Tag Archives: travels

Travelling with medication

Travelling with enough medication in my bag for my three month trip was an anxious experience. Let me list some of the situations that caused me to be nervous:

  • every border between countries
  • every airport security check
  • every long bus journey where there were lots of stops before mine and I had to put my bag in the hold
  • every time I left a hotel in a hurry
  • every time I was in a hostel or hotel where I didn’t think my stuff was safe
  • every time I felt my bag was unsafe on the street

I think you get the idea. And it’s not like I was carrying an illegal haul – this was prescribed medication but carrying around 140 pills isn’t something I’ve ever done before. My mind kept jumping to them being confiscated or lost and I had no idea whether I would be able to get more and then I worried that our dream trip may have to be cut short. Along with my passport, the meds were literally the only thing that I couldn’t do without. Especially since my bank card wasn’t working…but that’s another story.

In the first week, I emailed my consultant to ask him for a confirmation of my steroid prescription. I had received a very helpful email from a reader and fellow myasthenic who said having a printed prescription and confirmation of the condition might be handy, but the email was the best I could do. Yet I worried because the email wasn’t translated into the relevant languages and I wondered whether the security guards would engage with them because they were digital. Lesson learned for the next leg of the trip.

When I started the trip I kept all my different types of medication – from painkillers to rehydration sachets – together. Then I split some of them into my other bag, to try to spread my anxiety about a bit and it helped. I buried a couple of packets in beside my walking gear that was mostly unused after Nepal and hoped the south East Asian sniffer dogs were as worn out by the sun as their stray brothers.

Despite all that anxiety, there was only one incident where my medication bag was searched and even that was done rather indifferently by an airport guard in Singapore. That was definitely the most strict country we travelled to where we were told on the plane just as we arrived that if we were carrying any illegal drugs the mandatory punishment was DEATH. They didn’t elaborate by what method but my imagination raced.

And so the anxiety continued until I realised on reaching Bali, our last stop, that I felt a huge weight had been lifted.

As I prepare for the South American leg of my travels, I’m trying to keep that light feeling in mind and challenge a few of the anxieties that weighed me down in south east Asia. But I’m also taking a prescription and letter confirming the condition and my need for medication.

Bangkok

Arriving in Bangkok is organised, air-conditioned bliss after the anarchy of Kathmandu…even if you’ve grown fonder to the craziness as I had. Everything in Bangkok is signposted, efficient (take a ticket number for an airport taxi and go to the booth with the same number, voila!) and there are plenty of people around to ask for help. Still, after an intrepid first fortnight of travels, I felt a slight sinking feeling as we stepped back into an intensely structured universe.

Thankfully, that sanitised order ended at the airport door – the area around our hotel in China Town was more like a bustling street bazaar full of exotic food for sale like Durian, sticky mango rice and Jack Fruit. Delicious!

With its rich-poor divide, its drive for convenience and modern comforts (particularly good coffee) and its seedier side nestled down dark alleys, Bangkok is like many cities I’ve visited before. But it has its own vibe too. It has alligator-like lizards swimming in its canals, Tuk Tuks dressed up with flashing lights zipping down busy alleys, anything you can imagine available to buy on its streets and an architecture style that is completely new for me. 


The lizards of the canal – Water Monitor lizards.

Day 1 sees us decide to walk the 30 minute journey from our hotel to the Grand Palace as a novelty after it being near impossible to walk in Kathmandu due to pollution. The humidity gets in on me and it’s clear why most people ride mopeds rather than walk here. I worry that this heat may bring about some issues with my MG as I feel exhausted almost right away. But I learn on that first day that an air con break with a delicious fruit smoothie and a salty sandwich is what will revitalise me here, not my normal caffeine fix. 

Over the next 4 days we try to take in as much of the city as we can including temples, art exhibitions, a boat trip, shopping, night life and a ladyboy cabaret. We also dedicate a day to our hotel’s rooftop pool and bar; watching the boats on the Chao Praya river and trying to conquer the inflatable flamingo. Thus in Bangkok we try to cement the balance of ‘doing’ and ‘being’ that we want to keep throughout the trip. This trip is about rest and recovery as much as it’s about adventure.

