What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Try an Ethiopian dish

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post gives you a glimpse of all things Ethiopian in a tiny corner of Finsbury Park in London. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

I've just had a tasty lunch with the talented Ethiopian soul singer Hanisha Solomon. Hanisha was introducing me to proper Ethiopian cuisine so took me to St Gabriel's Restaurant in Finsbury Park - one of several speciality restaurants in the area.

A great restaurant for lunch if you want an Ethiopian dish. Inside on bright pink walls
are paintings and bric-a-brac from Ethiopia. You feel like you've travelled.
Finsbury Park has two Ethiopian restaurants, a butcher and an internet cafe. It's a real meeting point for the Ethiopian diaspora, but what you'll really notice is extremely friendly people. Try saying "Salam" (Hi) when you enter. Here are some other local Ethiopian run businesses (see pix).

Ethiopian butcher and restaurant on Rock Street, N4.

Intriguing shop window at Ethiopian-run internet cafe, Blackstock Road, N4.

The same Ethiopian-run internet cafe, but pictured so you can recognise it.
Hanisha and I ate this tasty collection of mixed vegetables - mostly lentils cooked in a variety of interesting ways and split yellow peas - plus a finely chopped red onion, tomato and chilli salad. The green chilli is stuffed with onions. Every bit of our meal was delicious. I hadn't had injera (a sourdough flatbread) before, or realised it was quite similar in texture to a pancake. Lots of people came in during our meal to buy fresh injera to eat later at home.

This picture doesn't do justice to the food - a few moments later the restaurant owner came over with four tightly rolled injera so the plate was soon crowded with food. Later Hanisha told me that the flour traditionally used to make this bread is so iron-rich that it's very popular with super-celebrities like Posh Spice and Gwyneth Paltrow.
There are a few rules to follow when you eat the Ethiopian way.

  • Firstly there was no cutlery - so you wash your hands first. 
  • Say a prayer of thanks. 
  • Then tear the injera bread (which looks a little like a pancake) with your right hand before heaping it up with food. I was busy chatting but I noticed that lots of the other customers used their spare hand to hold their mobiles - an interesting modern manners twist. 
  • If you need to lick your fingers, don't! Use a napkin instead.

There was a lot of food on our plate but Hanisha kept encouraging me. "Please eat!" she said.

After we'd eaten all that we could, we finished off the meal with a spiced tea - a mix of cardamom, cinnamon and clove which you can add sugar to if you want. It was a really lovely experience. Thank you so much Hanisha for this treat! And very good luck with all your projects.

To read an interview with Hanisha Solomon see this blog post here.

Test yourself on Ethiopia -
  1. Ethiopia is where humans originated
  2. More than 80 languages spoken amongst the 92 million people - Omoro and Amharic being the most widely used, chiefly Christian
  3. It's the home of the coffee bean
  4. And also the spiritual home of Rastafarians, a line of kings descended from Solomon, one-time known as Abyssinia... you can find out more on wiki here.

Over to you
If you like Ethiopian food where do you recommend going to find it?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

You can find Switzerland in the UK

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post gives a few tips on how to find Switzerland in Derbyshire and the Lake District - or simply just stick to reading Frankenstein. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).
Swiss fast food: try making fondue (approx 200g of a cheese like gruyere and emental per person). Serve the Swiss way with small cubes of bread, cooked potatoes and cherry tomatoes.
How could Switzerland with its views of vines on the hills above luminous blue lakes and away to the sublime, often snow-capped mountains ever be mistaken for the UK? I didn't think it was possible until I read Mary Shelley's famous horror story Frankenstein.

Frankenstein - written by Mary in a competition with Lord Byron (and others) to see who could write the best ghost story while both were resident in a very rainy Switzerland - is a really scary book. If you aren't moved by words, then you should jump at the film. I've been woken twice by nightmares since trying to read it ready for my book group's discussion in September. But in Chapter 19 there are suggestions of places in the UK you can go in order to get that Swiss feeling of awe inspiring landscape, with something a little bit dodgy coming up behind you...

