Oh, what a horrible way to start my Balkans Road trip. The trip began the day after my birthday, but what a miserable birthday it was.
Read more from my classic trip report through the Balkans
I have this skin condition called erythropoietic protoporphyria (EEP)…it’s absolutely handicapping and is triggered by sun exposure. Well, I spent my birthday driving from Frankfurt to the Black Forest to meet Heidi’s parents, stopping to cut flowers in a field, and then sitting outside in their beautiful garden.
Oh, did I have a skin reaction…
These skin reactions generally last 24-48 hours and are marked by unrelenting, intense pain…it feels like my hands are on fire. Literally.
When this happens…and this has been a struggle all my life…I take antihistamines and sleep it off. Sleep is the process by which the body corrects itself.
And I have a mild version of this genetic defect…
For any dermatologists out there, if you ever hear of any treatment options for EEP, please do let me know. People ask me why I don’t like beaches and I usually just say the sun doesn’t agree with me. That’s quite an understatement…
And of course here I was heading to the Balkans for a week in the height of August heat.
Life cannot just be lived indoors, though I have seriously considered re-locating to a region that offers far more clouds and rain than direct sunlight.
Anyway, what made this trip difficult was that when I have a reaction, I must take myself out of the sun. Fully. While it takes extended exposure to the sun to trigger my reaction, once a reaction occurs even one minute in the sun can greatly exacerbate it.
So you can appreciate the dilemma. Had this happened today, I’d just cancel the trip. Simple. Done.
But in the indiscretion of my youth, I decided to proceed anyway. Now it ended up working out okay, but it was a foolish risk in retrospect.
From Frankfurt I flew to Belgrade in Lufthansa Business Class. Want to know how bad I was feeling? My flight was oversold and Lufthansa was offering 400EUR cash to fly JAT (the precursor to Air Serbia) a few hours later. Cash plus the chance to review a new airline? That’s usually a no-brainer for me, but I declined it. I just wanted to get Belgrade, get to the Hyatt, and sleep this off.
Lunch was served on the flight, though I did not touch it…you don’t really think about eating when your hands are on fire.
We landed in Belgrade. I did not even argue with one of the crooked taxi touts inside the terminal because I didn’t want to deal with it and he only wanted $10 to take me to my hotel.
I checked into the Hyatt Regency Belgrade, took a few pictures of my room, and loaded up on Benadryl. It was the middle of the afternoon and I soon fell asleep and did not awake until morning…16 hours later.
And a lovely view outside…
Yes, talk about a great first day of a trip.
But things would start looking up from there.