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, 6 November 2013

Wish you were here

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at how padlocks *there* are taking the place of the wish you were *here* postcard. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). I also publish an interview every week with people who live or work in Islington at islingtonfacesblog.com - there's a prize for the 100th follower.

This may be a very new trend, or an old one that I've only just spotted.. but looking around London I suddenly noticed there are padlocks collecting on the bridges. At the Wobbly Bridge by St Paul's Cathedral there are zillions (see my arty picture above).

Most of the padlocks have names scratched on them - friends forever, young lovers and families travelling.  Once they are locked on to the rails someone gets to throw away the key into the River Thames below.

in Paris at half term my daughter's friend put one on to a bridge across the Seine. There are even souvenir sellers flogging the love locks.

It's a lovely idea in theory... But a cynic tells me the padlocks end up weighing the bridge down so much that either the bridge collapses... or the men with bolt cutters need to be called in. A piece in the Huffington Post here says that it's turning into a big problem in the cities famous for luring in the lovers - Paris, Cologne and Venice...

Over to you
Perhaps the love locks idea is worth adapting and just adding a travel padlock to places near home that are endlessly drawn back to complete with your unique "having a good time" message. What do you think?

Monday, 7 October 2013

How the hackers made me travel to Cyprus (except I didn't)

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at how being hacked on line allowed me to find out a lot about Limassol in Cyprus. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Not quite Limassol, Cyprus though there are ruins and a sea view
at Harlech Castle in Wales. The Welsh coast here is full of sand dunes -
Limassol makes more use of its coast & has planted lines of palms
between the seafront and the city.
A few days ago my whole email list received a spam.

THIS IS SPAM.... (except the subject was SOS help)
Sorry for the inconveniences, I'm in Limassol, Cyprus and I just misplaced my bag containing all my vital items, phone and money at the Bus station. I am stranded at the moment, I may need a little help from you.
thanks Nicola

My email signature (with my phone numbers) had been deleted. This meant that anyone who didn't smell a grammatical rat and replied asking what help I wanted didn't send their email to me, instead they were redirected to a false yahoo email account which looked similar in name to my gmail account. They were then asked for 550 euros. I really hope no one handed that over. It's a lot of cash, especially when the obvious thing to do in a situation like that would be to go to the embassy...

Now I'm a journalist and I have ridiculous numbers of email contacts - many people don't know me very well. The moment I figured out I'd been hacked... (9am on a Friday morning)  I worked out a plan  about what to do - change my password, and cancel the email redirection (which I was frankly lucky to pick up as it just popped up for about 30 seconds near my dashboard before fading. 

I assumed that was it, but quite soon people started contacting me asking if I was OK. I had more than 30 calls/emails that day alone. It wasn't long before I was getting rather curious about LImassol, Cyprus. TripAdvisor has 65 hotels listed for this busy holiday and business centre. At the bus station (I couldn't resist looking at the timetables on line) there are zillions of buses including ones that run night, day, Sundays and to rural stops as well as the city. The restaurants look lovely - although some visitors aren't so keen on the many stray cats that turn up when you eat.

I may not have heard of Limassol before, but it's a big place: there's a port, a posh yacht club, fabulous ancient ruins, a lot of tourists, a sea front lined with palms, gardens (and a busy road of course).  Indeed it's such a cool spot that in 2017 it will be European City of Culture, see this link http://www.limassol-2017.com/index.php?pageid=26

On the LImassol bidding page for Culture Capital there is a fascinating poem written... 
...with the aim of obtaining the title European Capital of Culture, the long voyage towards the destination that is the city’s Programme for 2017 has begun. The words of Constantine Cavafy, one of the most important Greek poets of the modern era, are characteristic, as he described Odysseus’ journey to Ithaka.
“As you set out for Ithakahope the voyage is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery. Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for.B ut do not hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so you are old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you have gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.” Constantine Kavafis
Culture is both a destination and a process and through the process comes the benefit, overcoming obstacles and dangers, gaining experiences and knowledge, always looking forward to arriving at the final destination. 2017 will be a special year and the city of Limassol will celebrate the success of reaching the final destination, having taken on board all that is required for the next voyage. The long voyage, however, begins with bad weather and stormy seas. The whole of Europe is still being buffeted by the effects of the global financial crisis while many neighbouring countries are experiencing social unrest and a great deal of questioning. Culture is nothing less than a catalyst for solutions and answers to all these passing challenges.
Here's a video which might help you get to know the place.

