The Dixie Chicks, Jerry Lee Lewis, Garth Brooks and Willie Nelson.  

What a unique venue!  Fantastic!

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Our historic hotel for 2 nights in San Antonio is in a prime location next to the Riverwalk.  The grand lobby is impressive!  

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Our sail along the riverwalk was terrific.  

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Dinner was delicious.  We were lucky to secure a group reservation as the wait to get in was 2 hours – this city is packed.

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Seeing the lantern parade as we walked back along the River Walk to our hotel was a bonus!

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Another wonderful day exploring Texas!

Jam Packed Day Visiting BOTH Dallas and Ft. Worth, Texas

 

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Our local host, Alice kept us moving today but we are not complaining.  We really enjoyed EVERYTHING we experienced.

Breakfast at our boutique hotel was terrific – such a big variety on their buffet.

We toured around the downtown core of Dallas.  Surprisingly there is little retail except for Neiman Marcus, but they have done an incredible job of re-purposing their beautiful historic buildings.   Its a very impressive downtown core.  We also drove through the posh neighborhood of Turtle Creek where mansions lined the streets.  We were surprised to see the garbage collectors return the the residence garbage pails back to their homes after they empty them.  Wish we had the service at home!

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The downtown Baptist Church has 15000 members – Dallas is located in the Bible Belt.

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We were glued to the displays at the “Sixth Floor Museum” – a major Dallas attraction.

 

Alice knows how I search out great restaurants for my passengers to dine in, so she went to work to try to get us into the Petroleum Club – the MOST prestigious private members club in the city.  It use to be men only.  I don’t know how she managed to get us a reservation but I’m SO glad that she did because our experience was phenomenal – elegant surroundings, stunning views, seafood galore, luscious desserts, one-of-a-kind washrooms and most impressive was the attentive service.  The friendly staff refused to let us carry our dinner plates to our table after we visited the exceptional quality buffet.  After we drank a “slip” out of our water or ice tea filled glass it was topped up.  We felt very regal dining in this prestigious place.  We commented that we were glad we were not wearing our summer shorts and t-shirts!  We could have been because todays temperatures soared around 80F.

I’m not a sports fan so I even surprised myself when I loved the VIP tour experience at the AT&T Stadium – the home of the Dallas Cowboys!  Alice, managed to get us a “Private” behind-the-scenes tour – it was exceptional!

We continued another 45 minutes to Ft. Worth were we attended the famous Cattle Drive at the Ft. Worth Stock Yards – so much fun!

Another memorable experience was when we visited, “Billy Bob’s” – the worlds largest Honky Tonk – accommodating 6000!  Country Singer, Blake Shelton’s cemented hand prints are covered in lipstick kisses!

Unlike downtown Dallas, Ft. Worth has a large retail area.

We made a stop at the impressive Water Gardens.

Dinner followed at one of the finest restaurants in Ft. Worth – it was another upscale choice – we were seated in a private room and the cuisine was delicious – I enjoyed a salmon filet topped with a mild pepper cream sauce (the sauce was so delicious I asked for more) – pecan pie was the favourite dessert choice.  Alice and my passengers surprised me when they celebrated my birthday – MONTHS early!

What a FANTASTIC day!  Tomorrow we sadly say farewell to Dallas – we are off to San Antonio.

Everything is BIGGER in TEXAS!

Texas greeted us with 78F temperatures and sunny skies.  Certainly a nice change from the major winter snow and ice storms at home.

Our AC flight arrived late so our local hostess with the mostess was busy on the phone altering our days itinerary.

I’ve known “Alice from Dallas” for a few decades.  I couldn’t ask for a better person to look after us – she is a pro.  At one time Alice represented the city of Dallas so let me tell you she knows “everyone” in the tourism industry plus she is so well respected.  It only took a couple minutes and everyone was at ease with her.  Her personality is infectious and is she so funny.  Alice is a busy lady so we are fortunate that she has cleared most her schedule in order to spend a great deal of time with us during our Texas stay.  I know she has done that especially for me – thank you Alice!

Priorities first – we were hungry.  Alice and her husband live in an exclusive area of Dallas and they know the best restaurants in that area so we had lunch in their  Italian restaurant hangout.  This is a family run operation and the owner kindly showed up to meet us.  She graciously extended their lunch time service in order to accommodate us.  We had the restaurant to ourselves – the building dates back to 1911.  Our waiter was very old school – what a terrific gentleman – he used a long pice of narrow paper to take down our orders in his own code.  I’m sure he would be the only one that could possibly figure out what he had written.  The chefs cuisine was truly homemade – just like going into Grandma’s kitchen – no wonder Alice and her husband love this place.  The salad dressing, soup, entrees and lucious dessert are all made from scratch.  If I was a local this would be my hangout too!  So happy that Alice’s husband joined us – a true southern gentleman.

As we drove around the city I was really impressed – what a beautiful place.

In the downtown core Alice walked us around the area where President Kennedy was assasinated.  She has collected so much conspiracy information which she has compiled a binder type book.  Tomorrow we will go to a museum where we will learn even more about that tragic day.

Our drive to Parker, Texas was during the heart of rush hour.  Traffic was heavy but it moves well – certainly not a headache like Toronto’s rush hour.  Parker is an impressive bedroom community and as Alice explained $500,000 will buy you a mansion in this area – a beautiful home might set you back a couple hundred thousand – certainly a bargain in comparison to home.

Talking about mansions we felt like VIP’s when the Southfork Ranch staff, home of the television series, DALLAS welcomed us after hours for a “Travel With Bradley” EXCLUSIVE Valentines event.  They even staffed the massive gift shop after hours just for us.

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We walked through an excellent memorabilia museum before we boarded a very modern John Deer tractor pulled tram that took us to the well known mansion.

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Our Cowboy guide was a real character – very genuine – I think we are going to meet many very friendly and welcoming folk during our Texas stay.

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We could explore the mansion at our leisure and take all the pictures we wanted.  We then gathered in one of the mansion rooms for a Valentines Texas BBQ Dinner featuring brisket that has been slow cooked for 30 hours and very moist bbq chicken – variety of salads, homemade baked beans, pickles and peppers,  freshly baked southern cornbread and of course very hot apple cobbler for dessert.  Enjoyed by all!  Valentines treats were on our tables and my passengers wore Western bandanas – after all we are in Texas!

We were ready for bed when we arrived at the unique, downtown core hotel that is our home for a couple of nights.  Alice arranged for our luggage to be delivered while we enjoyed our lunch so it was already in our rooms.  She had our keys too so we just boarded the elevators when we arrived.  Felt like VIP’s again.

This hotel is housed in an old building that has been repurposed into two hotels and residential suites.  Our rooms are fantastic – massive – incredible high ceilings – original wood floors – oversize washrooms and the most unique feature in my room is one of the original building cement columns.  When I put my arms around it they reach just about 1/2 way.  Its a huge column – but everything is bigger in Texas!  These hotel rooms are larger than many of the condos in Toronto.  The bed is extra comfy too.   This hotel only been open a couple of months.  What a great find – I could move in!  Thanks Alice for suggesting we stay in this unique boutique property – so perfect for a “Travel With Bradley” Journey.

Day 1 was an awesome one – a wonderful city to spend Valentines Day!