Happy Thanksgiving!

Lady Cat 6 (me) is grateful for all the wonderful blessings in my life, among them the privilege of the adventure of space a travel, and the wonderful friends I’ve met in terminals, on planes, in lodging, and around the world! 

I am also grateful for the PAX reps, the flight crews, and everyone who works so hard with such patience and helpfulness to get people into seats and on their way! Thank you!

And, finally, Thank You to all our troops who are serving far from home and family. I’m grateful always for your service!

Wishing everyone a blessed, truly grateful, Thanksgiving! 

PS: Thanks to and for my family:

U.S. Army paratroopers, assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, parachute from a C-17 Globemaster III during the joint land heavy military demonstration of exercise Trident Juncture near San Gregorio, Spain, Nov. 4, 2015. Trident Juncture was the largest NATO exercise conducted in the past 20 years. U.S. and NATO forces remain engaged, postured and ready to assure, deter and defend in an increasingly complex security environment. (U.S. Army photo/Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)

France: Normandy and Beyond

I am having a difficult time “getting back to normal” following the attacks in Paris over a week ago. But, since the people of Paris and France are committed to getting on with their lives, I must do the same.  And so…

After successfully negotiating the notorious traffic circle at the Arc de Triomphe, we pointed our little white Fiat north to Bayeaux. We had rented a flat there via Air BnB to use as our base for exploring the D-Day beaches. Also on our agenda was a visit to the famous Bayeaux Tapestry, woven 1000 years ago (http://www.francetravelplanner.com/go/normandy/bayeux/see/tapestry.html ),and the Bayeaux Cathedral, once the home of the tapestry. The flat was comfortable and perfectly located within walking distance of all the sights in town. Additionally, the Normandy sights we wanted to see were within an hour or less, driving.

A side note about toll ways: In northern France, we used our American chip and pin credit card in the toll booths with no problem, but later in our visit, driving south of Paris back to Strasbourg, we got stuck in a booth that would not accept our card. The attendant told us American cards were not accepted, and so we had to back out and use another lane that accepted cash. It’s probably safest to just use the cash lanes!

It took two full days to take in Arromanche, Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, and Point du Hoc. There are many other sights, museums, and monuments in the surrounding area from the battles to liberate France – we will have to go back. All of the sights gave great pause and impressed upon my mind the incredible sacrifice we were willing to endure to conquer the evil that was the Third Reich, but nothing brought it home more starkly than the American Cemetery on the bluff above Omaha Beach.  Those 172 acres and 9,387 graves arranged in such precision and attended with such care were nearly overwhelming to contemplate. Especially considering that about 60% of the families who lost service members in the battle chose to have their bodies returned to the US in the aftermath; less than half of those lost are buried at Omaha (https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/normandy-american-cemetery#.VlN4__mrTIU )

Continuing our journey along the Normandy coast, our next stop was the Abbey at Mont St Michel. We stayed in the little town of Beauvoir, and walked along the canal – quite a hike but nice and flat – to get to the bus that runs out the new bridge to the entrance to the Mont. We arrived just at the end of a very high tide (the Mont has, along with St. Malo, the greatest tidal change in Europe) and so the bus was not able to get all the way out. We waited along with hundreds of other “pilgrims” for the flood to subside, and when it was calf-deep, we were among the more intrepid who shut ourselves of socks and shoes, rolled up our pant legs, and waded the rest of the way in the cold, cold water. It was worth it to get ahead of the crowds! It’s a steep uphill climb through the town the Abbey, so you need to be in good shape in order to hoof it. The Abbey itself is magnificent, having stood on this spot since construction began in 706 (http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/en/histoire.htm).

Our pilgrimage complete, we crossed the river into Brittany, and enjoyed visits to St.Malo, on the coast, and Dinan, up the Rance River. Both towns have beautiful medieval walls to stroll on, and lovely historic centers to explore. After the intensity of our D-Day time, it was nice to just relax, enjoy the views, and wander wherever our interest was piqued.

