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Romania – “A Land FULL of AMAZING Surprises”

Romania – “a land full of amazing surprises”

November 30 – Toronto – Amsterdam – Bucharest

At 11am I was on a shuttle to Toronto Pearson.  The shuttle was at capacity but I met a very interesting chap.  He is young to be retired but had a successful career in commercial real estate.  He now calls himself a hobo.  For the time being he has no residence in Canada because he travels the world.  He was on his way to Dublin, Ireland where he plans to live for at least a month.  Thailand is on his radar too.  He is not sure when he will return to Canada.  He said he can live more reasonable abroad than in Toronto so he is not rushing to get back.  We both share a love for travel so we could have talked for hours but soon we arrived at Pearson.

I like to arrive at Toronto Pearson long ahead of my passengers so I can chat with the airline reps to arrange our group check in.  Mystery Tour passengers are anxious to find out where they are going so many of them beat me to the airport this time thinking they’d be the first ones to learn our destination.

At 3pm I passed out airline ticket envelopes to my passengers and they all opened them at the same time.  Everyone was excited to learn that we were soon going to be on the way to Bucharest, Romania.

The KLM check-in process is now fully automated at Toronto Pearson (sign of the times) but they provided us with representatives to assist my passengers.

We then relaxed in the Plaza Premium Lounge (a Travel With Bradley perk).  This Terminal 3 lounge has just re-opened after a renovation so the experience is better than ever.

It was a 7.5 hour flight to Amsterdam.  My seat mate is Canadian but his home for many years is Hague, Netherlands.  We had a bit of time in Amsterdam to grab a coffee or shop in some of the stores that were offering “Black Friday” sales.  Our connecting flight was 2.5 hours in length.  Service on KLM is excellent – we were all very pleased.

December 1 – Exciting Bucharest

Our host and coach driver were anxiously waiting for us.  They warmly welcomed us to their home country, Romania.

The locals were celebrating Independence Day – a national holiday, so many streets were closed.  Our driver negotiated the many detours but soon we were enjoying a scrumptious luncheon in a beautiful, packed restaurant – ornate design surrounded with windows overlooking gardens.

Afterwards we settled into the beautiful 5 star, Radisson Blu hotel.  A shower felt great after our travel day.

Dinner was in the most famous restaurant in Bucharest, which many refer to as the “Beer Monastery”.  The chicken, vegetable and cheese crepe appetizer was a highlight.

Most of us walked back to the hotel via the Old Town – beautiful.  The many restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and lounges were filled to capacity with younger locals celebrating the holiday with friends.

December 2 – Bucharest to Sibiu

What a beautiful, sunny day – perfect touring weather.

The breakfast buffet at the Radisson Blu was top notch.

Romania offers a rich culture along with important European history.

We admired the architecture at Independence Square – so much history to absorb here – history that is tragic but the country has its Independence now.

We then visited the 2nd largest building in the world (after the Pentagon).  It’s also the heaviest building in the world.  It was an overwhelming experience.  This building was constructed to be the headquarters of the Communist party.

Our hour visit showed us 3% of this monstrosity that was constructed by a semi-forced labor force of 20,000.  If you had a skill (architect, woodworker etc) and your skills were needed you had no choice but to work on this massive project.  These experts were paid similarly to what their home jobs paid but there was no extra money given to find accommodations etc in Bucharest.  Soldiers that helped build the project were given no compensation.  Construction was around the clock for 5 years from 1984 to 1989.  Three thousand lives were lost during the building.

The interior is mind boggling – stunningly beautiful.   The guided tour is arranged so that the interiors continue to get even more impressive as you go along.  It really is an incredible building.

Our private luncheon was held at stunning location – a castle that overlooked a lake.  Very impressive.

We then continued to Sibiu where we had a 3 night stay at the 5 star Hilton Hotel.  It’s the only 5 star property in the city.  Many of my passengers said they felt as though they are staying in a castle – the interior is very ornate with many chandeliers – beautiful.

A delicious dinner was served in a private banquet space that was decked out for Christmas.

December 3 – Sibiu

Today we toured the best sights in Sibiu – pop 160,000.

There has been a great deal of investment in this community which has been  named the “European Cultural Centre” – a major honor for Romania.  It continually makes the list of “Best Places To Live In Europe”.

