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.
Split, Croatia is an amazing city.
We were so fortunate to have it to ourselves this morning. Typically its very busy so I guess we timed it just right.
Highlights included having private time “just for my passengers” in the Oldest and Smallest Cathedral in the world.
We were also honored with a private morning concert by five talented gentleman – their harmonies were heavenly.
We explored some of the traditional Split coffee houses. – expect to spend $8. a cup so no more complaining about Starbucks prices at home.
Our luncheon was at a wonderful attraction, run by a family who had moved to Germany during a turbulent time in Croatia’s history but have now returned. Anna, one of the owners told us many interested facts about the Croatians (she could be an actress), She toured us through a historic home and afterwards we enjoyed a delicious meal featuring local specialties – accompanied by local cherry brandy and wines. This hard working family reminded me of the hard working family at the “Walters Theatre”! They welcome over 40,000 visitors to their attraction every year.
We stopped at a charming non-tourist town called, Sibenek. Rumor has it that actor Brad Pitt was looking at properties for sale in this area, Surprisingly there was only one small shop open – its Sunday, The young owner invited me in as I passed by, I ended up buying lavender and truffles from him so I think he was happy – he put a beer in my bag as a gift. We all enjoyed our stroll down the towns narrow streets – filled with character.
The resort where we are staying this evening is very impressive! The staff warmly welcomed us with beverages as we entered the vast lobby. Our rooms feature pool and sea views. The private beach is beautiful and is guarded with a pirate ship! Dinner was in the dining room. Another terrific day in Croatia – Some of my passengers are asking when I am returning because they have already decided that they want to return!
From the cosmopolitan city of Split, the very scenic sailing to Glitzy HVAR Island takes 2 hours. We once again had an exceptional weather day so the sea was like glass. Prime seats on the open sunny deck of the ferry filled quickly. The Captain sailed passed many picturesque islands but our destination was at the most famous one, Hvar.
Hvar attracts 20,000 visitors a day in high season – the small but picturesque main town is packed during that time. In high season I would recommend that you consider visiting a less popular island but this time of year is ideal to visit HVAR. We didn’t have any crowds at to contend with – we enjoyed the beauty, roamed the streets and traveled by coach throughout the island without any crowds or traffic – how lucky for us!
There was a World Swim/Run race going on and my passengers were some of the few cheering on the competitors from around the world.
Lavender grows wild all over the island and asparagus season is in full swing already.
Since this island attracts many celebrities and well-to-do tourists from all over the world, the very few hotels charge a major premium and the upscale boutique stores are pricey places to shop in – but its great fun to browse!
Lunch was in a beautiful little Hvar island town. A passionate chef started preparing our main course 2 days ago – beef marinated in a homemade plum sauce – so tender and tasty. Dessert was chocolate lavender cake in honor of the islands lavender. After lunch we visited a well regarded winery for a tasting. The owner is world renowned and I was impressed that he arrived to met us. The wine cellar tasting room was lined with stone and is one of the most unique ones I’ve ever visited.
Dinner was back in Split at a fine dining restaurant. We filled the place. Jazz musicians were hired to play background music for this special occasion. The husband and wife chefs only cooks with the freshest ingredients. If they can’t freshly source what they need the restaurant is closed. This was truly a culinary evening. Everything was hand made including the black ink risotto and fresh pasta. When locals go out to eat they don’t rush because freshly prepared food takes time to prepare. We are too use to rushing when we dine and don’t savor our food or time with family, friends and neighbors. Tonight’s main course was a white fish from the shark family – a first for all of us – yes, it tasted like chicken!
It was a long day but an exceptional one! Looking forward to what tomorrow has in store. Croatia is such an exceptional destination.
The distance to Mostar is only 105km from Sarajevo but the driving time from is 3 hours because there are no highways to travel on, just secondary roads. Our local guide told us if there was a highway it wouldn’t help because the local mentality is “slow – take your time”.
It only rains in Mostar a few times a year and today was one of those days – temperatures in the summer can soar to over 50C… so we couldn’t complain too much about the rain.
