The opportunity to make hedgehog friends in Harajuku is a unique experience that you can only get in Tokyo. Harry’s Hedgehog cafe is a cosy environment that is home to over 40 miniature hedgehogs! There are several varieties of hedgehog friends from the very pale, albino and apricot coloured babies to darker and larger spiky spunks. The staff are caring of these sweet animals and are welcoming to all visitors, tourists and locals alike.
The Art of Old Town series by Ernest Zacharevic is a key attraction of Malaysia. Ipoh is the capital of the Perak region of Malaysia and the countries third largest city. The town was founded on the tin mining industry, which went into decline from the late 20th century. Today Ipoh attracts many visitors who are drawn by its old-world charm. The town centre is a mesh of colonial-era buildings, rustic doorways, beautiful mosques and a fantastic contrast of local coffee shops and hipster cafes. In 2014 locally founded coffee chain Old Town White Coffee collaborated with Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic in a project dubbed the Art of Old Town to create a series of murals on the streets of Ipoh.
A winter road trip through Iceland is a special way to spend Christmas. We purchased a map of the south and west coasts, rented a four wheel drive and away we went on our winter road trip through Iceland. Admittedly we were cautious about battling extreme weather conditions as well as maximising the four hours of sunlight each day. But the beauty of Iceland is breathtaking. From its mountainous terrain and peaks covered in fluffy white snow, to its violent waterfalls and boiling geysers. Iceland is horrendously expensive but it is a once in a lifetime adventure and winter proved to be an especially magical time to visit.
Adventurous brunch lovers will appreciate Hoshino Coffee at Plaza Singapura. Their specialty is Japanese hand drip coffee and fluffy soufflé style matcha pancake. On my recent visit I ordered the matcha pancakes and my tastebuds were seriously in matcha heaven!
The beautiful Parkroyal on Pickering is a five star hotel in Singapore. It has become an iconic feature of the Singapore skyline and won numerous sustainability awards due to its unique garden in a building concept. The rooms are modern and comfortable and the food at its signature Lime restaurant has great variety and quality. The beautiful Parkroyal on Pickering is a recommended alternative to the more famous Fullerton Hotel for visitors to Singapore who wish to stay in style.
I love Italian food and it has always been a dream of mine to learn traditional Italian pasta making in Bologna. My dream came true with a unique experience learning three traditional recipes at the Culinary Institution of Bologna in Italy.
The best way to discover a city is on foot and the highlight of my recent trip to New York was joining an incredible meetup crew to do a ridiculous New York hike! We met 10am at the Starbucks on 181st in Manhattan before setting off across the George Washington Bridge. 12 hours later we had made it to the famous Colgate Clock in Jersey City. The entire walk covered over 18 miles and we saw some amazing views of the New York skyline along the way.
The budget traveller can only imagine what it is like to fly business class. Flying in business or first class with British Airways is an incredible trip and I feel lucky to have experienced it. The biggest perk is the comfortable seating, especially if flying long haul, so you can get a good quality sleep and you don’t leave the plane achy and grumpy. The second greatest perk is the unlimited champagne. Of all the airlines I have travelled, I love British Airways for its consistency in food and beverage and the great service.
Fans of Japanese food will know about the Ramen Champion fleet of eateries on level four of the Bugis+ shopping centre in Singapore, but the most special dish is the Singapore Chilli Crab tendon at Don Meijin. Don Meijin specialises in donburi, which are rice bowls with meat, fish or vegetables. Tendon is a type of donburi that consists of tempura with rice. Don Meijin have put a Singapore spin on this classic Japanese dish with its Chilli Crab version and I had heard a lot of hype about it so just had to try it for myself. It did not disappoint!
The indulgent champagne brunch buffet at the Ritz-Carlton is a very special treat. It is served in the Colony room and has every delicacy and culinary delight you can imagine. The experience is made all the more enjoyable by the old style charm of the room, the polite servers and the constantly flowing champagne.
I was an Airbnb host for one year, letting out a spare bedroom with ensuite in Central London. During the first 6 months I hosted 43 guests from more than 8 different countries with the average review being an okay 3 stars. However one too many bad experiences, I decided to hang up my Airbnb keys and retire. I grew tired of the stress of hosting as horrible Airbnb guests taught me to dislike people.
