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A-Z countries

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, 16 March 2015

Who's the monster - Cyclone Pam or climate change?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. So when Cyclone Pam began its destruction in the Solomon Islands, where I used to live, I was deeply concerned for my friends. Turned out that the next country that this cyclone hit - Vanuatu - has been devastated. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Years ago I was on a plane that landed at Port Vila airport as we crossed the South Pacific on the way to a media training event in New Zealand (back in the days when I used planes a lot). I remember looking out of the plane window and thinking how developed and big Vanuatu's airport looked for an island state. There were rumours that Vanuatu was the dream Pacific state with French restaurants, fresh croissant and bread on sale, well-maintained roads, excellent water supplies and services, opportunities for kids to go through school and a functioning bureaucracy... a proper paradise.

Seaside coconut palms.
But now there's been a cyclone with 168mph winds and Vanuatu's been badly effected. The President Baldwin Lonsdale says his country has been devastaed - and this ironically while he's in Japan at a UN disaster risk reduction conference. I listened to President Lonsdale's speech in Japan appealing for help at a time when he still doesn't know if his own family living outside Port Vila are safe.

Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale called Cyclone Pam, "a monster... All the development has been wiped out. So it is we have to start again. Necessary household items have been destroyed."

This clip from the Guardian is residents talking about the homely things they lost and how they felt as the cyclone ripped their homes apart.

After Lonsdale's to-camera message journalists asked him about the "monster" and Lonsdale blamed its ferocity on climate change. This is the quote in the Independent (16/3/15): “We see the level of sea rise … the cyclone seasons, the warm, the rain, all this is affected … This year we have more [cyclones] than in any year … yes, climate change is contributing to this,” he told reporters.

Here's how to donate to the Vanuatu relief appeal, via UNICEF-UK.

Vanuatu may have been whacked by a storm, but its ingenious people, who've had centuries of dodging cyclones may be survivors. We all pray they are because Vanuatu ought to be lucky: it may be an archipelago of 83+ islands, but it has hills and contours and even some caves

In contrast neighbouring Kiribati is flat as a pancake. When storms or big waves hit their island chain there is literally nowhere for people to shelter. 

The president of Kiribati, Anote Tong, who was also at the disaster risk reduction conference, told delegates that action on climate change was essential (this quote is from the Guardian (16/3/15)).
“It is time to act … Let us match the rhetoric of these international gatherings with pledges and commitments as leaders to do our best to improve conditions and lives of those who need it most,” he said. “For leaders of low-lying island atolls, the hazards of global warming affect our people in different ways, and it is a catastrophe that impinges on our rights … and our survival into the future.” ANOTE TONG, KIRIBATI PRESIDENT
Three weeks ago I was talking to a British man whose mum is from Kiribati at the Pacific Islands Society of UK and Ireland. He told me how hard it had become for his Kiribati relatives to get fresh water on islands that people have lived on for centuries. I paraphrase but he told me: "The sea is creeping nearer and the water sources are spoilt. It's hard now to grow vegetables."
This book is excellent. Read it or give it to friends.
This is what climate change looks like on the TV: strangers on the beach without a roof relying on donations and cash to rebuild schools, health clinics and homes. 
Whatever we give will be too little. 
Whatever we do at home to offset climate change is too little. But don't let that stop you doing a bit.
What can I do?
Anyone can do something in 2015 about getting policy makers to tackle climate change, and we can do that just by talking about climate change. Here are some other ideas:

  • We can re-skill ourselves (what do you need to know to cope with a disaster - first aid, how to light a fire and cook on it, how to purify water - and do you know how?).
  • We can re-educate ourselves cooking wise. The Fife Diet is the best ideas, see this useful summary on the excellent kitchen counter culture blog here.
  • We can disinvest from fossil fuels (assuming we have shares).
  • We can organise hustings focusing on climate change (ie, pester MPs). Tips on how to do this from Friends of the Earth here.
  • We can read Don't Even Think About It: why our brains are wired to ignore climate change the marvellous book by George Marshall to help us understand the climate change deniers and avoid the common pitfalls of feeling too strongly and in so doing turning off people who might be willing to do something (though not that!).
Climate change awareness raising march in autumn 2014
We can go on climate change awareness raising marches (there was one on 7 March 2015 see more about follow up at time to act, here). The next will be after the election.