I’m not sure what I expected, but Bangkok is definitely better. From a privileged tourist perspective, the value for money is unreal compared to home, it’s easy to get around and no matter where you are at what time of day or night, there’s a Tuk Tuk or taxi driver waiting to haggle with you – and 9/10 times for me they were polite. While there are quite a lot of Seven 11s, Starbucks and McDonalds, there are a lot less chains here which allows different areas to have their own feel.

I have no doubt that Bangkok has its own issues (many of which lurk down those dark alleys), but as someone passing through its relaxed atmosphere, variety of attractions and affordability mean I’m certain I’ll be back here.

Travel vaccines and myasthenia

There were a lot of expenses for our extended honeymoon before we left home and now that we’re ‘here’, I’m not sure how many of them were necessary. The most important and least pleasurable pre-travel expense was the money for injections.

I spent around £500 on injections over a period of 5 weeks and felt like a pin cushion. While I don’t grudge money spent in order to keep myself healthy, it was difficult to hear that because of suppressing my immune system it’s not guaranteed that any of the 11 injections will work. Goodbye £500.

Still, like a reasonable non-stingy (cough cough Scottish) adult, I figured it’s better to have them than to leave myself open to a range of exotic diseases – most of which the pharmacist explained in far too much detail. He was who you should talk to if you never want to adventure beyond your bedroom. 

Side effects 

I was mostly fine after the injections excluding some heavy arms and the first three injection day where I felt nauseous and lightheaded. On other days I was able to go for a light run or swim on the same day as the vaccines. 

No can do

A vaccine that is recommended for the areas we’re travelling to and that I couldn’t get was yellow fever. As it’s a live vaccine, I wasn’t allowed to have it due to my thymectomy and immunosuppression – there’s a risk I’ll get the disease from the vaccine.

The mosquito-carried disease doesn’t have a presence in Nepal or south east Asia so I’m safe for now, but it has a grip on certain parts of South America including the Amazon rainforest. While I don’t need it for this stretch of the trip, I need to carefully pick where I travel to in SA. This unfortunately means minimising my time in Brazil. 

Instead of the vaccine, I got a yellow exemption card (pictured) which will hopefully allow me into the infected countries if not the infected regions. 

So while it was a ‘pain’ to spend so much on vaccines which aren’t guaranteed to work, as I travel to my next destination it brings me peace of mind to know I’ve done all I can.

Kathmandu, Nepal – destination one

Our first stop of the South Asian adventure is Kathmandu and there couldn’t be a better place to take me out of my comfort zone.

From trying to get a visa in the airport on arrival (3 separate parts of the process and each took an age) it became clear that we were on Nepal time, which took a bit of getting used to. 

Even as I write this we’ve been in a taxi for days (an hour and a half) endlessly stuck in traffic travelling from the Boudhanath Stupa back to our hotel. Still it’s given me the chance to people watch, write today’s diary entry, delete and edit my photos, write two blogs (well once this one is done) and do a good bit more people watching. As you can see, I’ve not quite switched into holiday mode yet. 

How do I explain Kathmandu? I would say both hostile (the head ache inducing pollution, the constant beeping, the piles of rubbish everywhere) and welcoming (the people and their hospitality, the variety of colours that just don’t exist at home, the amazing food). Add to that the incredible beauty of the many temples where people worship, the quiet spaces that people try to create in amongst the chaos and the unpredictability of it all, you have a slight glimmer of what being in Kathmandu is like.

On the way to the Buddhist stupa I mentioned above, here are just a few of things spotted in and around the roads:

Monkeys swinging from dilapidated temples, monks on mopeds, cows walking in gangs down the road, families of 3 and a kids bike on one tiny motorbike, a man counting money while he drives, goats and stray dogs making friends, trucks decorated with colourful patterns and necklaces, chickens chasing each other, a man taking a pee in a pile of rubbish beside our taxi…etc etc.

