Post Card from Paris

Greetings from Paris! 

France, not Texas…

Lady Cat 6 and Sponsor successfully completed our journey from outer space a to Europe! It took a bit of time, and involved a few days of making lemonade (why does life never hand you junipers, so you can make some gin?!), but here we are, enjoying the sights, sounds, and tastes of “Paree”!

We left fair Whidbey Isle on Sunday (September 13) on a C-40 bound for Norfolk. Plan A was to have a car staged in the parking lot of the Norfolk air terminal (yes), overnight at Ely Hall (yes), easy drive to Dover on Monday and overnight at the Eagle’s Rest on base lodging (YES! DV – DISTINGUISHED VISITOR – SUITE!), then on to McGuire on Tuesday for two flight possibilities to Ramstein (no, and no).

Fortunately, we secured lodging at the All American Inn on base. Unfortunately, our DV treatment did not continue. The standard room was very nice, however, and I was not made to feel fat and guilty for not using the exercise bike that apparently is standard furnishing for more  distinguished patrons.

Plan B: return to the terminal Wednesday (no, and no, again). 

I did have the pleasure Tuesday of meeting a few blog-followers and Facebook friends in person at the terminal.  After being passed over for flights two days in a row, we all drowned our sorrows together in beer, wine and schnitzel at Sebastian’s Schnitzel Haus (BYOB), just outside the Fort Dix gate Wednesday evening. A tantalizing taste of Germany in New Jersey!

There were no flights forecast on Thursday, so, Plan C: hit the Jersey Shore for the day.  A delicious seafood lunch at the Blue Water Cafe on Long Beach Island, followed by some sun and fun – fun, except for me being stabbed in the foot by someone’s rogue attack kite plummeting out of the blue – were the perfect antidote to having been cooped up in the terminal.

Friday felt lucky for Plan D – FOUR flights to Ramstein on the forecast! Our new friends, who had earlier sign up dates than ours, were selected for the first flight – a C-17; yes, you know, my favorite. We hit pay dirt with the second, a KC-10 tanker with 69 seats! There were only 39 passengers, including several who arrived at the last minute on a flight from Charleston. I met two more friends from Facebook who had taken the Charleston-McGuire flight – this was becoming quite the “get acquainted” tour!

 It took four days, from Tuesday until Friday, to catch our hop to Ramstein. Not great, but not bad, either, considering we were hitting the very beginning of Cat 6 travel season and had to contend with the remainder of summer Cat 3 and 4 travelers!

We arrived at Ramstein at around 10:30 Saturday morning. Immigration and customs were quick for such a small flight, and we were checked into our room and ready to nap by lunch time. 

A couple hours of sleep later, we were up and about again. We had made a date to meet some MORE until-then virtual friends who had just come from Paris, to chat about their experience. Among other suggestions, they recommended a great little hotel we would check out and check in to for the duration of our visit!

Promptly at 7 last Sunday morning, the alarm roused us for our travel day to Paris. A short taxi ride from lodging dropped us at the little Ramstein train platform. Two connections (Landstuhl and Saarbrucken) and a little less than 3 hours later, we arrived! We’ve been going nonstop in the City of Lights ever since! 

It’s been a wonderful week, and there’s much more of the country yet-to-see. Tomorrow, we’re off to Bayeux and the Normandy Landing beaches, followed by the Chateaux of the Loire, and other fine French adventures before returning our rental car in Strasbourg and heading back to Ramstein to re-launch into outer space a for our return home.

Until then…

Vive La France!          

Operations Interrupted

Operations at Lady Cat 6 will be severely curtailed until further notice. Autumn travel season is upon us, and the entire staff is about to leave the building. Outer space a, here I come!

In the meantime, please enjoy previous posts and watch for trip reports, or, better yet, get out there and join me!

Get Packing!

Finally! We’re done with talking about packing, and we’re down to the nitty-gritty, actual packing list!

There are many excellent packing lists available as starting points. My favorite is Rick Steves: http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/packing-light/ricks-packing-list  Whichever list you choose to work from, you will need to do some tinkering to meet your own personal needs and space a requirements. 

Aside from the underwear, socks, compression socks, shoes, shirt, slacks, scarf, jacket, and whatever else I’m wearing on the plane (everything coordinating with what’s in my bag), here is my packing list, adapted from Rick Steves:

4 blouses/shirts, assorted styles and sleeve length depending on season

1 or 2 sleeveless shells or tank tops. Must be the kind that can be worn alone, under an open blouse or jacket, or as a base layer in cooler weather. Making items do double or triple duty extends my options.