Climate change march in London March 2015
Be brave, talk about Vanuatu & talk about climate change. Don't accept this is just another big storm. Good luck.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Where do you go to admire trees?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post looks at some very special trees you can vote for in the European Tree of the Year. But the best trees are the ones we see from our homes, schools and offices or pass when we are out and about (hence the choice of pix). Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

NB#1: Poplar in a London Park - when it's in leaf they rustle
together as if making conversation.
This week - from 21-28 February 2015 you can vote for European Tree of the Year - using this link http://www.treeoftheyear.org/Uvod.aspx. Looking at the photos on that link you can enjoy the lonely tree in Powys, Wales; the 150-year-old oak tree in the middle of a football pitch in Estonia and the UK's Major Oak - believed to have been used by Robin Hood and a gorgeous Scots Pine in Scotland.

NB#2: My cycle route into central London always takes me past this wonderful fig tree
on Amwell Street, Islington.
With the exception of the Irish entrance - a baby Cedar of Lebanon that's just 15 years old - and the Italian's predictable, but particularly ancient olive, the entrants are all tree species that are easy to see in the UK.

Tree ID is a tricky skill, but perhaps it could become your party trick?

NB#3: My family's favourite oak on Hampstead Heath
ideal for picnics, climbing, games & quiet thought.
Do you know how to recognise an oak, a horse chestnut, sweet chestnut, sycamore, black poplar or a plane tree? If so you can travel the world of trees easily in the UK taking in:

  • Estonia (oak)
  • Belgium (horse chestnut)
  • France (sweet chestnut)
  • Hungary (sycamore)
  • Spain (black poplar)
  • Bulgaria (plane tree)

NB#4: Silver birch liven up a city winter sunset.
The big venerables may be reasonably easy, but I find street tree ID tricky because the sort of lollipop-sized tree that survives pollarding and city pavements aren't the species that you'll find if you go down to the woods today. With one exception - the silver birch (see photo above).

NB#5: Crows nesting in an ash tree at the back of suburban garden, London.
Ash is my favourite tree to ID - you just cannot get it wrong, look for a horseshoe shaped black tip. Photo by Hedera Vetch.
Hope this post inspires you to vote via the Woodland Trust site here - or just to take a few minutes to admire at least one of the trees you pass this week. Maybe you'll end up creating your own top five trees too?

Friday, 20 February 2015

How travellers get joy from fake-cations, staying home & plane-free travel

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post looks at some strange ways people pretend to be away on holiday  (when in fact they are just faking it). Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

On Buzzfeed Zilla Van Den Born talks about how she combined her two passions, manipulating photos and travel
so she could create a fake-cation in Thailand that was the envy of her friends and family, story here. Van den Born: "I wanted to prove how easily reality gets distorted".
The internet savvy woman from Amsterdam who faked her Far East holiday was a fun post on Buzzfeed.  It's the ultimate plane free travel! You can see for yourself how cleverly she faked it by reading this summary. Even her Granny and best friends thought she'd gone away for six weeks... All she did was don a head scarf and get busy photoshopping at home.

My kids do fake-cations all the time, just by taking selfies in front of the palm trees on the Mac Book photo booth.

In many ways this blog aroundbritainnoplane.blogspot.com is also about fake-cations. I love the way you can satisfy your longing to be somewhere else by paying attention to places locally that give you a sense of some place else... More importantly I like the way my family's low carbon adventures have kept us grounded since 2011. We've travelled a bit in the UK, and Europe, but never by plane and yet we've had tasters of 100s of different countries as you can see from the list on the right-hand menu.

If you're a travel fan but conscious of how the climate is changing, maybe trying out a different way of travelling will give you enough pleasure and adventure. Failing that when you go on holiday try and stay away for as long as possible. it's the min-break there and back plane flights that do so much damage.

For more about the power of staying home - and ultimately the pull of being home - have a look at this interview which I recently did with sustainability and slow travel expert Ed Gillespie from the change agency Futerra. If you read on you'll see he's written a book about travelling the world without using a plane and now has a project  on the go to create an app for London (or any city) that lets you travel and connect with world communities. The only snag is he needs £15,000 to fund it...

