I first experienced Europe at the invitation of my Uncle Bob who I hadn’t seen for quite some time and didn’t know very well. The invitation (a belated graduation present) had come out-of-the-blue and, being an out-of-the-blue kind of gal, I jumped at the chance. Indeed I left so suddenly that I arrived in Germany sans plans of any sort, much to the chagrin of my uncle. He soon remedied the situation by setting me up with a nurse from Santa Monica California.
She was six years older than me, single and visiting her married sister on the base at Kaiserlautern (known to Americans as K-Town). I had no money but access to my uncle’s car and an endless supply of Esso gas coupons. I also spoke some French and German. She spoke no language other than English but had money and a copy of Europe on Five Dollars a Day. Thus we were the perfect traveling companions, save for one thing: our taste in men (which, as you’ll see if you follow these posts, can be a problem).
Germany at that time was occupied by the Allies meaning that military bases were scattered throughout the country – British, French, Canadian, American and sometimes even Australians. The Russians had already claimed the eastern edge as theirs, igniting the so-called Cold War. The civilians who worked for the armed forces (like my uncle) generally lived in housing near a base or in one of the surrounding small towns. They were given ration cards not only for gas but also to buy food and other items from the on-base commissary. The Officers Club (which included my uncle’s favorite hangout – the bar) served as a gathering place for the families of both the officers and the civilians, offering cheap booze at Happy Hour, hamburgers and fries for the homesick, and activities for children such as Girl Scouts, Indian Princesses, etc. To enter the Officers Club was to return stateside except that the servers and bartenders were young Germans hoping to learn English more fluently.
The VW Caroline and I traveled in had seen much better days. The seats had fossilized, the heater didn’t work, and, if we forget to add water to the engine (located underneath the backseat) every now and then, the windshield wipers and lights would stop working. This generally happened during a rainstorm at night.
For our first trip we decided to drive down to the Costa Brava in Spain, a route that would take us through Switzerland, along the French Alps, down the Riviera and over the Pyrenees mountains. Unfortunately it was August. Vacation time for half of Europe and guess where they all decided to go?
Next time: Roger, Michel and Paul – the boys of Maman Deux.