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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.

Thursday, 31 May 2007

Half term at home

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola.

We head off in eight days for three months so this summer term's half-term holiday has been spent at home - except for an overnight visit to Granny Fiona in Hertfordshire. If we did any more travelling this week I think we'd be travelled out even before we'd set off...

As a result I've had lots of time to play and unhurry the children. They have spent their holiday putting stickers on their new wheelie suitcases, testing out wellies, waiting hours with a net to catch rabbits (nil so far) and campaigning to convince Mum that they each need a pink eyed mouse. This line would have got nowhere if Lola hadn't cheekily suggested calling them after our cousins, Harry and Tilly, which made me laugh so much it sounded like I was saying yes to the mouse deal.

After meeting a man on the tube with a snowboard - last used in Slovenia two months ago - Nell also devised a new sport with a Kinder bueno chocolate wrapper (found on the ground) which she used to "snow board" home by sliding along on one foot. It took ages, but there were no spills. I think kinder snowboarding has definite Olympic 2012 potential - part litter busting and part sport for absolutely anyone. As Nell points out: "It's fun, went fast and made pulling the suitcase home much quicker..."

Monday, 28 May 2007

Playing detective


Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola.

Last week Trafalgar Square was grassed over for two days. Sadly Lola, Nell and I didn't get a chance to view and picnic on the new green park below Nelson's Column as the lawn had already been rolled up and taken off to spruce up another London park a few hours before we arrived.

We were certain that the grass had been there because instead of sulking (tempting!) we played detectives, looking for mud and green bits on the grey paving stones. The photo is of the one grass blade that we found after a 10 minute search - a ridiculously happy discovery. Despite the girls insistance on picking up stuff and taking it home in their pockets (eg, rubber bands, flower petals, hair decorations etc) we left that lonely blade there - so you too might be able to play Detective Grass. I tried to console myself with the idea that London offers layers and layers of history, so it's really not that long ago that Traffic Square, as Trafalgar Square is still sometimes known despite all the Mayor's improvements, used to be a field. We missed that too.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Discovery in King's Lynn




Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola.

In real life I am always running late – so when a letter drops on to the mat from my mum addressed to Lola I grab it and speed the girls towards the train station. It’s not until we’re nearly half way to King’s Lynn to celebrate Grandad’s 80th birthday that Lola opens the letter. Inside is a newspaper cutting from our Canadian relations who had their picture taken as a result of their campervan burning up on the way to Cousin Stacy’s wedding to a Japanese man, Miyoko.

“Pulled in for gas, smelt burning, truck exploded,” is the terse quote from Stacy’s younger sister, Heather in the paper, though there is a very beautiful picture of her and her nine-year-old daughter, Hailey. Despite this drama the van travellers made it safely to the celebrations. In all 40 people met up at Mayne Island, an island just off Vancouver Island. Love miles – the distance family connections oblige us to travel by planes – were high as my mum had come from the UK and 15 people, including bride and groom, from Japan. We saw the photos instead.

At 12.20 the train pulls into King’s Lynn and there’s just enough time to walk through the town’s rather uninspired shopping centre, stopping only to stand on the top of the world – a giant brass globe sculpture, marking the centre of the Vancouver Shopping Centre. During lunch we eventually find out what it’s doing there: King’s Lynn is the birthplace of Captain Vancouver who found the north west passage up America charting the waters up to the Island of Nootka. After seizing this from the Spanish Vancouver renamed it after himself.

The octogenarians at lunch think of Vancouver as a rather short green statue holding binoculars and clad in a tri-cornered hat that gulls favour as a rest point. But we need to walk off our lunch so after cheesecake and coffee we explore the quay by the famously muddy Ouse.

In Georgian times King’s Lynn used to be a busy port with tall ships tied up by the customs house or preparing to set sail. There was a huge fishing community and more pubs than ought to be good for you.

