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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.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Treasure island


All adventurers yearn to have a successful trip to Treasure Island. This post is from Nicola.

Lola and Nell figured taking on the landlubbers (Swabs!) on the tube would be the quickest way to collect treasure. I think they only resisted because Lola (aka Long John Silver) was using an umbrella as a crutch, and it just doesn't make as lethal a weapon. The photo shows Lola with her friend Freya dressed up ready to thrill at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket's, newest Stevenson adaptation of Treasure Island. You can book tickets here.

If you don't read the book carefully you'd assume Captain Flint - the evilest pirate of them all, easily outranking Blackbeard and the modern pirate ransom-takers in Sudan - hid his treasure in the Carribean.

But my family thinks this is wrong. Yes there are swamps and it's steamy hot. But there's also pine trees and such a tall tree (from which the skeleton points the way)that it couldn't be anything but a Giant Redwood. In other words is Treasure Island along Vancouver's carefuly mapped Candian coastline?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

It never snows around Halloween



You know how the weather is getting stranger? This post is from Nicola Baird.

Last week we went to Edinburgh on the night train - very exciting. But it was even more exciting wheeling the suitcases from our door to the tube station thanks to giant-sized snowflakes. Everyone was grinning (well we knew it would melt soon) and taking pix on their phones. We all did too.

And then we got to Edinburgh and it was a bit chillier than London. But the skies were utterly blue. And then we met the witches...

Athens of the north: battlefields and poppies


We've been to Edinburgh before, but never up Calton Hill with it's fantastic views of the Castle, Arthur's Seat - and the Firth of Forth. And once you've had a picnic there's the memorials. The Parthenon copy (still with scaffolding!) was a war memorial to fallen soldiers at Waterloo and the construction that led to the city being dubbed "the Athens of the North". This post is from Nicola Baird

Scotland is proud of its war contribution (even if colonisation has been air brushed out of history up at its national museum), with memorials of generals and "the fallen" in all the best places.


Up at Edinburgh Castle there's Ensign Ewart's marble block which marks the "lucky" solider who grabbed the French eagle for our forces. Impressive as this was the memorial didn't go up until 1938. But it did spawn 1,000 demands for large golden mirrors encircled by a cowed eagle - something still very on trend. There were two in the appartment we borrowed!

War still seems very distant even if there's never yet been a whole day of peace in the world I've lived in. See more about how to resolve this at War Child here. Meanwhile Lola is learning about the second World War and perhaps understanding how the first World War carnage (from 1914-1918) helped lead nations into another six years of war in 1939.

<<>Mervyn James Hamilton, a soldier who died in November 1914 from his wounds. Phoebe (we know her as Gebe and Lola was old enough to have several Christmases with her and also went to her funeral) never knew her dad. She was yet another generation raised by single mothers.

<< href="http://www.gordonhighlanders.com/">Gordon Highlanders at Scotland's National War Memorial, within the grounds of Edinburgh Castle, see more here. I don't think we were meant to take pictures, so many apologies.




Nell had a good word for war memorabilia: on a sunny day the cannons provide the best seat for views across to the Firth of Forth and beyond...

And then Lola <<>I believe in Yesterday (Jonathan Cape) and look for the battle scenes.
My conclusion is that we all left our attempt at remembrance a little confused.

All change



Trams may be admired in Amsterdam but at the installation stage it’s just chaos. This post is from Nicola Baird.

Edinburgh’s transport chief, Neil Renilson, is to take early retirement at the end of this year (2008). At just 52 you could see this as an exciting move for a bearded man who’s worked on the buses for a lifetime. Here’s his chance to do other things close to his heart: golf? Walking? Time with his family? Etcetera.

But like Renilson’s decision to back the tram, his news has not been met with enthusiasm. People are furious that Edinburgh is currently a miasma of alternative routes, traffic cones and white-hatted, drill-wielding workers digging up all the grand streets.

“I’m sorry you’re seeing Edinburgh looking such a mess,” was the first thing our taxi driver said to us as we got off the sleeper train at a distinctly chilly Waverley Station.

In London someone’s always digging up the roads – usually to sort out Victorian drains or water pipes. Or to lay cables. Or just for the end of the budget year hell of it. So diversions seem normal. But it is true that Edinburgh is not looking herself. The imposing grey stone parades are cluttered with orange and white cones, ticker tape and steel cage fencing that looks like it ought to be in use down at the zoo.