One of the largest theatre festivals in the world is held here – now attracts 700,000 visitors and over 100 theatre shows.  Every possible venue including factory spaces are used to house the many theatrical productions.

Germans settled here so many locals speak Romanian and German – many do not speak English.

The Old Town is beautiful – one of my passengers remarked that it is very Harry Potter like and I agree.

We all commented how innovative the town bakeries are – all the freshly baked goods are displayed in the front window and if you wish to buy something there is a little opening in the window where you pay and pick up the goodies – there is no public door entrance to the shop.

When I picked Romania as the destination for this Mystery Journey one of the main reasons was to visit their famous Christmas Markets and the one here in Sibiu is highly regarded throughout the world.  We visited it during the day and came back at dusk to admire the spectacular light display.  A new attraction at the Christmas Market is a modern, Ferris wheel.  Some of us took the ride that gave us bird eye view, 4 stories above the market – perfect opportunity for picture taking.  We of course all bought handmade souvenirs – perfect memories of our visit.

The cuisine in Romania has been excellent.  We’ve been dining at the best restaurants so the quality is superb.  Our luncheon was in a cave and dinner in a previous concert hall.   Soups are hearty and the homemade desserts are decadent.  Although a bit more challenging – the main courses have been varied.

When ordering wine/beer in the 5 star hotels you can expect prices similar to home but in the local restaurants its a bargain.

December 4 – Countryside Day Trip

This morning we visited an incredible medieval castle – rated one of the 6 top castles in the world – and the best preserved in this part of Eastern Europe.

We enjoyed a Hungarian luncheon in a family owned restaurant.

In the afternoon we visited the Citadel – one of the most important attractions in the country.  This is where the President of Romania spent Independence Day on Dec 1st.  I noticed an upcoming Christmas event is being televised from the Citadel.    As our guide said you would need many days to thoroughly see the Citadel – we just hit the surface.

The highlight of the day was dining in a small village at a farmers home.  Although often not easy to co-ordinate, its always a goal of mine to include something like this on many of my tours.

Platters of appetizers were on our tables when we arrived.  We were welcomed with a shot of plum brandy (the local favourite) and homemade wines followed.   The non-English speaking hostess served cabbage rolls, along with pork roast and accompaniments as the delicious main course.  Blueberry buckle cake was the perfect dessert after such a delicious, hearty, homemade feast.

As a wonderful bonus a group of traditionally dressed neighbours arrived and sang Romanian Christmas carols for us.  On Christmas Eve its a custom to sing carols from house to house – and often the singers  will often be invited into the home for a nightcap.  Families gather for Christmas but after dinner the young generation leaves to go clubbing all night.  Our 27 year old coach driver heads from his town to Bucharest to the largest club in the country.   These night clubs stay open all night.

Another amazing day!  Romania is full of so many amazing surprises.  Our wonderful adventure continues for a few more days.

 

Visiting Norway on the Queen Victoria

Visiting Norway on the Queen Victoria (continued)

Saturday November 23 – Narvik

The Mountain View’s from the Queen Victoria while overlooking the community of Narvik are beautiful.  Some of Norways highest mountains are found in this region.  

Narvik has a population of 17000.  This is an industrial port.  Tons of iron ore is transported from Sweden to Narvik and then its shipped by boat around the world.  Narvik’s harbour remains ice free year round.  

In comparison to other parts of Norway, English isn’t as widely spoken.  

Sunrise today was at 9:50am with sunset at 1:22pm.  The weather has been mild which is unusual for this time of year.  The Brits are starting to admit they packed too many suitcases of warm clothing for this cruise!

Our train excursion from Narvik to Sweden’s Lapland was a perfect choice.    The scenery was breathtaking especially when we exited through one of the many train tunnels and were surrounded by a winter wonderland.  The trains journey took us through very remote areas where we saw few people – but many reindeer and eagles.   Our guide told us there are a few hundred thousand reindeer in this region.

We concluded our train journey in Sweden.  We transferred by motor coach to a local lodge with a stunning million dollar view over the mountains.  As a treat the hotel staff prepared homemade sweet rolls and coffee/tea for us to enjoy but most of us spent the majority of our time outside so we could snap pictures.  

We then continued our journey back to Narvik by coach.  It was a 90 minute ride.  There were a few unscheduled stops along the way because reindeer didn’t want to get off the road.

