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FMRS 2022 Travelogue

FMRS Travelogue 2022

After the two years of the Free Market Road Show being dormant, we were back on the road. John Chisholm shares his experience in this FMRS travelogue.

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Back on the Road Show again

Sunday evening, April 10, 2022, arrived in Iaşi at the Unirea Hotel with just enough time to unpack and meet our Free Market Road Show team in the lobby for dinner at nearby Oscar Restaurant. Our local hosts were Mihaela Ifrim, Gabriel Mursa (who translated some of Hayek’s works into Romanian), and Ciprian Manuel Bostan. Our FMRS team were Barbara; Amir Shani from Ben Gurion University in the Negev, Israel; Calum Nicholson of Danube Institute, who joined us from the airport midway through our meal; and me.

The next morning, Monday, April 11, I joined Amir for breakfast at the Unirea hotel. From the lobby, you walk up a ramp to the cavernous dining room for the buffet breakfast. Then we rendezvoused for the three-hour shuttle ride from Iaşi to Chişinau, Moldova. Along the way, I asked our driver how to say my introduction in Romanian:

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here with you. Thank you for your invitation.

Doamnelor shee domneelor, este plechera mahh suh few asted zee aich. Vuh mulchimean pentro invitatsee.

In Chişinau, I recognized the ASEM (Academy of Economic Studies of Moldova) building from FMRSs in 2015 and 2019. The university was founded in 1991 and has 16,000 students. We walked up to the third floor where the FMRS talks were in a large, long classroom. Before we started, I spoke with two students, Nick and Vasya, who said that about half of the students were interested in entrepreneurship. The event started with remarks by ASEM Rector Grigore Belostecinic, and Gero Stuller, counselor of the Austrian Embassy. My 20-minute talk contained the highlights of my Unleash Your Inner Company (UYIC) talk – why start your own business; how passion and perseverance reinforce each other; how you can become an innovator by combining things you already know in novel ways; why crises are good times to start new businesses. Three students who asked the best questions won copies of UYIC; moderator/professor Liliana chose the winners, with whom we took pictures. I really liked their questions: 1) What would you have done differently (I would have thought bigger), 2) How do you build your self-confidence (view anything about yourself that you cannot change as an asset), and 3) What was the biggest obstacle you faced? (Getting through the dot-com bust of 2000-2001).

FMRS 2022 Travelogue

After the session, our hosts took us to a nearby restaurant walled with pictures of kings. We had placinta, a sort of crepe with cheese. (Plăcintă is a Romanian, Moldovan and Ukrainian traditional pastry resembling a thin, small round or square-shaped cake, usually filled with apples or a soft cheese such as Urdă.)

Next morning, Tuesday, April 12, Michaela gave me a tour of downtown Iaşi, walking as we did on my last visit down to the huge Palace of Culture. At noon we walked across the street to a modern restaurant across from Mihai Eminescu University, named after Romania’s most famous poet.

After lunch, we walked across the street to the university. This was a large and elegant auditorium in the Mihai Eminescu University Library. This time, I was the first speaker. Again, loved the Q&A with the students. We again gave away three copies of the book; I also gave one to our moderator, Professor Laura Maxim.

Then back to the hotel for our 6 pm shuttle to the airport, for our flight to Bucharest. We had a few snacks and drinks standing in the small Iaşi airport while we waited for our Tarom flight. In Bucharest, we spent the night at the Hilton Garden Inn hotel, where I had already spent Friday night upon arriving in Romania from the US.

FMRS 2022 Travelogue

Next morning, Wednesday, April 13, we again enjoyed the excellent buffet breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn Airport, which had half a dozen or more “windows” with selections of breakfast items. Promptly at 8 am, we took the regularly scheduled hotel shuttle back to Bucharest airport for our flight to Vienna. Unable to get into the Bucharest business lounge, we hung out in a coffee area. Calum and I made a pact not to eat any sweets for the rest of the roadshow. I gave my cookies away from the airline to someone sitting at a nearby table.

