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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.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Spider silk as the new world wide web?

Nell eyes up the spider silk cloak - designs in the background.
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how to take a rainy day trip to the V&A museum to experience a very special Madagascan skill (not for arachnophobes). This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).  


Q: What's golden, glows in a dimly lit room, is covered in embroidered spiders (Nell found 66) but made from a material stronger than steel? The answer is a golden yellow spider silk cloak - currently the most beautiful exhibit in the V&A museum. Though as it's decorated with spiders, and harvested from spider silk I'm quite prepared for spider-fearers to call it nightmarish...

Turns out that Madagascar has had a spider silk spinning industry for more than 100 years and the skill goes back at least 300 years. In Madagascar they use the female golden orb spider - a big bodied, skinny legged fierce (canabilistic) critter. The spiders aren't as biddable as silk worms. They need to be caught, then harnessed for their day's spinning into silk milking contraptions, and then released. The first machine to caputre the silk they use for their webs seems to have been devised back in 1807 by a Frenchman keen to make his millions from Madagascar.

Invisibility cloak
Now uber-craftsmen Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley have used more than a million spiders (and the skills of the local weavers) to create two dreamy pieces. The first (2009) is a brocaded scarf  - so light you can't feel it in your hand but utterly golden and gorgeous. The second (2011) is an embroidered cloak that looks like a high priest's outfit and really has no wearing purpose at all. It's the ultimate unique one off, so no good asking "Where would I wear it?" and "Does Zara do a cheaper high street copy?"

For a short film on the potential of spider silk, see this TV science show on geo-enginering.

For other pieces about French speaking colonies (like St Helena) see an earlier blog post on the French Dom Toms here.

This cultural visit to Madagascar is aroundbritainnoplane.blogspot.com's 109th country visit. Only 87 to go.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

How be in New York without leaving London

If you won the Lottery (or even Monopoly) would you go to New York?
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how to get that New York experience without leaving London. This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).  

I'm not as good at gritting my teeth as I should be - but this blog helps. When people tell me about where they've just visited (New York) or where they are going (New York) or where they plan to take their daughter on her 16th birthday (New York) or what they did last school holidays for just 4 days in New York I make an effort to listen, and see if I can figure out a UK alternative. Today it is New York v London in a three round battle.

1st Round - looking around
Turns out the hot new thing in New York is a walk along the raised High Line, a one-time goods train line that ends up in the Meatpacker District. It's now a park, with wheelchair access, that provides a lovely off-road walk with incredible views. All the info is here. But it's absolutely no different to the Parkland Walk - a former railway that runs from Finsbury Park N4 in London up to Highgate Woods. If you take a brief detour you can then go on to Alexandra Palace. It's 4.5 miles (7.2km) of rustic pleasure in the middle of the best city in the world (oops, a bit partisan as I'm thinking London!).

New York nil: London 1

2nd Round - stylish living
"We loved hanging around in NYC with all those Art Deco buildings, drinking cocktails, jazz and the atmosphere..." Oh, easy win for London. You just head to Hackney's Mare Street (breathe in the edgy atmosphere) and in your best outfit pop into the Town Hall Hotel. Here there's a mix of Edwardian glamour, '30s furnishings and loft chic (sounds New York doesn't it?). Best of all the Town Hall Tea Lady serves martinis from her trolley. Bliss.

Result: New York nil: London 2

3rd Round - fabulous street food
American immigrants have introduced the best foods to the big apple (even if the US is infamous for it's Macfood exports). Noodles and spices and easy over breakfasts are all done wonderfully in New York. Servings are monster, prices cheap. But street food markets are the big trend in London and offer Korean fusion and other fabulous choices. More to the point - when I asked my cousin (who'd just come back from New York where she successfully stayed in an airbnb appartment) what new food was all the rage in America, she   said she'd noticed nothing any different to the food on offer in London. If you are still thinking Pizza Express is the bees knees, then maybe it's worth trawling Hoxton or China Town in the evenings or for a lunch time tastebud treat try Exmouth Market, Broadway Market or Whitecross Market .  If you subscribe to Boat Magazine (£2) you can get a rather fab map of London's best street food. Or take a look here at London's top 10 street food vendors published in the Guardian.

Result: It's a knockout 3-nil win to LONDON.


Added bonus
Airmiles of carbon saved - 1 tonne (see carbon comparison website info here).

Over to you
What's close to home that feels like somewhere very other, or even New York?

Monday, 16 April 2012

Around the world in 80 days - bookshelf inspiration

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how Around The World in 80 Days inspired this blog (and how books all to often inspire travel). This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).  

Have you guessed that this blog aroundbritainwithoutaplane is named after Jules Verne's classic book Around the World In 80 DaysI hadn't read the novel when I dreamt up my blog title, but during winter 2011-12 read it aloud with my then 10-year-old, Nell, and we found it fascinating. You can find copies easily in the library or secondhand shops - ideally choose one with illustrations, especially if you are reading it aloud to a child.

