Saturday, 22 October 2016

Travel: Slovenia | Part two

As you can see in part one, our first full day in Ljubljana saw us slowly exploring the city. Day two was the day we got to explore Slovenia more as we were picking up the hire car. After a slight snag, meaning more time for coffee, we were off to Lake Bled. 

Bled is about a 45 minute drive from Ljubljana so we were there in no time. Bled is probably one of the most touristy places in Slovenia, it had quite a resorty feeling to it with shops, hotels and restaurants in the drive down to the lakeside. Parking wasn't the easiest thing in the world but we finally found a space not too far from the centre of Bled and headed off in search of food. Rain eventually forced us to make a decision sharpish and we ended up sat outside a Mexican (I use that term very loosely) restaurant trying not to get rained on. I ordered a burrito...the beans and rice were amazing so there's that.

The theme of our holiday was humidity and Lake Bled didn't let up. We walked around the lake, which was utterly gorgeous. Lots of people were boating or swimming on the lake, it must be amazing to have something like that to go to if you're local. I'd looked at lots of photos of the lake before we went away but nothing compared to how it looked in person.

After Bled we took the advice of the apartment owner and drove to Lake Bohinj to see what the fuss was about, definitely the right decision. It's a smaller lake than Bled but just as beautiful and with far fewer tourists. We stopped for a quick coffee (I wanted hot chocolate but they don't do it in the summer) and a brief wander along the banks of the lake before heading back to Ljubljana.

After a day of walking and sightseeing it was definitely time to sample some traditional Slovenian food. We had walked past the Sokol Inn previously and I'd suggested that we go back to it as it was always busy, which has to be a good thing. This is the point where I'd show you the goulash Jon had and the schnitzel I had but we were too hungry to take photos and wolfed down our food along with Slovenian beer before taking a slow wander back to the apartment. 

The next day we drove to the Postojna Cave Park for a day of education and history, a castle carved into a cliff was involved so I was excited. I was also excited to see the famous 'dragons' of Postojna. You enter the caves with a group that speak your language so we boarded the train with the large English speaking group having been told to wrap up, there were even capes available to use if you hadn't brought warm clothes with you. As the train started moving deeper into the cave I suddenly really regretted wearing shorts, it was so cold! The train journey takes you so far through the cave giving you an amazing insight into the tunnel system until you disembark for a walking tour. 

After getting back out into the open air and warmth, we had a wait til our allotted coach time to take us to Predjama Castle so we grabbed some coffee and people watched for a while. The coach takes a 9km drive through the countryside to the castle, another storm was brewing so we got to see lightening striking the mountains nearby which made the experience incredibly atmospheric. 

Visiting the castle was a great experience, it was like something out of a scary vampire story. In reality the castle is famous for a robber who took refuge in the castle for a year in the 15th century. The castle has a cave system under it with a secret passage leading out to safety, so it's easy to see why he chose it.

The following day saw us drive to Piran, something I'd really been looking forward to but it wasn't quite what I expected...

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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Travel: Slovenia | Part one

At the end of July I headed on holiday for a week with Jon to Slovenia. We thought a lot about where to go for our summer holiday and picked Slovenia as Jon had ridden through part of it last summer when he rode the Transcontinental race between Belgium and Turkey. He'd stopped in Ljubljana and raved about how amazing it was but he didn't have enough time there to appreciate it. 

We flew out of Luton...hopefully for the last time. The whole experience that morning was awful, as I got into the taxi at the ungodly hour of 5am I dropped my phone and completely smashed the screen, then I had to deal with Luton airport. It was a learning experience, thank god has the patience of a saint and can deal with me when I'm sleep, caffeine and phone deprived. 

On arriving at Ljubljana we took a minibus taxi with other people from our flight to the city, the first thing I noticed was how warm it was and how overdressed I was. After the taxi dropped us off we headed towards the river and I spotted a coffee shop I'd read about before we went away so we stopped there for much needed coffee and a platter of cheeses and meats. I can confirm that Slovenska hisa definitely lived up to my expectations, it was the first of many visits that week.

