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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.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

A tale of two mice

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during the summer of 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint…

Once upon a time two little girls wanted a pet. After much research on the net and hours workshopping their mum they became the proud owners of two fancy mice, Cali and Chillie. Unfortunately the very first time we cleaned out their cage we managed to lose Chillie under the kitchen skirting board.

For the next four weeks we set humane mouse traps to try and get he back. Sometimes we caught a mouse and after much discussion would decide it was the wrong colour and so we'd set it free. The only time we didn't have this debate was when we trapped a slug...

At last Chillie turned up in the trap looking suspiciously fat despite seeming very hungry. We quarantined her just in case she was going to have babies - and she has. We are now very excited about taming them, but also extremely nervous that she may be such an unsettled new mother that the babies don't make it.

All pets challenge normality: even the boring stick insects proved a problem when they went into reproduction overdrive each April. This time Lola cried herself to sleep fearing we'd disturbed the mouselets too early, I'm guilty about keeping animals caged and Pete will be anxious that we have landed ourselves with as many fancy mice as we have mice under the floorboards.

So, next time we want a pet we're going to improve our organic veg garden and learn to enjoy useful, truly wild visitors such as ladybirds, shield bugs and spiders - even if we keep on hating the snails and slugs and the irritating cats that use our seed beds as lavs.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Not that shandy

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during the summer of 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint… (pic is of a croc sandwich eaten by the kids at the African Adventure fun/fundraiser).

After spending three months pleasing myself travelling around Britain it is good to be doing something altruistic – this time raising running costs for a small park, Greystone Nature Reserve in Harare. The current Zimbabwean situation is so difficult (something even PM Gordon Brown seems to have noticed hence the posturing over the conference due to be held in December in Portugal that either he or Mugabe will attend) that raising as little as #250 bails the 7ha park out for a year (cross fingers).

Raising money is always tricky, especially if you are focusing the event on primary school aged children but it was really good fun. The kids got to play traditional Zimbabwean gamespin the tail on the zebra and Dumbo Crumbo (aka guess what animal I’m pretending to be); the adults supped Rock Shandy and Malawi Shandy after realizing that a Zimbabwe Shandy is just plain water with no ice or lemon; and all of us had fun following a nature guide around our London pocket park looking for mini beasts – highlights included a toad and a newt.

The good news is that we raised half our target and the Friends association (of the London park) has promised to stump up the other half for their Zimbabwean twins.

Foxes at dawn

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during the summer of 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint…

London seems as noisy as ever – but on week nights it’s not exuberant late night tube passengers that make all the din. Last night I was woken by the sort of whimpering that might make you dial 999, but on looking out of the window saw a vixen being hounded by two dog foxes.

Foxes aren’t unusual where we live in London, but seeing three adults was impressive enough for me to wake Lola and Nell for a good look – even though it was about 4.30am. From the window, and very sleepily, they stared at the quiet domestic streets lit as much by the nearly full moon as street lights expecting to see nothing and then were rewarded with a view of FIVE foxes at the junction of the streets as the vixen had two small cubs to look after ,as well as her two suitors to ward off/entertain. We had a happy 10 minute floor show until they all retired under parked cars which meant that we couldn’t see what was going on.

We admit it, we're rubber necks. Now foxes ignore us, and just do it again tonight. Thanks.

Walking the bounds

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during the summer of 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint…

Pete and Nell were at a 7th birthday party (excitingly kids’ parties are no longer E Number fests they have transformed into a chance to provide an education boost. This one, for instance, had a science session which saw all the kids queuing up to get an electric shock!) which meant that Lola and I were able to spend a happy Sunday afternoon remembering routes around London on the pretext of finding Angostura Bitters in Fortnum and Masons, Piccadilly.

Our first stop off was the RA for a whistlestop tour of the Antiquaries in Britain show (1707-2007) and then on via St James’ church (which has solar panels) and Jermyn Street to restless Leicester Square, down past the back of the National Gallery and into Trafalgar Square where Lola bravely shimmied up a lion under Nelson’s Column. while I looked out for the 30,000 cyclists (most in red shirts) who'd taken part in the capital's biggest mass bike ride on mostly car-closed streets, the London Freewheel. There were plenty of cyclists around but though it was Sunday there was a lot of traffic in this area too, which made me glad that I hadn't forced the children out on their bikes as getting home would have been more than up hill. (And at the time I didn't even feel like a killjoy!)

