Our Walters Dinner Theatre is in full swing with shows daily other than Sunday. I’ve been enjoying visiting with many of my blog readers at the shows. A number of you have been asking me to post my latest NEW restaurant recommended list so here it is! Unfortunately lately a number of the “new for me” restaurants I’ve tried have ended up being very disappointing experiences so those restaurants didn’t make this list. As always let me know of any of your local restaurant favourites and possibly they’ll be added next time. Many of you continue to dine at restaurants that I’ve recommended in the past. I still highly recommend those restaurants but this NEW list might encourage you to try something different! Enjoy!
The Common – 80 Wellington St
This is one of the newest restaurants in Stratford. Chef Tim Otsuki has created an interesting menu. The interior is nicely decorated but its the plain outdoor patio that attracts actors from the Stratford Festival. I’ve really enjoyed the tasty “staff meal” special both times I’ve eaten here.
Madelyn’s Diner – 377 Huron St
If you have a craving for delicious fish n chips and gooey butter tarts this is the place to head for.
Nith River Chop House – 1193 Queen’s Bush Road
The interior is nothing special but the food is made from scratch. You can also purchase their yummy house salad dressing to bring home. Its a scenic drive from our theatre to Wellesley so Mom and I often end up dining here. You sometimes have to wait a while for your food to arrive but its worth the wait. Mom typically orders their schnitzel or meatloaf.
New Hamburg, ON
Chef Brenner’s The Garden Stand – 90 Wilmot Street, Unit B
This isn’t a restaurant – Chef Adam Brenner prepares scrumptious gourmet meals to go. His dips are addicting – “dill pickle hummus”! I always leave with an armful of food. His preserves are excellent too. Much like a “Travel With Bradley” Journey its always a “surprise” what he is going to have in stock. Tonight its his monthly, “Fish n Chip” evening. It’ll be the first time I’ve tried his fish n chips. I pre-ordered for the family and will pick up after todays theatre matinee performance at 4:45pm. In my freezer at home I have a couple of his salmon and chicken entrees. They are handy to heat up when there isn’t enough time to prepare a meal. Everything I purchase from Adam is always scrumptious!
REDS – Square One Shopping Mall
This is another restaurant where everything is made from scratch. Breads and desserts are baked daily and their signature roasted chicken is marinated in-house for 24 hours. Their mini butter tarts are a nice treat to bring home! They have a couple other locations in the downtown core of Toronto too.
The Cheesecake Factory – Yorkdale Shopping Centre
You probably all ready know that the Cheesecake Factory is a Walters Family favourite. My brother, Darren makes it a point to dine at every Cheesecake Factory he can find when he travels throughout the USA. This is the first Canadian location. I suggest you arrive when they open at 11:30am or you’ll be waiting for a long while to get a table. They feature over 50 signature cheesecakes and there are over 200 entree items in their massive menu.
Cactus Club Cafe – 77 Adelaide St W
This casual chain from Canada’s west has been in business for almost 30 years. I often take my Vancouver groups to Catcus Club Cafe for dinner. This is the first Ontario location but they are soon opening another one at Sherway Gardens Shopping Mall. I’m anxious for the Sherway Gardens location to open because its a much more convenient location for those of us that live west of the big city.
Camp 31 BBQ – 22 Paris Rd
The Walters Family can often be found here on Monday nights after we finish cleaning up our theatre when the matinee show ends. Mondays feature a chicken wings special. We ask for them to be prepared extra crispy with thai dipping sauce on the side. Try their corn bread. Camp 31 BBQ’s basic interior fits their Real Southern BBQ theme.
Paris Surf Pizza Place – 24 Mechanic St
Yes, its all about the pizza – unique toppings – fun, trendy atmosphere. Great place to take your kids and grandkids.
Cambridge and Waterloo, ON
A tourism group visiting from Nashville, TN took me for dinner at the Waterloo location last night. These restaurants are always packed so are often noisy but the food is consistently very good.
I’d like to personally invite you to the annual, “Travel With Bradley” Travel Show on Sunday, August 26, 2018. You’ll be excited about the many NEW journeys I will be announcing that day.
Starting tomorrow, Wednesday at 9am you can reserve your complimentary tickets. Feel free to extend the invitation to friends and family.
There are 3 times to choose from
These shows sell out every year so be sure to reserve early.
Look forward to seeing you on August 26th!
One Hundred Thousand Welcomes from the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland
May the 4th (Force) Be With You
Yesterday while on the “Ring of Kerry” a professional photographer met us along the route and took a group photograph. This morning I arranged to meet him and purchased them for my passengers – a nice morning surprise for them.
They also enjoyed an wonderful evening surprise. I took my passengers to see a big Irish production show in Killarney called, “Irish Steps”. There was a United Nations crowd with ticket holders from all over the World – was really quite something to learn where everyone was from. They were I’d say around 1/2 full – 300 people. The show was excellent. The hall was nothing special but once the house lights were off and the impressive stage lights were on it was a much more professional setting. The band and dancers were all top notch – some of the dancers are World Champions. The show really well put together. A slick operation that I highly recommend you attend if you are in Killarney. My passengers raved about it and its a tour highlight for sure.
There was a Friday wedding at our hotel, “The Great Southern” and my passengers commented that is was like a Royal Wedding. It was wonderful to see the fashion show of attire – much more festive than at home. The hotel really catered to make the event extra special with a red carpet entrance and a top hat door man to welcome all the wedding and hotel guests.
Our drive along the Dingle Penninsula was an exhilarating one. Although not as famous as “The Ring Of Kerry” the views are just as dramatic if even more so. It was my favourite of the 2 drives.
Connor our guide teased that the Irish gave the Scotts the Bagpipes years ago as a joke and told them they’d have to wear a skirt and a funny hat when playing them and they followed along but still haven’t caught on that it was a joke.
It’s compulsory that Irish (Gaelic) is taught. There is one dedicated Gaelic television station in Ireland. This language has been spoken here for over 2000 years. Some of the roads signs in the Gaelic area of Dingle Peninsula are just in Gaelic with no English.
Stopped in the village of Inch so we could take pictures of the beach – you can drive on it just like “Daytona” in Florida. Scenes from the movie, “Ryan’s Daughter” were filmed here.
