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.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Russian pancake week

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Come see what a traditional Russian festival is like... in a London tent. This post was made in Feb 2012 by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs).   Pic is from telos.tv and shows Stravinsky (the composer) with Matisse's amazing picture - the Rite of Spring.

What's the point of Russian pancake week - a bit of paganism? A chance to eat up sweets, sort out quarrels and  play party games? No, I think it's a proper goodbye to winter. In London Russians met up on the seventh day in Trafalgar Square for the Maslenitsa Festival. My family scurried through the square on the way to Charing Cross Station and orchard pruning in Kent so we could have joined in, if we'd known what was going on. See more here too.

Luckily two days later one of my talented students at the university where I teach feature writing, Alisa Antonova (who is Russian, and had just come back from a trip to Moscow) told me:
"Malslenitsa is the start of spring, it's when we say goodbye to winter. Traditioanlly we burn a big doll (a scarecrow?) who is wearing traditional Russian clothes - a simple dress and an embroidered scarf. We sing songs and have tea from samovars and eat pancakes with berry jams, honey and sour cream. It's my favourite celebration in Russia, because it's so much fun - especially when I was at school. We played traditional games and were able to go dancing together. I like that we still have this festival to look forward to - so many traditions are dying in Russia."

Certainly in the UK this year, this Russian festival has it's timing absolutely right. Spring has sprung - I could smell blossom, and probably plants growing as I cycled around London this week.

Over to you
If you'd like to enter an easy peasy poll on what signs your family uses to check that spring is here, click on this link:

Friday, 24 February 2012

Invitation to a stay-at-home playdate

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. We've made memorable day trips to 108 countries - yay!! - without leaving the UK.  Just 88 more to visit. This post was made in Feb 2012 by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs). 

Just in case you are planning a summer holiday (or Easter break or May Day mini-break) I hope this blog post will inspire you to think about new ways of travelling the world without clocking up carbon miles on a plane. By staying in the UK you can get a taste of so many places in the world (thank you for being so multicultural Britain!). A very small happy result is that my 13 year old has now chosen to study geography at GCSE. 
How many countries has the aroundbritainnoplane blog visited without leaving the UK? 
A: 108
Quiz question - how many countries in the world? 
A: 196 (see www.geography.about.com)
How many countries in the UN?
A: 193(admission date 24 october 1945, fiji currently expelled)
How many countries  in the commonwealth?
A: There are more than 2 billion people living in 54 countries.

Below is the list of all the places this blog has taken you:
1.      afghanistan 2.      albania 3.      algeria 4.      america/usa5.      amsterdam 6.      antarctica 7.      arctic 8.      argentina 9.      Atlantis 10.  australia 11.  austria 12.  bangladesh 13.  belarus 14.  Belgium 15.  bosnia and herzegovina 16.  brazil 17.  burma 18.  canada 19.  caribbean 20.Chile21.china22.christmasisland 23.  croatia 24.  cyprus 25.  denmark 26.  DRC Congo 27.  easter island 28.  egypt 29.  england 30.  Ethiopia31.  fiji 32.  france 33.  French dom toms 34. galapagosislands35.  georgia 36.  germany 37.  ghana 38.  greece 39.  guianas 40.  gulf states 42.  holland 43.  hong kong 44.  iceland 45.  india 46.  iraq 47.  isle of man 48.  israel 49.  italy 50.  jamaica 51. japan52.  Kazakstan 53.  kenya 54.  kiribati 55.  korea 56.  la renunion 57.  lapland 58.  lebanon 59.  lesotho 60.  lithuania 61.  malaysia 62.  maldives 63.  mali 64.  martiniqu65.  mexico 66.  montenegro 67.morocco 68.  namibia 69.  nepal 70.  new caledonia71.  new zealand 72.  northern ireland 73.  norway 74.  pakistan 75.  papua new guinea76.  philippines 77.  poland78.  portugal 79.  russia 80. samoa (oops no 81)  82.  saudi arabia 83.  scotland 84.  senegal 85.  serbia 86.  singapore 87.  slovenia 88.  solomon islands89.  somalia 90.  south africa 91.  spain 92.  st pierre et miquelon93.  sudan  94 sweden 95.  switzerland  96.  taiwan  97.  tanzania 98.  thailand 99.  tokelau 100.    tonga 101.     tuvalu 102.                      UAE 103.    uganda 104.   uk 105.      uzbekistan 106.    Wales 107.    wallisand fortuna 108.  zambia 109.  zimbabwe  (see above, no 81 so actally 108 countries!)

