Wednesday evening I arrived home to Chicago safe and sound. There was some drama along the way, but it clearly all turned out for the best. Here is more or less what happened on the way.
I left Manga at about 8:45 in the morning to catch the Jat bus from Slavija to Nikola Tesla International Airport. I got on the shuttle just as it was leaving but arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. A warning to travelers, the airport is the biggest tourist trap in the whole of the country. Once passing through security, you will be confronted with a long string of overpriced duty free shops and restaurants. The gates, which each require another security check for international departures, are not announced until an hour before the flight. On the up-side, overpriced in Serbia remains a relative term. I got breakfast for about 500 dinar; that’s less than 10 USD and still slightly cheaper than you would find at an American airport for a similar amount of food.
The Jat flight was pleasant enough and not terribly bumpy. The staff lost my vegetarian meal along the way so I was a bit hungry, but I still had a few Cliff Bars left from my trip. On the way to Frankfurt, I cracked open my recently purchased copy of The Bridge Over the Drina, a classic Balkan novel written in 1945 by Ivo Andric for which he received the 1961 Nobel Prize in Literature. This book and its over 400 pages kept me enthralled most of the way home when I wasn’t napping or watching a movie. I highly highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to understand the tumultuous history of the region without a heavy academic overlay.
In Frankfurt, I had to wait a few hours for my flight. This was probably a good thing for at least two reasons. First, I had no boarding pass issued in Belgrade, so I had to check in again. This required finding the correct line in Frankfurt’s cavernous airport and innumerable Lufthansa desks. Proper signage would really have helped here. Second, it turns out that our original plane was having technical difficulties so they had to bring in a smaller one. This meant that about half the original passengers were bumped to stand-by. Oops. Fortunately, after waiting for an hour in line at the terminal, I was given a seat. The big bonus? They gave me a free upgrade to business class.
This meant, of course, that my flight home was much more comfortable than the way there. I enjoyed a seat that could be electronically reclined in at least 10 different positions with a lumbar massage, a personal television screen with movies, games, and music galore, a fine selection of free alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages the entire flight, and most importantly, lots and lots of space to spread out. Thank you Lufthansa! I wish I could afford to travel like this on a regular basis.
Since we were a bit delayed out of Frankfurt due to the plane switch, we arrived in Chicago about an hour late. Being in business class, however, meant that I was one of the first people out of the plane. This meant that I could get through customs much more quickly and out to the baggage claim. Lina was a real sweetie and picked me up at Terminal 5 and I was home by 10 pm.
Having had a few days to sleep off the jet lag, I’m doing my utmost to get back into the swing of things. I am looking forward to a quiet Shabbat back in town. Come next week, I will be kicking off my search for a new apartment for September 1 and getting the remainder of my Fulbright IIE grant written. I will also be beginning work on a paper based on my research in Serbia. With all the data I collected over the last five and a half weeks, I have a lot to process. I am so thankful to all of my new friends and contacts in Serbia who took the time to meet with me and share their thoughts and reflections on the course and nature of Serbian politics, history, and community. It was an absolutely amazing time and I must return again in the near future. Thank you also to the Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies and the Kellogg School of Business’s Dispute Resolution Research Center for allowing me this incredible opportunity.