As I look back on the years of corporate life and the countless business trips, one of the things I’m thankful for is the cache of airline miles and hotel points I accumulated that let me continue to be able to travel. As you no doubt know from the “reruns” of past blogs, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks on an amazing trip that included London followed by a transatlantic cruise. While a bit challenging with RA, the trip was actually pretty well organized with one day of activity in port followed by a day (or two) of rest at sea. But it’s great to be back!
My husband, the brilliant photographer, will have wonderful pictures posted one of these days, but here are a few shots from our ports of call.
I hope that all was well with you while I was gone. Thanks for checking in.
We’ve officially been back from the UK for two weeks and now that my time zones are finally back in sync, I thought I ought to post about the trip. First of all it was a great vacation but it took a lot out of us physically. My husband and I are finally at the point that this is probably the last big European vacation we’ll take. (We have a small trip scheduled for Thanksgiving, but would probably cancel that if it wasn’t so costly to do so.) After this, I think you’ll find us staying on this side of the pond and laying on the beach.
We flew over on our 20th wedding anniversary. Our first stop was London where we basically took a two-night breather before heading on to Edinburgh, Scotland. Last year we went directly through London on to Florence, Italy and it almost did us in. We learned that lesson well. This year, we built in some strategic “rest” days throughout the trip.
After the initial “landing” in London, we took the train up to Edinburgh. Travel by train is so much easier than dealing with airports and planes and it gave us the opportunity to see some of the UK countryside that we hadn’t visited before.
The weather was great and once we got out of the London area into the countryside, the landscape
was dotted with sheep. There were mother ewes, still fat in their winter covering of wool, along with scores of frolicking baby lambs. The land got more hilly the further north we traveled.
In Edinburgh, we stayed in a newly developed area called the Quarter Mile. Along with our hotel, it is filled with restaurants and shops and is close to both the University and one of the major parks in the city. Close by is Greyfriar’s Kirk, where Greyfriar’s Bobby is buried.
Edinburgh is fairly compact and even though we were close to easy bus routes, it was also only a 20-minute walk to the center of town which is filled with amazing history and culture.
Edinburgh is amazingly hilly and steep. We planned more than one excursion based on whether we were going uphill or downhill. The wonderful, hardy Scots didn’t seem to have any problems negotiating the terrain, but we old, fat Americans huffed and puffed our way through our visit.
Midway through our stay in Edinburgh, we took the train to Glasgow for the day. You don’t notice it so much in Edinburgh, but once outside the area, you realize that Scotland really is a different country. Signs, like this one at a train station, start showing up in the native language. I don’t completely understand the differences between Gaelic, Scottish, and Celtic, so I won’t try to explain. If you live there, you understand. 🙂
After five days in Edinburgh, we flew back to London for the rest of our vacation.
We stayed in the wonderful St. Ermin’s hotel where we stayed last year. It’s convenient to everything and the hotel and staff are lovely.
To us, London is a lot like coming home. We ate at some of our favorite restaurants and visited some of our favorite sites. We took in a couple of photography exhibitions — one at the Natural History Museum and one at the Somerset House on the Strand.
The real highlight of the trip, was getting to meet the great Pollyanna Penguin. Polly, an RA advocate in the UK, has chronicled this meeting much better than I could do here. We took a train up to Norwich, a town close to her, and she met us for lunch and a walk through the market. It’s amazing how much we have in common across the pond, but how different things are due to National Healthcare vs. health insurance.
If there were any disappointments, it was that we didn’t make the day trip to Brussels we had planned. Brussels is only a two-hour train trip from London, but due to the recent terrorist attacks, we opted to skip that trip. It was a good thing because I took the day as a “rest” day, which I badly needed. There were days on the trip where I walked almost six miles. My joints aren’t used to that kind of activity and I was really feeling the extra stress even with my traveling companions, prednisone and Voltaren gel.
It was a wonderful, wonderful two-week trip. If it’s going to be our last to the UK, then it was a great one to go out on. And while it was filled with enjoyment and adventures, it was also a real wake-up call about the state of my RA. While I make it through my day-to-day life, I seem to have gone from “absolutely will” to “probably not” when considering many of the more strenuous things I used to do. All that being said, I’m glad I got to do them when I was able.
I hope whatever adventures you’ve had in your life have been amazing. Thanks for checking in.
I’m not even sure where to start. Almost immediately after my return from the HealtheVoices conference, I left for two weeks of vacation in Florence and London. I guess there’s a good reason I feel like I haven’t slept in my own bed for a while.
Let me first say that it was an amazing trip. My husband and I had a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. However, when you have a chronic disease, there are always two parts to the trip. There’s the trip itself, then there’s dealing with the disease while you’re traveling.
