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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 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.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

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, 13 September 2010

Ethiopian bread and coffee

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell love to travel with the lightest of carbon footprints. Here's one way to get to Ethiopia. Post by Nicola (for more of her writing also see http://www.homemadekids.co.uk/)

Bread and coffee are my staples. But if I tweak the ingredients so it's a flat bread - injera - and add a bit of ceremony to the coffee, maybe with frankincense then it's easy to be transported to Ethiopia. It certainly helps if you add in the wonderful music of singer Honey Solomon at the 24th Gillespie Festival (held the 2nd Sunday every September) Ethiopia came to a pocket park in the shadow of Arsenal's football stadium.

The Gillespie Festival is a large fete with a cultural spin that reflects the area's unique mix of peoples. While the stalls are piled with secondhand or homemade creations. There's usually also a fast trade in homecooked or home grown produce (I bought rhubarb and plum tomatoes from the Quill Street Allotments and damson jam from Olden Community Garden's stall). Defying categories - a pedal bike that powered up a fruit smoothie maker being run by Finsbury Park Transition Town.

But the real pleasure of attending Gillespie Festival is its amazing multicultural mix of music and people.

Get up and dance
Honey Solomon
specialises in Ethiopian songs - and during her set a tower block version of the flatbread injera was passed around for sharing to everyone in the audience. This bread was delicious tasting (and is ideally eaten with the right hand).

To one side of the stage a coffee ceremony had been set up, beans roasted, frankincense flavoured the air. The hypnotic effect of Honey's music, food and scented smoke soon had the crowd dancing.

Today I was back in this little park walking my dog and there's barely a trace of the Magic Carpet trip the people of London, N4 and N5 took yesterday to Ethiopia. But it's not one I'm likely to forget if I can turn my coffee love into something with more ceremony and less addictive-behaviour.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Street grazing

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell love to travel. Here are ways they keep their carbon footprint light simply by exploring as they stay put. Post by Nicola

Years ago in Zanzibar Town when I was new to travel, I went to the famous Stone Town night market where loads of stalls serve supper - or bitings - with the most basic of equipment. Fingers for forks, stars for parafin lights.

It was magic picking the best things to eat in the blue-black, super-scented dark. Perhaps because night markets lead to sensory overload - try the salt tang of the Indian ocean, bright Southern Hemisphere stars, crash of surf on reef, charcoal fires, the spit of grilling chilli fish, sweet taint of rubbish piles, ladies' perfume, sweat, mosquito buzz - the food at the original spice island tasted delicious. Just remembering has got my mouth watering.

Fast forward 23 years and I've just raided my own neighbourhood for food. Near my home the street trees that produce fruit (eg, rowans, crab apple, plums, elderberry, pear, sweet chestnut) are dropping their load. Inspired by Finsbury Park Transition Town's fair/fete (where I bought a jar of N4 crab apple and greengage jelly for £2), I decided to harvest what was left of the non-stomped on crab apples in my nearest street.

My first attempt - a half pound of mushy mini apples mixed with my homegrown redcurrants - produced two delicious jars of jelly. Later in the day I zipped around on my bike to pick up the very last of the edible fruit starting to rot along the pavement. Whilst doing this - bike parked by the side of the road, fruit popped into my upturned bike helmet - I had the strangest sensation of what it's like to know food poverty. Two guys in shalwar kameez walked past, oblivious to the rubbish picker (me). One woman plugged into an i-pod attempted to turn off my flashing back bike light (to save money she said!), a dog walker crossed the road. And then a friendly man, Rex, came out with his young son to hand me an orange plastic bag.

"It's alright, " I said quickly, "I know there's a shop just round the corner, but I want to pick these apples to make some really local jam." Rex did his best to humour the mad woman outside his house, promising me empty jam jars next time he saw me...

Really it's me who should feel smug. I now have five lovely pots of old-fashioned crab apple jam sourced spitting distance from my home.

