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

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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

MUST DO’s

*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

Whew

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

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

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….

Touching the sky over Mount McKinley/Denali – Talkeetna Air

One of the most spectacular mountain flights we have ever taken.

From myriad options and after doing research we chose the Mount McKinley/Denali (same mountain) basecamp and glacier landing trip offered by Talkeetna Air Taxis.

Picked up from our hotel by the companies shuttle bus, and delivered via “glacier-boot” acquisition into the capable and deceptively young hands of Jonathan our pilot and our “ride” for the next hour and three-quarters – the sturdy vintage workhorse that is the De Havilland Beaver.
All the pilots employed by this company are thoroughly experienced – our pilot for instance had parents who were both pilots and he grew up flying aircraft of various sorts.
Holding up to 6 passengers this marvellous piece of aviation history is still the bush plane of preference out here in rural Alaska where the only ways of getting into the remote outposts are by float plane, ATV, or dog sled.
The flight delivered all that was promised as the weather was glorious and although the actual peak of Mount McKinley the highest point in the US remained elusive; it’s base and some of the upper elevations made tantalizing partial appearances through the cloud cover.
We literally flew in and out of the glaciated mountain landscape our wing tips so close to the sheer rock face, hanging glaciers and summits that you felt you could reach out and touch them.
The trip aims to get you up close and personal with Mount Foraker,, Mount Hunter and several faces of Mount McKinley/Denali.
Landing on Ruth’s Glacier was exciting with the plane skiing in and coming to halt at the end of a fast turn. Standing on a glacier, the water molecules of which will take 10.000 years (at current glacier speed) to travel down a glacier highway that looked like a Martian speed track to Talkeetna only a few miles below.
The plane ride was remarkably smooth with no turbulence even between the peaks with an uneventful return across the alluvial valley back to the Talkeetna base ahead of a localized rain belt.

Great narrative, the whole flight was peppered with relevant and interesting information about the peaks, glaciation features and history of the area -all delivered eloquently by the incredibly pleasant and professional pilot Jonathan. The Perfect combination of Pilot and human who made this an awesome experience for even someone like me – who is petrified of flying …….
Over and Out
Brilliant – thoroughly recommend

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