Looking at the pix I'm struggling to imagine where in the UK looks the same. But Kavafis' poem and interpretation for the Culture Capital 2017 certainly matches the spirit of this blog. This hacking incident not only gave me a taste of virtual travel, it also revealed that I have a stunning number of contacts who were willing to check I was OK, ranging from an ice cream seller to a lawyer, many people I've interviewed, even the guy who cuts my hair!

It's not quite like reading your own obituary, but it certainly made me realise that I'm a very lucky person blessed with a lot of friends. I'd rather not have been hacked (and will be changing my passwords far more regularly now) but on the plus side I have I've learnt a lot about Limassol in Cyprus and other people's generosity. Written up properly it would make a sweet little screen play, but that's a task for another day.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Living history at Ironbridge

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at the joys of visiting the birthplace of the industrial revolution and wondering what it must have been like in its heyday... was Ironbridge the sort of hell some unregulated resource hotspots seem to be now - say when making mobile phones on Indonesia's Bangka island?  Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

It's rare that I make a long car journey with my family, mostly because taking a train is far more comfortable. However in August we decided to drive from London for a fortnight in Wales so hired a car which would allow us to make a detour. For kids who don't use cars much a pitstop at a motorway service station can be a highlight, so what we needed was a place to stretch our legs.

Ironbridge was the obvious candidate for a cultural stop-off too. It's the birthplace of industrial history - a fact I kept sharing with my passengers as we turned in the direction of another brown tourist sign that led us to Ironbridge from the M54. 

To begin with the kids, dog and my partner all seemed underwhelmed by the prospect of visiting an iron bridge (this is a very literally named location but it was built in 1779 so should be forgiven for that!). 

However when my family saw that Ironbridge is set in a beautiful gorge the mood changed. There are 10 museums to visit, and most are open every day from 10am-5pm. Some are free although the family pass offers 12 months of visits and on our short stop-over we didn't need to pay for anything, other than the snacks we picked up. 

Best of all the area offers a real sense of Victorian working history - not just the bosses, but also the workers involved. This honest interpretation is clearly liked by visitors - recently Tripadvisor rated Ironbridge as a better place to visit that the Pyramids in Egypt. It's also rated one of the top UNESCO sites in the world (ie, in a beauty/historic battle against Macchu Pichu, Peru and the Great Wall of China). See UNESCO's info here.

What I liked after hours of motorway driving was the serenity... yet in it's hey day Ironbridge and the surrounding area was simply hell. This is partly explained by a journalist writing for The Daily Telegraph, see the link here:
The gorge contains a four-mile stretch of the River Severn, flowing south from the Welsh mountains to the Bristol Channel. There has been iron-making there for centuries: what put it on the map and – arguably – fuelled the industrial revolution was mass production. In 1709 a Bristol Quaker, Abraham Darby, began smelting with coke from the Shropshire coalfield instead of woodland charcoal. His Coalbrookdale Ironworks churned out the raw material that would underpin everything from railways to steam power. The gorge glowed with industry 24 hours a day like a vision of hell. Darby’s grandson built the elegant, single-span, cast-iron bridge itself in 1779.
It made us all think about how industry has been cleaned up - at least in most of the UK. Yet for some workers conditions remain life-threatening and environmentally destructive. For instance the business of mining for the materials needed to make smartphones devastates parts of the coast and farm land on the Indonesian island of Bangka. 
In the end we walked over the iron bridge and took the dog for a run along one of the many footpaths that follow old railway routes (it helps that the area is so well signposted, see pic above). We also sped around a tiny  museum (free) and then stocked up on pies and coffee. I could have stayed for several days, and indeed plan to return as there's a huge amount to explore at the Blists Hill Victorian Museums, Ironbridge Museums and Coalbrookdales Museums sites. 

Best of all it's a very car-free friendly location - with free park and ride well signposted.

Find out more at www.ironbridge.org.uk including the special evening events and Christmas weekends (16-17 November 2013).

For updates about Friends of the Earth's make it better campaign, see http://www.foe.co.uk/what_we_do/make_it_better_about_37804.html

Monday, 2 September 2013

Italy in Wales (via Portmeirion)

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at the joys of pretending to be in Italy from an Italianate village in Wales....  Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Portmeirion offers Italian views and
rabbits... (a Welsh reminder).