This morning’s drive along the Dingle coast reminds me a bit of driving on Highway A1A in California – except there are no sheep along the steep banks in California and the roads are much wider on A1A.
The town of Dingal has become very famous due to the movie, “Ryan’s Daughter” – Gaelic is mostly spoken here and students can come for a 3 week jaunt in the summer to improve their Irish language skills. Tom Cruise and Nichole Kidman also filmed the “Far and Away” movie here and they enjoyed mingling with the locals in the pubs at night. Country Singer, Dolly Parton was shown around Dingal.
I really was impressed with Dingal. Its a foodie place with so many top restaurants. Its such and isolated town surrounded by beautiful views.
There are many festivals in Dingle. Since Star War movie scenes have been filmed in this region there is currently a “May the 4th (Force) Be With You” festival going on in honor of May 4th and Star Wars.
When traveling on the Dingle Peninsula the underwritten rule is you travel clockwise because at times its too narrow for 2 cars to pass one another. They are trying to get this rule into law but would make it difficult for the locals.
Both lunch and dinner were exceptional today but every one of our meals on this tour have been exceptional – location and cuisine – very impressive.
There is a car rally going on in Killarney this weekend (its a long weekend) – so lots of excitement and a bit of engine noise.
Understand there was a major wind storm at home in Ontario, Canada – hope my readers in that region faired ok with no or very limited property damage.
The Ring Of Kerry – The Wild Atlantic Way
Since I am part of a family business it’s wonderful to see so many family run operations in Ireland. Many more than at home in Canada. Many business signs proudly say – Family Run Since (Year).
Today we travelled through the county of Kerry – the highlight being our drive around the famous, “Ring Of Kerry”. The weather was typical – 4 Seasons in One Day!
The town of Killarney is the hotbed for accommodations in this area. Our posh hotel is just one of many high caliber ones. This is a very upscale destination. Most people that are transiting “The Ring Of Kerry” will overnight in Killarney. This driving route is extremely busy – the key is to get away early enough in the morning.
As we travelled we entered the Reeks District – For over 400 years the “Puck Fair” festival has been held in the town of Killorglin (pop 4000) – it runs from Aug 10-12 every year – making it the oldest festival in Europe. A group of men capture a wild puck goat and it is paraded on gathering day – Aug 10 – the goat is crowned king of the town for the 3 days.
We stopped at the Kerry Bog Village at Red Fox Inn. This was primarily a rest stop as washrooms are few and far between on the Ring of Kerry. My passengers couldn’t pass up their Irish Coffee. I congratulate this family business for their creativity.
There is an underwritten Rule that when coaches travel the, “Ring of Kerry” that they should be in a counterclockwise direction as there are areas where it is impossible for 2 coaches to pass in opposite directions.
Kellys Sheep Dog Display was a big hit with my passengers even though the wind was blowing misty rain into our covered viewing area. This is an excellent display of sheep herding. The gentleman that runs this show rents the land – almost all of the tour operators traveling the Ring of Kerry take in one of 2 sheep dog shows.
We were impressed when we passed the new Hogs Head Golf and Hotel Complex in Waterville – some Golf Courses can demand 1000 Euro for a round of golf! Golf Tourism in Ireland is thriving. Yesterday I chatted with a group of younger men at our hotel from the States and they are playing the top courses in Ireland.
Rural Communities located on the “Ring of Kelly” use a text alert program – if there is danger neighbours contact one another via text as there is no close police service.
Sneem is the small town along the Ring of Kerry where we enjoyed a piping hot homemade lunch at D O’Shea’s – a very traditional Irish Pub. This place is filled with character. The owner was so friendly. The fresh out of the oven apple/raspberry crisp with ice cream was the perfect dessert for a damp and misty day in Ireland. Some of the local old-timers came in for their mid-day penicillin – a shot of whiskey followed by a chaser… a pint of Guinness.
The road along the Ring continually got narrower as we our journey continued afternoon lunch. We stopped in the Killarney National Park and toured an impressive historic mansion.
Tonight’s dinner and Irish Show was held at The Jarvey’s. We had a great time. One of my passengers, “Harvey West” entertained the crowd with a Canadian Irish Rovers Song. Great Job Harvey!
The day started out nice and sunny but we eventually experienced the odd short downpour of rain. Those showers never affected us so we were very lucky.
There are 32 counties in Ireland and they are divided into 4 provinces.
It was a bit of a drive this morning before we arrived at the very popular tourist attraction – Blarney Castle. We travelled through the Midland area – prime farm land – quite flat due the ice age of 10,000 years ago.
At one point our guide Connor started chatting about Irish Whiskey. In Ireland they spell Whiskey with an “E” and in Scotland they don’t (Whisky) – Connor said the “E” in Whiskey stands for excellence! Irish Whiskey is distilled 3 times vs the Scottish 2 times. Both countries refer to America’s bourbon as paint thinner…. There is obviously a bit of a friendly rivalry going on.
Made a stop at the Rock of Cashel so we could get a picture. The Rock of Cashel is located in this county of Tipperary – “Its A Long Way to Tipperary”….
We traveled through the Golden Vail – lots of dairy farms.
Our next stop was at the famous, Blarney Castle. If you kiss the stone located at the top of the Blarney Castle you will be granted the Gift of Gab. I think I terrorized my nephew, Schyler by having him kiss this stone a few years ago – he constantly talks about that experience – after kissing it he certainly ended up with the gift of gab just like his Uncle Bradley.
Our delicious luncheon in Blarney consisted of seafood cocktail, pork loin entree and warm chocolate cake with ice cream. We took over a private room in the towns very popular pub – the home made meal they served us arrived piping hot and the service was fast and efficient.
Everyone also enjoyed their time at the Blarney Woollen Mill Store – the largest Irish product store in the country.
We are staying in Nature’s Home for 3 nights – also referred to as Killarney. This community is surrounded by 26000 acres of park land and 3 lakes.
Our home in the heart of Killarney is the Great Southern Hotel. It was originally built as a railroad hotel and is part of a group of Great Southern Railway hotels. When describing this hotel I would use the following words – posh, elegant and luxurious. My passengers are loving this property. Our dinner which was served in the glamorous dining room was a true fine-dining experience lasted 2.5 hours.