This summer Lynn (as the locals call it) is celebrating Captain Vancouver’s 250th anniversary with a long midsummer weekend of events at 18 sites round town, http://www.vancouver250.com. There’s going to be traditional dancing, classes in rope and clay pipe making and sea shanties to join in. The permanent show will stay at the Custom House – which Vancouver’s father ran, http://www.visitnorfolk.com and go to something with a bit more fizz and spark. A guided walk around the town looks interesting and the Town House Museum of Lynn Life is perfect for young history explorers with its reconstructed rooms. Best of all from 2008 there should be a Seahenge at the Lynn Museum – a replica of the 4,000 year old archaeological find uncovered at Holme, complete with a huge upturned oak stump as a centrepiece. I wonder if we’ll be allowed to stand on that for a digi snap?

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Things change

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or havaing to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola who flew more than she should have done when she worked as a VSO (journalist trainer) in Solomon Islands between 1990-92...

Recently Lola and Nell helped convince our council to delay felling a lovely avenue of trees near where we live. These still may be felled but after the girls ran a campaign, gave out flyers and set up a tent HQ which was photographed for the local paper the trees have a reprieve until September 2007. Councils sometimes move fast, but nature is the winner when it comes to transformation. I've just been sent an email from a friend of a friend, Jan Pana, who has been trying to cope with the enormous changes that the April tsunami and subsequent earthquakes are doing to an area of Solomon Islands in the South Pacific known as Western Province.

Over to Jan: "For those of you who know the Solomons the affect of the recent quakes and tsunami have been devastating and having just seen Gizo and Munda I can say it's like watching thousands of years of geological change happening before yours eyes; reefs/islands, once well submerged, now 3-8 metres out of the water and islands in other areas now completely submerged. There has been terrible physical damage in Gizo, Simbo and Ranonnga and Rendova with many coastal villages destroyed but even more significant, long term, is the terrible fear people have that this will happen again as quakes of 5.1 are still occurring frequently. A lot of work needs to be done to help people overcome something that has no precedent in living memory."

Back in 1991 when I knew less about carbon footprints and the damage flying does to our atmosphere I flew over a brand new volcano. The volcano had sprouted over night in the middle of the Coral Sea and was only a short detour for the pilot flying out of Gizo back to the capital, Honiara. It was grey, huge and had a red fizzing core which spat out rocks as we flew over. That volcano's raw power was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen.

I am not sure how to help my friends in Western Province and the other Solomon Islanders.You can send donations to Solomon Islands Red Cross to help their immediate needs, but how can any human cope knowing that things they thought they took for granted - the view of an island say - may change at any jar of the Richter Scale? It must be so very scary.

Thank goodness climate change has not yet got to such a unbiddable state. We started it, we can help tackle it. My promise to myself today is not to push doing something about being more energy efficient to the back of my mind as I try and cope with family routines, work etc. No, today I will make sure I nag the council's planning department yet again about whether I can have permission to put solar panels (to heat water) on to the roof. But I bet I get destracted by the need to keep the trees...

Friday, 18 May 2007

We're tree huggers today


Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola and Lola (Nell is on the far left of the pic with her friends).

Just when we were deciding which digital camera to take on our trip, who was going to housesit and planning our leaving party we discovered that nearly 20 trees were to be cut down along the avenue we walk along to school every day. We were so shocked that it was easy to set up an instant action to try to stop our council doing this.

The council says the trees (mostly Raywood Ash which look like Rowan) have to go for health and safety reasons. Translated this means that they might drop a twig on a passer-by's head, which could be fatal. It is hard to imagine them as killer trees when Drayton Park is a nightmare of building, construction vehicles, groaning cement mixers and through traffic.

Lola takes over: “In Islington there aren't that many trees, so these are especially important because they are on a big road with big grey buildings opposite. The only bit of greenery along Drayton Park are the trees that the council wants to cut down. The department cutting the trees down is actually supposed to be looking after Islington's trees. I don't think that's right,” said Lola to one of the newspapers. “When it's spring they flower and it's really nice, when it's raining you can shelter under them. When it's sunny they give you shade. So they are useful all year around. So why the council wants to cut them down I do not know. I always walk to school so I've become very attached to those trees, they are like my friends. They always brighten up my day, and they help tackle climate change.

