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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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Day 5 – Glamourous “Meadow Brook Hall“

Yes, its another birthday – the years fly by way too quickly…..

As one of my friends wrote, “I am away traveling once again on my birthday” but this time not for the entire day as this “Yellow Brick Road Mystery Tour” finishes up early this evening so I’ll once again be back home for a few days.  

We departed the Ft. Wayne hotel at 8am and as soon as we hit the road a passenger called out for me to quickly get to the back of the coach.  When I rushed out of my seat and scattered down the aisle all of my wonderful passengers started singing “Happy Birthday”….. Considering my new age this sudden excitement may have caused a heart attack but I very much appreciated their kind gesture.

Our farewell Luncheon was at a very posh location, “Meadow Brook Hall” in Pontiac, MI.  We couldn’t have wished for a more beautiful place to spend part of our day.   The Sliced Sirloin of Beef with Rosemary Demi-Glacé, Wild Rice and Seasonable Vegetables was well presented and delicious.  The apple pie dessert was a wholesome American selection but didn’t quite match up to my Mom’s.  The setting was perfect – we dined in the massive dining room.  We had this spectacular  mansion to ourselves.  Thanks to my passenger, John for his gracious speech after our meal concluded.

We then toured through the 88,000 foot home.  A National Historic Landmark, Meadow Brook Hall is the former home of one of the automotive aristocracy’s most remarkable women, Matilda Dodge Wilson.  The 110 room mansion is elaborately detailed with carved wood and stone, ornate ceilings, Tiffany stained glass, a pipe organ and custom made hardware.  The house is equipped with every modern amenity that was available in the late 1920’s.  Its fully electric with a central heating system, two elevators, three kitchens and a full-size home theatre.

In 1957, the Wilsons donated their residence, its collections, the estate’s 1500 acres and $2 Million to what would become Oakland University.  Meadow Brook Hall was opened to the public in 1971, four years after Matilda’s passing.

After a quick stop at Duty Free we crossed back into Canada.

Thanks to Paul for his professional coach driving.

A special thank you to my amazing passengers.  Thanks for “Travelling With Bradley”.  Many of them told me, they don’t think it’ll be possible for me to create a better “Yellow Brick Road Mystery Tour” than this one,  so now I am certainly up to the challenge. 

Day 4 – A Shrimp Farm in Indiana?

There was a medical emergency at the West Baden Springs Hotel this morning.  I was very impressed how well the staff handled the situation.  Thankfully it wasn’t one of my passengers.   Since it was our check out day, I was dealing with luggage handlers and front desk staff so I was well aware of their emergency situation and saw them in action.  Luggage handling was delayed because of this emergency but eventually they pulled a number of staff to start collecting our bags.  Our departure only experienced a minimal delay.

I learned another interesting fact – the towns of West Baden and French Lick, IN have a population of around 2000 and the 2 resort hotels employee 1800 people.  The Cook Family who brought these resorts back to life have truly given back to this community and the locals are very appreciative.

Chuckle of the Day – when we attended last nights 60’s Musical Review, Paul and I were seated with a couple from Indiana.  They were very friendly.  He is a school teacher.  During the shows intermission they told me they had been conversing and wondered if “as Canadians, do we listen to the same music that they do in the States……”

Its another beautiful blue sky, no-jacket-needed day.

Todays morning journey took us down a number of very scenic and narrow rural roads.  Eventually we ended up on secondary roads and finally a 4 lane highway.  We travelled on different road types all day.  The favourite being when we drove down those “Country Roads”.

Its a tradition that “Travel With Bradley” Journeys stop at a Walmart as a break stop at least once.  A Walmart jumped out at us at the perfect time.  My passengers appreciate this stop so they could stock up on some items we can’t find at home.  

Christo’s New City Grill located in Lafayette, IN put aside a private room for our luncheon.  My passengers had a choice of soup or salad followed by 5 entree choices and then 7 excellent dessert choices.  Their portions were massive and the fresh rolls came hot out of the oven.  

We toured around the campus of famous Perdue University and saw the historic downtown of Lafayette with a local guide.

Finally we drove to a family-owned “Shrimp” Farm – one of only 3 in the USA.  We learned about the poor conditions that oversea operators raise shrimp.  Only a small percentage of imported shrimp is inspected when it reaches North America.  It takes over 5 months for shrimp to be fully grown at this farm.  When we tasted these US grown shrimp I couldn’t believe how flavourful and sweet they were.  Their shell is paper thin so there was no need to peel it.  No sauce is required to make these shrimp taste good – they stood on their own.