The direct link is here (a shorter version below)

Everyone has a story. Are cities a good place to live? Norfolk-raised Ed Gillespie is helping make urban centres and businesses meet the needs of the 21st century thanks to his work at Futerra in Clerkenwell, and his own passion for flight-free long haul travel. Interview by Nicola Baird  from http://islingtonfacesblog.com
Ed Gillespie’s love of travel inspired him to take a year’s sabbatical from the organisation he co-founded, Futerra, to travel the world over land and sea. His book Only Planet is just out and he’s established a unique concept to help people find ways to travel the world without even leaving London, see http://www.worldinlondon.co.uk/ All crowdfunding info at the bottom of the page.
Ed Gillespie’s love of travel inspired him to take a year’s sabbatical from the organisation he co-founded, Futerra, to travel the world over land and sea. His book Only Planet is just out and he’s established a unique concept to help people find ways to travel the world without even leaving London thanks to a very clever app which needs crowdfunding soon, see http://www.worldinlondon.co.uk/ .
“Cities are much more sustainable than rural areas in many ways. The sharing, togetherness, toleration, activities and creativity generated in a city make for a very successful experience. It’s vital that we get it right,” says Ed Gillespie. “We need to live a little leaner” – he hasn’t flown on a vacation for the past 10 years, gave up his car 17 years ago and has no kids – “it’s a lot more creative…”
You might not have heard of Futerra, or its co-founder Ed Gillespie, but the impact this media business has had on the way people do sustainability communications is immense. Over the past 14 years Futerra has helped refine the way businesses – such as Kingfisher, Sky TV, Nandos - and organisations – such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Friends of the Earth and even the UN – talk to you and me.
Now installed in an office meeting room the confession booth was used by Futerra on the festival circuit as a place for people to confess their eco crimes (4WDs, long showers) and perhaps start afresh with other greener habits.
Now installed in an office meeting room the confession booth was used by Futerra on the festival circuit as a place for people to confess their eco crimes (4WDs, long showers) and perhaps start afresh with other greener habits.
“We’re a positive change agency,” says the ever upbeat co-founder Ed Gillespie who employs 2Add New5 staff In London (and another 20+ in their international offices in New York and Stockholm). The books on the shelves alongside him may be a tad negative (eg, Green Gone Wrong), but Ed’s eco-charged energy is inspiring; perhaps because he’s sitting on one of a pair of Chesterfield sofas positioned under a carved wooden sign that suggests we’re in an ‘Earthly Sins Confessional Booth’?
“About 10 years ago we used to take the booth to festivals, including Glastonbury, “ says Ed grinning. “We found guilt was a barrier to action, so let people confess their sins so they could progress to more sustainable behaviours.” So far so serious, but then Ed admits, “It was an excuse to dress up as a vicar, which I found fun. People treat you really differently. There’s still an earthly sins Facebook page…”
Originally trained as a marine biologist, with experience working in the Orkneys, New Caledonia and Australia, Ed is the sort of person futurologists say we should be watching because he’s helping us create a more environmentally in tune way of living.
Now 42, and ready to prove Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author, Douglas Adams, right re the meaning of life, Ed’s agency has coped well despite the government cut backs. “When the coalition came in our Government work disappeared and we still work a fair amount with NGOs (charities) but about 75 per cent of our work is now from business. There is what his friend and fellow futurist Mark Stevenson calls “institutional bewilderment” about their organisation’s ability to change. “Business knows that if they don’t change there will be no choice – the big six energy companies are a good example…”
His argument is quite complex, but if business people continue thinking that unlimited growth at any cost is good, they are going to hit a problem thanks to our Earth’s finite resources. What they need to do now is move to services rather than products (think car sharing not owning) and secure sustainable supplies – hence the surge of interest in accredited forest management products marked with the FSC logo.
Ed clearly adores his work. He gives a great talk – always funny – and has a real skill at helping people “get it”. I’ve wanted to interview him for a long time and so made use of Futerra’s EC1 address to engineer a meeting. But like it’s previous home in Charterhouse Square Futerra has always just been on the Islington borders, not actually in this borough. And maybe it’s pushing the Islington link just too much when I discover that talented Islington typographer Derek Birdsall did Futerra’s first designs?
Excitingly Ed’s new project is working with another Ed to crowdfund £15,000 for a new app, world in London that helps you engage with global communities who’ve settled in London. On the promotional video, seewww.crowdfunder.co.uk/worldinlondon, you can keep your feet in Londonbut take your soul for seriously speedy travelling. Try:
9am in Europe (having a cup of coffee)
10.30am in Africa (shopping in Brixton market)
12 noon flatbreads in Turkey
2pm in India via Neasdon Temple
4pm over to Asia with another gorgeous temple
6.30pm football cheering for Colombia
8pm grabbing a drink in Mexico
10pm partying the night away in Brazil.
Like Ed I have chosen not to use planes (our family’s last big trip was in 2011 for a three month sojourn in the South Pacific, and before that in 2000). Instead I’ve tried travelling the world without leaving the UK with my family (see the bloghttp://aroundbritiannoplane.blogspot.com ) so I’m thrilled to find that the two Eds are working on an app to make London an even better place to live and travel via crowdfunding. (feb 2015 now closed)
  • 20141130_102726Use this 33% discount code on purchase price for UK or overseas (F33RERA) to buy a cheaper copy of Ed Gillespie’s new book, Only Planet: a flight free adventure around the world (rrp £14.99). To claim your discount follow the link here. Originally a well-loved Guardian column, this is a fabulous way to armchair travel or plan your own low carbon adventures.
  • More about Futerra at http://www.futerra.co.uk/
Over to you
Where do you know in your city that reminds you of somewhere else in the world? Do pop an answer on the comments. Thanks.

