We enjoyed strolling around this beautiful old town today. Tallinn is Estonia’s capital on the Baltic Sea. It is the cultural hub of the country. Tallinn has retained its walled, cobblestoned Old Town. The delicate pastries in the many cafes looked so enticing. The town square hosts a very famous Christmas Market. Hope you enjoy some of my pictures. Tomorrow we start our 2 day visit of St. Petersburg, Russia.
Berlin exceeded everyone’s expectations.
It was a long tour day but a terrific one. We gathered at 730am and returned to the ship at 9pm. Berlin is a 3 hour drive from the port of Warnemunde.
I booked our Berlin groups excursion through a company based in St. Petersburg, Russia. After a great deal of research I was confident this was the best choice – we were not disappointed – excellent in every way. We saved hundreds of dollars (in comparison to the ships excursions) and our guides were superb (very well educated, professional), excellent coach drivers (we had 2) and we travelled in deluxe Mercedes brand coaches. I was very impressed!
The drive to Berlin went by quickly. The countryside scenery was beautiful. The highway we travelled on was in excellent condition – well kept, no garbage. We noticed a few very small (in comparison to home) combines harvesting corn and the winter wheat has already inched out of the ground. We spotted many deer in the farmers fields. Everything is kept up so well.
We stopped for a break in both directions at a highway rest area – in Germany there is a 50 cents charge to use the restrooms in most places.
Our guides met us in Berlin. The Jewish tour guide on coach 1, has a PhD
(philosophy) and is an accredited lawyer but his full-time job is leading tours. As you can imagine he was a wealth of knowledge and his presentation was fascinating. I was captivated by what he presented to us.
There are 3.5 million people living in Berlin. It’s impressive that 40% of the city is green space (parks).
Our Berlin tour fell on Oct 3rd – a national holiday celebrating 30 years since Germany was reunified. Almost everything was closed except for a handful of tourist shops.
Berlin has been in an influx since after WWII – our guide stated the city is poor but sexy. It attracts musicians and artists because its reasonable to live here – its now a trendy place to live. I noticed billboards promoting upcoming concerts by the Jonus Brothers and David Hasselhof.
Tourism is the #1 industry in Berlin – over 13.5 million visit per year.
Berlins tourism sites are fascinating but sobering at the same time. It’s suffered a very tragic and sad history.
Highlights – We visited a place where the Berlin Wall still stands
– We saw the hotel where Michael Jackson held his child out the window
– We walked through a Jewish Memorial (so meaningful)
In the adjacent museum the names of the Jews that were murdered are read out with a brief description of that person but there are so many names it takes 7 years before a name is repeated)
– We enjoy free time at Checkpoint Charlie (its the only attraction that is tacky touristy with American fast food restaurants and poor quality souvenir shops surrounding it but Starbucks provided free wifi)
The reunification celebration did not go off without a hitch. Some organized groups held demonstrations. One small group still supports Hitler but this is an illegal act so they need to be careful of what they preach or they will be jailed. There was a problem – so police released tear gas and instantly blocks of streets were closed with police swarming. We had finished our touring and were in our motor coach on our way out of the downtown core when this happened. We could see the clouds of tear gas and slightly smell it – as we tried to exit the core our tour coach was caught in the middle of the closures. A policeman forced our motor coach driver to turn around in the middle of the street so we were out of the way. Our guide scrambled to find an alternative, out-of-the-way route for us to meet the other coach while avoiding the unrest.
Making a return visit to Berlin is now high on my bucket list. It’s such an amazing destination!
We enjoyed a delicious buffet breakfast this morning in our Copenhagen hotel. My passengers were so pleased with their stay. The hotel staff was exceptional.
We departed for the pier at 1015am. What a beautiful day. The sun is beaming.
Surprisingly there are 2 terminals looking after “NCL Getaway” guests – your cabin number dictates which terminal.
Check in was quick. Before long we were on the NCL Getaway.
My passengers took my advice and instead of heading to the buffet enjoyed a much more relaxing multi-course luncheon in the dining room. There are 3 main dining rooms on this ship – providing a much more intimate experience – much like a speciality restaurant but at no fee.
I’ve included a beverage package with this sailing so my passengers have already started to taste a variety of cocktails. I’m hearing how delicious those drinks are!
My afternoon has been spent meeting with ship staff so I’ve now got everything arranged for my passengers.
