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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.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Take a visit to Gaby's - the Middle Eastern cafe luvvies & lefties love

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Middle Eastern food is famously good - and a great place to try it in London is at Gaby's Deli just by Leicester Square tube. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Chilli sauce in the foreground, chicken kebab and
meat balls on the girls plates.
Gaby's is a tiny restaurant just by London's Leicester Square. It's been there for years and every now and then there's a fierce battle to keep it in this prime spot. Matt Damon is a fan... Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn is too.

And so's my family - the falafel in pitta bread are favourites, they are so much crunchier than any others I've ever eaten! And so they should be - Gaby's Deli was founded by the man who "claims" to have brought felafel to London.

One reviewer says looking at the food through the window is: "Reminiscent of the huge salad displays of Istanbul, the Falafel shops of Jerusalem and the salt beef of New York." 

So, at the end of August we went to the theatre and decided to treat ourselves to a quick meal beforehand at Gaby's Deli.  The photo shows Nell and her friend Elsa with marinated chicken kebab and meat balls. They shared these dishes but both agreed that next time they would go for the chicken kebab. The rest of the party (me and Nell's dad) ate falafel, humous and chilli sauce stuffed into a pitta with loads of veges.

It's not dirt cheap: the bill for four meals plus a glass of wine came to £38.60 (this was without a tip). What I really like about eating here is that not only are you eating "London history", you are saying no to the chains, giving yourself a chance to spot a famous thespian (though probably not at 6.30pm when we turned up) and being certain to have a delicious Middle Eastern dish. Go soon!

Gabys Deli, 30 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0DE
Save Gaby's Deli on Facebook

Monday, 17 August 2015

10 reasons to go to Ambleside now

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. The Lake District is addictive: once you've gone there it's hard not to want to go again, and that's despite being soaked and/or sunburnt or leaving with blisters. Whatever the weather I always think about how the Roman legions must have felt marching this way along High Street in their sandals. The rest of my party were immersed in dog spotting, deciphering bus timetables or trying out taster chocolate at the sweet shops. What will you do? Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).
Stock Ghyll Force - lovely waterfall in the beech woods behind Ambleside.

Ambleside is a bus ride from Windermere rail station. It's been a holiday spot for years - helped along by William Wordsworth's guide to the Lake District and Beatrix Potter's books - Peter  Rabbit was first published in 1902. Facebook at this time of the year is filled with people's fab holidays taken overseas but the Lake District is a great place to visit. Here's some reasons why I'm hoping to go back to Ambleside.

1) DOG FRIENDLY - you can take your pet along.... Audrey Hepburn may have taken her deer to American supermarkets (did you know that?) but in the Lake District the pet of the day is a dog, so we took our border terrier. We even went to the Rydal Hound Show which was packed with country folk moving between the hound rings and the beer tent. At Ambleside there are water bowls at loads of cafes and pubs. Even on the way to the Lake District (if you travel by train) you may find that Virgin trains sometimes gives out pet snack bags and at Oxenholme station there is a huge water bowl. My favourite is Bilbo Cafe which has towels for you to dry your dog plus sofas for humans to loll on and delicious, hearty walkers' cakes.

  • Take poo bags for the dog and then carry it home (in a tuppeware)? Public loos are 20p.

2) BUS PASSES SAVE YOU MONEY - and mean you don't have to carry cash. You can hop on and off around the south Lakes and expect to strike up conversations with travellers as well as locals. People are friendly. We used the 555 and 599 buses and were so impressed by how friendly - and thoughtful - the bus drivers were. Big shout out for Stagecoach staff!

  • Other cheap pleasures: feeding ducks, a long walk, watching boats, lounging by the lake, watching sunsset, watching people on holiday, spot the dog, finding cafes to hang out in.

3) SHOPS STAY OPEN A BIT LATER THAN THEY DO IN NON HOLIDAY COUNTRY TOWNS - tor example the Spa & Co-op, only a few doors away from each other, are open 7am-10pm. There's also a Tesco Express in the centre of town.

