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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, 7 June 2010

Sunflowers everywhere

Nicola, Pete, Lola, now 11, and Nell, now 9, spent three months travelling around the UK in 2007. They're back home now but still exploring ways to see Britain while exploring the world. This post is about a trip to Arles, Provence (France) via books, and is by Nicola.

Our homegrown sunflower seeds are starting to break free and head upwards which has helped extra engage the girls with Van Gogh's famous flower portraits. Back in March we'd been to the Oxford Literary Festival to hear three children's writers talking about their work - one of the most impressive (and certainly the man who made everyone laugh the most) was Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Cosmic sunflowersThree months on we've now read three of Frank Cottrell Boyce's books aloud at bedtime (also on the tube, trains, in the garden etc) and he is a genius. See here for video clips with Frank talking about books and paintings to a class at the National Gallery. A truly "cosmic" writer as one of his character's might put it. But in Framed a key part of the plot is when the kids steal a really famous picture - Van Gogh's sun flowers.

Time travel
Roll on a couple of months and Dr Who plus new assistant Amy Pond turn up in Arles a few months before Van Gogh's suicide to assist him removing an invisible, fierce, blind alien.

Seeing Vincent Van Gogh with their favourite TV characters - plus recognising his pictures from the Royal Academy exhibition (we went twice!) - and generally being clued up really helped the kids talk about depression, highs and lows of creativity, what is art etc, and they know what one small bit of Provence used to look like. (In the Dr Who TV series these scenes weren't shot in Cardiff, but on location in Croatia which clearly still has narrow cobbled streets and is incredibly picturesque).

Treasure hunt
If you're looking for ways to inspire kids about art then Framed is a brilliant introduction to the National Gallery collection. Obviously, you could just go to the National Gallery but I find it's worth picking out a few pictures rather than going room by room. Either provide a treasure hunt of target pictures or get lost and in each gallery pick out the pic you most want hung in your bedroom. Another in-depth read about Van Gogh's final weeks - much of it spent drinking absinthe, sharing ideas and getting cross with Gauguin (who will be the subject of a huge exhibition at the Tate in September) - is to read The Yellow House by Martin Gayford (Penguin).


I think this is the first trip to France my family's made that mostly involved books and pictures. Strange that it was inspired by sunflower growing and a Dutchman.

If you like this post do bookmark it, or also have a look at Nicola's other blog, homemade kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children here.