The road conditions in Sweden were not ideal because they were extremely icy.  I don’t think I’d want to be driving on these isolated roads during a snow storm.  There are tall plastic markers on the sides of the road so drivers know where the road is during poor weather conditions.  

The guide pointed out the many cottages that are located throughout the mountains.  Most of them do not have road access, or the comforts of home – like electricity.  

After we crossed over the 2nd largest bridge in Norway we were back in Narvik.  It was already pitch dark but we still very much enjoyed the continued tour around town which included a scenic overlook stop which provided a perfect view of the sparkling Queen Victoria.  

We were hungry when we returned to the ship so most of us attended Cunard’s afternoon high tea in the Queens Room.  

Soon after we departed on our next excursion – In Search of the Northern Lights but tonight the weather did not co-operate.  Without clear skies nobody is going to see the Northern Lights.  Our coach driver gave us the opportunity to admire some scenic lookouts and a stop was made at the Polar Park attraction where we heard wolves howl (similar to coyotes at home).    The Polar Park staff provided us with a hot festive rum beverage and smoked salmon wrap sandwiches.

It was after midnight when we got back to the ship.  Since there were so many of the ships passengers on late evening excursions, Cunard offered a full dinner buffet at the Lido until 130am.

Sunday and Monday November 24 and 25 – Days At Sea

Days at Sea are wonderful especially when sailing a ship as grand as Queen Victoria.

My passengers have enjoyed their conversations with fellow passengers from around the world.  I just can’t believe how well travelled most of them are!  For those of you that think I travel all the time, I’m a novice traveler in comparison to many on board.  I met a younger couple who have already traveled on “three” round-the-world cruises.  Some of the world travelers gave me advice on some new destinations I should offer “Travel With Bradley” passengers.

The Captain told us that we exited the Arctic Circle at 6:05am (Sunday).  

The seas continued to be smooth – so lucky!

Tuesday, November 26 – Stavanger 

The population of Stavanger is 134,000 – there are 5.3 million people living in Norway.  From the Queen Victoria decks we looked over many of Stavanger’s white timber buildings, located in Old Town.  Historic small homes in the downtown core will set you back around $700,000 USD.  You can do what ever you wish with the front door of these historic homes but any any other outside renovations needs to be approved.  

We boarded a coach for a “Countryside Journey”.  Our guide was excellent and so was the tour.

The many large country homes/farms we passed were impressive.   Some have roofs covered in grass to help keep them cool during the summer and warm during the winter.  

The interiors of road tunnels are often painted white as that helps to keep drivers alert at night.

We stopped at a very impressive retail space in the middle of nowhere.  We entered a large cave were we were served massive size pancakes with preserves and sour cream.  

The citizens of Stavanger are thankful for the sea.  For 80 years sardines could be found in the area waters and harvesting them provided locals with good incomes.  After the sardines moved elsewhere the community suffered but a last ditch attempt to drill for oil (32nd try) was successful, turning Stavanger into an international city (1969).  

Oil is the #1 industry.  

We traveled past many potato farms.  The farmer that harvests the season’s first potato wins a contest and their potatoes will be eaten by Norway’s King and Queen.  For 8 years the same farmer been awarded this honor.  Tomatoes and cucumbers are also widely grown.

Strawberries are the favourite fruit in this region.  They are extra sweet because they soak in the many hours of sunlight during the summer.  

The local ladies like to can beets so their family can enjoy them as part of Christmas dinner.  

Spain is where the locals escape in the winter for heat and sunlight.

When our tour finished a number of us visited the wonderful shops in old town Stavanger.  I’ve been here many times and know it well.  What a colourful place.  

Wednesday, November 27 – Day At Sea

My group started the day by gathering for champagne breakfast.  We had a fun time.  

We cheered for one of my passengers when she performed as part of the Cunard Choir.  Eighty passengers signed up for the choir and after hours of rehearsals they sang for hundreds of us in the Queens Room.  Sounded great!

At todays high tea the ships orchestra performed.  The dance floor was packed.  We had to arrive early in order to find a seat.  

I treated my passengers to a culinary dinner in the Verandah Steakhouse on board Queen Victoria.  We spent a few hours chatting about our wonderful journey while enjoying scrumptious cuisine.  We were pampered by seven servers.  

We were able to turn our clocks back one hour before retiring.  We appreciated the extra hour of sleep.  