1 lightweight dressy jacket or sweater

3 pairs of slacks, one of which can be dressed up. In summer, I pack one pair of capris and two pairs of (long) shorts. In cooler weather I take either all long pants, or two long and one capri

1 skirt that can be dressed up if needed.  No dress.

4 pairs of underwear -Exofficio ( www.exofficio.com ) or other quick dry type, assorted styles. Wash in sink.

1 bra (I’m wearing another one on the plane!)

4 pairs of socks, plus an extra pair of compression socks

1 packable rain jacket with hood

1 pair of nice looking flat shoes (sandals in summer)

1 lightweight nightie (use the jacket or sweater for a robe – another double duty trick)

1 swimsuit, packaged in a gallon size ziplock bag. I’ll need that when the suit is wet

1 scrunchy scrubby thing, packaged in a quart size ziplock – Europe does not do wash cloths

Scarves – as many as I want and can fit in the nooks and crannies of the case.

Small purse. Carrying backpacks and wearing fanny or belly packs identifies one as a tourist.

My Sponsor’s list is pretty much the same, minus the “ladies” items.

Next comes how to pack. I know many people like packing cubes and other organizers, but I don’t. They take up valuable space that could be used for actual clothing and supplies. I roll my clothes, and place them in a row in one half of the suitcase. WP_20150911_001 (1)In the other half go my shoes, in a plastic bag, my underwear bag, my toiletry bag, the rain coat in its pack, the swim suit in its bag, a heavy duty clear plastic bag with my travel size liquids (shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, antiperspirant, lotion, moisturizer),and a bag with spare medications, along with their labels (cut out and taped to a card to save space). Also, a small jewelry bag – mostly earrings, some all-in-one laundry sheets, extra plastic bags to use for laundry and whatever, and a copy of the packing list.  WP_20150911_004

Zipped into the lining are copies of our passports, IDs, driver’s licenses, and insurance cards – auto and health.

If there is space and weight left o
ver, I might fudge a little and take an extra pair of shoes or an extra sweater, but most of the time there’s not, so I don’t. So, that’s the suitcase.

Into the backpack go:

Electronics:

  • Tablet (mobile device)
  • Bluetooth keyboard
  • Cell phone
  • Camera
  • Cords (recharging)
  • Plug adapter
  • Ear buds/ear plugs
  • Flash drive containing any files we may need

Medications, packed in a small cosmetics bag

Small cosmetics bag with toothbrushes, paste, and other sundries that may be needed in transit.

Documents: Passports, NEXUS Card, case with ID and credit/debit cards

Miscellaneous: Sunglasses, car keys, antibacterial wipes, face masks (I get respiratory infections easily!)

Journal and pens

My Sponsor carries his tablet, cell phone, ear plugs, sundries, two tiny umbrellas, and snacks for the flight in the duffel.

And, there you have it: the Official Lady Cat 6 Packing List. And now, it’s time to stop writing about packing, and actually GET STARTED PACKING for our next trip! It’s just about time to take off!

Packing Strategy

Packing light is one of the biggest challenges facing Cat 6 space a travelers. While larger aircraft allow two 70lb bags per passenger for checked luggage, there are also many that limit bags to 50, or even 30lbs total! The heavier your bags, the more limited your flight opportunities, so it’s important to learn to pack light. No matter where we travel, we stay below the 30lb threshold!

Aside from the checked baggage issue, there is also the reality that throughout Europe and most other countries, schlepping heavy suitcases up and down steps for trains or buses, through hotels with many floors but no elevators, and into, out of, and around numerous terminals and stations is no picnic. The less you have to cart around, the happier you’ll be.

I’ve developed a set of rules for myself to help me stay within weight limits and still have sufficient clothing and supplies for my journey:

Rule #1: Never pack for more than a week, no matter how long the trip.

Rule #2: Every single item of clothing must work with every other item.

Rule #3: If I’m not SURE I’m going to wear and item at least three times, it doesn’t go.

Rule #4: Take the skirt; leave the dress

Rule #5: Two pairs of shoes – total! No more! 

Rule #6: Don’t pack any supplies I can find on the local economy (see below).

Rule #7: Layer! Layer! Layer!

One thing to consider before starting on the suitcase is what to wear on the plane. The decision can either expand your options beyond what’s in your luggage, or cause you to spend your trip lugging around clothing that is destined to languish in the suitcase, taking up space and weighing it down. I cannot advise strongly enough against traveling in schlumpy sweats or other similar items! They may seem comfy, and they may be all right for a quick trip to Wal Mart or if you’re traveling domestically and being picked up directly from the terminal. But, really, outside our borders, they’re a “NO”. Do you see yourself strolling down the grand boulevards of Europe in this type of clothing? You shouldn’t!  Consider your travel wear part of your packing. Make sure it conforms to rules 2 and 3, above.

