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 –
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.
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!
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.
This morning after a delicious breakfast buffet, Daniel our guide toured us throughout the historic Old Town of Plovdiv. We were SO impressed with this beautiful place. One could spend a number of hours exploring.
Our time at Villa Ustina Winery will definitely be a tour highlight for everyone. When we arrived a talented Bulgarian Piper welcomed and entertained us as we sipped on a Welcome Glass of Wine.
A knowledgeable and very bubbly tour hostess toured us through their impressive cellars where we learned how they manufacture state-of-the-art stainless steel vats which they ship all over the world (even to wineries in Niagara, ON).
Villa Ustina’s founder is quite the entrepreneur.
Later in their tasting room we enjoyed a homemade 3 course luncheon that many of my passengers felt, “was our best meal yet”. The founders son and his mother-in-law were the superb cooks in the kitchen. This operation is very much a family affair complimented by an excellent staff who told us how much they love their jobs.
We started with a fresh salad followed by pork loin stuffed with plums. Dessert was a luscious torte-like cake that SO good!
We are the first large Canadian group that they have welcomed. Their entire team worked so hard to impress us – they succeeded – we so appreciated their hospitality.
My passengers loved this experience so much many of them are bringing home, “MANY” bottles of their premium wines.
I was fascinated as we drove passed a Bulgarian Gypsy community. We were told that the Gypsies often start building homes without permission after they decide to settle in an area. Gypsies often travel using horse and wagon. This morning when we toured beautiful Plovdiv we saw a number of Gypsies working to keep the streets clean – they were doing a stellar job!
The scenery we took in today was spectacular once again.
Mid-afternoon we arrived at the 2nd largest Monastery in Bulgaria – Bachkovo Monastery. This is the first one where we were allowed to snap some pictures in the unique and very beautiful Orthodox Church. A monk was very quick to collect our group admission money.
My passenger walked up the RED CARPET in order to enter tonight’s dinner restaurant. The restaurant interior was trendy and our entree was a little lighter and definitely the healthiest one yet. We enjoyed it.
Another terrific day in Bulgaria – the weather was wonderful too – 22C with blue skies.
Railway Buffs will be jealous of us – this morning we rode the Rhodope Narrow Gauge Railway – to the highest elevation station in the Balkan Avramova at 1267 meters above sea level.
The train arrived “on-time” for our departure from Bansko Station. This is a public train that was originally built to help connect the mountain communities. Eventually it was used as a way to transport limber.
This is a holiday “May Day – Labour Day” so other than my group, a couple backpackers and handful of local ladies – we were the only ones who boarded the train. We took over one of the cars and cracked open Wine bottles at 1030am! What a party!
Our journey took us through a very authentic part of the country – beautiful.
When our train journey came to a close we were hungry so we boarded the coach and continued to a touristy Hot Springs Town where we enjoyed a 3 course veal luncheon at a very popular local restaurant. Very little English was spoken by the staff but the chef really did an exceptional job cooking for us and homemade creme caramel was a perfect finale.
We continued for a couple hours to Plovdiv where we are staying at the Best – Hotel Imperial for 2 nights.
We were scheduled for a 90 minute walking tour before check-in but I changed the itinerary and we will explore Plovdiv tomorrow morning – the fresh Mountain air tired us out so relaxing time before dinner was my NEW plan and it was appreciated by all.
Dinner was held in a chandelier filled dining room with a beautiful view. The cuisine was excellent and the service right on the mark.
This morning we shared the dining room during breakfast with a fellow Canadian from Kitchener, ON – what a small world. Breakfast was exceptional – huge variety with many regional specialities.
We traveled most of the day on secondary roads where we really admired the countryside views. Farmers were working up their fields for planting and we saw many horse pulled wagons.
Our travels took us to one of the most famous attractions in Bulgaria – Rila Monastery. This is one of those places where a picture just doesn’t do it justice. When you enter the Monastery grounds its beauty take your breath away. Unfortunately no pictures can be taken inside the Church and that is too bad – its so unique and beautiful. Quite seriously it should be on your “Must See” Travel List! There are currently 10 monks living in this Monastery which in comparison to neighboring Romania is few – in Romania their Monasteries often have hundreds of monks. At one time the Monastery was very important – if someone wanted an eduction it was often the monks who did the teaching and they had a major say in political affairs.