It has been a wonderful day!
Ireland has done a great job marketing tourism. They have created tourism driving routes and have named them creatively – Wild Atlantic Way – Ireland’s Ancient East.
Ireland has also offered tax incentives to get industries to locate here and has worked – Intel, Hewlett-Packard, the European Headquarters of Apple are all located in Ireland.
Film Production Companies are also offered incentives so movies such as King Arthur, Michael Collins, PS I Love You and Brave Heart have been filmed in Ireland. There are also film driving trails so you can see your favorite film set locations.
France and Germany are especially not happy that Ireland offers these tax incentives as they feel all of the EU countries should do things the same but this hasn’t stopped Ireland from offering these incentives.
President Trump is not happy with Ireland either but Connor our guide said they really don’t care. Trumps Mother is Scottish so Connor said he is welcomed there but not so welcome in Ireland.
Walking and hiking treks also brings tourism dollars to Ireland but weather can change quickly so there is a volunteer rescue team to help those that get disoriented during bad weather in the Wexford Wicklow Mountains.
This morning we visited Powerscourt House – which is owned by the Slazenger Family (sports equipment). This estate has experienced bad luck over the years. It had been completely refurbished and after a successful press unveiling that evening there was a fire which destroyed the house – it was left as a shell.
It remained that way for years but eventually the family renovated the home again but instead of restoring it to its original grandeur its now a retail and banquet space. The historic gardens remain and are a huge draw for tourists. A Ritz Carlton Hotel and Gordon Ramsey managed restaurant were established on the property. They still exist but the brand names have changed.
Sheep in Ireland are marked with a vegetable dye and ear tags which allows for traceability. A combination of 2 colours are used if there are many farmers grazing sheep in the same area. Irish Lamb is exported around the World. Mutton (sheep over 1 year old) is in demand in France. There are huge dairy farms here too. Beef production is important. The most important crop is grass – grown on 70% of farm land. Potato’s are a vital crop. Strawberries will be ready for picking in a couple of weeks (way ahead of us in Ontario, Canada). Early spring vegetables like asparagus is now widely available.
Our morning drive was beautiful – the rural countryside looks like a Patchwork Quilt of greens surrounded by hedge rows. Actor, Daniel Day Lewis make his home in the area we traveled through and so does the former manager of the rock band, U2. Mia Farrow use to have a home here too.
We ventured down very narrow roads that lead us through farming communities. We saw many sheep farms. This, the County of Wicklow is the source of water for Guinness – by pipeline into the city.
The nasty Gorse weed is currently in beautiful yellow flower. This is a damaging weed that spreads quickly – major problem for farmers.
Laragh is the “wee” village where we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the The Wicklow Heather Restaurant. This restaurant has a very warm and inviting atmosphere. They are the only choice in town so the locals are lucky that its a terrific spot. We enjoyed baked Brie salad, tender local lamb with roasted and mashed potatoes/cabbage. Dessert was luscious Baileys Cheesecake.
After lunch we drove up a windy, narrow roads through valleys and over small mountains toward Hollywood, Ireland. There are 2 Hollywood towns in Irelands – the tiny one we passed through has a Hollywood Sign in the hills just like in California.
The scenery during our drive was spectacular. This is also part of the movie driving route. We passed the impressive Summit of the Wicklow Gap. The heather plants in this region will soon be out in bloom. There is plenty of forestry so pine trees add to the landscape.
Horses have always been an integral part of life in Ireland. Horse racing is a very social event. Valuable Prizes are often awarded to the Best Dressed Lady and Man in the crowd. There are activities set up for children to enjoy. Good dining and bar facilities are found at the tracks. At racetracks any age can bet – but if you use a bookmaker you need to be 18. Most race tracks are grass covered.
Our guided visit at the National Stud Farm was a highlight of the day. This is a 1000 acre facility that was started by Colonel Hall Walker. Here the breeding process is strictly controlled by the government. Every horse has a passport which gives vital information such as visas, vaccinations and microchip number. The Stallions start breeding on Valentines Day until June.
Tonight’s fine dining dinner was at the Linden Tree Restaurant. It was a superb meal and the service spot on. The restaurant mistakenly put the meal cost on our private menu – 50 Euro per person – this didn’t include water, tea/coffee, tax and tip – so tonights meal was over $100 CDN per person. At, “Travel With Bradley” I don’t skimp on anything – accommodations, meals, attractions, guides….. If my passengers would have dined in tonights restaurant on their own the cost of their meal would have been even higher. I am able to negotiate savings because I’m bringing a group so it doesn’t surprise me when some people try to copy my itinerary and travel on their own to find that the cost is much higher than my itinerary – plus instead of relaxing they have the stress of having to arrange scheduled, find good restaurant….. Others try tour companies that offer great lead in prices and don’t realize how little has been included. Once you start adding meals, pricey optional tours, gratuities you then realize what a great value, “Travel With Bradley” is.
It was a terrific day. Sadly tomorrow morning we need to say farewell to this beautiful resort. It’s time to move to another beautiful region of Ireland.
When I woke this morning I looked through my hotel room window and the countryside view that greeted me was breathtaking.
We enjoyed a relaxing breakfast at the Manor House. Some of my passengers went for an early morning walk and saw deer. This resort property is massive – 1100 acres.
At 8:30am we departed for Dublin.
Our first stop was at Trinity College which was established back in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth 1st. This is Ireland’s first college. The reason why thousands of tourists flock here is to see the famous, “Book of Kells”- which most believe is over 1000 years old. Back then Monks copied the Bible using amazing illustrations and text. They had to produce everything including the colour dyes. The greenish blue colours came from rocks in Northern Afghanistan – red was from crushed beetles in Spain. The Monks created 1 volume but it was rebound into 4 volumes. Two of those volumes are opened and on display – the pages are turned only once every few weeks to avoid causing damage.
We also saw the very impressive Long Room or the Old Library. Scenes from the Harry Potter movies were not filmed on location but the set was modeled after the Long Room. Two Hundred Thousand books are on display but there are over 5 million books in the collection ….. similar to my cookbook collection at home!