Thursday, November 28 – Happy American Thanksgiving

The Cunard staff bent a few rules and allowed us to depart the ship first with a group of VIP passengers.

I quickly found our luggage in the terminal building and our private charter was the first passenger coach to depart for Heathrow.

I was able to get us into a preferred check in line for our Air Canada flight.  After we cleared security we had time to relax, shop and grab a snack before boarding our flight to Toronto.  

I’ve never seen Heathrow airport so quiet – I’m sure its because of American Thanksgiving.  Many airport stores were offering “Black Friday” sales!

It was a smooth flight back to Toronto.  We enjoyed the ride onboard a wide bodied 777 aircraft.  

This was an exceptional journey – Norway and Queen Victoria did not disappoint.    Most importantly the Northern Lights shone in all their splendour.  Thanks to my wonderful passengers who bonded like family.  

The next time I customize a Norway Journey you don’t want to miss it.  The Northern Lights are waiting for you!

Greetings from Norway – land of the Northern Lights!

I really am a fan of Cunard Cruise Lines and my passengers will tell you that they are very much enjoying their

Cunard experience. There are currently just 3 Cunard “Queens” (Mary, Elizabeth and Victoria) in the fleet. Many are very loyal to the line. I have chatted with a number of passengers onboard who have experienced Cunard’s 14 week long “Round The World” departures. One couple I chatted with has already sailed 72 times with Cunard but it was a female couple from Germany that was presented with flowers at a formal ball as they have sailed over 850 days with Cunard.

It’s early in the AM (Nov 17) and I am sitting in the Commodores Club on Deck 10, where I am surrounded by panoramic views of the ocean with a parade of container ships – there are currently 12 of them in viewing sight. The Commodore Club is a beautiful place – reminiscent of an exclusive country club. The Captain of the Queen Victoria is in the passing lane – this ship is moving along because we were 6 hours late departing Southampton – a tanker containing the fuel for this voyage arrived hours late.

When you sail on one of the Queens its an extra special experience. Cunard passengers are primarily friendly Brits. As you stroll around the vessel it feels sophisticated without being stuffy. It’s very comfortable. The daily afternoon tea is an elegant affair and its so entertaining watching the many ballroom dancers passengers fill the Queens Room dance floor at various times throughout the day. Cunard passengers are willing to dish out more because as they say “you get what you pay for”.

Queen Victoria is not a new ship but its interior is timeless unlike some new very modern ships that are outdated in no time as trends change.

For some cruisers, Cunard’s dress code is a sore spot but it is a Cunard custom. Men are required to wear a jacket every night after 6pm and on this 12 night departure there are 3 formal nights. It’s the mandatory dress code that lifts up the atmosphere during the evening hours. You feel as though you are going to a special occasion every night while sailing with Cunard. Even though passengers are dressed up its on the casual end of the spectrum so everyone is going to feel very comfortable even during the 3 formal nights.

Most of the Brits that I have chatted with have experienced Norwegian Fjord cruises but have returned for this winter climate experience in the Arctic Circle. Norwegian Fjord cruises typically do not sail as north as this very unique itinerary. Everyone wants to see the Northern Lights this time of year and the best sightings are in the far North.

The Brits are panicking about the cold Northern temperatures while my Canadian passengers smirk when hearing that some of them packed extra suitcases with winter clothing, hand/feet warmers and thermal underwear!

When asking some Cunard passengers if they cruise with other lines one couple said they tried some other lines but “we have decided to stick with the Queens”!

The seas have been kind to us – very smooth sail.

——

November 18 – Happy Birthday to my Mom!

We are now sailing in open waters but it continues to be a smooth sail.

There are 28 countries represented on board – total of 1949 passengers

Germany 20

Canada 29

Japan 48

Australia 67

USA 113

UK 1582

This evening was the Black and White Ball – a formal occasion where we met the Captain of the vessel.

——

November 19 – Alesund

Early this morning we docked in Alesund.

There are 47000 that make this place there home.

The Gulf Stream helps to keep the temperatures milder than one would expect in the winter.

Cod fishing is a huge industry here.

Killer whales can be found in these waters.

I have visited Alesund many times and know it very well. I can maneuver around the shopping district easily. I was at my favourite store when it opened at 10am. Everything is expensive in Norway but that can be expected when most things (including food) have to be imported – Norway is currently the most expensive country in the world.

