Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance


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Now, I shall apologise in advance for the contents of this first part of this post: they are about weeing. This is important and useful medical knowledge which may come in handy at some point in your lives (bladders weaken with age, you know). Skip over at your peril.

As a consequence of my kidney disease, it is recommended that I drink 3 litres of water per day. The general recommendation for any person is 2 litres, which is hard enough, but 3 litres is something else. I fail at this task almost everyday. On a good day, I guzzle a litre at a time and then nothing to several hours, because I forget. This is pointless as the body cannot utilise large quantities of water in one go. Today, I introduced a new strategy by setting an alarm on my phone every hour on the hour and when it goes off I drink a cup of water. This is how I shall live my life from now on. If you ever meet me and this happens, please know that this is part of me maintaining the function of my kidneys and not being a freaky, routine-obsessed weirdo – in this instance.

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Today, we went for a walk, which turned out to be over 9 miles. Every hour on the hour, I drank a cup of water. In between every hour, I did at least one wee. I did seven al fresco wees in a five hour period, which works out as 14 wees in a full day. My alfresco wees were mostly next to olive trees. Next time you eat an olive, it may be from a tree that was irrigated by me. Think about that. No need to thank me. I was doing myself a favour.

Managing my fluid intake in this fashion is so much easier in the countryside. It is also cheaper; in major cities it can cost 30p for a wee: that’s £4.20 a day for 14 wees, £1533 per year. That’s the price of a decent holiday (everything in life should be measured in holidays). Taking care of your health is expensive, unless you’re willing to get arrested by squatting next to a hedge in a suburban street.

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Final serious note about water intake: drinking even the recommended two litres of water a day really does make a massive difference to well-being, brain clarity and mood. Give it a try. But make sure you have 30p handy.

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We walked south from Gythio around the coast and up and back in a circle. The sun was out and the temperature was the warmest we have had so far. What a difference a bit of blue sky makes. This coast is just fabulous, another discovery, as we’ve never been here before or even considered it.

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This is the beach at Mavrovouni, 4 km long of sand and, even on a January day, deep blue sea. Coincidentally (or was it?), the only two people we saw on the whole stretch (we walked the entire length), were having a wee. Maybe they too were on a kidney management system. Solidarity, brothers.

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At the back edge of the beach are a row of houses and a few rooms to rent along with the odd bar. This would be an amazing spot to find yourself for a holiday. I can’t imagine it ever gets really busy. The notice board on the beach said that it was a sea turtle nesting beach and that dolphins sometimes pop by. This is a real slice of unspoilt Greece.

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The beach overlooks the Mani Penisula, a wild, mountainous region with ridge-top villages and stunning scenery. That will have to wait until another time.

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The only thing to distract you from your lazy days would be the odd cat in an old, abandoned Mercedes.

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Our walk passed by many prickly pears, ripe and ready to eat on their cactus plants. They are delicious, like a cross between a banana and an apple or pear (duh!). And they are free. Don’t try it though, please. In Morocco, street vendors sell them all smooth and prickle-free for 1 dirham (7p) a piece, so a few years ago on a holiday to Paxos, Greece, I thought that I could benefit from this free food source and pick my own. Despite the surface looking entirely smooth, they are covered in the tiniest spines, hundreds of them which get stuck in your skin and, being virtually invisible, are impossible to remove. I learned this through experience and got covered in them trying to be Ray Mears. It took days to get rid of the spines from my hands and arms.

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So… today, knowing all of this, I had another go. I know, it makes no sense, but I just really wanted one. And I thought these ones might be different. Or something. I don’t think the photograph adequately shows the multiple spines on my finger.

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Now, none of this would have happened if I’d have listened to Baloo. 1.21 in and he tells us exactly how to deal with a prickly pear. Just need to grow my fingernails longer.

We wandered home through miles of olive and orange trees. The olives were being harvested in great sheets on the ground. We later walked past the local press and smelled them all being processed. The trees were loaded with them. I don’t think I did a wee under this tree, although they do all look the same.

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We had a pathetic (by our exacting standards) picnic by the side of the road which comprised of two tiny pieces of French toast stolen from the hotel breakfast room along with some stolen peach jam, some Christmas chocolate (still going strong – the mince pies became extinct in Athens), some almonds from Morocco and some old crisps.

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Whilst sat by the road we talked about the Buddhist meditation book I read in Morocco – I have yet to actually meditate, but I’m thinking about it – and about how Zen the moment was as it felt as though, although we were sat on a deserted country roadside, all manor of life and change was happening around us: birds, crickets, moving leaves, chainsaws in the distance. There was no need to seek entertainment, possession or concern ourselves with the past or the future: now was all that mattered. And now felt perfect. We had a thought that we might never leave that spot and might sit there forever, just ‘being’. Perhaps people would eventually bring us food parcels, which might be an improvement on the French toast. We sat there for quite some time, but then the alarm on my phone went off and I knew that within ten minutes I would need another wee.

