Through War Torn Europe: An official trip after WWI told in the words of James Gordon Steese
Number Twenty-One
1:30 P.M., PREDEAL,
Monday. September 1st, 1919.
The world continues to brighten. I caught my train this morning after driving back to the hotel for my Sam Browne belt, - my first error of that kind so far on this trip. I found a second sleeping car had been added to the train. Finding one two berth compartment unoccupied, I transferred my stuff and hope to travel alone the rest of the way. Of course, I had a quarrel with both conductors, but a distribution of largess settled the matter. I had only an upper before. This is a new car and actually clean.

Coming out we had a fearfully dirty dining car with unspeakable waiters. Now we have a much better steward. The train also seems to run better. I took the full course at lunch today from aperatif to liqueur to establish myself with the steward. I found a pretty good wine, too; quite an improvement over the ordinary vin rouge which was all they had coming out. The chit enclosed with 10% added for tax and 10% for tip makes an even 50 lei, or $3.25 gold. That would be a pretty fair price for an eleven o'clock luncheon on a dining car in the States. I am also enclosing a piece of Roumanian money. It is not a postage stamp. Its value in 10 bani, one tenth of a lei, or about a half cent, so be careful of it.

A nice looking woman has just been escorted off the train between two soldiers because there was something the matter with her passport.

We have now crossed the front line again. Trenches and wire entanglements are strung all along the track. Many bridges have been rebuilt since the war, but there are still a few temporary structures. All the towns show the effects of artillery fire. There is much new building going on in all the towns, most of it concrete, so there are some pretty good signs of returning prosperity.

I went to sleep last  night to the strains of the "Swanee River" played by the National Band as part of an American medley. I was awakened this morning by the crowing of hundreds of cocks, though my hotel is in the middle of the City, one block from the Royal Palace.

While getting my bearings yesterday, I ran into a Red Cross man in front of their headquarters in the Metropole Hotel. I asked him where was the most fashionable place to dine on a Sunday afternoon. He said the Red Cross cafeteria provided very good meals. I tried to explain that I was in Bucarest for the first and possibly the only time in my life, that I was not searching for a place to relieve my hunger primarily, nor did I want a simple homecooked American meal. What I wanted were lots of bright lights and music, expensive food and wine; in other words, a typically Roumanian cafe. He then directed me to a quiet looking place on a side street which turned out to be closed on account of a waiters' strike.

I had dinner at the hotel last night and it was rather poor, because, being proud of my success with luncheon, I tried to order it myself. My waiter knew no French and the menu me quite unintelligible, so I tried to order by position. It did not work. I got three kinds of soup or gruel; one from the top where it belonged, one from the middle which was some kind of special native entree, and one which I pointed to away down there the choose should have been. I never did succeed in identifying it and have since begun to suspect that the waiter was spoofing me.

The town was very lively with everything from Grand Opera to the Movies. Though it was Sunday night, the streets and cafes were jammed. There were many crowded beer gardens with music. I have found out why there are no pretty girls in the small towns and rural districts. They all go to Bucarest as soon an old enough to leave home. It was the same way in France.

I saw at least twenty girls who looked exactly like Fritzi Scheff used to look. The latter is from Vienna, I understand, but I think she must be Hungarian because all these girls have that same turned up nose and questioning expression.

Several hours before we reached Bucarest yesterday, a French corporal, military courier, cussed me out for allowing civilians in my compartment. He said the courier must have seclusion to guard his papers and so he can take off his belt, boots, and other accouterments at night. Besides, the military must not associate with the civilians.

As a diplomatic courier, I was loaded down with all sorts of commissions all along the line. A Rod Cross man carried off a razor by mistake, so I took it back from Vincovtsi to Bucarest. An outbound courier gave me 1000 francs to pay a poker debt for him in Bucarest, etc. When a French Commandant at a way station tried to give me a bunch of ominous looking sealed letters for the French Embassy in Constantinople, I demurred, and referred him to my friend the French corporal in the car ahead.

8:00 A.M., Tuesday, Sept. 2nd.
The name of this town is pronounced Nazh-Kikinda, but is spelled thus: *****. The day still looks auspicious. We had a good night's run and are very little late. It is better than an even chance that we make our connection at Vincovtsi and have our car hooked onto the Belgrade-Trieste express.

I had a very severe shock yesterday afternoon. There are six of us Americans on board, including several couriers coming out, a Food Relief man, and a Red Cross man. Four of us started to play bridge in the dining car yesterday afternoon about tea time, and were informed by the conductor that it was against the rules. The idea of there being rules about anything, and especially about card-playing, in the Balkans was so ludicrous we simply burst out laughing. But it turned out to be a serious matter. We had a green conductor who was very much in earnest. No one else objected and he could not show us any printed rule. We, therefore, gave him all our business cards with our addresses on them, and then told him to go to the devil. If there should be any complaint, we would exonerate him from any responsibility.

10:00 A.M., SZABDKA
But pronounced “Maria Teresiopoli”. The Jugo-Slavs have changed all the names. For instance, one way station has the following three names: Pecs, Cinquechiese, and Funfkirchen, besides the Chinese looking sign over the station.

At SZEGED, the French Headquarters for their operations against the Bolscheviki in Hungary, we passed an immense French Artillery Dump. The town was full of French soldiers, mostly Maroquins. Two trains, loaded with artillery, 75 mm. guns and 150 mm. howitzers, stood on a siding. Before that we had passed several train loads of Roumanian troops.

We are here an hour ahead of time. The connection is made which means Trieste early in the morning and Venice just after noon tomorrow, one day late. I hope that special train I am to meet at Venice has not changed its schedule. I think it goes from there to Udine, but I am not sure. I have had a good many narrow escapes and some discomforts, but, since leaving London, I have made quite an amazing trip for these times.
End Notes and Bibliography