The best and worst apocalyptic movies imagine the end of the world, whether it be caused by human destruction or natural occurrences beyond our control. The imaginations of humanity have run wild on this topic for centuries. The Mayan civilization of Mexico predicted 2012 would be the end of an era. In 95 AD Saint John wrote the book of Revelations, prophesying a bloody end to man. However what I love most about the best and worst apocalyptic movies is they teach us the skills needed to survive when the beginning of the end does arrive.
The history of Aldgate East captured my imagination. I’m a huge fan of the tube. Ever since my first day in London I fell in love with its iconic design and the convenience of travelling from one end of London to another so quickly. I found the frequency of the tube very impressive. I came from a city where it was normal to wait 30 minutes for the next train. As they say, you know you have become a Londoner when you become impatient waiting 5 minutes for a tube. Although it is expensive, there is no denying the tube is easy to navigate and has most of London connected.
Visit Tuscany just for the Saturnia mud baths. When most people think of Tuscany they imagine medieval cities, great food and red wine. However the region also has a lot of naturally occurring thermal activity and the highlight of my holiday was soaking in the free and spectacular Saturnia mud baths and Bagno di Vignoni springs. The Etruscan archaeology and gastronomic delights also left a deep impression on me.
Sometimes when the daily stresses of work and life are taking its toll, you can get crazy ideas into your head, like deciding to go camping at Fletcher’s Farm. That is exactly what happened to me and group of friends when we took it upon ourselves to go camping up north in Yorkshire when winter was only just beginning to thaw out. I guess we thought it might be nice to get some fresh air and it would be a relatively cheap holiday.
If I had to recommend just one point of interest to visit when in London, it would be the Tate Modern. Not only does it exhibit cutting edge performance, installations and modern art, but it is a terrific space that spurs both disgust and creative thought. It is also connected to one of the oldest London icons, St Paul’s Cathedral by the chewing gum strewn Millennium Footbridge. The Switch House is a new 10 story extension to the Tate Modern museum and a welcome addition to London’s famous skyline. It officially opened in June 2016 after seven years in the making and whilst it is not the prettiest of sights, it signifies an exciting new phase for the Tate.
My Majorca beach holiday has to be one of the most disappointing, uninteresting yet funniest trips I’ve taken in quite some time. Majorca is the land of the holiday resort and spending one week on a Majorca beach holiday was akin to being trapped in some American family comedy. The island is located in the Balearic and can roughly be divided into two, the German half (North East) and the English half (South West) yet there are also pockets of Dutch, Russians, and apparently some locals as well.
I have visited the US many times however it only took one weekend for Boston, Massachusetts to become my favourite US city. Boston reminds me of a clean and organised version of Europe. The city is full of history but it is laid out in a methodical way. The architecture is dated but well put together. But the real reason why I love Boston is because it is full of surprises. From the friendly people and amazing food, to the bustling markets and happening night life. The city has a lot to offer and its citizens are immensely proud. If you are travelling the East Coast, make sure you visit Boston as it will surely be a highlight. This weekend guide to Boston covers all the main historical and foodie stops.
Turkey is one of the greatest places to take a road trip. It is a diverse country, rich in history and natural beauty, and there is a lot to explore. We spent two weeks driving from Istanbul along the black sea from Akçakoca to Kastamonu and driving back inland via Safranbolu. We ate delicious food, swam in clear waters, and got lost in one of Turkey’s largest national parks!
I began working my way through the TFL Capital Ring Walk, a series of 15 walks designed by Transport for London. It covers 78 miles of open space and natural reserves circling central London. Section 15-1 of the TFL Capital Ring Walk starts at Beckton and goes through Woolwich, ending in Falconwood. During the walk we saw city buildings, stunning Thames views, industrial sites and beautiful woodland.
Visiting Russia’s Golden Ring, from Suzdal to Pereslavl-Zalesskiy, was one of the top things we wanted to do whilst visiting Russia. The Golden Ring is a circle of small cities and villages outside of Moscow to the North, which are famous for their beautiful churches, old history and provincial way of life. I embarked on this trip in 2013 during one of the coldest springs on record for Russia. The weather was almost off putting but in the end I appreciated my travels all the more as the villages looked so idyllic covered in thick white snow and dotted with peasants traditionally dressed in furry hats and boots.
