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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.

Monday, 31 December 2007

Footprints in 2007

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

Summing up: it's been a year of adventure and we had no need to spend any part of it on a plane or at the airport. Fog chaos holds no fears. The best memories include...


  • 40 countries visited and no plane used

  • three months of travel around Britain even though we don't own a car (although we've sometimes used them by borrowing, sharing, renting and also as a member or a car club)

  • being aware of the need to tackle climate change makes it easier to make decisions about leisure and pleasure.

  • adventures on our doorstep have been easy to organise (you can even be spontaneous), are carbon light and have made us all appreciate our home a bit more.

  • when we set out a Daily Telegraph travel journalist called our doorstep tour of the globe "either mad or genius", hopefully readers of this blog will be able to make up their own minds.

  • thanks to everyone who helped us.

First Emperor's warriors

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

The terracotta army of 7,000 bigger than life size warriors that was built to guard their meglamaniac boss in the afterlife is an obvious wonder of the world.

It’s younger than the Pyramids and Stonehenge, but older than the Colosseum, Hadrian’s Wall or the Mayan pyramids in Mexico. The show at the British Museum is constantly sold out but after getting on an email alert list I managed to acquire tickets for a new year’s eve eve slot (and as it runs until 6 April 2008 there must be a chance to go). Unfortunately Nell didn't appreciate this show was so special, so I had to go around it too fast, but we still managed to get to know some of the figures, and think about how they would have looked painted. We also enjoyed the seated figures (musicians) entertaining the cranes and other bird life on the artificial river.

I know a few 13 year olds – lovely as they are they also like sleeping and Facebook more than running a war machine - so it is even more of a mystery how the young Emperor managed to boss everyone around, keep winning battles and not get assassinated. He died of natural causes when he was 49, a very distinguished age for the time especially as he was constantly at war with the neighbouring states.

The Emperor is the architect of modern China but his legacy to the world has been a mix of wonder – at these figures only relatively recently dug from a farmer’s field – and suspense because the main tomb will not be excavated until technology can do it with the least harm. And that, apparently, is not in our lifetimes. The best we can do is go and see this amazing taster of what is already excavated in China and simply enjoy the unique details – from beard and hair styles to clothing - on everyone.

Lapland by car club car

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

It feels mean spirirted to begrudge children a trip to see Father Christmas but that’s how I feel about the day trips by plane to the Arctic Circle. The answer has to be bringing Santa here and that’s exactly what Lapland UK has done in a secluded bit of Bedgebury Pinetum in Kent. Inevitably the pre-xmas, meet Santa tickets sold out within days of release so Lola, Nell and I decided to go after Christmas and just enjoy the snowy atmosphere reaching the site in a car club car so that we could also visit friends who live near the forest.

I’d expected to see reindeer and pat Husky dogs but did wonder how we’d pass two hours. However Lapland turns out to be a very captivating place which is staffed by cheerful elves who chat about their lives with Father Christmas to any child who wants to know. They eat elf salad (sweets) and gingerbread; are born when the Northern Lights flicker and believe that Lapland FC would beat West Ham 27-nil.

There’s two workshops – one for making toys and another for decorating gingerbread – but we were also able to explore the Post Office and write to Father Christmas. The highlight for me was sitting on a thick reindeer skin and listening to a traditional Swedish folk story in a kota (like a big wigwam or yurt). Nell was lucky enough to peep into Father Xmas’s log cabin and see the big man’s slippers warming by the fire (a woodburner). When we got home she told her dad that Father Xmas isn’t concerned enough about climate change…

Lapland UK was a really well-thought out adventure, run by enthusiastic people who stayed in character all the time. It also gave us real insight into life in the Arctic. Best of all we arrived at dusk and left in the dark so were able to enjoy the twinkly lights and crunch of foot on snow as we followed the trails around Santa’s forest home fortified by a glass of hot apple punch.

Skates on

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

London has temporary ice rinks at the Natural History Museum, Kew Gardens, Hyde Park and (as the pic shows) in the courtyard of beautiful Somerset House by Waterloo Bridge. Last year I made some effort to get Lola to learn to ride – this year I thought we’d all try skating. Although we will visit Somerset House (open until 27 January 2008) for its eye candy thrills we’ve decided to learn at the Broadgate ice rink by Liverpool Street until April 2008. It’s a much more intimate rink – though big enough to host games of broomball (players in trainers trying to stay upright and sweep the ball into goal with a broom) on Friday nights.