The main character, phlegmatic Phileas Fogg (who most of us know from the snack brand), is an insufferable bore who travels in the exact opposite to the way anyone should. He prefers the card game whist to views; timetables to experience. But his uncharacteristic comment: "I will bet £20,000 pounds that I will travel round the world in not more than 80 days," creates a marvellous novel (and, shhh, geography lesson).

Starting from Number 7 Savile Row, finishing at the Reform Club, P Fogg Esq plans to go:

  • From London to Suez (Egypt) (via Mont Cenis (the pass over the French Alps) and Brindisi (Italy)) by rail and steamer - 7 days
  • Suez to Bombay, by steamer - 13 days
  • Bombay to Calcutta, by rail - 3 days
  • Calcutta to Hong Kong, by steamer - 13 days
  • From Hong Kong to Yokohama (Japan's 2nd largest city), by steamer - 6 days
  • From Yokohama to San Francisco, by steamer - 22 days
  • From San Francisco to New York, by rail - 7 days
  • New York to Liverpool and on to London - by steamer and rail - 9 days.

Slow travel is actually quite fast, but it's expensive too. It costs Phileas Fogg close to £20,000 to make the journey (admittedly he travels in some style, and with at least one companion, his man-servant, the loyal Passepartout).

Just for the record, the cheapest round-the-wold air ticket I can find on offer in April 2012 is £749 but the flexibility is extremely limited and doesn't include any accommodation. Add on 80 days of food and beds (say £40 a day but no trips) and you need at least £4,000 to go around the world in a rushed three months.

Step into the great man's shoes (on a different route)
After a quick google I also found a copy-cat Phileas Fogg 80-day journey, see here, which costs £6,400 (and needs two people to be doing it). But what a journey, what an itinerary - completely organised for you with a complete disregard of the things that happen as you travel: lost purses, ill health, a desire to slow down and chat to people, and most of all weather...

Over to you
Jules Verne teaches us that travel cannot be micro-managed. He shows us how the unexpected turns up, and urges us to step in where wrongs need to be righted. He's half mocking the people who want around-the-world tickets, half luring us into buying them. Maybe this blog is doing the same for it's readers. For me, the blog writer, it's satisfying an insatiable desire to travel simply by looking for stay-at-home-but-feel-abroad experiences.

Let me know if it's helped.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Is this a Dagger I see before me?


This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here's how you can take to the water in a kayak and transport yourself to any river in the world. This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs).  

"Is this a Dagger I see before me?" Admittedly Shakespeare dreamt this line up first - but that pesky "dagger" is the second thing I notice on this blustery April morning down by the reservoir. The first is an extremely tall, dripping man who has just tipped out of his Dagger kayak. I have a nasty feeling that I will be the second one in the water despite there being no current, or sizeable waves.

"It's my fault, I was racing," smirks the tall man. He doesn't seem to mind at all. Perhaps the reason you go out in a kayak is to have a dip-in-the-water adventure. That's certainly the impression I get from the promo videos of whitewater rafting featured on the Dagger manufacturer's website offering a nail-biting trip to Norway.

Water babies
Even if you aren't that keen on water it's still an absorbing pleasure to hang around by the river bank, or even take a trip down a river. I've got plans to do this with the Canoe Man in Norfolk - I want to be in the river with an otter - soon. But over the years have had fun joining an organised kayak trip (just me and a 6 and 8 year old) down the tidal River Tamar and also being expertly captained by my friend Hannah along the early, shallow part of the River Severn in Powys. My claim to fame remains an early morning paddle around Sydney harbour guided by the wonderful Patrick from Natural Wanders. (see pix above in ocean racing kayaks)

Every river is going to be different - and yet offer some of the same emotional release, adrenalin buzz, relaxation and the ability to creep up on the wildlife (or in Oz, real estate) - wherever you go in the world so it feels like a wise skill to be able to paddle (even if I still daren't try the capsize test). That's why I've joined a canoe club at my nearest big water, a lovely local reservoir that seems to attract the sun. Actually the whole family has joined - even though under 18s go out in boats on different days to the adults - and I hope it will provide plenty of anecdotes.

These may not be as glam as the stories from the whitewater crazies in Norway, but definitely will give us all a new skill plus the opportunity to tell tales of dunkings, dead dogs, herons fishing by the standpipe, baby-crazed swans, flats overlooking the reservoir being sunny Sunday polished (oh you can see a lot from the water!), trees coming into bud and cormorants drying their wings on the old oak tree.

What a result from travel that's less than 10 minutes from my own home.

Over to you
Which river trips in a kayak do you recommend? Especially if the trips include children...