Try Matlock in Derbyshire or the Lake District.
"The country in the district of Matlock [when it was a village] resembled the scenery of Switzerland; but everything is on a lower scale and the green hills want the crown of the distant white Alps which always attends on the piny mountains.." There's even a cave similar to ones at Servox and Chamounix." 
"In Cumberland and Westmorland I could almost fancy myself amount the Swiss mountains. The little patches of snow which yet lingered on the northern sides of the mountains, the lakes and the dashing of the rocky streams were all familiar and dear sights to me..."
Both quotes from Frankenstein, chapter 19.

Like the UK Switzerland insists on using its own currency - Swiss Francs - rather than Euros. The landlocked state is also insanely expensive, so being willing to put up with a little less snow on your mountain views in the Lake District could be a wise investment!

Over to you
Let me know where you've been in the UK that's reminded you a little of Switzerland.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Call it a pilgrimage not a journey

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post gives a few tips on why we take a break on a long journey. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

A beautiful place for a walk, an opportunity to think or just a lull on a long journey?
In my lifetime I've met people who've been to Mecca (in Saudi Arabia) and even a man who walked across India. All these journeys were inspired by God. But whatever your belief system a good walk and a cup of tea can help deal with problems. I say this because I've walked across England twice by foot, once via the Coast to Coast route of Alfred Wainwright and once along the Hadrian's Wall border a bit further north.

Walking these long routes weren't hard - and has the fabulous knock-on satisfaction of having done something to be really proud about. As i walked it didn't feel like that. Most of the time I was either struggling with large damp OS maps or deciding if I could keep going for another 20 minutes before eating my sandwiches. Quite clearly I lack a spiritual gene. As do most car drivers....

It's rare that I take a long drive in a car but at the weekend read a piece in the Saturday Guardian (12 July 2014) which charted the many pleasures off the M6 - starting at Birmingham and heading up to Carlisle - which would be ideal for 4-wheel pilgrims. This is a long route, and one that I've done many times on the train. But if you like to drive (rather than read or stare out of a train window) then it turns out there are loads of wonderful stop offs along the route.

Here's the article link, motorway breaks near the M6.

One of my favourite places for recovering after a journey is mentioned in the article. It is the turf-covered Rheged Centre just near Penrith (off junction 40) which mixes a shopping centre with displays telling the story of the Lake District. - which includes volcanoes, legend, Romans and the Romantic poets (well Wordsworth). Have a look at the Lake District National Park site for more detailed info here. At Rheged there is also the opportunity to make a clay pot - and as I remember from a very wet summer camping trip there are lovely loos, wifi and a good place to sit and nurse a pot of tea.

My conclusion: nothing puts you closer to happy satisfaction than a hot drink after a long day on the road. Perhaps that's a modern take on the pilgrimage?

Over to you?
What helps you find the moment? Does travelling help?

Friday, 4 July 2014

Saying goodbye like a Solomon Islander

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post is an obituary for a former boss of mine when I lived overseas in the South Pacific for two years. Travel is always an education - but how people say goodbye to their friends and family, enemies even, can be a way to remind those of us still living to live better. The last time I saw him was in 2011 in his daughter's home. We ate cooked bananas and chatted. What I remember most from that time was his articulate intelligence and a face wreathed in smiles. He was also the first person I worked for who rarely wore shoes. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

A wonderful man has died - Abraham Baeanisia, from Malaita in Solomon Islands (the south pacific). He mixed his custom knowledge and intellect to live well and work for his community. When he was alive he completely inspired me with his super simple messages for rural development. Hearing the news that he's died reminds me to peel back the clutter and focus on what's important. Grieve well, live well.

I was lucky to work for Abraham at Solomon Islands Development Trust (and an equally inspiring colleague John Roughan, who also died recently) back in 1990-92.

