A Canberra Adventure: Floriade and Living Green

I want to take a moment out of the travel series but still in the theme to talk a little about our nation’s capital. I have a great deal of affection for Canberra, but it is often dismissed as a boring city full of public servants with nothing to do or see. Granted, it’s not a cultural hotspot like Sydney or Melbourne. It lacks the historic beauty of Adelaide, the tropical temperatures of Darwin or Brisbane, or the stunning natural beauty of Perth or Hobart. However, I think it has it’s own special something, particularly in October.  I acknowledge it is now well into November and I am very late posting this.  Blame my computer troubles.

Anyway, why October? Well, in October there are two festivals that are a wonderful celebration of my favourite season, spring.

The first is Floriade. Floriade runs from the middle of September to the middle of October each year, and is basically a big celebration of pretty flowers planted in themed gardens. The theme for 2018 was pop culture. There were displays of superheroes, including Wonder Woman, Batman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which made me incredibly happy. There were emoji flower beds, a Where’s Wally, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Pikachu. There were multiple tubs painted as minions.

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Whatever floats Floriade’s boat, I suppose.  [Imagine description: three tyres stacked on top of each other and painted to look like a Minion from Despicable Me, with flowers growing out of the top tyre.]
I have to admit that 2017 was kind of “meh” in terms of the display. I don’t actually remember the theme, which is an indictment in itself. This year, though, I thought was stunning. The colours were intense, the displays were riotously beautiful, and the scent of those massed flowers was delicate and glorious. Canberra is apparently having a nicely warm spring this year too, so the weather was gorgeous.

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Tulips are always the most-used Floriade flower.  [Image description: lots of flowers, mostly tulips, in pink, white and yellow].
The best way to really get an idea of what the flower bed designs are is to catch a ride on the ferris wheel. It can be a bit hard to see some of the designs from ground level, which is a shame, because the gardeners work incredibly hard to come up with clever, legible designs. From on high, you get to see their work properly. Tickets for individuals cost $9 and you get around 3 or 4 passes at the top.

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It’s much easier to tell that this is supposed be Wally of “Where’s Wally?” fame from above.  [Image description: a flower bed planted to look like a portrait of Wally from “Where’s Wally?”, surrounded by people.]
Floriade also has a number of stalls from small businesses in and around the Canberra region. My luxury-loving sister never fails to get a silky soft merino pashmina from Opal Merino. My mum recommends the nut stall for cashews, almonds, macadamias and walnuts coated in chilli or sugar. My dad enjoys the local craft beers from Bent Spoke Brewery and Capital Brewing Co. I’m a fan of some of the hand-made soaps and also the big curly potatoes on sticks.

Food can be a little tricky for vegans at Floriade, although there are generally some accidentally vegan options. Canberra is a pretty hipster city, so you’ll also sometimes be able to scrounge a deliberately vegan but overpriced buddha bowl or something from one of the food carts. There is also live music and the occasional wondering entertainer on stilts or in costume.

There are also activities, games and stalls for children, as well as activities that you can book in advance. Alternatively, if you want a more structured night for adults, check out Nightfest. The flowers get illuminated with hundreds of lights and there are generally special displays as well as comedy, musical and theatrical acts. Just be aware that Nightfest has a cost for entry whereas daytime Floriade is free.

Floriade by its nature involves a fair amount of walking. Parking can be a nightmare to get close, and the displays themselves are fairly sprawling. If your endo keeps you from walking easily, you may want to not do it all in one go. Alternatively, wheelchair hire is available for $12. Just be aware that some of the paths are pretty rough. We hired a chair for me and while I definitely needed it, there were times I wished it came with a seatbelt. Some areas of ground were quite hard for my mum to push me over. I definitely recommend going early in the day, too, as Floriade draws huge crowds that are not always alert to the needs of wheelchair users.

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It’s worth taking some time at each bed.  The displays en masse are beautiful but there are also some stunning individuals hiding in the crowds.  [Image description: a close up of a red flower with a black centre, and some smaller purple and yellow flowers below.]
If you tire of the flowers and the vistas over Lake Burley Griffin, or if you are a hungry vegan who wants more than nuts, popcorn and potatoes, take yourself across the lake to Albert Hall and the Living Green Markets.

Although far smaller and less spectacular than Floriade due to its rather niche nature, Living Green still makes for a great time out. With a focus on veganism and environmental friendliness, the main draw for me is the food. Canberra Magic Kitchen, Veganarchy (still no idea how to pronounce that), and Rainbow Nourishments are just a few of the stalls that set up with curries, soups, pies, sushi, sausage rolls, cakes (cheese, cup and full-size varieties!), chocolate, ice-cream and snacks. This year I indulged in a Magic Breakfast from Magic Kitchen, which involved the creamiest spinach and tofu scramble I’ve ever had. My non-vegan husband agreed – 10/10 delicious. It also had some sort of veggie patty and a flourless bread that were unlike anything I’ve tried before. Now I want nothing else for meals ever again. I also had a peppermint Belgian hot chocolate from Dream, which is one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had – sweet but not overly, no obvious soy taste, and none of that nasty sludge at the bottom. For dessert I tried the rainbow pear and chai cake from Rainbow Nourishments. You’ve heard me rave about her cookbook before, but trying her products in person is even better.

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Yes, it looked this amazing.  It tasted fantastic too, although the slices were very generous and I felt overstuffed afterwards.  The buttercream to cake ratio was perfect.  [Image description: a cake covered in pink,blue, green and purple slices of pear}.  Photo courtesy of Rainbow Nourishments.
There are also stalls to raise funds and awareness for all manner of great environmental and animal-related causes, including Little Oak Sanctuary, the Animal Defender’s Office, Australian Rescue and Foster, and the MAWA Trust. You can buy vegan candles, handbags, wallets, make up, hats, cookbooks, advocacy books, and all manner of treats both savoury and sweet.  There is live music of variable quality but always a lot of passion.

Living Green has a sense of happiness and bustle as a multitude of vegans and environmental activists gathered to shop, mingle and (mostly) eat. If you visit Floriade on the first Sunday of October (Living Green’s usual date), I highly recommend taking a detour over to Living Green as well.  If you miss out in October but think you’ll find yourself in Canberra on the first of December, there’s another chance to sample the Living Green Market then.

