Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’

Don’t bother knockin’ if my brain is rockin’

March 26, 2010
I was thrilled to be able to get the word out via a story in the Washington Post’s health section (reprinted below) about the crazy travel-related illness that I and others suffer from.  It’s called Mal de Debarquement, or MdDS, and is commonly (but not exclusively) triggered by going on a cruise. The main symptom is a constant rocking feeling, like you’re still on the boat. My big news is that I think the disease goddess chose to reward me for writing the story, because my “motion hallucination” seems to have finally dissipated after six months.  Read on if you’re interested in this fascinating blip of the brain, and spread the word so doctors will finally believe us!

Rare disorder makes people feel off balance for weeks or months

By Diane Daniel
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 16, 2010 

When Claudette Broyles tries to describe to friends how she feels, she likens herself to a balloon on a string, tied to a post.

“I’m constantly rocking and swaying, but the level changes,” said Broyles, 60, of Woodstock, Va. “If I’m having an average day, then it’s like I’m a balloon in a mild breeze. If I’m having a bad day, it’s like it’s really windy.”

I hadn’t heard the balloon analogy before, but I could relate.

This sailing trip in the Virgin Islands triggered my second bout of MdDS, in 2003

Broyles and I suffer from mal de debarquement syndrome (MdDS), an uncommon balance disorder that one researcher describes as “motion hallucination.” For weeks, months or even years at a time, we feel that we are rocking, bobbing, swaying, even though diagnostic tests for balance, hearing and vision show up normal. The name for the illness is French for “disembarkation sickness,” so called because it most frequently occurs after being on a boat.

Of course, many people have experienced the swaying sensations that occur just after a boat trip. But for those with MdDS, that feeling doesn’t let up; it persists with varying degrees of severity, causing everything from clumsiness to the inability to walk without some kind of support.

Just how many sufferers there are is unknown, says neurologist Yoon-Hee Cha, who this year launched a study funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, the first time federal money has been used for research into the syndrome.

“We don’t know how many people suffer from MdDS since many people are not able to get the right diagnosis,” she said. “Until there is more widespread familiarity among physicians, we won’t know for sure.” She isn’t sure who gave MdDS its name, but she believes it was first diagnosed in the late 1980s.

Cha, of UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, uses neuro-imaging to try to identify the location in the brain affected during MdDS episodes, with the hope of finding a treatment and a cure.

“It’s a real disorder, even though patients don’t look sick. It’s still very under-recognized among physicians, so a lot of patients are educating their doctors about it,” she said.

Broyles is going through her fifth round of MdDS in 28 years. Most episodes, she believes, were triggered by boats, but the latest occurred after a turbulent flight from England. The first two subsided within a few weeks, and the other two within six months. Her most recent? It has lasted eight years — so far. The disorder prompted her to move from Fairfax to slower-paced Woodstock and has altered her life in many areas, she said.

(more…)

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In the Maine woods, with snow and wine

March 8, 2010

Here we go! Wessel snowshoes to the hut carrying a backpack and skis

While spring is in the air (yay!), my thoughts are still with the winter wonderland we recently submerged ourselves in at Maine Huts and Trails, near Maine’s western mountains. For now, the four-season system contains 30 miles of trails and two full-service off-the-grid lodges, or “huts.” At some point, it hopes to grow to a dozen lodges covering 180 miles. You can go to one at a time, or hike or ski between them. And, yes, the ski trail is groomed.

I learned about it last year, when one of my professional organizations, the Society of American Travel Writers, gave Maine Huts a Phoenix Award for outstanding conservation efforts. As an awards judge, I read detailed information about the environmental practices, including solar energy, geothermal heating, and composting toilets (love those!). I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.

A glimpse of Flagstaff Lake Hut through the woods. Lodge is more like it

Wessel and I were there the last two days of February for a Washington Post travel story, so I’ll save the details for that. We aren’t strong skiers, so decided to stay at one hut and explore around there instead of attempting to ski 10 miles to the other hut. We chose Flagstaff Lake Hut over Poplar Stream Falls Hut because it’s a flat area. For ski weenies like us (especially me), the cross-country skiing from that lodge was non-life-threatening and sublime.

The hardest part of the weekend was the hour-long schlep in from the car on snowshoes, carrying loaded backpacks with our skis and poles strapped on the back. Agony. Most skiers just ski the 1.7 miles in from the parking lot, but I would have ended up like a turtle on my back, yelling at Wessel to please roll me over and set me upright again.

Diane skis over bridge across creek

We were lucky to have nice temps (high 30s!) with fresh snow both nights, so the mornings before the meltdown were transformative. The world was all white, with snow weighing down the branches and covering the ground. We had a blast skiing on the gentle trail that runs along the lake, which, in the summer, you can swim in. Closer to the lodge, we snowshoed out to a piece of land jutting into the lake. Dunes of wind-swept snow rose along the banks and a white backdrop shone as far as the eye could see. Sublime.