When we arrived in Mostar we met our guide – Jasmine (a mans name here). I was SO impressed with this young man. His English is spoken better than many North Americans and he can easily change his accent to a convincing British one. He has never travelled outside of his country.
We listened to his impression of the war and in Mostar region the war was much more about religion. There is a main road in this town and he referred to it as the imaginary Berlin Wall. The Muslims live on one side and the Bosnian Croats who are Catholic live on the other side.
There is a very famous bridge in this town which sadly needed to be rebuilt after the war because it was destroyed. It is recognized as a UNESCO site and attracts thousands of tourists each year. The bridge re-opened in 2004 and that historic ceremony was attended by many dignitaries including Prince Phillip. The divide is so strong between the two sides that some residents have never crossed the imaginary Berlin Wall in order to see the towns famous bridge.
Jasmine has no issue spending time on both sides. He explained that the willingness to cross the imaginary line has nothing to do with a younger more accepting generation but it has to do with family upbringing.
We ventured to the Alma Coffee house which opened a few months before the war. The professional grinding machine that was installed for the business shows marks of the shrapnel that hit it during the war.
Alma Coffee house is a trendy place – small and intimate. It’s run by Jasmine with help from his parents. Jasmine is quite the young entrepreneur.
Jasmine demonstrated how Bosnians make their famous coffee. His presentation was truly fascinating. There is a huge coffee culture in Bosnia.
Drinking coffee in Bosnia is a “Ritual in Time”. There is a real art to brewing coffee and at least twice a day locals sit down and enjoy one – you never order a “coffee to go” – that does not exist. One sits and savors their coffee and leaves worries behind. If you are invited to someone’s home you are served coffee. Bosnians join friends at coffee houses. Before a business meeting a coffee is often served.
The Bosnia Coffee is similar to the USA Cowboy Coffee but a finer ground is used.
The Bosnians use a special coffee pot (wide base/narrow top) and a “rule of thumb” dictates how much ground coffee is put in the bottom of the pot – the width of your thumb – you then fill the rest of the pot with hot water and slowly stir the mixture not from the bottom of the pot but the top until a film forms (like a cream) which is skimmed off. A cup of water is served with the coffee so one can cleanse their palate. When drinking Bosnian coffee you take a slip and then often dip a sugar cube in the coffee and then enjoy the taste of the coffee on the cube – you never drop the cube in the coffee and stir like we do in North America – we were also served Rose Flavoured Turkish Delight Jelly Candy which is also intended to be dipped in the coffee.
What an interesting and fun experience!
After taking pictures of the famous Mostar bridge we enjoyed an awesome 3 course lunch in a local restaurant – home cooking at its best.
We then continued our journey to Split. There is only 5km of toll freeway in Bosnia and we traveled that distance and then needed to clear the Bosnia border once again as we were leaving the county – after that we were in line with 3 other coaches to re-enter Croatia – took an hour before we were on our way…. – this border situation can be a royal pain for tourists – I feel the tourism bureaus in these affected countries need to get their act together and lobby to get this improved – in high season when there are thousands of tourists crossing these borders the process will take MANY hours – our motor coach driver told me sometimes 5 hours!
When we crossed back into Croatia the skies were blue once again – what a beautiful day. The freeway continues in Croatia and is state-of-the-art, absolutely beautiful. The best part is there is next to no drivers using it – I expect because its a toll-road, its unaffordable by most – we saw mainly luxury cars on this highway.
Once again the scenery was spectacular.
When we stopped for our break at a highway rest area, just as Jasmine said drinking coffee was a relaxing event there. No take-out paper cups are available – coffee is only served in a mug and there are areas to relax with your friends before returning on the highway – a much more civil custom than ours – don’t you agree?
