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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, 24 October 2011

Taste of Chile

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how to go to Chile via a sweet tooth. This post is by Nicola Baird 

Chileans obviously have a love-hate relationship with dentists. Our family is friends with a Chilean family and have recently been given a kilo of delicious toffee sauce (made by Nestle, really it's heated up condensed milk) which is eaten on toast. I tried it on pancakes and as a topping for a cake I gave to my godson. It's very sweet, and very delicious.

Last week Lola was given a little tin of miel de palma and told by the family that it was coconut honey. The translation didn't sound right - not least because the ingredients do not include a drop of honey (I'm assuming miel is honey in Spanish...). Google turned up the goods - it's a palm syrup from a special tree that has small edible nuts (a bit like coconuts) and when the top of the palms cut it bleeds a golden juice that if heated turns into a maple syrup like concoction. Which I guess is good on toast, and on pancakes...

See what I mean about the dentists?

Here's some interesting detail about miel de palma. Anyone know any other Chilean treats I can find in London?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Going Dutch

Windmills give Canvey a Dutch feel.
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how to go to Holland via Essex. This post is by Nicola Baird 

Canvey Island. The name has a potency - but it's not really an island, more a chunk of Essex jutting into the Thames estuary that's below sea level. It was disastrously flooded in 1953 which led to 58 people dying. There is a history of the east of England 1953 floods here. As a result a massive cement wall was built shielding "the island" from future spring tides. It's a bit strange walking beside the sea wall because you can't actually see the sea.

You may be here a long time
There's a 15 mile barrier which makes one feel as if you are in a prison.

The effect is magnified when a tannoy from the local football club announces "good afternoon". But fortunately near the sea front the sluice gates are open so you can go down to the slender beach and play in the paddling pools... And further around the sea wall becomes a grassy mound which is a pleasure to walk along.

We're visiting because my husband Pete is a Dr Feelgood fan, but I'm curious about why the Dutch were here, back in the 17th century, when making hay (not processing oil) was the big money-earner. You can still see cows grazing in the hay meadows at Canvey Wick, admittedly with today's income generator, a vast oil refinery first put up by Occidental, as back drop. There are also a couple of wind-powered water pumps that make it look more like a Dutch pastoral. Best of all are the  tiny, one/two bedroom thatched, hay-bale shaped houses dotted around the so-called Dutch Village, some dating back to 1618. There are also rumours that the Dutch drainage engineer Cornelius Vermuden helped drain Canvey (we know he did the Fens) probably because in 1623 around 300 Dutch men were on the case to make the island habitable.

All easy to see from the bus which runs frequently from Benfleet train station.

Canvey Island has many claims to fame besides it's relationship to oil. See more here. Wikipedia points out:
"The island was the site of the first delivery (1959) in the world of liquefied natural gas by container ship, and later became the subject of an influential assessment on the risks to a population living within the vicinity of petrochemical shipping and storage facilities."
It's also a long-established holiday park for the East End: one of my friends always went there every year for her summer holidays and she's not yet 40! Despite the big skies this is not really a holiday destination to show-off about to your friends. Instead expect a dormitory town of 38,000 people, many still with stories of working for the Occidental oil reprocessing centre that dominates the island's skyline, despite being closed in 1975. And it's the home of Dr Feelgood, Britain's best-known R&B band from the 1970s made that bit more famous after the film, Oil City Confidential came out. Extra respect if you also know their hits, Back in the Night, Down to the Doctors or their best-selling single Milk and Alcohol (jointly written with Nick Lowe).

We made up our own walk, along the grassy sea wall protecting Canvey Wick reserve via Islanders fish and chip shop (with sustainable MSC fish!), but here is another good route from Essex specialists - which gives you a chance to visit the Lobster Smack pub, starring Pip and Magwitch at the close of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.

As for going Dutch - well Pete kindly paid for the whole trip, he even made us sandwiches for the train. So clearly I owe him big time for a surprisingly enjoyable trip to Holland.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Where's fashion street?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how to go clothes shopping as if you could teleport. This post is by Nicola Baird 


Imagine a long street crowded with shoppers. Now add racks of dresses being wheeled out of lock up shops. It's a city yes, and besides the fashion shops, and alleys hung with the latest garments, cafes tempt you to linger thanks to the amazing cooking smells. There are also dry cleaners, garment alterers and even a sewing machine repair shop. Fonthill Road could be Singapore, Hong Kong, Dakka. But it's actually London's best kept secret - the place to go for cheap fashion, and invariably far more fashion forward than the high street.