Many times I listened to Abraham talking to a group about how we could only develop society if our basic needs were met - that's water, food, shelter. He'd lull you into a false sense of security (well maybe just to non islanders) talking about the view from the cliffs. Let's imagine it. It's a beautiful day and it all looks lovely out at sea - there's even a man paddling a canoe. Maybe he's fishing. Wouldn't you like to be in that canoe, not at your desk, out fishing? 

But do we know what's really happening to that lucky man out fishing on a work day. Is it a battle of life and death against the currents?

Taking it bigger: are we powerless to help or do we not want to help? Do we see what's going on?And if we do, do we understand? Do we act? Do we ignore? You did see, didn't you that he was in trouble?

It's good stuff: learn to think. Learn to ask questions. Be sure to act so it doesn't happen again, or again.


Abraham Baeanisia at his home by Matt Young
This picture above isn't mine to pass around - and I remember a younger man - but how wonderful it is. Abraham built his own leaf house on Abalolo, the island he built in the Langa Langa lagoon.
This obituary from another friend who worked in Solomon Islands, Chris Chevalier, tells his association with Solomon Islands Development Trust: 
Abraham Baeanisia[Chris Chevalier interviewed Abraham for his forthcoming biography on Solomon Mamaloni and have also learned some details about the history of SIDT while writing an obituary for the Journal of Pacific History (forthcoming).] 
Abraham Baeanisia died on 14 June 2014 aged 75, just eight months after the death of John Roughan, his great friend and colleague, Abraham suffered a severe stroke and was unable to attend John’s funeral in October 2014, which was very distressing for him. I saw him in Honiara several times in hospital and at home and he was immensely frustrated by his loss of speech and movement. For someone formerly so articulate and active, his death therefore must have come as a welcome release. 
Born in 1939 in the Langalanga lagoon on the west coast of Malaita, Abraham was one of the first post war generation to complete a modern education. He went to Catholic schools first in Malaita and then attended St Joseph's School at Tenaru on Guadalcanal in 1957, where he was part of the first group of Standard 7 students. In 1958-59, he completed form one and two and became a teacher. Just before Independence in 1978, he went to the University of Papua New Guinea and completed a Bachelor of Education degree in 1982. On his return, he worked for the Shell Oil Company until he crossed the road from the depot to join John at the SIDT office at Mission Place in Honiara. They became lifelong colleagues, close friends and, like two disciples, spread the word of good development. 
Abraham was highly respected throughout the Pacific, best known for his many years as Director of the Solomon Islands Development Trust (SIDT), the first indigenous development NGO in the country. SIDT was started by John Roughan in 1982 with funding and support from the Friends of the People of the South Pacific (FSP), the Australian High Commission, and later on, International Humanitarian Assistance Program (IHAP). Many of SIDT’s ideas and types of projects were strongly influenced by Catholic social justice teachings and John’s studies in the politics of development at the University of Hawai’i in the 1970s. SIDT became a cornerstone of the civil society movement in Solomon  Islands, and arguably the Pacific. 
Abraham and John were both highly articulate and skilled advocates. John’s piercing intelligence and innovative ideas were combined with Abraham’s quiet charm and cultural sensitivity. Both were also inspirational mentors and influenced many young people and volunteers, local and international, who have worked at SIDT over 30 years. SIDT had the philosophy of People First development and using natural and human resources responsibly to ensure that everyone benefited, especially rural villagers. In the early years, SIDT focused on training and mobile volunteers but was always an advocacy organisation. It provided an indigenous critique and alternatives to large-scale unsustainable exploitation of logging and marine resources. SIDT started a sustainable logging project to provide timber for houses and eco-exports, and also promoted eco-tourism with some success. 
SIDT was not afraid to be political and condemned the increasing overexploitation of natural resources from the 1980s by corrupt logging and fishing companies, landowners and governments. In the 1990s, SIDT public opinion surveys and critiques of corrupt businesses, politicians and the public service raised the ire of Prime Minister Solomon Mamaloni who wanted to deregister SIDT in 1994. Abraham’s response was to invite government officers to come and meet with him and five SIDT officers. The talks were tape recorded but nothing further happened to the threat of deregistration.Abraham and John were also instrumental in the formation in 1984 of the Development Services Exchange, an umbrella organisation for NGOs in Solomon Islands. Both men also helped to establish the Pacific Islands Association of NGOs (PIANGO), which was officially launched until 1991. Abraham was a superb ambassador and advocate for People-First development, travelling widely overseas in his role with DSE and PIANGO. Despite many uncertainties and changes in the funding landscape, both organisations have survived until today, testimony to the values and networking principles of their founders. 
Abraham's life was dedicated to education and People First development. He and John Roughan touched countless lives and have left behind enduring organisations that continue to fight for sustainable development and social justice. Abraham will be remembered as a co-founder of SIDT and this is his enduring legacy. Both men are greatly missed and we will be very unlikely to see their like again.
Vale Abraham.

