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The Ring Of Kerry – The Wild Atlantic Way

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!

Receiving the “Gift of Gab” in Ireland

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!

Wonderful Day Exploring the Countryside of Ireland

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.  

Dublin – Cobblestone Streets and a Pub or two….

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.

Visiting The Emerald Isle

Its wonderful

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!

See you again soon, Ukraine

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!7761FB60-C22E-4F33-A105-F051722DE8B7519AD734-A2E9-4485-B7B6-99E9643B274D

Farewell to Lviv, Ukraine

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.

Just LVIV It!

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

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.

Celebrating with the Hutsul Community

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.  

——

Monday

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.