If ridding myself of western ideas of what society should be is something I want from this travelling malarkey, there can be no better place to start that journey than Kathmandu. Still it’s ok to admit that I’m looking forward to the peace and quiet of the mountain paths and tea houses right? Onwards to Pokhara for a 6 day trek.

Extended honeymoon

It has been a while since I’ve posted here and in truth that’s because I’ve been busy. I’ve been working away from home Monday to Friday and in my free moments I’ve been preparing for my wedding (most definitely the best day of my life) which happened in August.

More recently I’ve been preparing for my upcoming extended honeymoon.

That’s right – Elaine and I have decided to do something extra ordinary for our post- wedding break and so we’ve given ourselves up to 8 months off work to travel.

After many years of one of us working away from home, we’ve decided to start our marriage with some lengthy quality time together and to go to parts of the world we’ve dreamed of seeing:

  • Nepal
  • South east Asia
  • South America

Far flung foreign climes with completely different eco systems and germs  – that’s pretty terrifying for a person with MG. Particularly someone who was immunosuppressed for years. 

But now feels like a good time because: 

  • I’ve been in good health over the last number of months and years
  • I’ve trained hard to get strong enough for the adventure
  • I’m on very low medication meaning that I am able to survive without trips back for meds
  • If not now, then when?

I plan to write this blog regularly when I’m away to show the highs and the lows of life on the road with MG. I’ve not met anyone with MG who has travelled for long periods and so I want to share my experiences about it (if you have, please share yours with me). But I’ll also be sharing general experiences of being on the road.

I’ll get into all the different aspects of preparation and the actual going over the next few blogs, but for now I have a 2 page to do list that will not sort itself! Pictured in preparation mode – testing my equipment in the Pentlands.

325/365 – Surprise Scandinavian weekend 

Months ago Elaine asked me to book today off work as she wanted to organise a surprise Christmas day together. I did this months ago and it arrived, as these things often do, out of nowhere. 

From what she had said, I believed it to be a one-day thing but, as you may have guessed from the title, that’s not the case. 

Last night, when I arrived home, she gave me part of the story when I was asked to help pack my bag. Thankfully I had time to take it all out and start again this morning – after finding out we would be spending the weekend in Stockholm. 

A lot of thought had gone into the surprise – even down to asking anyone who would listen when she should tell me. The sweetheart had even gone out and bought thermals because ‘it can get chilly walking around Christmas markets’. I laughed at her embarrassed, cute face as she said this, but after walking around the Old Town, Gamla Stan, tonight the thermals are already set out for tomorrow. 
While I’m feeling ok at the moment, my eye is bad again and that’s left me feeling a bit down. It’s also been a very busy few weeks of not much quality time.

So this weekend we will chilling out in Sweden’s capital – wandering around cobbled streets with wide eyes full of wonder, picking up some presents in the markets, enjoying a daily fika and getting as much rest as possible.

114/365 – 36 hours in Paris

We are finally on the overnight bus back to London. This is after a two hour wait for a new bus to come when the one we were meant to be getting was deemed unfit for purpose. Apparently there was an issue with the windows – that’s why we were left sitting on the ground outdoors at Port Mailot bus park until 12.30am. Thankfully the weather was clear and it was still quite warm – we also had some good chat and shared beers with fellow frustrated passengers.

Excluding the second eventful Megabus journey in two days, I had a lovely time in Paris and felt great for relaxing in the sunshine. After the delayed start and on-off sleep during the journey, I was expecting my symptoms to increase. Thankfully my body worked with me and I felt strong throughout the 36 hour period. 

Day one

After we got freshened up in our chic hotel, we made our way through the salubrious streets of Pigalle to the Moulin Rouge and then climbed to to the Sacre Couer (below).  

After wandering in Montematre village, we headed towards the Eiffel Tower. Sarah climbed it while I found a spot in the grass to read and relax. The tiredness began to set in and I realised I was ready to go back to the hotel for a rest – plus there was a bath in our room which had my name written all over it.

