The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is next month (August 3-25), it's the largest arts festival in the world. Not only is it a great event to visit, in a very visitable city, it is also easy for a dialyzor to visit the city. Scottish Holiday Dialysis is a great private dialysis unit in Edinburgh which makes dialyzor holiday travel a joy. I was able to visit the festival in August of 2003. The following is a repost from my proto-blog over at GlobalDialysis.com.
With the dollar so weak I am glad I traveled when I first had the chance. I dream of returning to Edinburgh, though it will be tough to travel in the shadow of this perfect 2003 trip. Someday. Until I can engage my wanderlust I will live with the memories and the wanderdesire.
I need to scan and add some more photos and finish the story with what I remember of the trip to Ibiza. It seems the Salud Care in Santa Eulalia del Río is no longer operating. London and Edinburgh are still options.
The story begins Fri, 08 Aug 2003 London England:
Flying seems to get less fun every year but I thought this year getting to London would be okay because my Mom had upgraded my American Airlines ticket with her miles. Business class isn't the Eden that is international first class but the few extra inches available is just enough to allow some sleep. In the event however, thunderstorms in Chicago delayed my flight enough that I would have missed my connection, so I had to be switched to a cramped seat in the back of a full 747 on a direct British Airways flight from Seattle to London. There was no sleep.
The lack of sleep was an issue because I started the trip tired. In order to dialyze Wednesday morning before what I thought would be a 2pm flight; I needed to dialyze early morning, before work, all week (the Aksys PHD needs 16 hours between treatments to get ready). So I started the trip well dialyzed (6 treatments in a row) but unrested, which is better than the other way around. Rest finally came last night and now with a clear head I can start dealing with the holes in my itinerary.
This is the eighth year in a row that I've been able to visit Europe. I remember in 1995 a good friend asked me what I wanted to be doing in ten years. I thought a moment and said that I wanted to be able to casually say "Oh, I go to Europe every year." This was just after I had found out that my insurance through work would cover dialysis abroad.
Those first trips were great; when planning them I worked out every detail. I would call each unit several times to confirm all details and plan each day so that by the time I left I had a detailed day by day itinerary. This year it seemed like the trip sneaked up. I left Seattle without a place to stay this Saturday, no transportation arranged to get me from Scotland to Holland and the dialysis unit in Ibiza still needing some blood results.
Dialysis at the London Clinic
I'm writing this during dialysis at the London Clinic and between paragraphs I've managed to get a hotel in Leeds for Saturday night. I've also talked with the Ibiza unit to tell them I could not get a fax through before I left but that I have my blood test results with me, that they are all negative and I would hand carry them to my first treatment in two weeks. I still need to find a way to Holland but it's been productive dialysis run.
The London Clinic is great. It's a five station private unit, three staff run things smoothly, using Gambro machines, F-60 dialysers, comfortable chairs and air conditioning (which is key because London is in the midst of a heat wave - it's in the 90's). I arranged my treatment over the internet and while here dialyzing, since I have a phone card, I can call anywhere in the world, I'm using my laptop and I've been served breakfast and lunch. It's been a great first run and now as I continue travelling I know that I could always return to London for dialysis. The one odd thing about the London Clinic is that they require you to have a blood test at their clinic prior to your first treatment (I had my test done right after checking into my over heated 40pound room), even though I had recent test results that I had to have for the other units I'm going to visit.
For the rest of the day I'm going to do a Rick Steves informed walk from Piccadilly Circus, through Soho and Chinatown ending up in the Covent Garden area. Tomorrow I'll visit York and stay in Leeds before heading to Edinburgh Sunday, probably spending some of Sunday back in York. Ahhh, it's great to be traveling
London to York
The trip continues on August 9 & 10, 2003
Rick Steves is a budget travel guide author based out of Seattle and is a fixture on American Public television. I've followed his advice on all of my trips to Europe. My mantra is "When in doubt consult Rick". The one thing I have had trouble with is staying within in his $70 a day budget while traveling alone.