Admittedly Lola and Nell did nearly get into trouble because they were late for school on Thursday 17 May. This time it was because they were giving out flyers to all the people who walk down Drayton Park towards the Arsenal tube. The flyers made it easy for people to ring the council or contact the man responsible for cutting down the tree. As a result his emailbox was swamped by pleas and opinions from outraged residents. Lola was relieved not to be told off by a Year 6 teacher. When he heard she was busy campaigning his answer was that it "was better to save trees than to be early for school!"

At 4pm that day Nell and some of her friends set up a pop-up tent under one of the doomed trees. We added bunting and waved homemade banners saying “We love Drayton Park’s trees” for photographers from the two local newspapers, The Islington Gazette and the Tribune. It felt a bit like being one of the characters in Lauren Child's book, What Planet Are You From Clarice Bean? when Clarice's family camp up a tree to stop it... being chopped down.

About 20 people turned up for this press call including our brilliant local Green Party councillor, Katie Dawson.

Two hours later, back at home, my email box had fantastic news: a message from the council saying the trees would be cut down in September, instead of tomorrow. We were all so pleased to get a three-month breathing space.

It’s amazing how citizen action can work when you are lucky.

Lola and Nell would be devastated to see this avenue cut down, but they couldn’t believe there were no plans to replant any of the so-called killer trees in that street.

They were also shocked to learn that in lots of countries in the world you run real risks protesting. We wouldn’t have dared do this if we lived in Zimbabwe or the Democratic Republic of Congo or Iraq. Twenty years ago we wouldn’t have dared do it in South Africa or Chile. I think our save-the-trees day helped us realise how very lucky we are to live in the UK. The Grk novels (eg, Grk and the Pelotti Gang) for 9-12 year olds by Joshua Doder are a good way to get this message over to book worms too.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Travel worries from Lola & Nell


Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood.

From Lola, 8: I was surprised when Mummy said that I was going around the world – next month. I thought we wouldn’t do it because Mummy worries about climate change and that might mean we’d go on a plane. I would like to go around the world though especially to the north pole and see polar bears. But I was even more surprised when she told me were going around the world in Britain! I think we are going to Canada, New Zealand, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Himalayas and Germany via the overnight train to Scotland!

From Nell, 6: I was very surprised as well but I really wanted to go to Scotland. I thought we would miss our stop on the night train but Mummy said our station is the last one. I can only remember that we are going to Scotland and the Lake District so where Lola thinks we are going is a real puzzle!

Monday, 7 May 2007

Pete's countdown


Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Pete.

Well, it's already been a very stressful experience watching Her Indoors organising everything, ­ a sentiment I'm sure most dads will identify with. It would all have been much easier travelling by Tardis -at least the Doctor never has to try to get through to an automated Virgin booking line or thumb through a cottage brochure.

But there is much to look forward to already. A night train to Glasgow on a train that has its own bar. In fact this is the only place you can find a seat in a bar in London anywhere on a Friday night. How vastly superior to Easyjet. A chance to yomp up Ben Lomond while staying at a Loch Lomond YHA and then a week of failing to catch salmon with a party of J R Hartley loving flyfishermen and women in Dalmally (their record is one salmon in 12-odd years, but lots of single malt). Followed by a week in the Lakes staying in a Cockermouth cottage; a Withnail and I camping experience, plastic bags on feet, by Ullswater; a chance to admire the "damn fine sky" that McIntyre hasacquired for Mr Happer in Aberdeen, where we plan to visit Pennan the setting for Local Hero; and then coming over all Tony Robinson while pacing Hadrian's Wall later. If we're lucky we might even get to stay with Uncle Montytoo.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Free spirits?

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of loads of countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola.

Planning our Grand Tour required two key bits of permission. I needed to take a sabbatical from my job at Friends of the Earth, a process that took about six months. I also had to request a six week leave of absence for Lola & Nell from the school’s head teacher. I am now an unpaid, home educator... lucky me. So here’s a special thank you to the people who signed those slips of freedom - Adam and Rosie – albeit with very clear dates about when real life starts again. Please enjoy this virtual toast!

It was the school's idea to start this blog, so we hope the students (especially Lola's and Nell's friends) will write lots of comments about where we should go, what we are missing and how much fun they are having in the classrooms and after school clubs. Maybe you'll even inspire your families to take a holiday without using a plane? Go on, tell us...