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.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

P-rose-bet (happy new year) in phonetic Kurdish

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how you can get a real taste of an Iranian (Turkish and Kurdish) new year. This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs).   Duck pic explained below.

One of my students at the University of Arts, London College of Communication wrote a post about the Iranian new year - which is on 20 March this year (2012). The actual link to her Lucky Number 7 post (with photos) is here and I've added the bulk of her post below - thank you Elica for being a guest blogger for me.

A bit about Kurdish new year
On the way to college today I stopped off at the cafe where I always talk ducks to the owners as I buy a cup of coffee before classes (hence the pic, my Muscovy ducks are what this couple call Turkish ducks). They both speak Kurdish and told me if I wanted to join the New Year party with dancing and fireworks then I was to go to London's Finsbury Park today (here's a video link from a previous year). They also explained that Turkey celebrates the new year for a week "a big problem for the government," Kurdistan celebrates with three days (a political celebration) and Iran five days "a seasonal celebration".

This sad news item from Aljazeera shows how easy it is for these celebrations to get out of hand.

By the end of my chat with the coffee bar owners I was slightly confused, so I hope that I've managed to get this info correct. Whether I have or not, may I wish you the opportunity for another happy new year, enjoyed peacefully. As I think they say in Kurdish (very phonetically) "P-rose-bet".

This is from Elica, who knows what she's talking about. Her blog is http://occasionalbrainbreakthrough.wordpress.com/ and offers an "occasional Iranian twist".
The first day of the Iranian Calendar ‘Norouz’ meaning new day is also the first day of Spring, usually on the 21st of March, but as this year is a leap year it’ll be on the 20th and at 5:14 am UK time exactly.
Once new year strikes the tradition is that you go round and visit all your friends and family starting with the elders, this is called ‘Eid-Didani’. In return the elders give the younger members of the family gifts. This all began in the 2nd century when the kings of different countries under the rule of the Persian empire would take gifts to the King of Kings ‘Shahanshah’, and it stuck.
An important part of ‘Norouz’ Is the ‘Haftsin’, the seven S’s, a spread/display that has a variety of things which are symbolic of the new year and life. Sort of like the Iranian equivalent of a Christmas tree.
The seven Ss:
1-Sabzeh: Wheat, Barley or Lentils are grown and sprouted in a dish, symbolising rebirth.
2-Samanu: A sweet sticky pudding made from wheat, symbolising affluence.
3-Senjed: The fruit of an Oleaster tree, symbolising love.
4-Serkeh: Vinegar, symbolising patience and age.
5-Somagh: Sumak (a reddish spice) symbolising sunrise.
6-Sib: An Apple, symbolising beauty and health, hence the saying an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
7-Sir: Garlic, symbolising medicine.

But these aren’t the only things that are part of the display. Other items such as candles, a mirror, goldfish, coins to name a few. All representing something yet again.
Sabzeh: symbolising plants.
Rose water: symbolising water.
Eggs: symbolising fertility, one for each member of the family.
Goldfish: symbolising life and animals.
Candles: symbolising fire and energy.
Coins: symbolising wealth."
Well, what are you waiting for? There's still time to hunt out some of the items listed above so that you can  make your own Iranian new year table display.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Air pollution is very high in dot dot dot

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how air pollution in London makes me think of all the places I'd rather not live. Except that I live in one of them. This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs).   Pic is of numbered pegs - try the air pollution challenge. Which county (or country) do you think is the most polluted, peg them up... Or pop an answer in the comment box.

Air pollution today - 16 March 2012 - is very high in, dot dot dot.

Actually I'm thinking London. But it's also bad in Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi, Los Angeles, Beijing and a spread of Chinese cities (not long ago a report found that 16 out of 20 of the world's worst polluted places were in China).

"It's the fog," says my husband looking out at a gloomy London.

"NO it's not!!" I reply, almost screaming (sorry). It's pollution trapped by the fog. The fog is not the cause.

Wake up people - ask your local councillors what they can do about it. Ask your MPs. Then remember that this is the exact perfect example of where we have to think global and act local.

This link gives you up to date facts around the UK. Purple is very bad. Red is pretty terrible. Today London is wearing purpleLots of good info about how to campaign for clean air here.

This clip is of my youngest daughter talking about how air pollution triggers asthma. More precisely, how she feels when she gets asthma.

Over to you
Which countries/counties do you think are the most polluted?