I broke my back in October 2012 and lived with chronic pain for five years. This is a reality for many people who undergo surgery or suffer from spinal conditions and nerve pain is particularly severe. If you are a chronic pain patient, you have pain 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every minute of your life. The most common outcome of living with pain is depression. Pain can be debilitating and you spend a lot of time in denial and asking why me. After many years coping successfully with chronic nerve pain I want to share advice for others experiencing similar trauma.
When I visit Paris, I’m less concerned with checking off the tourist sites than with soaking up as much culture, food and wine as I possibly can. Le Vieux Belleville accomplishes all three feats. It is a charming, cosy French bistro and a popular venue for listening to French chanson music.
I spent an incredible summer hopping between between Zakynthos and Kefalonia Greek islands. I saw the iconic Navagio Shipwreck, Melasanni caves and Assos village.The islands in the Ionian Sea are especially famous for their stunning sandy beaches, bright blue waters and locally produced wine, cheese and honey.
I recently read the Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, an absorbing and addictive novel that is set in North Korea. The story is divided into two main parts; the first part introduces the character of Jun Do and paints a picture of the life, ways and hardships of rural North Korea. In particular, we feel the affect of the great famine during these chapters. The second part ventures into more imaginative territory, as Jun Do realises his own strengths and challenges the all-knowing leader Kim Jon Il within the established framework of Pyongyang. Although it is a fictional tale and an unconventional love story, it is also a commentary on human strength and endurance, and a very damning portrayal of the totalitarian regime. The detail with which scenes are depicted and historical facts and figures are referenced, makes it read like a genuine popular history novel. It made me question how realistic this portrayal of the hermit kingdom really was. Johnson had never previously written about North Korea and had only visited the state once during his preparation for the novel. Below I explore some aspects of what the book tells us about North Korea compared to facts and information learnt from defectors and found in the news and on agency websites. You can decide for yourself on the Orphan Master’s Son accuracy.
What happens when you have a broken back? Well, it means a painful and long road to recovery however with determination and good medical treatment you can recover and lead a normal life. When I broke my back, I was living in London at the time and it was a wake up call. I needed to change my lifestyle and my mentality. Fortunately the ordeal is now a distant memory and I am stronger for it. This is the story about how I recovered from a broken back.
I broke my back after falling from a two story building. My L1 bone, one of the central bones in the back, shattered into small fragments. Within 48 hours of being admitted to hospital I underwent CT and MRI scans, which showed an urgent situation: some of the pieces of bone were resting on the spinal cord, which meant there was a high probability I could be paralysed.
When you have a broken back there are two recovery options. The first option is you can remain bed-bound in a brace until the bone heals well enough to support physical movement again, which is approximately six months. The advantage of this is you avoid any surgical complications, however you can suffer bed sores, extreme constipation and muscles wastage, and someone will need to feed, clean and care for you 24 hours a day. The second viable option is to have surgery, whereby titanium rods are inserted around the broken bone to stabilise and strengthen the area. The rods are strong enough to support physical movement and the broken bone can mend without affecting your mobility. The risks related to this option are typical surgical complications such as infection, nerve damage, or your body rejecting the titanium rods.
I wanted to have surgery however with my touch-and-go situation there were few doctor’s that would operate on me. With the fragments of bone so delicately resting on the spine, just one wrong manoeuvre would mean I could never walk again. Fortunately Dr Arun Ranganathan, one of the best spinal surgeons in Europe, decided to take a chance on me. He led a team of 3 surgeons to perform a 10 hour surgery at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, in the hope that I would be able to live a full and normal life. They cut 40cm lengthways into my back and inserted two long titanium rods with four screws to keep them in place.
I remember when I first woke up from surgery. My body was extremely heavy, I could barely move and my right leg was completely numb. The nurse came and attached a self-service morphine drip to me so anytime I felt too much pain I could press a button to instantly administer the pain relief. I was concerned that I could not move much and a physiotherapist came by to assess me. First he tickled my feet to see if I could feel anything and then he moved his hands up and down my legs to check the level of sensation. It was very good news that I could feel something and my left leg responded normally to touch. However my right leg was numb. He then encouraged me to try and get out of bed. By this time, I had been lying flat on my back for almost 7 days and my muscles had wasted away considerably. Furthermore, during the operation the doctors had to cut through all the muscles in my lower back so they could operate and now my muscles were extremely weak. I had no strength. The best I could do was slowly sit up in bed, which took a lot of time and effort, and then go back to sleep again.