During our tour, Connor our guide talked about the Harp being the National Symbol of Ireland. If you owe money to the government you get a letter with a black harp on the envelope. You might find a green harp on government envelopes during election time. If you are celebrating your 100th birthday you will get a letter with a Gold Harp and a cheque from the government for 2500 Euros as a congratulations gift.
We past the impressive Millennium Spire.
We learned that there are more taxis in Dublin than New York City!
A free public bike system has been set up in Dublin – there are over 5000 bike you can use throughout the city.
The Guinness Storehouse welcomes over 1 million visitors a year making it the number 1 attraction in Ireland. We toured this amazing facility. It’s a must to drink a Guinness in the panoramic lounge that overlooks the city. We also enjoyed a delicious Irish luncheon in the complex’s 1843 restaurant. We were given a few minutes for some last minute shopping in the massive gift shop. Guinness has done such an amazing job marketing their product they have 1 floor of the Storehouse dedicated to this. Years ago, Guinness was the first company in Ireland to provide free health care to their workers and if a husband passed his wife would continue to receive his pension so available Guinness workers were highly sought after.
Dublin has an upcoming Abortion Vote so the city is covered in posters – For and Against. It was thought that the YES vote would easily win but now it is believed that it will be a close vote.
Dublin was the home of Oscar Wilde – we saw a colourful statue of him in the area where he lived.
Years ago groups of homeowners would often share a private, adjacent park. Now parks are open to everyone except for one that is still private – a key is needed to enter.
Photographers enjoy taking pictures of Dublins colourful doors – the yellow ones really pop.
It was such a beautiful day – perfect for strolling down one of the pedestrian shopping streets. The locals love their flowers so there are many fragrant flower stands between the stores. My passengers all purchased souvenirs to bring home.
Tonight’s dinner was more casual. It was held in the Golf Club House adjacent to rage Manor House Hotel where we are staying. This is a private members facility but my group was allowed in for a private function. We had a entree choice of steak or salmon – both received rave reviews – the jumbo lemon tart that followed was the perfect ending to another excellent meal.
to be back in Ireland. Two days ago I arrived home from Ukraine at 1130pm. I enjoyed an early breakfast with my family yesterday morning so we could get caught up and then I packed and got ready for last nights flight to Dublin.
All of my passengers arrived at Toronto Pearson ahead of schedule so they had plenty of time to enjoy the lounge pass we provide prior to the flight. After chatting with an Air Canada supervisor he allowed my group to have priority check in – a nice bonus.
The Air Canada flight was packed. The service and food was ok but did not quite compare to the flight my group enjoyed the day before with Lufthansa. The pilot of the Lufthansa flight was incredible. Our landing at Toronto Pearson was unlike anything I have ever experienced. All you know there is usually some kind of a bump (big or small) at landing but the Lufthansa pilots landing was so smooth – almost like a feather falling out of sky – I wondered if something was wrong when I heard the airline brakes as I didn’t know we had landed as we didn’t feel it at all – how did he do that?
Air Canadas dinner tasted processed – Lufthansa’s tasted homemade. Air Canada’s pre-landing snack was ice cold – Lufthansa’s was served hot. Lufthansa brought around around hot napkins before our meal in economy class – Air Canada does not …. etc etc…. There was nothing wrong with the Air Canada flight but in comparison with Lufthansa I’d have to award Lufthansa with a gold medal and Air Canada a bronze.
Before we landed in Dublinwe were delighted with amazing views over rural Ireland. its obvious why Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle with 40 shades of green.
Our Ireland host is a true professional. He called me in Canada a few hours before I left for the Toronto airport to wish us a good flight.
The Dublin airport is older – there was a lengthy wait to clear customs. By the time we showed up at the luggage belt all of our luggage was there – a nice plus. Our guide was waiting for us – holding a “Travel With Bradley” sign. The deluxe motor coach that we are traveling on is brand new – yesterday was its second day on the road. Its a Dutch manufactured product – absolutely beautiful.
Sun and blue skies greeted us – its cool but our guide said this is suntan weather for the locals so they were out on mass. Sundays are family days. Ireland has experienced a very wet spring so it will be a while before the farmers can start working the land.
Ireland has a population of 6.2 Million and 4.5 Million Canadians have Irish ancestry.
It has a reputation as being very safe destination – the police are unarmed.
We are pleased to see many spring flowers in bloom. Ireland experienced a severe winter so Spring arrived very late – usually the spring flowers would be done blooming by now but there are at their peak. At home we often plant one flower variety like tulips in a single flower bed, but here they mix all the spring flowers in their beds and its quite beautiful.
Lunch was served in a picturesque country town in a upscale “posh” pub – at home we would call it was a very, very nice restaurant. We started with a delicious salad but the highlight of the meal was fish n chips – many of my passengers commented they were the best they’ve ever eaten. The fish was fresh (purchased at the stand up the road) and the batter very light. The apple crumble was also exceptional – served hot and the apples were cooked through so juicy and tender.
After our welcome luncheon we enjoyed a panoramic tour of Dublin. Our guide is excellent.
Our deluxe 5 star accommodation for 3 nights is located at a historic manor house in the country. Two famous golf courses are its big draw. The views over its massive rural property are stunning. The gardens are beautiful. This resort has been designed using a eclectic mix of historic and modern ideas. This isn’t a typical tour resort – we are fortunate to be staying here. The Irish Open Golf Tournament has been held here – quite an honor considering there are 450 golf courses to choose from in Ireland.
Tonight’s delicious private dinner banquet was held in the elegant drawing room. Barb, one of my passengers commented that the meal was a nice as you would find at a wedding at home. It took a while for the resort staff to get our luggage to our rooms so they provided champagne at dinner and I provided the wine.
Everyone was in bed early – the beds are so comfy it didn’t take long to fall asleep.
In Ireland they often follow “ish” time – meet at 9 ish or 10 ish – but our guide reminded my passengers that we are not following “ish” time so 9am means 9am – smile!