Parking is a bit closer for Living Green and the ground is flatter, but the more cramped conditions may give wheelchair users some trouble.

Note for both events: bring cash! Although many stalls at Floriade accept cards, some don’t, and most at Living Green are cash-only.

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One more picture of a flower, because they were so pretty.  [Image description: a pink flower with a black centre and squiggly yellow stamen.]
Have you ever been to Canberra or attended either of these events? Please feel free to share your photos in the comments!

Flying with Endometriosis Part 5: What I’ve Learned

For many people, flying is already a nightmare.  For people with endometriosis, there’s an added layer of difficulty.  In this multi-part series, “Flying with Endometriosis”, I want to talk about some of things we can do to make travel a bit easier.

I’m back!  I’m in Australia again, the jetlag is slowly dissipating, and I have a shiny new computer on which to write blog posts (just as well, because writing them on my phone is tricky and tedious).  And on the way, I learned a couple of things that make me want to either reiterate, correct or edit things I’ve said previously.

1) Business is better

Like the bougie child I am, I flew business class this trip.  No, I could not have afforded those tickets without financial help, and I am very lucky.  However, I cannot overstate the difference it made to be able to lie flat – completely flat, even at 5’10” – rather than being sat up the entire flight.  This is particularly so on the way back, when I was bloated, sore and touch-sensitive from the surgery.  Having fewer people battling for the loos was also very important, as the surgery caused some interesting issues for my bladder and bowels.

If you are in a bracket where you can afford business class but are cringing at the unnecessary expense, I would encourage you to look at it less as a luxury and more of a way to avoid 24 hours of pain.

2) I should have packed differently

I needn’t have bothered with my Kindle as I ended up buying several fascinating books on my trip.  I didn’t open my Kindle once.

I should have packed a second Divinity collection Maxi.  Comfy as my leggings and my two-sizes-too-big jeans are, the flowing freedom of this dress was exactly what I needed, because on several days it got the point where I could not possibly wear something with a waistband.  It was also too cold to wear my shorter knit dress from Review more than once.  The longer dress helped cover my cold legs.

I should have remembered that Singapore Airlines Business Class is pretty luxe.  I didn’t really need so many products as the airline had a bunch in the airplane loo.  That being said, I would stand by bringing them in my carry-on if I had not been flying Business.

Overall, I think I packed pretty well.  I wore everything I took and used pretty much everything except the Kindle. I did have a problem with buying too much in the UK and not having enough room for it all on the way back, though, so I had to use my poor mother as a shopping mule.  Shopping in the UK is so much better than here.

3) I should have taken laxatives

Ok, so this one is a bit gross, but endo peeps will know what I’m talking about.  Post-surgery you are in a LOT of pain at first, so they give you a number of serious painkillers.  I had a morphine button – a button I could press any time I felt pain to get a shot of morphine – and morphine (plus the follow-up codeine) makes you as constipated as you can get.  My surgery was Saturday.  I didn’t poop until Wednesday (in a public toilet on an island full of squirrels, by the way), and I was chugging this weird liquid laxative they gave me (both gross and ineffective) and drinking prune juice like it was going out of style.  I know the laxatives I buy normally work (they are only in case of emergency and they just shoot through you).  I should have taken them and avoided three days of extra constipation pain, which I did not need.

4) I was 100% right to take my pillow and blanket

That pillow I mentioned that I took as carry-on was 100% the right call.  It was more comfortable to use on the flight and it was vital post-surgery.  I used it to:-

  • Protect my stomach from the seatbelt;
  • Prop up my knees to relieve tension on my back when shoulder-tip pain prevented me from sleeping on my side;
  • Tuck under one side of my distended tummy post-op so it didn’t flop awkwardly and painfully to one side
  • Hug to my torso as for comfort, cushioning and security;
  • Prop myself up in bed.

The blanket was great because I tend to get cold very easily after an operation, and the heating in my bedroom was all over the place.  I only used it once on the flight but since it tucks easily into the pillowcase having it there was hardly an imposition.

5) Taking an extra three days off work was the right call

I arrived back in Australia late on Friday night.  Originally I was supposed to go back to work on the Monday.  Instead I arranged to return on the Thursday.  Definitely a good idea.  Jetlag + post-op pain does not a happy combination make, and those extra three days were really important in my recovery.  I’m far from 100% yet, but I’d be far worse if I’d forged ahead with work on Monday.

6) I could not have done this alone

Having surgery unsupported is very difficult anyway.  Having it unsupported in a country that you don’t normally live in, where you have to organise transport and accommodation, would have been overwhelming.  If not for my family – particularly my mother – supporting me physically, emotionally and financially, I could not have managed the surgery.  Recovery is hard and at times scary.  I need someone with me, and I am so grateful I had that.

 

That pretty much concludes my series on flying with endometriosis.  Over the next few weeks you can expect a lot of posts about the surgery and recovery, but also about the places I visited because England is amazing and I want to move back there.  Hope you enjoy it!

Flying with Endometriosis Part 3: What to Wear

For many people, flying is already a nightmare.  For people with endometriosis, there’s an added layer of difficulty.  In this multi-part series, “Flying with Endometriosis”, I want to talk about some of things we can do to make travel a bit easier.

What is the first priority on a plane (except from arriving at your destination, of course)?  Comfort!  Planes are not the most comfortable, particularly if you are crammed into economy.  With endometriosis, it’s even less comfortable.  You’re stuck in pretty much one position for hours at a time and you have to line up for ages to use the toilet.  Then you have to walk around a heap in the airports.  Enduring all that, you can bet your [insert noun here] I want to be comfy.  Trouble is, I also want to look good, partly because I am vain and shallow and partly because it makes me feel more confident, alert and prepared.

I’ve already discussed how to dress an endo belly, but when you are travelling you really have to take comfort to the next level.  If you are more of a video person, I highly recommend checking out Miss Louie, who is one of my favourite youtubers.  She’s done this video and this one with a whole bunch of easy-to-wear travel outfits.  There’s something for everyone.