Monday, 9 February 2015

18 Folgate Street - London with the Hugenots

This blog is about low-carbon family travel. Here's a way to visit the 18th and 19th centuries on a silent-tour of Dennis Severs' house at 18 Folgate Street, E1. I love mini-museums (London has many wonderful small houses to visit) but this is particularly challenging as it forces you to confront a different style of living. Perhaps comparable to a visit to a grand palace like Versailles in France where you truly imagine you are a guest; or the modern slum tourism of Kiberia in Kenya, Dharavi in India or Rio's favelas? Prepare to be a Hugenot, rich and poor. Post by Nicola Baird 

Dennis Severs' house at 18 Folgate STreet is on the left, below the 'gas' lamp. To the right is the block that British Land wants to obliterate (Norton Folgate) under a "hideous corproate plaza". See how to help stop this at Facebook/savenortonfolgate or "@spitalfieldsT (spitalfields trust)
Tucked behind the busy Spitalfields Market - which is packed on Sundays - you might find a narrow street providing a quiet route back to Liverpool Street station. This is Dennis Severs' house at 18 Folgate Street. It's a handsome Georgian building and Dennis - who is dead now - did it up to resemble the way a Hugenot family of silk weavers would have lived.

It's a place you visit to explore. It's small: there are only two rooms per floor so sensibly you're asked to visit in silence. Together with the candlelit rooms this quickly provides an enticing atmosphere. You are walked into history, becoming a guest of the family - the noises of whom can be heard just off in the next room.

There are half finished cups of tea, unmade beds, wigs and nit combs. For the nosey among us this is a wonderful histronaut experience, and very different from seeing a grand National Trust house with it's 60+ rooms. This house isn't so different to the one I live in, it's just set up differently.  What it made me realise was how much I love electric light?.At Dennis Severs' house it's just fires in the grate and candlelit - even as early as 3.15pm (the last entry on a February Sunday) it's dusk indoors (and the thick curtains, net curtains, dark walls and over-crowding ornaments don't help). With this afternoon half light and of course evening dark it seems quite amazing that people of the 18th and 19th centuries were so keen on embroidery - or even managed to read. I felt like a giant crashing around, night blind, and I'm sure if I'd been wearing a long skirt I'd have knocked over endless items.

Door to another world at 18 Folgate Street, E1
There's a surprise on the top floor and Nell, who was celebrating her 14th birthday, was visibly shaken by the sudden slum. But this part of London became a place for the super poor from mid Victorian times (forgive my unsophisticated analysis). Many families could only afford to rent just one room - many were so poor they didn't even had bedclothes, something that in the 1930s George Orwell writes about so revealingly in The Road to Wigan Pier. We have tremendous poverty now, but I don't think it's as life-threateningly awful as it has been (though it's obviously shocking that in a rich country like the UK children can go to bed hungry). Of course I'm lucky and live with my family in a house which has electric light, bedclothes and central heating.