Early afternoon we boarded the Bruvik for a fjord cruise. This boat started sailing in 1949. Back then its top speed of 18 miles an hour made it the fastest vessel in Norway. It features comfortable lounge seating with ample outdoor space. The fjord scenery is spectacular. We saw many large Russian fishing boats during our journey. The snow covered mountains were mesmerizing. Everyone took many pictures during this 3 hour excursion.

Daylight hours are already limited in this part of Norway. Soon Alesund will only experience 3.5 hours of sunlight a day. Our guide told us that the health system is so good here, if one becomes depressed due to the winter darkness they may be sent (for no charge) to the Canary Islands to a retreat owned by the Norwegian government so they can recover!

To “celebrate the darkness” the tallest bonfire in the world lights the sky of Alesund every winter. This event attracts tourists from around the world.

It felt like Christmas in the Britannia dining room this evening as I ordered turkey dinner with all the trimmings – just delicious.

——

November 20 – Day At Sea

The dining room was almost empty as I enjoyed my breakfast this morning. Most must be sleeping in as this is another day at sea.

I took at seat once again in the Commodore Club (my early morning hangout) to watch the sunrise. At 9am daybreak was starting to appear. Even though its a clear sky the sun only offers a dull light.

As the Captain continues to sail North the amount of daylight will be very more limited.

It was most entertaining watching the Entertainment Director conduct his morning exercise Zumba dance class. Erik reminds me of a young Richard Simmons. He certainly has a large following – the ballroom dance floor was packed and the music was pumping!

Thursday, November 21

Tromso, Norway – First Day of Polar Nights

In all of my travels this is one of the most intriguing destinations I have ever visited.

This place with 70,000 inhabitants claims many world titles – most Northern University, most Northern Burger King, the most Northern Catholic and Lutheran Churches – the list as you can imagine goes on and on….

Tromso is farther North than Siberia, and Alaska!

Two hundred years ago, 80 hunters settled here and soon after the population started to grow.

The University attracts students from 120 countries and with 10,000 students, 1 in ever 7 in this Capital City of the North is a student.

Tromso is often referred to as “Paris of the North” for a few reasons – years ago the local hunters traded their kill for fancy dresses from the store keepers in Paris – nowadays Tromso has 22,000 seats in lounges and restaurants which is enough for 1/3 of the population so…. just like in Paris there are many lounges and restaurants.

Tromso has a cool vibe.

We started the day by taking a cable car up a mountain for a stunning view of the landscape. This being Nov 21 is the first day of Polar Nights – the sun won’t appear over the horizon for 2 months. Starting on Dec 21 it will be dark 24 hours a day. We did see a “reflection” of the sun on some snow covered mountains but by early afternoon it was pitch black. The locals take a daily dose of vitamin D, K2 and Cod Liver Oil to get them through the dark winter.

When touring the famous Arctic Cathedral we learned its not really a cathedral (there is a timber frame Lutheran Cathedral in town) but since so many are attracted to this landmark designed church it has taken the cathedral name. Its hard to miss especially in the evening when it is dramatically lit up – you can spot it for miles.

The Polar Museum was an interesting visit, especially because of the buildings historic age. If its worn wooden floors could talk I’m sure they would have some amazing stories to stories.

After the tour most of us stayed in town to explore. I enjoyed chatting with the storekeepers, especially the ones who have lived in Tromso for their entire life.

Complimentary shuttles ran from downtown to the ship and after a couple of hours I headed back, just in time for afternoon tea.

After dinner we attended a late 9:45pm, 1 hour concert at the Arctic Cathedral. It featured 3 very professional musicians. The encore of, Auld Lang Sine brought tears to many and hearing Harald Bakkeby Moe sing “Be Thou My Vision” was a highlight. It was truly a heartwarming evening. I thought 9:45pm was an odd start time but a greeter told me that this famous church is known for its many midnight concerts.

Our evening tour of the island continued after the concert. We visited another very scenic overlook of the city and drove through beautiful residential areas. Its customary for locals to build homes with oversize windows – never covered with drapes and they want to let the outdoor in. Indoor lighting is important – not necessarily bright lights but accent ones. Our guide told us she has 14 lights in her dining room and that is the norm in many homes.