Skating is definitely a skill I cannot teach the girls (although the elegant women from skiing lands, especially the French, are all introducing their little ones to the ice). So I paid for an half hour lesson to get us all started (#18). We really struck lucky with the teacher at Broadgate – Jacky – who is a twice world champion and an inspired teacher. Even in that short time she got Nell brave enough to slither to the middle and experiment with standing on one leg and showed Lola how to jump safely using her arms. And I survived an hour on ice, which was all that I wanted…

Parrots of the Caribbean

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

Inspired by Mary Poppins I took the girls and my mum to see Treasure Island at the King’s Head theatre pub on Boxing Day. It was a fun show (on until 13 Jan 2008) that the four actors performed with a great deal of energy, and at time brilliantly. By the end we all wanted to be Jim Hawkins, or the clever (but evil) Capt Long John Silver. Lola felt she’d hit the big time too, thanks to being invited on stage to sit as still as the skeleton that points the way to the treasure.

Treasure Island is the original boys’ own adventure written in 1883 by Robert Louis Stephenson (who ended his life on Samoa). With its tale of Captain Flint's piracy, treasure maps, an X that marks the site of our fortunes, and the scary black spot that even the pirates fear, Treasure Island must have launched 1,000s of young men into overseas adventures. Even today it tempts us out of our safe sofa corner in front of the TV and a box of chocolates with all the right mix of danger and reward.

Big musicals

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home, but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola (pic is of irrepressible theatre goers Alexander from Zimbabwe, Nell in posh coat and Lola in face paint)

Visitors to London can’t resist the West End musicals, but I’ve tended to avoid the big show experience because they are so expensive. But after going to see Mary Poppins (a wonderful show, coming to its end on January 12 and then touring the UK from June 2008) in Old Compton Street I’m a complete convert. Admittedly this trip was a gift from my friend Nicky who generously wanted to take her goddaughter, Nell, out to do something memorable. Nell adored being on a theatre trip her big sister wasn’t invited to and sat spellbound beside Nicky’s son Alexander throughout. Nicky also bought us the CD and since then we have been belting out all the hits such as A spoonful of medicine, Brimstone and Treacle, Being Mrs Banks and the absolute favourite Supercalafragalisticexpialidocious (slightly adapted to the sportswriter’s dream headline of Super Cali fragalistic Celtic are atrocious).

I know she’s not real, but I still envy Mary Poppins for her ability to control kids and employers, dazzle Bert and generally be magical and poised. She also reminds me of my friend Mandovia from Kuala Lumpur, Malysia who insisted on calling me Mary Potkins because I used to walk around the streets of Honiara shaded from the hot sun by am umbrella. That’s the power of musicals – you see them, sing them and then live them…

Monday, 17 December 2007

Saturday: must be Germany

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

A strange transformation takes place at Lola and Nell’s school most Saturdays. There’s still children and teachers going into the place, learning their lessons, and enjoying the playground but it is a whole new school – the German school.

For an out of body experience I sometimes to go to the German shop that comes with this school. Arranged under the pergola we planted the stalll holder sells dark breads, stollen and other delicious cakes to anyone who happens to notice that a German deli gem has transported itself to London, N5. It’s a pity that our London school doesn’t offer a similar treat during the week, even if the goods might turn out to be a mix of jellied eels and fake cigarettes (traditionally sold at the Nags Head, Holloway up the road).

Even if Germany is on the move, it is surprisingly easy to find it in London if you have time to go to Hyde Park which has transformed itself from classic green space to London’s largest open air ice rink. And all around the rink is a German Christmas market housed in little wooden huts. Go see for yourself - you've got until 6 January.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Enjoy our Christmas markets

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 9, and Nell, 6, spent three happy months during summer of 2007 traveling around Britain. Now we’re home, but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola (pic of Pete by the Bath xmas markets - it looked better at twilight with fairy lights & glorious when the rain stopped)

I’m not sure if I like shopping, or love it. As an avid buyer of local produce, craft etc I seem to buy items all the time rather than all at once in a supermarket.

The challenge is not finding things to buy – but finding locally sourced, fair trade items, or better still feasting my eyes and making something similar back at home.