Our wonderful hotel in Split overlooks the sea – we all are enjoying ocean view rooms. The view from the pool deck is amazing. We’ve all laughed at our hotel room “challenges”. It’s been “interesting” trying to figure out how the elevators works, how to turn off and on the lights in the rooms (switches are all over the place) or how to work the shower (even with directions right next to it on the wall)…. Our current hotel is locally owned but very North American like – we can easy figure this one out, even though the elevators are a bit of challenge! It’s also the first hotel we’ve stayed at with face cloths in the rooms so they obviously cater to North Americans.
A delicious 3 course seafood dinner was held a short walk from the hotel at a busy restaurant right on the pier. The main course was fresh cod with mashed potatoes – its a tradition for locals to eat this same entree on Christmas Eve. Often they only get to enjoy it once a year.
Early tomorrow morning we board a ferry and sail for 2 hours to a very famous island – we are all excited!
Sarajevo is a real life story of Survival, Courage but most of all Love.
This city is definitely one of the most interesting destinations I have ever visited – you really need to add it to your bucket list!
WOW – At breakfast I may have tasted the sweetest orange ever – they are grown locally here in Bosnia and are currently for sale at roadside stands. They are similar in size to a tangerine and their taste makes your tastebuds jump.
Our Croatian hosts are just so wonderful. Their smiles are warm and welcoming.
The Turkish tea that they serve at breakfast is certainly an eye opener – almost as strong as an espresso – I could get addicted to it!
The Muslim “Call to Prayer” worked perfect as this mornings wake up call. The singing chants echoed throughout Sarajevo at 5:45am. What a peaceful sound to wake up too. Considering we are in the heart of the city it was a quiet evening – didn’t hear any horns or sirens. The Muslims in this city are pretty modern. Very few wear burqas and they love to drink beer and for Muslims that is pretty unique.
Touring today really opened our eyes. I truly feel that every young person should come to Sarajevo to learn about their 1992-1995 war. If they heard the stores as we did, it might help to make this world a more tolerant place. We just can’t imagine what the Sarajevo citizens have endured. I recall watching our news during that war and was horrified as the reports showed snipers slaughtering innocent people who were often just walking to the brewery as it was the only source of water. There was no electricity, no water, little food – everything had been cut off. The city is surrounded by large hills and there was no way out for most. Surprisingly the locals had the courage to try to live a normal life during this difficult time – schools existed underground in shelters, over 1000 theatre performances were held underground and there was even a Miss Sarajevo beauty contest with a underlying message to the world that this city needed help.
We were mesmerized with our guide as he shared with us wonderful stories of Sarajevo along with ones about the horrors of war. He was 10 years old when Sarajevo was invaded and has leg wounds from that war that remind him daily of those terrible years. Mohamed is so well regarded, when VIPS and celebrities are in town (Morgan Freeman) he is hand picked as their guide. He was also hand picked for my group. We were so fortunate to spend the day with him. His heartfelt stories highlighted the bravery of the locals. He is one of the finest guides I have ever worked with. I wish he would write a book about his life experiences – mine pale in comparison.
Our morning walking tour took us throughout the old town. This part of the city is Sarajevo’s pride and joy. It’s unlike anything else you will see in the world and one can easily explore this area for hours.
Shopping is unique too. I purchased some local made products from a family that has been running their store for over 300 years. I met the daughter first and when her Mother entered the store it was a perfect opportunity for me to get a picture of both of them.
I purchased the round work of art (above) – couldn’t leave it behind…. yes, my suitcase is already bulging!
Freshly squeezed pomegranate juice is a popular street food.
We loved our lunch. We sat down with locals (no tourists) in a small but packed popular restaurant for a traditional Bosnian meal of grilled meats – brought back memories of my first time in Yugoslavia. This is the type of restaurant I like to include when you “Travel With Bradley” – locally owned, regional food, filled with locals, no tourists other than us. The waitress who was looking after us worked as hard as a beaver and apologized when she needed to put bills in a little container on our table (everything was pre-paid by “Travel With Bradley”) because inspectors often check to make sure bills/receipts have been given out (its a law that bills/receipts need to be given – obviously the government wants to collect the tax).