Monday, 12 March 2012

Riddle: What's ancient but still growing?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here are three bits of wood that were felled when they were already 1000s of years old, have done one job and are now treasured gifts offering just a hint of colonial America and pioneer Australians. This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs).   

The answer to the riddle what's ancient, but still growing, is wood - wonderful wood. The picture is of my three most treasured cut pieces of wood. From left to right in the picture are pitch pine, red oak and huon pine. This post is their story.

This is my favourite. The plank of red oak was cut down by the first colonists from virgin American forests in the Appalachian mountains. The tree could have been about 1,000 years old when it was felled. The pioneers cut it down with a massive handsaw, and then made it into planks with a steam powered saw.

It became floorboards at a factory in North Carolina.

What's so exciting about red oak is that in some planks you can find Civil War bullets, and even native Indian arrow heads embedded inside and only revealed when the planks are de-nailed in modern sawmills. Lots more information about this at my friend Jason's brother's website www.thehistorictimbercompany.ie.

It's been with Jason for a while - he uses a similar plank piece to put behind his sink taps as a splashback. I gave him a bottle of whisky as a swap, and will be giving it to my godson who is about to be confirmed. George is 18, and is considering studying American history at university - no doubt because of summer 2010 which he spent visiting Amish communities as documented by Channel 4 in its documentary Living with the Amish. I'm sure he's expecting cash, I just think this is a richer gift (sorry George!). Pic shows George eating an Eton Mess pudding off his i-plank gift...

It smells so good and you can see beautiful knots in the grain. This is a piece of tongue and groove flooring from a cotton mill in North Carolina.

When the colonists first explored the new continent of America they met vast forests of pitch pine (also known as longleaf pine) - stretching 150 miles wide from the Atlantic Coast of south western Virgina down into Florida, along the Gulf of Mexico and into east Texas. The trees can live for 100s of years and grow up to 300ft high and 5ft wide. They are seriously big.

These virgin forests were used to source tar, pitch, turpentine and resin for the British navy. They are resitant to pest attack and survive well in water, even sea water.
According to www.thehistorictimbercompany.ie " Heavy exploitatiton of virgin longleaf pine beagn after the American Revolution and intensififed with the development of railroads in the late 1800s and on to England where the timbers were a key building material during the Industrial Revolution. By 1930 virtually all the old growth longleaf pine had been cut and used to build the factories, warehouses and terminals of industrial America and Europe.
"Today only 2 per cent of the orginal forest remains, with fewer than 1,000 acres of virgin timber still standing.
"A lot of the old structures the pine built are now being demolished which allows the painstaking process of re-salvaging a small piece of history. The Historic Timber Company rescues these timbers and ships them to our yard in Ireland where they are de-nailed, re-sawn and machined into historic pitch pine flooring."
My plan is to use it as a doorstop. I already have a box made from an old apple tree which works well as a doorstop - pity we tend to keep the doors shut all winter!

This is scrap wood reclaimed from a dump in Tasmania, Australia. My friend Paula brought this Tardis style box back to us after we helped look after her daughter Izzy and their pet guinea pig. It's a much paler wood and was turned into a box by workers at Resource Work Cooperative, a not for profit which runs the Tip Shop  and Collectables - both sell items found on the South Hobart tip, mostly from McRobies Gully tip site. This is a real example of art for trash. Here's what Paula said about it when she gave it to us:
"Huon pine is one of the slowest-growing and longest living plants in the world. It can grow to an age of 3,000 years or more. Only the bristle-cone pine of North America lives longer.
Huon pine is found in western Tasmania, the central plateau and in the Huon Valley. Houon pine is a relic of Gondwana - the first pollen records date back 135 million years. 
"International headlines were made with  the discovery of a stand of Huon pines on the west coast that is more than 10,000 years old. [Wow!] All the trees are male and are genetically identical. No individual tree in the stand is 10,000 years old, rather the stand has been in existence for that long.
"Convicts on Sarah Island in the west of Tasmanai cosntructed ships from Huon pine. The wood contains an olil which retards the growth of fungi, hence its early popularity in ship bilding. later piners on the Franklin and Gordon rivers felled Huons and floated them downstream.
Today the tree is wholly protected and cannot be felled. However wood on the forest floor remains usable after hundreds of years and is still prized by modern woodworkers, not least because of its sweet aroma.
"Huon pine can be seen along the Huon pine walk at Tahune in the Huon Valley, the Teepookana Forest Reserve, West Coast, Heritage Landing on the Gordon River and near Newall Creek on the Mount Jukes road south of Queenstown. The working sawmill in Strahan will give samples of the timber to visitors and many craft outlets sell Huon pine woodcraft.