Oh how lovely Wales is when the weather is good. But even on a wet day Portmeirion - the extraordinary Italian village built by eccentric Clough Wiliams-Ellis makes you feel you might have been teleported an Italian seaside hillside. See here.

My mum and Nell consider
 different options for birthday
presents: would you want a
fountain or a lion statue?
What's so Italian about Portmeirion?
Well, it's got arches, frescoes, bell towers, strong colours, italian restaurants and cafes, public sculpture, seaviews, a (concrete) ship, and even those tall thin green fir trees that scream "Italy" (not literally!).

All that's missing is a load of skinny cats.

I love the way you can visit, picnic or play. There are lots of walks and if the tide is out lots of beach too. You can also stay at Portmeirion - there are 17 self-catering cottages, plus a hotel. Years ago my mum did this and said the visitors to the cottages were brought breakfast in a wheelbarrow...

Plus breakfast service...
Once at Portmeirion you can take home their lovely botanical china. Or you can get into the 1960s TV spirit by being a "prisoner". This is such a cult activity that there's now an annual Festival No 6. In 2013 it's from 13-15 September.

We also enjoyed surprises on walks around the grounds. Nell was thrilled by the money tree stump (above) and plans to make one at home (should we ever have a tree we chop down).

Even in the rain my mum was inspired to paint a quick sketch. There's definitely something fabulouso - excuse my Italian - about the place...

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Travel via chocolate bars

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at the joys of eating chocolate, with a shout out to the cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic and Belize....  Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Most chocolate eaters know chocolate is good for them (and here's the evidence!)

Researchers recently claimed that drinking two cups of cocoa a day makes older people cleverer -by slowing down memory decline, see here. I don't think I'm the right age for their target group, but I've recently finished off my stash of chocolate - and on a money saving drive decided not to replace my big bars because they usually get more than one modest piece removed from them during the working day.

Result: I don't feel half as clever or half as happy. Dare I add that I forget why...

So here's a post in praise of chocolate - wherever the cocoa beans are grown but especially the Dominican Republic and Belize. Extra special praise for the lovely Green & Blacks brand that suggests it's good to eat Madelines and croissant jazzed up with chocolate. And even better to give James Bond's favourite drink - a martini - given an extra zing with a bit of chocolate..... (see photo above with recipe cards included in a taster box of chocolates that a lovely person gave me last Christmas).

Fancy a bit of chocolate now? Now excuse me while I report back to the Ompa Lompas.

Over to you?
Can you cope without chocolate? Are you an afficanado when it comes to beans, flavour and brand? Is chocolate a luxury or a necessity in your carbon-fuelled life?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Finding Persian rugs at auction

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at how an auction can let you carpet bag, possibly via  a trip to Uzbekistan, or maybe Pakistan....  Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Nell, Lola and our friend Marie pose at the auction.
It's been a mini-ambition of mine to introduce the kids to an auction. I love auctions - livestock or antiques. But I rarely go despite it being such a great way to learn, find bargains, understand money, lose money, make money etc. The research has been lengthy and included complex planning to take them to Criterion Auction Rooms in Islington. First I interviewed an auctioneer, see this link to islingtonfacesblog.com, Peter Ball: auctioneer. Then they had to save up pocket money to bid (this will take them years!). Then I took my daughters to look around the items on view, twice.  They instantly began to like finding chairs to sit on and make attempts to spot bargains.

At last the Monday 3pm sale coincided with us all being around - and my increasing desire for a Persian carpet to stop my office chair sliding across the floor.  The rugs go on sale as early lot numbers, though a few are much later. This sale had: "A hand knotted Bokhara rug the red field with bold repeated geometric decoration" with an estimate of £80-£150.

So I bid - actually I failed to bid for two earlier lot numbers through not really understanding how to make myself known or wave a paddle. Eventual result: carpet under the hammer to the scruffy mother on the sofa with three children (they didn't say this) for £70. Of course you spend more than this as there is an auction house mark up but for £84 I'm the happy owner of a fabulously worn out garnet-red coloured rug. What I don't know yet is if it is a central Asian rug from Uzbekistan, see Bokhara, or a Pakistani Bukhara rug. Either way it's fabulous.