Speaking of what not to wear and in keeping with Rule #6, here is a list of things that are, for me, things not to pack:

Shampoo – I buy it as needed on the road

Hair dryer – most hotels have them or I do without (I do take a travel-size curling iron)

Contact lenses and supplies – just wear glasses!

Health and beauty products and toiletries (tooth paste, mouth wash, hand lotion, hair spray, etc.)

Separate navigation device – I download maps onto my smart phone and use that

Books and travel guides. Yes, I know you like a “real” book, but accommodation must be made. I download books from my local library onto my mobile device instead. I also download digital travel guides, podcasts, audio tours (again, Rick Steves is a good source: www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/audio/audio-tours ), maps, and other pertinent information.  The Triposo App ( www.triposo.com ) is a FABulous resource!

The type of luggage you use can make a difference for the weight allowance, before anything is even packed into it. My suitcase is an extremely lightweight Traveler’s Choice Freedom series (available at several web sites) hard-side 21” rolling case. In addition, I carry an Eagle Creek mini day pack I got at REI (http://www.rei.com/product/866261/eagle-creek-rfid-travel-bug-mini-daypack ) as my carry on. My Sponsor checks a small, soft-sided suit case – which is really more like a multi-compartment, glorified heavy duty packing cube – and uses a small duffel bag (our “C 17 Bag”) which contains our cargo plane supplies: self-inflating camping pad, fleece throw, fleece vests, small camping pillow, and his long underwear shirt and lightweight windbreaker, as his carry on.  His supplies all fit in the leftover interior room and outer pockets (one on each end, a larger one in front). Everything we need for our adventures fits into these four bags. The total weight for each of us ranges between 24 and 29lbs.  We can get on any plane that comes our way, and have no trouble wrangling luggage while on the ground.

Next (Later today! I promise!): the Packing List!

Part Two: Our FABulous Hawaiian Vacation…On Crete

After opting to take our Hawaiian vacation on Crete, and catching a few hours of sleep at the Navy Gateway Inn and Suites (NGIS) at Souda Bay, we struck off, exhausted and jet-lagged, but happy to be in the warm sunshine, for Iraklion. The travel and leisure office had found us reservations at a hotel, so at least we didn’t have to face trying to find a place to sleep when we got there.

Several leisurely days spent ambling along the old Roman Port (in our shirtsleeves!), devouring calamari at seaside tavernas (coat-less!), and attending the Greek Independence Day celebrations in the city (sun! sun! sun!), we were refreshed and ready to continue our tour of Crete.

The car provided us with maximum flexibility. We were able to leave the main road and poke around the many nooks and crannies along the Cretan coast. Having our own wheels also allowed for maximum flexibility – we went where we wanted, when we wanted. Except for the immediate vicinity of bigger towns (there are only two major cities on the island), we experienced very little traffic.

We visited the painted ruins of Knossos- not historically accurate, but impressive to view. They were “excavated” during a time when archeology was a more fanciful profession, and imaginative reconstruction drew romantic visitors from around the Continent.

The rest of our time was spent on a rambling tour of seaside towns, ancient ruins, and picturesque tavernas.  The weather was fine, the food was fabulous, the retsina was tart, the views were stunning, the people were friendly, the pace was relaxing – everything we had dreamed of when planning our trip to Hawaii. It was all happening on Crete!

Just about two weeks later, we made our way through the mountains back to Souda Bay for the Patriot Express (PE) flight back to Norfolk, via Naples, Rota, and Lajes.

There was hardly anyone at the Souda terminal, and the PAX Rep informed us when we marked ourselves present that everyone would have seats – happy news! The jet pulled up and we all piled on for the long flight home.

At Naples, we had enough time for me to hoof it to the NEX to get my Italian phone chip recharged and grab a real Italian espresso at the coffee shack. The Rota stop provided everyone time to hit the little food court attached to the terminal – because, heaven knows, we needed more food! Then we were off again to Lajes…

…Where the broken plane curse struck again! We boarded the plane, and then sat, and sat, and sat, until they announced we were returning to the terminal. The airplane equivalent of ABS had failed. A new part was being flown in, and we were all remaining at Lajes overnight.  Buses were summoned to take us all to lodging.

The next day involved more waiting in the terminal and on the plane while the maintenance crew tinkering with the part. The warning light continuing to flash (the pilot kept us informed). Finally, the crew decided it was a failure of the warning light and not the brakes, and we would just go. Everyone was a bit nervous, because we had been told the day before that normally this issue would not be a problem, but the runway at Norfolk was very short, and we really needed to be able to stop in time. O-kaayyy.