RESULT: A proper travel diary, but not a single air mile wasted on these journeys. 

Over to you
Saving air miles are not my first thought on these day outs - it's all about the pleasure of exploring home. Let me know where you've been, or where you think I could take my family to continue the adventure as there are still 88 countries to visit.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Went to Cyprus by tube

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Even travelling around the London tube you get hints of other places - this time Cyprus.  This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs). 

I went to Cyprus - by tube - this weekend. And so can you, if you live in London - or are visiting - as a few stops from City Airport on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) you can make a detour to Cyprus. It's named after a nearby long-demolished Victorian estate, that was named after Britain's successful conquest of the third largest island in the Mediterranean, in 1848, see more here or here. It's all very modern: and quite hard to imagine being in Cyprus (no olive trees, no tourists) but there's an underground bar, a university campus (University of East London) which is absolutely empty on Sundays. But it does boast the best spot for sunbathing by the Thames - so long as you don't mind watching planes take off and land. Actually that may be what makes it just a little bit like Cyprus - watching the people come and go.

Lola, 13: "One of my friends is part Cypriot and talks about her papou (grandfather) and because I'd been reading on the tube it was really weird to look up and see a London station called Cyprus because I know it is a country. Then we went to a place opposite the airport which was really interesting - you could see how planes took off and landed. I wonder how many had come from the Mediterranean?"

Postcard summary
Quick summary about Cyprus - it's tourist heaven, but has been constantly fought over throughout history. There is still tension between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Britain also has two airbases there. Lots to find out at wikipedia.

Cheapo tourism is changing?
It's just £234 per person for seven nights half board with flights from Stansted for a week in a Cyprus resort hotel. But the popularity of this type of holiday seems to be on the wane. However tempting a dose of hotter sun can be in February (or many other months in Britain!), being stuck in a resort is becoming less of a holiday fashion. This is anecdotal - but it seems that adventure and experience holidays are on the up - great news as this type of experience can be easily done in the UK.

News reports suggest that many of the eastern Mediterranean holiday providers, such as Turkey, are now more interested in paying attention to Arabic visitors from the Gulf states because they are more generous spenders than Europeans. The trend started after 2011 Arab spring, see the Guardian here. By January 2012 tourism in nearby Istanbul was changing, see story here, but the quote below shows that it's all about money:

Ramazan Bingöl, head of the Association of All Restaurants, Eateries and Suppliers and owner of the Ramazan Bingöl Et restaurant, said: "Ten Arab guests spend as much money as 40 guests from a western country. They don't come with tour buses, and do not want to eat fixed menus at a fixed price." 
According to numbers published by the Turkish tourism industry, Arab tourists spent approximately £1,700 per person in shops and restaurants, nearly four times as much as western tourists.
It is probably better for everyone that generous-spending Arab neighbours get to know their area better than us penny-pinching Brits take up the cheapo package deals involving a long flight from home.
The good news is that a quick Oyster-card funded trip down the Docklands Light Railway to take in Cyprus is going to be very light on your carbon footprint. Here's to a safe journey!
Over to you
What's your favourite train station name that reminds you of somewhere else? I've been through Wellington recently (just near Wolverhampton, not in New Zealand), and now Cyprus. What gives you a little frisson of travel pleasure without having to leave home?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Where's that bird from?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. A half term visit to Wales introduced me to some south american locals.  This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs). 

We've had Chilean hens for some years. Now it turns out the two Muscovie ducklings I brought home from Wales also have a South American heritage (so they are not from Moscow as I'd always thought). See pic above of mummy Muscovie and Berry (mostly yellow) and Walden (the other one).