We had rented an Airbnb apartment for our week in Ljubljana which was about a 20-30 minute walk to the centre of the city along the river. We met the owner of the apartment (which I strangely have no photos of) outside and he showed us around, he was on hand through the week if we wanted to text him to get trip suggestions which was great to know.

After dumping our things at the apartment and having a short rest we took a walk into the city, I finally got to see what Jon had been raving about. Ljubljana is beautiful!

On our first day we stayed in Ljubljana to explore the city. After breakfast we wandered slowly through the city, and decided to take the funicular up to Ljubljana Castle. This is a bit sad but I was super excited to go in the funicular as there's one featured in my favourite film (Grand Budapest Hotel) so I wanted to see what it was like. 

Kangaroo shaped water fountain anyone?

The views from the castle were amazing, you could see right over to the mountains miles away and glimpse the red roofs of the buildings in the old part of Ljubljana.

From the castle we went to find the rail station so we'd know where to pick up our hire car later in the week and then headed to Tivoli Park. We had intended to hire bikes and ride around but we couldn't find the docking stations, oops. Instead we went and found a tree to sit under as it was getting pretty humid, after a while of laying there the wind picked up and it felt like a storm was brewing. We decided to get moving (slowly thanks to my awful choice of shoes that day) back to the city to beat the storm. 

We decided to eat dinner at Fany & Mary's, definitely not traditional Slovenian food! As we sat and drank our beers and munched on pizza the storm rolled in and the most amazing thunder and lightening raged overhead. It was a great experience. 

The next instalment of my trip to Slovenia will be coming up soon!

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Wednesday, 13 July 2016

I ride now

Earlier this year I bought my first (as an adult) bike. After spending enough time with Jon, borrowing my boss' mountain bike (which I fell off and face planted the floor of the Forest of Dean) and spending my time at Battle on the Beach pootling around on a cyclocross bike I really, really wanted to get my own. I missed the feeling I got as a kid of tearing around on a bike, it felt natural to be on one again. 

I don't know the technicalities of bikes, when I listen to Jon talk enthusiastically with his friends about bikes I don't get most of it, but I do know how much I'm enjoying it. I got into the velothon that went through my town earlier this year, I stood on the side of the mountain with some friends to cheer Jon on and then walked back into town to watch the pros come through. I've been watching the Tour de France on TV after work, I'm going to the velodrome in Newport next week to watch the Team GB women train. 

After Battle on the Beach we spent one Saturday visiting a few bike shops in Cardiff. Tredz put me on a lovely Cannondale and declared it to be the right wasn't. Two independent shops just didn't have anything that I fancied. It wasn't until Jon had a brainwave, why was I looking for another bike when I had enjoyed the cyclocross at Battle on the Beach so much? We headed off to Tongwynlais to visit his friend so I could potter up and down the street on his Genesis and I was sold. We drove down to the Bike Shed in Pontcanna and purchased me a Genesis CDA 10.  I call her Betty. It's love.

Since getting Betty I've joined Caerphilly Cycling Club, taken her up to Coed y Brenin mountain biking trail centre where I took on the blue trail and had "Hard core!" shouted at me by a passing mountain biker. She's so much fun.

As much as I love Betty I've come to the conclusion that mountain biking may have edged road riding for my top spot. I decided that I would get a mountain bike so I didn't have to keep renting them (taking on the red trail at Coed y Brenin never could have happened on Betty, so I hired a full suspension bike for that). I recently spent a night and the following day in a field in Bristol at the Bristol Bikefest and was inspired by the women taking part, there aren't many of them and it's definitely a bit of a boys club, but I wanted to be out there with them. 

Last week I turned 31. A few days before my birthday when Jon arrived for the weekend he gave me my birthday present a bit early. I've named her Bertha. 

