Wagon Slovakia


Every evening, a restaurant car goes from Vienna to Bratislava. Years passed until I discovered it, as this rolling gem is attached to a useless train. 21:50 Vienna West, 23:32 Bratislava main station: a person in his right mind avoids this most laborious of train connections. It is almost a ghost train.

The restaurant car is run by a company that has always been an enigma to me. In the smoothly buzzing economy of the Slovak Republic, “Wagon Slovakia” is a wondrous exception: they serve warm coke and cold red wine, and the entire energy of the personnel goes into verbose justifications, never into the removal of the numerous shortcomings. On the other hand, there is no cheaper restaurant car in the whole of Europe.

The fact that Wagon Slovakia serves the line Vienna-Bratislava made me enthusiastic. I immediately took it three times.

The first time I got in on an untypical evening, a holiday. I ordered red wine, took a seat in the half-circular, well-padded lounge, and tried to get the wine to drinking temperature with my hands. I was the only guest. The grey-haired waiter-cook was sitting around listlessly. In front of him was a pile of soon out-dated timetables. The melancholy of the evening found its climax when the waiter-cook took a timetable, folded it into an airplane but preserved his sense of duty by not launching it.

The second time was livelier. A handful of Slovak gipsies were drinking moderately in the middle of the wagon. On the opposite window-front, sitting on one of the six bar stools, was a young Austrian railway employee travelling to his company flat. Lost in thought, he observed the cheerful assembly with a mild smile. With the experience of a great traveller he managed to absorb two beers until Bruck an der Leitha where he got off. At the Petržalka station, the gipsies made their exit.

From that moment on, the blond waiter-cook tried discreetly to get me out of the wagon, but I didn’t understand his signals. Finally he showed me his little foam mattress and explained that he would have to get up at five. He sleeps on the floor of the restaurant car. Ashamed, I retreated into the next wagon that was totally empty.

On the third journey, Wagon Slovakia gave me the full show. Exactly the same guests were assembled, on exactly the same seats. The railway employee had already got hold of his first goodnight beer, the gipsies were drinking champagne and we observed them with a mild smile.

The personnel had doubled, but this time the grey-haired was in a better mood and the waiter had already had a few. On the little crisps-trolley, his small cassette player blared „Bódi Gusztí”, a furious Hungarian gipsy-band. The waiter had opened his shirt widely and got into such rapture that he – a pure Slovak! – covered the youngest gipsy with kisses, on the cheek and on the mouth.

Our feet were itching. The gipsies, regularly performing as street musicians in Vienna, offered the railway employee and me a juice-glass of champagne. “The last time you were a fo¬reign element”, he told me before getting off in quiet Bruck an der Leitha. He was right. Like the gipsies, I left the restaurant car at Petržalka. Now I know the local habits.

Since that time I have forced myself not to take that train. Wagon Slovakia on the Intercity 407 “Danube” is a fixed ensemble. And we – we don’t belong to the cast.