The info at this website (which stocks Persian, Bokhara, Tribal and Kilim styles) reckons a 9x12 foot Bokhara rug - which is the size of mine - could take 9-10 months to make by a small group, because the knots are hand tied. What an astonishing craftsmanship made my rug. I just hope a fair wage was paid by somebody, somewhere for it. I'm certainly not it's first owner!

The dog and I are very happy with the new surface.

Over to you
Are there items in your home, that you use all the time, but actually have a strong link to somewhere else in the world? I guess "made in china' counts too.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Red Kites and Roald Dahl: Bucks for books

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire one-time home of Roald Dahl.  Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).
Delicious drinks from Cafe Twit. Just add fizz and ice cream.

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre is billed as a perfect day out for six to 12 year olds.  I left it years too late and ended up at the converted coaching inn - excitingly entered via a courtyard enclosed by Willy Wonka's gates from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - with two 15 year olds and a 12 year old. Of course they weren't the oldest visitors, as there are plenty of adults there. The exhibition is surprisingly cerebral - lots of words and letters to look at. The games are all about how you can be a writer - even the entry fee gets kids an adorable My Story Ideas Book and a pencil to use as they discover more about Dahl's life and wicked humour. It's a very different experience to the breathtaking Potterworld experience one country away which goes for shock and awe as you meet the film sets.
But Roald Dahl is a wonderful children's writer and creations like Matilda, and the dream-catching BFG have already stood the test of time. At the museum kids are given permission to explore their imaginations so they can travel anywhere, and then write about it. All aided with crazy food and drink concoctions served up at Cafe Twit.

Great Missenden is far smaller than I expected, yet has a wonderful array of shops (bizarrely almost all  but the sweet shop, Co-op and train cafe shut on Sundays - is there some kind of country rule about Sunday activities?). It also boasts spots that could be familiar to Dahl's fans - the library which Matilda visited while her mum went to bingo. The petrol pumps from Danny the Champion of the World (not read this yet) and the "n-orphanage" from which Sophie was stolen by the BFG.

Revisiting stories I read with my kids wasn't the only thing that gave me flashbacks. From 1975-80 I went to a boarding school in Buckinghamshire, an experience I would only wish on enemies - and certainly not children. It was such a painful experience that even now I try to avoid Buckinghamshire. But still as the train reached Amersham and the views opened up I felt that sinking go-back-to-school heart ache return.  This must seem silly as the county is a looker: studded with beautiful beech woods, once well-managed for chair making.  It also takes in a chunk of classic English chalk downland known as The Chilterns which stretches into neighbouring Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire.
Marie, Nell and Lola pose while the red kites
swoop out of the picture.

Lola swings, with Marie and Nell in the beech woods.

The area around Great Missenden is also renowned for the successful re-release of the once common Red Kite (a bird once so prolific it's geographical range stretched from Finland to Gambia). After our tour of the museum we took an hour-long exploration through hay meadows and woodlands (a trail provided by the Dahl museum), during which the kids spotted two Red Kites hovering - easy as they have a distinctive V shaped tail. "It's so close you can see the colours," said Lola in some awe when she saw the first

Back in the Roald Dahl museum we had another look at the hut where Dahl cocooned himself for morning and afternoon writing sessions. It certainly offered sharper insight into the writer's mind. Dahl loved coffee and chocolate as he wrote (I do too!). Beside the now-dead writer's chair is a desk where sits shavings of his spine (to ease an old injury caused by a plane crash, see his life story in Boy), his hip joint and an equally round ball made from Kit-Kat wrappers. Each equally gruesome, all shouting for their fascinating story to be told...  

We didn't quite travel the world on this trip, but it left us all thinking about how to describe our worlds better. Definitely an inspiring way to start the holidays.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Fish and flowers at the seaside

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at Whitstable, taking in quick Ozzie seaside tours of food and flora.  Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

"Britain is really an island!" said my daughters, almost in unison as we sat on the shingle at Whitstable and looked across the estuary. Living in London it doesn't feel like an island at all. But once you hit the coast - and our's is pretty long - you start to feel it.

We hardly ever go to the sea so it was fun to watch my 14 and 12 year old creep up on a tiny olive green-carapace of a Shore Crab. Even when they worked out it was dead they were frightened of picking it up in case they were nipped... clearly city kids! The dog was just as bad, lapping up the sea water in puzzlement and then rubbing his furry face into the sand in an attempt to rid himself of the saltyness.