The afternoon part of the tour was intense as we visited an underground tunnel that some hearty Sarajevo citizens built during the war. This was a lifeline for them. Over 11,000 people were killed in the conflict that lasted 1425 days.
Before dinner we were wonderfully entertained by a local dance troupe and we toured a beautiful historic home (private events just for us).
Dinner was another wonderful experience. The ambiance of the tiny restaurant was wonderful and the cuisine tasted amazing.
The city of Sarajevo is definitely a tour highlight that will hold dear in our heart.
After a hearty breakfast we said our farewells to Dubrovnik.
We live in a part of the world where crossing the border isn’t a big deal. Here in the former Yugoslavia crossing borders Is a way of life.
I was fortunate to visit Yugoslavia when it was still Yugoslavia – not long after my visit troubles started and eventually a number of new countries formed and borders were created.
This morning we crossed borders 4 times. Although the process is easy (officials don’t even board the coach and we didn’t get off) it is very time consuming. The wait to clear the Bosnia border was long – we then only traveled a short distance and were back in Croatia and experienced border control once again. A coach filled with Americans snuck in ahead of us at the Croatia border and that almost caused a new war between the local tour guides and drivers. As we exited Croatia we needed to go through the entire process again, We then re-entered Bosnia and our passports were scanned and stamped again. A coach driver from Bosnia was able to walk to the front of the line ahead of everyone else. Obviously there is some corruption here. It wasn’t long ago that a couple bills in your passport would also put you at the front of the line. We certainly collected a record number of passports stamps in one morning! Travel is all about experiences and this border story is one that we are bound to tell our family and friends when we get home.
The Chinese have been hired to build a mega bridge that will connect two portions of Croatia which should make the border situation a seamless one but its going to take a few years to finish that construction. Bosnia (which is land locked) is not part of the European Union so I believe that makes the border crossing between the two countries a bit more challenging.
Bosnia is one of Europes poorest countries with an unemployment rate of over 40 percent. As we traveled through this stunningly beautiful country we really didn’t notice signs of poverty. In fact I saw more luxury cars on the road than we have at home.
We made a stop in Medjugorje a special place especially for Catholic pilgrimages. Years ago all that was here was a very tiny town with a small Catholic parish – this sleepy place has since turned into a major tourist trap with more souvenir stores than you can imagine. Thousands upon thousands of tourists visit here yearly. Homeowners make a living by renting out rooms to tourists.
Lunch was held in a beautiful “Wedding Hall” – the grounds were impressive – a pond with waterfall and even a large wedding chapel. My passengers tried to get their soup recipe with no luck as the chef wasn’t sharing his secrets! We saw the first decorated signs of Easter in this restaurant.
We continued our journey to Sarajevo – our break stop allowed us to take in this incredible view.
The adjacent restaurant staff were roasting lambs on spits – smelled delicious.
Our hotel in Sarajevo is located in the old town where the streets are extremely narrow – I didn’t think our driver would be able to get us close to the hotel but he managed the narrow roads like a pro.
After check in we went for a stroll. I was told by friends that Sarajevo is an incredible city to visit and after taking in some of the old town during my stroll I have to agree…. more about this “exotic” destination in tomorrows blog post!
This morning after a bountiful breakfast buffet we were ready to explore Old Town, Dubrovnik. Luckily it was a slow tourist day so we had this famous town of 700 residence to ourselves. I was intrigued by a fascinating gentleman that I met at his stand at the farmers market.
Vincent, our co-host couldn’t decide what local beverage he wanted to taste so he ordered them all – his favourite was the honey liquor followed by an aged 15 year cognac.
Our delicious 3 course, fresh fish luncheon was held in a restaurant with a million dollar view, Later we boarded a boat for a scenic 45 minute sail. They served us their potent homemade grappa as we took in the sights,
Dinner was another highlight – we traveled down narrow roads into the countryside, where we were welcomed into a family home for traditional music, dance and cuisine. AMAZING!
Greetings from beautiful Dubrovnik, Croatia.