The most challenging part of the entire trip was getting from Dallas to Florence. We took a flight from Dallas to Houston where we had a four-hour layover before picking up a British Airways flight to London Heathrow. We then had to clear customs and immigration and make it across London in rush hour traffic using the London subway system (and dragging our baggage) to London City Airport where we took a second BA flight to Florence. By the time we made it to the hotel in Florence, we had been traveling 28 hours. We were completely exhausted and jet lagged (there is a seven-hour time difference between Dallas and Florence).
We had been to Florence before when I was sent on business and my husband joined me for a couple of days at the end of the trip. This time we really got to explore the city and enjoy it at a reasonable (slow) pace. Our hotel was located just outside the city center — a few steps from a tram and bus stop that took us into the city within a matter of minutes.
Of course, in addition to all the sites, Tuscany is famous for its wonderful food (of which we took more than ample advantage). Since I was there last, Florence’s Central Market had added a floor of restaurants above its main market floor where you could get incredibly fresh food cooked to order.
We used Florence as a home base to visit both Venice and Lucca. Venice is, of course, the city of the fabled canals. Lucca is a smaller town close by that has a wall surrounding the city. You can actually go up on the wall and walk around the city or bicycle.
We had also planned to go to Sienna, but it came to the point where my husband and I were both just completely worn down by the travel, so we swapped the side trip for a day of rest where we did just that — slept in late and took it easy the rest of the day, venturing out only for something to eat.
After a week in Florence, it was time to head to London for the second part of our trip. London is one of our favorite cities and we’ve been fortunate enough to visit at least once a year for about 12 years. I’m not sure that RA will let me make many more trips. But it almost felt like coming home.
We tried a different hotel this time, the Marriott AC St. Ermin’s, which was wonderful. Not only is it a great hotel with a superlative staff, it was conveniently located close to both the Underground and major bus routes. We were also only a few blocks from Buckingham Palace.
We visited most of our favorite haunts and restaurants in London and then took our life in our hands. We actually rented a car and drove north to Duxford, the location of the Imperial War Museum’s aircraft museum. Other than the terrifying experience of driving on the “wrong” side of the road, it was a perfectly lovely trip.
We were fortunate to take in the London Film Museum’s collection of Bond cars. In addition to the cars, they had supporting information such as story boards and early drawings of the cars. For Bond fans like my husband and I, it was great.
Kate and William’s new daughter, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, the Princess of Cambridge waited until we were in town to make her appearance. Even the taxi cabs celebrated the new princess. (See sign on cab below that proclaims “It’s a GIRL!”.)
On our final night in London, we took in the theatrical production of “American Buffalo” with John Goodman and Damian Lewis. It was probably one of the best plays we’ve seen.
I often say I can tell how good of a time I had by how beat up I come back from a vacation. I must tell you that I am black and blue in most places plus have a pretty good case of the crud. I couldn’t have done the trip had I not had steroid injections in both my knee and my shoulder and been on 10 mg of prednisone during the entire time. Even then it was a struggle.
I am off one of my RA meds due to elevated liver enzymes (something that I now need to address since I’m home). My biologic, Kineret, is a daily injection that has to be refrigerated, which means that I had to take 14 pre-filled syringes with me to Europe and keep them cold for two weeks. Not an easy feat. I’m not sure the Kineret is really working so the prednisone was the only thing standing between me and a total flare during the trip.
Kineret comes in a box holding a week’s worth of injections (seven syringes), so I packed two boxes in an insulated bag with the ice packs that the specialty pharmacy uses to ship them in. I really didn’t have a problem getting the medication through security at DFW, they just sent it on through. We stayed inside security at the Houston airport, so I didn’t have to do a second screening. Halfway across the Atlantic, I got worried that the ice packs were thawing, so I asked the flight crew to fill some zip-lock baggies I’d brought with ice. That helped, but the bags leaked and soaked everything in my carry-on tote, including some of our travel documents. It was when I got to London City Airport to catch the flight to Florence that I ran into the first issues. They wanted to look at everything, they needed to see the note from my doctor prescribing the drug, they needed to test the ice packs to make sure they were ice packs and not explosives. All this was fine, but it added another 15 minutes getting through security (which already takes a long time since I set off the metal detectors).