Shingle, blue skies and beach huts. Ahh.

Seaside houses painted ice cream shades
by an upturned blue boat.
Whitstable is a Kent gem. You can reach it by train (approx 90 mins from London's Cannon Street). The beaches are mostly shingle, but in June they are covered in wild flowers - ranging from sea cabbage to my favourite garden escapee, red valerian, gorgeous. And dogs are allowed on the beach all year around.  The vistas give you plenty to think about: we imagined being back in Freemantle , Perth, Australia as we wandered over to the Whitstable Brewery so Pete could have a pint of native and we could ogle the oysters on offer.

Oyster shells waiting to be re-used
 (so don't take them home)
In fact the food all around the seaside part of town was amazing - ranging from oyster shacks to little fish stalls. Certain views give a sense of the pretty Byron Bay coastline along Sydney Harbour. But sitting at the Forge with fish and chips was lovely too. Then finish off at the Old Neptune pub with live music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, or park yourself on a bench outside and stare out to sea as the sun goes down.

If you've never explored our 11,000 mile (17,000 km) coastline, promise yourself a few days to have a good look (maybe check the weather first...).

Great spots for a seaside day out:

  • Eyemouth, Scotland (to feed the harbour seals)
  • Leigh-on-Sea, Esssex (for the food sheds)
  • Whitby, Yorks (to hunt for Dracula)
  • St Bees, Cumbria (to start the Coast to Coast walk)
  • Margate, Kent (for art, windfarms and a sandy beach)

Friday, 7 June 2013

Famous spits: Ukraine, NZ or Devon

Mother's day 2013 - me and Lola spit
visiting in the rain.

Lola with my friend Sally. Count those boats.
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at the world's best spits - thanks to a trip to Dawlish Warren in DevonWords from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Dawlish Warren is famous for its spit. Well famous if you are doing a GCSE in geography.  The rest of us know it's got a world-reknowned SSSI bird reserve and lots of sandy beach space. Two long beaches actually back-to-back, thanks to being a spit...

It takes about an hour to walk the length of the spit - although this shouldn't be done in bird nesting season, or with a dog on a lead longer than 2m, or possibly when a severe gale is blowing in spear-sharp hail (see pix right).  But if you do have a go the reward is seeing a spit (land eroding on one side and forming on the other, see more here) and as many as 8,000 resting birds at high tide - depending on the season.

  • Spits can be huge - the longest in the world is Arabat Spit, in the Ukraine, around 110km. It's easily visible from space claims this group of spit-afficanados.
  • New Zealand's Farewell Spit is 32km. It's often described as the "fish hook pinned to the top of NZ's South Island". 
  • Other famous UK spits are Chesil Beach (which is 189 miles long) and Spurn Point on the Humber, Yorkshire which is 4.8miles long.

Read more posts about Devon, here

Over to you
Where else can I go in the UK that offers a taste of  the Ukraine or NZ?

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Biomechanics - easy exercise?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at an ever so simple way to make muscles work betterWords from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

A slightly strange post showing a series of pix of me (and others) resisting movement in the style that I think is approved of by biomechanic advocates. It's all about resistance... recommended if you have a leg that is longer than the other, or you want to ride horses better (why do these two possibilities seem so strange?).

I suppose people in Herculaneum and Pompeii were doing something like this before their terrible ordeal with Mount Vesuvius.
push thigh up as you force the leg down.


slump (yes I am wearing an outfit that was passed on by one of Lola's friends for my  12 year old).

slump and point toes

loosen the shoulder - keeping the hips still

my hands are holding an imaginary iron pole, so there.

now swing the hips

michael jackson pose

trainer claire resists a coat (this picture is screaming for a better caption!)

put a glove under your arm and bend ze elbows

I think this is the penguin pose  - it felt good, why doesn't it look cool?

Can all planes turn right here

using a filing cabinet/wall/door frame to resist movement

another penguin

Friday, 17 May 2013

Where can I be happy?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a look at what it means to be happy - on holiday or at homeWords from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Horse chestnuts in flower (look for the white candles).
"Does Japan have cherry blossom trees?" asks Nell, 12. This seems left-field but she explains that she's been playing Subway Surfer with a new background of blossom to make it seem more like Tokyo...