After soaking in the tub for a long time, I emerged to find my travel buddy passed out. A bit of Iggy Azalea soon woke us up as we took our time getting ready for our one and only night in Paris – the half bottle of red wine I had treated myself for a whole 3 euros was getting me in the mood for more. 

We headed back towards Moulin Rouge and, as Sarah was keen to try some French cuisine, we chose Le Chat Noir which had all the must try’s – escargot, frog’s legs, duck confit and steak tartare for me.  


  
Meeting a lovely couple from Sheffield, we nearly ventured with them to Bastille but it was already midnight and we had our eye on somewhere near by…a karaoke bar. And so that’s how we passed the next three hours – singing and dancing to many classics (and some unknown French songs). We each had a solo, Sarah with Like a Prayer and me with a bit of Shania Twain. Then collectively we killed Stevie Wonder’s Superstitious but had a blast doing it. The evening was topped off with Sarah blasting out Eminem’s Lose Yourself. We were singing all the way back to the hotel.

Day 2

Lying in as late as we could to make breakfast, Sarah opted for longer in bed and I demolished fruit, yoghurt, pastries and crepes. I knew I would need lots of energy as our main plan for our second day was exploring on foot.

We started at the Jardin de Luxembourg, exploring one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever visited. 

  
We then walked through the Latin quarter to the Seine along to Notre Dame. After a quick queue, I took a seat with a view of the main altar and considered all those who have come to worship and admire with hope in their hearts over the several hundreds years. Again it made me think of all the things people with myasthenia can learn from religion. 

From there we walked back along the Seine to the Tuilleries, out into Plaza de Concorde and then along the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. The sun was high and warm, so I was making sure to cover myself up completely and keep in the shade as much as possible. 

By the time we reached the Arc, it was almost time to head back to pick up our bags. There was just long enough to admire the intricate friezes of classical rulers who inspired Napoleon.   

As only to be expected for those familiar with the company, there was an issue with our Megabus on the way home – as there had been on the way. This meant we ended up having an hour and a half picnic on the Tarmac of the bus ‘station’ with some fellow passengers – Snow White from Disney land Paris, a New York musical theatre fan and an Orcadian freelance journalist heading home to cover the election. 

After a difficult night of on and off sleep, we got back to London at 9am and headed straight home to bed. It was only when we woke up after the nap that we were able to speak about the fantastic time had. Believe it or not, we even said we would consider doing the megabus again because at least we had plenty stories to tell. 

While I couldn’t do it regularly, making sure I got enough rest in the build up to Paris and taking time to relax meant the overnight journies didn’t affect my experience. Paris j’taime and I won’t leave it so long next time. 

  

57/365 First impressions of Copenhagen

We finally made it to Copenhagen around 18 hours after our supposed arrival time  (10am Danish time) and were met with light fog and a bumpy landing. However, as we stepped into the airport, with its walls of glass, the winter sun broke through the clouds as if to welcome us and had the decency to stay out for the remainder of the day. 

In typical Scandinavian fashion, most things were really straightforward – from no lines at passport control to the baggage being ready right away, from sign posts for everything (including how many minutes walk away you are from the departure/arrival gate) to a cheap and quick train journey into Copenhagen Central station. If you wanted, you could probably switch off your brain and just let life happen to you here – even the doors open and the toilets flush themselves. 

I knew I was going to love this city on exiting Copenhagen Central station when the first thing I spotted was the Tivoli theme park. There’s not many cities with a historic theme park at their heart and this one greets visitors with fake Alp-like mountains (see below – more of my favourite photos below).



It was literally a five minute walk to our hostel, but we managed to take a wrong turn and found ourselves on a shady street corner where drunks congregated and we overheard the negotiations of a drug deal. We were in the red light district area of Vesterbro, the many sex emporiums and our local, Bar Spunk, gave it away, but even here we still felt pretty safe. 