She's built by Jon and is the most comfortable bike I've been on so far. I've been out once with her up to castle woods near Tongwynlais and had a blast, it wasn't the easiest ride as I was still in the full throes of a horrid cold, but man, when I got going I was in my element. I'm sure I stand out a bit with long blonde pigtails but the boys are going to need to get used to it. 

In a few weeks Jon are off on our first holiday, first to Slovenia and then to North Wales. We were initially going to the Lake District but after spending a few hours out on the trails on Sunday I really wanted to camp somewhere within driving distance of Coed y Brenin. It's not an easy trail centre, not for me anyway, and I fully anticipate coming home with legs covered in bruises and being tired but I'm so looking forward to more adventures on my bikes.

My blog is likely to take more of a cycling/camping/Cheryl is having adventures feel to it in the coming months, I'm still not sure what to do with it. I feel like it needs another re-name and re-brand to link up with the change of direction but that's a matter for another time. 

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Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Roaccutane update - five months

So apparently I’ve not blogged since February, despite saying I would blog my Roaccutane journey and despite me getting up to all sorts since then.

I thought I’d start off with a Roaccutane catch up and then dedicate another post/s to what else has been going on lately.

As of 13 June I’m five months into my treatment. The awful, awful purge I experienced early this year eased off almost overnight. I’ve been left with quite red/scarred skin but it’s able to be covered with make up fairly easily. At my last appointment I saw the registrar (who of course had stunning skin) who firstly told me off for taking my make up off with wipes. Caroline Hirons would have been proud of the grief she gave me. I politely informed her that I think wipes are the devil but I had been to work that morning and plain old water wasn’t about to get my make up off for her. She decided that she wanted to up my dose to 40mg a day from 20mg but didn’t seem confident in making that decision herself so she called in my consultant who suggested 40mg a day would be good but if I found it too drying I could do 20mg one day and 40mg the next. I’ve opted for the latter and within days of starting the new dose noticed a dramatic difference in how dry my skin and lips became, I’ve also been experiencing small spots along my jaw line but otherwise it’s been going ok.

I’m a long way from being able to go make up free, which by this time last time I was on these meds I was able to, but hopefully one day I’ll feel confident enough in my skin not to worry about it. I’m going back to the hospital for another appointment tomorrow but it feels like progress is slow this time around so I’m predicting staying on the medication for a while longer.

I’m fairly sure that at some point I said I’d explain what my skin care routine is on Roaccutane but as I’m currently only using three products on my skin it’s going to be quick!

Pre cleanse
I’m currently using the Emma Hardie balm, which is gorgeous. I’ve been using this since my skin flared up around Christmas and I’m finding that it’s helping my skin feel not quite as dry as it could. It’s going to run out soon and is too expensive for me to replace at the moment so I’m thinking about swapping to the Boots Botanics balm as I’ve heard good things about that.

As basic as you get! I’m using Cetaphil cleanser, which is aimed at sensitive and dry skins. My skin really feels much better after using this. I had tried using the Superfacialist cleanser with rose but that just made my skin sting so I went back to Cetaphil.

Good old E45! That’s it. Nothing fancy, no toning of any kind. It’s a very basic three step as my skin can’t handle any more going onto it, I tried toning for a few days maybe a month or so ago but my skin hated it so that stopped sharpish.
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Thursday, 18 February 2016

Roaccutane update: month one

Week one

Within two days of starting the medication my skin really calmed down, which to be honest I think was down to the steroids rather than the Roaccutane. The awful skin I’d been dealing with made way for small breakouts on my chin and right cheek, but despite having lots of smaller breakouts it was better than what I had on my face over Christmas. After one full week of taking the Roaccutane and three steroid tablets a day my chin felt like it was on fire.