However, if you prefer a written list or simply can’t see Miss Louie’s options working for you, read on for a more general discussion.

In choosing an outfit, I think there are some questions you should ask yourself:-

  1. Does this press on my pelvis when sitting, standing or lying?
  2. Does it press on my pelvis if I swell up?
  3. Does this press on any other joints that tend to get sore or swollen?

These three are the most important, because that is ultimately what will dictate if an outfit is going to be comfy for a person with endo.  Anyone who suffers from flareups knows that something digging into your pelvis when it is sore and swollen if just horrific.  For some people, this may mean that any pants at all are off the table and you need to look at a dress instead.  For others, leggings or even super stretchy jeans or an elastic-waisted skirt will be fine.

The remaining questions are more general and probably less of a deal-breaker than the above three, but still worth thinking of:-

  1. Are there any buttons, zips, or other decorative things that will dig into you?
  2. Is it comfy enough to sleep in?
  3. Will it ride up and flash things it shouldn’t?
  4. Will it give you a wedgie?
  5. Will it wrinkle easily/does it look bad wrinkly?
  6. Can you take layers off if you get too hot or add layers if you get too cold?
  7. Do your shoes slip off easily for going through security?

If it will dig in, isn’t comfy, rides up, wrinkles, can’t layer and your shoes require a lot of lacing or other fiddling, don’t wear it.  It will be a hassle.  It will be uncomfortable, you will not sleep as well and you will get to the other end looking and feeling less than stellar.

My go-to for flights is this combination.

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All of these items are from Modcloth, except the boots which are from Betts.  (Yes, I used Stylebook to put this together).  They are a few years old so I doubt anyone dying of envy about my incredible stylishness will be able to get those exact items, however.  From the bottom up:

  1. Knee-high riding boots might not be as easy to slip in and out of as a pair of slip-on trainers, ballet flats, or ankle boots, but I know that I will wear them a lot in the UK so if I don’t wear them, I’d have to pack them anyway.  As they are my heaviest shoes, it makes sense to carry them on my feet rather than haul them all over the airport in my suitcase.  They do still come on and off easily, and look good with my leggings.
  2. Under my boots I’ll be wearing a pair of compression socks, to avoid DVT, or Deep Vein Thrombosis, which is a blood clot that forms in the leg.  You won’t necessarily get it if you don’t wear them, but if you do, it can be super dangerous.  It’s very easy for DVT to become life-threatening in a very short space of time.  I’ll also use the compression socks in hospital after my operation, so they are good investment, if not the comfiest.  As I wrote earlier, I’ll have cosy socks to wear over them on the flight, because I kick my boots off as soon as the seatbelt sign goes off.
  3. I love these leggings because they have actual function pockets that can hold a lip balm or spare change.  They are a little small for my phone, but having pockets at all is great.  They are thick and warm but not too hard on the old pelvis.
  4. Underneath the top I’ll be wearing this singlet from Boody.  Incredibly soft and comfy (with the added bonus of being ethically made and environmentally friendly), the singlet will just provide an extra layer of warmth, help preserve modesty if something happens with my top, and let me take a top layer off if somehow my flight gets stranded in Dubai with no air-conditioning again.  Seriously not fun.  I nearly passed out.
  5. The top itself is just loose, soft and very comfy, but a bit fun with the patterned sleeves.  It helps make it just a little less basic.
  6. The cardigan is loose and voluminous so I can wrap it around me.  It has a deep hood so I can cover my face in case I loose my eye mask for the flight, and hide the fact that I’ve got a sheet mask on or suchlike.  It looks a little more dressy than, say, my Batman hoodie, but it is still comfy and casual.

I’ve flown with this outfit before and it was comfortable and practical.  Post-surgery the leggings might be a little tight or irritate the incision sites – if that happens, I’ll switch to a long-sleeved maxi dress from Divinity collection.  It’s not quite as ideal as they are incredibly long so they do drag on the floor and do wrinkle a bit.  However, it is very comfy, will keep my covered when I lie down, and is an easy canvas to accessorise.  My pelvis will be totally free to do its thing and I will be warm, my modesty will be protected, and I should still look pretty acceptable when I stumble into my husband’s arms when I arrive back in Australia.  I’ll be taking both my black and my burgundy ones in my suitcase in any event.

Do you have a go-to travel outfit?  What do you look for in travelling clothes, either generally or to protect yourself from endo pain?  Let me know in the comments!

Flying with Endometriosis Part 2: Carry-On

For many people, flying is already a nightmare.  For people with endometriosis, there’s an added layer of difficulty.  In this multi-part series, “Flying with Endometriosis”, I want to talk about some of things we can do to make travel a bit easier.

In my last post I talked about some of the things people with endometriosis can do before they travel to make the journey a little easier. But what should you take on the flight with you to help once you are in the air?

I’m going to list all the things I’ll be packing in my carry-on and why. It won’t all be endo-stuff, so hopefully this will be useful to everyone, but there will be plenty of endo-specific items on there.

Although I do want to try travelling with only a carry-on in future, that’s not feasible this time round as I’ll be having surgery and will need more items than I can fit in a carry-on. This post is therefore going to assume people are travelling with both a carry-on and checked luggage.

My carry-on bag is the Deluxe Handbag of Holding from ThinkGeek (unfortunately discontinued). It has lots of pockets, is comfy to carry and holds heaps of stuff. It also slides neatly into the overhead lockers, or, better yet, under the seat in front. For that reason I prefer it to a backpack, which can be more three-dimensionally bulky than a messenger bag.

Deluxe Handbag of Holding
Deluxe Handbag of Holding.  Note the many handy pockets.  

I’ll divide the contents up into “themes” within the back, using the different pockets and some clear makeup bags to corral all the different bits and make them easy to find.

Now, onto my list.  Buckle up, because it’s a long one!

ENTERTAINMENT

– A book. Kindles and e-readers are great, but we have a family tradition of treating ourselves to a new book when we go on a long-haul flight. It is nice to read something new and to give my eyes a break from the screen.

– A kindle, because I read quickly and there is no way one book will be enough, particularly whilst I’m recovering from surgery. It is easier on the eyeballs than a backlit screen and holds a charge for a million years.