We then walked up St Martin’s Lane dodged left down an alley to Charing Cross Road by the best value and tastiest eat-in falafel bar, Gaby’s, before taking the tube home.

It was exhausting – I just can’t shed my visitor mentality and find there’s just so much to see and do in London even if you're just looking for a loaf of bread, and some cocktail ingredients...

Frontline

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during the summer of 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint…

It’s nearly a month since we came back home to London and I’m on my first trip out to London – Paddington to be precise. This sounds silly, after all I live in London but even though I live in a busy, crowded bit of Islington it doesn't have the vibe that I associate with central London. This time I'm just using the underground so I can meet my lovely friend Nicky, who normally lives in Zimbabwe, and have a delicious dinner at the very stylish Frontline Club which even the insiders reckon is famous as “a place for those with a nomadic temperament to gather and not tell war stories”. We discuss all sorts, including how fast London changes - she's been away 10 years and is stunned by the crowds of 20 and 30 somethings; I've been away three months and can't remember how to exit instinctively from the tube.

Frontline is the right place to meet: I still want to be a nomad even if I'm not sure when I'm going back to Africa, and I've never ever had a war correspondent's temperament.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Bristol: dirty plans, green action

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during the summer of 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint…

You may already know that Bristol has an airport. But did you know that there are crazy plans to expand it so that by 2030 around 12.5 million people will be using it (currently 5.2 million do)? The plans will increase noise locally as there will be a plane in the air every 3.5 minutes for 16 hours a day and there will be a huge surge in the number of cars - an extra 220,000 on the road which will wreck the peace of some rural villages. CO2 emissions will soar which is bad as aviation is the fastest growing source of the greenhouse gases that are changing our climate.

My Bristol-based friend, Helen, (who is writing Cool Life Cool Planet, to be published by Collins, April 2008) asked me to give out some leaflets explaining the need to Stop Bristol Airport Expansion but I has trouble offloading them. The taxi driver for instance said he was very keen on the project as it would bring loads more business. I didn't like to say that much of this might be done in traffic jams seeing as he was driving us across Bristol. It’s easy to forget how short-sighted most people are. Our climate is changing and that is going to mean lifestyles change. Building more airports or taking more trips by plane isn’t going to be an option. As Leo Hickman points out in his most recent book on travel one reason why environmentalists point the finger of gloom at planes is that when a jumbo flies from London to Dubai it emits around 180 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere – where the polluting gas will remain for as long as 100 years. Not only does CO2 have a long life, that one way plane trip is equivalent to as many as 18 average people’s entire emissions heating their home, driving around, buying food out of season for a whole year.

More positively Bristol is home to a sustainability charter and the Big City eco café movement, and will be host to the Schumacher lectures on October 13. Helen was also able to point out some of the guerilla green gardening done by the Transition Montpelier group that has recently turned a derelict blot on the corner of Picton Street and Wellington Lane into an arty area shaded by plants. It looks like a spot now that anyone could enjoy. Go see!

Cut the carbon marchers

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during the summer of 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint…

Since early July a handful of men and women have been walking around Britain on the Cut the Carbon march (backed by Leonard DiCaprio). This event is organized by Christian Aid – 1,000 miles in 80 days – and should take them from Belfast, via Edinburgh and through England to team up with the Labour party conference in Bournemouth on 25 September and then to London for 2 October and the day of the Climate Change Bill (please, don't let this open the door to nuclear).

On our summer travels we saw many posters advertising the Cut the Carbon marchers arrival but always seemed to miss them by a week, so when we realized we could meet and greet them at Bristol and still go to our friends John and Ann’s wedding party it felt like serendipity.

It was disappointing that there weren’t that many at the event in a city of just under 400,000 people – less than 300. Low turnout meant that Nell was able to snaffle some of the cakes made by the Mothers' Union while the rest of us enjoyed a picnic outside Bristol’s cathedral listening to the steel drums go, and later some speeches.

The marchers focused on big picture problems - rather than ones they'd seen on their journey - talking about the destruction of Easter Islands' trees (and therefore micro-climate) in order to make those infamous big and small eared stone head statues and the difficulties changed weather makes to those living in the Congo (DRC), as if there weren't enough problems in that country already.

