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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 for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare ( or to contact me.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Making big battle tours - via Battle, Sussex

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 look at three of the top UK tourist battlegrounds - Waterloo, Ypres and Battle (for the Battle of Hastings).
 Obviously the one at Battle, in Sussex, is the easiest to visit without leaving the UK! 
Words from Nicola Baird (see for more info about my books and blogs).

Window at Battle Abbey (monks' dormatry)
Battlefields in the old sense - a field where history is rewritten by the victor - have always had tourists. The battleground at Waterloo (1815) and at Hastings (1066) have also been used for many re-enactions which also bring in visitors. And then there's Ypres - a town totally destroyed during World War 1 that has been rebuilt exactly as it was, as a memorial to those who died.

For anyone interested in history taking a tour of a battleground is strangely compelling.

You feel closer to the action and you learn a lot of extra facts (especially if you take an audio guide) Often you find yourself taking sides. But the tourists who visit these places aren't necessarily picking the winning side, so there is clearly a huge amount of skill in breaking down the information for modern visitors, in order to take in their age or nationality without dumbing history down or forgetting this is both a memorial site, and a repeatable day trip.

Looking towards the Menin Gate at Ypres
100 years since WW1
At Ypres the In Flanders Field Museum has a sophisticated tour that tells you the story with an angle to suit your lifestory and age. So a teenage boy gets a very different experience to his mum. Every day at 8pm you can go and listen to the haunting notes of the Last Post played at Menin Gate in memory of all those killed - just as it has been since 1928.

>>Visiting Ypres has meant that I spend much more time at WW1 memorials around the UK - reading, thanking those people who died, empathising with their families. So many men, and so many families, were effected by WW1.

200 years since 1815
At Waterloo there's a new visitor centre and the extraordinary hill monument, Lion's Mound, which gives you a bird's eye view of the main battlesites.

>>Visiting Waterloo got me re-looking at the Romantic(ish) view of war presented in War & Peace, Les Miserables and Vanity Fair.

Listening to the audio tour beside the place where the Normans began their
advance up the hill to do battle with the Saxons in 1066.
950 years since 1066
And at Battle - where the Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066 - there's a self-guided walk around the steeply sloping battlefield that makes it clear that the Saxons chose the site well (it's on top of a hill) and the Normans must have been very cunning, and brave, to have won by luring Harold's men off that vantage point. I fear that by writing "and brave" you can tell that I swallowed the Norman viewpoint.

Listening to a retelling of the Battle of Hastings in front of
Battle Abbey (now a school).
Now it is 950 years since the Battle of Hastings, English Heritage has put considerable effort into getting more visitors along. There's an excellent film, that audio tour around the battlefield through prettily wooded sheep fields and by the old Abbey - which is still marked by its own stone skeleton - you can listen to shows. We caught a battle re-enactment, done with vegetables so the presenter can work in the joke "William the Cauliflower" which the little kids loved. It was actually quite a detailed recall of the battle, albeit presented with the help of carrot squadrons.

>>The visits to Ypres and Waterloo were very moving. But Battle wasn't a tiny bit depressing, it's very strange. Despite English Heritage's good graphic detail of how the Saxons and Normans fought (they basically swapped arrows and also wore similar types of protective armour if they could afford it) and being in a place where 700 men died on one day, changing English history it just feels a long time ago in what is now a beautiful spot.

Why visit Battle
The best thing about going to Battle (an English Heritage) site is that it has been a tourist hotspot for hundreds of years - so there are great pubs, tea shops and cafes in Battle.There are even places to stay if you want to squeeze in more culture than you can manage in one day (eg, the free Almonry, a local history museum). Battle is also easy to reach by train (Charing Cross to Battle is a quicker route than Victoria to Battle) and there are plenty of buses.

Pilgrims Rest - a garden cafe with very ancient interior (1400s)
which is opposite the entrance to Battle Abbey. As you can see it does a fine milkshake.
Sussex is renowned for it's good food - if that's something that is important to you, then do visit Battle Deli, 58 High Street, Battle, Sussex.

We also enjoyed the offerings at Pilgrims' Rest, eaten in their pretty garden (as well as the search for anti witch symbols on the interior window sill). Pilgrims' Rest was probably a rest house for the original Abbey workers who were commissioned by William the Conqueror to build an abbey on the spot where King Harold died. Apparently this wasn't out of a sense of shame for William I, it was because the Pope told him he had to make amends. As the first of the Normans' abbeys, Battle Abbey becomes the richest in Britain - so not surprisingly was totally trashed by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries.  But you can still see plenty of interesting buildings including a turreted gate house, the impressive wall (with a walkway) between town and the abbey gardens and the abbot's house which became a very grand home, Battle Abbey.