The flight was uneventful, but the landing at Norfolk had us all on the edges of our seats – or as close to the edges as we could be considering we were all strapped into our seatbelts extra tight – just in case.

Everything worked as hoped, and it was a relieved plane full of passengers that spent the next hour and a half(!) standing in line waiting to be processed by immigration. Fortunately, our passports had received exit stamps at Lajes, and we were good to come home.

We spent a couple of extra weeks visiting family in the east, and when the 72 hour forecast looked promising, we made a beeline for Dover and caught a flight back to McChord.

Our “Hawaiian” vacation on Crete came to a close just as spring was beginning to unfold in the great PNW, lightening up the skies and drying out the soggy soil. Perfect timing, and another happy space a adventure for the travel journal!

Our FABulous Hawaiian Vacation…On Crete

Late February is not a pretty time in the great Pacific Northwest. The skies are dark slate and hang so low they press like weights on our shoulders. The January sunbreaks are long gone.  Day after day of nearly constant drizzle leave us feeling positively mossy.

Definitely time for some sun!

Hawaii looked FABulous. We’d stay with friends near Kaneohe, or perhaps visit one of the other Islands we’ve yet to explore. There had been lots of flights lately, so it sounded like a great plan! Just the thought of soaking in the bright warm rays all day long perked us up, and we packed our bags for sun and fun.

And then the flights dried up.

Day after day after day after day, week after week, our hopes raised high each morning, only to be dashed when the 72 hour forecasts were consulted. Neither of our wonderful departure bases had anything going to or through sunny Hawaii.

Well into March we were still sloshing about in our damp parkas and rain pants. My shoes were practically sprouting mushrooms!

But, wait –

Out of nowhere, NAS Whidbey posted a flight – to Souda Bay, Crete!

We gathered in serious consultation to weigh the pros and cons.

After about 30 seconds of intense deliberation, the decision was made: “Sign us up, baby!” Quickly, reservations were made for lodging at Lajes and Souda, and car rental was arranged on base. An island circumnavigation itinerary was hastily thrown together, and we were all set to go!

Early morning 72 hours later found us in the terminal at Whidbey, our bags mostly none-the-worse from the mad dash across the parking lot through the deluge. My Sponsor, having had to hoof it from the long term parking about a quarter mile away, needed to spend more than a few minutes in the men’s room with paper towels and electric hand dryers to dehumidify himself. We were so ready to fly this coop!

As is usually the case at Whidbey, there was hardly anyone in the terminal (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone!), aside from the duty passengers.

Around the appointed time, what passes for roll call here: “Okay, anyone going to Souda bring your bags over here for processing,” takes place, and, soon after, we’re all happily, drippily, boarding the C 9!

Our first stop was frosty but clear Duluth, for fuel, at a little commercial terminal that served warm chocolate chip cookies! Then, on to Bangor, ME, for more fuel, this time at an Air National Guard terminal with nothing on offer but a few vending machine selections. Finally, we took off on our overwater leg to Lajes, to spend the night.

For the first time in our multiple transits of Lajes, the plane did not break down, and late the next afternoon we were on our way to Rota and beautiful Souda Bay (well, Hania is beautiful, anyway).

It turns out there was no one at Souda to handle immigration, since our flight was not the Patriot Express. And, we had not been processed at Rota. They were only handling passengers terminating there. So, we were in passport limbo, advised to “just tell the outgoing immigration officers there wasn’t anyone here when you arrived” to explain the lack of EU entry stamp.  Having flown all night and arriving early in the morning (delay at Rota, to make up for uneventful stop at Lajes), and being in a rather compromised state, we stumbled off, bleary-eyed and exhausted, to try to get a few hours of sleep before being ejected from lodging. One night had been reserved, and now they were full and accepting no extensions.

Just as we are falling into blessed sleep, the phone rang. It was the passenger terminal. Having re-thought their immigration advice, they wanted to take us over to the civilian airport to get the passport issue taken care of – now – because the immigration officer there was tired and wanted to go home.  It’s Greece. So we bumbled back into our clothes and waited out front, as we’d been told to for pick up in five minutes, for about an hour, before someone from the terminal, a 10 minute walk away, pulled up in a van with the other space a passenger aboard to take us to the civilian side of the runway.

With our passports officially stamped, we returned to lodging and passed out for a couple of hours. Then, still a little punch-drunk from lack of sleep, we showered, dressed, checked out, picked up our car, and headed out – into the bright, warm, wonderful sunshine – to Iraklion, and our Cretan adventure.

Sometimes, if the planes aren’t going where you want to go, you need to want to go where the planes are going!

Next time: Touring the island of Crete, and a roundabout journey home.