New Zealand – like a huge warm Hug 

Visit a country that is tailor made for the ultimate road- trip experience. A three week trip will allow you to get an excellent flavour of what both distinctly different islands have to offer.

To use a coffee analogy ( New Zealanders and folk who’ve been there , you know what I mean!) a visit to New Zealand is as delicious as a whole milk cappuccino brimming over with creamy foam and dusted generously with chocolate: Comforting, visually luxurious – in short a Treat.

It has a vibrant Generation Y brimming with vitality, a zest for life, travel and adventure and with a bottomless bucket list of must do’s. It also has a refreshing layer of hard working baby boomer women who seem to dominate the hospitality industry, infusing it with a level of experience and can do attitude not seen in many other countries.
Spend a night in a castle. Walk to a volcanoe, watch an authentic performance of the Maori Hakka; visit the incredible giant albatross and watch a yellow eyed penguin attempt to come home through giant crashing rollers!! The list of experiences is endless.

The north island roughed out over millions of years by profuse volcanic activity, has also been shaped by Maori culture and folklore and sculpted by recent agriculture trends and tourism.

Spend some time in the “Te Papa museum of New Zealand” (Wellington ) and the “Museum Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa” (Rotorua) to get a fly-by flavour of the culture and history of NZ. These visits are a must in order to truly appreciate the rich indigenous heritage of the country; a heritage that has been handed down verbally (and through dance) ensuring that the Maori legacy remains vibrant and connected.

The north islands strange volcanic landscape is also host to many a memorable scene from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings

The South Island, home to mountains on the west coast that rise straight out of the sea to crest in the southern alps then fall dramatically via steep mountain passes to the wide plains, gentle valleys and the a web of coastal settlements on the south and east coasts.

Both islands embraced by miles of unspoilt coastal scenery, lush sub-tropical vegetation and deserted beaches. Beaches that range from shell encrusted to black volcanic lava; endless sands to boulder strewn, all washed by either the Tasman Sea or the South Pacific.

Kia-ora – Welcome to New Zealand


Winter is June – August – some mountain passages will require vehicles to carry snow chains in case of heavy weather on the passes.


The most efficient and easy way to plan your road trip is to check out the superb

For accommodation use a site like and corroborate reviews using Trip Advisor

Tip: Don’t rely purely on your mobile phone for travel information as you may not be able to get an internet signal in certain parts of the country. Print off the road-trip routes and get great map and Guidebook.



 © Carol Spode 2015


This is indeed a land of paradox on many fronts

Let’s talk size….

UK has a population of around 60 million but Norway which is almost twice as large in area has less than 5 million and most of those are concentrated in the Country’s largest cities, Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim  and Stavinger. That’s a lot of unoccupied land

they have one of the highest living standards in the western world AND the highest cost of living

They have a healthy social infrastructure that includes free schooling; excellent child care and medical services yet most of the commercial retailer close at 5pm throughout the week, close for lunch and don’t open on Sundays!!

It’s like going back 40 years to the innocent hazy lazy days without internet and a million TV channels.

The quality living of the 70’s with all the benefits of the 21st century!
They have high earnings yet alcohol is so expensive that many Norwegians nurse one or two drinks only during a night out.

A Starbucks Americano will cost you approximately Can$12

A mediocre bottle of wine $70

A local brew $15

A small non descript beer will cost you around $12

But hey you’re not expected to tip

Hotels on the other hand can be excellent value as – for instance – somewhere like The Clarion Collection Hotel chain includes breakfast, afternoon snacks, coffee and a buffet supper included inthe price thud saving an unsuspecting traveller the need to re mortgage their house back home to “eat out”

It’s the land of the midnight sun and 3am picnics and long dark polar nights that go on as long as 3 months above latitude 70
They speak English like native Brits – quite often with a British regional accent yet their transport system ticket machines, map and signage is virtually unfathomable unless you have a helpful Norwegian to hand.

For instance – the trains are beautiful, well maintained, smooth and efficient, you could eat your lunch off the floor they are that clean!