I am shortly heading to the lifeboat drill and we sail soon after.
Here are a few pictures of the Getaway. Our balcony cabins are spacious and very well appointed.
My luggage has arrived so I’m already unpacked.
Tomorrow we visit BERLIN, Germany. Everyone is SO excited!
After a very busy sold-out season at the Walters Theatre, I’m back out on the road with another one of my tour groups. Last night it took almost 8 hours for us to fly from Toronto to Copenhagen, Denmark. The Air Canada flight was at capacity. In fact they were offering a $1200.00 incentive to give up your seat! Service was good on board and the skies were very smooth.
Our Copenhagen local guide (another Brad) and coach driver (Lars) are true professionals. We enjoyed beautiful sights and learned plenty.
Copenhagen is just 15km (via bridge) to Sweden – 50,000 Swedes commute back and forth every morning to work in Copenhagen.
Most locals speak 3-4 languages.
Copenhagen is the 2nd most expensive city in the world. Their economy is booming. Income tax runs between 37 – 62%. Sales tax is 25%. If one pays 50,000 for a car in Canada, chances are that same car will cost $150.000 in Denmark. The average wage is $8000 a month. Students not only receive free university education – they are paid a $1000 a month while in school.
Denmark is primarily a flat country. Oil production is the number 1 industry followed by container shipping, agriculture (produce more than they use) and pharmaceuticals.
In Copenhagen a very average 1000 sq ft apartment will set one back over 1 Million dollars.
Sixteen is the legal drinking age.
The local incinerator has been converted to produce heat for every home in the city.
Prostitution is legal, a receipt is provided and a local Dr may prescribe a visit!
Homes are colourful as years ago they were not numbered so to identify your home you would state its bright colour and what street it was located on.
Tivoli Gardens Amusement Park, the Royal Palace and the Little Mermaid statue are a few of Copenhagens attractions that attract world-wide visitors.
We enjoyed 2 scrumptious meals today. Our “Welcome to Copenhagen” luncheon buffet was held in a posh building that Nazi officers lived in during WWII. Many said the beef at tonights dinner was the best they ever tasted – accompanied by 3 types of corn – soufflé, pickled corn and popcorn – provided a wonderful presentation.
Most locals get around by riding bicycles – there are thousands of them. Tourists need to be careful when walking not to end up in a bike lane – they might just get run over. We met a young couple and their 7 week old baby – all of them were traveling on their 2 seater $3000 bicycle.
Our very deluxe accommodations are unique – so much character – I can’t get use to riding the “door” elevator which you need to open by hand to get in and out of.
After checking into our hotel and getting freshened up many of us walked down one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe.
I ended up at a designer sample sale. It was held on the 3rd floor of an historic building. It was packed with a few hundred shoppers. There were no change rooms – but no modesty was evident – many men dropped their pants in front of all in order to try on the designer pants and jeans!
My passengers are all delightful. This is a packed departure. The many regulars are making the new ones feel like they are already part of our travel family.
It was a typical fall weather day – an enjoyable temperature for seeing the sights.
Tomorrow we board the NCL Getaway for an exciting Baltic Cruise – the departure has been sold out for almost a year – everyone is SO excited. I don’t know what internet access will be like on board ship but I’ll do my best to post blog updates when I can.
Below are some of the MANY photos I took today. Hope you enjoy.
Late this afternoon we were standing in the sanctuary of Sofia’s spectacular, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral watching the formalities of their Mass. This cathedral holds 5000 parishioners. Its renowned choirs angelic voices filled the massive space, their sound gave us a tingling feeling. Tim, one of my passengers came up to me and said – “Bradley when people go and get their hair done they come out of the hair studio and say that was awesome but they are wrong – THIS IS AWESOME”. I think we all felt the same way.
Earlier in the afternoon the Pope was conducting mass right behind the deluxe hotel we are staying in. Some of my passengers passed through relatively short lines to clear security so they could see the Pope. One gentleman said – “I never thought I would ever see the Pope” – thank you Bradley. The closest side street to our hotel was filled with diplomatic vehicles from various embassy’s and there was security but nothing in comparison to what I have seen at similar events. This is the 2nd time in history that a Pope has walked on Bulgarian soil. For some this was a very special day but this is an Orthodox country so there was some controversy about his visit. If nothing else for my passengers and I, Catholic or not it was an exciting event – watching all the pomp and circumstance – and knowing in a small way that we were part of this historic, special event.