Week two

Week two saw my dose of steroids drop to two tablets a day and my chin area pretty much exploding, it was incredibly painful and covered in lots of small under the skin spots. Some would come up to a head and I’d generally wake up to around two new whiteheads each morning (sorry guys, didn't say this was going to make pretty reading but may as well be truthful). I'm not sure if it was a knock on from the medication or from how upsetting I found this initial breakout, but I spent the week exhausted and overly emotional. The area where my original cyst was became really red and this area spread out along my jaw.

Week three

Week three was a mixed bag, whilst my chin was really red and inflamed the pain had subsided. I dropped to one steroid a day, which was scary as these were what was originally keeping my skin under control. I experienced fewer whiteheads but still lots of under the skin spots, my skin definitely looked worse with make up on but I wanted to hide the redness when I was out.

Week four

Week four meant stopping the steroids, I took my last one on the Tuesday and hoped for the best. On my first steroid-less day I woke up with my skin looking a little better, it was definitely smoother in places. However, the area where I'd experienced the worst of my Christmas breakout was starting to flare up again. It looked like a cyst was brewing under the surface, it was tight and I was very aware of it when I moved my mouth. By the end of the day it had thankfully eased off but not after some absolute grossness I had to deal with in work, I'll spare you the details.

I've got a long, long way to go. From reading the experiences of other people it seems like the first month of Roaccutane is the worst for an initial breakout, so I'm currently living in hope that from now on things will get better. I've had my first dermatology appointment, the consultant agreed that my skin is looking better than the last time he saw me. He's prescribed three months of 20mg tablets to be taken once a day as he thinks that increasing the dose will cause my skin to flare up even more. My next follow up is in two months time when I'm hoping I can go to the appointment without make up but we'll see if that's a bit far fetched.

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Thursday, 4 February 2016

Roaccutane Update: the initial breakout

I hadn't intended on doing an interim update on how I'm getting on with my treatment, my plan with blogging the process was to update on a monthly basis on how I've been getting on that month. However, I felt compelled to update on my experience with the dreaded initial breakout or purge that people who take this drug talk about.

As of yesterday I'm three weeks into my treatment and it hasn't been plain sailing. The first time I took Roaccutane I didn't experience a purge, this time I think my skin is making up for it. Despite the breakout that prompted my dermatologist to put me on the drug calming down within days (probably due to the steroids) going into week two my chin exploded. It was incredibly painful and covered in lots of under the skin spots, I was waking up with fresh spots coming up every morning.

The middle of week three saw me head off to do my first aid refresher course on what I believed to be the worst day of this initial breakout. There’s nothing like being in a room with a bunch of strangers having to perform CPR on a dummy with the fear of a) having to put my chin close to the dummy and potentially knocking my skin, which would be painful, along with the risk of my make up rubbing off and b) knowing the dummy had been rubbed down with a wipe that probably wouldn't do my skin much good was genuinely awful.

Following the CPR practice we had to buddy up and perform the recovery position on each other, it was at this point that I honestly felt like walking out of the training. When you’re experiencing such bad skin as I am you don’t even want to go out in public, let alone have a total stranger look down on your face from above. I felt low, really, really low. It was this week that I also started developing slightly larger under the skin spots as well as the smaller ones. My bottom lip also really dried out, I’m currently rotating three different lip balms, I'm planning on doing a post on what products I've been using so I'll save the detail for that.

Day 19 was a stand-out day. I was spending the weekend in Bristol and as soon as I woke up I knew things were bad without needing to look in the mirror. It was probably the lowest point in my treatment so far. After getting out of bed and looking at myself in the mirror I just wanted to get in my car and drive home to hide away in my house. Instead, I went down to the kitchen and cried.