Late in the afternoon we arrived at a retro themed boutique hotel  in Ft. Wayne, IN – our home for one evening.  Dinner was served in one of their Ballrooms.  A salad course was followed by a choice of Cod or Tuscan Chicken and then German Chocolate Cake completed the meal.  Many of their king bedded rooms are themed.  They put me in the Elvis Room!

Day 3 – Visiting With Giraffes and Elephants in Indiana!

Today was another terrific day in West Baden/French Lick, IN.

Breakfast was served in the beautiful formal dining room at the “West Baden Springs Hotel”.  My passengers could order anything off their wonderful menu.  When we sat down the server brought us a freshly made banana loaf.  The orange juice was freshly squeezed.  There were so many interesting breakfast entrees on the menu it was hard to decide which one to order.  

We scrambled to located our morning attraction – a beautiful ranch.  Paul drove the motor coach through a covered bridge – the entrance of the property.  The views while driving down the dirt road were beautiful.  My passengers had no idea that they would spending time with Giraffes and Elephants at this Ranch.  This was a terrific “one of a kind” experience so perfect for a Mystery Tour.  The animals even posed so we could get personal pictures with them!

Back at the resort we enjoyed High Tea – a private event for “Travel With Bradley” passengers.  Those that tried the “Lemon Lavender” tea selection liked it so much they bought all the lemon lavender tea stock in the gift shop!  The delicious treats that came with the tea were beautifully presented and were enjoyed by all.

Informative. Hotel guides toured us around this historic hotel which was built in 1855.  It was completed in just ONE year and soon became famous for having the Largest Unsupported Atrium in the World!  Many considered it the 8th Wonder of the World.

During this time French Lick was a bigger destination than Las Vegas as it housed 17 “illegal” casinos so when the police shut them it was a major crisis for the town.  

The hotel struggled after a 1901 fire and the 1929 turn in the stock market.  In 1932 it was for sale so the Jesuits used it from 1934-1964 and it became a liberal arts college from 1967-1983 but the cost to maintain the structure was just too much for them to bear.

It laid vacant and in disrepair for many decades.  Local successful billionaires, the Cooks eventually spent 600 million to restore the building, turning it into a luxurious hotel once again.  

We all enjoyed some free time to enjoy our surroundings this afternoon.   Many rode a train car to the French Lick Resort, some enjoyed time in the pool, reading while sitting in rocking chairs on the hotels wide porch was ideal because of the warm sunny weather and others were thrilled with their horse back riding experience.  Two of my passengers even shared a $1200.00 winning at the casino!

This evening was a fun filled evening in basketball player, Larry Birds former “Garage” which has been turning into a performing arts theatre.  After a home-cooked dinner we enjoyed an entertaining 2 hour, 60’s musical review, featuring one of the very talented Thomas brothers.  My family and his both opened shows for the Osmond Family Second Generation.  The music industry is a small one so the two of us share many of the same musical friends.  

After a farewell evening walk under the stunning atrium at the hotel its time to turn in for the evening.  We start our journey North after breakfast tomorrow morning.

I look forward to bringing future groups back to this amazing, luxurious hotel and quaint village which is  located in the “middle of nowhere”!

Day 2 – Stumbled across a Luxurious Hotel in the Middle of NOWHERE!

We met some wonderful people today on the “Travel With Bradley Yellow Brick Road Mystery Tour”.

After a bountiful breakfast at the Drury Plaza in Carmel, IN we ventured down some picturesque rural roads until we arrived at Andersons Orchards, a 200 acre family operation that has been in business for 50 years.  A family member proudly welcomed us and explained that they grow over 30 varieties of apples.  I arranged for my passengers to enjoy a cup of their hot apple cider and everyone enjoyed mingling with the Anderson family and other locals.  Its not everyday that a coach load of Canadians stop in for a visit.  Of course they were all were trying to figure out where we were going during our Mystery Day.

Lunch was in the charming community of Vincennes which is located in Knox County.  This is Indiana’s First City.  Restaurant choices for a group of our size is a challenge when visiting smaller communities but the management of Montana Mikes stepped up to the plate.  Ashley, the manager was determined that this would be a successful event.  Greeters welcomed us at the door and we took over 1/2 of their restaurant.  They brought in SEVEN cooks and a pile of servers to look after us.  Within one hour they served us a 3 course luncheon of tremendous portions.  We had a choice of tossed, Caesar salad or cottage cheese, then Sirloin Steak, Grilled Shrimp, Fried Shrimp or Chicken Breast – finally a variety of desserts.  I selected the grilled shrimp – they were meaty, so tender and delicious.  My coach driver, Paul ordered the Steak with Green Beans (his Mom would be proud) and he commented his steak tasted great.  We are the largest group this restaurant has ever experienced so they won’t quickly forget us.  