But I'm still disturbed by that out of 21st century experience. It feels very rural - even in a city - to sort through and reject fallen fruit. Secondly I had a taste of what it is like to be absolutely invisible, how I guess a refugee might feel. People tried as hard as they could to ignore a street gleaner. Most looked faintly disgusted as if my parsimony might force them to drop to their knees and fill their own Tesco bags with unpackaged food.

The obvious third thought was how lucky we all are here in the UK with this profligate glut of food that no one fights over. If this was the flooded parts of Pakistan how different our approach to food would be.

The shocking media quiet about how our climate is changing - as highlighted by Bill McKibben who set up http://www.350.org/ - makes chilling reading about the speed our planet is warming, see here. For example Russia, Iraq, Saudia Arabia, Sudan and Pakistan have all set their all-time temperature records during 2010. Big changes like this change how things grow.

I won't be setting up a food stall outside my house yet. Which is lucky as goodness knows what health and safety would make of run over, chewing gum flecked, dog poo avoided fruit jams? But I still think these experiences are going to inspire me to make more produce I can store. What I hope this means is that if climate changes mean I actually have to do foraging for real I won't be an absolute beginner...

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

World food

Pete, Nicola, Lola and Nell love to travel with as small a carbon footprint as they can. Here's how they will enjoy world food this September. Post by Nicola

It's nearly the end of Ramadan and some of the mums (many with connections to Bangladesh, Somalia, Tukey and Nigeria) at my younger daughter's school are clearly looking forward to their long month of fasting to finish. There should be a big party in many homes for Eid Marabuk sometime this week - maybe wednesday, or thursday - definitely Friday (it all depends on the moon, and no doubt other details). I just wish someone would ask me to one of these celebratory parties as this will be a brilliant celebration feast.

Harvest festivals - and this year Ramadan - show that religions are clever at using our love of food as a spritual in, and an opportunity to thank too. But the UK has genius (often secular) food traditions - not just our fried breakfasts - and despite all our supermarket addictions it is hard not to miss the best autumn seasonal treats. Right now I'm loving blackberries, Conference pears, damsons, greengages, plums, cobnuts and the few grapes my one-year old vine kindly produced.

Obviously you can enjoy these treats on your own, but another way is to go to a food festival like Brighton and Hove which promises a chance to "taste the world" between 1 September and 7 October, neatly including the nationally celebrated local food week with a celebratory picnic at Preston Park on 25 September, from 11am-4pm. There's even a Regency Banquet - with dresses as sumptuous as the dishes, perhaps with even a few Indian courses given the look-East outlook of the time.

A quick look at the fascinating website of Common Ground (art merged with local distincitiveness) shows that 3 September was the opening of the oyster fisheries in Colchester, a tradition dating back to the 13th century. As you probably know tradition decrees that oysters can only be fished/eaten when there is an R in the month. This year Colchester's Mayor - a confirmed landlubber - caused outcry by doing the gin and gingerbread ceremony (yes, I know it sounds strange...) on dry land rather than a boat. She seems to have done it well though and the oysters can now be served up again.

More worryingly all blackberries are meant to be picked by St Michaelmas Day which this year is 29 September - after that the Devil has either spat on them or done something unspeakably horrible - so you have been warned. I have an Italian friend who says blackberries are considered unlucky throughout Italy making it a brilliant place to pick these delectable fruits. (And if you've got kids they are also a brilliant non-toxic face paint!).

But cutting back on your jam and blackberry and apple crumble supplies (assuming you've stocked up the freezer) does give you time to enjoy apple day and all the picking, preserving and juicing that goes with it on 21 October.

I am sure every nation has moments of food glut - the season of mangoes in the Caribbean, sardines in the Mediterranean, rich cream from Swiss cows, tumeric wherever spices grow - which you learn to love as a child and anticipate as an adult. Enjoy your autumn tastebuds and if you can't make it to a festival like Brighton's (or somewhere more local to you) you can always create your own special nature's larder celebration at home. Cheers!