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Brugge, Belgium

We were without WI-FI access on the UniWorld Duchess for a few days but we are now in the heart of Brussels, Belgium at a beautiful hotel with a strong WI-FI signal.  Here are some pictures that I can finally share with you and my passengers.

 

Views of the Netherlands

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A Sense For All Seasons – Keukenhof Gardens

A Feast for All Senses – The Keukenhof Gardens of Holland

We enjoyed a bright, sunny day at the famous 80 acre Keukenhof Tulip Gardens Park which is only open 6 weeks every year. This is an exhibition park for the growers that attracts thousands of visitors from around the world. Over 7 Million tulip bulbs are planted every year in this park and then they are destroyed to avoid disease. Holland receives over 200 days of rain every year so we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to be here. Remember the sun is always out, it’s just sometimes clouds are in its way!

Tulips originated in Turkey and do not like cold weather. From Turkey the tulips were brought to Austria and then to the Netherlands in the 1600’s. The land in this area is ideal for tulip growing – clay and sand. A bulb was so expensive back then – the same price as a canal house in Amsterdam! Now a canal house runs over 1 Million and the bulbs are reasonable.

Two weeks ago locals were skating on the Amsterdam canals and that only happens once every 6 years so the tulips are going to bloom much later than usual this year. It was a unusual very cold winter.

Most of the tulips in the gardens have a long way to go before they are in full bloom but we still surrounded by so many unique tulip varieties as we toured the park pavilions.

What a beautiful day!

Last night, I kept my stateroom curtains open while we sailed on the LJ River and between sleeps I really enjoyed our night time cruise to Haarlem. We sailed under many low bridges so much of the top deck of the UniWorld Duchess was dissembled prior to transit so we could get under them. When we sailed close to land the Captain used spots to light the shore so the views were great.

In this new port of call we don’t see as many bicycles as we did in Amsterdam. A very modest bike will set one back 200 Euros and a good lock 60 Euros. Many bikes are either stolen or end up in a canal so most don’t want to invest much money in one. A manufacturer has designed a bike and they guarantee that they will find it anywhere in the World if its stolen. For this privilege that bike costs 1500 Euro. We spotted a few of them.

Housing costs have skyrocketed in Holland. A run down starter houseboat currently costs at 400,000 Euros. Newly-built Apartments continue to get smaller – often 400 square feet.

Well I will close for now – will join my passengers and continue to stroll through the Keukenhof Gardens.

 

Onboard UniWorld’s, “River Dutchess”

Breakfast this morning at the Kimpton was top notch. Most European hotel breakfasts are buffet. This was a sit-down meal. We picked from an extensive menu that featured entrees of a very high quality. I was so impressed.

Some of us walked 15 minutes from our hotel to the Amsterdam Flower Market. This was my first time visiting this attraction which is geared to tourists. There was plenty of flower bulbs for sale but surprisingly very few fresh cut flowers. This area also features many cheese shops.

The Kimpton staff professionally collected our luggage and todays coach driver had no trouble packing it into the vehicle – yesterdays driver wasn’t as meticulous because he needed to store two pieces of our luggage in the main cabin.

It was a short 10 minute drive to the Riverboat docks. The UniWorld staff warmly greeted us and luckily all our rooms were ready for occupancy. Shortly after getting into our well designed staterooms, staff members arrived with our luggage. It was wonderful to unpack and get settled.

The, “River Dutchess” was recently renovated so everything about her looks brand new. All UniWorld ships are unique in interior design so their passengers can expect a, “new” experience each time they sail.

Lunch was soon served in the Palace Restaurant. I especially enjoyed the local recipe pea soup and salad bar – the choices were just so fresh, almost as if they just arrived from the local farmers field.

Most of us enjoyed an afternoon stroll. I ventured out for a few hours, spending most of my time in local (not tourist) areas. The downtown core of Amsterdam is really quite small so once you get your bearings its pretty easy to navigate. When you look at a map of the city it looks much more challenging than it actually is.

We are the largest group on board, followed by another one from Brazil. There are also many Americans sailing, along with Australians, English from the UK and a few passengers from Taiwan.

The Captain presented his safety briefing in the comfortable lounge and we also heard from the Hotel and Cruise Director prior to dinner.

Dinner was delicious as always on UniWorld ships but the dining room staff had a few challenges. Their season has just started so the new staff is getting up to speed.

There are many tour options tomorrow. Most of us are heading out on the early 815am departure so we are turning in early this evening.

