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.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Marschieren Marsch!

Švejk acting forcefully in the City Café in Sanok.
In 1915, Švejk and his company's stay in Sanok was brief but eventful, and as usual the Good Soldier played an important part. So did his arch enemy Lieutenant Dub but for less heroic reasons. After arrival the latter took upon himself to inspect the town's numerous houses of ill repute and check that the men didn't slither into debauchery. In the meantime the company was ordered to march onwards towards Sambor already the same afternoon. The Reichsdeutsche Hannover-regiment had required the gymnasium where the 91st regiment were supposed to be lodged and no Austrian dared stand up to their fearsome commander. By now Dub still hadn't returned and Švejk was entrusted with the delicate task of finding him. So he did with ease, in a secluded room upstairs in the City Cafe; dead drunk and in the company of the alluring Miss Ella. He was dragged out, loaded onto the sick cart, and thus started the march towards the front in a way that would not have impressed his Emperor.

In 2010, back in the editorial offices of Pod Vihorlatom in Humenné, Anna Šimkuličová had rung Bogdan Strúż at Sanok Town Hall and announced my arrival in Sanok. When asked where I was going to stay I had  to general amusement responded: "Where Dub stayed" (I could not  remember the name of the hotel, and couldn't have pronounced  it even if I had).

When I arrived in Sanok on 4 July I immediately went to the former City Cafe. Not to look for Lieutenant Dub or seeking and amorous encounter with Miss Ella, but to sleep in the now very decent Hotel Pod Trzema Różami. The staff were the friendliest I had come across in any hotel so far on the journey. The were definitely no chambres séparées, and the WiFi connection was excellent. The hotel is located right in the centre, five minutes walk to the pretty rynek (Market square), and even closer to the sitting statue of Švejk in the main shopping street. Down a little side street there is the pub U Szwejka, decorated with motives from the novel. Otherwise it was an ordinary pub, the beer was disappointing and the service off-hand.

Sanok rynek at night
The next day I went to the Town Hall to see Mr Strúż and was given a warm welcome. He took me off to a café for lunch and then picked me up after by the local skansen. By now he had collected a ton of material for me: maps, leaflets and two books, one of them he had written the introduction to himself. It was on Podkarpacija and I accepted it with mixed feelings: if I was given more heavy books like this I would sink when crossing the Volga.

It struck me how polite Bogdan Strúż was. He constantly addressed me as 'pan'. Only a few days later did I discover that this doesn't only mean Sir as I had thought. It found it strange that everyone called me Sir! It is also the Polish polite form of you, similar  to Czech vy, German Sie and French  vous. But by all means,  I appreciate people who treat me politely!

I now had to start the march towards the front and set off on foot along the river San and across the mountains towards Tyrawa Wołoska. I soon realised that Hašek again was way off with his timing. The company were supposed to have marched here from Sanok in an afternoon, which is quite impossible. The route describes also seemed odd, it would have been much easier to march along the river San towards Ustrzyki Dolne and to Sambor from there. When I was walking up the scenic mountain road a car stopped and asked where Sir was going. Sir's iron will-power and steely determination suddenly evaporated and he accepted the lift. It was starting to rain...
Bogusław Iwanowski at work.
In Tyrawa Wołoska I had a look around the small village. There is little more than a church, a few shops and the ruins of a stately mansion, the dwór. One of the naked columns now supports a storks nest. The history of the dwór was written on placards beneath. Tyrawa Wołoska had been attacked and burnt by UPA guerrillas as late as 1946.

A far bigger attraction was the gallery of Bogusław Iwanowski, a unique artist of wood-carving. When I approached I noticed a number of the wooden sculptures so typical of the region and in the garden was a man busy working on a huge trunk.