Beds are the biggest expense and the cost of a room, in most cases, is the same whether occupied by one or two people. The exception is if you go the hostel route which I've done on previous trips. Perhaps I'm getting soft but on this trip I upped my budget to the $100 a day range while traveling alone and went the Bed and Breakfast route.
I chose my B&B in London over the internet, picking one close to dialysis. It was hot and noisy but I imagine that most of England is unprepared for 90 degree weather. From arrival to after dialysis I felt like I could have been any where but once I started walking about London I felt like the trip really started. On previous trips to London I hit the museums and did the Rick Steves Westminster/Parliament walk. This time I just wandered the streets taking it all in, with frequent stops for people watching. I turned in early and made an early start for York in the morning, getting there before noon.
York was a fun stop. A walled city, originally Roman, dating from the first century it has a couple of Rick Steves three triangle sites (three triangles indicating "a must see") including the Minister, a huge 14th century gothic church and the Castle Museum which opens a window on 19th century life in England. There are a number of other sites that could fill a couple of days but with an afternoon I could only do so much.
The Minister is beautiful as are many churches in Europe but the Minister is unique because you could tour the Undercroft, sort of the basement of the church. I took an audio tour that pointed out the layers of foundations that lay beneath the church. The Minister is the third structure to stand on the site, the first was a Roman fortification followed by a large Norman church. The audio tour came with an option to play echoey Georgian chant style music that really set the mood for wandering through the Crypt.
A beautiful day in York
After the tour of the Minister I wandered the streets of York enjoying the many street performers and the festive atmosphere. Around each corner there seemed to be a crowd watching a solo street performer or an entire brass band. After a picnic lunch in a square by an orchestra I made my way to the Castle Museum.
The Castle Museum takes you through room after room of exhibits showing the details of life from the 17th century to modern times, focusing on the 19th century. From the birthing process to funerals it's all there. I'm not sure I needed to know all the information I was given but it certainly made me grateful for indoor plumbing. I had to laugh when I saw the "typical 1980s kitchen" and realized that it looked an awful lot like my kitchen at home only in nicer shape.
By the end of touring the Castle Museum I was ready to put my feet up so I headed to Leeds, about a half hour away by train, the closest place I could book a single Saturday night stay. Tomorrow - Sunday - it's off to Edinburgh.
The trip continues in Edinburgh visiting the Festival Fringe for the week August 11-15, 2003
Most European cities seem denser than cities in the States; their downtowns give way to three to five story apartment blocks as opposed to tracks of single-family homes. As a visitor I rarely have reason to venture beyond the central core so I often have the sense that I am in a bigger city than the population would suggest. Edinburgh is a city of about 500,000 people, about the same population as Seattle proper but right from the moment I arrived it seemed much bigger.
I caught the first morning train from Leeds up to Edinburgh on Sunday, about a two-hour trip after changing trains in York. On arrival at Edinburgh's Waverley Station I stepped off the train and into a mass of humanity. The station was packed with people; the line at the Tourist Information (TI) desk stretched out the door. Rick Steves advises to always stop at the TI on arrival but I instead jumped in a taxi and went straight to the Kariba Bed and Breakfast where I had a room reserved for the week.
After checking in I turned right around and headed out into a beautiful sunny day with a map but no plans. My first stop was at the Scottish Holiday Dialysis unit just three blocks up the street. They had scouted B & Bs for me and recommended the Kariba because I wanted to be in walking distance from the unit. Being that it was Sunday I did not expect anyone to be there but in fact they were setting up for a treatment.
Stuart guessed my identity when I stepped in - I guess I look like an American - and called Karen in from the back room, the two of them are Scottish Holiday Dialysis. I was given a very warm welcome. The unit is one large, high ceiling room, a former hair salon made over to be the least clinical looking dialysis unit I have ever seen. In fact, it is less clinical looking than my dialysis room at home, something I'll now need to change. Think Mexican beach bar with a finished wood floor and no flies.
We chatted for a bit, they suggested I head over to Fringe Sunday in the Park and I confirmed my treatment time for the next day. My first impression was very positive; dialyzing here would be like dialyzing at home. I left Stuart and Karen feeling almost giddy, this was going to be a great week.