These days it's easy to travel without leaving your mobile.

Springtime - ideally outside away from screens - is wonderful in a country like the UK with four seasons. At least that's what the dog and I think as we walk around London (see photos). The dog enjoys sniffing and running - he's a lesson in how to be in-the-moment and happy.

But is happiness a choice? Can you feel happiness on demand, say by taking a holiday or being generous? I don't think so - although it's lovely to break routines, the pressure of keeping a family all happy (let alone a large family) for 24 hours a day for a week or more sounds terrifying. Creating a calm environment - with the opportunity to have many happy moments - is another option.

Wanting to be happy (and solvent) are two closely linked aspirations. As I meet more teenagers - my daughters' friends and the university students I teach - I do wonder about their resilience levels. It feels as if inner-toughness is being eroded at quite a speed. 

So what's happened in four years that's changed? Possibly far greater reliance on mini-screens for entertainment? Here's where I have to reel in an interview in the Guardian with 15-year-old Alice Carruthers talking about her perfect (or possibly typical) weekend, see here. In brief her main external experience appears to be from watching old episodes of Friends on YouTube. I am sure Alice has zillions of strengths but I was shocked to read her summary of typical weekend. She doesn't seem to move around, do anything for anyone else, of have many domestic tasks - other than homework. She's never asked to solve problems.
Circus ponies graze near tower blocks in spring sunshine.
"I want to get off"
Teaching riding I often find kids reach a point they can do most things (eg, steer and rise to the trot), but are quite unable to cope with a horse or pony resisting their requests. It can be frightening riding a horse but if a child - or an adult - can find the inner resilience to cope with the unpredictable, stop the tears and maybe to learn to love an animal that is as likely to stand on their foot as nicker at them over the stable door - I think they are lucky indeed. Not only will they be able to ride (a rare skill), they'll also have mined a strength of character that I am sure helps people to cope with problems.

Oh yes, and climate change...
In St James' Park on a spring evening with deck chair, book & picnic rug.

Cow parsley and hawthorn blossom-lined walk along a former railway.
For rather more cerebral insights about happiness have a look at Mattieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk, who links science and meditation with a certain amount of joy, see here. With thanks to my friend ML for passing this on (via Melbourne/Honiara and Facebook).

Over to you?
Any ideas for developing our resilience levels? Is there something that can be done at school or uni with students or is it something families need to work on?

Saturday, 11 May 2013

400ppm - sad statistic

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post takes a sad look at another record breaking statisticWords from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

It's happened: the world's atmospheric carbon dioxide has hit  a historic high, 400ppm . This level was last calculated long before humans flew and drove the Earth. It's a totem figure of course, one many of us dreaded. 

I add this cliche message on my office poster as I guess that's exactly what's going to happen.

I notice I've used electric lights less today, but it feels rather pointless. Most of us use too much carbon and far too much of the world's resources.  I do anyway: according to WWF's info my carbon footprint is 6.74 tonnes per annum. Turns out I use 1.88 planet's worth of resources. These statistics do not make comfortable reading either.

I wonder how other countries are marking this?

Monday, 22 April 2013

Running all over the world, via London

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Setting yourself sporting challenges demands international conversations. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Lola, my sporty 14-year-old has now run the Mini-Marathon - the last three miles from Blackfriars Bridge to the Mall - four times. Kids in London boroughs are really lucky to get this chance, especially as the other Mini Marathon race runners are already elite athletes (see pic caption)

Lola's learnt a lot about pacing herself, plus an A-Z reboot of her mental map of London during these races. And on her 2011 race she also raised a bit of cash for charity too - books and science equipment for students at Woodford School in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

In 2013 Lola's joined by our friend Lucas, who is 11, and  zipped around the 2013 course
in 21 mins 30 seconds. The winner of the under 17s managed to complete
the race in 12 minutes - that's three four minute miles!
Near the finish spot the race commentator explained that the Africans (Ethiopia and Kenya) would dominate the winners. He was right too - Kenya won the women's race; Ethiopia the men's. And though it wasn't easy to see, every Marathon competitor wore a small black ribbon in memory of the stupid attack on Boston, US competitors and spectators last week. As a result all three countries played a big role in conversation with my younger daughter, Nell, while we waited for the runners to pass near our watching spot opposite Buckingham Palace.

