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

When:Anytime

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

How:

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

For accommodation use a site like http://www.booking.com 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

Norway


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

Incredible Iceland

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Incredible Iceland

As soon as you set foot in this country you are stepping on part of the planet’s most fragile crust – Iceland is after all the worlds newest country.
With its strange otherworld landscape of jagged black lava outcrops – available with or without the famous moss – you get a visceral sense that the land is literally alive; and in a sense that’s true as Iceland has 130 volcanoes plus the usual suspects; earthquakes and hot spring activity.

And whilst this country may harbour the volcanic catalyst that could speed the demise of our world as we know it, paradoxically one can imagine that the Icelandic landscape might be how the earth looked “in the beginning”.

With its cinematographic wide screen skies, lunar landscape and an enigmatic diffuse light that infuses that landscape with powerful colour and texture no matter what the weather.
The effect is mesmerizing and dramatic; the hues almost like a digitalized re-coloured black and white image. In short the scenery is a contradictory simultaneous mix of sharp and blunted, vivid and muted.

I saw Iceland post snow melt, when the Camouflage greens and russets of the mosses – the first to colonize the lava fields after an eruption – were punctuated with tiny rose and violet saxifrage set off to perfection by rain sodden sun pierced skies. I can only imagine how beautiful the country is in the summer time.

With no particular iconic sight to visit, the whole of the Country is yours for the taking.
Choose from volcanoes and black beaches; hot springs, spectacular waterfalls glaciers, ice caps and ice berg lakes; Northern light spotting; rainbow panoramas, puffins, Viking heritage museums, story telling sessions involving trolls and other Icelandic folklore – the list is endless. If you like horses you will love the pure bred un adulterated breed of Icelandic pony – sweet natured, plucky and sporting almost as varied a colour palette as the landscape they graze on.

Take an organized tour ( Iceland Air do some great value all inclusives) or drive yourself during the spring/summer seasons.
Kick back and spend a few days in Rekjavik, large enough to be smart and cosmopolitan but small enough to be intimate and accessible.
Get inspired by watching the latest Walter Mitty movie directed by and starring Ben Stiller 1/4 of the action is shot on location in Iceland.

And whilst the camera really loves Iceland, in this instance seeing really is believing.
Give your retinas a treat

Over and out

My Toronto Island Scrapbook

Welcome to just a few of the hundreds of photos I’ve taken round and about the island.
I’ve tried to capture the essence of this unique cluster of island communities and record the diverse nature of this Toronto Park.
In choosing just a few pictures I’m not sure I’ve done justice to the artsy, folksy and whimsical ward and Algonquin island communities. You have to visit to truly imbibe the sense of peace and serenity, the summer cicadas, the autumn colours and the winter shadows on the boardwalk and beaches.
My city escape

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Continued – Take a Day Out – Unforgettably Unusual Days Out of Toronto

A Peter Witt streetcar in the 1921 livery of t...

A Peter Witt streetcar in the 1921 livery of the Toronto Transit Commission, at the Halton County Radial Railway museum. The rollsigns are set as they would be if the car was operating on the Bathurst route as far as St. Clair Avenue, once its northern terminus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continuing our day trips out of Toronto – here are 11 more unforgettably Unusual getaways to enjoy…….

#1 The Streetcar Museum – All aboard for a ride through history! Take a 2km scenic journey on a vintage streetcar or interurban rail car at the Halton County Radial Railway Museum. Recognize any of this museum’s exhibits? Many of these “trains” have “acted” as scene backdrops or “performed” in many a period movie. Go give then a standing ovation….. http://www.hcry.org/

#2 The First Tim Hortons – “Fresh for Fifty Years”. Tim Horton’s #1 features a small museum, a replica of the original 1964 sign and a bronze plaque commemorating one of the most iconic sites and best loved brands in Canada. Famous for its “namesake” association with one of Canada’s best loved hockey players (Tim Horton), it originally served only two products – coffee and donuts. Interesting factoid: the original donut selection included two that still remain the most popular today – the Apple Fritter and the Dutchie. http://www.forgottenbuffalo.com/forgottenontario/timhortons1.html

