There is one sure way to give even the most nondescript village in Eastern Europe a prominence way beyond its size. Make it the site of a border crossing. Tiny little burgs that would be little more than a dot on the map take on an outsize importance if they are located on a border. This was most definitely the case with Magyarboly, the stop for passport control in Hungary on the Drava Intercity. There would be no other reason to visit or remember Magyarboly except for crossing the border. The village has a population of just over 900. The only site of note is a Serbian Church, a hint of the ethnic diversity which had once permeated town. One hundred years prior, there had been sizable proportions of Swabians, Serbians and Croats. Most of them had either been swept away by two World Wars or become assimilated. Now Magyarboly was just another small village in a nation with hundreds of them.
Border Crossings – Leaving The Balkans Behind
The meaning of the name Magyarboly befitted a place on the Hungarian border. Magyar being the name Hungarians call themselves. They are Hungarians only to outsiders. To put it correctly, the people who inhabit the Carpathian Basin are Magyars, not Hungarians. Boly comes from Boja, meaning “controlled land.” On this side of the border the Magyars dominated the land. They shaped it to their mentality, which was much more structured than anything I had experienced in the Balkans. While traveling in Bulgaria and Bosnia I felt those places were on the edge of the Orient. As soon as I entered Hungary, the west arrived. Magyarboly’s importance was magnified by the fact that it was not only a border crossing from Croatia to Hungary, but also a transit point into the European Union. In the Balkans law and order was still a concept accepted with a laissez-faire, semi-serious attitude, in Hungary everything changed. The rule of law permeated the air.
Magyarboly turned out to be more than just a border crossing. It was also a state of mind. More to the point it was a statement of western civilization. The rate of progress and officialdom soared as soon as the train pulled up to the Hungarian border checkpoint. The border station was freshly painted in bright green and vibrant yellow. It was festooned with Hungarian flags. In Bosnia and Croatia the border agents had barely glanced at my passport before stamping it. They had also completely ignored my luggage. The Hungarian personnel were focused and direct. A female and two tough looking male inspectors looked me directly in the eye. They asked a series of pointed questions while taking the time to thoroughly inspect both of my bags. Their uniforms were immaculate, to the point of shining name plates and freshly pressed uniforms. This was a quite a contrast from the Balkans. These people were serious. They gave the impression that Hungary was an important place that not only deserved my attention, but also respect. A new mentality was presented to me on this far flung frontier.
Point Of Arrival – The Hungarian Effect
Unlike the Balkan countries that I had recently been exploring, Hungary was well kept. It was not a land of stray dogs, plastic bags blowing through the streets or dirt covered lawns. It was a place of clean swept sidewalks, tidy garden plots and well-ordered towns. The kind of place that makes the best of what it has. There was a sense of pride and authority here that the Balkan nations lacked. When the train pulled out from the border checkpoint I immediately noticed a difference in the progress and pace of development. Suddenly the Drava Intercity surged forward. It seemed impossible that this could be the exact same train that just a few hours earlier crawled through Bosnia and then slumbered across Slavonia. As the engine roared, the train sped through the countryside as though it were trying to make up for lost time. It was as though crossing the Hungarian border had given the locomotive a shot of steroids. I felt like the Drava Intercity was going a million miles an hour. My pulse quickened, Pecs was not far away.
The moment just before arrival at a destination is always stressful for the train passenger. There is only one chance to get off at the correct stop. Oversleeping or inattentiveness will not be mitigated by a helpful attendant. The passenger is ultimately responsible for their own success or failure. Since I had never been in Hungary before and could not speak a word of its tongue twisting Finno-Ugric tongue, my only chance at a successful departure was advance preparation. As such I collected my suitcase, backpack and got ready to proceed. Every time the train slowed my stress increased. Was this my final moment on the Drava Intercity? My mind skipped forward to a neurotic, fatalistic worry. The recurring nightmare that inhabits my imagination is this: I get off at a train station that is all but abandoned except for seedy criminal types. They have waited for hours to pounce on a naïve foreigner, who just happens to be me. Such thoughts always succeed in raising my blood pressure. I tense my face up with seriousness, reflecting the tumult raging inside of me. The stark question arises, will this be the beginning or is it the end? A ridiculous paranoia perhaps, but I believe this worry has somehow kept me safe in all my travels.
Point Of Departure – The Beginning At The End
I need not have worried as the train pulled into Pecs. The day was bright and sunny, people waited patiently on the platform and the station was a wonderful Austro-Hungarian era concoction, a vision of architectural elegance. A better welcome has scarcely greeted me. By this point I had all but forgotten my early morning start in Sarajevo and the snail’s pace slither of the Drava Intercity out of the Balkans. I was on the cusp of a new city, in a new country. A sense of adventure was in the air. My first day long train trip was at an end, but my exploration of Hungary was just beginning.