Unfortunately the onboard WI-FI is not allowing me to upload pictures tonight so I’ll try again tomorrow.

Hello Amsterdam!

I had a bit of time at home after the, “Travel With Bradley Bali Journey” to get organized and packed for the, “Travel With Bradley UniWorld Spring River Cruise”.

Yesterday, I boarded a Robert Q shuttle for Toronto Pearson where I met my passengers. Air Canada was gracious to me this time as they quickly set up a group-check area with 4 agents just for my group. Our check in process was therefore very quick and after we cleared security we relaxed in the Premium Lounge – a, “Travel With Bradley” perk.

We flew onboard one of Air Canada’s new 787 aircraft to Amsterdam – flying time was to be a very quick 6 hours and 20 minutes but we had to circle before landing in Amsterdam and for some reason there was trouble getting luggage off the plane ….

In March new by-laws came into play, keeping coaches out of the core of Amsterdam unless its a shuttle to a hotel to drop passengers and luggage.

For me a true highlight of our day was our welcome luncheon on a stunning Canal Boat that was built in 1910. Itwas able to charter this stunning vessel just for this group – we felt like celebrities as many tourists were taking picture of this unique boat and us, as we sailed along many of the famous canal waterways of Amsterdam. The progressive meal was beautifully presented and just delicious – as impressive as dining in a very high end restaurant. This is one of the best inclusions I have EVER offered in Amsterdam so you can expect to see it as part of my future Amsterdam journeys.

We then traveled 10 minutes to our hotel which is located in the heart of Old Town.

The Kimpton DeWitt is a centrum hideaway as it envelopes two 17th-century homes. This is Kimpton’s first European boutique hotel. Kimpton Hotels are all designed by Ave Bradley. She picked soft blues and greys with eye-catching contemporary art and intriguing furniture to decorate this hotel. She also incorporated some period touches such as old beams and stained glass. This hotel is a perfect example of a modern approach to luxury steeped in Dutch design.   Some say it’s, “a bit rebellious”.

At 5pm many of us gathered in the comfortable lobby for complimentary Wine Hour.

We can also find fine teas at the tea bar. The House Bar which is located in one of the 17th-century buildings stocks over 50 varieties of gin.

The ample sized and noise-insulated rooms feature a blue and grey colour scheme along with modern art and Delftware references. The beds are super comfy and the tv is huge. The bathroom features a large walk-in shower with rain shower head, funky Escher-cube tiling and Marie-Stella toiletries.

Dinner was served at Wyers Restaurant. It’s Chef is known as Sammy D and he brings American comfort food into play with Dutch traditions and ingredients. We really enjoyed a 3 course meal with included wine.

Many in my group wanted to venture into the Red Light District after dinner but were nervous to go on their own so they asked me to host the first ever, “Travel With Bradley Red Light District Tour”! The streets were packed with tourists. There was plenty of nervous laughter as we walked along.

After our first long travel day everyone, including me is ready to sink into the comfy Kimpton De Witt beds.  It’s almost midnight.

Tomorrow we board an up-market, UniWorld Riverboat for a nine night cruise throughout Holland and Belgium.

This is the busiest season of the year in Amsterdam. The hotels are packed with tourists from all over the World who are here especially to see thousands of blooming tulips. We saw many spring flowers in bloom today but will see the main tulip gardens in a couple of days.E358FFB6-573B-4FF0-8D19-ECF3152916EFBD77739C-2D88-403B-BD15-8C0D82339CE28990A45D-9C3C-45C0-BD1F-DF345FDC5152CAD84052-24C1-4DDA-A59B-15416A9D4DF692B47B8C-2355-47EE-A1B5-C6166B8B8F16409E5312-81EA-4229-9461-6E6A96B0D3B78CD18D58-7E82-4BD0-AEBD-17A6AB439F7320F69F09-1C74-4AD7-B895-229BAC9EB6D756A67FD3-C95D-41DB-A62E-B8FA301F191D80B0C142-35EB-45E8-9070-00FEAB260C189FA1DA2C-05E2-46C2-B764-0F161F3737BFC02B174A-308E-4922-9082-191CC5BFDD14613D02D6-6F82-4D2B-BD47-B2E2E91BCEBCB594479F-2A15-4995-A691-F2135D56CDA620C0E25E-0966-4748-92F4-478F89C59F42C2BB90FB-A4BC-44DF-81CE-51CD9460EA58767C0B79-D58A-48A9-9738-108C1610208206DB24BE-B65E-4EA2-BEF8-D230C87262CB2A405C19-7852-40DA-8B25-D20FB4430586F7F91C9B-C0AD-43E2-A8A3-B81C95C485F6D8C932D0-D5FD-42BC-A861-100AA0E0B372

Farewell Bali – Thank You!