BUT there are no maps on the platforms so if you did manage to purchase a ticket good luck with working out which platform you need. Worse is when you find that you could’ve gotten away without paying that $30 ticket to travel 2 stops. There are no ticket collection barriers or machines and often the conductor who collects and issues tickets on the train doesn’t make an appearance!

Home to some of the most beautiful landscape on the planet Norway is  the motherland of cross country skiing. We saw hordes of perfect Norwegian specimens riding several hours on the train only to alight at stations where whiteout situations prevailed.; where essentially there was NOTHING TO SEE. Where the weather was so bad you couldn’t even see the station signage. Yet heavily togged up skiers with tents and huge backpacks de-trained and trudged off, disappearing into the cloying and inhospitable whiteness.
It has the largest most northernmost city in the world (Tromso) which should – by dint of it’s geographical  position so near (relatively) to the North Pole – be unthinkingly uninhabitable, but the scores of ports and hamlets beading the fjorded coastline of Norway’s shores are lapped by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream ensuring ice free passage for fishing, ferries and trawlers. So Tromso – the Arctic Capital – has a thriving and robust healthcare industry, a massive university offering arctic studies (duh) and medical disciplines, fishing / oh and still no commercial ventures open on a Sunday!!

If you want a direct answer, ask a direct question; we found that whilst the Norwegians are welcoming and friendly they need to be asked a well thought out direct question and then the floodgates will open in terms if the information you get back.

WHEN:  The appearance of the Northern lights wanes around the end of March and puffins abound during May/June so if you come in the shoulder season of April expect off season rates, smaller tours and fabulous scenery whatever the weather. Oh and less turbulent seas when for instance you cross large “bodies of water” to teach the Lofoten Islands. You can expect rain – hugging the Atlantic  and despite the presence of the Gilf stream Norway has a maritime climate.

HOW: Take the HURTIGRUTEN Ferry; billed as the most beautiful journey in the world (I tend to agree), many Norwegians  consider it a “right of passage” to “ride” the “Hurtigruten” up to the northern most Russian border town of Kirkenes. (Pronounced Chirkenes) and back again, taking 7 days to go north and 6 days to go back south. It stops at around 72 ports (on the round trip) and passengers have the opportunity to take tours and trips at about 12 of these stops. We travelled/cruised northbound only (wishing we’d also returned with the ship) on the beautiful Trollesfjord  – one of the newer offerings of the fleet. beautifully decorated in a jaunty nautical style and (of course) spotlessly clean) with neat cabins (underfloor heating in the cabin washroom – yay). Posh suites were available but we intended to spend virtually no time in our cabin so figured what was the point.

There is No traditional. “Cruise” entertainment on board although I never got to open a single page of the 3 books I’d brought with me!

Between spending too much time hanging over the sides at tiny ports watching the people and items going on and off the ship; eating ( the food is divine), fizzing in the on- deck  hot-tub watching the ever changing scenery; going  to info sessions, talks, documentaries and demonstrations; ; going to the gym and sauna (both with floor to ceiling view of coastline) and going excursions I had no time whatsoever for reading. I literally didn’t want to miss a moment of this glorious trip.

Anybody travelling to Norway to take the Hurtigruten ferry I would recommend several days in Oslo first to take in the amazing world-class museums including the Vikkng Ship Museum; The Kontiki Museum; The Fram, The Edvard Munch Museum, the Resistance Museum ; the Norwegian Folk Museum ; the Nobel Peace Prize Building; Radhuset ( the Art Deco City hall monolith that dominates the waterfront) and the Akerhaus Fort.

You can then take a “Norway in a Nutshell ” train tour over the the mountains to Bergen where the ferries embark. You can book this online at the NSB site.

To be honest, whilst Bergen is a stunningly beautiful city rich in history – it’s famous photogenic Hanseatic buildings line the wharf – you don’t  really need more than a night and a whole day to visit – go up the funicular for stupendous views of the several simultaneous weather systems sweeping the sprawling metropolis – so much bigger than the small heritage core would suggest!. Visit the Rosenkrans tower (check  limited opening times for entrance); and explore the medieval lane ways between the old Hanseatic community buildings – leaving a few hours to visit the Hanseatic Museum.

