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, 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?

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Quickie trip to Viking land

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. In this post the family take a quick visit to the land of the Vikings (modern Scandanvia). Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). I also publish an interview every week with people who live or work in Islington at islingtonfacesblog.com - there's a prize for the 100th follower.


It's so simple to take a trip to the land of the Vikings - from early March 2014 you can pop to the British Museum and enjoy the Vikings exhibition. I feel everyone in my household is obsessed by Vikings - the long boats, the horned-helmets and the scary fighting equipment. 

So when I saw this collection of boats (see pic above) produced as part of the run-up to the Viking exhibition I felt a lot happier. That boat in the foreground is knitted! The ones on the right look like something out of a child's French-look clothes catalogue. This is the Vikings without the rape and pillage, but just as fascinating. Anyway it made me want to go and have a look.

Here's how to book tickets (6 March - 22 June, 2014)

Over to you
What's your favourite Viking story?

Sunday, 23 February 2014

London with more dash than cash

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. In this post the family is on the hunt for cheap London entertainment after discovering the public toilets by the London Eye can only be entered for 50p... Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). I also publish an interview every week with people who live or work in Islington at islingtonfacesblog.com - there's a prize for the 100th follower.


London Eye fabulousness.
I'm lucky to live in London so have an endless variety of exhibitions, shows and trips to enjoy. However it's an expensive city - one of the world's most expensive cities, along with Oslo (Norway), Geneva and Zurich (Switzerland). We may not have run away inflation, like Zimbabwe had until recently, but my income is modest so day trips have to be planned carefully.
Result: lots of opportunities to explore all that London has to offer for free (not just museum, gallery and the Royal Festival Hall's free toilet facilities!).


This weekend a friend was celebrating her 50th birthday in a lovely way. Her husband had organised groups of friends and family to surprise her at various London sightseeing hot spots. I was particularly lucky to get a trip on the London Eye. It was a glorious sunny day and the half hour in the pod whizzed past as presents were opened and the Emirates stadium, Wembley, Crystal Palace mast, Ali Palace, Parliament and the MI5 building spotted... And then we said goodbye and off Debora went to her next appointment at the V&A gallery.


Find this tiny police station in Trafalgar Square - allegedly made from a hollowed out street light.
Inevitably I felt a bit low back on ground, so perked myself and my two daughters up by going to see London's smallest police station (installed in 1926 to enable one policeman to keep an eye on the demos happening in Trafalgar Square). It is a only a short - but stunning - walk across Hungerford Bridge from the London Eye and then past Charing Cross to Trafalgar Square. We took photos and tried to guess how many super-slim police officers could fit into this police box. Still at least it keeps the wind and rain off, and made my children dance around looking for Sherlock Holmes. 
As for the cost to look: zero pence.

We were then lured into the National Portrait Gallery where there's David Bailey's self-curated Stardust exhibition. Even for the £16 ticket it's incredibly popular... definitely worth gawping at the queue to see if you can spot a celeb. Once tired of that, aim to fit in a 30 minute-gallery talk (on saturdays at 12 noon) in front of a painting. You'll be given a stool and then hear an expert tell you its history, context and all sorts of gossip about it - and always for free. We found out about James 1/James VI's very strange interest in witches and how his booklet about them, and insistence that communicating with a witch should be a capital crime, inspired Shakespeare's Macbeth. I think it's lucky for James that he is better remembered as the man who made sure the Bible was provided in English rather than Latin. However I now understand why his witch-mania led to him being dubbed "the wisest fool in Christendom", a fact that I'm sure will be useful for pub quizzes...
Cost for a half hour history talk: free.


In the UK lots of secondary schools teach Geography or History for GCSE - it depends on the timetable. So if you feel you (or a child in your care) is missing out on history I reckon a cheap day ticket to London to Trafalgar Square area could be a rich investment in historic learning. If you bring some sandwiches and eat them in nearby St James' Park then that's a free day out. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

When all you want is Glamour in Chinese

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here I find a tiny shop in London where you can find 139 Conde Nast titles (like GQ, Vogue and Vanity Fair) published in 25 countries... Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). I also publish an interview every week with people who live or work in Islington at islingtonfacesblog.com - there's a prize for the 100th follower.

Around 39 million people read Vogue each month
 - so can you guess how many countries Vogue is published in?
Tucked beside a high street bank on the less glam side of Hanover Square there's a slim, white-walled newsagent which only stocks Conde Nast titles. The result is amazing - a wall of fabulous magazines in different languages, discretely ordered using the correct national flag.

If you want to learn French reading a glamorous magazine, travel like an upmarket Italian or swot up in the hope of joining Conde Nast's research team for the few countries which don't yet have their titles, then this is the newsagent to visit.

We all know Vogue and GQ, but since 2001 Conde Nast has organised 86 magazine launches around the world. There are now 20 Vogue, 18 GQ, 14 Glamour, eight Architectural Digest, two Tatler (Russia and the UK) and six Conde Nast Traveller.

2014 will see two new launches - a French Vanity Fair and a Traveller for the Middle East.

For any magazine addict it is a pleasure to visit this shop and imagine the zillions of different readers throughout the globe opening up a fresh copy of their favourite magazine.

Verdict: The perfect place for virtual travel, or simply try the website 

Monday, 10 February 2014

I wish someone would bring me chocolate

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here I have a look at chocolate.... Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). I also publish an interview every week with people who live or work in Islington at islingtonfacesblog.com - there's a prize for the 100th follower.

This is Austrian chocolate - marzipan swirls covered in
chocolate, and utterly delicious. This was a gift
from friends.
I eat chocolate every day. And I intend to continue to do so.