Dawn has arrived on the ialand of Bali,  The birds are singing.  Soon we will be traveling to the airport for our journey home.

The consensus amongst my passengers is they don’t want to leave.  I had to chuckle when one of them said she hopes a volcano blows so we are stuck here.

Yesterday I was so pleased because I received so many accolades from my passengers.  Comments included – “this journey was spectacular” – “everything was perfect” – “We don’t think during the rest of the our lifetime we will ever experience another destination as exotic as Bali” – “the service has been excellent – the staff remembers my name” and on and on……

I work so hard to make sure, “Travel With Bradley” journeys are wonderful experiences. This one certainly ticked off all the boxes.

Like everywhere, we now have to be mindful about pickpockets…. and while in Bali, even the monkeys.  I did have a bad experience when exchanging money at a stand in Seminyak.  I had read how careful you need to be when doing this but I counted the money before I left the counter and all was fine until I took that money to a boutique to pay for a purchase and then realized I was short a million dollars in their currency (about 100USD).   Somehow that money changer grabbed one of the 3 piles of currency that was on the table in front of me without me noticing.  I marched back to that money changer and there was no arguement – the currency that was missing was handed over – I was lucky!   Bad Karma is not a good thing here.  The moral of this story is – while in Bali, exchange your money at the airport or hotel where you are staying – the rates will not be quite as favourable but you’ll have piece of mind that all will be ok.  I used a money changer because I had no option at the time but I learned my lesson….

When I host a tour my adrenaline is moving 100 miles an hour.  I think I am relaxed but I know I am not because at the end of a journey when I say goodbye to my passengers at Toronto Pearson Airport or at the Woodstock Quality Hotel that adrenaline must stop flowing because I am just exhausted.  It doesn’t matter the time of day, I all of a sudden am just so tired I need to crawl into bed.  On this journey that happened last night while I was eating dinner in the Lotus Restaurant at the Melia Resort.  My body must have said its time to relax as this journey is coming to an end – the , “Good Karma” of this place finally took a hold of me and I ended up sleeping like a baby,

As exotic as Bali is to us, Canada is just as exotic to the locals.  Many that I met dream about visiting our country especially to see a snowfall.  They asked so many questions about Canada,  Sadly chances are they may never have the financial means to travel that far.  Some we met have visited neighbouring Indonesian islands and a very few have experienced other Asian countries.

The beliefs and way of life in Bali makes it a beautiful place.  Their philosophies all make sense.  Its truly paradise.

If you embrace it, a journey to this little island can quite honestly be life-changing.

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Quiet Please – Its “Silence Day” In Bali

Silence Day (New Years Day) in Bali is a yearly event that is truly unique.

The Melia Resort, Nusa Dua is at 75% occupancy but never felt busy until today.  Since nobody is allowed on the streets or the beach everyone staying at the resort made good use of the facilities and the pool area was alive with action.  I applaud the hotel management because they created many activities to fill the day – games, sports and even outdoor movies.

In order to accommodate everyone in the resort restaurants we needed to make reservations.  A number of us were fortunate to secure bookings in the Spanish Fine Dining Restaurant, Sorrento.  It was filled to capacity with Australians and my Canadian passengers!  I’ll attach some pictures of the entrees they prepare.

A group of my female passengers joined me for a delicious Balinese Buffet luncheon next to the beach.

When the sun went down and I walked from my room to the Sorrento restaurant it was a true reminder of the day as there was only minimal lighting that has been placed in certain areas of the hotel.  The beautiful Melia Grounds are pitch black tonight.  The first route I attempted was not lit so I found one where they had placed candles to lead the way.   The Hindu’s who make up 90% of the population will not turn on any lights today.  For them this New Year Day is a time for prayer, meditation and fasting.

Tonight’s atmosphere reminded me a bit of when the hydro/electricity goes out at home during a major winter ice storm.  In true fashion, my passengers respected this special holiday and kept our lighting use to a minimum today.

Definitely its a bit spooky when walking outside but it forced my eyes to drift upward to the heavens – what a show that was – I don’t recall ever seeing so many stars – spectacular!