#3 Hamilton Museum of Steam Technology – Welcome to Canada’s Industrial Revolution. The oldest steam engines in Canada are here: housed in this 19th century architectural gem. These 70 ton steam engines pumped the first clean water to the city of Hamilton over 140 years ago. One of these old girls – now of pensionable age – is still operating demonstrations every day. Go marvel at her. http://www.hamilton.ca/CultureandRecreation/Arts_Culture_And_Museums/HamiltonCivicMuseums/SteamMuseum/

#4 Christkindl Market – Want to know what it feels like to shop in a traditional German Christmas Market – without getting on a plane. Every year for 4 days in the run up to Christmas, Kitchener’s City Hall is transformed into a magical authentic Christkindl Market. Vendors selling all those gorgeous folky traditional carved Christmas decorations (candle arches, table mobiles and carved tree decorations) compete with those hawking lederhosen, gluhwein, and delicious German delicacies. “Prost” http://www.christkindl.ca

#5 African lion safari – Go wild and take a “safari” Ontario style. Drive through the games reserves and get close to over 1,000 exotic birds and animals that roam freely in large reserve land drive through Game Reserves. Drive through in your own vehicle or take a Safari Tour Bus. www.lionsafari.com

#6 Discovery Harbour – The historic Home port ofof two replica tall ships : the HMS Bee and HMS Tecumseh, discover what life was like aboard a a rigged “Topsail schooner” in the early 1800’s and get a glimpse into the daily and working lives of all those who manned the original British naval and military base built here in Penetanguishene to protect upper Canada after the war if 1812. www.discoveryharbour.on.ca

#7 Sainte-Marie among the Hurons – Imagine what it would have been like as a pioneer settler in 1639 living in Ontario’s first European community totalling 66 people and representing one fifth of the entire population of “New France”. Sainte-Marie among the Hurons was the headquarters for the French Jesuit Mission to the Huron Wendat people and survived as such until 1649 when the community was forced to flee burning their homes behind them. Find out why at the interpretive centre! www.saintemarieamongthehurons.on.ca

#8 The Martyr’s Shrine – So after an immersion in pioneering Canadian style at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, extend that experience and make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of eight Jesuit Saints who lived worked and were martyred there (during warfare between the Iroquois and the Huron) in the mid 17 century. Pay homage to the relics of three of these which rest in the Shrine Church and learn a little more about the history and teachings of the Jesuit Mission. http://www.martyrs-shrine.com/

#9 Visit Peterborough lift lock Visitor Centre Lock 21 on the Trent-Severn Waterway Peterborough Lift Lock is a National Historic Site of Canada – Why? Because When it was completed in 1904, it was the highest hydraulic lift lock ever built, with a vertical lift of nearly 20 metres (65 feet) and was reputed to be the largest unreinforced concrete structure in the world. Even more amazing was the fact that at the time conventional locks usually only had a 2 m (7 ft) rise! www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/on/trentsevern/visit/visit6/lock21.aspx

#10 HMCS Haida – Explore the last surviving “Tribal Class” destroyer left on the planet…Designated as a National Historic Site of Canada this WW2 British built warship, was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy in 1943, and served in Korean and Cold War missions until she was decommissioned in 1963. http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/on/haida/activ.aspx

#11 Scenic Caves – Walk amongst the treetops on a canopy walk Glide on zip lines across the dramatic Niagara escarpment. Explore the Caverns and crevices that honeycomb the escarpments limestone cliffs Or do all three at Collingwood’s Eco adventure hotspot “Scenic Caves” www.sceniccaves.com

Get out of Toronto for the day – 10 Unforgettably Unusual ideas for a getaway – Part 1

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Toronto is the best in terms of the diverse nature of entertainment and culture available within its realms; but traveling just a few hours outside opens up a whole “other” world of unusual possibilities.
All of the following are experiences you can only have outside the city: many afford the opportunity to make a weekend of it

#1
Hot Air Ballooning
Up, up and away with Sundance Balloons, and see the gorgeous Lake Simcoe area of Ontario from a different perspective. Hop into your wicker “gondola”, spend a tranquil hour silently floating over the countryside below and then celebrate your return to earth with one Ballooning’s oldest traditions – a Champagne toast http://www.sundanceballoons.com