Another wonderful experience was when we spent time with some locals in a small town of 400 – Golyam Ivzor. In its prime this place had a few thousand residence but now there are less than 10 jobs here – no doctor – no pharmacy – no store – a kindergarten school but no students – a crumbling Orthodox Church that the local seniors are doing their best to preserve – no weekly mass, the only time there is one is on a special day. The sad reality is there are many towns just like this one in Bulgaria. The younger generation have left to find work in other European countries. Bulgaria is experiencing the fastest shrinking population in the European Union. These people have gone through so much hardship but through it all are very proud. We were so warmly welcomed with homemade bread – visitors to a home are traditionally welcomed with bread – you accept 2 pieces – and dip one piece in salt and the other in honey. The meal the local ladies prepared for us was amazing. We also tasted the important brandy’s – plum (for the men) and apple (for the ladies) that the local man distill in their basement.
Our farewell dinner was at a beautiful restaurant in the foothill of the mountains. Here we tasted a delicious array of local cuisine and were entertained with folklore music and dancers. Canadian singer, Bryan Adams is one of many celebrities that have dined here.
Sunday’s is the most popular wedding day in Bulgaria. We heard car horns echoing throughout the city – announcing the newly married couples.
What a spectacular day – one, most of us will never forget.
This morning after a scrumptious buffet breakfast in a dining room (with an amazing view over a valley) we departed for the town of Arbanassi, Bulgaria. This small town has a population of around 500. Years ago you could tell the wealth of a town by how many churches they had. Back in the 17th Century the population of Arbanasi was around 1000 people and it was considered wealthy because of its 5 churches.
Today was a summer, “25C – shorts and t-shirt” kind of weather day – how wonderful!
We visited Arbanasi’s most famous “Church of Nativity” – which features 2800 symbolic wall-murals.
Later we walked a short distance to the “Church Archangel and Gavrail” where I arranged a private concert for my passengers as a “Travel With Bradley” SURPRISE. What an amazing experience. The 3 singers filled the sanctuary with beautiful harmonies – was very touching.
The spring flowers surrounding the church were full of colour.
I felt our luncheon at a very popular restaurant in Veliko Tărnovo was the best yet. The restaurants interior was artistically decorated and their cuisine exceptional. Who serves “orange sherbet” with an entree – ok, it was mashed carrots and potatoes but it sure looked like dessert….
After lunch we visited the Tzarevets Fortress where we enjoyed more spectacular views.
We also explored Veliko Tarnovo. The downtown core was packed with tourists who were shopping, eating gelato and soaking in the sun and breathing in the fresh air.
This evening we dined a little later than usual in order to see the very popular “Light and Sound Show” that is presented a few times a year over Tzarevets Fortress. Since our hotel faces the Tzarevets Valley our view was perfect,
The hotel piped in the show music for us and this production was a true spectacle – sort of Walt Disney World arrives in Bulgaria. A number of my passengers said it was “fantastic” and “how will explain it to our friends”.
Truly another “Travel With Bradley” Bulgaria highlight!
We enjoyed a wonderful jam-packed day of touring. Much of the day was spent in the mountains where the trees are currently a vibrant green colour.
Bulgaria is known world-wide for its “Rose Oil” production. The harvest season starts in a couple weeks and lasts for a month. Roses are picked in the early AM. We visited a large rose oil producer and admired their multi-million dollar facility. Of course after our tour and tasting (rose jam and 40% alcohol rose liquor) everyone purchased rose products in their well-stocked gift store.
A delicious luncheon was held in a wonderful restaurant in the town of Kazanlak, Bulgaria.
Afterwards we visited UNESCO’s, Thracian Tomb of Kazanaik – AMAZING!
Later we continued to ETAR – an impressive representation of a Bulgarian Village in the revival period. Many local craftsman were working in their shops and I purchased a “few” of their high-quality products to bring home – so did a number of my passengers.
Daniel, our local host enjoys the authentic Turkish Coffee that they prepare in one of the little very unique cafes at ETAR. The server put the coffee pot on a bed of hotel sand and then prepared his coffee.
For two nights we are staying in the touristy town of Veliko Turnovo where the views are spectacular!
Dinner was served in one of the towns finest restaurants – we basically filled the place. Their food was scrumptious – the piano player extremely talented – and the interior was awesome.