I think we were all surprised on Sunday morning, when we woke to see a blanket a snow on the ground in Southern Ontario. The trees were covered with the white stuff and even though it looked beautiful, most of us have had enough winter and are anxious for Spring to take root.
I had a list of things to accomplish before leaving for the airport but while I was in the shower I knew something was up because it was too early to receive 2 back-to-back telephone calls. When I quickly returned Moms calls, she said, “I have some bad news to tell you” – my heart started to beat faster and my mind started spinning. Sadly I learned that a very good family friend passed unexpectedly. That list of things to accomplish all of a sudden was no longer important. I sat and reminisced of memorable times together as I tried to absorb the tragic news, knowing that the the lives of so many had now changed forever.
My mind raced back to a recent journey that visited Peru. After enjoying a delicious authentic luncheon at a family run restaurant, in a remote region of Lake Titicaca, the lovely owner (with the help of an interpreter) had some words of thanks and wisdom she wanted to share with all of us. She told us that we need to, “Live in the Moment”…… how true those 4 words were this morning.
I traveled down some icy roads before reaching highway 401 – the rest of the drive to Toronto Pearson airport was uneventful.
This journey to Croatia is a boutique small group departure so it quickly sold out many months ago. In the Plaza Premium lounge at Pearson Airport, my passengers were anxious to chat with their fellow passengers. There are 19 of us – 5 newbies.
The Lufthansa flight to Munich was at capacity. The crew was excited as we were flying on a brand new airbus. This was its first flight out of Toronto! What a beautiful aircraft. Service was excellent and many of us appreciated a bit of rest during the very smooth 7 hour flight.
I gave everyone Euros so they could purchase lunch in Munich Airport. I guided my passengers via a tram to our connecting departure terminal. We were surprised that there wasn’t passport control or security to contend with. There were a number of luxury brand shops to browse through. The terminal was very quiet – at times we wondered if we were the only ones there – very unusual for an airport.
After a rest we were on our way to Dubrovnik. The connecting flight was a short 90 minutes. After landing, we deplaned down steps and into a shuttle bus. When we arrived at the terminal building we cleared passport control, retrieved our luggage and were warmly welcomed by 2 smiling destination guides who were proudly wearing, “Travel With Bradley” polo shirts!
You may recall reading my blogs during last years amazing journey to Ukraine. Vincent, was the destinations coordinator for that tour – back then he split his time between Edmonton, Alberta and the Ukraine. While on that Ukraine tour the two of us planned this journey to Croatia. I am thrilled, that Vincent is also traveling with us on this Croatian journey. He is an amazing guy. We both share the same, passion for travel – its part of our DNA.
Our very professional 2 local guides put us at ease very quickly. We walked out of the airport along with an American tour group. A new gleaming, motor coach was waiting for us. The coach that the Americans are traveling on was not nearly as impressive – in fact one of the Americans tried leaving her luggage with us….
Before long we experienced a tour highlight. A stop was made at a stunning Dubrovnik overlook. Our guide had a bottle of locally produced cherry brandy in tow so we could “toast Croatia” as we marveled in its beauty.
The 5 star rated hotel where we are staying for 2 nights is wonderful. Our impressive suites features a massive terrace with tremendous sea views.
The sunset was stunning.
The bountiful dinner buffet that followed featured many local delicacies. The fresh fish was scrumptious – I especially enjoyed the local cheese selection.
We didn’t want our passengers to retire to bed too early because its important for us to get adjusted to the new time zone, so we boarded our motor coach and headed into Old Town Dubrovnik for a very scenic, mystical evening stroll. How wonderful it was to explore this famous destination without being surrounded by tons of tourists. Classical guitarists and singers entertained us as we took in its beauty.
Our beds looked very inviting when we arrived back at the resort.
Can’t wait to continue our Croatian journey.
Today was an exceptional day. In all of my world travels I feel today was one of the most unique. Just amazing!