For anyone who loves eccentric characters or evocative places then Dennis Severs' house is a must visit. 

It's a wonderful way to get the feel of what it was like to be a silk weaver (caged birds, jellied fruits for visitors, plenty of tea without milk, rose water to wash in) living in a house which horses trotted by and the city bells kept you awake.

Of course this remarkable restoration is right by the City - it is in the City - where land values are for the speculators. As a result many of these old houses are at immense risk of being flattened and made into a different sort of work space, usually towering (see that top photo).

Even now there's a campaign on facebook asking us to facebook/savenortonfolgate in a bid to convince British Land from demolishing a whole block of historic houses so they can create a "hideous corporate plaza".

Inspired by my visit I'm going to add my voice to the campaign. I hope you manage to make a visit one day to Dennis Severs' house, but maybe help the campaign too.

Dennis Severs' house, 18 Folgate Street, London, E1 6 BX.
Visitor info: house is bookable for Monday evening tours. Drop in on Sundays. £10 for an adult, £5 a child. Remember you have to be silent...

Over to you
Where have you visited to get a real sense of how the past was lived? Do you find it easier to imagine this in an empty building, or a perfect recreation - inside or out?

Friday, 30 January 2015

Thoughts on Jaffa, oranges and Paddington bear

This blog is about low-carbon family travel. Here's a way to make use of Jaffa oranges and imagine yourself in Palestine or even Jordan's scented orange orchards. Post by Nicola Baird 

Stage 3 of making a Jaffa Cake - add a chocolate layer to the orange jelly layer.
Perhaps it's the time of the year but everyone seems to be talking oranges at the moment (January 2015). Admittedly I did go and see the film Paddington - so sweet, and a fantastic advert to the joys of making marmalade at home.

For the past 10 or more years I've made my own marmalade using Seville oranges available just after Christmas. But this year I've worked out that endlessly cooking boiling sugar and orange pith does my electric hob no good - at any rate I've had to replace two cracked hobs over the years. And though people have kindly offered their gas rings, I just can't imagine how I'd pace myself making marmalade in a friend's house as it seems to be a 24 hour experience!

And so I've turned to creating homemade Jaffa Cakes. Like marmalade making it is a bit of a procedure - lots of putting items to cool in fridge and freezer, not to mention the hunt for Agar flakes (a kind of seaweed that helps turn sauce into jelly).

Stage 1 of making a Jaffa Cake. This is the Genovese sponge base (lots of egg white whisking necessary). I made a trifle from the leftovers that didn't manage to make it into a 5cm disk.
I love Jaffa cakes and I'm always urging my non UK students to try them, claiming they are quintessentially English, and a biscuit. Until now I had no idea where the name came from. Turns out it's all a concoction - they are named after Jaffa oranges which are grown by Arab farmers in what is now Palestine. But you can also find Jaffa oranges growing in Cyprus, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey. A nice thought to have about such troubled areas.

I'm not going to include the recipe of either my marmalade or the chocolate orange biscuits as I just looked on the internet, and recommend you do the same. But I can warn you that it takes a while and is definitely a tricky recipe. What i liked about making them was the little jaunt it gave my head out of my kitchen think and over to warm, scented orange orchards.

Over to you
What does the smell of oranges make you think about? Travel or teatime treats?

Friday, 23 January 2015

Meeting a very old mulberry tree - in Lewes

This blog is about low-carbon family travel. Exploring Lewes you may find the oldest mulberry tree - at 35o years old it's ancient, but a mere tot compared to the oldest tree in the world that's found in California, and reckoned to have been there for 5,000 years. Shame Lewes is so much colder than California... Post by Nicola Baird 

Posing by the UK's oldest mulberry tree in Lewes. It's close to 350 years old.
Dried mulberries are sold in the Turkish shops near where I live in London, but finding fresh ones - or even seeing a mulberry tree is unusual. Even so I can guide you to the two mulberry trees nearest to my house and if it's late summer will try and spot the bright berries that seem to grow off the trunk. If you catch them then they are tasty to eat and fabulously burst into red squishes as you pick them and aim for your mouth.

