A-Z activities

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.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Chicks on film

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

This pic ought to be of Pete and Xuesong Yu during a break in filming a three minute short for you tube. Instead it's just piles of Pete's new book at Waterstones. Xuesong (aka Emily) is from Beijing. She’s also one of my communications students, and currently on a placement at Friends of the Earth, but she kindly offered to help do a bit of filming. The camera was borrowed too.

The film of Pete reading from There’s A Hippo In My Cistern – with background noise of our hens cheaping – is on you tube here. It's already had 81 people watching it (amazing!). But as it stars fowl, foxes and flapping dressing gowns – and is very funny - maybe you should too. Let us know what you think.

Spanish fiesta

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

Here’s Lola dressed up for her school’s Spanish fiesta in a dress that she reckoned she could swish her skirts, and stamp her feet. she even tried to look menacing as if she was dancing the flamenco.

Yet again this Spanish journey required no effort on our part – the kids get regular Spanish lessons at the school and as part of that the teachers decided to organise a bit of a party. Muy bien as the stickers on Nell's sweatshirt say on the days she's had her bit of Spanish.

Plum taste

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

Xuesong Yu, one of my communications students and currently working as an intern at Friends of the Earth, brought in dried plums, her favourite treat from China, for us to share. They are astonishingly good – part sweet, part salt, part toffee. Unfortunately they aren’t sold in the UK!

New start


Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

I’ve worked at Friends of the Earth for nine years (this is my desk after a serious clean up) and it seems like a blink. Working to magazine deadlines for Earthmatters (and all the others) is rather like being in the tropics – you just don’t feel time passing because of the lack of seasons.

When I lived in Solomon Islands (working as a magazine trainer at a development education NGO) I tried to notice time by noting when the mangoes were ripe or the flame trees blooming but it didn’t work. When I think back to Solo now, 16 years on, I just remember blue skies, blue sea, sweat, dust, magazine deadlines and friends.

Maybe I'll compress the whole Friends of the Earth experience similarly: stormy deadlines, sweat, paper, shut windows and friends.

But right now I'm remembering a really enjoyable goodbye pub drink plus some of the most perfect presents from my team, and ex-colleagues. These included a Baird poem; inventive vouchers from colleagues to cut my hair, photograph my pets and create a poster; and a Eurostar voucher for a great escape. An incredible, and lovely haul!
So here's a big thank you to Friends of the Earth - t h a n k y o u.

Hen on a bike

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

This is the way my hens travel – on the back of the bike. This contraption carried nine of them yesterday for their summer break at Freightliners Farm.

We need transport too as we are invited to a wedding in a pear orchard in Kent and finding it hard to get to. As a result Pete has developed a new green radicalism. “There aren’t even instructions on how to get there by public transport,” he keeps moaning unable to find the nearest station (or a taxi rank) without ringing the long-suffering groom for instructions.

I explain that most people have cars, remembering my book The Estate We’re In: who’s driving car culture (Indigo, 1998). Pete says they don’t.

So we try counting the people we know with primary school aged children who don’t have cars. There are just five of us out of an acquaintanceship of more than 500 in this area (that’s thanks to school networks not enormous friendship powers). Normally Pete loves creating lists, but this time he seems a bit depressed.

For me it is a lesson to book the car club car in better time. Then we’d have the moral high ground and the wheels to make it to Kent with tent, food, spade and really wedding heavy gifts. For Pete it is an attempt to stop me getting more pets. “OK, we can do it by train this time,” he growls, “but if you got a dog then we’d have to have a car. And you don’t want that, do you?”

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Do you speak another language?

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

At the school summer fair we had a storytelling tent for families to tell stories, or read stories or sing songs in their home language. A place to be proud of your mother tongue.

It would have been a runaway success if it had been too hot or too wet.

As it was the tent was host to nine different languages – Arabic, French, Hebrew, Nigerian (Hausa and Yaruba), Solomon Islands Pijin , Spanish (Castilian and Latin American) and Turkish - all enjoyed by children who wanted to chill out or simply listen. Watching the faces of the children hearing a home language in a public place was amazing. One little girl's grin was wider than the Cheshire cat's.
This pic is of our Yaruba reader sharing Heads, shoulders, knees and toes with her audience.