As delicious as the lunch was the best memory I will take away is how friendly the locals were to us.  The young servers that looked after us were some of the nicest people you could ever meet.  Some of them were anxious to see inside the motor coach so Paul gave them a tour.  They even came out of the restaurant to wave goodbye to us!  Their friendliness was genuine.  I could tell they were proud of themselves – they did a fantastic job looking after us and they knew they succeeded – this event was a big success.  

Temperatures continued to rise as the day went on.

When we arrived at the impressive Red Skelton Museum and Performing Arts Centre we left our jackets in the Motor coach because we no longer needed them.  The cloudless sky was bright blue.  

The Red Skelton Museum celebrates the life and legacy of America’s greatest comedians.  The museum is very interactive and explores American comedy in the context of Red’s life.  As a private group we were also lucky to be able to tour the Red Skelton performing arts theatre – designed to replicate to a circus tent.  It holds 800. The local University students were on stage rehearsing for the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” which opens in a few days.

When we left the complex we drove by Red Skelton’s boyhood home which is located a stones throw from the museum.

The windy road route to our Mystery Destination was beautiful.  The Amish have settled in this area so we passed many of their stores and restaurants but since its Sunday they were all closed.

When we reached the small town of West Baden I heard chatter on the coach – everyone was trying to figure out what the massive stately circular building was in the distance – could it possibly be our hotel – YES!

The West Baden Hotel is a gem.  We are all honored to be staying here for 2 nights.  Our luxurious massive suites overlook a stunning circular atrium.  My passengers can’t stop telling me that I really outdid myself this time.

We spent time exploring – there is just so much to take in – our beautiful suites, the gardens, the trolly car, the tram car, the horse drawn carriages, the rocker filled front porch, the spa, the gorgeous pool, the shops……

Later we gathered for another scenic 30 minute drive to Patoka Lake home of the Patoka Lake Winery.  The owner welcomed us and told us about their many award winning wines.  We sampled many of them before enjoying a delicious catered home cooked meal by a young local chef, Jerry.  I knew my passengers loved the meal because many of them were asking if he would share his recipes with them.

A fabulous day. 

Exciting Day 1 – Yellow Brick Road Mystery Journey

Last night my “Travel With Bradley Yellow Brick Road Mystery Tour” passengers gathered at the Quality Inn in Woodstock, ON for a delicious welcome, Roast Beef and BBQ Chicken Buffet Dinner before we retired for the evening.

Today after breakfast the Mystery Journey started.  This is a full departure and everyone is excited and are constantly trying to guess where Paul, our expert coach driver is taking us.

We were warmly welcomed at the Ontario Welcome Centre in Sarnia.  The staff opened early for us and served us maple cookies.

Crossing into the United States was a quick process after I explained to the US customs officials what a “Mystery Tour” is all about.  They played along telling many of my passengers that we were driving to Alaska….

Strong winds similar to what you would find in Alaska blew all afternoon but we were ahead of the nasty hail storm that invaded Sarnia, ON after we passed through.

Lunch was at everyones favourite, Cracker Barrel in Perrysburg, OH.  I presented my passengers with a $25.00 gift card which easily covered their lunch along with some shopping in the gift shop.

We arrived at our beautiful accommodations, the Drury Plaza Hotel in Carmel, IN later in the afternoon.  Cocktails were served soon afterwards along with appetizers.

It was just a 10 minute drive to the Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre which has been in operation for almost 50 years!  A scrumptious dinner along with luscious  desserts were served.  Tonight’s theatrical production of, “Man of La Mancha” was top notch.  The actors were all first rate and it was hard not to sing along to the many familiar songs.  

What a wonderful start to this Mystery Getaway!

Day 12 – Quebec City, Quebec

Quebec City

We docked in Quebec City early.  The “Rotterdam, another Holland America vessel was already in port.  Holland America dominates the Fall Canada/New England cruise departures with a number of ships allocated to this route.

I didn’t suggest a specific tour for my passengers today as we are docked next to the Old City and its so easy to navigate on your own.