Have fun



 Over and Out

Gone with the Wind in Charleston 

 As soon as you step off the plane you are hit with the searing 95% humidity associated with the tropics. Every pore in your body goes from standby mode into full operational onslaught within nano seconds of exposure to the moisture laden air. Similarly your freshly ironed cotton shirt looks like a damp rag and anything you are wearing containing Lycra will have to be surgically removed if you don’t immediately seek refuge in an air conditioned environment
Welcome to Dixie

Travelling into Charleston from the airport – the loveliest introduction to a what turns out to be an even lovelier city – via the Ashley River road is a low country treat. Flanking the River Ashley – one of Charleston’s 2 main river systems – this wide sinuous road, home to many of the magnificent Plantation Estates of the South Carolinas has a delightfully rural feel, lined with ancient oaks and magnolias and embraced with spanish moss hanging in feathery festoons overhead and across the banks of the river.

You know you’ve entered the city’s core as soon the tar macadam gives way to mottled pink and ochre cobbles.

When your car has to give way to one of many horse and carriages that thread their way up and down the mainly residential lane ways from The Battery into the heart of the city by the old market buildings.

When you appear to pass through into an alternate reality of streets lined with gracious 17 century white and pastel antebellum houses, wedding cake affairs tiered with 3-sided verandas all facing the same direction in a bid to capture the breezes coming off the sea.

These are the famous “Charleston Single Houses”, homes which have form and function perfectly suited to the hot, humid local climate. One- room wide with the narrow end of the house facing the street they usually have Two-story piazzas (verandas) stretching down the windward side


*Take a rikshaw ride at dusk around the Battery and White Point Gardens. This area is home to the grandest most exclusive  Charlestonian mansions – built here for maximum exposure to the Atlantic breezes funnelled up through the inlet of Charleston Harbour.

* I know it’s touristy but a carriage ride with an excellent guide is a MUST – we had a highly entertaining couple of hours with “Charleston Carriage Works” who are based near Meeting Street just behind the market

*A ferry to the notorious Fort Sumter the place where the American civil war kicked off in 1861. Tickets for this trip are available only through the National Parks site

* Hire a car and visit a few of the gracious old world plantations that line the Ashley River. We visited Magnolia Plantation, Middleton place (only the lodge house remains after fire however the restaurant is lovely as are the grounds). We also visited the rather sad remains of the once significant Drayton Hall. Funds are being raised by Drayton Hall historic trust to restore this beautiful estate to its former glory.

*”Hang onto the car an extra day and go to Morris Island with its amazing beach community, and lighthouse.

*Back in the city, the most effective way of covering Charleston’s richest concentration of cultural heritage sites is to stroll the one-mile section of Meeting Street called “Museum Mile”. You will discover six museums, five nationally important historic houses, four scenic parks and a Revolutionary War powder magazine, as well as numerous historic houses of worship and public buildings including the Market and City Hall

Aiken-Rhett House

The Charleston Museum

Childrens Museum of the Lowcountry

Joseph Manigault House

Washington Light Infantry

Confederate Museum

The Powder Magazine

Gibbes Museum of Art

Old Slave Mart Museum

South Carolina Historical Society

Postal Museum

Heyward-Washington House

Nathaniel Russell House Museum

Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon (Take a guided tour and hear about the various escapes, the hidden cache of gunpowder and the ghosts – yes you can do a ghost tour of this historic building but book in advance. This part of the city is a maze of underground tunnels)

Edmondston-Alston House


If you still have tune to spare Spend a few hours in the Meeting Place Market browsing fragrant sweet grass souvenirs and straw hats.

A trip to Charleston is nothing you are without an understanding of the foundation upon which the city’s prosperity and social hierarchy was built. The picture painted by the exhibits and  accounts at The Old Slave Mart ( see above) are not for the faint hearted. The legacy of the slave trade still lives on on this part of the world, deeply embedded in the psyche of the ruling Charlestonian class and interwoven into the very fabric of current Charleston high society.
Finally no visit to Charleston can be complete without an out of town visit to Charles Towne Landing to see where it all began in 1670

Accompanying reading:

“The Girl from the South” – Joanna Trollope

“The invention of Wings” – Sue Monk -Kidd

Any of the “Virals” series by Kathy Reichs
Over and out

Toronto Tailor-made for Shoestring Budgets

Having lived in London and spent time in many of the World’s largest cities, I can honestly say that I have found nowhere as accessible as Toronto for quality cheap or next to nothing entertainment.
This list is by no means exhaustive and I will add as I learn more.
Knock yourself Out!