When I initially booked this group I had no idea about Silence Day plus all the festivities that lead up to it but my passengers all agree that it has been a major bonus being here during this time.  In our part of the World this event  is very much a tourism secret but the word is getting out.  The hotel staff told me that every year bookings continually increase as tourists want to experience, “Silence Day” in Bali.

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Happy New Year 1940 – only in Bali!

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Time is zooming along and there is still plenty on my, “To Do” List list while Bali so I needed to hit the road very early today – 6:30am if I was going to make it to Ubud by 8am and back by noon – any later would risk getting stuck on a road somewhere with no way to get back to the Melia Resort in Nusa Dua.

Good friends of my Uncle Bob and Aunt Linda moved to Bali  from Canada, 8 years ago in order to built the LUX Villas in Ubud.  I’m glad that I was able to tour this Villa Complex when we arrived in this famous town.

Along the way my driver pointed out the scooter riders who were heading home for the holidays – they were easy to spot as they carried a plastic bag holding  the fruit that they will present their Mothers.

Many ceremonies had already started at various Hindu temples and I saw ladies carrying elaborate fruit offerings on their heads towards the temples.  They were smartly dressed in white with contrasting  yellow or red.

Teenagers were putting last minute touches on the, “Giants” they have been creating for a number of weeks and the bamboo platforms were being assembled so the “Giants” can be placed on them and paraded throughtout their community this evening.

My driver will ride his scooter over 2 hours to his family home this afternoon and will be one of the many who will carry a, “Giant” this afternoon.  He was so excited!  The Giants represent evil spirits.

After 100 I lost track of how many Giants we passed as we made our way to Ubud.

When we arrived in Ubud trying to get to the parking area was a real challenge as many streets were already closed in the town.  Finally with my help, my driver was able to maneuver down some very narrow lanes to the very small Central Parking Lot.

The next dilemma – we could only get a voice message when calling the LUX Villas.   We tried a number of times and  my driver finally gave up and asked  if I’m minded walking.   We followed Google Maps to the resort.  We asked a local along the way and he said we needed to climb up a steep hill into Rice Fields before we would arrive and he was right – the hill was steep but at the top the views were outstanding and well worth the effort.

After touring the LUX Villas 5 beautiful suites (perfect for a honeymoon) I bought a couple souvenirs at, “Grace” the Gift Shop named after the owners wife.

When they offered to take me back to the Central Parking Lot I was pleased until I learned it would be by SCOOTER!  OH My Goodness – I felt like a local – the experience was great FUN – the ride was over way-too-soon.

Our next stop was the John Hardy jewelry complex.  John Hardy, is a Canadian who started his jewelry empire in Bali many years ago.  His deluxe brand is known throughout the World.  He eventually sold the buisiness to an American Company and opened a “Green School” in Bali.  He is well respected In Bali.  John Hardy Jewelry  employees over 700 Balinese.

I was not able to enter the manufacturing site as the staff has the day off to prepare for New Years but the rest of the complex and jewelry shop was open for a 1/2 day.  I’ve been collecting John Hardy for a number of years so for me it was a thrill to visit the campus.

My driver stopped at another Jewelry Complex on our way back to Nusa Dua and even though the quality was not up to John Hardy standards, it was fun seeing their operation.

My whirlwind morning getaway finished at noon, luckily before many road closures started.

Its a beautiful day – sunny – low humidity – perfect sunbathing day at the pool.

My group all gathered at 4pm and walked to the gates of the town of Nusa Dua where we took our VIP seats for the New Years Eve festivities.  We were definately treated as VIP’s.  We sat in comfy chairs right behind the judging platform.  Water was supplied.  State of the art stage lighting was set up and media/tv crews were in full force.

The locals really made us feel welcome as we walked around prior to the parade to see some of the Giants.

the first half of the parade featured smaller giants carried by children.  Their smiles beamed.  After intermission the crowd swelled down the route (probably thousands) and the massive giants appeared.  Dancing, music, drums all accompanied the Giants – was a spectacle with special effects and big productions.  just amazing!

We stayed for 4 hours and left thrilled with what we seen.  There was a departing committee thanking us for attending – wishing us Happy New Year and asking us to come back again.  The spectacle  continued until midnight when the, “Giants” were lead to the water and burn’t on the beach.  They symbolize Evil Spirits so by burning them only Good Spirits remain.

What a terrific New Years Eve Event!  An once-in-a-lifetime experience that only Bali can provide.

New Years Day is also known as, “Silence Day”.  The island will shut down as the Hindus meditate, pray and spend time with their families.

Happy New Year – 1940!  How wonderful to be  moving back in time!