Beauty from the banks of Flagstaff Lake

The cost is about $75 a person per night for a private room and a yummy breakfast and dinner. As of this winter, the huts can also serve beer and wine. Woo-hoo! The rooms range from three beds to family size and are pretty stark, but staying inside isn’t the point here. While I think anytime but mud season or black-fly season would be a draw, if you can come when there’s snow, you will be enchanted. That’s a promise.

 

Tides Hotel Waterfront? We think not

January 10, 2010

Ground view from hotel to the water

What do you think? Is the Tides Hotel Waterfront justified in calling itself waterfront even though the hotel has a busy six-lane road (US Highway 1) between it and the Indian River?

I and several of my professional travel-writing colleagues say it’s not, because “waterfront” means that a place is on the water — not near the water, across the street from it, or within view of it. That would be “water view.” When Wessel and I pulled up to the “waterfront” hotel, in Melbourne, Fla., where we had reservations for two nights, we felt we’d been tricked.

View from the waterside looking at the hotel. Be careful crossing the road!

Not surprisingly, the misleading moniker was only one of our problems with the Tides.

Overall, their claim of being a boutique hotel is ludicrous. Fauxtique is more like it. Playing club music in the lobby and decorating with fake plastic grass doesn’t fool anyone.

The worst of the offenses? The shower was lukewarm. (When we complained, we were told we should first run it for 20 minutes! Can you imagine?) The wireless service worked in the lobby but not in our fifth-floor room. (We were told it must be a problem with our computers.) The meager cold breakfast was on par with a low-end Days Inn. Every employee had a different excuse for everything. I had to argue for a partial refund.

To be a boutique hotel, one needs more than fake-grass decorations

Adding fuel to my fire, the owners, Landcom Hospitality Management in Jacksonville, won’t return my calls. In my years of consumer advocacy, whether private or public, I’ve never had a company not return my call. And this is a hotel management outfit. Wow.

Why were we there in the first place? I’m writing a travel piece on Melbourne and the “Space Coast” for the Washington Post. Part of the theme is how downtown Melbourne has come of age. After Googling around, I stumbled upon the website for Tides Hotel Waterfront and read it was Melbourne‘s “only boutique hotel,” and “luxurious” at that. I thought it would be a great example for the story. The opposite  turned out to be true.

We've seen much better at a Days Inn

In all my years of travel, I’ve never seen such a blatant case of hotel deception in the US. This will teach me to study Google Satellite and read Trip Advisor first. I would have read these earlier comments:

“It’s waterfront if you don’t mind looking across and listening to US Route 1, a six-lane road. What a bogus claim.”

View from the fifth floor. Water view? Yes. Waterfront? What do you think?

“The advertising overstated the deliverables — waterfront really meant a four-lane highway between the hotel and the water; boutique really meant remodeled with new paint, fixtures, and furniture, but the hotel still feels like a 1970s concrete block motor inn. As an example, breakfast was prepackaged muffins and pastries along with styrofoam cups for your coffee and juice. This is not what I had in mind when I saw the word ‘boutique.’ ”

I would invite Landcom to remove “Waterfront” from the hotel’s name, along with the “boutique” claims — or start living up to them. Shame on Landcom if they keep up the charade.

Circulating in DC

January 11, 2008

I drove to DC for a weekend last month, my first visit to our nation’s capital in a couple years. I had many stops to make on Monday before heading home to North Carolina. From my digs in Chevy Chase, DC (thanks, Markoes!), I was to start at the “soon-to-open” Newseum near the Mall for a sneak preview at 10 a.m., then go to the Washington Post at 15th between L and M for lunch with my former Boston Globe travel editor and the current Post food editor Joe Yonan (I also finally met my Post travel editor John Deiner), and next head over to Georgetown to see a relative. I hoped to accomplish all this before afternoon rush hour.

I asked my DC pals which transportation to use and everyone had the same advice: “Park in Georgetown and take the Circulator.”The DC Circulator bus service The what? The DC Circulator is a tourist-friendly two-year-old bus service in DC with three lines that bridge popular stops: Convention Center-Waterfront, Georgetown-Union Station, and Smithsonian-National Gallery of Art. It runs every 10 minutes, stops frequently, and costs $1 a ride. Day and mutli-day passes are available, too. (All-day parking in Georgetown was a reasonable $12. Or was it $15? Ooops, I forgot!) While I had to change lines once, the bus strategy worked well, thanks especially to the helpful passenger on my first ride. And the Circulators are right purty too. They’re bright red, with oversized windows and doors.

Amazingly, I was on the road by 3 p.m., though I didn’t really leave DC until 3:30 because I somehow managed to get onto 395 North instead of South and ended up back in the city. That’s the kind of circulating I don’t advise.