A-Z activities

A-Z countries

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.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Rethinking Somalia

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Here's your chance to rethink the Somalia we hear about on the radio/TV. This post is by Nicola Baird 

The rains failed big time in 2010. It's full of pirates. War lords. What about the famine? Oh we all know about Somalia - just from hearing the headline news which sometimes leave worries about local politics, celebrities and the global financial crisis to focus on the hundreds of thousands of displaced, or ailing Somalian people.

On the bus I met 14-year-old Fatemeh* who ticks the Somali box. Actually she's a Londoner, and has never been to Somalia. But she told me how strange it is listening to her parents' stories about their homeland. "My mum makes it sound so nice, the things she did, it's nothing like the news."

But this year there is a terrible drought - the worst in six decades - which is leaving millions of people without food. Many have already moved to Kenya and Ethiopia in a bid to find food.

Leaving this huge rain failure aside (is this another sign of climate change?), I'm beginning to think that journalists - or at any rate the conventions about reporting news - are doing us all a great disservice. There is a history on BBC News here which reads OK, but as headlines it is a litany of disasters.

By focusing on the bad stuff, we get very strange impressions about our world neighbours.

Or in the UK, our real neighbours. The Islington Somali Community puts it like this:

"Telling the story of Somalis in Britain is hard because there is a lack of nationwide research. The 2001 census suggested there were 43,000 Somalis in the UK. But other experts suggest at least 95,000 and as many as 250,000 with estimates of 80,000 living in London alone. While they represent one of the largest ethnic minorities, the only significant research has been localised case studies. These tend to show that Somalis are a hard-to-reach and marginalised group whose voices are unrepresented in national debates and as a result are largely ignored by both the national and local mainstream services."

My experience of Somalians in the UK is smart people, definitely shy, perhaps from a constant sense of embarrassment about their country's pop-up profile.

Of course Somalia has massive problems. Indeed my 10-year-old daughter Nell is looking forward to a non-uniform day at her school (it costs £1 to avoid the uniform) in a bid to raise money for Somalian famine victims. They should make £300 by the end of the day, even without a single cake sold. I just wish I could tell Fatemeh something more positive about her mother's country when I next bump into her on public transport.

Have your own non-uniform fundraiser
Oxfam is helping support Somalia, to make a donation see here.

*not her real name

Friday, 23 September 2011

Wanted: one fly and a BBQ

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No, not with these ideas to get you to the Lebanon. This post is by Nicola Baird 

So what do you know about the Lebanon? I was stretching my mind and found nothing until I remembered Beirut. You go there for fabulous food and nightlife, but also to wander around caverns, temples and overhear French and Arabic in the neighbourhoods. See more ideas at tripadvisor

What about the trees?
And then there's the cedars of Lebanon, those infamous, vast scented pine trees that the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians squabbled over, and later the British used up making railways. You can visit a cedar of Lebanon on a National Trust tree trail, here's one at Hatfield Forest, Essex.

But to get a taste of Lebanon in the UK here's a great tip from my friend Hannah. She says pick a nice day and then take my daughters to a trout farm to have a go fishing.

I thought I'd misheard. Here's what I think about fish farms... Minus points = overcrowding of fish & over use of pesticides. Limited plus points.  Possibly a good way to farm protein and definitely an easier way to catch "wild" fish, even using a fly? But read on...

At the fish farm her friend visited, there were lots of people enjoying a weekend outing - either keeping up the skill of catching a fish, or teaching their family to do so - and then cooking up the catch. She said the smells of BBQ fish were delicious, and after befriending a family with one of the most succulent smelling meals she left with a fabulous Lebanese recipe for making trout taste extra good.

See this website for 100 of the best Lebanese dishes. They really look yum.

All I need to do now is identify the nearest trout farm, and maybe just give it a go. 

Cross fingers there will be someone from the Lebanon cooking up a storm when we are there...

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Using locals to speak a new language

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. This post is by Nicola Baird 

What's the easiest way to learn a language? I reckon it's necessary to listen very hard to become fluent, and then to try the words and phrases, day after day. I think it is much easier if you can let your subconscious - that bit of your brain that demands habit (mine likes coffee when I wake up) -  kick in. But I don't find learning languages very easy.

"Quel'qu'n"  this may not be spelt right, but I distinctly remember learning the phrase "is anyone in there" after staying for a couple of nights in a Paris apartment with a French family. Because the apartment was crowded there was a serious danger of walking into someone using the bathroom, so the phrase took on ridiculous importance.