#2
Warplane Heritage Museum
Reach for the skies and take a ride in a WW2 warplane. Choose from a Douglas Dakota or a de Havilland Tiger Moth bi wing
at the bottom end of the price spectrum to the chance to fly in the worlds last passenger carrying “Dam-Busting WW2 Lancaster
http://www.warplane.com

#3
St Jacobs Mennonite Story – St Jacobs Ontario
Tuck yourself into the heart of Mennonite -country at the “St Jacobs Mennonite Story” and learn about the fascinating culture of both the Mennonites and the Amish that occupy this part of Ontario. Look out for the ubiquitous black horse drawn cabs that dominate the country lanes round these parts.http://www.stjacobs.com/mennonite-story

#4
Dundern Castle in Hamilton
Immerse yourself in the authentic atmosphere of a 1830,s “Castle”. Once the dynamic home to Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir Allan McNab (and erstwhile ancestor of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and wife to Prince Charles), the clock has been stopped at a time somewhere in the early 1800’s as the house and docent interpreters are “dressed” to represent this historic mansion during its Regency heyday. Christmas is a great time to visit as the house lends itself beautifully to the annual “Victorian Christmas” event.
http://www.dundurn.com

#5
Bell Homestead
Not many people realize that this unassuming white Ontarian house was backdrop to the events leading up to one of the scientific breakthroughs that would reshape History. This was the home of Alexander Graham Bell; the home where he breathed life into his ideas for a “speaking telegraph and the original home of Canadian Telephone operations in 1880.
http://www.bellhomestead.ca

#6
Encaustic Workshop at the beautiful Alton Mills Art Studio
Create amazing tactile artwork at “The Hive” in the stunning Alton Mills Art Studio. Encaustic media is a melted down melange of delicious Beeswax and oil paint. “The Hive” at Alton Mills offers half day and day workshops from beginner to advanced levels with all sorts of variations between.

#7
Collingwood’s Elvis Festival
The king of Rock and Roll may be dead (or is he?) but his spirit is alive and kicking at the annual Collingwood Elvis Festival
“Long live the King”
(http://www.collingwoodelvisfestival.com/)”

#8
From the Bard to “The Biebs”
Everybody knows that Stratford Ontario is famous for its Shakespeare Festival but did you know that you can walk in the footsteps of Ontario’s pop sensation “Justin Bieber” – literally.
This ingenious Justin Bieber Tour of Stratford utilizes a specially created map detailing all his favourite childhood haunts: his favourite ice cream parlour; the schools he went to and the place he took his first date
(http://www.visitstratford.ca/justin/justin-bieber.html)

#9
Tour the Spirit Tree Cidery
Ontario is blessed with scores of great wineries but how about watching a cider press in operation and tasting samples of both hard and sweet cider in the Spirit Tree’s tasting room. Pair your cider sipping with a home baked treat fresh from the wood burning oven.
(http://www.spirittreecider.com/)

#10
Visit Ontario’s Badlands
French trappers called these “les mauvaises terres à traverser” – “the bad lands to cross” and that just about sums up the characteristics of
The Cheltenham Badlands with its
steep slopes and gullies of alternating shale and clay, forming massive spectacularly coloured (red and green) undulating rock striations.
Located on the Niagara Escarpment and by default a part of the Bruce Trail.

Part 2 of this article in a few weeks Enjoy….

Montreal en Lumiere – 

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On one night every March – Montreal turns several downtown areas into pockets of blazing activity, lights and colour. Spun by two manic DJ/VJ’s pulsating “chill” music punches through an atmosphere, punctuated by soft snow flakes and raucous cheering and whooping. This is Nuit blanche Montreal style… En Lumiere.

No fights, no police visible, no drinking in the streets, just folk having a good time lining up for the “glissade”; ferris wheel; laser “building” writing; food; sodas or some of the art installations and exhibitions. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. (Tony Bennet aka Antonio Benedetto) had a huge exhibition of his evocative art in the Place des Arts Gallery adjacent to all the activity.

Bravo Montreal