I was a couple blocks away, heading towards the city center, when I realized I didn't know where I was going. Up ahead of me were a couple people with packs, carrying blankets so I decided to follow them, as they looked prepared for something called Fringe Sunday in the Park. After a block or two another few people with packs on their backs and smiles on their faces joined our procession and this kept happening. It was like in the movie Gandhi when he leads a march to the sea and at each intersection other groups join Gandhi’s group until tens of thousands fill the road. Well, instead of tens of thousands we numbered tens of dozens but really by the time we reached the park the sidewalk was full.
On Fringe Sunday the Edinburgh Festival Fringe takes over an area called the Meadows and turns a huge field into a buffet of entertainment. There were tents for everything from cabaret singers to BBC comedy, dancers, jugglers, fire-eaters; it's a long list. There were numerous food tents, tables selling arts and crafts and at the far end a carnival with lots of rides geared for the kids. Mostly there were heaps of people having a very good time.
There are actually four festivals, which I know of, going on in Edinburgh right now. There is the official Edinburgh Festival, featuring events like Wagner's three opera Ring cycle and the San Francisco Ballet; the Edinburgh Book Festival, I went by there and bought a book (a, what else, travel book -The Great American Bus Ride by Irma Kurtz - recommended); the Edinburgh Film Festival; and the big one, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest festival in the world. There is something like 26,000 events being preformed in a couple of hundred venues. True, some of the events and venues are on the scale of a juggler performing from 14:15 to 14:40 (everything uses a 24 hour clock; after 12 noon keep counting) in the square between two streets, however, most are on a stage and require tickets. They range wildly and defy any sort of generalization.
I have seen a busker have himself wrapped, head to knee, in cling film (saran wrap to us Yanks) and then escape in under 60 seconds. I have enjoyed a one-hour sketch performance by three actors centered on Biscuit Night (don't ask, I'd need an hour to explain). I have applauded the Soweto Gospel Choir and a great, updated production of Godspell, a rock musical based on the Gospel according to Matthew. I have been blind folded and led into a 15 by 10 foot, portable performance space with nine other ticket holders to witness an imaginative, modern interpretation of the Greek myth of Echo and Narcissus.
I have been pulled from the crowd (my Mom volunteered me) and had Happy Birthday sung to me by a crowd of fellow festival goers. This was initiated and accompanied musically by a performer wearing a suit covered with variously tuned clown horns (the type with a squeeze ball to make them toot). He was able, through squatting, patting and twitching, to toot out a tune from Vivaldi to ... well, Happy Birthday. And I have attended a late night show that was so bad that at one point the performer asked a question of a girl in the audience which she answered, with tears in her voice, "I don't know. I just want to go home." Everyone in the theater seconded her.
As you may have gathered my Mom has joined me. She flew in on Tuesday and ever since we have been gee gawking our way across Edinburgh. The atmosphere, the joie de vie of Edinburgh, is unlike anywhere I have ever been and coupled with our spectacular weather there would be no way to improve this week. Of course none of this would be possible if it wasn't for the Scottish Holiday Dialysis Center.
Until the Scottish Holiday Dialysis Center opened in April of this year one dialysis patient a week could visit Edinburgh, which is how many patients the public unit would accept. As I said Stewart and Karen are the entire staff but with their two new Fresenius machines they could provide six treatments a day, which could serve 12 patients on an every other day schedule. They have room to expand, the plumbing/wiring is there, and they need to only add the machines.
My dialysis has gone very well. After one week I have felt no ill effects from going to a three day a week schedule from my four day on one day off routine at home. I brought my own buttonhole needles, they use F8 Fresenius kidneys and as the only patient I enjoy a one patient to two staff ratio. During my evening treatments we have ordered Thai food from next door and talked through my entire run. I am their first American patient, they are mostly getting patients from elsewhere in the UK, but I have to believe that dialysis patients from all over the world will be making their way to Edinburgh as news of Scottish Holiday Dialysis spreads. I'm still here and I am already thinking about my next visit. Tomorrow, Saturday, it is off to Holland by ferry.