Iwanowski greeted the stranger by downing the tools and showing him round the gallery and even offering Sir a glass of home-made śliwowica. One series of sculptures depicted the life of pope John Paul II from childhood to the Vatican, another show inter-war president Józef Piłsudski, and many more which have pure religious motives. Others are political and show scenes from the sufferings Poland had to endure during the totalitarian rule imposed by their two powerful neighbours. It is said that Poland can be compared to Jesus Christ; crucified between two bandits. This was definitely the case in 1939 but things have now fortunately changed for the better. Still these events, and many previous, have left deep traces and it is no exaggeration to say that Russians and Germans are universally disliked, often hated. The Katyn massacre and Stalin's refusal to aid the Warsaw uprising in 1944 further added to the antagonism towards Russia. Not to mention the following 40 years of Communist rule.

Švejk's trail continued along the road to Przemyśl and two kilometres up the scenic valley lies the village of Berezka. Due to a series of co-incidences I ended up here on my trip in 2004. I was ill-prepared back then and arrived in Tyrawa Wołoska without having any idea how small it was. I went to the village cafe to ask for accommodation and was told there was none, but one of the guests offered me a bed for the night. It was early afternoon but the piwo and wódka was already flowing, the mood was exuberant, and every other word was kurwa.

Jomar and Jurek, 2004.
We all went up to Berezka and after copious amounts of wódka, gherkins and sausages everyone fell asleep. In the evening there was another visit to the cafe and more piwo. Grand-dad Jurek told me how he in 1968, as a conscript, was forced to take part in the Warsaw-pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. The Poles occupied the border areas and he was sent to Ostrava. His opinion on this was crystal clear; his narrative when describing the invasion contained an unusually high count of the word kurwa. After more vodka we both agreed that we were dobry człowieki (good men). How that conclusion was reached none of us could remember the next day.

I woke up early and had to move on, but not without another session by a little sklep by the road. When I reached Przemyśl I was still semi-sozzled and immediately bought a bottle of Perrier so I could brush my teeth in the city park; using excellent French lemon-tasting mineral water. It was astoundingly refreshing after all the wódka and piwo.
Flashback to 2004, a goat and a wonky shit-house.
In July 2010 I knocked on the door of the same house in Berezka. A lady opened and it was the mother of Janus who had invited me to stay in 2004. She was washing and tidying the house as the family had recently moved to Sanok and they were trying to sell it. There was no goat in the garden anymore but the wonderfully tilting shit-house was still standing. I had used it once back then and had feared that farting too forcefully could make the whole thing collapse in a pile of floor-boards and shit.
Further up the valley I decided to call it a day, but not before having a meal at an unlikely fish bistro in the middle of the forest. It was little more than a shack but ryba was good. I misread the bus timetables back to Sanok, but fortunately I got a lift soon after. It was the lady who owned the fish-shop and I arrived safely back in Sanok, and started to prepare the next leg to Krościenko. I eastimated the distance to 25 kilometers so would be quite a long walk.

Rainy Liskowate
On 7 July the rain poured down so I dropped the walking project altogether, bought a good umbrella and caught a bus to Liskowate, a village Hašek called Liskowiec. This is the place where the 11th march company bought the skinniest cow in the Dual Monarchy from the Jew Nathan, and were still skinning it many days later. Liskowate is small and in the awful weather it was difficult to appreciate the village. I reached the wooden church through the wet grass and managed to take some pictures from under my umbrella. The parasol also served me well on the five km walk down to Krościenko. This place is bigger and quite drab despite the scenery. I took the bus to much more cheerful Ustrzyki Dolne and after a few good Leżajsk piwo at the station cafe I continued back to Sanok. By now it had finally stopped raining.

Ustrzyki Dolne is now a tourist destination and appears quite wealthy. In 1950 it had some good luck. The Polish government "requested" a territorial exchange with the Soviet Union, wanting to part with the coal-rich Chervonohrad region by the river Bug and instead get a pretty but otherwise useless chunk of land around Ustrzyki Dolne. Stalin of course benevolently accepted, he was usually more interested in coal than in nature and prospective tourism. Of course the Polish request originated in Kremlin, just like the three Baltic states in 1940 had "applied" to become members of the Soviet Union. In retrospect it has been to Ustrzyki Dolne's benefit: if the land swap hadn't taken place it would surely have remained a poor Ukrainian backwater. Chervonohrad is now a post-Soviet, worn-down, heap of concrete and rust. So Stalin did Poland a favour after all…

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