My morning cup of coffee is perfected by a chunk of chocolate.

At university my chocolate life was even better - whenever I studied at our otherwise rather horrible student house, the scent of cooking chocolate from the factories inYork helped (maybe hindered) the synapses.

How to get it
More than 3 million tonnes of cocoa beans are harvested each year - growing in countries not far from the Equator (top producer is the Ivory Coast, then Indonesia, coming in at number 10 is Peru claims wikipedia). No surprise then that between December and Easter I can usually rely on having a stash of chocolate – thanks to Christmas gifts,  and then Valentine’s Day, my birthday and mother’s day. (Seeing as Valentine's Day is coming up I thought I better make an appeal...)

And from April to December I'd face a hungry gap if I didn’t supplement my supplies by chocolate buying missions at the local corner shop.

Loving chocolate is a habit I’ve passed on to my daughters. Indeed for my eldest’s 13th birthday we booked a free tour around the unique chocolate factory in Adelaide. Haigh’s Chocolates is really well known in Australia, but not available overseas, unless you have an Ozzie pal visiting.

Chocolate lovers don't have to leave the country (indeed the point of this blog is that we rarely do leave) because in the UK there are plenty of chocolatier opportunities: Cadbury World’s claim to fame is that it is one of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions. And then there’s the Roald Dahl museum which sells dreamy hot chocolate at Cafe Twit, and reminds the family about the classic story Charlie & theChocolate Factory. This book has now been reborn as a musical in London’s West End.

And there are also tours - and kids parties - at the Land of the Yorkie bar, York here.


Raw ingredients
Finding a ripe yellow podded cocoa bean is definitely tricky in London, but you can have fun doing a different sort of chocolate hunt by looking at chocolate bars to try and work out where the company sourced their cocoa beans. See if you can find the Fair Trade logo too, that way if you do make a purchase you’ll know that the person who grew those beans got a fair price for their hard work.

  • Places to visit for your own DIY chocolate tour: 1)York and Birmingham. 2) Any shop shelf displaying chocolate. 3) And in my house my secret chocolate stash (the one that if anyone hears me rifling through allows me to deny everything, because "I eat like a bird")...

Over to you
What's your favourite chocolate - other than the one in your hand?

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Where do apricots grow?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here I have a look at how to grow exotic fruits in the UK - and consider a fruit tour.... Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). I also publish an interview every week with people who live or work in Islington at islingtonfacesblog.com - there's a prize for the 100th follower.

Can you grow exotic fruits in the UK? What would a fruit tour be like?

Peach tree in my garden - not looking too bad,
but it has struggles with peach tree curl and
in the winter when I cover it for frost protection
the fleece gets regularly blown off.
Apricot jam sounds English doesn't it? But years ago, after a trip to the north west corner of Pakistan I learnt that the best apricots are actually from Hunza orchards. This info remained unchallenged for two decades until I discovered that in certain cantons of Switzerland apricots are sold on roadside stalls and home brewed apricot liqueurs are popular. These two countries seem so far away that they'd be unlikely to have a reputation for the same fruit - although admittedly both specialise in super peaks.

Now I've discovered that there is an apricot capital in the UK, well a place in the flat lands of Northamptonshire called Aynho but known as "Apricot Village". I'm told you can spot an apricot tree growing up cottage walls or free-standing in most of the village's front gardens ... and the fruit grows beautifully thanks to the stony, sandy soil. Aynho isn't too far from Banbury, Oxon - or the amazing Aynhoe Park which can be hired for expensive weddings.

Over to you
Next time you buy some apricots will you be reading the small print to find out where they come from?


Monday, 6 January 2014

Just imagine if Mary Kingsley joined us on a dog walk...

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here we go for a London walk imagining how the famous explorer Mary Kingsley would experience 2014. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). I also publish an interview every week with people who live or work in Islington at islingtonfacesblog.com - there's a prize for the 100th follower.

Mary Kingsley is famous for being a Victorian woman who travelled hugely, from her 30s onwards, around west Africa including Sierra Leone, Angola, Cameroon and South Africa. Here's the link to the wikipedia page. Mary was born in Islington in 1862 - though I recently found a plaque marking one of the homes she'd lived at in Hampstead, north London.

Islington and Hampstead have many lovely places to go, eat, drink etc - but they are also some of the best boroughs for people spotting. So, as Nell, 12, and I walked by with the dog we tried to imagine what Mary - the famous adventurer, ethnographer and travel writer - would see on our walk back to Islington in the rain.

Nell sets off on an explorer's journey.
Mary Kingsley had strong views about polygamy (ok in the context of wives have a lot of work so could do with some help & it ensured no woman was unmarried which meant they were given proper support not treated like outcasts); no killing of twins (a common practice when she was travelling in Africa) and also women having their own independent life (but not to the extent of being called a feminist, that made her very ratty). What would she see now besides more cars and less people walking than in her day? What else would she think curious? We reckon:
  • Mini portaloos parked in gardens so the builders can take a loo break
  • Garages for cars that look as if the owners park their car in the kitchen
  • Joggers
  • Fancy dogs in fancy coats
  • The choice of recycling or rubbish bins
  • Drinks cans thrown down
  • Arsenal and Tottenham football fans in jeans
  • 2-D statues at Finsbury Park train/tube station
  • The lack of kids out (especially unsupervised)
Tree covered in old man's beard (wild clematis) - could it be hiding a medicine man?
We did find a bearded tree though - and wondered if it would remind Mary Kingsley of something she'd seen on her travels?

Over to you
Is there anywhere you go all the time that someone from another century probably just wouldn't believe - either how much it had changed, or how little?