We enjoyed lunch at a spotless restaurant close to the Monastery. The home cooked meal was exceptional. The starter was piping hot, navy bean soup. The local speciality is trout and it was especially tasty because it was fresh and chargrilled. Dessert was homemade yogurt with jam – very satisfying.
This time of year Storks nest in a few of the towns that we traveled through. Look at the size of their nests. They yearly return to the same nest to have their young.
We made a stop in Bansko a town that has grown into a major ski resort area. Here we toured another very unique Orthodox Church – not at all like Rila’s Monastery but just as beautiful. Easter displays still dot the town. There were many shops selling locally produced goods – especially ceramics. Vendors were selling sweet corn at little stands – smelled so delicious as we walked by.
We are very much enjoying our overnight stay at “Hot Springs Resort Hotel” where the views of the mountains are stunning, This is a newly built property that has quickly become exceptionally popular, Easter holidays just finished and tomorrow is Labor Day so many have this time off so are vacationing and this hotel is at capacity. They reserved a special seating area for us so we could enjoy their bountiful dinner buffet.
Another terrific day in Bulgaria!
I met my passengers yesterday afternoon at Toronto Pearson. Everyone was so excited about our Journey to Bulgaria! This is a new destination for them AND me.
Check-in at the Lufthansa counters was pretty quick – line ups at security were long – but eventually we all ended up in the Plaza Premium Lounge for dinner and beverages before boarding a 747-400 series jet for the 7hr flight to Frankfurt.
The plane was filled to capacity. Service was very good. The on-flight meal was a choice of beef or pasta and a hearty snack was served prior to landing.
Surprisingly there wasn’t a gate assigned to the plane in Frankfurt so we walked down stairs and boarded buses that took us to the terminal – surprised they would do that with a mega size jet like a 747 – I’ve had it happen many times when traveling on smaller jets.
It was a fun adventure going up and down stairs in the terminal in order to board another bus that took us to a different part of the terminal where our connecting gate was located. I think everyone appreciated my guidance to get them there. We were just glad that we didn’t have a quick connection.
The stores in the airport concourse were all designer brands with prices to match – no bargains to be found.
Our connecting flight to Sofia was also with Lufthansa and this time we flew on an Airbus. The connecting flight was a short 90 minutes but that didn’t stop the friendly flight crew from giving us a choice of sandwich with beverage choice.
Its Orthodox Easter Monday so Sofia is like a ghost town. The streets that are typically clogged with traffic are empty. Many locals leave the city and head to the Black Sea or Greek resorts to celebrate the holiday.
After we landed at Sophia, we quickly cleared customs and our luggage already appeared on a conveyor belt.
We met our knowledgeable guide, Daniel and our motor coach driver,
We were soon on our way to lunch.
The restaurant was an authentic one with great atmosphere. It’s highly regarded – Putin, has eaten here a few times.
Our 3 course meal was delicious – hearty potato soup, a yummy chicken dish (similar to a stew topped with an egg – so much flavor) and a traditional pastry thin layer cake (I’m sure a labor of love to prepare).
Daniel then showed us some landmarks in this very clean city that has a population of 1 Million in the core and 1.3 Million including the suburbs.
We made a stop so we could exchange some money at a GREAT rate.
We are staying in the finest and most highly regarded 5 star hotel in the city. They might as well refer to their rooms as suites because they are suite size. Some of my passengers commented that they are larger than many apartments in Toronto. Green is the decorating colour of choice but it nicely compliments the rooms dark woods.
Our welcome dinner was in the Red Room – very elegant – a few of my passengers said the pork was the BEST they EVER tasted – so tender.
The Prime Minister of Bulgaria was dining in the room next to us so there was a great deal of security around. Some of my passengers saw the Prime Minister giving a press conference in the lobby of our hotel – I missed it by a couple minutes.
This hotel has attracted a huge list celebrities and they proudly post their pictures in their beautiful coffee cafe. “Travel With Bradley” passengers stay at the best!
Temperatures were in the 20C range today and it was such a warm evening almost everyone went for a stroll after dinner to admire this beautifully lit up city.
In honor of Orthodox Easter in the hotel lobby I purchased a hand made Easter Egg Nest – made of wool – a charity project for needy children.
My passengers are tired after a day of travel but we are having a great time and are so impressed with our first day in Bulgaria. Looking forward to what we are going to experience in the upcoming days.
We woke to cooler temperatures and some rain but by early afternoon temperatures were in the 70’s and the sun was shining. Locals had their car windows down so they could enjoy the warm fresh air.