Who will buy?
On my last sashay along the crowded pavements I enjoyed watching older women in brown coats debate whether to buy another brown coat, a super-plainly dressed Hasidic Jewish mum locate the only shop that sells black woollen skirts with front pleats; two Asian guys admiring the leopard skin tops (you come here to cross-dress too!), the girl in the shoe shop having a quick fag on the pavement, school students rushing past late for class with their eyes on the window, Turkish guys buying for girlfriends, black guys minding the buggy and baby while mum chooses the best dress to impress. There are long dresses, short dresses, Church dresses, nightclub handkerchiefs, frothy sunshine dresses, wedding dresses.

Most are on sale for a bargain fiver.

These must be the product of sweat shops - or maybe they are the trial runs. Whatever their provenance if you want to detour to the land of super cheap fashion then take the tube to Finsbury Park and walk to Fonthill Road. Here's where to change your image without punishing your budget.

On the other hand it doesn't answer my desire to try to buy pre-loved clothes.

As my daughters grow it is getting increasingly hard to find suitable stuff in charity shops that fits and isn't worn out (although jumble and car boot sales can be good). So I was thrilled to be tipped off by the shop assistant at the British Red Cross charity shop just off Kings Road that a member of the Nigerian royal family had just come in with piles of never worn clothes that would probably fit Nell. One pair of jeans for an eight-year-old (with jewelled skulls and roses on one leg) still had a price tag on it - apparently £400 - which the Red Cross staff planned to sell for £20.

A quick search revealed that 395 Dhs is the United Arab Emirates' dirham and thus originally £69.51. But a bargain's a bargain (even if 20 quid is still a pricey pair of jeans). It's Nell's first piece of designer wear and she looked very happy to be so spoilt.

For more info about fair trade and organic fashion see People Tree. Founder Safa Minney has recently published her first book too, Naked Fashion.

Where's that?
Do you know any row of shops in the UK that reminds you of an overseas experience? Bazars, markets, alleyways, pop-ups, pavement cafes - share what they remind you of, and their location.  Thanks.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Great Britain campaign for 2012

I love these ads, they seem to  pick out some British highlights.
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No, not with these ideas to get the world celebrating Great Britain 2012. This post is by Nicola Baird 


PM David Cameron (don't ya just want to sit him down and give him a fierce talking to?) went to New York in September, and while there found the time to launch a boost British trade campaign. I love these cheesy posters (see pix) and look forward to stumbling across them in mags and on billboards. It's a great reminder that we are lucky to live in a country (well countries) with such amazing history. And things to boast about - from the good looks of Henry VIII to the entrepreneurial genius of Richard Branson.


For the past month I've felt so homesick for my other country, Solomon Islands, and really don't know how to feel better - that place just gets under your skin. I asked a friend, who moved last year from Sao Paulo to London with his Brazilian wife, how he coped being back home seeing as he loves being an expat, and adores hotter weather and, dare I say it, the way they wear clothes in Brazil. 


But he was positively animated by the things that make London an exciting place to live - the history, the way the pubs were used by Dickens (admittedly not really a Londoner), and Pepys; the clues to the Fire of London or the blitz or the shrapnel marks on the V&A. He loves the food from all round the world. The vibe. The way the power is always on and the rubbish gets sorted into recycling. The multiculturalness of London got a big thumbs up too.


There's no reason for me to be in a giant sulk. With the internet you don't need to be at your cultural home to be working - if I really wanted to, I could be sitting in an office with the best view in the world (say, blue skies and an island not far off) plugged into broadband...(ah dream on).


However it seems Cameron is keen for 2012 to turn Britain into a honeypot. If nothing else there will be 17,000 competitors and officials at the Olympics. It feels churlish not to try and support him, it is after all supposed to be a pleasure to show people around your home. Besides, time's moved on (and we've had this amazing hot start to autumn with blue skies and climate changing temperatures) so I'm feeling better. Ready to look forward to planning for 2012. Here's some dates for the diary:


2012 dates 
2-5 June The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Weekend 
27 July-12 August the Olympics
29 August-9 September, the Paralympics