In the same way hearing "mira" being repeatedly said by a babysitter dandling my baby daughter helped me learn the Spanish word for look.

Now that my 13 year old has learnt a second language (due to travelling out of the UK all summer, shh not to mention much about this on this blog and besides it was a one-off, and it's Solomon Islands pijin which very few people speak in the UK) I'm trying to encourage her to use the same listen and try techniques to get herself a Spanish GCSE. She actually made the fluent breakthrough after six weeks in the Solomons, and then one rainy day spent making baskets and toys out of coconut leaves (see pic above). And if you ever want to visit that place (the largest uninhabited island in the Pacific), know as Tetepare, see the info here.

Spanish is a fab language, I wish I spoke it. But my efforts over the years mostly in the UK - evening classes, tapes, plus short visits (pre-children & pre-blogging days) to Mexico and also Spain - have probably helped. But my know-how is very weak, so I cannot help my daughter build up her Spanish voccab, essential to get that GCSE which will give her a ticket to uni...

But there's a clever trick you can do too, whatever language you want to speak - use visitors to the UK.

Here in London there are loads of Spanish speakers so I've arranged for Lola to meet up with a Chilean family and help mum cook supper for the two boys one evening after school. 

Hopefully she'll hear phrases like "is anyone in the loo"  or "would you like some more" (all in Spanish!) that will never leave her brain. Actually I'd like to learn like this, but would prefer to go to a tapas bar, so somehow haven't got around to sorting out my language needs. 

If anyone's got any ideas about non-classroom ways of learning a language at home please share them here... Thanks.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Take a lemon: tastebud travel

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. This post is by Nicola Baird 

It's so easy to eat your way around the world. You can do it at a restaurant (fancy a Mexican?), food mall (noodles anyone?) in the supermarket aisles, in your store cupboard (just keep harissa paste, curry powders, and pesto in stock for a chance to cook Thai, Indian or Italian).

But it's British food fortnight - the time when we're all urged to try eating local food, to get a sense of place on our plate. 

So if you are in Leicester have an apple and a hunk of Stilton cheese. If you are in Somerset have cider and an apple pie. Etc...

I love British food, but was quite surprised how little I long for it when I'm not in the UK - what I like is to eat food that's grown locally wherever I am because that way there's a chance it will be fresher, tastier and possibly even prepared with love. Jams bought at a fete or pre-Christmas event are a brilliant way to stock up your store cupboard without ploughing yet more of your money into a supermarket.

There are loads of ideas about how to find and choose British specialities, without paying over the odds on this website.

Lemon curd recipe
I love tarte citron, but thought it was out of my cooking orbit being so French.

But lemon curd is a traditional English condiment (think Little Miss Tuffet eating her curds and wey), and it is surprisingly easy to make. You could even make blackberry curd if you wanted to remove all food miles and a bramble bush is easier to find than a lemon. I adapted a Nigel Slater recipe - just melt butter with sugar over a bain marie (I put some water in a saucepan, got it boiling then removed the lid and put a thick china bowl to rest in the saucepan). Then I squeezed in the juice of one a lemon, and as it was unwaxed grated the rind too. I was quite pleased to use up this lemon as I had no other plans for it. Then beat a fresh egg and pour into the melted sugar/lemon/butter mix. Stir, then beat (with a whisk or fork), for about 10 mins - until you can feel the mix thickening.

From the Observer...Makes 2 small jam jars (or for 1 jar)
zest and juice of 4 unwaxed lemons (or 2 - but I only had one and a half)
200g sugar (100g)
100g butter (100g)
3 eggs and 1 egg yolk (I used one egg, just ignore the egg yolk unless you have one to use up)

Then pour into a clean jar and when it's cool add the lid. It keeps in the fridge well for about three weeks, and is stunning - spread on toast or as a filling for a pastry based tarte citron. I even spead it on filo pastry, rolled it up and cooked as a surprise pudding.

I say surprise meaning my family were impressed when I suggested we could travel with our tastebuds, right now, for Sunday lunch, to France - except that actually lemon pie is really a British dish. Enjoy!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Bike for a French feel

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. This post is by Nicola Baird (picture above about how freeing a bike can be, is by Lola, aged 9).