On to Holland
The trip continues in Holland and I go back to recount my last days in Edinburgh. The part I never wrote is an account of the ferry ride from Scotland to Holland. I will try to fill in the details in my next post and I’ll finish what I started two and half years ago by writing about Ibiza.
The trip continues after visiting the Festival Fringe for the week August 11-15, 2003 I take a ferry to Holland and meet friends from the Internet (Lies) and from my childhood (John).
I've made it to Holland and met up with my friend John and his friend. Tonight we are going out to dinner at The Supper Club which is reported to be a unique dinning experience. I've been busy acting as tour guide, so a more complete account will be along later but I did want to send out a quick trip update.
Today I was interviewed for the Dutch Patients Association magazine, by our fellow D_S list member Lies (remember - rhymes with ease). She is on the editorial board of the Patient's Association magazine, hence the article. She may be typing a post to this group as I type so I'll be brief. The reporter in me wants the scoop to be first to report the first international meeting of D_S list members - perhaps?? Dale do Lies and I have the honor? We had a long talk and lunch with Gerard Boekhoff, the Director of the Patients Association, who is also the vice president of the European Patients Association Confederation. It was an interesting afternoon. I'll let Lies have a chance to get a word in now, and save the rest for later.
Last night I had dialysis in Utrecht where I was a bit of celebrity. One of the nurses from their home program had been in Seattle for the Annual Dialysis Conference and had attended both sessions I was in, so my reputation proceeded me. I was the first patient they had seen do the buttonhole needling method so I had an audience while I stuck myself. On Wednesday I agreed to preform for the rest of the staff. Dialysis went great - F80 Kidney, sandwiches and a comfortable chair, all a traveler could want.
The weather continues to be great which helps because Amsterdam is such a great walking city. There is much more to tell, from my Mom's and my last night in Edinburgh to traveling 'old school' - crossing the channel by ferry and Amsterdam could fill a page. I'm sure I'll have quiet moment real soon for a little one on one with the laptop.
You would think I could visit Amsterdam and not break any laws, but within a couple of hours of acting as tour guide I had us all in trouble. However, before I catch you up with my adventures in Amsterdam let me tell you about my last day in Edinburgh.
There is one other event happening in Edinburgh this month, aside from the festivals I mentioned before: the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. No, this did not require I get a tattoo of a battleship across my chest. The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a demonstration of military drill and it happens nightly during the summer in front of the Edinburgh Castle. The Edinburgh Castle overlooks the center of Edinburgh; it acts as a scenic navigational beacon, so wandering tourists can get orientated. In front of the Castle they've turned an expanse of concrete into a stadium stage by erecting bleachers on three sides, the Castle closing off the open end.
The Tattoo had been sold out for months but my Mom and I stood in line Friday morning, for over an hour, for day of show, returned tickets. Our effort was rewarded, we scored two great seats, low in the center section facing the Castle. The show starts at 9 p.m.; by 7 people were already milling about High Street, waiting to enter. High Street aka the Royal Mile, is the center of action during the festivals. This is where the buskers perform for change and the main Fringe box office is located. This is also where you get handed leaflet after leaflet by enthusiastic performers and their allies, in an attempt to raise their show out of the anonymity of sheer numbers. During our entire stay the blocks in front of the Castle had a definite buzz, a youthful energy.
Edinburgh, I am sure, is not it's self during the festival. The rest of the year it has enough historic sites and visitor interest for Rick Steves to recommend spending two nights and three days. That's allot of time for Rick's train hopping style of travel. My Mom and I didn't do a single thing a visitor the rest of the year would enjoy, not the Castle tour, and only one museum (we had an hour before we were scheduled to see a show across the street).
One thing I noticed was that in Edinburgh, for the first time I've noticed in Europe, wheel chairs were a common site. Some were painted red and it was explained to me that these were rentals for people who needed help over distances but could manage a short walk. There were also many that were self propelled or powered by the occupant. Some of the busses were handicapped accessible but I couldn't guess the percentage. It did seem that there were enough lifts and ramps to allow wheelchair access to most venues and all public spaces.
