He experienced the horrors of two wars and during this time he also covered an immense geographical area. The trip described in this blog is an attempt to retrace his steps from Prague across the Eurasian continent to beyond Lake Baikal in Siberia. The first part of the trip will follow the precisely described route of Josef Švejk, Hašek's inspired literary creation. I left home on April 30 2010 and was back on October 29.

Friday, 30 April 2010


Theme travel has become a viable industry over the years, this includes literary theme travel. Even in smaller countries like Norway there are companies that specialise in arranging tailor-made trips with a literary content. Some time in May 2008 I decided to arrange my own "theme journey", in the footsteps of  a Czech author who is little known in my country, who no commercial theme tour operator would dare to touch, and whom they have probably not even heard of. Hopefully, by recording this trip I can contribute towards raising awareness of this unique writer Jaroslav Hašek and the times and environs he lived in. 

Švejk being diligently guarded in Putim.
Otherwise I'm just having a long holiday, will mostly be a perfectly normal tourist, can allow myself to drink beer every day and also watch a lot of World Cup football. Above all I will enjoy the company of many fine men and women, some of them I know already and hopefully quite a few I don't yet know. I might also admittedly come across specimens I wish I'd never known.

I have many times been asked, and have also asked myself: what motivates someone to take six months off work without pay,  travelling to areas which for most holiday-makers are far down the list, even for back-packers and literary theme tourists? It started back in 1991 when I first read the novel The Good Soldier Švejk. Apart from being funny, the book has a biting satirical edge, but there was more to it: a vast range of geographical, historical and literary references, often woven into the plot in a collage, creating the backdrop  for the author's ridicule of authority in particular and human stupidity in general. It turned out that Švejk was a confluence of interests I had acquired already: history, travel, geography, languages, beer and last but not least a keen interest in Central Europe and the Czech Lands, including the uniquely civilised Czech pub culture.

All these influences play a vital part in Švejk, so it could be said that I was predestined to enjoy  the novel even before I had read it. That I had completed National Service also played a part, particularly with regards to appreciating books three and four. Unlike many author's, Hašek's life story is ideal for creating a travel itinerary. Following Franz Kafka for instance, a contemporary and fellow citizen of Hašek, would be hopeless. There are few geographical references, we can only assume he sets some of his novels in his home city of Prague. Kafka's external world could not be traversed in any meaningful geographical sense, and spending six months in Kafka's internal world is not recommended, at least if you care about your mental well-being. Novels like Alexandr  Solzhenitsyn's "A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich", Knut Hamsun's "Hunger" and "Ulysses" by James Joyce are equally none-starters.

Jaroslav Hašek's Good Soldier Švejk is the exact opposite, it is a ready-made itinerary. The author had an extraordinary memory and he used this to full effect in his classic novel. He sprinkles his novel with more than 800 geographical references, and nearly 100 of those form part of the plot. Not only will I on this trip attempt to follow Švejk but also the authors own amazing anabasis from Prague to beyond Lake Baikal and back. Come late October I might be sick of travelling, sick of Hašek, sick of train journeys, sick of my own company and longing to get back to work and familiar surroundings. But I will never regret having set out on this journey.