With the winter season keeping some of us off the drink (one of us) and no football to speak of anywhere in Central Europe, we decided to travel down to Komarno, a town on the Slovak side of the Danube and twinned with Blansko, heart of Klobasaland. We’d also heard on the grapevine that the Hungarian klobasa is pretty spicy, so that was firmly placed on the menu.
Originally, we had discussed adding Dunajska Streda to the trip, mainly to meet Batman. Yes, Batman. He lives in Slovakia, don’t you know? His other name is Zoltan and he protects the people of the town against all evil. We probably would have been put in the “evil” category, so crossed it off the list fairly promptly.
The night before was one for celebration, we were all back on the pivo and headed on a pub crawl of a few pubs in Brno, finishing in Flexaret, owned by Tereza, fellow teacher and all round good girl. When we polished off our final beer and said goodbye, we didn’t exactly expect Tereza to turn up at the train station for the 8.21 out of Brno. Not only was she looking a lot better than both of us, but she was also armed with a return ticket and more worryingly, a video camera. Shortly after joining the train, the ticket inspector told us to get off the train. This train was stopping in Breclav and not going any further. Although, it quite clearly said Budapest on the departure board, it was not going there. Now, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but perhaps we should have followed the train into the depot and left it at that, but we swapped it for the the fast train to Hungary and at 9.00 we were in the buffet car, drinking our first beer of the day. Our waiter for the duration of the journey to Nove Zamky, no doubt enjoys a beer himself in the morning as by our reckoning, he’d had a few himself and was struggling to deal with large number of passengers in the dining carriage. 5 of them.
As the train took us through the lowlands of Slovakia, we sometimes looked out of the window, but spent a lot of the time listening to Tereza’s story of how she left communist Czechoslovakia for Vienna as an 5 year old. Most Czechs filled in application forms and waited for confirmation from the government they could go on holiday to Tito’s Yugoslavia. Once they had crossed the Hungarian/Yugoslav border they would drive to Austria border and claim political asylum, it was as easy as that.. not. However, the Richter family were a bit special. The Communist Party actually wanted them to leave and allowed them to go legally. The reason being both parents, one a psychologist and the other a sociologist had signed Charter 77 and were therefore considered troublemakers. The Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky didn’t quite share the same opinion and welcomed the family with open arms. The story continues (it was a long train journey) and of course the family struggled with settling into their new home. Mum and Dad took jobs as bricklayers, cleaners and also washed dishes to make ends meet before retraining as computer programmers. The girls changed schools a few times and struggled with a new language and the trauma of leaving family behind.
We had been assured that our connecting train at Nove Zamky would be awaiting our late arrival at the platform, and we were happy to have this confirmed when we were sitting comfortably on the service to Komarno. Finally we touched down at Komarno’s grand station and set off in search of adventure, only to find that the town’s centre of excitement was nestled firmly between two of Europe’s bastions of questionable-quality groceries – Lidl and Billa. Unimpressed, we decided to switch country. Ralph stopped a man in the street and politely asked ‘Where is Hungary?’, leading the kind man the inform us it is over the bridge, helpfully pointing at it to avoid any confusion on our part. So off we went – to Hungary.
If we thought adventures in Komarno’s supermarket’s wasn’t our cup of tea, then Komarom offered little else in the way of solace. We wandered idly through empty streets, beneath the half-sized tower blocks, looking in vain for entertainment or interest. Eventually, however, we did happen upon a pizzeria, where we had our first Hungarian beer and used a supermarket brochure to practice the local lingo, while the locals eyed us with a suspicion usually reserved for aliens. Our first pint here was a Soproni, or a Soprano if you choose to misread the label, and it went down a treat before we decided to quickly move on and back Komarno to give it another shot.
Our return to the Slovak side was more successful and we quickly fell in to an Irish bar for a quick Czech lager (we like to mix cultures here at the Klobasa), and a couple of games of table football. Ralph’s growing excitement at his winning streak was helped along by Tereza’s story involving table football, a lot of alcohol and risque bet, the details of which we can’t go in to here – but let’s just say Ralph’s head was hot and positively glowing.