Over to you
Go admire the wood you are using - it's sure to have a fascinating story to tell. And if you do buy any new wood (or wood products) be sure to check that it has the FSC tick logo that assures you it has come from a woodland that is sustainably managed.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A travel dilemma - can you help?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. But what happens when your family say there's no option but to fly? This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs).   Pic - yes it is of ducks (now with us for 3 weeks). They need to grow their wings. We humans need wings too.

My daughter is presenting me with a lot of big world problems. She's been invited on a school trip to Spain (flying there and back). And now a friend has invited her to stay in their apartment in Spain, at a different time (but it involves two flights as well). If I decide not to think about the financial cost - and instead focus on the opportunity, then she's an amazingly lucky girl, with a good selection of friends and a forward thinking school.

But if I think about the carbon costs, I'm in an utter dilemma because she must not go, at least not by plane. Flying has to be kept to the minimum, and ideally not done. See why in this learned report on low carbon travel from Sustrans.

I have allowed myself to be talked into the school trip - it's all to do with learning the language. But I feel wretched about it.

Her age luckily saves me this year from being evil mum and saying no to the friend's invite (or good citizen and saying no, depending on how you look at it) because the airline doesn't allow unaccompanied minors (ie, under 14s) to fly with it. There's something to praise EasyJet for!

Over to you
What would you do in a situation like this? It seems so simple - say no. Actually I have looked up the London-Madrid rail cost to see if I could take a merry jaunt across Europe to pick her up, but it's very expensive without having pre-booked by two months or more. However if you are organised, or one day wish to be, and can imagine travelling cheaply across Europe by train then start getting to know the maninseat61 because it's FAQs are better than anyones.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Try Solomon time for lunch...

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how a wet March weekend turned into a Sol fest with authors Will Randall and Rosie Millard - plus the Pacific Islands Society of UK and Ireland. This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs).   Pix show Afu, Sara and me (that's for you Jenny Wate!), and then a lunch group taken by Nell and her friend Fernanda. 

For reasons entirely due to Michael Tuhanuku of Honiara this song makes my family think of the humid, beautiful Solomons. So you can read this post listening to it if you want! It's Soul Sister by Train. 

SATURDAY: First organise a Pacific Special Book day and tempt some wonderful writers to give a talk in front of afficanados and islanders belonging to the Pacific Islands Society over in Earls Court, London. We were so lucky to get Will Randall who wrote the yet to be bettered book about the Solomons, Solomon Time. Years of teaching has left him an expert public speaker too. He gave a fabulous talk filled with humour and bon mots (well, he does live in France now).

Nell had been asked to talk a little about Solomon Islands Development Trust which does such important development education work - and both Sara and I worked for years ago. Mali (Sara's university student daughter) and Lola (mine) also gave a powerful advert about why the Tetepare Descendants Association needs support, making their respective mums proud. Then Rosie Millard read with pezzaz from her entertaining book Bonnes Vacances: a crazy family adventure in the French Territories which took her through the South Pacific via New Caledonia. Who would have thought this would spring so many tough questions, and none about trying to work and travel with four small children?

SUNDAY: If it's too carbon intensive - and expensive -to get ourselves back to the Solomons (15,000 miles away), then the answer is to tempt those people who love the Solomons around to your house. You do this by never mentioning we are vegetarian - instead we quickly become pescatarian when I'm thinking up a menu that is UK seasonal but includes fish (eventually settled on a cod-like white fleshed fish from Cornwall which the fishmonger said was called Poutin after what Posh Spice does. Name is still a mystery, but it does cook easily.

Result: lunch was enjoyed (I hope, I was too busy gossiping to notice how the food went down) by Afu, temporarily working here in an extremely high-powered job (she's meeting the Queen next week!), Sara and Peter who were part of the early team that helped allow people today call Tetepare "the largest uninhabited island in the Pacific" and provide an alternative to logging. Will joined us - and then there was Pete who has a chapter on the Solomons in his book, There's A Hippo in My Cistern which recounts his slight inept ability to cope with sleeping in a cave in Belona or master a bush knife or catch and gut a fish... And I've got Coconut Wireless, a whole novel about love, life and gossip based in Honiara (which you can download for FREE if you go to www.smashwords.com/books./view/29742  and use the code NP86T before 2 April) or just pay £1.92 off amazon.