My initial thought was it must be inexpensive to settle into this community of the far North but like most things in Norway, its VERY expensive to live here.

How do locals make a living? The hospital employees over 400. Research companies employee many plus there are computer jobs and of course tourism. People flock here in order to see the Northern Lights and other attractions like the many killer whales that appear this time of year to feed on pools of herring.

We returned to the ship after midnight. What a jam packed day!

As Tennessee Williams wrote, “Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going”.

Friday, November 22

Today was another relaxing day at sea.

Some of my passengers joined me for a delicious luncheon in the Britannia Dining Room and I once again took in Cunard’s high tea at 330pm.

We were thrilled for those that saw the Northern Lights last night and wondered when the rest of us would get that opportunity…..

As luck would have it tonights display was beyond SPECTACULAR!

The Northern Lights extravaganza started around 530pm and was still in full swing when I left it at 8pm. It really didn’t let up during that entire time. The sky was dancing – what a party. Most of the outdoor lights on the open decks were purposely turned off so we could see the dramatic sky. Many British passengers came prepared with “torches” (we call them flashlights). You definitely had to watch your step but once your eyes got adjusted to the dark conditions it was easy to maneuver.

I’m sure when you think of the Northern Lights a sky of green colour comes to mind. In reality at times you see shades of green and red but the Northern Lights are basically streaks of many shades of white but when a picture is taken the whites turn to 🥬 because a camera can pick up colour better than our eyes.

The Northern Lights are an incredible natural phenomena that all my passengers and I have been so blessed to see. I’m sure the British passengers I met that have tried 4 different times to see the Northern Lights would tell you that the amazing sightings on this cruise have more than made up for the times that they didn’t get to see them in the past.

My iPhone captured some wonderful pictures of tonight’s amazing Northern Lights display. I’m surprised it did so well because I wasn’t using a tripod but had to keep my hand good and steady. I played around and took pictures from different locations on the ship and most importantly figured out how to change camera settings while standing in the dark. When I finally nabbed my first great Northern Lights shot I jumped with joy! I can’t wait to share some with you when I end up with good wifi again.

My nephew will be impressed when he learns that I taught the ships photographer how to use his iPhone for taking pics. His shots were coming out black.

Saturday November 23

Narvik, Norway

We are all off to Sweden by train – a sold out excursion. Scenery in Narvik is stunning.

Cunard Queen Victoria Norway Northern Lights Cruise

Last Thursday was the Walters Country Christmas shows at the Sanderson in Brantford, ON. This was our 19th festive season. By the end of our matinees performance next years show was already sold out! Don’t fret we have already added another matinee performance.

After our evening performance finished a limo driver took me to the Hilton Toronto Airport.

I had a couple hours of rest before meeting my passengers.

This Northern Lights Cruise is a Travel With Bradley Boutique Small Group Departure so it didn’t take long for us to check in for our daytime Air Canada flight to Heathrow.

We arrived in London at 830pm and were met by a representative holding a Travel With Bradley sign.

The Radisson Blu hotel was an excellent choice for our overnight stay. Breakfast buffet this morning was delicious.

Greg, our coach driver was waiting for us and he transferred us to beautiful Windsor where we explored and purchased a few souvenirs before continuing to Southampton.

The Cunard Queen Victoria looked so impressive when we spotted her. Check in was fast and efficient.

Most of my passengers went to the ships pub for an authentic fish n chips luncheon.

Luggage soon arrived in our balcony staterooms.

We are enjoying exploring this elegant vessel.

Soon we will be on our way to Norway!

Here are a few pictures –

NCL Bahamas Private Island

It’s a very hot day – ideal beach weather! The NCL Sun passengers shared the beach with us – they are on a 5 night cruise – we can also see 2 Royal Caribbean cruise ships as their private island is next to NCL’s.

BALTIC, DOLLY, 2 Tropical Storms, a Hurricane and Cyclone!

When the Walters Dinner Theatre 19th season ended I hit the road – 3 sold out, journeys one after another.

Started off with the Baltic on the NCL Getaway. A Baltic Cruise is a busy itinerary because there is so much to see. We sailed out of Copenhagen which is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Many tour companies won’t fly their groups into Copenhagen the day ahead of a cruise due to the big cost but in my books you take too much of a risk by not arriving early plus Copenhagen is a city well worth a look.