We stopped at an unique store in the “middle of nowhere” – down a dirt road, on a family farm. I had asked them a number of months ago, to open early for us. The owner is a lovely lady who was thrilled that a group of Canadians had invaded her large store which is filled with Amish products. Wisconsin products and even some antique.
This is the first “Travel With Bradley” group to visit to the “Fireside Dinner Theatre” in Ft. Atkinson, WI. Fireside Theatre has been on my radar for a few decades SO I am very pleased that I FINALLY fit this attraction into a “Travel With Bradley” itinerary. The complex accommodates 700 ticket holders – 2 separate areas for dining and theatre. The facility also features a massive gift shop plus a bustling bakery counter. If you arrive on a motor coach they assign plastic bins which holds the baking that the passengers on each coach purchases. These bins are then delivered to the coaches before show end. Their dining area has undergone a recent renovation and it shows – very classy. The servers are extremely friendly (the lady looking after the table where I was sitting at has worked at Fireside for 14 years). The 3 course plated meal received rave reviews. The theatre space looks a little dated but the theatre seats have recovered. The ceilings are low but that didn’t effect the production of “Menopause – the Musical” which was excellent. This hilarious show ran for 90 minutes without an intermission. I look forward to bringing more groups to Fireside Dinner Theatre.
After the show finished it took 2 hours to reach our overnight hotel which was located in an affluent Chicago suburb. We enjoyed plenty of room in our suite accommodations. Many of my passengers were so impressed they wished we could spend a few extra nights enjoying this property.
Dinner was a plentiful Italian affair – the “Pope” overlooked our banquet. The multi-courses of Italian specialties arrived on platters so we could help ourselves with as much or little as we wished.
We enjoyed another wonderful day in the Lake Geneva, WI area.
After breakfast we traveled 30 minutes to a rural town of “East Troy”. I chartered a historic electric train for our excursion to the “Elegant Farmer”. The “Elegant Farmer” is proudly known for their “Apple Pie Baked in a Bag”. Many food critics claim its the BEST pie in America.
The owner of the “Dancing Horses” Show is a real character. She helped served our early “Easter Turkey” luncheon – very delicious.
The “Dancing Horses” 90 minute performance that followed was excellent.
We then watched their 30 minute parrot show – also excellent!
There was a bit of time at the resort so everyone could get freshened up for dinner.
We then strolled down the store lined Main Street in beautiful downtown Lake Geneva. What a beautiful day to explore.
Dinner was at Sprecher’s German restaurant. We had a choice of many entrees. Portions were huge and delicious!
This mornings breakfast buffet was excellent. The views from the dining room were wonderful as we overlooked a large pond highlighted with a large fountain.
We admired the beautiful day – the sun was beaming, the sky a bright blue and the blanket of snow that covered the ground was gleaming.
Soon after departure we crossed into the State of Wisconsin. A big “cheese” sign greeted us so I asked Paul to stop at that cheese shop and many of my passengers made purchases – they offered many Wisconsin cheese varieties including a 15 year old cheddar!
When we arrived in the tourist area of Lake Geneva we were joined by a wonderful host who toured us through this rural community. We saw a number of painted barn quilts and visited a dairy farm where they milk 1600 – 24 hours a day! The farmers were very friendly and my passengers loved this personal experience. We are the first Canadian group they have welcomed so our arrival has caused a great deal of “buzz” in the community.
Lunch was at a wedding banquet hall – the staff did a terrific job looking after us – their broasted chicken was a big hit.
After a full day of touring we enjoyed a bit of time before dinner in our luxurious hotel rooms at the Grand Geneva Resort – years ago the resort was the former Playboy Club. This 4 diamond property is definitely upscale but extremely comfortable at the same time. My passengers are enthused with the embedded large mirror television that is found in the hotel room bathrooms. We are here for a two night stay.
The resort gift shop sells Joanna Gaines Magnolia Products so that reminded some of my passengers of the journey to Waco, TX they enjoyed with me earlier this year.
As a surprise for my passengers we enjoyed a fleet of wine at a local award winning winery (took advantage of a group picture beside the snowman) before dining in a traditional Wisconsin Supper Club where we had a choice of prime rib, bbq ribs, salmon or duck. The portions were mega size. Everything from the cheese on the table to dessert was delicious and the ladies who served us did a fantastic job. This restaurant at one time was a Speakeasy.
