The year 2007 marked our 25th anniversary and plans for a celebratory return to Europe began early in the year. We set aside the last two weeks of October for the trip in order to be there on our actual anniversary date, October 30th. It would be a year of transition for us, concluding with a decision that would dramatically alter the arc of our lives. Jessica finished up her first year of college at UC Santa Barbara and moved into an apartment in nearby Isla Vista, a course of action that would shape her for years to come, bringing friends, memories, and Kristopher Mitchell into her life.
I was concluding what would be one of the most difficult periods in my life, having experienced a toxic work environment that threatened to drive me from UCLA and away from the career that I had loved for so long. In July we took the Expedition out on the road for a run to Spokane to witness the wedding of our long time friend Colleen Benson to Brian Swehla, an amazing story of a love long delayed, two high school sweethearts finding each other later in life. On the way we stopped over at Kamp Angst in Selma, Oregon to stay with Kathy and Tom Carlisle, two of our oldest and dearest friends, and detoured through Portland for a visit with Mary and Norm Benson, allowing us to enjoy that beautiful drive up the Columbia River before turning north to Spokane.
In mid-September I traveled up to Eugene for an annual gathering of the Pac-10 Director’s Group, hosted by Dusty Miller at the University of Oregon. As I mentioned in my post Bittersweet the Leaving, in December, this group of individuals had helped to define my experience as a student union professional. I had truly been struggling with my life at UCLA, wavering between taking retirement and finding some other occupation, or trying to find work in the field, which would mean a move for the family, not a scenario we actively sought.
As we sat around the table during introductions in one of Dusty’s meeting rooms in the Erb Memorial Union, Brett Perozzi, then at Arizona State made the announcement that his job there had been restructured in a way that didn’t work at all for him and as a result, he would be leaving to take a position at Weber State in Utah. It was either at the moment, or not long after, when it all became clear to me. I wasn’t ready to leave the field or call it quits, wasn’t done with this thing I think I do well and which means so much to me. I would stay in the field and I would move, if necessary, producing changes in our lives that would become part of the amazing journey that has led us to where we are today.
We left Los Angeles on Saturday, October 20th with a connection in San Francisco for the direct flight to Frankfurt. Arriving there in late morning, we made our way to the Hertz counter to pick up what I thought would be a Mercedes, an upgraded choice to help celebrate 25 great years of marriage. After checking us in the agent gave a small frown and said that a Mercedes wasn’t available so instead they would upgrade us to a 3-series BMW. I guess it says something about the way the locals view those two car companies that the Beemer was the upgrade.
We made the easy hour long drive to Pension Im Malerwinkel in Bacharach on the Rhein River, our destination for the next three nights. This is a jewel of a location; a small town nestled along the deep valley carved by the Rhine, full of half-timbered houses and not far down river from the famous Lorelei rock.
We checked into our room and then wandered around the town and down to the river. It is our habit, almost a ritual, that upon landing in Germany to eat a currywurst and then a piece of Strudel. We covered most of the town by walking, despairing of finding a currywurst, but once we walked out to the river we found, to our delight, a small wurst stand dispensing that not to be missed staple of the German diet. Oh, and a beer of course. Later we would track down our first apple strudel and two coffees to keep our jet lagged spirits moving along.
A brief nap rejuvenated us in time for dinner at the Altes Haus, one of the oldest buildings in Bacharach. With a simple menu of typical German fare, it was the perfect way to start off our two-week tour.
The next morning, after a very fine breakfast at the hotel, we spent most of the day on an extended tour of the outskirts of Bacharach, including a walk in the hills nearby which were covered in Riesling grapes. A visit to hill top youth hostel, a converted castle, provided nice views of the river and we finished up with a stop at a church that had been destroyed during the war and repurposed as memorial to victims of the holocaust.
Sometime that day I received a phone call from Terry Setzer, Jim Hoppa’s Administrative Assistant at the time. She was following up on the application I had submitted for the Associate Director opening at UNC Charlotte, wondering if I’d be available for a phone interview. I responded that I was very much interested, but was just starting a two week vacation in Europe. Could the call wait until I returned to the States? The answer was yes and as most everyone knows, that call would lead a great job in a city we would grow to love.
That night we went for dinner at the Rhein-Hotel situated adjacent to the town wall overlooking the river. Folks often get the impression that traveling in Europe is expensive, but our few days in Bacharach dispelled that notion. Our nice room at the Malerwinkel ran us 50 Euros a night. With the exchange rate at 1.44, that came to $215 or a little over $70 per night. Our meal at the Altes Haus with beers ran $51 and the very nice meal at the Rhein-Hotel, including a bottle of the local Riesling wine (a choice we paid dearly for the next morning) cost us a shade under $100. All things considered, stateside prices.
We arose early the next morning to catch one of the boats that ply the river as a ferry service, to head upstream to the castle ruins at Burg Rheinfels. It was a lovely day to be on the water and the boat was nicely appointed, with a bar and various levels of food service to make the voyage more enjoyable. We cruised past the statue commemorating the famous Lorelei and after an hour or so on the water arrived at Rheinfels. We walked from the pier through this small town and climbed up the fairly steep hill to reach the entrance to the castle grounds.
Started in in 1245 by Count Diether V of Katzenelnbogen it became the largest fortress in the Middle Rhein Valley between Koblenz and Mainz. Once 5 times larger than its current footprint, successive assaults by numerous armies have reduced it to a still impressive ruin. We spent a long time touring the grounds and then made our way back down the hill to the train to take us back to Bacharach. Once there, we jumped in the BMW for a nice drive back up river, all the way to Koblenz, a winding scenic journey with the river rolling past our windows.
The funny thing about these trips and the memories they produce is the fickleness of those recollections; unless you’ve kept meticulous records you can’t remember every moment, every meal or every experience. We stopped briefly on the way back down river for a cup of coffee at a little stand. We shared a slice of pizza and had a very nice conversation with the proprietor, who was a fairly recent émigré from one of the Balkan countries. Upon our return to Bacharach we had dinner at a place that my notes simply refer to as “some hotel”. A fitting finish to a fine day of travel: a forgettable meal in a wonderful place.
Pension Im Malerwinkel: http://www.im-malerwinkel.de/
Lorelei Rock: http://www.loreley-rhine.com/
Rheinfels Castle: http://www.st-goar.de/17-1-rheinfels-castle.html