"It's a disaster. I never go in town now," was Maureen's opinion as she served us fudge from HMY Britannia down at Ocean Terminal.

I’m all for trams. I enjoyed watching the progress at Nottingham, have long admired the Amsterdam routes and think Edinburgh a real leader. They had the first car club (see pic above of one of the vehicles parked in a bank of four just off the Royal Mile. And now they’re using the tram to future proof the city against the oil price shocks that will rock all conurbations once peak oil passes. Trams are powered by electricity which can be generated from renewable sources.

Tram building is disruptive, easy to criticise and the schedule is slipping. It was due to open in Feb 2011 but is more likely to start in July 2011 (just before the festival) which looks set to add to the £512 million bill. My hunch is that Renilson expected to be the fall guy. So when we come back in three years time to be whizzed around by a tram that could finally sort out gridlock and make a Georgian city a carbon neutral place to travel around again I’ll be raising my whisky glass to him. Cheers.

Edinburgh food miles


When I’m at home there’s chard (well, mostly just chard) less than two metres from our kitchen table. So how can cities that seem even less green than London shorten the distances food is transported from farm to plate? This post is from Nicola Baird.

Around Edinburgh the food is good. We’ve had pumpkin broth, baked potato with chickpea salad, local beers and the promise of fair trade or locally sourced ingredients at many cafes. But I can’t help noticing that there aren’t many places to grow for the people living in the big apartments that make up the New Town (even if grass rooves have been spotted, see pic above, in the Old Town area). As a result every grassy square (or more usually circle) we stroll past I imagine being turned into allotments.

It turns out I’m not dreaming alone. Energetic MA art student, Helen Johnson, has transformed the quadrangle at Edinburgh College of Art into an 18ft diameter veg plot between work on her final, weaving sea kelp. The plot has three raised beds, is already producing spinach and leeks and has a contract to supply the college canteen. Helen says it was inspired by the work of Joseph Beuys – the famous German sculptor with a colourful past, including a lucky escape from his crashed plane and the birth of the Green party.

And in early October the Scottish Government ordered public bodies to search for extra land that could be made available for public allotments. Already 3,000 people are on the waiting list – half of them in Edinburgh where there are 1,268 plots (rented for around £48 a year). Apparently it takes seven years to get to the top of the list…

Here’s my tip for Scotland’s rural affairs secretary, Richard Lochead, turn a blind eye to gardening on the green swathes that pepper Edinburgh. The Museum of Modern Art would be a good place to start, then the grassy makeover opposite Harvey Nichols and finally bulk buy a load of containers so people can try growing food up front.

If the Congo was in Hertfordshire

Dr Livingstone I presume?
The journalist Henry Stanley became obsessed with the Congo after he won the race to track down “missing” explorer, Dr Livingstone. This was back in the 1870s but it turned his life around – he then went on to explore the heart of Africa’s longest river.

Although the Congo has inspired some great fiction, such as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, replicating Livingstone or H M Stanley’s adventures has been all but impossible. It’s not just the size of the rainforest or the lack of roads, it’s the numerous rebels that take refuge there – and the conflict over the countries’ mineral wealth (eg, copper, cobalt and gold). There’s some good facts about this in Tim Butcher’s book, Blood River (Vintage), where he shows clearly that Congo exploration is always a no go trip.

More recently we have had the western corner of the Congo being sanctuary for rebels and besieged during the Rwandan conflict. And now the TV pictures show that the area’s exploding again as rebels push displaced people - 200,000? - towards Goma, where the UN is no doubt sweating buckets after the debacle it (and tens of thousands of innocent people) experienced only a decade ago in nearby Rwanda.

Which is why Nell, now 7, and I went on a trip to the Congo via an overhung stream that snakes through the flood meadows of the River Ash behind the pretty (and mostly safe) Hertfordshire village of Much Hadham. Nell’s been studying rainforests at school and become impressively obsessed. So we borrowed a fallen tree to make our dug out canoe and then chillily paddled down Africa’s longest river watching out for okapi and other shy beasties.

We could hear the chainsaw in the distance, imagine the humidity and had the realistic pleasure of swatting fat mosquitoes. And then we drove home in the car club car, stopping only to buy an ice cream and wave hello at a man I presume is my mum’s former GP.

That’s how a journey to the Congo should be I guess.

If you want to help support the humanitarian appeal, check out Oxfam or Christian Aid here.