Tortoises and hares

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola (pic of Darwin's house)

Suddenly we keep going to Kent. One week it’s for Lapland, the next Dickens’ world and now to tour Charles Darwin’s house. But what a trip – train just 18 minutes from London Bridge to Orpington (or start at Charing Cross), then jump on the R8 bus (which meets the train and is even platform signposted from the station) to be dropped directly at Darwin’s former home, Down House, near Downe Village.

Darwin is probably the world’s best known scientist. But he also loved his children (very unusual apparently for a Victorian pater) and his Mrs, Emma (also his cousin). And then there’s the Origin of Species, still incredibly readable and the debt we owe him for demystifying how all of us got here.

The English Nature exhibit shows his first passion was barnacles, explains that he once tipped worms on to the grand piano in the drawing room to try and work out if they could hear and he also seemed to be over-fond of carnivorous plants.


The girls wanted to live in his lovely house. Pete and I just had a storming fit of jealousy about how you could follow your desire to write, or think, or dream with zero interruptions (except from crowds of children) while the staff prepared meals, dusted, washed clothes and polished rooms. The visit was a great success – go now before the rush to mark the 150th centenary of the writing of the Origin of Species.


Other pluses include seeing Darwin’s writing desk, pacing the sand walk where he worked up his ideas, the shop, the tea rooms and all that stuff about finches and giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands.

You can get it if you really want

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

Loud music, picnics and sunshine is what makes a party in most places. We’ve been lucky enough to live on the doorstep of Finsbury Park where the anti-racism festival (until Boris Johnson scrapped that bit of it) is held each year with fabulous acts and all for free (see pic from 2008).
This year’s star was Jimmy Cliff. He’s a legend everywhere that values Reggae, and of course that includes Jamaica - and for a bit longer, London's West End where they are showing The Harder They Come as a stage play at the Playhouse.

Winds of change


Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola


If only the winds of change could speed through Zimbabwe in a safe and peaceful way. Here’s a stunning beaded wind turbine (really looks better on your table than in this shot), created by one of Zimbabwe’s versatile and talented craftspeople, which I hope to sell to raise funds for one community group there at the Gillespie Park Festival, London, N4 on Sunday 14 September from 1-6pm. Come use your change to buy a beaded beast or turbine and help a beleaguered country.

This blog is in The Guardian newspaper

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola ( in the pic for once, this time with Nell and Pete, photo taken by Lola)

THIS BLOG HAS MADE IT TO THE GUARDIAN (admittedly I wrote it). The story is at If I had the time... Things to do with your family on Saturday June 14, 2008The Guardian. I think it is OK to reproduce here (will delete if it's not):

A world tour in the UK
When we told the lollipop lady we were going to climb Everest in the summer holidays she let the traffic pile up to check she had heard right. Only the day before, the children had been boasting about their planned fishing trip to New Zealand, and on Tuesday they had told her no one should fly because it speeds up climate change.
One year on, we've managed to visit more than 40 countries without taking a single flight, travelling around Britain looking for experiences that remind us of somewhere else. This sort of grand tour relies more on imagination than brochures. In London, there are noodles to be eaten in Chinatown, the Bangladeshi mela to be enjoyed in Brick Lane, boating at Little Venice, and Thai rickshaws in Covent Garden.


Trying to find the world out of town was even better. We made it to Nepal by climbing Skiddaw in the Lake District. And we ate refried beans camping Chilean-style by Ullswater. Best of all, we've got a lot left to see - there are 194 countries (195 including the Vatican), so at 40 stop-offs a year, this plane-free adventure should keep my family busy for another five years.

Camels

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 10, and Nell, 7, like travelling around Britain on public transport (don’t laugh). We spent three happy months exploring during summer of 2007 but now we’re home, you can still join us for the occasional sightseeing - plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint. This post is from Nicola

Even in Camden there are hints that camels could be round the corner. For the imaginative that means we can tick off Arabia (and Whipsnade zoo). After a quick whiz around the web I found out that camels are known in Bedouin as God's gift. Maybe Camden is trying to cheer people up?