– My phone. Music, books, movies, my blog, the internet, app games, and a useful tool all in one. To maximise its use I will also be taking my earbuds and a portable recharger pack, because iphones are battery-guzzlers and I use mine a lot.

– A puzzle book. I love sudoku, killer sudoku, kakuro and grid-based logic puzzles. These booklets are usually thin and light, but doing something on a hard copy is a nice change from electronic entertainment and helps stimulate my brain by giving it something different and a little challenging to work on.

– My journal and pencil case.  I’ll be able to write, doodle, plan, play noughts and crosses or hangman, and pass immature notes to my sister.

COMFORT

– Cosy socks. I’ll be wearing compression socks to reduce the chance of DVT (more on that later), but they aren’t very warm, planes are chilly and I have poor circulation. A pair of warm socks makes for a happy me.

– A blindfold and earplugs. Most airlines will provide these and they are really helpful in getting some shut-eye on the plane, especially if you, like me, sleep with a blindfold anyway.

– A travel pillow. For economy/premium economy, a neck/shoulder pillow that makes it possible to sleep in an upright position, as it will support your head from lolling uncomfortably to the side. There’s bucketloads of different styles out there, but I’ve chosen this one as I like how high it keeps my head and the fact that it doesn’t go behind the neck or across the throat. Although I may not need it on the flight it will be very useful on the trip to hospital. For people in business or first, you may not need a pillow at all, but I have used this one before and really liked it. It can also help bolster the slightly sad pillows they give you to sleep on.

– A blanket or shawl. I opt for the blanket in the above pillow/blanket combination. It’s thin and light but very warm. I get cold absurdly easily and get too cold on flights even with the blankets they provide, so an extra blanket is a must for me. I choose a blanket rather than a shawl as it covers all of me, but a shawl is more versatile as you can wear it and not look like a ninny.

Berocca. I love this stuff. For those not familiar with it, it is a multivitamin that dissolves fizzily in water. It comes in a few flavours (only berry and orange are readily available in Australia) and it is very refreshing. It perks me up far more easily than caffeine without the crash when it wears off. It’s healthier than coffee and has the added bonus of helping prop up your immune system with easily-absorbed vitamins.

– Painkillers of varying strengths. I will be taking everything from panadol and De-Gas to endone, just in case. If you are planning on taking the strong stuff, it is a good idea to have a letter from your doctor explaining that you have a legitimate reason to be carrying a small pharmacy of opioids.

– Heat patches. You can’t really take a microwaveable heat pack on a plane, but stick-on heat patches can give the same relief for a fraction of the room and don’t require external heating. Carry plenty. I’ll be wearing one on my lower back as a matter of course and carrying spares for my pelvis.

– Nasal drops and nasal spray. I get a very dry nose on flights because they are so dehydrating and I live in dread of that turning into (yet another) sinus infection. Nasal drops help get rid of congestion and the spray helps rehydrate those sore passages.

– Lozenges. Again, dry air, insufficient water – a sore throat is a strong possibility.

– A water bottle. You do get water on planes, but it comes in very small disposables cups or bottles. It simply isn’t enough to keep you hydrated. Taking a water bottle lets you have more water at a time without bothering the cabin crew every thirty seconds.

– Knee pillow. This isn’t something everyone will need, but I’m a side-sleeper and I need something between my knees to alleviate pressure on my back. I have a very old, very floppy pillow I use for this and I’m going to be terribly extravagant and take it with me. I can also use it as lumbar support, cushioning between my pelvis and a seatbelt, or just for clutching to my stomach as a comforting thing during a flare. It’s not for everyone, but for me it’s a must.

– A hair tie and hair brush.  I’ll be braiding my hair out of the way anyway, but hairties snap and get lost exactly when you need them not to, and it is always nice to have brushed hair.  Makes you feel a little more human when you stagger off the plane.

SKIN

– Face and body wipes. Air travel is exhausting and it is easy to end up clammy and gross-feeling. Being able to clean up either at a stopover or in the airport loo can make you feel so refreshed and more awake.

– Mist toner. Whenever I wash my face I always follow up with a toner. I’ll be taking my Skinstitut mist, which is not only a toner but can also be used as a refreshing spray under or over makeup and smells divine. A little spritz can help wake you up and help you stay feeling fresh in between washes or stops.

– Night cream.  Because it is heavier than a day moisturiser it is better at standing up to the beating your skin takes on a long flight.  I’ll be taking this one from ELF as my normal Sukin one, whilst amazing, is in a big heavy tub.

– Lip balm.  Again, airline = dehydration = chapped lips.  I’ll be using a tinted one from Hurraw to add a little colour to otherwise uniform pasty white of my face.

– Sheet masks.  Yes, it’s a bit extra, but I’m going to be on those planes for a long time and a little extra moisture and luxury never goes astray.  I am determined not to look the way I normally do when I stumble off a long flight – like an ashen, pasty-faced zombie.  I will have glowing skin, darn it!

– Eye roller.  I just use this little doodad from ELF, which instantly refreshes and cools my puffy eye bags.  It’s just really nice and takes up basically no room, so for me it is totally worth it.

– Concealer and brow powder.  The only makeup I’m taking.  I just want to be able to cover the inevitable enormous pimple that will arise during the flight and fill my brows in, because that makes me feel a little more put together and with it when I land, which in turn makes me feel more awake, confident and ready to deal with the jetlag.

– Hand sanitiser.  Planes are filthy and you don’t necesarily want to wait in a queue to wash your hands before your food comes, especially if you get trapped by the food trolley and have to wait ten million years to get back to your seat.

– Hand cream.  Dehydration, etc etc.

– Deodorant.  For the sake of your fellow passengers, please.

– Toothbrush and toothpaste.  Some airlines give it out, some don’t.  I want to take my own toothpaste in any case, so I know that it is vegan, cruelty-free, low-abrasion and contains fluoride.

MISCELLANEOUS

– Spare undies, because when you have endo you never know what your body will surprise you with.  Also, luggage can get lost.