All that sport and talk made us hungry and the bartender recommended Restaurace Hubert, and it was evident why. The fake rock-pool and hunting decor were delightful, and it was heartwarming to eat opposite a carved boar-head candle holder. If it’s taste you want, Hubert has it in spades. That, and garlic soup, which was the size of the real boar’s head that hung on the wall by the hanging ivy and flat screen TV. The staff were sincerely lovely, and offered us a menu in three different languages – non being Hungarian though, so we had no chance to continue practicing, although we would get our chance to learn a lot more later.
Our goal was Esztergom, a small town tucked-in neatly to the Hungarian side of the great Danube river, but before that the bus would sail through the evening (affording us some kip) to the town staring directly from the opposing bank of the river – Strurovo. Our stop here would be brief, but certainly worth it, as we headed for the one bar we needed – the red London bus, otherwise named the Bristol Pub. This pajzl (a pub with ‘atmosphere’ – boozer) was packed solidly in to the double-Decker, adorned with odd bits of British memorabilia and, much to the chagrin of Ralph and the sniggering delight of the rest of us, a large England flag to accompany you up the stairs. We stopped for one quick one and just as the barman had said ‘hello’ to welcome us, he said ‘hello’ again to bid us farewell. And on we went, in to the freezing cold night and over the Danube in to Esztergom.
As we crossed the cool flowing waters of the Danube, Esztergom’s breathtaking basilica (otherwise known as The Primatial Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed Into Heaven and St Adalbert… and breathe) came impressively closer in to view, prompting Tereza to ask, ‘is that a pub?’ It did truly glow like a pub to a Klobasa, but our ascension would have to take place in more modest surroundings, for although blessed are the Klobasa, I think the Basilica’s incumbents are just not ready for our kind of awakening.
So instead we marched forth and happened upon a bar that appeared just to our tastes – Art Bistro. Walking in to this endearing establishment, and braving the attack of an aggressively insecure dog, we found seats in our favourite space in any watering-hole – the bar. Amidst the stickers, posters, and ramshackle furniture we set up camp for the rest of the evening, learning to order drinks in Hungarian from the charming and helpful barmaid, Dora, who had to suffer our endless questions about Hungary, the language, alcohol and the relationship with Slovaks. By this point of the trip the beer had perhaps started to take it’s toll, and as our English started to sound more Hungarian Tereza got more happy with the camera and we had trouble staying on our high stools. One final beer and a palenka later, Dora looked on nervously as we emptied our pockets in desperation for enough florints to pay the bill. All nervous smiles were laid to rest when we scraped it together, only for Ralph to find, much later, a whole bucket full of them buried in his bag.
We left the bar merrily, and walked back to Sturovo, singing our way through a wide repertoire of songs including Living on a Prayer and Heaven is a Place on Earth, and encoring with some Roxette before we stumbled in to the drunks at Sturovo train station for another quick pivo, and to show them that we were perhaps more drunk than they were. Enjoying life as we were, we forgot about the train and had to sprint faster than Linford to get on it, but beer is a wonderful thing and with that power we achieved it! The train was packed with night-goers, but for some bizarre reason no one wanted to join us in our musical compartment, and after securing some alcohol from some dodgy box room in one of the cars we were happily one our way home. Unfortunately we had to make a stop at Breclav, where our eventful evening continued. Craggy, frustrated with the delay in departure (1 hour – thank you Czech transport), decided to pop out for a quick smoke. No sooner had he lit his coffin nail than the train doors closed behind him, delighting of a group of guys in the carriage entrance. Panicking about being stuck in Breclav without a warm coat, Craggy shouted a string of pleasantries and waved politely down train and someone kindly opened the doors once again. This whole event escaped the notice of the other two who were fast asleep, Ralph with beer still resting gently in his hand. Much to the amusement of a group of Japanese tourists this beer fell out of his hand and soaked his leg and, not so much to the amusement of Tereza, her woolly hat. Finally we all arrived in Brno safely in the early hours, bidding farewell to Tereza and to eventually fall asleep at home, kebab in hand.