What next
I have a mini dream to try walking from London to Battle along the 1066 walk (although strictly speaking I should perhaps start at Stamford Bridge, Yorkshire (25 Sep 1066) where unlucky Harold had to rush back from after defeating another attempt to take the English Crown, from King Harold of Norway and his own brother (families, eh?!). The Sussex countryside looks lovely - very wooded - so maybe it will be something I can get my family to do with me.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The one night when Claridges Suite 212 was ceeded to Yugoslavia

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 tale of how to give birth in the UK but ensure that your passport has your preferred home land. It definitely helps if you are a mate of ChurchillWords from Nicola Baird (see for more info about my books and blogs).

WW1 changed the way the posh lived. Many no longer ran a London house, but they still wanted to come to London and be able to meet friends, live in comfort and be entertained. The answer was to make full use of hotels. The bright young things of the 20s lived it up at the Savoy, the Connaught, Claridge's and all those lovely huge hotels that are still going but are now just for the super rich (or for those willing to pay £450 a night for a room!).

Back in the day the partying never stopped at some hotels - like the Ritz. But it seems that Claridge's was the hotel aristocrats picked when they gave birth. 

As a timid hotel user (for instance I would never smash up a room or leave without straightening the bed clothes) I think choosing to give birth in a hotel bed is astonishing. Birth is a bloody business and yet clearly the hotel staff had to put up with it, and clean up well. Possibly giving birth at Claridge's was even encouraged. I understand my own dad was born there (and this was in the 1930s!).

This is why it was an extra irony that a young mum was asked to cover up while breastfeeding her 12 week old baby during a celebratory tea at Claridge's, see here.
A grand hotel - this one is the Midland in Morecambe. If only it could talk...

Take me to Yugoslavia
A much more famous birth happened when the young King Peter 11 of Yugoslavia - whose father had been killed at the start of World War Two - made his home as an exile, with his new wife, at Claridge's. On 17 July 1945 Churchill arranged for suite 212 to be ceded by the UK to Yugoslavia. Just for the day. This enabled Peter's heir Crown Prince Alexander to be born on Yugoslav soil. To add to the Yugoslav effect a box of Yugoslav earth was put under the birthing bed!

It'\s a lovely story, and perhaps offers a solution to many of the people who are now seeking dual nationality as a result of Brexit fears? My dad was Scottish, but his Claridge's birth makes my ability to adopt Scottish nationality (should it become available) or even play for Scotland slightly complicated. As a result Mayfair is my spiritual and sporting home...

Assuming Claridge's could arrange, here's a new game to play - which country would you opt to give birth in?

Monday, 18 July 2016

11 things to make you want to stay in Morecambe

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. In search of the perfect sunset we headed to Morecambe. Words from Nicola Baird (see for more info about my books and blogs).

The iconic Battery pub, scene of holiday hangovers for many Morecambe
tourists, is now overshadowed by the fabulous Beach Cafe serving a nice
pot of tea and an excellent ice cream.
1) As we walk past the disused fairground by a huge burnt out pub "suitable for families" Pete, my husband, remembers that as a Lancaster University student he used to work there. The next day we walk through the West End along the Promenade towards Heysham (site of a nuclear power station) and Pete points out another vast pub that he used to work at, The Battery, which closed down in 2010. It's not all bad news as in front of The Battery is a rather fabulous glass box housing The Beach Cafe which serves great coffee.

Morecambe railway station. Get self-guided walks from
stations along the Bentham Line at this website.
2) Even the railway station  - which is just two stops up from busy Lancaster - has moved. It's no longer on the sea front, instead it's a 10 minute walk from the main promenade, built on a road that is punctuated by roundabouts decorated with striking bird sculptures.

Kittiwakes seem to be taking over Morecambe -
it's just art.
3) Unfortunately this stylish bit of art is slightly undone by the shops which are of the Aldi and fast food type.  And in Morecambe's West End back streets where there is no longer a pier (blew away in the 1970s) and thus no end-of-the-pier tat on sale (which this July weekend was dominated by floating snakes-on-a-stick) there are numerous empty shops and charity shops.

It's clear that Morecambe has changed, but does it need more of a much needed makeover?

4) We've just spent a weekend break in a Victorian hotel with wide staircase and that very British seaside tradition, swirling carpet (the Clarendon Hotel, no website, at 76 Marine Road West just 10 mins walk from the train station - a good base and allows dogs). It was the 1880s when tourists started to flock to UK beaches, and 100 years on (according to former barman Pete) Morecambe was still hosting "Glasgow Week" - a fortnight when the Scots left their factories and came for a holiday of intense drinking.