Theatre & Comedy
National Theatre of the World – look out for NTOW’s Baram and Sniekus who practice their particular brand of improvised comedy all over Toronto but can often be found on Friday evenings at the John Candy Theatre (Second City training theatre) on Peter Street – Pwyc

Shakespeare in the Ruff puts on amazing Shakespeare adaptations every summer in Withrow Park

Same goes for Canadian Stage’s High Park Shakespeare Productions running June 26 through to September 1.

Jazz & Blues
The following primarily operate on a tip- jar payment system so essentially pwyc
Gate 403

The Rex Hotel

The Winchester Kitchen

The Monarch Pub at the Eaton Chelsea pub has music – jazz and blues every night. No cover
See website for details

Want to play a board game, do a jigsaw, play pinball on a vintage machine, draw something?
Unlike many of other “Board Game cafes” 3030 does not charge a cover for you to exercise your creativity – help yourself on first-come first-serve basis. Just buy a drink or two and your evening’s entertainment is sorted for the price of that drink

For $7 return take a Ferry over to Toronto Islands.
Ward and Algonquin Island for boardwalk cute cottage community and gardens, Hanlan’s Point for beaches and shady dappled trails. Centre Island for Amusement Park/Bike hire, pier, busy kid friendly beaches etc.
TIP: The best way to avoid the enormous queues in the summer and if there are a few of you likely to be visiting the Islands a couple of times a year. Buy a string of 10 tickets for $63 and march straight through the lines and onto the ferry.

Summerlicious and Winterlicious foodie events ensure that the most cash strapped amongst us can enjoy a slap-up meal in a host of Toronto’s more high-end restaurant.
lunch is best value with a fixed price
menu for generally $25 for 2/3 courses and dinner more expensive at $35/$40.

Visit the AGO for free on Wednesday evenings after 5pm

Visit the ROM at a reduced price on Friday nights after 4pm

Ripleys Aquarium
If you live in town and you love Aquariums then the most cost effective way of visiting again and again is to buy an annual membership for $100
Whilst this is hardly “shoestring ” speak; when you consider that the cost of an individual ticket is almost $40 – you do the math…..
Subscribe to their newsletter too as they frequently have deals for students…

Hart House offers free tours of their eclectic art collection – check website

Go for an Art Gallery crawl along Tecumseth Street or Queen Street West – many gallery owners are happy to show interested parties around the work they are profiling in their spaces.

Last but not least sign up for Groupon, Buytopia, Yipit and Travel zoo to get huge discounts and deals on local restaurants , museums and experiences ( and of course products)

Over and Out


The Toronto International Film Festival – The Scenes behind the Screens

“My name is Carol

I am an ordinary person who on several days during early September had the privilege of doing an extraordinary job

A job you cannot do anywhere else in the world…….

I was a Volunteer at the Toronto International Film Festival – part of the TIFF volunteer army at what is widely considered to be the largest Public Film Festival on the planet

Forget the glam, the glitz and the galas, this is the grass roots level of the Festival, the crowds, the chaos (organized of course), and the queues; the lost, the confused, the angry and the excited.

We of the orange TShirts are your directions; your answers to questions; we are the “live” version of your Festival Guide.

You can count on us – as you line up to claim your ticket; your seat; your glimpse of Celebrity.

You will find us behind every red carpet “updo” and mega watt smile; at every barrier, theatre or stage door and even on the the corners of streets in the downtown locales of the streets.

Our iconic orange Tshirts are the beacon of sanity amidst the wonderful annual brouhaha that is TIFF.

So what’s a day working at the Festival like?

Read On….

