Sometimes when we drive back to Budapest from Szeged, we take the old 5 road, which winds from village to village all the way to the capital city. Until a few years ago, the old 5 road was one of the only ways to get to Budapest from southeastern Hungary. Trucks from Romania and Serbia, business travelers, tourists, all went along this long, rural road that spans over 100 miles.
At that time, the roads were lined with restaurants and taverns, hotels and guests houses, all to accommodate the traffic. It was a boost to the village economies, as any transportation hub is.
A strange mixture of bustle and rural. A certain traveling charm to it.
But then in April 2006, the last portion of the M5 motorway was finished, connecting Szeged to Röszke at the Serbian boarder, and in almost an instant, these hundred miles collapsed and depressed.
As if the little villages just went to sleep again.
Now when we drive through this old road, I can’t help be a little sad. On weekend mornings, you’ll see a cafe or bakery open, some people shuffling to the bus stop or vegetable stand. There seem, as always, to be a lot of old women with large bags and silk head coverings. As the famous Hungarian bard, József Attila wrote, The chatter/ of their teeth they give to the winter. On the outskirts of town, just beyond the limits, you’ll sometimes see prostitutes signaling for truckers, or even worse, the big British corporate grocery chains that have bullied their way into even the poorest villages.
These are the places that travel hosts do not come to. Because more and more it’s impossible to turn these stories into stories about redemption. The people here live hard lives. And really it could be anywhere in any country. Chicken near the cornfield, roosters pecking the lawn, and old cars rusting on cinder blocks in back yards is not specific to Hungary or Europe. It takes more than two hands to count how many places like this I’ve driven through in Georgia, or Indiana or Ohio.
Which I think is why, when the motorways are built, it’s important to not forget the places from which we have been diverted.