That episode has really made me think about how acne affects me:

I walk with my head down in public and sometimes in work when I'm having a bad day

I try to avoid looking people in the eye

I've been putting off getting my hair coloured for a month - I'm finally doing it on Saturday but I'm honestly dreading it, two hours looking at myself in the mirror won't be easy

The feeling of wanting to call into work sick because I'm having a particularly bad day has happened twice, and on both ocassions I've forced myself to go in

Bright light is now the enemy

The wind causes my skin to sting

I'm hyper-sensitive to my hair brushing against my chin

I feel like people are looking at me and wondering if I have some weird skin disease (which I guess technically I do)

I obsess over the state of other people's skin and feel jealous of people with smooth skin, my skin hasn't been smooth since November

Telling myself that this will all be over soon is pretty much the only thing getting me through it, it's not been an easy few weeks and at the moment it doesn't seem like it's going to get better any time soon. I have weekends away coming up and I would so love to have cleared up by then, the almost constant obsessing over my skin is wearing thin.

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Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Back on Roaccutane

Back in 2009 I was prescribed Roaccutane (Isotretinoin) for a few months due to a diagnosis of cystic acne. I didn't complete the course (complete the course people!) but my skin was crystal clear, allowing me to go out without make up. I endured incredibly dry skin, my skin peeled pretty much everywhere including the palms of my hands, my lips were in an awful state from being so dry and somewhat scarily my cholesterol raised.

For those of you who haven't come across Roaccutane (I'm going to use the brand name rather than actual name throughout my blog as it's the one people recognise the most), it's used to treat cystic/nodular acne that won't respond to other treatment such as creams or antibiotics. It's a type of retinoid and works by lowering the amount of sebum you produce, if your body produces too much it can cause acne. Roaccutane isn't something to start using lightly, it's a pretty hard core medication. It will kick your arse while you're on it unless you're one of the incredibly lucky people who don't suffer from any side effects from it. 

Some of the most common side effects are joint pain, eye redness, nosebleeds, extremely dry lips and dry skin. One of the most well known, but rare, side effects of this drug is a change to mental health. It's safe to say that Roaccutane is a controversial drug due to the incidence of depression and suicide. 

I've been lucky to see a dermatologist privately after a proper beast of a cyst popped up on my face last September/October (I ended up naming him Mr Lumpy) following months of antibiotics - don't do it kids, GPs are great but for goodness sake see a dermatologist - and the cyst not shifting I went to an appointment where it was injected with steroids there and then. All was going well until December when my skin lost the plot, Christmas was a particular low point for me. I was at the start of a new relationship and already having to walk around the house with no make up on just to give my skin a break, I think it's fair to say I've found a goodun with the support he's given me. Last night I went for a second check up on the cyst but as soon as my dermatologist saw me he declared my skin "out of control" and immediately suggested steroids and Roaccutane. 

For the last week my skin had completely lost it, my chin and jaw have been completely covered in cysts with some coming out. It was a whole world of pain, to an extent that it has been waking me up at night and early in the morning, I've been popping painkillers at an alarming rate just to be able to eat and talk. 

With a private prescription in hand I was ordered to the local university hospital pharmacy to get the medication right away this morning. After an hour wait I came away with a month's worth of Roaccutane as well as steroids as my dermatologist had explained that if I went straight on the Roaccutane on it's own my skin would get worse as it's so active, so I have three weeks of a decreasing dose of steroids to take as well.

I have no doubt that the next six months are going to be difficult at times, especially when the side effects kick in, but I know I can get through it and in the end it'll be worth it. The last few weeks I've struggled to leave the house, I've not wanted to look at people in the eye and honestly, when it's painful to eat you know you've had enough.

My plan is to update this every month, I'm going to take a photo with no make up on once a week so I can document the progress I'm making. I've not decided if I'll share these photos yet but hopefully I'll be a place where I feel confident enough to do that at some point.

My next appointment is in a month, I'll be going to the hospital fasted in order to have the first lot of bloods taken so they can keep an eye on my liver function. After that I'm off to West Wales for the weekend so at least I'll have that to take my mind off the blood test (I'm pretty rubbish with them).

Hopefully 2016 will be the year I finally clear my skin.

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