As we couldn’t check in on arrival, we found ourselves having brunch at a local restaurant, Apropos. It was the trendy kind of place you would seek out, and after our 5am start the brunch buffet went down a storm. 

Although it was only 12am, I was keen to get out and see the city assuming that later my energy levels would drop. Carrying my overloaded plate back to the table, I felt my arms shake and was worried I could at any moment drop it. Sleep deprivation has such a strong effect on my muscle strength. 

Anyway, after a short rest, we ditched our bags and headed out with our new camera to explore (you should see an improvement in the photos today). While there is quite a bit to see in Copenhagen, the fact that it is compact makes it very easy to fit a lot in. We managed to see the main square, with the Town Hall, Christiansborg where the Danish parliament is, Nyhavn (the iconic multi-coloured harbour), Amalienborg Slotsplads (where the royal family live), Churchill Park and the Little mermaid statue. We then crossed Sortedams as the sun was setting to Norrebro and had drinks and dinner in this up and coming neighbourhood before walking back to our hostel. I think we must have covered about 6 miles all in all so by the time we reached the hostel we were absolutely exhausted. Saying that, I struggled to sleep last night but that’s another story. 

First impressions 

Everything seems to be easier here  than in London

I guess you could say where doesn’t feell that way but it’s strange for a capital city to feel as calm as Copenhagen. Although it’s part of the most densely populated country in Northern Europe everything here feels spacious – the streets, pavements and even the space between tables when dining. This, along with the more relaxed pace that people seem to operate, the abundance of water and green spaces and the culture of taking a coffee break (in part to warm up) gives Copenhagen a very tranquil vibe. It now makes sense that many people I spoke to suggested they come here to revive themselves by drinking good quality coffee and reading/writing. It’s beauty is also restorative.

The food and cocktails scene is thriving

Literally everything I have eaten here so far has been incredible. I decided to give the diet a complete break this weekend and I’m glad I did as the sweets are to die for. Like London, the cocktail scene is thriving here and most bars offer a wide selection of hot and cold options. I’ve yet to try one, but Elaine said her hot toady cocktail was to die for.

Bike thieves must be less of an issue

Theft of bikes and prams here must not be much of an issue as across the city they are left outside without being locked up. I read that sleeping babies are often left outside in the prams too, but haven’t witnessed this yet. I wonder if because bikes are so common here, whether they are not worth stealing. Elaine pointed out that even without the thieves, if you left pyr bike unlocked in the UK or Ireland you’d probably get drunk youngsters taking them for a spin for a laugh and not thinking to put them back again. I wonder if drunk tourists do this in Copenhagen?! 

– Rough sleeping and alcoholism are more common than I had expected 

Having visited the other three Scandinavian countries, I wasn’t prepared to see as many rough sleepers and alcoholics here. Although I remember a few in a couple of Swedish cities I’ve visited, it was nowhere near on the scale that I’ve witnessed here. Like the numbers keep rising in London, this suggests to me that Copenhagen may have it’s own crisis. I did wonder whether there had been an increase of rough sleepers from other parts of Europe, but the majority of people I’ve seen look very Scandinavian. For a country with such a proud social care record, I wonder how much of it is an after effect of the recession. I’ll definitely be looking into this on my return. 

It doesn’t appear to be particularly disability friendly

Like Luton airport, the walk in the airport from arrival gate to luggage collection felt at least 2kms long if not more and there was no assistance in sight. As I was exhausted and carrying a heavy bag, I really felt the distance in both airports. In Copenhagen itself, I’ve not seen much assistance for disabled people as many of the buildings seem to be quite old and inaccessible. I’ll hopefully be able to clarify whether this is the case by Monday. 

Below are some of my favourite pictures so far:

1. The love locks at Nyhavn

2. Outside the Town Hall – delighted to be here

3. The rough sleepers outside the Town Hall looked less delighted

4. Granola is just one of the lovely cafés I’ve enjoyed a delicious coffee in

5. Our local, Spunk bar 

6. The Little Mermaid statue

7. My lovely lady at sunset in Churchill Park