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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.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Cherry blossom season: London, Japan, Washington

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. Here's a way to enjoy a taste of the cherry blossom of Japan, or the Washington cherry festival, just by taking a little walk around your local area. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

I love the way tree flowers are so showy, and yet most of would disagree that trees have flowers - because we think of it as blossom. 
Every year - after that long winter - the blossom seems sensational, as you can see from this gorgeous cherry tree flowering in a nearby London street.

2015 is proving an amazing one for cherry blossom thanks to the brilliant blue skies offering perfect backdrops, and cold, windless nights allowing the blossom to cling on for just one more marvellous, frothy day.

Of course Japan is famous for its cherry spectacles - known as sakura. You can see a map of where the biggest blossoms are here. Only today I learnt that Washington offers a National Cherry Blossom festival, with peak bloom between mid March and mid April, see here.

Unsung splendours
Knowing how important blossom is to the Japanese, and people in Washington, it is rather wonderful to take a walk through your hometown and pass a street tree or a generous planting on a council estate and see these fabulous pink and white blossoms blanketing a tree.

In the UK, once the cherry is out, watch for pear, apple and then my absolute favourite, hawthorn (or May) blossom. Spring is earlier in the south, so if you miss it just try heading north for an extra burst of springtime joy.

Here's an interview I wrote recently with a London tree champion who has been involved in counting the capital's trees, read it here. It seems amazing that 7 million trees thrive in such a built up place. But back to cherry trees. If you love anime as well, springtime is your chance to dress up and get searching for blossom backgrounds for your selfies. If you don't want to walk, then just sit down with instagram.

Lots more info about trees, blossom and gardening from the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley, near Woking, Surrey.

Over to you
What's your favourite tree blossom?

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Cakes and bikes : these are a few of my favourite things (Herts via Austria)

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 I discovered the weather would be cycling-friendly for the Easter weekend instead of driving to Hertfordshire the family took the train and our bikes, and along the way channelled the Austrian family in The Sound of Music who lived close to Salzburg. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Pete and Lola fully kitted up for country lane cycling.
Not long ago politician Ed Balls said he'd gone on a Sound of Music cycle trip around Salzburg in Austria. Most of the interview was about politics, but this sounded like a fun family activity - regardless of age. Yes a bit schmultzy, but it would be an effortless way to get to know some of the musical/film's famous sights. Plus it's fun to sing when you cycle! Inspired I thought about going to Salzburg, and we may, but before we leave the country I figured I could organise a family cycle adventure that passed "a few of my favourite things" close to where I grew up around the green, gently undulating agricultural landscape of east Hertfordshire.

Besides, all of us wanted to go to Hertfordshire to stay with my brother/aunt/the cousins. Not everyone was so keen on the long cycling option so in the end Nell, 14, cycled there, and Lola, 16, cycled back. I'm sure Maria would have agreed to the compromise.

London is chock full of cafes, most selling two or three gluten options. Not so Hertfordshire! At Hopleys Cafe in the High Street of the gorgeous village of Much Hadham the cakes were heartily old-fashioned sizes and filled with flour and sugar. Perfect for cyclists - and there is the Bull Inn next door.
After six or so miles on the bikes we were happy to treat ourselves at Hopleys Cafe and garden centre in Much Hadham High Street. Opposite Hopleys is the house poet Walter de la Mare rented. Further up the high street is a museum where the blacksmith Mr Page lived and worked. He used to shoe my pony, but I remember him talking about the time he had shod horses heading to Channel ports and on to World War One.

Much Hadham is a really special village - it's full of grand houses, including a palace once used by the Bishops of London. Unfortunately when they decamped here in 1665 they also brought the black plague which killed many locals. On our cycle ride we went through the bluebell woods which I was told from childhood had been used for plague pits.

Not everything in and around idyllic Much Hadham is grand. On the road to the Henry Moore sculpture garden you might find the junk shop at Green Tye open. Defintely worth looking in here for treasure to wrap as brown paper parcels.
Much Hadham is still a commuter village, though how the residents must regret Beeching closing the train line back in the 1950s as they struggle to get a parking spot at suitable stations - Ware, Sawbridgeworth, Bishop's Stortford.

The weekend turned into a bit of a work camp for the adults, while the kids spent most of it on the trampoline. My brother left a list of instructions (I pegged it to the cherry tree) so that when he returned to work I could stay outside.

As a child I day dreamed I'd run a family business of field cleaner-uppers - I'm not sure such a job ever existed - picking up horse poo; pulling ragwort, docks and nettles; raking and turning hay; mending fences... It is not very aspirational, but funny to have ended up with my day dream granted now I have my own family. Not surprisingly it was only me who really enjoyed the graft, and that was partly because it meant I went to bed and slept soundly.

Nell and Pete on top of the pill box built during World War Two when this part of flat Hertfordshire, just west of Bishop's Stortford, was used as a military runway.
If you try and do a similar bike journey with your family, remember when buying train tickets that if your children (or friends) are under and over 16 that the tickets and discount cards are different. I managed to muddle this up, but was lucky to meet an extremely sympathetic Abellio ticket seller at Bishop's Stortford - "we're not all bad you know" who wrote a personal note for the inspectors at Liverpool Street which allowed our group of three to pass through on the tickets I had already purchased.

Anyone can use the cycle pump and cycle tools at this bike spa outside Euston station.
As we cycled along our last homestretch, through London streets - panniers stuffed with chocolate easter eggs - I heard Lola humming away and could see that Pete was really looking at the architecture (possibly thinking Salzburg??). Cycling is like that - it's an easy way to transport body and heart (assuming the bikes don't break) and as you get into the cycling rhythm you have the pleasure of starting to notice the world around you a bit more. I want to do this sort of trip again, but will have to be sure I'm selling it as an adventure, as my teens and husband are very suspicious of route marches, even when they come with pub and cake stops.

Our route: 
Stage 1: Sawbridgeworth station - Much Hadham (via Allan's Green, Green Tye)
Stage 2: Much Hadham - Bishop's Stortford station (via Little Hadham, Bury Green)
Tip: take an OS map - these back roads are not always clearly signposted, in a couple of places near Allan's Green the sign was facing in the wrong direction.

Much Hadham Forge Museum
Hopleys Cafe, Much Hadham
The Junk Shop, Green Tye, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire SG10 6JP.. Check times: 01279 842322
The Bull, Much Hadham
Henry Moore, Perry Green From 1 May -25 October, wednesdays to Sundays, 11am-5pm.

Over to you
Where do you recommend cycling? How do you get the bikes there? What essential kit do you take?

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?