We lucked out with the weather during the Baltic cruise. At times the temperature was very nippy but the skies remained clear. We dressed in layers and were most comfortable. It was a hot summer in the Baltic (100F days) so by cruising in the fall we avoided that humidity plus the peak season crowds. I think my passengers would agree I picked the perfect time to visit this part of the world.

The Baltic ports of call are very diverse and exciting to visit but St. Petersburg is the highlight. For the first time in this part of the world I booked private (non-ship) shore excursions for my group. Even though I researched for a number of weeks I was still a little nervous but the Russian tour operator I selected was very professional.

Another major highlight was when we experienced scrumptious dinners in 3 St Petersburg family homes – a once in a lifetime experience.

Berlin, Germany was the most sobering destination we visited – its tragic history came to life during our excursion.

——

After we arrived back to Toronto I flew to Nashville in order to meet up with the “Yellow Brick Road Mystery Tour” passengers. Months after I put this Mystery Journey together I was excited to learn that country legend Dolly Parton was going to be honored with a special performance after celebrating 50 years on the Grand Ole Opry. As you can imagine tickets for this historic show sold out in a few minutes and then were only available for thousands of dollars a pop. I decided to completely re-work the Mystery Tour (changing the destination) in order to include this concert. I struggled to nab tickets but refused to give up. After a couple of months of trying I was finally successful. Completely changing the Mystery Tour itinerary in order to include Dolly’s 50th Anniversary superb concert was a great decision. Many told me this was the BEST motor coach tour they have ever been on.

_____

As I write this update I am once again sailing on the NCL Getaway. My group started cruising from Copenhagen and will finish this 19 night cruise in New Orleans. We have already visited MANY wonderful European destinations. Unlike the Baltic departure this one is much more relaxed as there are a number of sea days. The itinerary is what attracted me to his departure. Its certainly the best Trans-Atlantic itinerary I’ve EVER come across. We even made history, as our Captain sailed through Tropical Storm Pablo as it turned into a hurricane. This is the first time in recorded history that a hurricane has ever formed this far East in the Atlantic. When reading about Hurricane Pablo, online in the Washington Post the writer stated that this storm will be studied for years to come. The captain did not advise us of the hurricane until the following morning. The seas were choppy but Ive certainly experienced much, much worse even in the Caribbean. A good friend at home advised that some ships sailing from Spain to England were delayed 3 days due to this storm.

The Getaway is a large cruise ship and easily handled the swells. To date on this departure we have sailed through 2 tropical storms (Pablo/Rebecca) , a hurricane (Pablo) and even a Northern cyclone made life challenging for our Captain. If the Captain wasn’t updating on this weather excitement we wouldn’t have had any idea but we now have a fun story to tell when we get home,

We visited many wonderful ports in the UK, France and Ireland but unfortunately we missed a port in the Portuguese Azores. A small, very old cruise ship was given priority getting into port. It took 1 hour and two tugs to get that ship to the dock. By then the winds picked up (was expected) and after 3 attempts to get our ship to the dock the port supervisor turned us away. Our Captain was not impressed and I’m sure that heads will roll over this. Our ship staff was expected to pick up supplies, food etc in this port. What a nightmare for the staff on board the Getaway.

I really like our Captain – he is very personal, very easy to understand and extremely professional. He easily manoevers this large ship.

A couple day prior to arriving in Bermuda the seas smoothed and temps reached close to 80F. Passengers flooded to the outdoor decks and it didn’t take long before we saw some major sunburns.

Entertainment has been terrific on board ship – the broadway show, Million Dollar Quartet is certainly the most impressive show. We also really enjoyed, another broadway show called Burn the Floor.

The ships internet connection is sluggish and extremely expensive (99 cents a minute) so I have been able to update Facebook with pictures but its been much more difficult getting a blog out.

We have a few ports to visit after Bermuda – Bahamas and Miami.

New Orleans is where this cruise will finish. I have some fun excursions planned while we visit that lively city.

We arrive back in Toronto late on Saturday.

Walters Christmas Shows will then be around the corner – November 14 at the Sanderson Center in Brantford. Hope to see you there!

I then fly out on the 15th with another group – Cunard Northern Lights Cruise.

Update – we have arrived in Bermuda – the sun is hot – the sky is clear – the sea is blue – we have crossed the Atlantic – congrats to my passengers – another one to take off your bucket-list!