Once I got to the hotel in Florence, I was able to store the drug in the minibar and the night before we left, I got the staff to refreeze my ice packs for me to use for the trip to London. Everything went well from Florence to London and then at the hotel until about halfway through the trip. Then there was a mishap with the minibar and my syringes became unrefrigerated. At that point, I had decided I should quit taking it anyway because I was getting sick. (And we all know you’re not supposed to take immuno-suppressive biologics if you have an infection.) The itchy, scratchy throat I’d developed in Florence (and thought was allergy related) turned into a real sore throat with a very active, very productive cough. This eventually spread to my nose and sinuses and down to my chest, finally enveloping my left eye in a bright-red case of conjunctivitis (pink eye) the night before we left London. I was visibly ill and I was actually very concerned that they might not let me on the plane and/or let me back in the country. Since the entire Ebola scare, the immigration folks at DFW are pretty gun shy when it comes to sick passengers.
But it all worked out. We had a direct flight from London Heathrow to DFW which made the trip about as easy as it could be. I have antibiotics now that I’m home that seem to be helping the nose/throat/chest infection and some antibiotic eye drops that are helping the eye. Now comes all the unpacking, laundry and getting caught up with real life.
It was a wonderful trip, but I’m really, really glad to be home again.
Thanks for checking in.
It seems forever since I posted. My husband and I just back from an almost-three-week adventure and the couple of weeks prior to that were very busy with work and getting ready for the trip (more about that below).
One of the “joys” of having a chronic illness is making plans around your medication schedule. As we were going to be gone for such an extended time, I had to make sure that both my husband and I had enough of our prescriptions to last us (per the Hobbits) there and back again. Part of the issue was that both of us had just started new medications so it was going to be too early for a refill but we’d run out during the trip. I’d managed far enough ahead on our other medications that I got refills right before we left, so we had a full supply to see us through on those.
With prescription medications (especially specialty medications such as Xeljanz) there are limited options for addressing this. With my husband’s new medication, I could have gone to our local pharmacy and had some extra pills “loaned” to us against his next refill. I’m not sure if all pharmacies do this, but our local pharmacy will make some accommodations in special circumstances like these or if, for example, a physician refill authorization is late in coming. Since the Xeljanz comes from my specialty pharmacy, this was not an option.
As noted in earlier posts, I got both a two-week sample from the manufacturer and my doctor’s office provided a sample bottle as well, which was enough to solve my problem. For my husband, I took a cue from my Xeljanz experience and called doctor’s office. They had originally provided a small sample bottle of the new medication, so I asked if they could provide us a couple more to see us through the vacation, which they did.
I have to say that switching to Xeljanz when I did was very opportune. Otherwise I would have to figure out how to manage my pre-filled Orencia injections through multiple security screenings and keeping them cold over the course of trip. I had already decided to take one injection early before we left on the trip then just be late for the next one scheduled for two weeks later. Fortunately I didn’t have to deal with that situation.
Together, my husband and I take 18 prescription medications on a daily basis (plus a plethora of vitamins and supplements). On top of those (which got placed into the daily pill minder boxes), there was another bag full of the “occasional” medications that I needed to take along, just in case. Those included such things as prednisone, prescription pain relievers and muscle relaxers. In addition to those prescriptions, there was yet another bag full of “travel” medications that our new doctor had prescribed including Cipro, Tamiflu, and something to address stomach viruses. We had most of a bag of just prescriptions.
But about the trip … It was terrific.
From Dallas we flew to Miami Beach where we spent the night. The next day we boarded the Norwegian Epic for an 11-day trans-Atlantic cruise from Miami to Barcelona, Spain with a stop on day eight at Madeira, a Portuguese island where the wine by the same name is made.
The cruise was wonderful with great food and lots of fun things to do (especially in the evening), but I remarked to my husband that it reminded me what living in a luxury retirement home must be like. As we were on the ship day after day after day, things got pretty routine and revolved around meal times. One of the highlights was a guest lecturer who does documentaries for PBS who spoke on the history of the railroads, Grand Central Terminal (which I love), and the Packard automobiles.
After the cruise we stayed a couple of days in Barcelona. We had visited once before a couple of years ago when we were on our last cruise, but this time we figured out the subway system which made getting around to all the sites a whole lot easier. Barcelona is an amazing city and one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever visited. Renown for its Gaudi architecture and Picasso museum, we spent a large part of a day visiting the beautiful Catedral de Barcelona.
From Barcelona we traveled to London. We used to spend Thanksgivings in London, but haven’t been to London since 2012, so we couldn’t miss the opportunity of being on that side of the Atlantic and visiting it again. Last time it seemed like the whole city was under construction for the Summer Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration, so it was nice to visit again to see the improvements since last time. I’m pleased that many of the subway stations are becoming “step free” making the city more accessible to those of with mobility issues. We visited some favorite haunts and restaurants, took in a showing of the latest Jeeves and Wooster play which is classic British humor, and stumbled into the premier showing of Godzilla in Leicester Square just as the stars made their appearance on the red carpet. In all, a good time.