My passengers and I are currently waiting in the Lviv airport for our flight to Toronto via Munich on Lufthansa airlines. The Lviv Airport is modern and the staff very efficient. The agents that looked after our check-in were so kind and helpful. The security and customs staff were also very friendly and thanked us for visiting their country.
It was a sad and for some tearful farewell to our hosts Vince, Yulia and Taras. Not only were they excellent hosts – they all have caring and warm hearts. They wanted our stay in the Ukraine to be an excellent experience and they made that happen.
Last night at dinner we met a middle-aged Canadian from Saskatoon who is living here with her husband. At breakfast we met a Father and his two sons who are visiting from Edmonton.
Canada has a strong relationship with the Ukraine. Our Governor General and a Canadian contingent were in Lviv this past January. They stayed in the same wonderful Lviv hotel that we did. Its the finest hotel in the city.
This truly was an exceptional journey – the 3 main Ukraine destinations we visited are totally unique and each offered new cultural experiences – we would be hard pressed to say which was our favourite – they were all so great – the itinerary was wonderful and top notch – the 5 star hotels where we stayed were truly 5 star hotels that can compete with any other 5 star hotels around the world – we dined in the very best restaurants and the cuisine would thrill any foodie – the locals were so happy to show off their beautiful country.
Ukraine has had to struggle through so much hardship. Many that we met lived through the Soviet times. Ukraine has gone through independence and a recent 2014 revolution and the struggles are not over because since 2014 there have been eastern border troubles. Russia claims they are not involved with the battle but the Ukrainians say that is not the case.
Ukrainians will continue to have a cloud over them because of their neighbour but as some explained to me this is something that they have learned to live with. For some reason other countries have not directly helped Ukraine and its probably because it would cause issues with Russia. Canada’s RCMP have been helping to train Ukraine’s police force and we heard from very reliable rumors that the US is quietly helping to train Ukraine’s armed forces.
As Canadians we really don’t hear much about this part of the world so its not on our travel radar list. In fact my passengers said if I would have advertised this journey as going to Ukraine they probably would not have considered it. They said this would have been a big mistake because their journey has been so fantastic.
I can’t wait to return and it won’t surprise me if some of my current passengers join me next time.
Ukraine was the perfect destination for the first Travel With Bradley International Mystery Tour.
Farewell Ukraine but I won’t be gone for long!
Today our tour of the beautiful city of Lviv continued. During the coach tour we made a stop and strolled through a very impressive, historic cemetery. Lunch was at the busiest restaurant in the Ukraine – located in an underground bunker. Later my passengers scrambled to purchase last minute souvenirs and then tried to find room for them in their luggage. Todays extra special highlight was visiting the famous Lviv Opera House to see, “Moses The Opera”. We got dressed up for the occassion. The theatre is stunning and I can’t believe how large the cast was, Our farewell dinner was in a very quaint Jewish Restaurant. The head chef presented a cooking demo. Our local hosts awarded me with a, “My Name Is Bradley Walters and my favourite Country is Ukraine” T-Shirt! What a marvelous time we have had on this one-of-a-kind Mystery Journey! We are very sad to be leaving this amazing country….. Thanks to my amazing passengers for joining this Yellow Brick Road Mystery Tour. We had a wonderful time together. A special thanks to our incredible hosts who went out of their way to make this journey a spectacular one. Thanks to all the wonderful Ukrainians who treated us like family.
This morning at breakfast I sat with Barbara, one of my frequent passengers.
We chatted about the amazing 5 star boutique hotel we are staying in which is located in the centre of Lviv, Ukraine. Its such a charming place – attention to detail is obviously important to the management team. There are fresh flowers everywhere including in both our bedroom and bathroom. There are plush, oversize towels to use. Toiletries have been well thought of – I’ve never stayed in a hotel before that includes black shoe polish in the amenity package. Of course delicious chocolates arrive with the evening turn-down service. The Do Not Disturb/Clean Room notifications are little pillows with the Lion Symbol of the city on them – one shows the lion sleeping – the other shows the lion with a broom. There is a charming garden courtyard in the middle of hotel. The 3 chandelier breakfast rooms are intimate and elegant.
The 3 hotels we have stayed in during this Mystery Journey have all been superb and completely different from one another but they all had windows you can open – a nice plus.
Barbara noted that the servers in all the restaurants have been male. She also noticed that its only ladies that have been cleaning the hotel rooms. We will never forget the very young server that looked after us during our banquet lunch yesterday. He worked so hard to please us.
Barbara has traveled with me many, many, many times and feels this is the most cultural tour she has been on. We will all go home knowing so much about life in the Ukraine and what it is like being a local because we have met so many locals and they have been so overly friendly and kind. I’ve never arranged an itinerary until now that has included so much entertainment – we have enjoyed the music of many unique and entertaining bands – these are always private events just for us!
Our hosts told us about 2 Ukrainian films that are worth watching – Bitter Harvest and Winter on Fire.
The city of Lviv has a population of 1 million – a mix of Ukrainian, Armenian and Jews.
We spent much of the day touring around this wonderful city.
We passed many impressive city landmarks during our morning “train” tour.
The city’s Opera House is the most famous in Ukraine and can also be found on the Ukrainian 20 dollar bill. It took just 3 years for workers to build this masterpiece.
This is a very green city with parks everywhere and many Chestnut trees.
After our train excursion we were met by a local guide who walked us around the city core.
There were many other special things planned during this mystery tour day.
Lviv is known for its coffee culture. We put on hard hats and entered an underground cave that was used to hide Ukrainian troops from the KGB. When we took our seats, those that ordered coffee were amazed with the fire spectacle that occurred in front of them. I have never experienced anything quite like it before.
We visited 2 very impressive chocolate shops.
A stop was made at a restaurant whose theme is based on the history of kerosene lamps so kerosene lamps are tastefully located throughout its multi-story building. Our hosts ordered liquid filled test tubes for us – we had to guess the yummy flavours.
For a restaurant to survive in this town it has to be exceptional because there is so much competition. During lunch we dined in one of the most unique ones. There was no sign on the outside of the building to indicate there was a restaurant there. We walked up a flight of old apartment looking stairs wondering where we were going and then we were directed into an older mans apartment. After chatting with us he then let us enter a hidden entrance to a private and very upscale restaurant that is themed after the secretive masons. We had so much fun checking out the space. The bathroom that is surrounded by cash was a hit with my passengers.
