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A-Z countries

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.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

A trip to Italy, crossing Umbria

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. Sometimes talking and reading about a long walk can inspire a family adventure. For example tracing the route of St Francis of Assisi via a new trekking book inspires guest poster Pete May to ponder the joys of long, slow walks  & tasty Italian treats.

Long-distance walking has long been a love of Around BritainNo Plane and the Italian equivalent of our slow walking can be found in the Rev Sandy Brown’s new guidebook The Way of St Francis — a pilgrimage through the green heart of Italy, taking in Umbria, Tuscany and Lazio.

During winter evenings I like to read travel stories – a recent discovery was Tim Moore’s cycling adventures on a wooden bike with the most rudimentary brakes (!) around super-mountainous Italy on the route of the Giro D'Italia 1914, Gironimo. Now here’s another way to discover Italy - by reading The Way of St Francis. The book covers the full 550km pilgrimage, known as the Via di Francesco, visiting key sites from the life of St Francis of Assisi. It starts in Florence, famous for art, leather bags and the Duomo (as seen in the film A Room With A View), goes through St Francis’ home town of Assisi and finally ends in Rome with a tour of the seven pilgrimage churches.

It has 28 stages and takes a month to walk – working on a budget of just over 50 euros a day.

Spiritual nourishment
Seattle-based author and ordained minister Sandy Brown described the pilgrimage as, “being about a state of mind” at the guide’s launch at Foyle’s new(ish) bookshop at 107 Charing Cross Road,  London.

“It’s about turning your back on your old life and focusing on the beyond, the past and the future,” Rev Sandy Brown, The Way of St Francis

Brown showed pictures of stunning gorges, forests, sunflower fields, olive groves, a Roman waterfall and villages clinging to mountainsides. Sandy said he felt much closer to the spirit of St Francis through seeing the chapel where he received his stigmata and the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi where he was buried.

Lentil stew, mushrooms, wine and hazelnut chocolates - Umbrian-style treats
perfect for eating after a long walk, wherever you are walking. www.lenticchiacastelluccio.it
is an Umbrian agricultural cooperative with beautiful pictures of flower-drenched Italian fields.
Feasting too
Another great attraction of the walk is the superb food and drink Umbria has to offer over slow evening meals, such as Umbrian wine, chocolate, bread, pasta, lentils and cured meats.

The Way of St Francis is a very practical guidebook, with full directions, maps, altitude profiles and information about all the shrines, churches, towns and places to stay on the route. It’s more than a physical trek though. Brown remembers coming to the upper gate of Assisi: ”When I looked down at the Basilica of San Francesco my eyes filled with tears. It was a powerful moment of joy of accomplishment and an overwhelming spiritual connection with the simple beauty and meaning of this place.”

  • The Way of St Francis by Rev Sandy Brown is published by Cicerone, price £16.95.
  • Pete May is part of the Around Britain No Plane family. His latest UK travel book is The Joy of Essex, or see his Joy of Essex blog.
Over to you
What slow walks and slow food make you dream up travel adventures? And where - or what - do you recommend?

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Talking about a fashion revolution with university students

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 so it's always exciting to meet people with the same sustainability goals but a very different approach. Here's how pomegranates, onion skin and happy silk worms make such a beautiful contribution to fashion via the clothes of Kitty FerreiraWords from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Zivile - Q: are the jacket and top your own products?
Valerie Goode: Yes the blue jacket and white peace silk shirt are both my label, Kitty Ferreira. I often wear my own products – you never know who you are going to meet.
What's it all about?
Kitty Ferreira is a sustainable fashion brand from London which has been wowing London and Brighton Fashion Week audiences. It's not just the fabulous clothes from Kitty Ferreira founder, Valerie Goode, it's also the way she makes them, and the reasons she sticks to chic sustainable fashion.
"Fashion is the second most polluting industry (after oil). To understand more watch a movie called The true cost 
Valerie Goode, MD and founder of Kitty Ferreira. 
University students with Valerie Goode from Kitty Ferreira sustainable fashion.
At the end of October 2015 I invited Valerie to talk Kitty Ferreira to my fashion-loving blogging students and this is the result:

Dila - Q: What's your inspiration?
Ethics and the natural world. My background is Caribbean and the brand is named after my grandmother. I looked at the land and the way she relied on it to feed herself, clothe herself and heal herself and I looked at my own experiences and tried to blend the two – boardroom to bar style. I wanted something you can wear to work, and wear out in evening… it’s not frivolous style. Take a look at my interview with BrightonFashion Week here.

Perside - Q: Do you have to know people to succeed in the industry?
It's extremely competitive and that’s even more reason why you need to stand for something. Fortunate that there is talk of ethical fashion throughout media and it is becoming more and more mainstream. Even the larger retailers are taking on sustainability in supply chains – H&M, and a few weeks ago M&S (see article here). 

When I started I had to forget almost everything I’d learnt throughout my 12 year career fashion buying. All my contacts became obsolete. I had to start from scratch and source a sustainable supply chain, sustainable fabrics, and find sustainable processes and procedures for production. 

When running a business you can’t be focused on what the barriers are. I try to have positive attitude. It helps to align yourself with experienced professionals, but I don’t always think this is the only way to get in. If like me you knew no-one in ethical fashion, my work has allowed me to meet people who do, like Lucy Siegle, who invited me to The Observer Ethical Awards and have her wearing my dress, likewise MBA professionals and investors. I wouldn’t worry about who you don’t know, rather who you would like to know.