5) Intense drinking is still a hobby in this bit of Lancashire. On the train there are loads of people dressed up in their Saturday best starting the party by necking wine. On another the racegoers returning from Cartmel races are noisily pie-eyed.

Kites on show at the Kite Festival behind the Midland Hotel at Morecambe.
6) But there's also the elegant Midland Hotel - a shining white Art Deco building, put up in 1930, dominating Morecambe Bay - looking like a temple of city cool. At the beach below the hotel is a Kite Festival which involves nothing more taxing than enjoying the way kite-dogs, fish, octopus etc make gentle patterns in the wind. When the tide is right you can see the kite surfers tear along the famous quick sands (find out more about Morecambe Kite Surfing Club here).

7) The long promenade is car free, boasts kids parks, water sprays for playing in, lots of lawn, climbing walls, statues - including comedian Eric Morecombe who came from Morecambe - and a cycle lane. The people we meet are friendly - well they certainly chat - and most places are also not just dog friendly but actively offering any dog a nice bowl of water.

Rentable bikes at Morecambe station.
8) We travelled by train but there is a lot of car parking around. And buses!

9) In London you notice how multi-cultural the population is. In Morecambe it's not like that, but I was surprised to see so many people in wheelchairs, and also families with a child with physical problems or learning difficulties. There are also a lot of oldies speeding past in mobility vehicles.

Great chips from the blue side of this double fronted chippy,
Atkinsons at 16-18 Albert Road, Morecambe, 01524 410890
10) I don't eat chips often - my rule is four times a year, and it would probably be none if it wasn't for that fact that my family adore them and they make a cheap dinner. But at 9.45pm on a Saturday night we were hungry(after doing a long walk across Morecambe Bay led by the Queen's Guide, more of this in another post) and by luck found a fantastic chippy. I swear these were the best chips I've ever eaten, and tasted all the better for being eaten outside sitting on the Promenade Wall overlooking Morecambe Bay trying to guess which Lake District mountains we could see.

11) And of course it's always sunny. Yes there will be plenty of wind off the bay, so if you do fancy staring at those famous Morecambe sunsets remember to pack a fleece. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

French fluency: it's only going to cost £8,171 or is it?

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. Learning to speak a language fluently (or even a few words) is a wonderful way to get to know the world better. This blog looks at the costs - apparently Indonesian is the cheapest to learn, and Korean the most expensive. Words from Nicola Baird (see for more info about my books and blogs).

My Bangladeshi born neighbours cooked this for my family to celebrate the end
of Ramadan. Isn't that lovely? Eid mubarak to all who've been fasting. Understanding
each other isn't just about words - it's also sharing food and, in our case, cutting our hedge!
Today my brother texted to say he's 50 per cent fluent at French according to Duolingo (an app on his phone).  I'm a bit jealous as I'm still  only 44% fluent! So I was interested to see that you can work out exactly how much it costs to learn a new language.  This post contains info from a press release promoting

The guide for travellers seeking to pick up a new language reveals that Indonesian is the cheapest tongue to master while Korean will set you back the most cash. Apparently French will cost me £8,171. I reckon it's going to be more expensive for me than it is for my clever younger brother!

Difficulty (Hours)
Ave cost per hour
Overall cost to fluency
Persian (Dari, Farsi, Tajik)
Mandarin (Chinese)

"Money saving gurus at looked into the costs and the number of hours it takes for English speakers to start from scratch learning a new language and go all the way through to fluency.

The data was compiled using the average prices from a cost-per-hour language learning website, and calculated the estimated expenses of learning 28 languages from around the world.

As well as the cost per hour, the research also looked into the difficulty of learning each language – with average hours needed ranging from 600 to a staggering 2,200.

The 28 languages were picked from around the world and included European languages such as Spanish, Italian and French, as well as the more exotic languages such as Persian, Mandarin and Thai.

The results showed that although Indonesian took longer than more basic languages to learn, with around 900 hours needed from start to finish, it had the cheaper average hourly rate of tuition of £6.35, meaning the cost was particularly low.

Coming in at second place in the cheaper languages was Portuguese, with a total cost of £6,138. This differed to Indonesian as although the hourly price is a costly £10.23, only 600 hours are needed to speak fluently.

This was then followed by Spanish with a total costing of £6,157. This included 600 hours of language priced at £10.26 per hour.