The Lviv Easter Market is still in full swing so after lunch a group of us roamed through it and bought souvenirs.
Tonight’s dinner function was so exceptional. It’s unusual to find beef on a menu in Ukraine so everyone was thrilled to be served an excellent BBQ steak.
The “Lemko Bluegrass Band” performed a special private performance for us. Who would think that Ukraine’s citizens would embrace bluegrass music. This 4 piece band is terrific and are based in the Carpathian Mountains. We clapped, sang along and the dance floor was hoppin. They are going to be touring in Ottawa and Alberta this Summer. It would be cool if my brother could bring them to our dinner theatre for a performance.
What a terrific day – what a terrific city!
I have a few wonderful surprises in store for my passengers tomorrow. I’ve asked them to get dressed up for the evening event…. the mystery continues.
Its just after midnight so I must call it a day….
Hello from LVIV Ukraine.
We departed the Carpathian Mountains this morning and started our journey West to Lviv,
Along the way we stopped at a village market and an Ukrainian Easter Egg Museum.
Our luncheon was an elegant affair.
The drive took us through rural communities where the farmland is picturesque.
The older generation takes pride in their gardens so we saw many bubas working away in them.
Lviv is close to the Polish border so there are more Catholic Churches than Orthodox here. This city was saved from War Bombings.
This is the cultural centre of Ukraine so it welcomes tourists from all over the world. The Lviv Jazz Festival is rated one of the best in Europe.
Tonight’s dinner was excellent. We enjoyed the tradional waffle cake for dessert.
The weather remains perfect.
an Ukrainian speciality.
Our 5 star hotel in located in city centre.
Time floats in the Carpathian Mountains.
This is the home of the Hutsul’s who are Ukrainian’s mountain people.
Experiences with the locals are always memorable ones so we were surrounded by local culture today.
In my 30 plus years taking groups around the world today’s planned event with the Hutsul’s turned out to be one of the very BEST ones.
At breakfast I noticed that Ukrainians prefer cold meats and cheese and the North Americans are attracted more to the eggs, bacon and potatoes. After we finished the excellent quality and boutiful breakfast our days adventure began.
Roads in many parts of the Ukraine are in bad condition. For locals are use to this – for us it was another experience. I can understand why a car of choice is an old Lada – you wouldn’t want to ruin an expensive vehicle by driving it down some of these roads. They are certainly not the worst roads I have been on during my travels but they have made my Worst Top 10 list.
The scenery was spectacular as we climbed elevation. We saw many picturesque mountain side homes. The only way to reach them is by walking on paths – there are no roads leading to them. The children therefore walk down the mountain to go to school and are housed during the week. When the weekend arrives they make the journey back up the mountain to get home.
We stopped to visit a very small rural community. We walked up a hill to their wooden Orthodox Church. Sunday service was going on – non-holiday services last 2-3 hours – Easter and Christmas services are many hours longer. The service is amplified so you can hear it throughout the village. We were fortunate to watch some of the pomp and circumstance – men enter through a man only door, ladies have their own door too – once inside they stand on opposite sides facing one another. It was explained that the segregated doors force the men to think of the Lord instead of their wives.
The congregational singing was beautiful and there was plenty of it. Easter hymns are sung for 50 days. We couldn’t follow what was going on during the very formal service but our guides certainly knew and sang along. Those attending service wore their Sunday best.
We also visited the adjacent cemetery. It is located on rolling land so its next to impossible to cut the grass. Picnic tables are found next to some gravestones as locals spend time with family who have passed – they enjoy meals and often traditional vodka shots in the cemetery. It was explained that if they drink a shot of vodka while visiting they pour a shot on the grave for the one that passed. If there are fruit trees or berries in a cemetery you are free to consume the fruit while in the cemetery but taking them out is disrespectful and bad luck.
We then strolled into the small village. A few home owners skipped church as they knew we were coming and this is an opportunity for them to sell their hand made items. Most of my passengers bought souvenirs from them. We were intrigued with the architecture – small mirrors are often used in exterior home design to ward off evil. We also toured a home that was used during the filming of a famous Ukrainian movie – “Shadows of Forgotten Ancensters”.
Finding bathrooms was a bit challenging. We eventually came across a very basic outhouse and those that were desperate decided to give it a try. A local lady saw our dilemma so graciously offered the bathroom in her home. I followed a group of my female passengers as I wanted to see her home interior but I had to laugh because she put the gate down when I tried to enter. No way was that buba going to let a man in. My passengers told me that she was busy making bread.
A travel break stop was made at a local variety-type store for an ice cream treat. The ice cream cones were in a cooler already packaged. Unfortunately they didn’t have the popular poppyseed ice cream. The store was small but carried the most important items like fresh rye bread but the main staple in the store was of course “vodka” – so many varieties.
We were excited to meet a wool weaver – her entire yard was filled with hanging raw wool. What a beautiful picture. Many of us bought smaller items from her. Her blankets unfortunately would be too difficult to get home.
Our driver ventured down a narrow country road to a tiny village. I noticed 2 children that were waiting for our arrival. We all exited the vehicle and were lead down a long driveway. Of course I knew what to expect but my passengers couldn’t believe their eyes – an orchestra was playing, traditional dressed town folk and children were singing and dancing.
This is the home of the village school principal and his family. Four family generation homes are located on his property. It was interesting to see the differences in the home interiors. All the homes were basically laid out the same. You enter into an open space that is often used for dancing as neighbours get together to enjoy their own entertainment. To the right and left of the entrance room are bedrooms. Every room has a large wood burning oven – used for cooking and heating. Of course the principal and his family live in the newest and most modern home – the same design but we noticed a television instead of the gramophone that was found in the original home. Decorating is very modest. There is a well for freshwater – you put the pail down in the well and bring it up filled with water.
Todays event was planned so we could experience the typical Hutsul wedding – one of my passengers commented she could not believe that we are visiting the Ukraine, in the mountains at a wedding! We needed a bride and groom – I was nominated as the groom – my wonderful passenger, Merl as the bride.