You can support the Cut the Carbon march virtually by logging on to Christian Aid’s website and joining their shoelace protest or emailing various companies, eg, Barclays and Morrisons, to try and convince business to make more effort to publically explain how they are reducing emissions. The walkers are regular bloggers so you can get the inside story on the web.

Good luck to them all: I so wish I could have joined them but the time just isn’t right.

Crowded train

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three months during the summer of 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint…

It’s a September Saturday and we’re off to our friends John and Ann’s wedding in Bristol. They’ve organized a BBQ and lazy afternoon at Bristol Zoo so we aim for the 10.05 out of Paddington Station. The Circle line seems suspiciously crowded but when we get to the main line station it is a sea of gold and green shirts worn by the crowds of one-time Sydney residents trying to get to Cardiff Millennium stadium for the World Cup rugby match between Wales and Australia. There are probably some Welsh fans in the melee, and less sporty travelers too but at Paddington’s glass-covered concourse it looks as if Australia has the most supporters.

The one charter train has already packed itself to capacity and left for Cardiff which means that we share our service with hundreds of fans desperate to get to the stadium on time. Our carriage is so crowded it would be wrong to sit in all our reserved seats, even if we could persuade people to shift, so we squeeze all four of us on to just two. Inevitably that means we have to earwig the surrounding conversations and that’s how we learn that Australians – when not talking about the rugby – are obsessed by European traveling, budget insurance (eg World Nomad), and have a check list of places to visit while in Britain which includes Brighton, Cornwall, the Regency circus at Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon and a pretty Cotswold village. Edinburgh Festival (in August) and the Munich beer fest (in October) are also obligatory.

Pete regularly travels on trains full of footie fans so he’s not phased by the over-crowding or surprised when our train is unable to pick up passengers at interim stations even ones as big as Reading and Swindon. Instead he enjoys the bonhomie, shared bottles of cider and sport talk.

In contrast I’m shocked that the train companies, like First Great Western, are so untogether that they don’t run longer or more trains to get fans to the ground. These big sporting dates aren’t a surprise so why do train operators let us all down by making zero effort to handle the demand? And why are trains allowed to be so over-crowded in an age when allegedly health and safety is a top priority?

As for the result: a 71,000 crowd see Australia beat Wales (20:32) in an allegedly good game. And because we were cheek by jowl with the Ozzies for most of the journey we can’t resist shouting a good on yerrrrr - even though we're now having a nice day at a white wedding.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

We're back

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of many 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 whatever the weather. This post is from Nicola (pic is of Nell with the first egg laid by our hens after their three months B&Bing at Freightliners Farm)

Even if I've been a bit dreading the end of our trip - and then we all had the terrible down of Pete's dad dying - the girls are thrilled to be home. They've loved travelling but to come home and sleep in their own beds with all their favourite toys was a fantastic excitement for them. And the next will be meeting up with their friends.

But they forgot all this as we got closer to London on the train. It was London herself they were looking forward to seeing again. As early as Broxbourne, which is way out, they went into excitement overdrive impatiently waiting for the suburbs to get denser and the green of the Lea Valley to fade to grey. Nell got very confused when Lola said this was Greater London so we weren't home yet as we lived in Inner London."

"My bit of London is great too," Nell said loyally, even though she hasn't been there for three months.

Without taking her eye away from the window - she was looking for Enfield which we explored in early June on the way to Milann's 9th birthday party - Lola explained, "But in London language Inner means great too," which definitely reassured Nell.

With that cleared up we still had to wait for another 15 minutes after Tottenham Hale before we pulled into Liverpool Street. Sometimes time goes-so-slowly; it seemed to take an age waiting for landmarks to ohh and ahh over. But eventually The Gherkin and Canary Wharf edged on to the skyline and then we were in a tunnel and finally London.

Loaded down as ever (we'd detoured from King's Lynn past Bishop's Stortford to pick up our mice cage, plus food and bedding, homemade jam, new outfits for the kids and a riding hat) we treated ourselves to a taxi home.

London's streets seem so narrow, and our black cab driver - who'd driven past the Queen that morning -told us how Arsenal was being bought by the Russians, etc, etc. Being London it all seems the same and yet in just a few months things are utterly different. Even the colour of our front door - which I'd forgotten I'd painted.

It's good to be home, but I don't think I want to unpack our bags just yet - after all there's a lot more of Britain to see, and we only detoured past 35 other countries which has left us with the sort of travel bug you don't mind having.