In terms of typical school-taught languages within the UK, it’s those who study German compared to French that should be pleasantly surprised. Within the research, it was revealed that students on German courses at school could be saving £12,013 in money compared to just £8,171 if they had chosen to learn French.

Tipping the costly end of the scale as the more expensive languages to study included Korean, Mandarin and Japanese.

To learn Korean, you must set aside a whopping £41,155, as well as dedicating 2,200 hours to the language. It was revealed that as well as being one of the most difficult languages to crack, it will also cost £18.71 per hour.

Mandarin, or Chinese, will set you back a total of £29,367, while Japanese is also expensive, priced at an average of £24,375."

Over to you?
So if money is the only object - what language would you like to learn?!

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Turning Japanese with the amazing Yayoi Kusama

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. Tokyo-based Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's work is inventive, tactile and fun - a good way to be cheered up. Words from Nicola Baird (see for more info about my books and blogs).

This is a 10 minute queue for All The Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016).
I like the way there are quite a few Japanese visitors in front of me.
The astonishing art of Yayoi Kusama - born in Japan in 1929 - is on show for free at the Victoria Miro gallery on Wharf Road in Islington. You may know her work - think spots and dots - and this time expect pumpkins, hallucinations and mirrors. You might think of these combinations as a visual burst of happiness. The only snag is that you will have to queue for a long time to see her work.

Inside this artwork by Yayoi Kusama the images are so clear, but I seem to have taken
a photo of a crowd of aeroplane landing lights!
Admittedly it's amazing having a private 45 second moment with the Chandelier of Grief. I didn't know what to expect, and in the mirrored twinkling light security of the chamber I had to work hard at keeping calm. There's a definite feeling of being lost in space, or a vision of Heaven. And either of those rather imply that you're dead. But it's beautiful too, so strange how such a short time can feel so long.

I then went up the stairs and enjoyed a 30second private view of All The Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins - a much more cheerful piece of work. Dress for this exhibition - you'll enjoy the three mirrored chambers far more if you have colour blocked your wardrobe. I think black works best but yellow would be OK too.

There's another mirrored chamber - again 30seconds -  called Where the Lights In My Heart Go in the garden. By this time I'd got used to being locked in with the art and actually relished the sudden quiet, lit by tiny pinpricks of light and some air holes drilled into the capsule. Back outside the giant silver baubles amongst the lily pond, the Narcissus Garden, looked equally captivating.  There is one final gallery at the very top of the fabulous Victoria Miro Gallery which is filled with Kusama's so-called Infinity Nets in various colours (canvases of a base colour covered in tiny spots of another colour - check out the texture contrasts).

"I've been Kusamaed!"
The gallery is bizarrely tricky to navigate - it's not just the super steep, super long stairways - it's the lack of signage about where to go next. So staff wearing Yayoi Kusama designed spots point the way. I loved the young man who laughed when I asked about his outfit, claiming he'd been "Kusamaed".

You can also enjoy a virtual tour of Yayoi Kusama's work via Artsy which also sells her work.

According to Artsy, their "Yayoi Kusama page, has Kusama's bio, over 150 of her works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date Kusama exhibition listings. The page even includes related artist & category tags, plus suggested contemporary artists, allowing viewers to continue exploring art beyond Kusama."

Artsy has done a fascinating review of 86-year-old Yayoi Kusama claiming that if she was "a rockstar she'd be Mick Jagger". She's lived in an old people's home (a sanitarium) in Tokyo since the late 1970s but her playful spirit hasn't deserted her, even her wheelchair is covered in spots. She's been a force of nature on the New York art scene since the 1960s, but intriguingly it's only since 2015 that she's become properly well known following a year of firsts with stunning exhibitions in Scandanavia, Louisiana and Russia.

So what got me heading to her show? I was intrigued to see some mirrored balls while canoeing on the canal (at least I think that's what I saw), but it's what led me to go to Yayoi Kusama's show at the Victoria Miro gallery. Seeing art - and understanding its size is the best way to enjoy it - but if you can't make it, then a virtual tour is a good second best. And of course the more you know about the artist the more you get out of seeing the show.

Verdict: Be warned, once you've met Yayoi Kusama's work all you want to do is place spots in unexpected places - the garden roses, on pumpkins in the vegetable aisle of supermarkets or simply round the bathroom mirror. And do take a companion or a gripping book to see you through the long waits between your one-on-one private views.
  • Victoria Miro gallery exhibition at 16 Wharf Road, N1 (Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm) ends 30 July. Nearest tube is either Angel (you can walk along the canal to reach it or take a bus towards Old Street) or Old Street.