When we arrived and met the family we were presented with a welcome shot of vodka. This is also customary at many Canadian Ukrainian weddings. In the Ukraine, vodka is used to welcome guests. Many make their own and this home-made brew is also sold at roadside stands or in restaurants. Our welcome vodka was infused with ginseng – there are so many flavours. Platters were also brought around with the same sugar coated donuts that my Grandmother use to make (they are served as appetizers not dessert – can also be coated with salt and garlic) and heavy European type bread topped with a smooth pork fat. Butter is not typically used to top bread.
As bride and groom we had to dress in traditional wedding clothing. The parents of the bride (my passengers – Tony and Pat) were also dressed in Ukrainian fashions.
All guests decorated an artificial tree. After a real wedding the couple would take this home with them to symbolize their marriage. Merl and I broke the wedding bread – our bread pieces split evenly meaning we were both are equal as the boss. We then shared the bread with our guests – it was delicious.
Wheat and candies were thrown instead of confetti. Afterwards children get to collect the candies.
After all the formal wedding formalities finished we sat down for the wedding feast. The head table was already filled with so much food. We thought this was the entire meal but we learned this was just the appetizers. More food soon arrived including the traditional borsh, tiny rolled cabbage rolls (almost like a thin cigar – never seen this version before), and a variety of meats (beef is typically not served – chicken and pork are the main staples). Dessert was corn meal that was bowled with sour cream and topped with cheese – delicious!
The orchestra kept us entertained and there was lots of dancing. The tradition of toasting guests is just as common today as it was years ago – especially at a wedding/special event – even at home when company arrives. The sayings during the toasts are always meaningful and heartfelt. There plenty of toasts during the wedding reception and then a vodka shot is poured. The most meaningful toast was made by our hosts Father and then everyone sang for us – some of my passengers were dabbing their tears afterwards.
We truly felt like we were at a wedding. Most of the community members that were involved with today festivities are school teachers wanting to promote their tiny mountain area to tourists.
We couldn’t have asked for more wonderful experience.
Of course as we boarded the coach to head back to our hotel the band reappeared and the entire family was there offering hugs, kisses and a final vodka for anyone that was interested.
Email addresses were exchanged – new friends in the making!
Our tour hosts decided to return on better roads but SURPRISE those roads were just as bad as our earlier journey. Itwas wonderful traveling through the local towns. Groups of men often congregated outside – while the ladies were busy chatting inside homes. Sunday weddings are popular too – their were celebrations in every town – a flower covered arch entrance announces the location of the wedding reception. As we passed these celebrations we always saw a band waiting to play music to welcome the well dressed town people and family that were walking to the special event.
Dinner was held in an excellent Italian restaurant close to our mountain top hotel – everyone was free tonight to order off the menu – after our wedding feast we didn’t need a big meal so most of our ordered and shared pizzas.
This morning after breakfast we were met by Hutsul craftspeople who taught us a Master Class in Easter Egg decorating and pottery. We decorated our very own painted Easter Eggs and created pottery vases and plates. We also bought their supply of for sale painted eggs. To be honest I wasn’t sure how this class would go over but it was a huge success. We all had a fantastic time.
Lunch was in an very eclectic restaurant – wonderfully decorated. The meal was exceptional. The potato filled perogies melted in our mouth. The salad and soup were excellent and beautifully presented. The layered honey cake was a perfect ending.
How exciting it was to ride on a chair lift to the top of a mountain for picture taking.
Tonight’s we enjoyed a private bbq banquet on the outdoor terrace of the hotel which overlooks the mountains. As soon as we arrived a special Hutsul orchestra performed just for us. The chef grilled meats on the bbq and there was enough food for an army, Afterwards we danced and got to try playing some of their orchestras musical instruments.
It was a wonderful farewell evening to the Carpathian Mountains and its people.
Tomorrow we are off to our next Mystery Destination…..
The weather remains beautiful – shorts and t-shirt temps.
Wedding Day in the Ukraine!
Today we flew domestically to the West side of Ukraine. It was a wonderful 1 hour flight on a small jet with beautiful views of the countryside.
The airport that we landed in was at one time a military base. This wasn’t a busy airport but it serves the local community well.
We met our two young and very friendly new hosts and coach driver. They were dressed in “Travel With Bradley” polo shirts and the one host had BW put on his cheeks – he towers over me so there is no problem with my passengers spotting him.
I thought todays lunch was possibly our best meal yet – massive tossed salad mixed with a delicious fresh dressing, chicken soup, cabbage rolls and an awesome dessert made with sweet Ukrainian cottage cheese- the chocolate that decorated the plate was a work of art. The restaurant was also a work of art – so creative!
We were met by another local guide who toured us around the compact downtown core. A highlight was when we crashed the end of a wedding service in the impressive Orthodox Church. The family then arranged themselves on the church steps for pictures and my passengers ended up being their secondary photographers. We were all flashing pictures of them. It was lovely to see the Buba Grandmother dressed in traditional attire and 2 men carrying decorative Ukrainian wedding breads.
You probably think we have visited lots of Orthodox Churches and yes, we have but they are all completely different. We’ve been so impressed with all of them. They are truly beautiful and each one is unique.
Believe it or not we even spotted a Canadian food restaurant! We were too busy to go in to check the menu but we got a great chuckle out of it.
The drive into the mountains was so scenic. Our 3 hosts gave my passengers 3 guesses of overnight destinations since this is a Mystery Journey – only 1 person guessed right. Nobody imagined that the Ukraine would have a world class ski resort which would be our home for 3 nights.
The views on our way to the mountains were beautiful – small towns with wedding celebrations in ALL of them – we saw farmers planting potato’s – oxen pulling wagons – ladies selling preserves and homemade vodkas and many small chapels on family properties. The mountain people work so hard and travel is not always easy so chapels are often set up at crossroads where neighbours can come to pray.
Our 5 star hotel for 3 nights is another world class one. Its just passed ski season (we did see someone skiing today) so this ultra deluxe resort is quiet which is wonderful for us.
We gathered for pre-dinner cocktails and then dinner followed in the main dining room.