Stuart Dickson and Karen MacKinnon at Scottish Holiday Dialysis (SHD) said they could help with mobility issue and that there was an ADA style law in Scotland (the contact information for SHD is firstname.lastname@example.org, voice: +(44) 131 228 8833, fax the same).
The rest of the sites in Edinburgh/Scotland will have to wait for my next trip; at least during the Tattoo I would have a spectacular view of the outside of the Castle.
By the time my Mom and I returned after dinner, the blocks in front of the Castle were wall to wall people; inching forward in a step, wait, step shuffle.
We got to our seats in time to hear pre performance introductions of the crowd in Garrison Keillor fashion - "Hello to the Mumbly's of Port Smith, here for their 40th. And Auntie Beth three cheers for making it; Kimmy and the gang." The event was being televised to someone, somewhere and these acknowledgments went on while the stands filled in, it looked to be a full house.
The two hour Tattoo performance was one military drill team or marching band after another taking to the expanse between the bleachers and doing what they had clearly spent allot of time practicing.
There were teams (troops?) from all over the world - Korea, Oman, Switzerland - the US sent the Marines that guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Marines did a precision rifle drill that was impressive but the Swiss with their Top Secrete Drum Core were the crowd favorites. Their demonstration of synchronized drumming had allot of humor and was fun to watch. Of course there were bagpipes and twirling dancers in plaid skirts. The dancers were, I think, the only nonmilitary act to preform. The evening was capped with fire works and a lone bagpiper high on the Castle ramparts. It was a moving moment to complete a nice evening; a fitting end to a great week.
On Saturday I left my Mom (she had a tour of the Highlands booked for Sunday and would return to Chicago on Monday) and I headed to Newcastle for the ferry to Holland. I went by ferry, a 15 hour trip, for no particular reason. Before the Chunnel and low cost airfares the ferry was how you got from the UK to the Continent. So I went following in the footsteps of my Father and Grandparents who I am sure crossed the English channel by ferry many times during their Grand Tours and frequent trips.
I'm writing this in Ibiza, what feels like weeks later; I think Ibiza and the ferry have much in common in their feel so I'll combine my recounting of the ferry leg with my impressions of Ibiza in the next ePostCard. Let me wrap this up back in Amsterdam and my first day there, Sunday the 17th. I found John and his friend Harmony within ten minutes of dropping off my bag at the hotel. It was just 11am so we had four hours before our rooms would be ready. I took over as tour guide and began to lead them around the shopping streets and neighborhoods of Amsterdam. It was fun walking and taking it all in but as it neared checkin time I decided to take the tram back so they could learn to use Amsterdam's great public transportation system.
I determined that we would need to take one tram and transfer to another line to get back to our hotel. I got our one way, one zone tickets from the driver and we rode to our transfer point and waited for the tram back to the hotel. The mistake I made was not confirming the direction of the tram that promptly pulled up to the stop. We hopped on and it was probably a good five minutes before I began to think that the ride was taking longer than it should; I then spotted the sign for the city center pointing the way we had just come. We jumped off at the next stop and got on the next tram going the right direction. Then one stop later, about a dozen transit cops got on to check for tickets. The trams run on the honor system with spot checks threatening big fines for scofflaws. This was the first spot check I had ever been subject to and as it turned out we had traveled out of zone one so, we in fact, did not have valid tickets.
I can report that in these situations the Amsterdam Transit Cops do not admit to speaking much English other than to say "This wrong ticket". If the officer saw the humor in my explanation of what had happened he hid it well but he did allow me to purchase the correct tickets rather than levy the large fine - times three. This was the only bump during our visit, we had beautiful weather and no one got run over by a bicycle, so I would reckon it was a success. Dialysis went very well as I reported and I have often found myself thinking about the time I got to spend with Lies and Gerard. I think there is great potential in keeping tabs on what other patient associations are doing; the issues facing CKD patients seem to be universal and rather then reinventing the wheel we should learn from each other's experiences and build an "open source" base of knowledge. A base of knowledge that we can grow through our collective efforts.
I haven't heard from Lies lately, not since D_S switched to D-S; I haven't been back to Europe since '04 but I'm confident I shall return. Hopefully to Edinburgh, if not the Festival Fringe.