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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, 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?

Friday, 1 March 2013

Making Welsh waves

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post is in honour of all things Welsh, wherever they are... Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).  

You can take the girl out of Wales, but you can't take Wales out of the girl. On a recent wander around Colombia Road Flower market I found this sign "a little bit of the Welsh countryside in the city" at www.jandbtheshop.com. It was selling knitted bunting triangles, jackets with patches, pretty pottery and a host of crafty lovelies - at London prices. But it started thinking about how many people have connections with Wales.  Not just famous-ish folk like Sian Loyd, Huw Edwards, Tom Jones, Cerys Matthews etc, but also my friends. Turns out I know far more people who've chosen to live in Wales (especially around Bangor, Machnynlleth, Cardiff and Llanidoes) or have some kind of a Welsh link, than I do Scottish or Irish locals (my dad who grew up in Nairn, Scotland and my mum who spent her first seven years running wild by Strangford Lough, co Down in northern Ireland would both be shocked!).

Borrow-dah (phonetic spelling)
Well 1 March is St David's day - the patron saint of Wales - so maybe it's reasonable to focus on the Welsh. I'd been hoping to see a friend who runs the wonderful organisation www.thesizeofwales.org doing PR in London, so put together a daffodil and leek collection in case she honoured us with a visit. Her team have been trying to save an area of rainforest the size of Wales - that's 2 million hectares. Here's hoping they make the target by St David's Day. Hurray, quick update about this from the BBC here.

Hats off
I also found this amazing hat similarity in this rather stylised (and upside down!) pic of old-time outfits. Look closely and you may be able to compare the rather similar headwear of the Welsh and Bolivian ladies.

Over to you
Where do you go to get a little bit of the Welsh countryside in your life - a farm, a phone, facebook or a particular place?