Readers of this blog won't know this amazing man - indeed you might wonder why there's a post on a travel blog about a death. But if I hadn't lived in the Solomons, or met Abraham Baeanisia or John Roughan - I wouldn't have learnt to question or look hard and unpick what we do because everyone does it.

In the Solomons - a tropical country - when someone dies the family and friends gather around and properly grieve. The women keen (wail); they tell stories and then night passes and the next day the body is buried. It's painfully swift. 

In the UK the time lapse between death and burial is agonisingly slow as if time has stopped but in our speed-crazy world (the developed world really) it is so hard to find uninterrupted to say our own goodbyes. So often that means we don't. For all of you with absent friends and family here's a virtual hug. If you haven't already done this, give yourself permission to say thank you and goodbye and then do it remembering the good, and the bad, and how this person you've lost has shaped your own life.

If you are a Solomon Islander you know the ancestors live anyway, so really this is just a leave-taking from one sphere to another. Like going for walkabout. It doesn't stop the pain of the parting, but it helps keep that person's memory live rather than just sacrosanct. And that's what makes all the difference.

Over to you
Do share tips on how to say goodbye around the world.

Friday, 27 June 2014

The oldest stones in the world take you where?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a trip around the oldest stone circle in the world - in the heart of Wiltshire - and triggers some ideas about other ancient stone creations from Africa to South America. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Avebury wasn't as crowded as this photo implies - this group of all ages, ranging from mid 80s to 2 and a half, are all friends of mine. Having a walk before lunch made a family celebration even more enjoyable.
Stones are all pretty old - but the complex sarsens at Avebury are hands-down winners. Whatever it was at Avebury - and it's certainly the largest stone circle in the world - was built 200 generations ago (it's roughly four people to 100 years).

So you can go there - and I took a train to Swindon and then a half hour bus ride direct to Avebury - and imagine yourself in any of the other stone wonders of the world, such as:

  • the Parthenon in Greece, (447BC)
  • the Mayan pyramids of Mexico (AD300)
  • the end of the Incas in Peru 
  • Great Zimbabwe (AD1350)
  • Easter Island, Chile (AD1000-1600)

I expect Alexander Keiller found excavating Avebury as tricky as I found beating Nell at Connect 4 - one of the outdoor games provided by the National Trust.
Or you can enjoy the child-friendly facilities provided by the National Trust (they are very big on kids doing stuff - ideally 50 things to do before you are 11 and three-quarters) which for us involved a spot of Connect 4, an inter-active museum and a hunt for rare great crested newts along the edge of the pond.

There were also giant draughts boards and mini trampolines - as if we were at a wonderful street party.

Don't forget to have a good walk around the stones - it can be a short stroll or a long yomp over to manmade Silbury hill or even the long barrows that surround the main site.

