Two Days in Vienna

We arrived to Vienna on December 15th, after a 3 hour flight from Istanbul. They served dinner on the plane but we refused it thinking that we have to pay for it and we were saving our money to go farther to Canada. How things have changed over the years, now we really have to pay for food on certain flights.

On our arrival we were afraid of being arrested and sent back to Romania. We thought that every body can spot us and know that we are on the run. With little Krisztina by the hand and our luggage claimed we approached the passport control booth with our hearts racing. The officer who checked our passports was a bit confused when we handed our passports to him. He didn’t see many of those I presume. He was looking at every page very attentively while we were trying to hide our anxiety. Finally he asked the other officer something in German. His colleague who was more knowledgeable with Romanian passports, looked at our passports and said something in German. We understood the word “grun” which means green in English. Our passports were the colour dark green. We guessed he said that green Romanian passports were ok and we didn’t need visas.

Then he gave us back the passports and waved us through. We were overjoyed.

We walked through the airport and stepped out the sliding doors and we felt like we’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel, both figuratively and literally. We were in Vienna, free to go anywhere and Christmas lights were shining everywhere. Very different from what we left behind in Romania.

It was Monday night already and we needed a place to spend the night. Not knowing anything about Vienna, we stepped to one of the taxis that were waiting for travelers and asked the driver to take us to the city center to an inexpensive hotel. He took us to a bed and breakfast in a private home. We got a cozy room on the third floor and were happy to have a place to stay for the night. The cost in Austrian Shillings, was the equivalent of 50 US dollars per night. Our happiness didn’t last long. Krisztina started looking for her doll that she carried in her hands along the way. We looked everywhere in the room and didn’t find it. The sad realization hit us: Csavo Baba was lost! We think it was left in the taxi. We felt very bad about losing the doll, the only doll, the only toy our little girl had, to keep her company along our journey. She was heartbroken and we could not comfort her. After a while her soother helped her calm down and stopped crying. We decided to go out to find a store and buy a new doll for her. We also needed to find a place to eat. Our hostess at the bed and breakfast place was a very nice lady and gave us directions to the store.

We went out in Vienna at night and were amazed by all the Christmas displays. Trees decorated with flickering lights, shining in every colour. The store fronts were brightly lit and Christmas music was playing everywhere. We entered a big department store, I don’t recall the name of it, looking for a doll to buy. We saw many decorated Christmas trees and electric train sets. We also saw many expensive, oversized dolls, almost as tall as Krisztina. They were nicely dressed and packaged in see through boxes but they were not the doll that was loved by her. These dolls were beautiful but strangers. We left disappointed and without a doll. Went to the grocery store where we bought bread, milk and some salami to eat it in our BnB room. We were overwhelmed by all that happened that day: the flight from Istanbul to Vienna, the landing in a strange city, the loss of the doll. We felt like we were in a dream afraid to wake up and find ourselves in Romania again.

We woke up the next morning, had a lovely breakfast prepared by our hostess and went to town looking for a travel agency. While walking on the streets we admired the old buildings built during the Austrian Empire and visited the famous St. Stephen Cathedral where we said a prayer of gratitude to God. We felt that it was his guidance that led us along the way.

We found a travel agency where we asked for plane tickets to Toronto, Canada. We left Romania with the intention of going to Canada because Arpad had some family friends living in Toronto who we hoped could help us settle in the new country.

We were told we needed visas to travel to Canada. Romanians could travel visa free in Europe but not to North America. First disappointment.

Luckily the Canadian Embassy was within walking distance from the Travel Agency.

We walked in and with the passports in our hands we asked for visas. Tourist visas? We were asked. We said yes. Do you have a letter of invitation? No! You need one in order to get a tourist visa. Second disappointment. We had no way of getting a letter of invitation from Canada on such a short notice.

We can’t go if we don’t have a letter of invitation? We asked. Tourists need a letter of invitation, we were told again. If we want to emigrate? we asked. Well, then you have to go to the next level and fill out an application. Ok!

We went to the next level and told the clerk that we wanted to emigrate to Canada.

The clerk told us we needed to fill out lots of forms and we should go to an organization where they can help us with our case. Next door to the Embassy was the World Council of Churches and they had people who spoke our language and who could help us.

World Council of Churches or WCC, was one of the worldwide religious organizations that set up office in Vienna to help refugees from Eastern Europe seek asylum in various countries.

We entered the office hoping to fill out the applications fast with their help and return to the Embassy to start the emigration procedure and get our visas for our trip.

After telling the lady at the WCC our desire to go to Canada, she informed us about the way things worked. She told us we needed to fill out applications, they will help us. We need to send them to the Canadian Embassy, they will do that for us. We will need to have a medical exam and have an interview with a worker from the embassy. They can set up appointments for us. Then we have to wait until our case is reviewed. If we are found fit for Canada we will receive the visas and then we can make arrangements to go to Canada. All this could take up to one year, she told us. Third disappointment.

We didn’t have enough money to live in Vienna for a year while waiting for the visas.

What to do? You can go to Traiskirchen and live there until you get your papers ready, the lady from WCC told us. Traiskirchen was a town, 20 Km away from Vienna and it was home to the biggest refugee camp in Europe. It still is.

The refugee camp was located in the centre of Traiskirchen in the building of the former Imperial Artillery Cadet School which was built in 1900.

We were told to take the Localbahn, a railway system that ran from Vienna to Traiskirchen, and when we get there, we should walk to the guard at the gate of the camp and ask for political asylum. They will tell us how to proceed next.

We were upset at this unexpected turn of events. We were sure once we got out of Romania we will be free to go anywhere. We did not imagine spending time in a refugee camp. We didn’t have to go there but we didn’t have the means of living in Vienna until we will be allowed to go to Canada.

Nobody forced you to come here, said the lady seeing our disappointment. Even though we didn’t like her statement it was the truth and it shook us up. We were fugitives, we had our little daughter with us and needed a place to stay and food to eat. We might be in need of medical attention in the future. At the refugee camp we would be provided all that. We filled out the applications for emigration to Canada and returned for one more night to the BnB.

The next morning our small family, with all our belongings, boarded the Localbahn to Traiskirchen.

Once there we walked to the armed guard at the gate and, feeling very insecure and uneasy, asked for political asylum.

And so the next chapter in our life started. Eight months of waiting and hoping to get a chance of starting a new and better life in Canada.

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