Without the morphine I would not have been able to sleep because I was in a lot of pain. When you lie in the same position for a long time you become uncomfortable and as I had a broken back, I did not have the strength to turn onto my side. I was also located in the trauma ward along with other patients who were also in a lot of pain. Every night there was the constant sound of people crying and screaming. From observing the other patients, I was able to guess the reason why they were in hospital. There was an elderly lady in the bed next to me suffering from cancer. She could not move much and she never had any visitors, so she was angry and she would shout at the nurses and throw her food and drinks on the floor. In the evening she would scream obscenities. There was another elderly lady admitted because she was blind. She had been suffering from earaches before suddenly losing her sight. The doctor’s were very interested in her case and some students came to interview her for a study they were doing. This lady was almost 100 years old so all the nurses respected her a lot and called her “mama”. She was very sad that she couldn’t see anymore and she was always crying at night. There was another youngish lady with lots of make-up who had admitted herself because she had a hip injury. One day when she was leaving the pub she slipped and fell on the pavement outside, breaking her hip. She has had hip problems ever since and has sued the pub for a lot of money. She was always talking loudly on her phone and complaining rudely to the nurses for being so slow. Finally, there was the sweet lady in her 50s, who very carefully put her make-up on each morning before the nurses served breakfast. She experienced chronic pain in her legs and she had major surgery to correct it. She talked to her husband on the phone, but he never came to visit her because he was busy with work. She always tried to make lots of conversation with the nurses.
On the third day after the operation the surgeons visited me to see how I was recovering with my broken back. At this point I had only managed to sit up in bed occasionally but I still hadn’t walked. Dr Ranganathan was disappointed and said that if I didn’t start walking immediately I would never walk again. Muscles start to waste away after approximately 8 hours of inertia, so it was crucial I began exercising. I was so scared because I barely had the strength to lift my head, but the two doctor’s physically pulled me out of bed and forced me to walk. There was a big strong male nurse working on the ward that day and they called him over to assist. I had three people holding on to me as I tried to make my first steps. Because I had been on so much morphine, after about 5 steps I had the urge to throw up and started to scream. The nurse was quick to react and he quickly grabbed a bin just in time. I then asked them to please remove the morphine drip from me because it was making me feel sick.
The doctors instructed the nurses not to assist me anymore because I needed to learn how to walk. Up until now, I had been completely cared for. I was hooked up to a catheter, which collected all my urine, and in the morning the nurses would wet my limbs with a soapy sponge to clean me. They would also change my sheets daily, which was a huge drama involving five nurses rolling me from side to side as they put the clean sheets on.
For the next few days, walking to the bathroom was my main form of exercise. It was very physically exhausting and I would need a nap afterwards. Gradually I began to gain more strength and after 5 days I was able to go for a short walk around the hospital. I suffered a great deal of pain, which was mostly due to muscle fatigue, but the only pain relief I took was paracetamol and diclofenic (similar to ibuprofen). After 10 days, the doctors decided I was well enough to go home.
I went home in a mini cab with friends and family. Although my muscles ached and I had difficulty walking, I believed the worse was over. Little did I know that my nightmare had just begun. However on my first night home, I enjoyed a glass of bubbly and had a great sleep finally in my own bed.
As I settled back into normal life with my broken back, there were only a few minor challenges at first. I had a large plaster covering my surgical scar that I could not get wet, and as I was also unable to balance on my own or lift my legs I could not shower. To clean myself, I would fill the hand basin with warm soapy water and use a wet hand cloth. Eventually I gained enough strength in my lower back to lift my legs high enough to get into the bath, which was more convenient for bathing. If I wanted to wash my hair I required assistance as I could not bend my neck or lift my arms up.
Because of my broken back, I also struggled to lift objects or bend over and this made it difficult to do most household chores like sweeping, mopping or washing the dishes. If dropped something on the floor, which happened very often, I would need to wait for someone to pick it up for me.
Three weeks after surgery I began hydrotherapy. These are special exercises done in the water with a personal therapist to increase muscle strength. The swimming pool was heated and I felt as light as a feather in the warm water, which made it easier to move my body. At this time I had also returned to work part-time. I felt like things were going in the right direction as my walking improved rapidly day by day. The numbness I felt in my right leg was also going away, but in its place came a sharp pain.
