How a vacation tale became a love story

'I just hope you don't marry a European!" was my mother's comment as I left California for Germany. Was she expecting European men to be macho types or was she simply thinking: "too far away"? But getting married was the last thing on my mind.

My father's parents had both emigrated to the United States from Germany, which had sparked my interest a long time ago. I learned German in high school (my father, with infinite patience, helping me to perfect my pronunciation), and then went on to major in German literature in college. Now I was ready for some real-life experience of the German language and culture.

My idea was to find some kind of work - any work - and stay in Germany for about a year. Traveling alone, however, was lonely. There was no rainbow's end, no pot of gold. I wandered from town to town, admiring the cathedral tower in Cologne, sitting in a basket chair on a deserted, windy beach on Sylt, walking along the waterfront in Hamburg, until I felt, "This is interesting, but now I want to go home."

But there was still Vienna. How could I leave Europe before visiting that beautiful city? I found a room not too far from the train station and spent the next few days simply walking up and down the nearest streets. My only explanation for this lack of initiative is that I was discouraged and, in my mind, already had one foot in the United States. The grimy buildings facing the train station did not live up to my idea of Vienna's reputation of a glorious city.

On Sunday morning I was ready to go to church. I had the address written on a slip of paper, which I showed the taxi driver. He dropped me off in the middle of the central district and pointed me toward an old Palais (a theater) in which my church held its services. I ascended the broad staircase, which graciously wound past baroque windows set into thick walls, and entered another world of high curved ceilings, chandeliers, gilt-edged doors with their wings folded open, and hardwood floors that shone like mirrors and announced each newcomer with creaks that sounded like drumrolls.

I came out of the church service blinking. The whole city was beaming at me; every corner I turned revealed new and more dazzling splendor. Something inside me swelled and expanded like a yeast dumpling.

About an hour later, when I had gotten used to the fact that Vienna really was beautiful, I came upon the Volksgarten, an extensive park filled with roses. I was calmer now, and my longing for home had returned. I crossed the Ringstrasse and walked toward the magnificent neoclassical parliament building.

On each side, impressive stairs led up to the colonnaded porch - where some people were standing. Fueled by my desire to have a fluent conversation with someone whose language was the same as mine, I looked up into the friendly face of a young man in a raincoat and thought, "Oh, he looks like an American."

As I was walking away again, this young man approached me and asked in perfect German, "Are you Viennese?" Oh! Not an American after all! Although I was not very friendly, he was courteous and charming, finally discovering to his astonishment that I had not really seen anything of Vienna yet. He was an Austrian student, and he had a motor scooter. That day I saw, from the back of the scooter, the true extent of what I had doggedly kept my eyes closed to. I was amazed and completely swept off my feet.

For several weeks we traversed Vienna and the surrounding area on that scooter, until my new friend had to go back to his studies and I got a job with the United Nations, just a few doors down from that wonderful parliament building. Three years later, and after many more trips on the scooter, this friend and I were married.

So I did marry a European, and I've never regretted it.

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