– A spare top and leggings.  I’ll be taking these leggings and this long-sleeved top from Boody.  These items are incredibly thin and lightweight and take up very little room, but they are warm, soft and incredibly comfortable.  The leggings I won’t wear without something covering my bottom as they are a touch see-through, but these will double as a change of clothes in an emergency, and will function as pjs if my luggage goes AWOL for a while.  They are also great for an extra layer of warmth if I get even colder than anticipated on the plane or when we land.  I plan to buy several more of those tops.

– Sanitary pads.  See above re underpants.  Also, it’s nice to be able to have one to hand if another person finds themselves in period-related difficulties without adequate supplies.  Tampon or cup users will want to bring those instead.

– Passport, tickets and wallet (duh).

I think that more or less covers it!  I will no doubt think of extra things I want to take, forget to pack something, or change my mind at the last minute, but this is my list as it currently stands.  Anything you would add to it?  Anything that you have found really helps your endometriosis travel a little easier?  Anywhere you think I’m being totally OTT?  Let me know!

 

 

Flying with Endometriosis Part 1: Pre-Flight Checklist

For many people, flying is already a nightmare.  For people with endometriosis, there’s an added layer of difficulty.  In this multi-part series, “Flying with Endometriosis”, I want to talk about some of things we can do to make travel a bit easier.

Happy October!  As I mentioned a few posts back, I’m travelling to the UK this month, so travel is very much on my brain, hence the new series.  I want to do some tips and tricks on making travelling with endometriosis just that little bit easier.

Ensuring that you have the smoothest flight possible starts long before you get on the plane.  Below are some of the things I would recommend doing before you travel.

1) Book the best seat you can afford.  It’s hard to pass up on some of the great deals you can get on an economy flight, but let’s face it – economy seats on a long-haul flight are just horrible.  This is particularly so if sitting is a difficult position for you.  When I’m in a flare-up, it’s the worst possible, as it puts pressure on my back and makes my ovaries very unhappy.  The seats are also very small and there isn’t much room in the footwell, so you can’t wriggle around to get a better position unless you’re very tiny.  At 5’10” (178cm) it’s definitely not an option for me.  If you can afford it, consider an upgrade to premium.  You don’t get a lot of extra room or recline, but it might just make a difference.  If you can’t afford it, do your research on how to nab the best seat in economy.  Seat Guru can help you find the one for your plane.  I’d always say an exit seat is best for the extra legroom, but ensure that you are physically able to assist with the doors in an emergency in you go for that one.  Also utilise your charm and your poor swollen belly to try and get a free upgrade, noting that it is getting much harder.

2) Get travel insurance. Be careful, though – many will not cover pre-existing conditions, so search around for one that does. It is pricey, but it is probably cheaper than the cost of rescheduling your flight and paying for extra accomodation if you can’t fly due to a flareup. That being said, the cost for many people may be prohibitive so some people may find that risking it is more financially sound, particularly if they aren’t prone to flare-ups or are practised at travelling through them.

3) Rest. In the days leading up to the flight, rest as much as you can so that you have a good healthy baseline to start from. I know I don’t get much sleep in economy, and whilst lots of sleep prior isn’t going to magically prevent you from being exhausted when you hit the tarmac on the other side, it will help you feel better for longer and strengthen your immune system (planes are germ factories).  If you can, pack the majority of your stuff at least a day ahead of time so that you can use your last day to relax and only worry about the last-minute things like your toothbrush.

4) Get hydrated.  Like this resting tip, this is to help buffer your immune system against the hit it is about to take on the plane.  In addition to being super germy, planes are incredibly dry and it is really hard to take in enough liquid.  Make sure that you are at least starting your journey on the right foot by being as hydrated as possible for at least a few days before you get on the plane.  This will also help you avoid UTIs.  Trust me, you do not want a UTI whilst flying, especially whilst flying long-haul economy.  0/10 would not do again.

5) Avoid triggers.  If you know you are reactive to certain foods or activities, do not eat those foods or engage in those activities prior to flying.  The last thing you want to do is set off a flare-up before you even get on the plane.  I’ll be completely nixing onions, garlic, beans, cabbage, alcohol and carbonated drinks from my diet for a week prior to flying, and cutting way down on the sugar and gluten.  I’d also suggest not smashing out a mad core workout prior to your flight – for a few days beforehand you might want to limit yourself to yoga, walking and maybe some gentle weights.

6) Take your medications and vitamins religiously.  Again, it is all about getting your immune system to the best place it can be before you put it on that plane and destroy it. Even if you aren’t normally a supplement taker, consider a multivitamin and maybe a cranberry pill (I refer to my earlier point re UTIs) as a pre-flight booster.

7) Plan an itinerary (if you can).  If you are on holiday you want to see and do as much as possible.  If you have at least the broad outline of a plan you can build in rest days.  Last time I was in Europe I was totally healthy, and tried to do heaps every day.  I was utterly exhausted after a few weeks.  I will never do that again, especially now I’m a sicky!  It also allows for a little more flexibility, and, of course, helps you pack sensibly for the activities you are doing.  Speaking of which…

8) Plan a capsule wardrobe.  This is a wardrobe where everything goes with everything else to make multiple outfits out of fewer pieces, so you can reduce the weight of your suitcase (a very good thing when you have endo!).  It also forces you to really think about what you are bringing, which will hopefully encourage you to choose only comfy, multi-functional pieces that will see you both through whatever your holiday activity is as well as a flareup or rest day.

9) Treat yo’self.  The day before you travel (or the day of, if you are flying later in the day) have a nice bath, if you have a bathtub.  Do all the luxurious skin things like a face mask, shaving, washing your hair etc.  It will not only help you feel super nice on the plane and help you look spiffy when you reach your destination, it will also allow your muscles, and that pesky pelvis, to relax.  Your poor body is about to crammed into a pressurised metal tube on a small seat next to a bunch of randoms.  It deserves a little love.

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So, those are my pre-flight must-dos.  Any I’ve missed?  Do you have a pre-flight ritual that helps your body deal with the stresses of long flights?  Share in the comments!

Ich bin ein Berliner

TW: Rape, murder

YES, I’m saying that ironically.  I know what it means.  My German is better than that, I swear.

