Sleepy Island in the Sun: Ráckeve


So I finally snapped into action regarding my let’s check where the other HÉVs are going plan and took H6 to its final stop in Ráckeve, some 30 kilometres south of Budapest’s city limits, on Csepel Island.

First things first, after more than ten years of living here, it finally dawned on me that the terminus of this line is not on Boráros tér, but out in the wilderness of Közvágóhíd. Then I tried to get a grip with the fact that everyone seemed so sleepy-  the lady at the ticket counter would fumble endlessly, slowly, calmly with each kind of order she got. I dare not imagine what would happen if they put her behind the counter in a fast food restaurant and you barked several things at her within a few seconds- most likely a mental short circuit. Every passenger on the train was half dozing off, every stop was enveloped in a dreamy bright haze-and, to add to the surreal of the situation, the ticket inspector was positively friendly and sported a broad smile.

Once in Ráckeve we kind of did what you are supposed to do in small Eastern European towns you’ve never been to before- follow the belltower. Of which they have several in Ráckeve- the most famous one was built in the 15th century by the Serbian community which settled in the area after being displaced from their original homes south of the Danube by the Turks.

The church is still in use, but, as the charming little old lady who acts as guide informed us, there’s only eight Serbians left in town, one of them being the priest himself. This reminded me of the Finno-ugrian speaking Livian minority of Latvia, who had a constant  headcount of eight throughout my studies as  a Finnish major- even more worryingly, they’d been eight forever, as the textbooks from the 70s mentioned the same number too. So eight might be the holy number of disappearing communities.

Once you’ve done the round of the old Serbian church, you can inspect a slightly ruined smallish castle which used to belong to Eugene of Savoy’s family, the banks of the Danube (with some ducks and two evil looking swans for entertainment) and two other churches. On a Saturday afternoon basically no stores are open, though as a general rule it seems that the town abunds in doctors and lawyers but doesn’t do so well on the market and restaurant front. The one we did manage to locate close to the centre was very pleasant though, with good food and friendly staff-though totally empty at 3 pm. Ráckeve does seem like one of those towns where no one really eats lunch out, the first patrons started trickling in only after 5.

Six was a perfect time to get back through the sleep-warp into the city, though we did finally identify one lively spot in Ráckeve’s landscape: the local tobacco and betting store was alive with the clutter of pens predicting Sunday’s games and lottery numbers.

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