 I wouldn’t worry about who you don’t know, rather who you would like to know.  
Valerie Goode, MD & founder of Kitty Ferreira

Valerie Goode from Kitty Ferreira looked to her Caribbean roots for inspiration for her fashion brand. She says that pomegranate can be used as a super natural dye for high end fashion. She uses it on upcycled silk and peace silks (that don't harm silk worms) to make clothes of the most cheerful, glowing yellow. 
Lannay Q: Why pomegranates?
I was looking for a wow factor. It’s the reason why I’ve been able to achieve a lot in short time. I wanted to incorporate an ethical practice and natural procedure so using natural materials to dye fabrics was a no brainer. I settled on two materials because of the beautiful colours. On the high street your wouldn’t see these colour ways. When we are designing colours we are looking at the white skin – you can see (on mywebsite/lookbook) that these colours suit darker skins v well. It’s two fingers to that side of that industry!  Fashion needs to be more representative. I did a catwalk with models of diversity so there were disabled models, bigger than average models, different ethnicities at the Ideal Home show 2014 - and my garments go up to size 26

Go follow Kitty Ferreira
Let's hope more of the public hear about the Kitty Ferreira brand and are as inspired by it as these university students were by Valerie's visit. 
You can read more about Valerie Goode at this blog I posted on islington faces in July 2015. Or follow what she's up to on social media...

Friday, 23 October 2015

Autumn is Dracula season

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. Dracula is one of the most popular horror stories - it definitely doesn't give Romania a good press, but it also turns Whitby and Purfleet into stars. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

The Dracula plaque at Purfleet.
A few days ago I was in the woods with two teenagers and an eight-year-old. It was dusk, very close to dark and not far off Halloween so the suggestion was "let's tell some scary stories". I insisted these were age appropriate but they ended up being scary for me, and us all. There's something about riding through twilight with the autumn leaves swishing that helps you connect with people from the past. How lucky we are to have electric light we all agreed as we rode along the darkening track back to the yard with its cosy well-lit stables.

Even with the lights on in a warmly-heated house I can get scared easily. So imagine what it must have been like to read Dracula by Bram Stoker when it first came out. You'd have used a flickering candle or a spluttering gas lamp if you were brave enough to read it before bedtime. I love the Dracula story with its twists and turns, sexuality and Victorian morals - but I associate it with Yorkshire, in particular the seaside town of Whitby. Turns out I was wrong, Purfleet in Essex has a nice link too. As does the big cemetery at Hampstead Heath.

Enjoy more info about Dracula by taking an atmospheric tour of the extremely creepy Hampstead Heath west cemetery on Halloween, 31 October. The last tour is at 3pm.

Or go and look at the plaque in Purfleet, just by the church. This would be a nice trip if you combined it with a visit to the RSPB's Rainham Marshes site. If the tide is out when you are by the Thames look for the skeleton hulls of wrecked ships as you head towards the striking visitor centre. See pix below:

Walking around Rainham Marshes, easily reached via Purfleet train station.
Don't look - he's behind you!

RSPB Rainham Marshes visitor centre.
But if you are Dracula-fixated maybe head to Whitby, where there's even a Dracula Experience. I know from going round it that it really is terrifying (if you want to be terrified). 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Reading about Cyprus

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. Lots of my elder daughter's friends have family links to Cyprus - I've seen their holiday snaps, but still hanker to know more about what this island is like. One way of finding out more is to get reading. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Cyprus – allegedly the birthplace of Aphrodite – is probably better known as a tourist hotspot or being divided. At least that's what I knew... until I read a new book which doesn't tackle the politics, but does give a sense of what it was like to live there during the 1980s.

The Green Line Divide by Z Vally.
The Green Line Divide by Z Vally is a small book about a burgeoning romance between student Alexis and a UN blue beret from Sweden, Sven. Politics doesn’t really feature in the story. Instead the author concentrates on Alexis’ experiences trying to earn enough to survive and retake her college exams. And she does, thanks to her ability to do cleaning jobs. Luckily Cyprus is blessed with a lovely climate so much of the story takes place as Alexis cycles to jobs or meets friends to discuss their work hiccups during their time off.

I’ve always loved travel stories – even people talking about their holidays – and the new quantities of books arriving as a result of self-publishing in print and on e-readers give us all plenty of new ways of looking at the world from people who (without being rude to Z here) are more normal, more like you and me than the English Literature graduates from Oxbridge.  That said The Green Line Divide has some rather odd English constructions, so if you are a stickler for correct grammar then it’s not going to suit you.

Another drawback is that what the author thought was funny I didn't. Despite this, the book still offers insight into an adventurous young woman’s life as she gets to know herself and Cyprus - often by backpacking around it - during the 1980s. There are plenty of allusions to real life - dusty roads, warm sunshine and grilled hallumi; not much time spent as a tourist looking at ancient ruins. Towards the end Alexis and her boyfriend quarrel over what to drink, but then both end up independently choosing mythos served in frosted glasses - surely that was a clue that they were made for each other?

Cyprus basics
  • In 1960 Cyprus gained it’s independence from the UK
  • 1974 – Greek and Turkish clash led to a divided country. There is now a buffer zone (known as the Green Line) between the Greek part in the South and the Turkish part in the North. This is protected by UN peacekeepers.
  • The capital is Nicosia (this is also divided)
  • Population: 1.41 million
  • Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean and a member of the EU.
  • The Trodos Mountains have nine UNESCO heritage sites. Throughout the island are many important, ancient ruins.

The Green Line Divide: romance, travel and turmoils by Z Vally, available on Amazon.