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Margate gets its mojo back




This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here are some thoughts on art, sand, chips and shells at Margate. This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs).  

Margate isn't the only seaside place to slip out of fashion.

Spain's Torremilinos was all the rage in the 1960s (Monty Python mocked it as the Costa del Sol's home of spam and chips); there was Paxos in Greece as the place for your bit of fun in the sun during the 1970s. Where did you go in the 1980s (Kenya?) or 1990s (if Thai backpacking try Alex Garland's The Beach) or 2000s (Croatia) - all subject to tourist trends.

But when the visitors move on towns - even countries - can suffer horribly too. That's what Margate was finding. With it's lovely sandy beach it had been the perfect Victorian resort. Plenty of East Enders - and other Londoners - were still happily visiting in the 1950s and enjoying the famous funfair, Dreamland (closed since 2003). But each year things seemed to go a little more downhill. In the 2001 census it was a place of high unemployment, and even now as you walk around it's very obvious the B&Bs are filled with social tenants, not holidaymakers.

Have you been?
But suddenly Margate's THE place to visit again.
In 2012 the new Turner Contemporary exhibition was opened which offers a Tate-art experience (white walls, small labels, a caf downstairs), and expansive sea views out to the Isle of Thanet windfarm. The first exhibition is fabulous - as it should be for JMW Turner had strong links with Margate.

Tie that exhibition to a really friendly place, a super fast train across Kent to St Pancras and the knowledge that this is the town where Tracey Emin grew up and you have plenty of reasons for taking a trip.

Nell, 11, just wanted a day trip featuring ice cream and chips (both eaten on the beach). I also wanted a beach that allows dogs to tear around (until 1 May) and Pete suspected we'd all love Turner and the Shell grotto. Turned out he also found a pub to watch West Ham beat Bolton 4-0 too. What's not to love about a quickie to Margate?

Where in the world?
However, it turns out you can't be anywhere else when you're in Margate.
I tried, but it is a uniquely British experience. However the Shell Grotto offers a fantastic puzzle - who could have built an underground temple decorated with 4 million shells without anyone noticing? Despite English Heritage listing it as a Grade 1 site, theories are varied. Although my instinct says this is obviously a Victorian fake (my dad didn't do end of pier exhibitions for nothing you know!) it's fun to hope that it is really a Phoenician temple built in the second half of the first century. These traders (busy trading tin from Cornwall and on to the Continent lived in an area roughly where the Lebanon is now.  For examination of the evidence see Patricia Jane Marsh's booklet The Enigma of the Margate Shell Grotto.

Over to you
What do you think is fun to do in Margate? Or which UK seaside towns offer a little taste of the places other travellers like to visit via planes?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

At last we've walked 75 miles round London






This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here are some thoughts on the joys of walking in the city (any city). This post was made in April 2012 by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs).  
Pix above offer a taste of London views for walkers - sublime, chilly, fingerpost marked and a successful bench hunt to rest those weary legs... The last three pix show Nell and Lola reading, Pete and the girls looking at the dinosaurs at Crystal Palace and the last pic is me, Vulcan and the girls celebrating our very last Capital Ring fingerpost!
It's taken us nearly six years - from autumn 2006 to April 2012 - but at last we've completed the Capital Ring, a 75 mile (120km) walk around London. It was dreamt up in the year 2000 and then signposted around the capital in 2003. On our walks we've rarely met anyone else pounding the route, although I know another local family who impressively finished it during a three-month weekend of walks. Turns out 1000s have completed it - some in less than a week -according to the route maestro and Capital Ring guide book author Colin Saunders:  
"Sales of the book have now passed 11,000 since it was first published in 2003. Of course not all who buy it will complete or even walk the route; on the other hand many who walk it won’t have the book.  Completers are encouraged to contact Walk London for a certificate."
On our final hike - eight miles from Grove Place to Crystal Palace - both Lola and Nell were desperate to take short breaks so they could go back to the Harry Potter adventures they were reading. But on other routes they've looked up and seen herons, squirrels, wild flowers, stunning views of London and all sorts of pubs. There's been something of note everywhere - old houses, litter, multicultural shops, religious festivals, chalked pavement notes, football crowds and often in the far horizon Wembley Stadium's arches, a plane circling for Heathrow and the hills that spread out of London away to the downs beyond Croydon, and the chalk hills of Buckinghamshire. Even when the walk is bad (through boring suburban homes), it usually means it is just about to get better.


Circling London on foot has certainly helped all of us learn how vast our home town is (well, there are 7 million  plus Londoners) and how green (and underused) parts of it is. It's true that we will happily walk in rain, but the only time we've really seen children out and about (besides supervised play in parks) has been in Beckenham.


More about the Capital Ring here.

Over to you
How many big walks can you name - or have you done? Ideas from anywhere in the world please!