I started strolling at 9am and didn’t arrive back to the ship until 4pm!  I enjoyed a relaxing lunch break at a fantastic bistro – Boulay – I highly recommend it.  The two course lunch special that I selected was $17.00 – very reasonable for this part of town.   Boulay is rated as one of the best in the city.  I found it quite by accident.  It looked appealing when I saw it and after reading its excellent reviews I had to try it.  I was lucky that they could accommodate me as this restaurant was very full with reservations.  

Other than my lunch break I was basically exploring the rest of the time.  Even my iwatch was impressed – it told me that I broke a personal fitness record today!

Quebec City is beautiful.  It is tastefully decorated for the fall season – many large displays.  Most of the charming boutiques are unique and have a French flair to them.  Yes, I did some shopping between snapping pictures.

I came across my Room Steward on my journey back to the ship.  He had collected a pile of fall coloured leaves and had surrounded himself with them.  I was able to take his picture using his phone so he could share this fall scene with his family.  He then asked me to leave him my email address as he wants to keep in touch.  He is a true gentleman plus he kept my stateroom immaculately clean.

Tonight’s Farewell Dinner on board ship was as excellent as always.

I was very impressed with the Zuiderdam and this cruise itinerary.    A cruise is great way to visit especially Eastern Canada’s ports of call which are all unique and wonderful.  A cruise day visit allows you to explore the main highlights.

The staff onboard the Zuiderdam is excellent.  Most are from Indonesia.  They are very caring and work extremely hard.  The Zuiderdam is in great shape and spotless clean.  The entertainment was diverse and well received.  The cuisine was top notch in all venues and that is so important for a cruiseline.  There was always more than enough variety, everything always arrived hot and typically in a timely manner.  The speciality restaurants are reasonably priced and I thought their cocktails are fairly priced too. There are ample ship board activities offered and daily afternoon tea is a nice touch, so is complimentary replenished fruit in staterooms and even shoe polishing service.  Little extras count.  I therefore look forward to bringing future groups on Holland America vessels.

Pictures to follow…

Day 10 – Saguenay, Quebec

We were late getting into the Saguenay, Quebec port because the winds were so strong.  Needed to use a tug to get us to the pier.

Even with the rain the journey earlier this morning through the fjord was a spectacular one.

Saguenay is an aboriginal words that means, “where the water flows out”.  This area has the most francophone residence in North America.  The population is 147,000.

The visitors centre next at the port featured local entertainers and craftsman.  Due to the weather the local market had to be cancelled.

I walked into this quaint Quebec town where I toured the beautiful Catholic Church and checked out some local shops but the weather continued to deteriorate.  When it started to hail and snow I headed back to the ship.  I was soaked!

The lido deck was packed at lunch as so many stayed on board due to the weather.  

We are lucky that we booked the “La Fabuleuse” theatre in advance for this afternoons activity.  This production has been running for 29 years and is a true spectacle with a cast of a “few hundred” actors who are all volunteers!   The 75 minute show depicted the creation and evolution of the Saguenay.  The production featured many special effects including fire, water, canon shots, fireworks and water cascades.  There were farm animals, MANY horses and vintage cars on stage too.  There are over 1000 costumes.  We were all very impressed!  Its as though Broadway has another home in  Saguenay!  If you are ever in the region I HIGHLY recommend you come to see this production.  The production is only in English when the cruise ships are here – the rest of the performances are done in French.

The weather remains unbelievable.  Imagine the worst wind in the middle of winter and it would be similar to what we experienced today.   Temperatures are below 0F.   The internet connection is very poor I imagine due to the storm – tried to upload some picture for this post with no luck.

We will be heading to Quebec City shortly if the Captain can get the cruise ship away from the pier!

 

 

Day 9 – The St. Lawrence River Transit

Good Day from the St Lawrence River

Today we are enjoying a scenic sea day with commanding views the St. Lawrence River.  There is plenty activity on the river – we have passed a number of freighters – our Captain clips by them at a pretty good pace.

It is cool outside but the sun is shining – temperatures are expected to drop to freezing this evening as we travel to Saguenay and then it is to warm up again before we arrive in Quebec City.  

I kept my passengers good and busy today.  We enjoyed a private tour of the Galley operation.  The executive chef was our host.  This was followed by an entertaining, private backstage tour of the theatre.  We were hosted by two of the production team dancers – a nice looked engaged couple (from Australia and Russia) and the Stage Manager Scott who has had a fascinating career as a dancer with Donny and Marie Osmond, Carol Burnett and Liza Minnelli to name just a few – I “really” enjoyed my interesting conversation with him. 

Most of us caught the end of the Shore Excursion hosts chat about Quebec.  He “described” Canadian poutine as everything you can order at “Kentucky Fried Chicken” mixed together – certainly an odd way to describe it?