That aside, Berlin is a beautiful place and if you are in Europe you should 100% go there.  It has something for everyone.  If you like fashion, there are stores there that seem to stretch for miles, like the KaDeWe (Kaufhaus Des Westens, or Shopping Centre of the West), which covers 60,000 square metres.

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The Reichstag.  You can just see the top of the dome poking over the roof.

If you like architecture, you have incredible buildings like the Reichstag, which mixes old and new.  The main building is this imposing, classic edifice, but it has a nifty glass dome at the top that you can go up inside (we didn’t because the queue was a bajillion miles long). You have beautiful churches and colleges.

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The beautiful Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) with its weathered green roof.

It goes without saying that you have the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate).

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Obviously not my photo.  Whenever I was near it the sun was directly behind it so I only have clear photos of the horses’ bottoms.  It is huge, though.

You have statues and sculptures of cranky academics.

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Marx and Engels, looking unimpressed.  

At the more modern end up things, you have things like the Fernsehturm pictured at the top of this post, which towers above the rest of the city.

 

Architecture blends into history and culture.  Berlin is littered with monuments to WWII.  From Checkpoint Charlie…

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Newspapers celebrating the collapse of the Berlin Wall

…to the famous Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, there is no getting away from the fact that this was once the seat of Nazi power.

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Between the columns of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  The underground Holocaust museum is within the memorial itself.  

Even just walking through the park, there is this odd grey box that draws your attention.  It isn’t until you get close and peek through the little window that you realise this is a memorial to the gay folk killed or imprisoned during the war.

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If you look through this little window you’ll see a video of two men kissing and embracing.  There is no other signage or indication that this is a memorial, to reflect the fact that people sometimes forget that homosexual folk were actively persecuted by Nazis and that their suffering in WW2 is often not talked about.  

The city also reflects the suffering of the ordinary German people after it fell to Allied forces.

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This massive statue is of a Russian soldier.  Built by the Soviets from materials taken from the ruins of the Reich Chancellery, it is intended to be a memorial to Soviet soldiers who fell against the Nazi forces.  However, in the aftermath of the war, Berlin locals came to call it “The Tomb of the Unknown Rapist”, in reference to the vicious rapes, pillaging and killings conducted by the Soviet occupying forces against to citizens of Berlin in revenge for the damage done to Russia by the war.  In Berlin alone it is estimated that 100,000 women were raped, many repeatedly, with the majority of rapes conducted by Soviet troops.   Around 10,000 of these women died as a result.

One of the most poignant memorials, to my mind, is the series of tiny brass cobblestones scattered not just through Berlin, but through much of Europe.  Each one is inscribed with the name of a Jewish person killed by the Nazi regime, and are located outside their former homes.  Once you start noticing them, you can’t stop, and the sheer number of them is horrifying.

The pictures I’ve included above only include the tiniest part of Berlin, and are all within a relatively easy walk of each other.  I haven’t even covered the River Spree, the beautiful Jewish quarter, or the horrors of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.  Out of respect, I did not take any photos inside Sachsenhausen, but I highly recommend visiting.  Oddly, the most striking part for me was walking across the parade ground.  When we first arrived it was cold, wet and miserable, but the weather turned whilst we were in the museum and when we were next on the parade ground it was blisteringly hot.  It is a massive open space with no shelter and absolutely no escape from the elements, and miserable prisoners had to stand there for hours on end.  This was happening a mere 35km from Berlin.

In terms of seeing the city, there are so many options.  There are plenty of English-speaking guided tours as people from all over the world move to Berlin for its low cost of living and fall in love with its history.  We did a walking tour of the WW2 sites of Berlin with an extremely knowledgeable English guide, and the next day took a tour with another Brit to Sachsenhausen.  There are also cycling tours, driving tours, bus tours, and these really bizarre round three-wheel bike things that you pedal as a group.

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Sorry for the vagueness.  They are called Cabykes and they defy description.  Despite looking ridiculous they were really popular.  

Berlin is nice and flat, so it is relatively easy to get around in a wheelchair if you need, and there is a good underground rail system (although some stations don’t seem terribly wheelchair friendly).  Although I was not suffering terribly badly from endometriosis when I went there as it was prior to my first disastrous surgery, I think that I would have been able to travel most places either in a wheelchair or on a bus or rickshaw relatively easily.  It’s also one of the cheaper cities in Europe, so once you’ve worn the cost of getting there you’ll be able to make your remaining money stretch relatively far.

It’s super easy to eat vegan in Berlin, too.

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On a bench in the park.  I did not put it there.  

If you are worried about the language barrier as an English speaker, don’t be.  People in Berlin largely speak better English than most of us who speak nothing else, so hotels, restaurants and tours are likely to be very easy to navigate.  If you aren’t too sure, just say, “Entschuldigung (ent-shool-di-gung), ich spreche kein Deutsche.  Sprechen Sie Englisch?”  This is the polite way of saying “sorry, I don’t speak any German.  Do you speak English?” Other than that, as long as you know “Hilfe!” (help), you’ll be fine.  If you fancy taking a few German classes before you go, you’ll fine the very basics relatively easy to pick up as there are a lot of similarities to English.  German only really gets complicated when you start on grammar or the longer words that Germans love to make by smashing five or six other words together.  Pronouncing German words is easy enough too.  It’s not like French where you only pronounce three letters out of ten – in German, you say every letter.

All in all, I can’t recommend Berlin enough.  It has this fascinating blend of old and new and it is soaked in history.  There is this really wonderful sense of a city that is not shying away from the horrors of the past or trying to shift the blame of the holocaust elsewhere, but also learning from it and rising up into this great, inclusive, welcoming cultural centre and not being dominated or crushed by shame or blame.  Other nations with slaughter or oppression in their past could take lessons.  It’s a brilliant city and I can’t wait to go back one day.

Have you been to Berlin?  Any hotspots I’ve missed that you think are a must-see for tourists?  Any tips on navigating?  Let me know in the comments!

White Sands and Blue Skies: Jervis Bay

You know those pictures of the Caribbean or Thailand with those incredibly white beaches and crystal waters?  Well, Australia has them too, and the most beautiful of all of them (in my humble opinion) are in Jervis Bay.