To even get to this day volunteers have submitted an essay on why we should be chosen; attended a selection session; an interview, and attended 2 training sessions. We have had the Customer Service doctrine drummed into us “in the nicest possible way” and we are expected to be totally professional around the myriad celebrities and hordes of general public that will walk into our line of vision. wake up call (for a 7.30 start today at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on King Street West). Unfold and fight my way into a freshly pressed “Florida” orange volunteer TShirt – (4 sizes fit all)

7.15am – Arrive at The Tiff Bell Lightbox – O&B Canteen shut so no coffee before kick off. Greeted at entrance by the early bird Orange T shirt shift who at this point are marshalling volunteers to the Volunteer Lounge on Floor 4

Arrive at the Volunteer Lounge
– done it all before and have had refresher training so know exactly what to expect. This time I have elected to be a Theatre volunteer at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for the majority of my shifts with one “Go anywhere, Do anything” “ACE” shift where in fact I get sent home early because of the lack of need for back up during that afternoon!

Three other buzz- filled days follow, filled with usher and “clicking” duties and I got lucky in that I “saw” 3 movies whilst ushering, one of which was s star studded gala! I also used my volunteer tickets (the perk) to see a move at Hot Docs cinema on Bloor as a bona fide ticketed member of the audience and I attempted to use one of my treasured tickets to rush a Press & Industry” screening for the Bill Murray movie – which was full do after a 45 minute wait I leave movie less. So now I know what it feels like first hand to “fail” in the Rush line!!!

Being a movie-goer at the festival is not for the faint hearted. Guests range from serious TIFF aficionados who research every TIFF contender simply wanting to get a first shot at seeing a movie that will go on general release very soo, to those that want to catch a “never to be publicly released gem”. Others will take vacation after pouring over mind blowing colour coded schedules; trying to decipher the movie pass/members’ pass dynamics. They will queue up to watch back to back films whilst working out how to skew the space/time continuum in order to catch a movie at a theatre 10 minutes away from a screening that ends 5 minutes before the next one starts!!!.

Queuing amongst these are those that merely want to be part of something very special, to catch a little red-carpet reflected glamour. Whatever the reason, as a Volunteer I got to see from the inside the amount of trouble and care taken to maintain TIFF’s standing as the largest public film festival in the world and to maintain its reputation as the “go to” Film Festival for both Movie makers, celebrities, press and public..

In short TIFF has it all sewn up from the inside out.
I’ll be back – as they say…..
Over and Out




Les Coquettes Cabaret – Burlesque with a twist



In the follow up to Burlesque week here in Toronto it seems timely to do a sound bite on “Les Coquettes Caberet”

Having been to some predictably cheesy drag shows in my time I thought I should do a little research before dragging along my poor unsuspecting partner. There is a world of difference between your average “hen night” drag show and sumptuous Burlesque, the definition of which – and I quote – is a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects”. As a theatrical art form it is historically rooted as far back as the 17 century and at its most extravagant peak as an entertainment outlet for the repressed Victorians.

What Les Coquettes presented was Dita Von Teese meets “Pirates of the Caribbean” meets Village People with a passing nod at “Moulin Rouge”.
The show called “Exhibition” was – in the true tradition of Burlesque – loosely woven around the seriousness of projected images of famous art masterpieces.
The Mistress of ceremonies La Minouche – “Bred for love in both New York and Paris” was stellar as the hostess moving the show along with raunchy “tongue in cheek” intros relating the artwork to the stage showpieces. Articulate, eloquent, cheeky and and stunningly coquettish La Minouche was a consummate raconteur, a delicious parcel of bawdy vivaciousness, wrapped in boudoir stripes, a bodice that barely held her credentials in check and topped with wayward tumbling red curls beneath an enormous feathered pirate hat!
Les Coquettes is a rousing, sexy, edgy revue of cirque, comedy, song, dance and striptease. Conceived in 2004 by Catherine Skinner and Kathryn Romanow, its’ talented roster offers the following ways to blow your mind:

Classic Striptease
Torch Songs (complete with fire, if you are so inclined!*)
Stand-Up Comedy*
Boylesque (burlesque with male performers!)
Aerial Silks*
Aerial Hoop*
Fire Dancing*
Pole Acrobatics*
Live Musicians*
Interactive characters to add atmosphere*

Admit it
Your interested is “piqued” just a little isn’t it?
Over and Out