Paula, Nell and Pete framed by flags. We all agreed that one of the best parts of the Marathon
is being able to walk down a road that's normally a traffic jungle.
The Mall is often a sea of flags - it's the only place in the UK that seems to do this (unlike say the US where flag raising and saluting are big parts of formal life). I did my best to spot the Solomon Islands and Kenyan flag as we passed the Commonwealth building, and was suitably rewarded with a flutter through the cherry blossom.

Over to you
What sporting occasion makes you feel as if you are in another world?

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Keeping it clean with tweed and soap

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. On a short Saturday city stroll we met anachronistic cyclists, a Korean soap sculpture and a Madagascan rafia hat collector. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

At the weekend Nell, 12, and I went for a wander around London - bits we didn't know to cheer up some rather dull chores. Living in London it's easy to find new places to discover but we lucked out when 500 tweedy looking folk, some on Penny Farthing bikes, came to a halt beside us before commencing a parade around London.

Turns out they were on the Tweed Run - a celebration of well-attired gentlemen and ladies who raise a lot for charity. It looked a lot of fun wearing what is conventionally traditional clothing (and very beautiful) on a bike - a sartorially startling contrast to the luminous lycra most London cyclists wear.

This sculpture is made from soap by a Korean artist.
In Cavendish Square behind department store John Lewis there is a statue of the Butcher of Cumberland. It looks like marble, but on close inspection we discovered it is made from 2.7 tonnes of Honey I Washed The Kids soap. The idea is that it crumbles away releasing a Lush-like smell. It's made by Korean sculptor Meekyoung Shin, see a short video here. Disappointingly we couldn't smell anything, maybe it needs more sun and less rain.

Later that day we went to tea with a woman who has collected hats from all over Madagascar. There were baby hats, dating hats, keeping the sun off hats and purse hats - all whipped up with dried materials. Her hats were the real McCoy, collected 30 years ago, but on the web I found the Madagascan Hat Company, a Fair Trade outfit that makes amazing raffia hats using traditional skills but with a twist that makes them more suitable for modern, tourist heads, see here.

Not bad for a short day's city stroll!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

A taste of the Lebanon

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Lebanon is where people go for bars and beaches - a Western style experience in the Middle East. And it's also where more than 400,000 Syrian refugees have ended up trying to escape the bloody Syrian conflict. Clearly Lebanon is a generous country, but what's it like and how can you get a sense of Lebanon when you live in London? Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Taboulleh, yoghurt, humus, fava beans,
feta cheese with tomato, flat bread,
followed by mousakka - all Lebanese delights.
On 27 March 2013 at Mosaic Rooms, 26 Cromwell Road, London, SW5, Hana el Hibri is giving a talk about the new 30-day, 440km Lebanese mountain trail, a journey she's written about in her book A Million Steps. The aim is: "To raise more awareness about how special this Middle East country is - many of the paths are Roman, or Venetian, it's a history lesson," says Hana.

Hana hopes the newly opened path will promote eco tourism, and protect the range from dumping and quarrying. The idea of Lebanon being the perfect spot for a long distance walk (like Hadrian's Wall or the Coast to Coast) is such a surprise to me - all I've heard about Lebanon in the past year or so is how it has opened its borders to thousands of Syrian refugees.

Million Steps video trailer here.

Delve into my mind and I can tell you about Lebanese cuisine too. For instance taboulleh is a parsely salad with lemon and chopped tomato, not bulgar wheat with a sprinkling of parsely. Now take a look at the photo above and see how to serve it with lashings of yoghurt at the wonderful Tarboush restaurant on Edgware Road. We also enjoyed vine leaves, and our one meat eater lucked out with chicken kafta although she could have tried lamb or goat.

Tip if you are making your own yoghurt you can get a better set if you start it in a thermos, especially if you don't have anywhere very warm to leave it.
Here's a website which has all you need to know about Lebanese culture - from the fact that skiing is very popular to it being an extremely modern, rather Westernised place where Arabic, English and French pepper conversations.  It's also where Yanni, on his 2012-13 world without borders tour, opens the 2013 Byblos International Music Festival (which runs from 30 June - 1 July). Yanni's Live at the Acropolis TV show is the world's 2nd best known music video - after Michael Jackson's Thriller. It's been seen by half a billion people in more than 65 countries... See here.

