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 25 June 2010

Still no goulash

In May 1915 the 91st regiments 11th march company's onward journey from Budapest was fraught with difficulties. The field kitchen had been left behind in Királyhida and supplies were scarce. This hit the gluttonous Baloun more than anyone else, he often ended up stealing food from his superior, obrlajtnant Lukáš. He had now become his putzfleck (servant), after Švejk had been promoted to company Ordonnanz (messenger) by obrst Schröder after his heroic deeds in Királyhida. His promotion was much to the horror of Rechnungsfeldwebel Vaněk.

The train stopped at station after station, but the promised goulash was only dished out in Sátoraljaújhely. Švejk had in Hungary become the arch enemy of reserve lieutenant Dub, a Czech but still the price idiot of the k.u.k army. As a loyalist he is mercilessly pilloried by Hašek who he lets Švejk routinely and effortlessly outwit him. The professional officers also despise him, primarily because he is a pillock, secondly because he is a civilian.

I set out from Budapest intending to stop at every station mentioned in the plot, and I think I succeeded. I also intended to have a beer at every stop, and failed narrowly. Not that it was a big loss; Hungarian beer is a step down from the quality I had become accustomed to in the Czech Republic and Austria. It's adequate but nothing more. Sopronyi is probably my favourite.

My first stop was Isaszeg, a place which might have been meant as Išatarčsa, but we don't know. Then I went to Gödöllő and took the HEV to Kistarcsa. HEV was the worst train I'd been on so far; slow, rattling and sprayed with graffiti (and so were the stations). I was dragging my backpack with me and didn't even stop for a beer to celebrate Švejk's "stolen" hen. Back I went to Gödöllő, the summer residence of Sissi. The grand station was built especially for the Hungarian Queen and in Budapest it was even arranged so that she could travel through the city directly from Vienna. The old station is now used as little more than a toilet and her Royal Highness would not have approved of the odours.

With Czech cyclists at Hatvan station
I then continued to Aszód which was just a break on a bench, the station bistro was closed. It was getting late when I got to Hatvan so I decided to stay overnight. There the station bistro was open so I could finally enjoy a sör. At the palyaúdvar bistro a pleasant surprise waited: a group of happy Czech cyclist from the Liberec region entered and the tone was set. They had never met a švejkolog before, and certainly not a Norwegian one. They had cycled from Košice down through Slovakia and Hungary and already had a week behind them, plagued by mosquitoes after the recent floods. I was treated with pivo and in an upbeat mood I went looking for a place to sleep. It looked grim but with help from two German-speaking young ladies I was directed to Újhatvan where the comfortable Panzio Koruna was my salvation. It was already 11 pm.

The trains on this routes were excellent, on level with the Austrian ones, and indeed of the same make. On the other hand Hatvan’s extremely subdued atmosphere was striking, very similar to most places I had been to in Hungary during the last week. The country was suffering a severe economic crisis at the time, which even a tourist without a degree in economics could notice. Not being an economist I couldn't  even explain it. Maybe Hungary didn't stick to the advise of the economists at OECD, IMF and the World Bank? Closed shops abounded, the level of activity was low, and the railway toilets smelly.

No comments:

Post a Comment