  • Many of the Ambleside pubs and restaurants have regular theme events so if you love live music or quiz nights you can be sure to find plenty.

4) EASY TO HIRE A KAYAK - Lake Windermere is fun to splash around on. We used the sit on kayaks at Low Wood Watersports Centre (an easy 20 min walk along a pavement out of town) and also Windermere Canoe & Kayak. It's cheaper if you book in advance on the internet & you can because the wifi reception is  pretty good. At Winderemere Canoe & Kayak we also hired wetsuits and were given a dry bag and a map so we could explore for a day. It was wonderful to do this with two 14-year-olds.

  • Worth hiring a wetsuit (£3-4) especially for kids, whatever the sunshine level as it means they might be able to swim all day without turning blue with cold.

5) BEST BASE FOR EXPLORING - a few miles past Rydal Water (just take a bus) is Grasmere which boasts wonderful Dove Cottage where William Wordsworth's career as a poet kicked off - if you go be sure to let your kids do the organised treasure trail so they  will find out the name of Wellington's horse and where to get dentures after the battle of Waterloo. There's also the famous Grasmere Ginger Bread Shop - six pieces for £3.60 (sold in an old-fashioned shop so popular and small you have to queue to get to the counter). Grasmere is quite small and so feels more crowded with tourists but if you pop into the Grasmere Post Office you'll find a treasure trove of local Lake District goodies. I bought muscle & joint rub (for walkers' aches), soap and a rug. But there were also scarves, tweeds, bobble hats and handbags.

  • At Waterhead you can take a boat around the lake. There are all sorts of tickets and deals so just queue up and ask. Lake Winderemere is 1o miles long so there is plenty to see. Try disembarking at Wray Castle to enjoy a folly (now run by the National Trust) or the lovely grassy beaches nearby. Another good spot is Brockhole, especially if being outdoors is a bit new to you as here there are loads of activities to try including a treetop trek.

6) SLATE GETS EXCITING - so many cottages and businesses have their name or number carved on a bit of slate. You'll find you might want one too. If you live in a house with a lowish number 1-100 they are easy to find.

Stunning menu from Lake Road Kitchen with Herdwick lamb and foraged hen-in-the-wood (a plant).

7) DELICIOUS NEW TASTES - during a week we tried Lancaster sauce crisps, Kendal mint cake and Grasmere ginger bread, The beer drinker in our party enjoyed many different pints at the pub.

View from Wansfell over Lake Windermere.

8) FABULOUS WALKS - of course you'll want to walk the big mountains, but the ones that aren't so big can be fantastic. Red Screes is my new favourite with amazing views across the Lake District mountains and a gorgeous walk up to the summit and non-knee killing descent. And if you think walking is too slow then try wild running.

  • All the Lake District towns, especially Ambleside & Keswick are over-run with outdoor wear shops. A great place to get bargains, essentials and treats.

9) IT'S AN EXCUSE TO REMINISCE - not just the times you've visited and the mountains you've climbed, but also to look again at films like Withnail & I (1987) and The Trip (2011) with Steve Coogan and Rob Byrdon. 
At the Unicorn pub the staff were betting on when the
rain would start with money on 8.17pm. It did rain, but an
hour later... Earlier in the day it was scorching. This
photo is from three days earlier when wet and windy.

10) THERE'S A LOT OF WEATHER - whatever you get it'll be a talking point. Bring all the kit you can carry so that you can get outside and have fun. Strong shoes and a waterproof are essential. But my luggage also contained stuff for swimming and boating - and the things the teens and the dog couldn't carry. I guess this is why so many people drive to the Lake District and need vehicles big enough to take everyone in the family's bike, but you can hire kit easily. You can even learn to waterski, or sail...

  • Doing stuff in the great outdoors is a simple way to understand geography - be sure to share maps, Wainwright guides and the mountain weather report. There you are, GCSE geography in the bag!