There is one other group in the hotel – all business men – they were eating before we took our seats and they were still eating after we were done. Since we are usually on a time schedule the restaurant staff have been doing their best to serve us quickly but this isn’t their norm – Ukrainian patrons will often sit in a restaurant for 4-5 hours so they can visit with one another and there are long pauses between meal courses. Most of our meals have been mega course feasts – where the delicious food keeps coming!
The weather today was in the 20’sC – wedding guests were beautifully dressed but most others were enjoying Saturday strolls wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Before we left the predicted weather wasn’t this warm so my shorts and t-shirts are at home….. I might have to go shopping!
We enjoyed another jam packed day in Kiev, Ukraine. After we enjoyed a very delicious buffet breakfast at the Hyatt Regency (lovin the beet juice) we boarded our coach and visited the impressive famine memorial. The famine was artificially created by Stalin – thousands in rural areas died while those living in Ukrainian cities had no idea this was going on.
The famous Kyle Percherska Monestary sits on 80 acres. We toured this complex and were so impressed. We held candles as we entered very narrow caves where saints are buried.
Our guide at the Second World War Museum was superb and so was this museum.
Lunch was at a beautifully decorated traditional Ukrainian restaurant. The 3 courses served were delicious. I especially enjoyed the borsh soup and breaded chicken cutlets. .
We then headed to the downtown core for ice cream desserts. – how does cherry ice cream served in a chocolate cone sound?
There was just enough time before leaving for our evening activities for me to enjoy the state-of-the-art gym and spa at the Hyatt.
We toured a typical 2 room locals apartment in the downtown core. Its not unusual for 6 people to live in a similar space. Street-sold cherry vodka made an appearance.
We were entertained by 2 singers and a button accordion player during dinner. Its the first time that I have ever eaten stuffed potato pancakes (salmon, cheese, beef). Cabbage rolls and skewered pieces of beef, pork and chicken, fries covered in mushrooms and fried onions were served. Fruit filled perogies were the perfect dessert – my favourite was the poppy seed ones followed by the sour cherry.
When we arrived back at our hotel a group of us went for a stroll to see more of the Easter Ukrainian Easter Egg displays,
Tomorrow we move on to our next mystery tour destination……
We experienced another fantastic day in the Ukraine.
I’d have to say it was an eye opening one for all of us. The Ukrainians have had so many struggles to endure. There was the famine under Stalin’s rule when thousands lost their lives. The Nazi’s slaughtered over 100,000 Jews a short distance from where we are staying. The Ukrainians endured Chernobyl. Just 4 years ago over 1 Million Ukrainians gathered in what is now called Independence Square demanding their freedom. Some took thick wads of newspaper and wrapped themselves with it to possibly protect them from gunfire that erupted. That gunfire encouraged more to gather. The urge for Freedom was so strong people were willing to lose their lives. Over a hundred lost theirs and are now honored as hero’s of the cause. Independence Square is also very close to our hotel.
There is no middle class here – probably most earn around 300.00 a month. If one makes 1000.00 a month they are doing extremely well. In the mens clothing store at our hotel I priced a passport holder that was over 600.00 USD ….. that one price tag opened my eyes to that gap between the rich and poor.
As Canadians we have been treated so warmly. Canada has done much for this country. A local told us that Canada is “a republic of the Ukraine”. Canadians police come here to train the Ukrainian police.
Health care and education on the whole is free but if you hand over money to a doctor your care is going to be better. Private insurance can be purchased like in Canada – if you can afford it.
We visited an incredible Orthodox Church today. Our guide was excited to bring us there. She is not a church goer but loves entering this church. There are no pews or chairs in an Orthodox Church – you stand – often 3 hours for a service – on special occasions like Easter the service may last most of the night. Our guide feels that the church has turned into a money maker and she is against that. We saw line ups of people paying to have have prayers said by monks for the ill or those that have passed. We were surrounded by so many lit candles. Ukrainians were constantly entering to pray. It was a touching experience.
We’ve only spend a day and a half here but we have already seen so many amazing things. We are all so impressed. My passengers are commenting that they are so glad that I brought them here. One couple told me this morning that they would never have thought to come here but they are so glad to be here.
Our hotel, the Hyatt Regency is of world class caliber. We’ve experienced delicious Ukrainian cuisine at the best restaurants. If you regularly read my blogs you know how much I love potato pancakes. My Mom serves them to me when its my birthday. Here they use to be considered peasant food but the Ukrainians are at the cusp of identifying themselves to the world and have realized it’s important to be known for things like the Easter eggs, their embroidered clothing, the Borsh soup, the potato pancakes and the vodka.
There is one street we ventured down that features local hand-made products. I was told before I left for the Ukraine that I should barter when buying but for us these beautiful handicrafts that could take days to produce are so reasonable so there is no way I am going to ask for a better price.
Todays dinner was a true Ukrainian feast. It was held in a locally owned restaurant. We have seen North American chain restaurants like McDonalds and KFC but sit down restaurants are locally owned. The food kept coming – platter after platter. The vodka shots kept being poured (a Ukrainian tradition). I especially liked the welcome horseradish shot. The band was terrific. The button accordians is an award winner. He played a waltz that he had written – beautiful. They also joyfully sang a hit spanish song – Ukrainian style! I thought I knew what Ukrainian music was all about but I’m starting to realize that I really didn’t know much about their music. Its much different than I thought.
Tonight the locals were beaming. Their smiles were intoxicating. They were so pleased to share with us their food, their culture and their music.
During the many toasts (another Ukrainian tradition) I got a little teary eyed when I said my Grandparents would be so proud that I am here – I toasted “family”. When I met with Mark from UniWorld cruises before we left on this journey he told me that I would feel something special when I visited the Ukraine. He couldn’t explain the feeling but he said that after I was here for a while I would know what he was talking about. I also can’t express that feeling other than to say its a good one.
Of course when we travel we often say we are so lucky to be Canadian and it is so true but I somehow feel that Ukrainians are stronger people than us. Their lives are so much more complex. They have had to endure so much. They are so proud.
Our journey has just begun and I think I can speak for the rest of my passengers when I say they are going to come home and tell you that you need to put Ukraine on your must travel list.
We anxiously await our next experience.