Situated on the NSW Coast about 3 hours south of Sydney, Jervis Bay is a large natural harbour of stunning beauty.  I’ve been there three times, and I’m just going to have to reassure you that the above photo from Visit NSW is entirely and 100% accurate.  The sand really is that white and powdery soft, and the water really is that amazing blue.

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Photo by my parents, Blenheim Beach in Jervis Bay

Guarded by Point Perpendicular (with sheer cliffs and a historic lighthouse) in the north and Bowen Island (an out-of-bounds island home to little penguins) in the south, Jervis Bay is a natural harbour.

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Map by http://www.realcamping.com.au/location.html

That’s why the ACT actually has a territory here (apparently you need a port to be a capital city around here).  The Canberran naval base is just inside the bay, on the northern edge of Booderee National Park (a great area to see lots of lovely birds).

With just a few tiny suburbs and no heavy industry, the waters of the bay are crystal clear and unpolluted, making it a diving, snorkelling and dolphin-watching hotspot.  Even in the (relatively) busy harbour at Huskisson, the water is so clean that you can see fish and stingrays moving lazily through the water beneath the pier and boats.  At dusk, the harbour is the place to be as the dolphins pass through there regularly.

Further south you’ll find Hyam’s Beach.  Hyam’s Beach itself is relatively unpopulated by fish, but if you go to the smaller, less picturesque beach just to its north you’ll find a riot of fishy life.  The surf is a little rougher so I’d recommend it for good swimmers only.  Swimming in these waters I’ve seen multitudes of fish, including puffer fish, a turtle, several octopi, and a nurse shark.  That was a fairly disconcerting experience, but nurse sharks are relatively lazy and generally won’t bother humans.  In fact, you’re most likely to find them just chilling out on the bottom, which was what mine was doing on both occasions that I saw it.  That being said, they are still sharks and curiosity may lead them to have a nibble (with several rows of jagged, protruding teeth) so don’t go poking them or irritating them.

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A nurse shark relaxing on the sand, which was exactly what mine did.  See the video for this still at https://www.videoblocks.com/video/nurse-shark-resting-on-sandy-shallows-h55-ss4imqrssau.

Further out into the bay you are pretty much guaranteed a dolphin sighting.  Near Bowen Island you might spot a penguin, and in the turbulent waters around Point Perpendicular you will almost certainly see seals.  If you leave the bay and head out into deeper waters during whale season, you might have the good fortune to spot a humpback (on my second visit I saw a mother and baby).

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I’ve seen dolphins on every single visit.  Photo by my parents.

There is a PAADI diving shop in town, so you can do a “try it out” dive if you aren’t licensed.  If SCUBA isn’t your thing, there are plenty of places to snorkel, and even snorkelling classes and tours.  It’s different from tropical waters like the Great Barrier Reef, with its rainbow-hued fish and twisting coral.  In the temperate waters of the Bay, you’re more likely to see more subdued, silvery fish and long waving seaweed, but it is fascinating and beautiful in its own, different way.  Also, dolphins.  We saw a sea turtle on one visit, too.  Given how clear the water is, if you really hate getting wet, you will probably still see plenty of sealife from the deck of a boat, the pier at Huskisson or even climbing the rocks on the beaches.

Further out of town you also have the historic, convict-built Coolangatta Winery, with tours up Mount Coolangatta.  You’ve also got the whole of beautiful Shoalhaven on your doorstep.

Being primarily a tourist town, there are plenty of accommodation options.  Huskisson is the main tourist suburb due to the proximity to the harbour (all the water tours leave from Huskisson).  There’s also a great burger joint with vegan options there.  Vincentia has quieter beaches and a small shopping centre.  Hyam’s beach is smallest but I think has the nicest accommodation and the best beaches.  Unfortunately, it is the furthest from the main tourist sites.

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Hyam’s Beach Seaside Cottages.  They are truly picturesque and are nestled in amongst the trees the shortest possible distance from the beach.  Book here: http://www.hyamsbeachseasidecottages.com.au/cottages/

If you don’t have the gear you need (swimmers, sunscreen, surfboards, snorkelling kit etc), worry not – Jervis Bay does a thriving trade in such things.

I love the weather at Jervis.  Is it hot (I mean, it’s Australia) but generally not very humid, and by the water there is usually a cooler breeze.

For people with endo, I think this is a good holiday if you can deal with the journey there.  If you have a car I’d recommend taking it – yes, you can catch a bus or train in from Woolongong, Nowra and Sydney, but transport options within the Bay itself are fairly limited.  However, once you are there most things are a short drive or walk from where you are, and the main activities are very endometriosis-friendly.  Swimming?  Check.  Relaxing on beaches?  Check.  Sitting on a boat and watching dolphins?  Check, unless you are prone to seasickness.

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A Dolphinwatch boat passes the sheer cliffs at Point Perpendicular.  Dolphinwatch do a huge variety of water tours to suit most interest levels.  It’s well worth taking one if you love dolphins.

There are also some gentle walks available around areas like Booderee National Park, but some of them are a bit steeper.  Check the trail guide and choose wisely, or ask one of the guides.  The road to Point Perpendicular is very, VERY bumpy and requires a little walk at the end, so if a car bouncing up and down is going to cause pain for a touch-sensitive stomach, give the lighthouse a miss.

If you need a wheelchair, the streets of Huskinsson aren’t too bad, but Vincentia and Hyam’s Beach are a bit hilly.  Mostly, the little shopfronts along Huskisson’s main street aren’t built to accommodate wheelchairs.  More popular resorts such as Mollymook may be a better option for the wheelchair bound, although with support and determination I think Jervis Bay would be doable.

Jervis Bay is a destination that always makes me happy.  It is so incredibly beautiful.  I would really love to be able to spend a full week there some time and explore every beach and back road.  I’m always amazed that more people have never been.  I know that the South Coast is huge and has a million beautiful beaches to offer, but Jervis Bay is such a rich, unspoilt paradise that I wonder how long the secret can be kept.  Do yourself a favour – if you’re on the south-east coast, take a trip there.