We enjoyed a leisurely buffet breakfast at our hotel before walking down the hotel pier to Lake Titicaca, the highest elevation lake in the World that is navigatable by man.
A private charter boat with a crew of 3 was waiting for us and since the weather was ideal the boat ride was smooth and scenic.
Lakeside dwellers today regard themselves as the oldest peoples in the World. Around the lake many cultures and civilizations existed. Jacques Cousteau conducted an underwater investigation and found out many strange facts.
After a hour and 15 minutes we arrived on Taquile Island where we walked along a beautiful beach and then visited with some local families. They played instruments, danced and sold their textile art which has been declared by UNESCO as a world heritage.
These isolated communities pay no tax.
The farmers survive by trading food at markets. Their plots of lands are very small. Everything grown is organic without chemicals. Depending on the weather they typically rotate crops every three years. They fertilize using Alpaca waste. They believe in Mother Earth and Father Sun. If a local bird puts its nest high in the lake reeds they know that rain is coming and if the nests are low they expect drought and will plant crops that need little rain.
They believe in healers – traditional medicine. If someone is ill they still use the Guinea Pig X-ray – the healer places the Guinea Pig in a bag with just its head out. It is placed on the chest of the ill – if the patient is fevered the Guinea Pig will get fevered. The Guinea Pig is believed to contract the same illness as the ill. After the X-ray the Guinea Pill is killed and opened – the healer inspects its organs to determine which human organs need fixing with traditional medicines. Our guide broke his leg – the healer repaired it by using lizard innards, sticks etc.. There is a health clinic on this island and a doctor comes twice a week but seldom has patients as almost everyone still follows traditional medicine.
Girls marry at 16, boys at 18. At this age both sexes carry a mirror and show their interest by using the mirror and sun to flash the other person. If its cloudy they will throw a stone close by.
Boys learn to knit by age 6. The men we saw today were constantly knitting. To get marriage approval the boy needs to knit a tight weaved hat that retains water – if not he is not a candidate. The girl wants to make sure that the boy is a hard worker and not lazy. Looks are not important. They will live together before marriage to make sure they are compatible in the boys parents home, The to be mother in law will make the boy peel a potatoe covered in eyes and if the peels are very thin he passes. The father in law has the to be bride cook pink quinoa – its extremely difficult to remove the pink colour by scrubbing and if its not all off before cooking the taste is bitter and the girl fails. A Wedding is a week long celebration where bride and groom need to look serious as this proves to the spirits that they are taking the vows seriously. Divorce is not allowed. Ladies cut their hair 3 times in their lives and its used almost as hair extensions for men when they are performing their music instruments and as belts in order to keep heavy loads on their backs. We were shown a hair belt that was over 30 year sold.
There are no dogs allowed on this island because they believe a dog has no purpose. A cat is allowed as it will hunt mice.
There is not to be any crime or stealing – public lashing is the punishment!
Meat is only eaten on special occasions a couple times a year – they often eat clay mixed with hot water, salt and potatoes, and they often share boiled vegetables at lunch – life expectancy is long.
I purchased a hand weaved belt made by a 14 year old girl. When I asked who made the belt she looked very embarrassed, turning her head slightly but she had a big smile on her face when her father told me she weaved it. She was very proud that I was purchasing her work of art that took a month to complete.
After an easy walk to the other side of the island we were met by the one of the Island Leaders who is in charge of making sure the island is kept in pristine condition and the paths etc are continually improved. This is a yearly voted position.
We departed for the the Capachica Peninsula to the community of Santa Maria (40 min boat ride) where we enjoyed a traditional lunch based on the “Pachamanca” way of cooking chicken, fish and potatoes using underground stone ovens. The family who hosted us were lovely. The mother told us to live our lives in the moment.
Our next boat journey took 30 minutes. The boat captain navigated us to a remote area in the National Reserve of Lake Titicaca where we explored the UROS Ccapi society who live on anchored reeds. This community is one of the most unique I have ever seen. We entered their modest homes and rode in their reed boats.
There are 1500 people living on over 90 anchored reed islands.