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Back to Gythio for a room dinner of Cup-A-Soup, bread and cheese for tea with a Greek yogurt and honey chaser. Off on the road again tomorrow to start to earn our keep.




The Narrowest Hotel in the World (maybe)

The Narrowest Hotel in the World (maybe)

We so nearly left our hotel on New Year’s Eve just before midnight to experience Athens celebrating the start of 2015, but it was cold, and we still had mince pies and we had to get up at 6.30am to try and get back to the airport to pick up our hire car for the rest of our trip. So, staying in the warmth(?) of our hotel room was an easy choice. We’ve seen fireworks before, not over the Acropolis, I grant you, but hey, with tea and mince pies on offer, it was a tough call.

For this trip, we managed to remember our travel kettle. Few European hotels have tea and coffee making facilities and the kettle, teabags and milk save us a load of cash on buying hot drinks and mean we can have our own in bed at night. We steal sugar from hotel dining rooms and cafes where we can. Our piece de resistance for this trip – a trick probably known to more worldly travellers already – is that any old plastic card will do to keep the electricity in the room activated. We got fed up with the heater going off when we went out of the room, meaning we were freezing when we returned. Exchanging the hotel key card for a plastic loyalty card meant the the heater remains on and we return to a toasty, warm room.

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So, fully laden, and in the rain we set off to find that the Metro was running as normal on January 1st even though it was a Bank Holiday (hurray), but that it just didn’t go to the airport (boo), so we had a further walk to find the bus (X95, €5) which started its journey empty and pleasant and ended it’s journey so unbelievably full that we had our rucksacks on our laps and I couldn’t look past mine as I’d knew I’d have a panic attack because the bus was so rammed full of people.

Athens seemed to have cured itself of its traffic problems on New Year’s Day, the only people we saw were making their way home, mostly walking, in that particular manner where it looks like the top half of your body is moving faster than your legs, in a constant stumbling fashion whereby every now and again you have to do a little run to get your legs to catch up. 100% alcohol induced.

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We picked up the hire car at 9am from a bloodshot eyed young man who really must have wanted to still be in bed and headed off in the Peloponese for a 150 mile drive to Gythio on the top edge of the Mani Peninsula in Laconia. It was a spectacular drive, mostly full of snow-topped mountains and endless olive groves. We love it. Keith spoke to the cashier in the petrol station who said that he worked 28 16 hour shifts every month and earned €580 (£450) a month. He said he used to work for a Ducati franchise, but lost his job when it closed down; as did 29 of the 30 vehicle franchises in the area. He was 45 years old, the same age as Keith. We felt sad, fortunate and – for me – cross with myself for how much I moan about my working life. Perspective is necessary at times.

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We have to cross the Corinth Canal which connects the Ionian and Aegean Seas via a 6km long dug trench. It is very narrow and very deep. Quite a feat of engineering, but probably quite claustrophobic in a little yacht sailing along the bottom. Keith is hugely impressed by the canal.

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We arrive in Gythio, picked at random from a map of the Peloponnese, as we had an extra two days to fill before going to our work exchange hosts. Turns out it was a good choice. We are staying in the narrowest hotel in Europe (probably). It is only one room plus a corridor wide, which means every room has a balcony and sea view.

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The Hotel Aktaion (£29 for double room including breakfast) boasts many facilities, however, we did not see any evidence of music apart from an ancient box on the wall of the room which didn’t work. There was a game of Trivial Pursuit in Reception though (English version, not Greek, for goodness sake).The Narrowest Hotel in the World (maybe) - 08
It does have this view from the balcony, so we’ll forgive them for the music. We saw a kingfisher on this wall and were very excited about that. That’s all it takes. Being a person easily excited by small things makes for a much more interesting life than for the not easily impressed.

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We like our accidental finding of Gythio. It has an amphitheatre not quite of the scale of Athens, but interesting nevertheless. The amphitheatre is next to some kind of military establishment, which are not permitted to be photographed by law. Our solitary presence at the amphitheatre with a camera caused a man with a gun to come and ‘clarify the situation’. They might want to move themselves or the amphitheatre if they’re going to get the willies every time someone comes to look at it. It’s been there for some time and there is a sign directing people towards it. Maybe no one ever comes to look at it. I like to think we made all that training worthwhile.

No military personnel were harmed in the taking of this photograph.

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There are numerous restaurants, bars and rooms to rent for a probably busy summer season. Not today though; we sit alone in a restaurant – an early treat for Keith’s birthday in a couple of day’s time.

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It’s lovely to be out of Athens and to be somewhere with more open countryside and quiet streets. If we hadn’t already decided to move to Portugal, I think we’d be in danger of wanting to live here. Sadly, for my special interest, there are no estate agents in sight, so we’re safe for now. But that one with the roof and windows looks quite nice…

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