Lunch was in the elegant Pinnacle Grill.  What an incredible meal.  The menu featured so many enticing choices it was hard to decide – crab cakes, salmon filet, beef tenderloin, cod – and the desserts oh la la – the presentation was superb too.  This is the upscale speciality restaurant on board.  We all enjoyed the excellent service and delicious cuisine.  My passengers were so pleased with this “Travel With Bradley” surprise.

During the afternoon many attended the chat with the ships Captain while others attended the cooking show (Southern Snacks).

Tonight was the second Gala night and my passengers looked terrific all dressed up.  Most ordered surf and turf as they didn’t want to pass up the lobster.

The main stage show that followed was very good.

Was another fun day!

Day 8 – Charlottetown, PEI

Day 8 – Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

It was another spectacular sunset last night.  How lucky we are.  I sat in the Crows Nest on the Zuiderdam to watch it.   The comfortable leather chair with foot stool was so comfy it would have be easy to fall asleep….  I haven’t cruised on this ship for a while so this is my first experience in the “newly revamped” Crows Nest.  It’s located on the 10th Deck forward so there are commanding views.  In the past it was primarily  a lounge – now its a multi-purpose space – lounge, library, card playing, puzzle area and home of Shore Excursions Desk – dominated by a couple large video monitors with high tech information about the ships current location.  

Eastern Canada easily draws you in.  Its probably the combination of a more relaxed way of life (in comparison to Ontario), beautiful scenery and the friendly locals.

Charlottetown has a population of 50,000 and the entire island is around 156,000.  Their link is the Confederation Bridge.  Since its completion box stores such as Walmart have located here because its now possible to transport their goods over the bridge.  They have no natural gas piped to this island so oil or propane is used – many homeowners install heat pumps.  

Early this morning a large group of us boarded a coach and enjoyed a leisurely drive through the rolling, rural countryside.  Its a overcast drizzle day.  We made a stop at “Anne of Green Gables” – toured the homestead and strolled down “lovers lane”.  The book “Anne of Green Gables” has been published in over 30 countries and in 11 languages.  

I purchased “Black Garlic infused Sea Salt” from a young entrepreneur whose production is almost large enough that he can start shipping his product – I wish him well – www.peiseasalt.com

Agriculture is the number 1 industry here – fishing plus the farmers grow over 60 varieties of potatoes (80,000 acres) which are shipped all over the World.  There are 1800 farms on the island, 18% are farmed by females and the average age of local farmers is 55 years old.  The largest animal  is the coyote and their red fox is a nuisance.    

The Amish and Mennonites have been moving onto the island because land is still affordable.  We didn’t spot any buggies but saw some Amish schoolchildren dressed in their colourful dresses.  The locals flock to the Amish farms on Saturdays when they sell their organic produce and freshly made breads.  There were Amish Quilts available for us to buy next to the pier.

We heard the story of PEI Island Preserves – opened by at the time a struggling chef who decided to put amaretto in his strawberry preserves and the rest is history.  His preserves are now shipped all over World.  The impressive manufacturing facility is on a beautiful piece of land with a large pond.  

Sixty one lighthouses can be found on the island including the oldest one in Canada.

Last Tuesday there were a number of cruise ships in Charlottetown so 9600  passengers invaded the area.  Today it was much more manageable – we are here with Holland Americas Veendam (a smaller cruise ship).  It isn’t busy anywhere.

After our tour we enjoyed a light lunch onboard the ship and then some of us explored downtown Charlottetown.  There are a number of beautiful churches to tour – I was especially impressed with the massive United Church which is known for its excellent acoustics.  Although their congregation is getting smaller, they still attract around 400 for Sunday services.  I was very happy to find a Starbucks.  The last time we saw one was in Halifax.  The location here in Charlottetown has a neat vibe to it and was packed.

We were impressed with the Great George Hotel.  In the lobby they display pictures of celebrities that were housed here  – Elton John, Reba McIntyre to name a couple.

Like the other Canadian ports of call we have visited the building next to the pier is filled with local crafters selling their wares.  

Tonight I am treating my passengers to Dinner at Canaletto a speciality restaurant onboard.  We will fill the entire restaurant.  I had to book it soon after we boarded ship in order to secure the space.  Everyone is looking forward to it.

Tomorrow we travel along the St. Lawrence River.  I’ve arranged a number of event for my group including – Tour of the Galley, Backstage Tour and a Luncheon in the fine dining restaurant the Pinnacle Grill.

We continue to have a marvelous time!