george hancock stefanMany years ago, I used to fly what was known as three pointers. I would fly from Chicago to Los Angeles, from Los Angeles to Miami, Florida, and then return to Chicago. The charge would be the same as one flight between two cities, although the airline would charge for the most expensive flight. My parents used to live in Los Angeles and I would go visit them and then fly to Miami, where a branch of the Romanian Missionary Society was located. That arrangement must have been not very profitable for the airline, because it disappeared after a couple of years.

When I tried to find something similar for my recent trip, I discovered that flying round trip to Beograd would be more than $600. But if I flew to Bucharest and returned from Beograd, the price would double. Therefore, my entrepreneurial accountant (my wife) suggested that I fly round trip to Beograd and then fly directly to Bucharest. Because I had a several meetings nearby and needed to stay close to the airport, I decided to stay at the Hilton Belgrade.

As someone who usually stays at a Motel 6, this hotel was a bit out of my league even though the price was very competitive with other hotels. The Hilton Belgrade has a fascinating history, especially in a bygone era when there was a group of countries called the non-aligned countries. These countries were neither capitalistic nor communistic. This group was made up of politicians such Nehru of India, Sukarno of Indonesia, Nasser of Egypt, Tito of Yugoslavia, and other leaders from Africa and Asia. They would meet for long conferences every four years. There was no hotel luxurious or spacious enough to accommodate them, so they had to build a new hotel. They quickly found capitalists willing to invest in building a Hilton Hotel in Belgrade. As the conference went into the final preparations, they received a request to build a huge tent outside the hotel because Gadaffi refused to live in a hotel for fear of being bugged. So, for the week that the conference was in session, Gadaffi and the Libyan delegation lived in a tent next door and he flew in a couple of camels for entertainment.

When I arrived on Friday afternoon, there were receptions all over in addition to a couple of conferences. The Hilton is frequently an international gathering place, but it seems that the dominant languages at this location were Serbian, English and Arabic. Here and there, I could hear a smattering of French.

In the late morning, as I was preparing to leave, I was surprised to see lots of young ladies with much older gentlemen. For a while I thought that this must have been a father-daughter banquet, but then I remember that one of the things that economics has brought to Eastern Europe was an influx of younger wives. The successful men have left their wives to marry younger wives and sometimes they just had their girlfriends with them for their weekend.

When I got to the airport, I followed my tradition and I bought books from the airport bookstore. I bought two books written by Serbian. A Guide to Serbian Mentality by Momo Kapur made me laugh during my flight to Bucharest and I finished it during the first week of my trip. I also bought The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric, for which he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961. The book was written after World War II by a Bosnian intellectual who sought to make sense of the Communist world. While reading this book on the flight home, I was reminded that my father served his military years divided between Banja Luka (Bosnia) close to the Drina River and Sremska Mitrovica (Serbia) where he guarded the government people that Marshall Tito imprisoned, including some of Tito’s closest friends.

The world that we see has been traveled and enjoyed by others before us and we follow in their footsteps.