My friend Rachel went cycling in France during the summer. It was quite easy, she told me looking distinctly svelte, just 1,ooo km over eight days so we had time to sight-see. This is a staggering distance, how on earth did she have time to sight-see?  The answer is that she's cycle fit. She cycles most weekends with her partner, Andy Cornwell, who is an extraordinarily passionate long-distance cyclist and has a great blog with ideas about where to ride, and how to test your endurance. Should you wish to do something similar, have a look at the Lonely Planet guide, Cycling France.

Admittedly the world's most famous cycle race, the Tour de France is 3,600 km, and lasts 21 days, but those  competitors want the challenge - they are super-fit, lean, mean bike machines. 

I find cycling is a good way to cheer me and the family up.

It's lovely to cycle on autumn days when there isn't a headwind and the leaves are turning red and yellow as if you were mountain biking through a Canadian fall. I like the way you can stop exactly when you want to - no worries about parking when you see a bramble bush still laden with blackberries. When the first frosts come it will be time to stop at the blackthorn and pick sloes to  make sloe gin or flavour vodka ready for a Christmas treat.

Sustrans offers fabulous off-road cycling all round the UK. 

For anyone based in London there are also some great journeys to make - your personal Tour de France  - either direct from your home or via a train line that allows bikes. I particularly like the stations running north of Finsbury Park that take you out to Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridge and Norfolk. In a recent issue of London Cycling Campaign's magazine there's a great ride around Stevenage. It's 30 miles which sounds a long way - but do it at your own pace, on a lovely autumn day, and you'll be rewarded with the same feeling of triumphal achievement that those Tour de France cyclists get when they cross the finishing line. 

Monday, 12 September 2011

Xmas mini breaks

This blog is about family travel without using carbon miles. It is by Nicola Baird.

There's an obscene pleasure in mentioning Christmas - or Christmas shopping - in September. I've been tidying up and happened to uncover a pile of 2007 Christmas cards which can be put to good re-use later this year.

But what really made me wonder about what I might do for December festivities 2011 was seeing an insert from guardianholidayoffers.co.uk/newmarket which cherry picks all the European places that are famously good at celebrating the run-up to Christmas.

BRUSSELS - has a famous market
BARCELONA - has a fabulous market
BOLZANO and MERANO - for the Italian Alpine markets in the Dolmites.
INNSBRUCK - for the alpine markets in the Austrian Tyrol.

The pictures on the brochure are all taken at night; the markets aglow with twinkly lights. But you can easily get the same atmosphere here in the UK, and thanks to my wedding anniversary being in December I've been to loads of Christmas markets.

Cheap tips
Of course every Christmas market is designed to make you part with cash from a cold looking person, despite their layers of coats and scarves, parked in a shed in a town square. Some of the sheds may even be covered in fake snow. Like many visitors (so-called shoppers) I have honed the art of feasting my eyes, which seems a bit mean for all those craft makers. However the food and hot mulled wine stalls still do well.

Even when it's rained, and every year it really has poured, the Christmas markets at Bath, Winchester and Cambridge have been lovely to wander around. There's many more I'd like to visit too, including York and Lincoln.

Given that the Guardian today warns that the average family income has to fall by 10 per cent - thanks to Osbourne and the Tory's absurd policies - maybe you can find a Christmas market a little closer to home for a seasonal treat?

Find a UK Xmas market
Have a look at this website for a huge list of the dates of all UK Christmas markets, they are everywhere from Tetbury to Skipton to Portsmouth...

Friday, 9 September 2011

Sport binds us?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK.

In a series of lighthearted emails back in January 2010 the excellent head at Woodford International School in Honiara, Solomon Islands said my little Brit daughters could only attend his school (for a week) if our whole family promised not to support New Zealand's 2011 Rugby World Cup bid.

Well, that seemed like a nobrainer.

I've never enjoyed rugby (or to be honest understood the scoring). If he wanted me to cheer for Oz's side (the one that hasn't won the rugby world cup for years...) then I was happy to do so.

But it's 9 September 2011 today and the Rugby World Cup has started - with New Zealand the hosts until 23 October. The host nation are apparently favourites, and haven't won top honours) (the Webb Ellis trophy since the inaugural game in 1987. This seems to be an advantage, they've certainly played the first half of their first game rather finely. But don't worry Greg, I was just looking at the Tonga team's red strip, and then couldn't resist watching both teams doing their fierce Polynesian war dances before the game kicked off.