 

On Top of the World: Booroomba Rocks

I write these posts on my weekend, and I’ve just written three back-to-back about work, so I think it’s time for a little holiday.  Last time I took you to far north Queensland; today, we go more than 2,500km south down the east coast and slightly inland, to the Australian Capital Territory.

In January this year, my four best friends and I travelled to a little campsite called Honeysuckle Creek.  If this was Australia in 1969, I think people would have gone, “Oh, that’s so cool!” My reaction in 2018 was just, “that sounds pretty.” (Spoiler alert: it is, although I did not find any honeysuckle).

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The elusive honeysuckle. I found none.

I did find a creek, though.  I don’t know if it is the Creek referenced in the name.

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A creek of sorts.

The reason it might have run bells is, back in 1969, Honeysuckle Creek was part of the NASA Tracking Network following the moon landing.  The movie “The Dish,” was actually based on events that happened at Honeysuckle, not out at Parkes in NSW.  Apparently it was a point of contention for the two stations.  Honeysuckle Creek relayed the first images of the moonwalk in Australia.

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Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station in its glory days.  The road, the base of the dish, the outline of the buildings, and the glorious mountains are all you will see there now.  Photo by Hamish Lindsay, originally published here: https://www.honeysucklecreek.net/station/index.html

Now, unfortunately, there’s nothing much left of the tracking station, but it is a charming campground.  It has one big area for camper vans and trailers, and some smaller areas for schmucks like us who used tents.

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If you stand where the dish used to be and look down, this is all that’s left of the building in the photo by Hamish Lindsay above.

It is very quiet and peaceful, with beautiful walking tracks, and kangaroos, wallabies and possums are pretty much guaranteed sights.  Unfortunately, so are redbacks, which were in the compost toilet blocks.  However, as long as you leave them alone, they leave you alone.  They aren’t hugely aggressive spiders and will generally just sit and judge you as you use the loo.  Mosquitoes are also a large part of the local population, so bring lots of repellent and anti-itchy lotion.

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Kangaroos just chilling around our firepit.  They later found the frying pan we hadn’t yet cleaned and supped on chilli-infused oil.  Two of them had a fight over it.  That night, a possum stole all our choc-chip biscuits then tried to run off with a bag of cashes, and one of my friends had to have a tug of war with it.

The campgrounds are surrounded by gorgeous walks in most directions.  You can walk in from Canberra itself, if you are a real sadist, climbing over a big old mountain to get there, but most people drive.  Alternatively, gluttons for punishment can use Honeysuckle Creek as a starting point for a 200km+ walk to the Snowy Mountains.  To nobody’s surprise, we did not do this.

Instead, we headed for Booroomba Rocks.  Most people drive in from Canberra, park at Booroomba car park, and then make the 2.5km climb to the top.  Instead, we walked the 5.25km from Honeysuckle to the carpark, then made the 2.5km climb.

The walk from Honeysuckle to Booroomba is beautiful and undulating rather than mountainous.  There were tiny gorgeous flowers poking out all around the track, multiple bridges over little streams, and dozens of native birds (mostly cockatoos, shrieking from the tops of trees).  On the way back, we saw a large red-belly black snake, but these are shy of humans and slithered off pretty smartly.  At one point, we stopped and introduced our most inexperienced friend to the joys of trying to pee in the bush (something she swears she will never willingly do again).  Ironically, had we just walked on another 100m we’d have been at Booroomba Rocks carpark and its compost loo.  We just couldn’t see it through the trees.

The walk up to Booroomba Rocks is also very pretty, but it is killer.  It is incredibly steep, alternating between little rocky steps and just plain old hill.  At one point near the top, we passed a tree with “send nudes” carved into it.  Comforting to know that the very best aspects of modern civilisation had made it into the Namadgi wilds.  At several points some of us nearly died from being unfit.

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A very sweaty me at the top of the climb.  Despite all expectations, including mine, I did not actually die.

When you do make it to the top, though, it is entirely worth it.  The view is spectacular.

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Misty mountains to the south.

You can see all the way to Canberra if you look north, or out over the Namadgi National Park to the east.  If you climb the southern tip of the rocks, which involves a fair deal of bush-bashing, you can see nothing but mountains and trees all the way to the horizon.

 

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Me on the southern tip, having nearly died once more trying to get there.

 

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Some bold adventurers scrambling up the cliff face.

Skinks of various sizes will keep you company on the rocks, and some mad rock-climbers will attempt the sheer cliff face on the eastern side.

 

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Lil’ skink buddy.

Would I advise someone who has recently had surgery or a bad flare-up to attempt this climb?  Heck no.  After we got back to camp (16km round trip for me because I stupidly climbed both peaks on Booroomba) I was in considerable uterusy pain.  I had to lie down and die some more for most of the afternoon to recover.  In retrospect, it was very silly of me to climb the second peak, particularly alone as I did.  However, if you have been going through a good patch and are relatively fit, and happen to be in the Canberra region at the time, this is a beautiful walk.

What about Honeysuckle Creek?  Well, you could camp there relatively comfortably if you aren’t suffering too badly.  You would absolutely want to bring a comfortable bed and buckets of peppermint tea, though.  And hand sanitiser or camp soap, because those are not provided.  That being said, if you are in enough pain that camping sounds intensely unappealing, camping is not for you anyway, and Honeysuckle Creek is no different in that regard. Camping is not endometriosis-friendly generally – there are no microwaves for our heat packs, no showers if you start bleeding, and the inside of a tent is not interesting at all if you do become bed-ridden.

On the plus side, it makes it easy to get that lost-in-the-bush, hours-from-civilisation feeling without actually being more than an hour away from the closest chemist, fast food store, and medical centre.  That makes it ideal for people with endometriosis who are relatively well, but want to balance safety with adventure.  It does have a compost toilet, which is a step-up from some camp grounds, and running water (albeit not much).  There are some gentle, easy local walks to try.

Ultimately, it has to be your call about your physical condition.  If you think it will be ok for you, give it a whirl, particularly if you are a Canberra local.  On the other hand, if you are in big pain, play it safe.

Have you tried any campsites that make camping more endo-friendly?  What walks in your area are worth the trip?