Love and wanderlust

Their hearts crossed paths all over Europe
By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal Staff Writer
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It took a trip halfway across the world for Michael and Jan Halbern to find each other. And to find each other again. And again. And again. Nearly 30 years after they first met each other in Spain, the Meadow Vista couple is among those celebrating their love, and their love story, on Valentine's Day. I had no intention of going to Europe and falling in love and moving half across the country, Jan said. It was the summer of 1978 when Michael, a Southern California college student, and Jan, a young nurse in Houston, Texas, headed to Europe. Both 20-somethings were drawn to Europe by the prospect of inexpensive flights and Eurail passes ” The idea was that you could go enjoy Europe on the cheap, Michael said ” and a sense of adventure and wanderlust. Their paths first crossed on July 6, 1978, one day before the famous running of the bulls in San Fermin, Pamplona, Spain. The two met the bus that would take them and their travel companions into town. I said, ˜Are you Americans?' and Jan said, ˜We're from Texas!' Michael said. I don't know why I said that, Jan said, laughing and shaking her head. The young travelers bought Boda bags, filled them with cheap wine and explored the town, trying unsuccessfully to find a place to stay for the night. We never did find a place to stay, so we decided to stay up all night, and it got so bone-chilling cold, Michael said. We basically stayed warm by trying to stay close to each other. We said goodbye the next day and it was sad, Jan said. The two exchanged addresses and phone numbers but didn't think they'd see each other again. It was the feeling of, this was fun but we have a lot more to do, Michael said. The two soon reconnected in San Sebastian, Spain, when Jan spotted Michael. Michael and I just hit it off chemistry-wise, she said. The pair and their friends spent time in Madrid, but again parted ways. Michael bought Jan roses in the train station. They came up with the idea of leaving messages for each other at American Express offices in the cities they were touring, with the hope that they might once again reconnect. There were no cell phones, Michael said. How do you leave a note for anybody? We did it through the American Express office. Michael found Jan again, this time in Florence, Italy, one day before she planned to leave. She took him to dinner, to experience a meal they both still remember ” Florentinian T-bone steaks. Another sad farewell the next day was followed up by another connection in Rome. We seriously crashed into each other at six in the morning going to the American Express office in Rome to leave each other notes, Jan said. It was at this point that the pair decided to travel together, heading with their understanding travel companions to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. Even after they officially said goodbye when it was time for Michael to head back to the U.S., the pair saw each other once more, in Munich. That almost felt like it was fateful, because we kept running into each other, sometimes by design and sometimes by luck, Michael said. Once back home and settling back into their day-to-day lives, Jan and Michael kept in touch. He came out to visit her in Houston, and she visited him in California. I realized there was something there because as soon as I got back to California I started thinking about our shared experiences and that affected me to the core, he said. Michael proposed to Jan at their favorite restaurant in San Francisco, and they were married on Aug. 1, 1981, which ended up being a banner year, he said, because it was the year he and Jan were married, he took a job teaching at Sierra College and they moved to Auburn. Both Jan and Michael, who have a 20-year-old daughter, cherish their how we met story. We had built a foundation we didn't even know about, she said. I found him so intelligent, so refreshing to have conversations with. There was something unique about you. I could just be myself around you, Jan told Michael. Both also appreciate the unconventional way their relationship began. I had no concept of what it was to fall in love. It was a much more progressive, incremental type of experience and I think I fell in love as a result of it touching the core of my being instead of something more superficial, he said. Our shared experiences are really what brought us together. The Journal's Loryll Nicolaisen can be reached at, or comment below.