More information and opening times at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/avebury/ A nice surprise: it's free entry for English Heritage members.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Brazil hints thanks to street art

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at just one football image to get into the World Cup 2014 Brazilian mood. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Street art by Bambi in Islington, London. But who's the boy - he looks kind of familiar.
Sassy urban street artist Bambi reminds us that World Cup football isn't that important, and that it's kicking off big time in Brazil. I like football but 11pm starts for us UK viewers are hopeless - I doubt I'm going to watch any games this time.  For an interesting look at how to get a taste of football in as small as your own locale have a look at my other blog, here. You should be able to find a taste of every country, without  leaving your postcode!

For any non UK readers, do let me know if you also play this low-carbon, low-cost travel game.  

Good luck to your World Cup favourites.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Thinking about American crackers & climate change

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at the joys of tasting something I enjoyed aged 18... Big hugs to lost innocence about salty snacks and climate change. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

The news about how bad climate change is - and that it absolutely isn't a made-up phenomena - has upset what for me would have been a fundamentally happy, carefree weekend life...  Reading the summaries in the Guardian, and also the New York Times about how much scientists estimate climate change is going to effect our home is horrific. This was September 2013.  

Now it's worse - March 2014 - with the IPCC saying climate change is no longer distant. The panel makes it seem more real than seas rising and coral dying by suggesting that my daily cup of coffee is now at risk (as are the jobs created by coffee growing).

And yet we don't seem able to make politicians act with any sense of purpose. There are good reasons for this, see New Scientist here 

In 2009 action by the world's leaders at Copenhagen to do something ended up achieving yet more years of inaction. Apparently in 2014 the UN will have another go to do something...

However critical I am of politicians the truth is, that like most people, I am not doing enough to reduce my carbon emissions either. And yes, I did join in 2014 WWF's big switch off - much to the bemusement of my dinner guests who thought I was too chicken to reveal the veggie food I'd cooked under anything other than candle light...

The thing is we've all got to change. And yet we don't... When I first drafted this post over an autumn weekend I had one daughter visiting friends in Hertfordshire (via car), a husband in the Lake District climbing mountains before winter sets in (he travelled from London via train) plus me and my other daughter zooming around London via tube to enjoy what's on offer here.  Perhaps that's why my teen and I visited Harvey Nichols, a posh Knightsbridge shop I haven't been into since I was a teenager (and that visit was a one-off!). 

I've heard so much about Harvey Nicks over the years (probably read as much about this shop as I have about climate change, which is an extremely disturbing thought).I know it's for the super rich, but I was still knocked out by just how many people were hanging out on the 5th floor in the food hall at 3.30pm on a Sunday (what kind of time is that to eat anyway?).  Lola, who is 15, and I are well trained when it comes to window shopping, so we walked around  admiring macaroons, sushi and tasty looking paninis until I spotted a snack for sale which I've not eaten for decades - American-made fish shaped crackers.

Fins can only get better. Ha.
If you don't already know these crackers (see pic) I assume it's because you're not familiar with the US, or have i just missed these tasty treats in UK shops? Just for old taste's sake I decided to buy a bag. Fortunately they cost £2.40 which didn't seem too indulgent - but that's what comes of taking escalators up fice floors past hideously expensive fashion and a Jimmy Choo outlet. It stops you double-taking at anything under a tenner.

Four hours later Lola and I were home and decided to open the packet. Apart from being a zillion times saltier than I remember, and the fish now having little smiles (cute?!) everything tasted just the same. I was back in New York in the 1980s - a time when no one seemed to mention climate change (except scientist Maggie Thatcher).

 In contrast Lola, who is well aware that the planet is warming and sea levels are rising loathed her first bite....

Soul searching
This little incident proves nothing, but it did lead to a big conversation about what life will be like in 40 years time. And, perhaps more to the point, what skills regular people are going to need to cope with the upsets coming. What's on your list?