And thanks to Greg I've realised that there are seven weeks of sport to enjoy and lots of the teams are from a long, long way away. I'm especially looking forward to the Fiji v Namibia game on Saturday (watch it on ITV 1, 4.30pm).

The picture above is more relevant than it might seem, it's a Pijin-language slogan Tshirt meaning we can do it together (tugetha iumi save duim) - which I took at Honiara's Lime Lounge during an annual award ceremony for Courageous Women. The Solomon Islands award was won by a woman who'd done a huge amount of surveying to discover that more than 60 per cent of women aged 15-49 had experienced domestic violence. This is a very high rate, and besides Papua New Guinea, one of the highest in the Pacific region. It's also shocking - it's dads, uncles, step fathers, grandparents, brothers and cousins who are hurting their wantoks (relations).

Scary jobs
I've been sniffing around the internet finding out more about this and discovered a just published Amnesty International report that surveyed Solomon Islands women collecting water in an area of Honiara that is off-grid (actually it's off-grid for about 90 per cent of houses). During the day only two men went to the water pipe, everyone else was female. When the women were asked why the men weren't helping the answer was "They are playing sport or drinking kwaso (a potent homebrew)." Here is the Solomon Star link.

I guess seven weeks of sport is good for nation building and bad for a lot of non-sport mad partners. Especially the ones collecting water (and in my London home that probably includes washing up duty).

Anyway, enjoy the games. And if you have to collect water, do so safely...

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Moth collection

I've been travelling for the past three months - and I'm sorry to admit that this involved making nine flights. There is no defence other than I hadn't been on a plane for 10 years so had a few carbon credits in hand. PIc is of Nell, me, Lola and two Solomon Island guides - Ofani and David - who had just taken us for a very long walk to see this amazing map, the Kolombangara stone.

But now I'm back at home. The first thing I noticed was that the kitchen seemed to have shrunk after the experience of living without windows, or clutter, while we were in Solomon Islands for two months. The next was the plague of moths.

Clothes moths drive me crazy - they've followed me around London to a range of different houses and their caterpillars have destroyed far too many of my clothes. They chew rugs, carpets, dresses, silk, jumpers, curtains even. I'm told they can even take over sheeps' wool insulation. They get into the food jars, and once the kids were sent home from school with a vicious note from the lunch supervisor telling me not to send them to school with maggoty fruit bars. When I protested that these were moth larvaes the teachers were even less sympathetic.

The result is that I am willing to kill these poor moths, and do so with a pheremone trap, ie, it's laced to stop the male tineola bisseliella mate with the female.

Unlike most of the world's 160,000 moth species, clothes moths (tineola bisselliella) like dim light. As everyone knows, most moths are drawn to bright lights, so they've done a clever bit of adaptation. In fact I admit to freaking out, just once during our three month travels, and it was over moths chaotically fighting to kill themselves on the kerosene light. We had to leave at 5am, ie, it was going to be dark in the morning, and was already dark, so I had to pack. Easy! But the torrential rain seemed to make hanging around the kerosene light even more attractive to the moths. There were 100s, maybe more, anyway enough to darken the lamp and to reduce me to a weeping lump lying on the dark wooden floor of the very special eco-lodge, Imbu Rano, Kolombangara, Solomon Islands.

I literally couldn't see for moths. 

Moth worries aside Imbu Rano is the place to base yourself if you ever want to take a walk through montane rainforest on a dormant volcano (the equivalent in the UK would be wooded parts of the Malvern Hills, or imagine the woods on Arthur's Seat or the Lake District). The eco-lodge has the world's most lovely view, read more about it here. There are some good pix here too. And by the way we stayed two nights and moths weren't a problem on the first night - it must have been the weather or the moon, or some other natural phenomenon.

DIY moth removal
Finding moth pheremone refills for the plastic traps isn't easy. But at the fourth hardware shop I visited (ironically the one I first stumbled across moth traps) had some for sale. A pack of 10 refills is £17.50, or buy one for just £2.

"Are you selling a lot of these?" I asked, and got a laugh for a reply at SX Wallpapers, 113 Essex Road, London, N1.

"We've sold 3,000 refills this summer. I've been saying we could turn the upstairs into a moth refill showroom and show people how best to swat them!" he added.

I'm sharing this with you so you can keep your clothes in a decent state, ensuring you have a little more cash available for travel around Britain without a plane...