The Austrian Airlines flight from Bucharest to Vienna was productive for me: I created my entire talk on winners and losers from the Covid lockdowns. In Vienna, we transferred from the airport to the Austrian Economics Center offices. From there we walked to the Vienna Insurance Group (VIG) conference center on the top floor of their building – what a fabulous view of Vienna from there! For this FMRS, the audience was mostly older/retired gentlemen, many from the insurance industry. Herr Peter Thirring gave the welcome. My talk on “Covid Lockdown Winners and Losers” seemed to provide a good overview to kick off the session. I gave my welcoming remarks in German; Barbara said that my German was getting better.

FMRS 2022 Travelogue

At about 6 pm we left for our flight from VIE to Podgorica, Montenegro. We arrived in Podgorica and the Hotel Podgorica after dark Wednesday night. My room was down a circular stairway on the ground level.

Thursday morning, we had breakfast on the Hotel Podgorica terrace overlooking a river. Very scenic. From there we went to University of Donja Gorica (UDG), which I learned is a great advocate for freedom and free markets. I was on the first panel, with Ivan Jovetic , UDG, and Barbara, to discuss, “When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will – Trade 2022, is Bastiat still right?” Our moderator was Milica Vukotic, whose father founded UDG. I mentioned how sanctions are a two-edged sword. After the break was the second panel, “The West and the Rest: How Free Countries Should Engage with Adversaries”, with Calum, Amir, Mitja Steinbacher, from the Faculty of Law and Business Studies in Slovenia, and moderated by Marija Radunovic. Mitja reminded me that I had introduced him to Professor Rob Axtell at GMU, the “father” of agent-based modeling and head of the computational social sciences department at GMU (also now visiting MIT for one year).

After the FMRS, Barbara, Milica, Marija, Calum, Amir, Ivan, Mitja and I rode in three cars (Milica, Marija, and Ivan driving) for the scenic drive to Budva for lunch at Konoba Langust overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The waiters brought a large tray of fresh fish and let us pick which ones we wanted. After lunch, we drove to Sveti Stefan (Sveti Stefan is a small islet and 5-star hotel resort on the Adriatic coast of Montenegro, approximately 6 kilometres southeast of Budva. The resort is known commercially as Aman Sveti Stefan and includes part of the mainland, where the Villa Miločer is located.) The hotel is temporarily closed because, as I understand it, the government now allows anyone to swim on the beach leading up to the resort.

Next morning, Friday, April 15, breakfast with Ivan at the Hotel Podgorica before his early flight. I signed and gave him a copy of UYIC. It was a fun, professional, and productive four days together on the Free Market Road Show. I checked out of my hotel room at noon and waited for Calum to return from the UDG, where he gave a lecture, for our excursion to Kotor.

Calum hadn’t been able to find a rental car in Podgorica, so instead found a taxi that would take us to Kotor. Our driver stopped at several places along the winding road to Kotor giving us great views of the city and bay. We got to our hotel, Porto In Hotel, checked in, and walked to the Kotor Old Town. We had a late lunch in front of the cathedral.

FMRS 2022 Travelogue

From there we walked around the Old Town; cats were lounging around everywhere. We learned from a young German hiker named John that we could take a different path up to Castle St. John and avoid having to pay to use the main path. After dinner, we walked along the waterfront and admired the lighting of Old Town and the city walls after dark. We met a lady who was selling boat excursions for 12 noon the next day, and we decided to do it.

Next morning, Saturday, April 16, Calum and I enjoyed the very extensive hotel breakfast then set out to climb up to Castle St. John. We walked to the far side of Old Town, crossing the bridge, to find the unofficial trail going up to the castle. Along the way, we enjoyed great views of the bay and its single large cruise ship. On the trail we also passed an old man and a donkey. We wandered all around the fort and finally made our way down via the official path, which was mostly a series of steps with handrails rather than a natural sloping path.