The trip was capped off (thanks to airline points) with a first-class return on British Airways which is the closest I’ll ever get to being treated like royalty. As an American it was almost embarrassing to be treated to that much service. But it was my birthday so I enjoyed every minute of the 10-hour flight back to Dallas.
I am pleased to say that I did extremely well over the trip, even with all the tramping around cobblestone streets in Barcelona and London. I was sore and my joints were starting to be a bit swollen after Barcelona so I took a low-dose of prednisone while in London (three days of 10 mg, followed by three days of 5 mg) which seemed to calm things down. I can only conclude that the Xeljanz is working because the issues I had been having on Orencia are no longer there and I barely thought about RA the entire time I was on the trip. I have a follow-up visit to my rheumatologist next week, so we’ll see what she has to say. (My one concern is that I put on 13 pounds after starting the drug, the majority of which was before the trip, so I can’t blame cruise-line food.)
So, back home again. I apologize to those bloggers that I follow who posted some wonderful posts in my absence. There were connectivity issues on the ship and while traveling so while I got to enjoy the posts via emails for the ones I subscribe to, I wasn’t able to post a comment. Now to get caught up on work and laundry and all those other parts of my life that didn’t go “on hold” just because I was gone.
It’s great to be back. I hope whatever adventures you’ve had in your life have been good. Thanks for checking in.
So it’s colder and rainier in Dallas today when I got home than it was in London. Seriously, we were expecting 40 degrees and rainy the entire time and we had absolutely glorious weather most of the trip. It was clear, sunny and low 50’s.
London is not for the faint of pocketbook or the weak of joints, but if you can manage the trip, it’s wonderful. I will say that this was our first (and only) trip on British Airlines. We’ve always flown on American, but through a series of circumstances, wound up with enough BA points for two business class tickets. We’ve always heard what great service they had on their TransAtlantic flights and were really looking forward to the fold-flat seats. I won’t belabor the situation here, but all things being equal, I’d rather pay money to American Airlines than fly BA again for free. Probably the worst part is that when we arrived at Heathrow, they parked us on the tarmac and we had to deplane using stairs, then they put us on a bus and drove us to the terminal. Do you know how big a Boeing 777 is? Do you know how many steps you have to go down to get out of one — carrying your bags? Do you know how stiff your joints are after flying for 10 hours? We went through the same procedure only backwards when we left today. Back on the bus, then lug your bags up the staircase to the plane.
But that was the only bad thing about the vacation. Everything else was wonderful.
As I said the weather was terrific and we took the opportunity to take the train up to Oxford and poke around one day. Part of the prison section of the old Oxford castle has been made into a hotel and we’re talking about staying there a day or so next time. Delightful small city with lots to see.
We scored some terrific half-price tickets to a marvelous performance of Shawshank Redemption. That’s one of my favorite movies and the play did not disappoint. We talked about going to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof because James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad (Claire Huxtable), and the British actor that plays “Nickey” on Hustle were all in the cast. However, as much as we liked the cast, neither of us particularly care for the play, so we blew it off.
We actually took an open top bus tour which was a fun way to kill half a day, then went on our own tour of various train stations including Victoria, Saint Pancras (where Eurorail now goes from), Kings Cross, Waterloo, and Canary Wharf. I now have yet more pictures of architectural details to add to my collection.
We had some terrific food. A great little Italian place right across the hotel had closed since we were there in February, which was disappointing. They had great soup and wonderful pasta dishes and it was handy to just pop over for a light bite for dinner. We also loved the smoked haddock chowder at Lock Fyne seafood just north of the Strand. We waited 1/2 an hour for a table, then discovered they’d taken it off the menu. But we found some equally wonderful food. We discovered some fun new pubs and restaurants and revisited a couple of other favorites that we’d been to before. The best meal was at Pearl Restaurant which is Chef Jun Tanaka’s award-winning beautiful restaurant. It’s actually at our hotel, so we use that as a big conclusion to our trip, then go up, pack and get ready to hit the sack for an early morning trip back to Heathrow.
Overall, my joints didn’t complain too much, but there were a couple of days of walking miles on cobblestones and up and down steps that everything just hurt. We probably walked 3-5 miles each day and at least 100 steps. One day we popped up at a tube station just to find the 2-story escalator wasn’t working. I’ve found the secret is to take multiple pairs of walking shoes with different profiles and change them often, so you’re not hitting the same pressure points on your feet or working your leg and back muscles quite the same way.
Overall a terrific trip, but it’s good to be home. Not sure when my time zones will catch up with the rest of my body, but that’s a small price to pay for such a great time.
I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Thanks for checking in.