The TV adaptation of Hilary Mantell's amazing study of Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall showed us that the decision makers of the day enjoyed cherries when they were in season - well they liked mulberries too. I guess where the nursery rhyme, "Here we go round the mulberry tree... " dates from.

Nestled between the South Downs, the Sussex-town of Lewes boasts many historic attractions from first bowling green to oldest mulberry tree.

The mulberry tree is from the 17th century and found  in the city centre at Southover Grange Garden. This is a public park now, but it used to be a private garden.

I love the fact that this mulberry tree is not far from Anne of Cleeves house. Anne was one of Henry VIII's luckier wives who neither lost her head or heart. King Henry had been wowed by her Holbein portrait but wasn't so keen when he met her, allegedly saying she looked like a horse (not in a good way). Her house was part of the "conscious uncoupling" settlement and luckily for visitors is open all year round so gives another insight into how the Tudors lived.

Old giants
There are still quite a few very old trees around. The Woodland Trust keeps a record of ancient trees, and recently (autumn 2014) it's tree fans voted the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham - where Robin Hood allegedly used to hide - was named old tree of the year.

The oldest tree in the world is probably a bristlecone pine growing in California's white mountains  which has been there for 5,000 years. It's nicknamed Methuselah.

If only trees could talk, what stories they could tell.

Find out how to tree ID old trees with the Woodland Trust here.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Ways to ski in UK snow

This blog is about low-carbon family travel. Will it or won't it snow this year? With  Facebook friends publishing endless pix of far away spots where the snow is falling (from Serbia to Sheffield) how do you guarantee kids can have a taste of  Christmas holiday snow when it's not snowing where you are? Here Nicola Baird tries out snow in a snow dome.

Did the picture on the side wall fool you? It's easy to imagine
you are in the mountains, not Hemel Hempstead.
It's not just snowy weather that inspired me to write this post - there's also this amazing TEDx (teen) talk from ski fan Logan LaPlante who talks about how to hack life (ie, make cool changes). Worth having a look at too... here http://youtu.be/h11u3vtcpaY

I love the way snow messes up the UK - as kids we all long for it. As commuters we loathe it. As a mum I worry most about school ski trips. I've never skiied but I'd love to do so - it's just fiendishly expensive. However if you can collect the money together (and lots of schools give you as much as 18 months warning before a ski trip) the school ski trip is the way to let your kids have a taster. Mine are going to France and Italy in 2015 - both via coach.

Kitted up.
Turns out there are even better ways that guarantee snow and don't involve sacrificing the February half term or part of the two week Easter holidays... getting a taster session at a snowdome. The Snow Centre at Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire has two slopes - one looks huge, the other is a teaching slope. The centre offers lots of opportunities to learn how to ski and snowboard. You can hire equipment and buy it too. There's even the option of toboggan parties! And it's open all year - so you can learn to ski in the summer (when it's not going to be so crowded) or you can learn in the winter knowing there will be snow in the dome.

Kids can start snow lessons incredibly young - there are plenty of two year olds with snowboards at the Snow Dome. But my daughters joined a holiday class for 12-16year olds. It's nice to see them both trying something new together again as for a while that hasn't been possible. It's £55 for a two day course (two hours on two consecutive days) for 4-6 year olds and £99 for 7-16 year olds. There are good discounts for members though.

The verdict: learning to ski in the UK is still an expensive treat but the beaming smile on the kids' faces as they gradually learnt how to plough and slalom down the slope (so far without poles) was wonderful to watch. My motto is definitely becoming if you can give people the chance to learn to do a new skill, then do it! It was fun to watch their progress through the huge windows lining the Snow Centre's roomy cafe too - all in all a perfect ski taster which made me feel I could just have easily been in Andorra, Finland, France, Germany, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland... or any of those fab skiing mountain resorts.

Travel tips: Take the train to Hemel Hempstead. A taxi from the station to the Snow Centre takes less than 10 minutes for the two mile journey and costs around £6 (it would take about 40 minutes to walk). And don't forget that if you are going skiing in Europe you can book a train via voyages-sncf.com thus avoiding the hassle of a plane or long car journey.