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  • Writer's pictureFrank Pastula

LOST IN EUROPE: Vienna Waits, But Will You?

Written by Frank Pastula


“Slow down, you crazy child, you’re so ambitious for a juvenile…” Billy Joel’s voice sang in my head as our train embarked from Vienna, on a three hour journey cross-country to Salzburg. I pondered how many people were on my train, perhaps even in my car, listening to Billy Joel’s Vienna at that moment. Probably a lot, all thinking they’re the main character. I don’t know why I have such an intense dislike for tourists. After all, I was one, and had been for the past eight months. But I don’t think anyone wants to be a tourist. We all wish we could know every language, deciphering every sign and cultural obstacle in our path. I certainly wish I did. However, there are perks that come with being a tourist. One of the best being that rewarding feeling when you’ve successfully communicated your order to the waiter, securing a meal so as to not starve in a foreign country. It’s always a challenge, but one that we as tourists gladly partake in every step of the journey. I just wish that I felt this same way during my trip to Austria.


As the train began its acceleration one last time, I could see the mountains peaking over rolling hills of farmland that we had been passing for the past two hours, having reminded me more of rural Indiana than the magical land of Austria. I looked to Ben and Emma, who had just awoken from their slumber. I had spent the entire ride writing emails and drafting future travel plans. Emma probably dreamt of the Sound of Music tour that we would take later that weekend, and Ben perhaps of the hikes in snowy forests where we would soon find ourselves, of course with nothing more than shorts and his Jordan slides on. As the train pulled into Salzburg Central Station, I couldn’t help but feel giddy; soon to be immersed in conversations with a new culture, presenting those same challenges that every tourist so welcomes to conquer.


As the train reached a halt, I reached above me to grab my bag, containing my clothes and camera equipment that I used to document my travels everywhere. I felt it was my medium between reality back in America and the distant dream of European travel that I was constantly immersed in. Simply put, my camera acted as my second set of eyes; it was my everything. Reaching above me, I felt nothing there. My heart rate rose, my head began to spin, and possibilities all leading to the worst swirled in my mind. Running back and forth through every car in a frantic rush, I slowly came to the realization that my bag was not on this train. It had gotten off before me, assumingly by the help of a thief, or a confused traveler.


I quickly became accustomed to the coldness of Austrians as I tried to explain to the ticket attendant what had happened to me. Without a word of advice or pity, he pointed to the sign outside, directing me towards the police station. I waved goodbye to Emma and Ben as they went to the apartment, and embarked for the biggest challenge I had ever undertaken as a tourist.


I spent two hours in the Wes Anderson-esque metal box that was the Salzburg Police Station. I had once thought that communicating with a Sicilian man about which panino I wanted to order was the most difficult translation I had ever undertaken. Now, I was speaking with Officer Wilheim Müller on the contents of my stolen bag, or rucksack as he called it. Through broken English and a whole lot of frustration, Wilheim finished his investigation and handed me a pile of paperwork written in German. I signed on the dotted lines, realizing that I might have just given away my kidneys for all I knew. When asking about what I should do for my stolen passport, Wilheim shrugged and told me to call my embassy. The embassy voicemail told me that they wouldn’t be open till 8 am on Monday, meaning I had the entire weekend to feel like Tom Hanks in Terminal, except instead of an airport I was stuck in Austria.


Walking through Salzburg I couldn’t help but think of how I would get home, which wasn’t even actually my real home. I was twice removed from my real home, and couldn't have felt more like a stranger. The weekend was filled with great memories of castles, mountains, and historic towns; however I couldn’t help but shake the feeling of impending doom that I would meet on Monday, when the US consular would look at me and tell me that I was no longer a citizen, and stuck in Austria forever. Okay, maybe that wasn’t going to happen, but once again I had no idea what would.


Monday came slowly, and I ran to the station to catch my now 4am train to Vienna in the hopes of being the first at the US Embassy at 8am. My cab driver was very enthusiastic about my visit to Vienna, and insisted on pointing out the sights along the way to the Embassy. It was a change of pace from Wilheim, and really helped to take my mind off of what was to come next. I arrived at the Embassy on time, to see that 40 other people were in line before me. Once I told the guard why I was there, he escorted me to the front of the line. Finally, I thought, something was going my way. I’m not sure why I imagined there would be a sense of American hospitality at the Embassy, because the consular I spoke to must have gone to the same military boot camp as Wilheim. He told me that my police report of a stolen passport was the same as if I had lost it, and to come back at 2:30; hopefully he would get to making my emergency passport in time, he said. Seldom had I ever felt more enraged and defeated in one moment. I stepped out of the Embassy and headed aimlessly down the nearest street, taking everything I could to not collapse in defeat. Still angry at the consular and my entire situation, I redirected my attention to my surroundings. It was February, but the sun was out. I soon wandered into a park, with nothing in my hands but the H&M paper bag that held my laptop and used clothes that I’d bought in place of my stolen ones from, you guessed it, H&M. Birds were chirping and there was an old woman walking her dog beside me. A man was practicing tai chi in the field and little kids strung up in a line walked past, presumably on a school trip. A woman pushed her baby on a stroller, and with each bump she hit on the pavement, the child laughed and smiled with joy. I guess not every bump in the road is a bad thing; maybe it's not meant to veer you off into the wrong direction. For a moment, time stood still. I wished that it could be frozen, sitting on that park bench in Vienna forever. Looking down at my phone to see what time it was, I realized that it was 12:30 on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. I walked to a nearby pond, and decided that it was pretty much fate at this point. So I took out my earbuds, and turned on Vienna by Billy Joel. I somehow highly doubt that Billy wrote that song after losing his passport in Vienna, but honestly the case could be made.


So I sat, and I thought, trying to think of a happy ending. What could I gain out of this mess, if anything?


I can’t believe it has taken me this long, but right then and there I realized that not every story needs a happy ending. You don’t always need to learn some remarkable talent about yourself, or conquer an incredible feat. Like pushing an ice block on a hot summer day, sometimes making something leads to nothing.


But it's not up to me where this story leads.


Maybe some adventurous little kid will find it one day, and decide to jump into a world of the unknown; although I know I’m no Anthony Bourdain. Maybe it will just get thrown away into the JFRC archives, an adventure lost forever in time. Or maybe, just maybe, this story will find someone who needs it. After all, that's the reason we write, isn’t it? Hopefully it reminded you to slow down, and that you're doing fine. And not to worry about being everything you want to be before your time. And I do hope you realize that if not in Vienna, then somewhere, a brighter day waits for you.


Writer’s Note

It makes me sad to realize that this may be the last article I write for the Dalla Bocca Del Lupo. Although I’ve only had a year to do so, I am so grateful for the memories that I’ve made and been able to share with you. To whomever that may see this in the JFRC future, please don’t let us die. We as students are the spirit of our institution; without us there would be nothing. Don’t forget how important you are and that you are heard; so tell your story. Signing off one last time, I leave you with words I’ve carried with me throughout my year abroad from the great Walter Mitty: “Life’s about courage and going into the unknown…and a little bit of stupidity too.” (Okay, I may have added that last part).


Till next time, whenever that may be, stay adventurous dear friends.


- Frank Pastula


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