We arrived back at the resort around 830pm so many grabbed a nightcap in the impressive lobby lounge.
My passengers are already hoping this tour is going to be offered again – they are loving this unique rural experience!
Last night my excited passengers gathered for a pre-tour hotel stay and beef dinner. What a wonderful way to meet their fellow travelers. There are a handful of new travelers but the majority have been joining my getaways for years and know many of their fellow passengers well.
This morning after breakfast we started our journey. I asked everyone to be ready for departure 15 minutes earlier than I had originally scheduled because believe it or not there was a nasty “winter” storm moving across a good portion of the USA so I had no idea what we were going to encounter.
My passengers were happy to see that Paul, my regular coach driver was looking after us on this journey.
Border crossing was quick.
Lunch was in Marshall Michigan at a restaurant I’ve been dining at since I was a young boy. As we entered the restaurant we noticed a number of dressed-up children who were leaving a “Breakfast with the Easter Bunny” event. We enjoyed a 3 course meal – the pork loin was excellent.
I kept my gang moving and was glad I did as the highway conditions started to deteriorate the closer we got to Chicago. The snow was pelting down and there were a number of vehicle accidents to prove it. After getting through winter I think one would be pretty upset to end up in a highway accident in the middle of APRIL caused by a freak snowstorm.
Some Chicago suburbs ended up with 8 inches of snow! There were over 1000 flight cancellations at Chicago’s Ohare Airport. There were also problems getting luggage off planes that were able to land – passengers reported 3 hour waits!
Luckily when we arrived at our resort, the entrance into the lobby was covered so there was no need to tramp through any snow or slush. We did not pack winter boots…..
The hotel is beautiful. They just went through a 25 million dollar renovation and it nicely slows.
We got settled in our lovely rooms and then strolled to the attached theatre to see a superb production of FOOTLOOSE. The young cast was so talented, their harmonies were terrific and could they ever dance! The story was fun and lively.
After the show finished at 730pm it was time for dinner. We gathered in a perfect size banquet space that overlooked the main dining room below. It only took 2 gentleman to serve our large group. They were pros. One has been working at this resort for over 30 years. Dinner was so delicious and the moist cheesecake dessert pleased everyone.
After a full day of traveling we retired to our rooms and appreciated our comfy “cloud like” beds.
Breakfast at the 5 star Esplanade Hotel, Zagreb, Croatia is exceptional in every way. They offer a large, very high quality buffet which is adjacent to the elegant dining room. Patrons can also choose something extra from a “hard to decide list” on the al la carte menu. There is more than enough very professional staff working so service is top notch too. The dining room was filled to capacity – the hotel is very busy. The cliental including my passengers arrived nicely dressed for breakfast.
Zagreb is really an outstanding city. One could easily spend a few days roaming around the Old City which is an interesting mix of Modern and Old. Gentleman that don’t enjoying wearing a neck tie will scold this city because its where the neck tie was invented. The city is filled with interesting museums – the famous and most visited is “Museum of Broken Relationships”. Tourists fly in from all over the world in order to visit that one museum. There are also a number of performance theatres to be found. Hundreds of students passed us with tickets in hand – they were attending a student performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” – this is the 50th year anniversary for that production.
Today was filled with special surprises. When we arrived at the massive indoor and outdoor farmers market we were met by 3 professional chefs. We were given a red tie with our new Croatian name along with a list of Croatian language ingredients that we needed to find. My passengers were then told they would be cooking their lunch – they were excited about their task. We felt like we were competing on the “Amazing Race” television show! We did our best to communicate with a number of farmers market sellers but only some could speak English. One ingredient that my team had to find ended up being a thin, flaky pasta that had the texture of a cracker – we had a hard time believing that it was a pasta but were assured we had the correct ingredient – it ended up tasting amazing,
Just a few steps from the farmers market we found the cooking school. There were a number of cooking stations set up and we soon were put to work. We had a blast. I especially applaud my male passengers who got right in there and ended up cooking as good as the pros. Their wives were proud of them! The results were superb – we thoroughly enjoyed sitting down and devouring what we prepared. This experience was a big hit with everyone.
After our luncheon we headed west to our next destination which was close to the Slovenian border, This rural area is filled with winding country roads and such stunning scenery it rivals Italy’s Tuscany.