The word "Musk-ovie" - is possibly a reference to their smell (although good news birds, this goes when you're cooked!). An American website tells me that "in southern Europe and northern Africa they are called the Barbary duck. In Brazil, they are known as the Brazilian duck, in Spain the pato, and in the Guianas the Guinea or Turkish duck."

Just like the potato, I think of a Muscovy duck as a traditional local. When it's actually anything but...

Over to you
What's something you use or see or eat that blends in with the landscape to such an extent that you've just about forgotten its original home was far, far away?

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Cold, need Canadian gloves

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This February old snap leads to questions about how people cope in really cold countries.  This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs). Pic is of my daughter Lola checking the post box hasn't frozen...  

Misery on my bike yesterday as both hands appeared to freeze during my 50 minute journey from Elephant and Castle back home. I wondered how cold it had to be to get frost bite. But I was wearing gloves - it's just that they are an old lady's pair, from a charity shop in Colchester. Moaning to fellow cyclists (forced to stop by me at red lights), all sympathised, but pointed at their cosy fingers claiming their gloves were warm as toast.

I think they meant bought in Canada or suitable for winter extremes.

"No such thing as bad weather, only bad gloves"
Although I have had toasty, ski gloves the problem is that one, then the other, always gets lost. Strangely I find it harder to ride my bike if I'm not in matching gloves (does anyone else have this problem?). So what I'd like to know is how to avoid losing wet gloves, damp hats and scarves. Do you know a system that makes it far harder to lose things? People living in cold places must have some secret - perhaps like gloves on a string I used when the kids were toddlers.

It's an east wind but shops are too hot
This particular cold snap comes with high pressure, and a very full moon so dry and bitter cold nights. You can see how the cold has leached the wet out of London's grey pavements. But on a shopping trip today (to get a warm duvet for Nell, for her birthday) Pete and I struggled to be warm enough for walking the streets, without dying of overheat in the Oxford Street shops.

Over to you
How do people manage this conundrum in really cold places like Moscow or Stockholm? Are there vast, efficiently run cloakrooms in their stores? Or do they just keep the store temperatures lower than we do in London .(In John Lewis quite a few of the staff were able to be in shirt sleeves - a habit which people often take home and might partially explain why the UK's carbon emissions rose by 3 per cent. It's the first time emissions have not been on a falling trend since 2003 (see story here). Horrible.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Is it ok to be nervous in boats?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This time a quick look at reasons to be seasick This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs)   

As a child I would scream if you put me into a boat. Obviously I blame my parents for this - they'd taken me to Strangford Loch, in Northern Ireland and wanted me to play by the shore. In a bid to stop me wading into the water they put the fear of God (and a lifelong terror of water) into me by talking about the whirlpool that killed. You see,

Boats gets swallowed by whirlpools...

Even though I'm grown up and know all about life drills and the Plimsoll Line, I'm still a bit nervous of water. That's why I've made sure my daughters can swim, kayak and row. I know the difference between a life jacket and a life protector - and use them.

But the terrible stories of shipwrecks over the past few months - an oil tanker off New Zealand, the cruiser off Italy and now a ferry in Papua New Guinea (see story here) - freak me out.

Titanic fears
Last summer,on the way back to the UK after a three-month break in the Solomons and Australia, we saw a vast cruise liner squeezing under the huge Sydney Harbour Bridge. It must have been one of the ships that take 4,000 passengers. I probably never would consider going on a ship that big, but once you've seen a tower block floating past (see pic above & below) it is hard to imagine how you would cope in a crisis situation. Or indeed what it would be like with lights out in an overturned boat, a rough sea and all staircases turned into cliffs.

Boats seem to attract accidents, bad weather and poor seamanship. They also dump crap in the sea, not just sewage, but waste oil and loose cargo.

Consider this post a thumbs down to motor boats, however big.

