Europe | Austria | Vienna – Dr E
The angels are frowning on me. Before he went, my father instilled me a mission to bring the word ‘bulbitate’ back into common use. It’s a goood word for travellers. No matter where you are, if it’s not home, you’re bound to get the sh*ts. And there is nothing like running frantically around an unfamiliar city, looking for a toilet, getting further agonised when someone explains in words you can’t understand why there is only a men’s toilet in the subway station.
I raced back to the hostel in agony, passing Sexton (in a new Austrian hat!) on the way. ‘Can’t stop! I’m going to bulbitate!’ (in case you haven’t got it: Old English: ‘to befilth one’s breech’)
Culture shock. There are no horse and carts in the street here. No flocks of geese wandering freely. Sexton can’t say ‘Watch out! Ridge!’ every few steps, as the pavements are smooth. There are curious beggars. They look like students, kneeling on their jackets, holding a hat or open palms.
Vienna is a dangerous city – because the shops are full of lovely things people like me cannot aford to buy. And the shop assistants are not bothered if your signature is worn off your credtit card.
I have to say I enjoy the clean, working toilets and sinks. And Vienna is a very attractive city. Attractive in the way I will never tire of riding my bike across Tower Bridge in London. That’s how I felt when I cruised through the city centre on one of the great free bicycles provided by Nokia and T Mobile. They are like shopping trolleys – you put in a 2 Euro coin and get it back when you are done.(Great irony here though – I have a T Mobile phone and had coverage in Bulgaria, and even on the Danube Delta. I had coverage in places where there are no roads. And I have no coverage in Vienna.)
Although I found nothing (as expected) in the Technical University or University of Vienna archives, I enjoyed visiting both places. Dr Ebner was lovely, always on hand to help me with illegible 19th century handwriting and geography of the Austrian Empire. His collague laughed at my great grandfather’s embellished obituary – ‘no one could possibly have studied all those subjects!’ though she also had plenty of useful general information. If I had my husband’s penchant for nerdiness I’d have fancied Dr E, he was that sweet. I know if I ever come up with another possible real name for old ‘Jules’ Dr E will gladly look it up.
There were better preliminary steps one could have taken, rather than the needle in the haystack approach. Out of 938 students at the Technical college in the 1850s, only 3 were Russian. Very shortly before this trip my brother and I determined that the name we thought was our great grandfather’s real name was incorrect. We came up with this hairbrained scheme of trying to match Russians here with Russians in the American civil war. But we do not even know for sure ‘Jules’ studied in Vienna!
The University of Vienna archives were in a even more grand old building. Cherubs and angels were carved in the ceiling. Cracked marble walls added character. The air was dry and it smelled of old books. I expected the attendent to be grumpy but in fact he also was helpful, though reluctant to show me films when it was unlikely I would find anything. I couldn’t ask him to translate every name, but Dr E’s informative morning had made me pretty good at telling which names were Czech, Serb, Polish, etc. I took down a few that might have been remotely Russian, but are probably a long shot.
And now I’m back at the hostel, sharing a pitcher of beer with my husband, who is wearing his new hat, and has today written a rather hilarious backpacking story himself.