Lola and Nell enjoy more practical feasting so they loved going to Oxford recently to see Broad Street turned into a French market where they could taste cheese, olives, jams and best of all get me to agree to buying them each a toffee apple. That’s why reading about the people who promise to buy nothing all year truly impresses me. And now there's Mark Boyle who plans to be a community pilgrim and walk from Bristol to India (a mere 12,000km) without a single penny. He's off on 30 January 2008, see more about his plans and the Freeconomy Community at http://www.justfortheloveofit.org/.

As more and more banks succumb to the American sub-prime mortgage debacle you can see capitalism’s foundations wobble. Maybe people like me who love finding stuff on the roadside, at carboot sales, via freecycle, even growing our own veges etc deserve some blame too?

Pete and I have also just visited the Georgian city of Bath – a real treat to spend time together. The weekend we picked also drew vast, umbrella-weilding crowds for their gift shopping at the Christmas markets. In between our trips to the warm waters of the Bath Spa we weaved through the market of little wooden sheds under the abbey. Here stall holders were selling everything from chocolate and Christmas tree decorations to mulled wine and hot water bottle fleeces. It was extremely atmospheric, despite the three-day downpour and I loved overhearing snippets from other visitors claiming it was “So very Dickensian” or just like “Being in a German Christmas market” said by the couple downing Eierpunsch (egg nog) and Gluhwein (mulled wine).

Meanwhile Lola and Nell were taken around the Christmas market at Freightliners Farm, in London N7, and managed to extract all sorts of foodie treats out of their aunt and uncle, and the first visit to Santa of the 2007 season.

Reading the travel section of the Sunday papers I see you can fly to Hamburg's Christmas market for a shockingly low #38 (plus another #20 in transfers to and from the airport) which is a bit more than it cost me to get a weekend return to Bath on the train (tip two single tickets were cheaper). Now remind me, which one did the Romans prefer? Which one is World Heritage Listed and which one is daytrippable? That'll be one nil to us then...

Story food

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

It’s cheating to just go to a restaurant and pretend you are somewhere else. But when the rain is beating down on a winter mini-break it’s a pleasure to do just that. This weekend Pete and I managed to enjoy noodles in a satay sauce and green curry at a Thai restaurant in Bath, earwigging conversations about cricket and art, and then the following night go to Spain.

Visiting La Flamenca is an atmospheric, quick, carbon-light way to get to Spain. It is built into vaults, giving a cave like feeling. I was soon talking about paradors (those glorious Spanish state run posh hotels) and festas, a theme that was easy to maintain seeing as everyone was eating tapas and downing Sangria. Pete saw his opportunity and as a result I now also know a lot about Real Madrid. He of course maintains that he didn’t talk to me about football at all…

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Christmas tease

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

We’re going to have a green Christmas. Nell wants it white of course and Lola wants what the Christmas cards depict. I want it to be fun and as keeping to our principles as possible – so locally acquired food, homemade treats and a sense of celebration without excessive spending.

That's easy to sort out for food and gifts. But what to do about the Christmas tree?

Around 6 million get cut down each year for their two week stint holding up the fairy. In some ways this is good – fast growing trees soak up carbon and if they are then left out with the recycling and shredded they act as carbon sinks. Where we live there aren’t many locally grown pine trees around so I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a potted real tree with healthy roots. The hitch is that potted trees don’t thrive in dry summers, especially with the neglect it will have to expect in our family.

And even if I’d gone down the tree from the corner shop route (with no certification that it was from a well managed woodland) it is still difficult to carry home. Last year I re-used the school’s real Christmas tree – for just a fiver – but it was needleless from the start and this year impossible as they’ve switched to an artifical creation.

I’ve also tried making glitter twig arrangements but the kids don’t really approve. Besides I love the idea of having a tree in the house, especially as we are having friends to stay in the run up to Christmas and family on Christmas Day.

So I lucked out when I found an artificial tree dumped on the roadside for the bin men. It’s about 1.5m high, folds flat - which made it easy to carry home - and will look fantastic covered in decorations. Not only does our tree come with a story, I hope it will be with our family for life without ever dropping a needle.

There'll still be real trees at Christmas for us as I'm planning a trip to see the lights switched on the huge Norwegian spruce in Trafalgar Square (from December 6 or if you missed it, see the pic above). This is one of those gifts - from the people of Norway given each year since 1947 - that Londoners can really look forward to, even though they know what they are getting. I'm also hoping that Pete will get me a very special Christmas present this year, a young apple tree to add to our mini orchard (three espaliered fruit trees) from tree 2 my door.