We were guests at a castle owned by an older widow. This is not a tourist attraction, we were invited. Her mansion is filled with art that is worth millions. In fact she has 2 of the very first paintings that include both humans and animals – they are worth over 1 million each. She had initially been promised government money to help with the mansion restoration but that didn’t happen. Slowly she is doing what she can to restore it. Of course if she sold one of the many valuable works of art that would give her the funds that are needed but I know she doesn’t want to sell anything. She is an accomplished piano player and she proudly played for us. She was a professor during her career and her knowledge of this country should be written in a book. My passengers were thrilled with this surprise visit.
Our dinner destination was located at the top of a large hill. The coach driver did not complain when he had to drive the coach up very steep roads to reach this scenic destination.
They produce wine in this region. The area is excellent for grape growing because of ample snow in the winter and wide fluctuations of temperatures from day and night all throughout the year. We enjoyed an entertaining and tasty wine tasting presentation in their underground wine cellar.
We then took our seats outside overlooking a stunning view while a folklore group from a community 10 km away entertained us. There were many more of them than us! They have over 120 members in their troupe and rehearse weekly. They consist of musicians, dancers and singers. One of the young male band members was so happy, he smiled during the entire performance – we have noticed men in this country look serious most of the time so it was refreshing to see that smile. Their show was lively and entertaining. They are thrilled to be performing in France this year. They have been fundraising for 3 years in order to afford the journey. For many this will be their first time out of Croatia.
Dinner was delicious. The local cottage cheese they served as one of the appetizers is unlike ours. It is more like a whipped cheese and they top it with whipping cream – this is often a breakfast meal – of course no calories – tastes amazing!
The entertainers continued their performance during our dinner and my passengers were up dancing with them before dessert was served. We hated to have to head back to our hotel – we were enjoying such a wonderful evening,
During the wine tasting I received word that tomorrows departure from our amazing Zagreb hotel is going to be a challenge. My passengers are thrilled that we are staying at the most prestigious hotel in the city of Zagreb. This is where celebrities, VIPS and “Travel With Bradley” passengers can be found.
Tomorrow morning the Prime Minister of CHINA, one of the worlds most powerful man and his entourage will be arriving at this hotel. I expect that due to security reasons, they informed us last minute. The hotel staff needs to collect our luggage much earlier than originally planned. The coach cannot come close to the hotel but the hotel staff will look after delivering our luggage to the coach. We now need to leave the hotel 30 minutes earlier than planned. We realized this is the best plan because when we returned to the city, many roads were already closed as some of the Chinese entourage was already arriving.
When our coach driver finally arrived at the hotel there was also a steady stream of luxury vehicles dropping off some of the entourage. A large number of Air China pilots arrived and they were ushered to their rooms without having to check-in. Chinese co-ordinations were outside directing their guests – they even looked after quickly getting them into the elevators. On our arrival night the hotel lounge was packed. Last night there wasn’t a soul in the lounge. The Chinese entourage will fill much of this hotel and those that arrived already seemed to stay put in their rooms,. Of course there is a large number of security staff and police mulling around.
This is a “Travel With Bradley” FIRST – but it once again shows that I hand pick excellent hotels for my passengers to stay in throughout the world.
We enjoyed another terrific day visiting Croatia.
We first spent time in the community of Zadar. It’s most famous for the “SEA ORGAN”. I posted a video on Facebook of the Organ Sounds the sea was making – a very unique attraction!
It was great fun exploring the town of Zadar – around every corner was another picture opportunity.
Lunch was at an excellent restaurant located at Croatia’s UNESCO National Park. Here they cook using traditional methods (cast iron covers are put over the food – wood coals are placed around the covers).
We enjoyed views of the spectacular waterfalls and lakes of the National Park.
We are staying in Zagreb for 2 nights. Here the average wage is 500 Euro a month. Most family’s need 1000 Euro a month to get by so they often struggle.
The current city mayor has spent funds making the city pretty and that is causing much controversy. We appreciated the beautiful gardens – the tulips are in bloom.
We are staying in Zagreb’s highest rated 5 star hotel – the posh, ESPLANADE ZAGREB. When celebrities and “Travel With Bradley” passengers come to town this is their hotel of choice – its fabulous!
Dinner was held at a wonderful upscale restaurant just a stones throw from the city main square – the appetizer featured local truffles – every course was delicious!
Pumpkin seed oil is produced in Croatia and is a delicacy. I pre-ordered large bottles of this oil as gifts for my passengers. I was pleased that the farmer was able to private brand the bottles with a “Travel With Bradley” label. I presented this gift to everyone when we returned from dinner.