Tarboush, 143 Edgware Road, London W2, tel: 020 7706 9793

See all my posts on Lebanon here.

Over to you
When you hear the word Lebanon what do you think of? Or what do you recommend to do in the UK to give you a sense of Lebanon's unique Middle East mix?

Monday, 11 March 2013

Enjoy Exeter even in the rain

On a walk near Drogo Castle, Devon look out for
dippers - or brown trout.
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post shows how Devon is much more than cream teas and summer seaside pleasures, plus ideas on what you can do on a rainy March weekend visitWords from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

We played pooh sticks with twigs, to improve
the game Sally says use logs (maybe not here)
Venetian chandliers, Norman-themed libary, Lilliput doll's house in the garden  - all ought to be on the must see list when visiting Castle Drogo, the last castle to be built in England. But on a short weekend visiting friends in Exeter I managed to forget my National Trust card and so was kept outside this promising family home. And what an outside offered in the grounds of Castle Drogo - wild views of Dartmoor, steep sides of the Teign valley, bridges you just have to cross (even though you don't want to be on the other side of the river bank) and wonderful wildlife including a really good sighting of a Dipper. I'm ashamed to tell you I only know this bird thanks to a Country File special. But with its distinctive white breast, plus the ability to fly, dive and swim underwater it's definitely a must-look-out-for-bird. The few other people we saw walking along the river bank were invariably peering through binoculars too.

While Sally and her son Kier zoomed nimbly along the riverside-path Lola and I were distracted discussing an Arthurian style battle clash on the steeply wooded river valley sides.  Later we all enjoyed a virtual battle victory veggie lasagne in a family-friendly pub about 20 minutes walk from Exeter quay, the Double Locks. It's the first pub I've been to that has a volleyball court, real beer and wood-pannelled bars.

Sally with Lola outside Exeter Cathedral. Pay
to enter or visit for free by joining a service.
Exeter has four twin cities: Rennes in France, Bad Homburg in Germany, Terracina in Italy and Yaroslavl in Russia. Clues to these places may be hard to find, besides it's hard not to think of this city without seeing classic English-Shire ladies or adding the word "cathedral" or "university" town...And when you get there, even in the rain, Exeter is lovely. There are plenty of craft and antique stalls down by the historic Quay, even the opportunity to rent canoes or a bike for off-road adventuring (the Exe trail bike path starts right here if you fancy a ride to Exmouth).

Midway between the cathedral and the newest branch of John Lewis, which opened in October 2012, Lola and I stumbled across the ruins of almshouses where all events seem to have happened on Saturdays. How do I know? Because each room space is marked with a paving stone into which info has been carved, eg, "new well bucket ordered". Clearly Exeter is ahead of the trend when it comes to making the past seem more accessible by focusing on very small daily details. Although no doubt "new well bucket" would be a red letter day for some poor old soul.

Bright pink lures in
visitors to Exeter's Museum.

Exeter has also got the country's best museum of 2013, The Royal Albert Memorial Museum - a space in town where everyone meets or wanders around after shopping. I loved the Devon paintings and the way the stuffed animals had been dusted down and given a dawn chorus soundtrack. The starfish collection is amazing, just for its size and in other rooms you can see displays on how people used to insure their buildings from fire; or ways fashion changed. There's a video re-enactment of how Devon's landscape was formed - a chance to enjoy lots of volcanoes exploding (we are talking deep time here) and dinosaurs walking around. Plus national exhibitions on tour - until mid May 2013 have a peek at the BP portrait prize and also the Veoila Environnement competition for wildlife photographer of the year.

Wheelie bees help make  Exeter  museum's
collection more fun for  kids.
Tots can drag along a busy bee suitcase to better explore the museum. There's a dressing up outfit, explorer trail and magnifying glass: very sweet.  Plus a lovely cafe run by Otterton Mill for the classic Devon cream tea, or just a decent non-chain cappucino. Cities - and towns - like Exeter that have created a must-go-to-often free attraction deserve a real thumbs up.

Nell insists we buy liquorice sticks
and apricots  in  St Austell.
What a contrast to St Austell - just two hours down the train line - which has no obvious central meet-and-play point. See the pic left of surely that town's most interesting attraction, a spice shop with a sign that claims hippies aren't welcome...

Over to you
Where do you recommend visiting in Devon - and what do you like doing?