On the Road

I recently went to Vienna, Austria to do a little background work for the novel I’m currently writing. I wanted to see the Institute for Radium Research, which was radical in its support of women scientists back when it first opened its doors. In its prime, in the 1930’s, almost forty percent of the research staff were women, and it was the first place that hired janitors: all other labs demanded that women scientists also serve as janitors.

Dr. Johannes Marton at the Institut für Radiumforschung (now Stefan Meyer Institut)

Dr. Marton showing Sara around the Institut

Sara in the Institut für Radiumforschung stairwell

Sara in the Institut für Radiumforschung stairwell

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the Institut got rid of the radium in the basement; in the process of cleaning the building they discovered so many hot spots that they had to dig pieces of the stairwell and the walls out and replace them.

I also went to the Leopoldstadt, the section of Vienna where immigrants typically congregate. When almost 200,000 Jews came in from eastern Europe in the years right after WW I, so many settled in the Leopoldstadt that it became known as the “Matzo Island.” More grimly and tragically, the Leopoldstadt became the ghetto where Jews were forced to live, and then deported to their deaths after the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938.  I wanted to see the building where Lotty Herschel and her family might have lived.

Entryway to 38A Novaragaße, where Lotty Herschel might have lived, 1938-39

Entryway to the building where Lotty might have lived in 1938-39

I found Vienna challenging emotionally. Like most Jews of my generation and history, the past haunts me when I’m in Vienna or Berlin or Munich. The city, too, feels pinched in a way, but I was warmly greeted by Professor Marton at the Institut, and by the archivists to whom he introduced me.

I walked five or six miles a day, doing research and seeing sights and of course my trip was fueled by espresso. The best I found in Vienna was at the Coffee Pirates on Spitalgaße, across the street from Vienna’s great teaching hospital. The pirates welcomed me with open arms.

In Vienna with the Coffee Pirates

In Vienna with the Coffee Pirates


(On a side note, when I found a great coffee shop near my London hotel called “Workshop” I was wearing a sweatshirt from Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago. I became an instant celebrity: their owner had gone to Chicago to study coffee making at Intelligentsia.)

From Vienna, I flew to Istanbul to meet up with my beloved cousin Barb, who’s serving in the Peace Corps in Crimea. We enjoyed all the tourist spots–the Blue Mosque, Topkapi, Haggia Sophia–but the highlight was taking the ferry across the Bosporous to the Asian side of Istanbul. There we met with the team from Artemis Publishing, who just brought out the first of my V I books to be published in Turkish (Hardball). Afterwards, we had tea with an important Professor of Turkology whom Barb works with in Crimea. From the team at Artemis and from Professor Isen, we got some interesting insights into contemporary issues in Istanbul. Among other things, the pressure on women to get pregnant and have children is such that doctors phone them at home once a week to interrogate them on their fertility! This will no doubt soon become the law in Texas, too.

Sara with Editor, Publisher, and Graphic Designer at Artemis Publishing

Sara with Editor, Publisher, and Graphic Designer at Artemis Publishing in Istanbul

On the ferry across the Bosporus. The tower in the left background is where we stayed

On the ferry across the Bosporus. Our apartment was near the tower in the background on the left

Sara and Barb inside Haggia Sophia, Istanbul

Sara and Barb inside Haggia Sophia, Istanbul

From Istanbul I went to London, saw David Hare’s The Judas Kiss about Oscar Wilde–astonishing production, which left us weeping at the end. Meetings with editors, agents, dog walks in Regents Park, great meals with good friends, good coffee, wonderful catching up with the incomparable Liza Cody and Margaret Kinsman, and my first outing to Kew Gardens, where I got to climb up to the Treetop Walk.  You walk along level with the tops of great trees. It’s extraordinary and exhilarating. Then–home to laundry, bills, chaos, and The Book.

  • Ann Feinberg

    Looks to me like you were staying by the Galata Tower in Istanbul. Did you go to the top? Such great views…a wonderful city! I loved being able to see where the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn and the Bosporus come together.

  • the Bag Lady

    Thanks for sharing your trip with us, Sara. Wish I could have been there, too! One of these days (G-d willing and the creek don’t rise) I hope to get back to Europe. Went to sing in the International Youth and Music Festival in Vienna in 1976 and loved it! We toured and sang in several of the opera houses and cathedrals in Austria, Switzerland and Italy. I wonder now how my adult self would view all the wonderful sights we saw.

  • Ann, you’re so right. We rented an apartment about 20 steps from the Galata Tower. We did climb up to see the city laid out around us. By the way, the apartment, Bereket 3, was wonderful; I highly recommend it and owner/manager Ann Uysal to anyone wanting a hotel alternative in Istanbul. We stayed four nights for 1/6 the cost of a good hotel.Two bedrooms, 2 baths, secure, across the street from a fresh juice stand, 5 minutes from the tram. Bag Lady, sell those heifers and get on a plane!

  • Jacqueline

    Hi, Sara,
    Thanks for sharing your trip with us. Quite fascinating! Not being much of a traveler myself, I especially appreciate it. I’ll look forward to reading your next novel.

    All the best,

    Jacqueline Seewald
    DEATH LEGACY–now in large print from Thorndike Press

  • Pen

    Sounds marvellous Sara. Glad you were able to enjoy yourself whilst doing your book research.


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