Our small boat had seven passengers, including two ladies from Lithuania. Our first stop was Our Lady of the Rock, a church on a man-made island in Kotor Bay. From there we went out into the Adriatic Sea, passing the island of Mamalet, containing a prison being converted by Russian investors into a luxury hotel, and then on to the Blue Cave. This was our young captain’s first day on the job, a newly minted graduate of the maritime academy. I could tell he was a bit nervous about entering the Blue Cave in such choppy seas, repeating that it was “very dangerous,” first saying it was impossible, then assuring us that everything was okay. Finally, two other boats in our group managed to make it into the cave and we followed them. The cave was indeed dramatic inside, a natural cavern with a high ceiling and bright blue water, lighted by two openings in the rock about 120 degrees apart. Our boat bobbed around inside the cave for maybe ten minutes, as our captain tried to decide which opening we would leave by. One of the other boats made it out through the other opening with what seemed like minimal clearance; the choppy waves seemed to rise immediately after the boat went through.

Finally, we followed another boat leaving by the same opening through we entered; our captain poured on the gas as soon as we were well positioned to pass through without hitting rocks on either side. I was relieved when we finally made it out; I had visions of our boat being dashed against the rocks inside the cave and all of us clinging to rocks until being rescued.

Outside the cave was our chance to swim in the Adriatic. Only Calum went for it. His example would inspire me to swim in the Adriatic in Cavtat the next day.

We returned to Kotor and had a coffee at a nearby coffee house until my taxi arrived to take me to Dubrovnik. With our hike that morning to St. John’s Castle and bay excursion that afternoon, it had been a very full day; I was glad I could sit in the front passenger seat, stretch out and nap for the drive. When we got to the border between Montenegro and Croatia, the border guards would not let us continue, since the license of my driver, who was Montenegran, had expired several months earlier. As a result, they asked to see my US license, which I produced, and I switched places with the driver and drove much of the way from there to Dubrovnik, when I again switched places with the driver. How he would get back through the border to Montenegro, I don’t know.

FMRS 2022 Travelogue

Next morning, Sunday, April 17, at the Hotel Lero, I walked to the Dubrovnik Old Town. I bought a one-day pass which entitled me to walk the City Walls, visit the museums, and ride the bus. I climbed the stairs and started the 1.2-mile City Walls circuit.

It was windy and I had to hold on to my hat and sunglasses to keep from losing them. Everyone walks in the same direction, counterclockwise as viewed from above. I really liked the Maritime Museum, which showed Dubrovnik’s extensive diplomatic relations around the Mediterranean. From there I finished the City Wall circuit and walked down the main thoroughfare of the Old City, passing one of the oldest, if not the oldest, apothecary in the world. I went into the other museum, which had some interesting displays about the Dubrovnik legal system, the animated figures that hit the bells to sound the hours, and more. By then it was 1:30 pm and needed to head back to the Lero Hotel to get my luggage and go to Dubrovnik Airport for my flight to Toulouse. Alas, my flight to Munich on Lufthansa/Croatian Air was canceled due to wind (the incoming flight could not land). We all had to re-collect our luggage, wait in a long line, during which I learned by downloading and installing the Lufthansa app that my flight had been re-booked for the day after tomorrow, and finally board a bus to the Hotel Croatia Cavtat.

At first I was disappointed that this hotel was so isolated from downtown Dubrovnik, but staying there for two nights as Lufthansa’s guest turned out to be quite a treat:

“If you love concrete brutalism, you‘ll adore this building; if you don‘t, it may help you change your mind. When it opened in 1973, it won several European awards for architect Slobodan Miličević. Despite having 10 floors, it‘s built into the rocks and cleverly hidden amid cypresses, Aleppo pines and olive trees. Public spaces are open and fluid, and most have floor-to-ceiling glazing, terraces and views down onto Cavtat‘s turquoise bay.

In reception, concrete slabs bear abstract sculptural reliefs, doubling as artworks and structural columns. In short, a modernist masterpiece.”

After checking in, we were invited to have buffet dinner in the dining room. I was impressed with how Lufthansa, through a contract with this hotel, was able to handle so many displaced passengers so efficiently and comfortably. Next day, I took a long walk around the gorgeous Cavtat Peninsula; came back for lunch at one of the open-air restaurants overlooking the harbor. Walked down to the harbor again for a very quick dip in the choppy, brisk waters of the Adriatic, following Calum’s example, just to be able to say I had done it; walked back to the room feeling very refreshed.

In Frankfurt, was upgraded to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge, even better than business! And thus, my FMRS 2022 trip ends, enjoying the NYT and Financial Times, among much else.

The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.

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