Over to you?
Is boat travel still the way to go in the 21st century? What would you do to improve ship safety and sustainability?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Feeling Ouchy (near Lausanne)

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This time a book in French provides a wonderful family project - and the surprising news that Charles Dickens was friends with a great great great uncle when he was living in Switzerland. This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs)   

The research for this piece led to a Guardian published article in october 2014, How I found my secret Swiss roots, see here

A couple of Christmases ago I organised for a book written in French by my great great aunt Anne Van Muyden-Baird (1855-1945) to be rebound. Anne (see pic sidesaddle above) grew up in a lovely villa, Bellerive by Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The village is called Ouchy (you need to say this in a very French accent, it shouldn't sound like you hurt yourself). Then I gave it to my mum. Two years on mum has translated the rebound book into English and printed 29 copies for members of our family as a unique present.

Like Lausanne, Ouchy used to be full of expats, including many retired ex-colonial solders, although Anne's parents were Swiss-Irish. The book was published in Lausanne in 1943, two years before Anne died at the mighty age of 90. In it she describes her young life (1855-1880) growing up in a world I know as history.

While wars spread across Europe her parents are able to pop to Florence for a ball, and wherever she visits there appears to be an Emperor (French, Italian, Austrian!) to put a pretty crinoline on for, or goggle at as they pass in a coach.

Friends with Dickens
Anne often recalls her adventures with all her de Cerjat cousins (who raised her father after his parents both died) and lived close by in various villas - Fantaisie; Montchoisi and Bellerive. At one stage Charles Dickens came to stay at Lausanne and rented a pretty "dollshouse" villa, called Rosemount, which shared a driveway with Bellerive. While at Rosemount Dickens wrote Dombey and Son (here's the free ebook link). Not surprisingly, given how close they lived, the de Cerjat uncle (William Woodley de Cerjat) and Dickens' family became friends. Anne recalls this story:

"The entrance to the house at that time was in the centre and it was necessary to go round to it on arrival and the ground was treacherous. The coach used was always a sidecar pulled by a single horse. We were waiting one day for the Dickenses to arrive for a meal; suddenly... cries... we went to look; the sidecar had turned over, trapping the Dickens family, who were lying on their backs with their feet sticking out of the windows calling for help!"

Anne also remembers (p29) that: "after Dickens left Lausanne, he and my uncle remained close and corresponded. The letters of the celebrated English writer were without doubt full of wit, and my cousins said that their father shut himself up for three days at a time to put together the ideas for letters to his friend which were worth reading."

The old lady's words ought to be enough, but I was very excited to cross-reference this in the biography of Charles Dickens by Peter Ackroyd (p523-524). Ackroyd calls the de Cerjats "a rich but artistic and philanthropic couple..."

Things change. Money gets spent. And Bellerive was sold and is now IMD business school where you can be Chair of Coca Cola lecturing and orchestrate performance improvement (picture above is how it looks now - huge!). But it is wonderful to know that I don't have to define my past ancestors entirely as a hunting, shooting, fishing set. It also seems that a great number of them were also bi-lingual or tri-lingual - skills that completely impress me. Perhaps one day we will visit Switzerland and tour Ouchy. After all Nell, my nearly 11 year old, does want to go on a yeti hunting mission although I think now all she'd find in that area is the super rich. And the Swiss trains are renowned... Nowadays Ouchy is allegedly THE place to go for rollerskating and skateboarding - as well as a stunning view of France across Lake Geneva.

Here are photos from one hotel I found that gives a taste of what those villas, that were once family homes, were like.

A special thank you to my friend Helen Burley who roughly translated Anne's story in 2009 over a long breakfast at my house when the book was falling apart. The experience provided enough hints (and not just info about 19th century hair styles) that this was a fantastic story and the book deserved to be rebound despite the £40 price tag for repair! By chance there's even a book binder in a road near me, see here.

The actual book translation was done by Fiona Baird and Anthony Parish.

Ouchy mon village by Anne Van Muyden-Baird is also available on the web (slightly puzzling with a 1989 French reprint edition made in Switzerland available on the web here). The story of who else is interested in this lady, may well be a future post. Do let me know if you've got some clues - or have made a similar exciting family discovery.