Initially the pain would only start around 7pm at night, radiating from my hip down my right leg. It was bearable at first so I didn’t worry too much about it, however each day it slowly became more painful. I consulted my hydrotherapist but she was unable to diagnose the cause and put it down to the fact I was not walking correctly.
After 5 weeks of hydrotherapy I then moved on to land-based therapy. My physiotherapist was a young man called Adam who was the best therapist available at the Royal London Hospital. We did lots of exercises that strengthened the core muscle group as well as acupuncture. By this time the pain in my right leg had become considerably worse. Now the pain would begin at around 2pm in the afternoon and would get more severe as the day went on. The only relief from the pain was to lie down. I asked my physiotherapist what it could be, and he suggested it was possible nerve pain caused from inflammation and that exercise would help. As the pain became worse, Adam became more of a psychiatrist to me, as I would often cry in our sessions about the unexplained pain I was feeling. I also consulted one of the surgeons at the hospital who considered it to be fleeting and gave me Tramadol to help manage. Tramadol can be a dangerous and addictive drug, and I tried not to take it at first. However as each day passed the onset of pain would begin earlier and earlier and the intensity would increase.
Months passed, with numerous doctor visits, MRI scans and X-rays. Nobody could explain the cause of the pain. I tried the nerve pain medication Gabapentin which had little effect on my situation despite taking it over the course of several weeks. My only source of relief was Tramadol and without it I could no longer walk or put any pressure whatsoever on my leg due to the level of pain I was experiencing.
I became desperate for some answers to my problem so I decided to explore other solutions on the Internet. I came across a chiropractic website that advertised the activator method for treating nerve pain that I decided to trail. The owner of the clinic was a friendly blonde woman who treated me. Over the course of several weeks she tried many different techniques on my broken back including acupuncture, the activator gun, back manipulations, block techniques, stretching and even cracking my neck. It did not work but rather it started to cause additional back pain, which I hadn’t experienced since my recovery from surgery. The lady said that in all her career she never had a patient she was unable to heal and she became desperate in her attempt to fix me that she even started to hurt me.
After a long wait, I had a follow up appointment with Dr Ranganathan, the surgeon who performed the surgery on me, about my broken back. After studying my X-rays and MRI scans he said that theoretically there should be no problem. The bone was healing nicely and the metal rods appeared to be in exactly the right place. He said the only way to see precisely what was wrong would be to have a CT scan, which produces images with a lot more detail. However as CT scans expose the patient to 20 times more radiation than a regular X-ray, I would not be able to have children for several years afterwards as there would be a high risk of an abnormal birth. Dr Ranganathan understood that a CT scan was not idea, and he even persuaded me not to have it. Instead he made a diagnosis based on my symptoms and a physical examination. He concluded that the metal rods on the right hand side of my spine were either trapping or rubbing against a nerve thus producing severe nerve pain throughout my right leg. It also explained why the pain was aggravated by any type of movement such as walking, turning or sitting. The only solution would be to remove the metal rods once the bone has healed.
It takes approximately 18 months for the broken bones in your back to heal. Damaged nerves repair at a standard rate of 1mm per week. Despite the seemingly long road to recovery, I was relieved to hear Dr Ranganathan’s diagnosis as it finally provided me with clarity. Up until that point I had been suffering for months without any idea of what was causing the pain or if it would ever go away. When I told people that my leg was sore, they thought I was exaggerating and told me to just take some paracetamol and get on with it. Nobody could understand. Nerve pain is one of the severest types of pain and it felt like a constant stabbing in my knee by a thick metal pole coupled with a constant sharp ache in my hip that radiated down the top of my thigh. When I stepped down on my leg, all of the pain intensified by twenty.
I developed a good program for dealing with the pain in order to live a normal lifestyle. Exercise made the greatest improvement to my quality of life and I went to the gym every second day to use the cardio machines targeting the core muscle group as well as do pilates and yoga classes. Strengthening my core relieved the pressure on my lower back. I also stopped drinking alcohol, as it did not mix well wit the pain medication, and I went to bed early as sleep proved the most effective pain relief method. Most importantly I maintained a positive and forward thinking mentality, which helped me survive my broken back.