After a few days traversing Brittany, we entered the Loire Valley for our Chateau visits. We took in several lesser-known locations, and then Villandry, famed for its gardens, Amboise, and Chenonceau – the ladies’ chateau. For Chenonceau, we stayed at another Air BnB location. This time we had a room and bath in a private wing of a home in Amboise, with a very friendly host who was more than happy to share the history of his home (tuffa caves which residents took shelter from bombing in during the Second World War), the town, and his wine. We sampled a just-harvested vintage that is so sparkly the bottles cannot be corked because fermentation continues after bottling! Franck claimed the wine is only available, and must be consumed, during three weeks in the fall. It was delicious! We look forward to staying with Franck again next time we visit the Loire!

When we had originally planned our French adventure, we thought we would spend another week touring the Burgundy region. However, we decided, since one of us (NOT ME!) was not that interested in visiting wineries and tasting while driving, that we would end our vacation after the Loire. And, so, we made our way to Strasbourg for a quick tour and to turn in the car before catching the train back to Ramstein.

NEXT TIME: Homeward Bound


Paris, France

Today’s post was scheduled to be a lighthearted continuation on from Paris with our recent, sublime tour of France. In light of the horrific terrorist attacks today, however, I believe it’s more appropriate to hold the people of the City of Light and all of France in thought and prayer, and solidarity in the face of these unfathomable, despicable acts of ignorance and hatred. And so, I am.

La France: Paris

Yes, getting there is part of the fun, but very few space a travelers fly solely for the terminal wait and in-flight experience (some do!). In the case of our recent autumn adventure, the ultimate objective was France – a week in Paris, and then two to three weeks roaming around the Normandy Beaches, Brittany, the Loire valley, and Bordeaux. Merveilleux!

The France portion of our adventure began the day we arrived at Ramstein. We met up with some new friends from the Space a Travelers of the USA Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/325711150854371/) outside Romano’s Macaroni Grill, at the Kaiserslautern Military Community Complex (KMCC) lodging/shopping/dining mall across the street from the Ramstein Air Terminal. “D” and “MA” were on their way home from Paris, and we spent some time chatting about where to go/what to see and do.  We had been having some difficulty securing Parisian lodging with the usually very reliable Air BnB, probably due to trying to secure reservations at the last minute. As it turned out, our friends had just had a wonderful experience at the Hotel des Nations St Germaine (http://www.paris-hotel-des-nations-st-germain.com/en/) and recommended it highly. Within walking distance to several sights and located between two metro lines, it sounded perfect! We checked it out and booked it the moment we got back to our room.

The next morning, Sunday, we caught a taxi to the Ramstein train platform and within a few minutes were on our way – 3 hours, via Landstuhl and Saarbrucken, to Paris’ Gare Est. From there we caught another taxi to our hotel. BTW – ALWAYS use the taxi queue! After our long flight and train ride, we needed to stretch our legs, so we headed out to explore the neighborhood. The Pantheon is just up the hill, and there are lots of places to eat in the surrounding area. The Botanical Garden is a few blocks in the other direction, another plus.

The following week was nonstop go, go, go! Armed with a two-day Paris Museum Pass (http://en.parismuseumpass.com/) that got us free entry and front of the line privileges for most locations, and a couple of carnet packs of 10 metro tickets, we were able to go everywhere and do just about everything we wanted (the Orsay was closed due to a strike). Rick Steves’ walking tour podcast (https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/audio/audio-tours/paris) was a FABulous introduction to the Ille De La Cité, Notre Dame, Pont Neuf, and nearby sights along the Seine.  The museum tour podcasts were also filled with interesting information. Of course we hit most of the high points, but we also spent time just wandering around the city enjoying the ambiance. Our philosophy is we’ll come back again, so we never feel obliged to have much of a checklist for tourist sights. I do have to say that sunset atop the Arc de Triomphe, watching the Eiffel Tower light up and flash, was a highlight, even in the rain. As was our Seine Dinner Cruise with Capitan Fracasse (http://www.lecapitainefracasse.com/en/?gclid=CN7M07HRhskCFZRefgodgv4JJA), on our last night in the city.  

As with all good things, our time in Paris had to come to an end. We had previously arranged to rent a car from Gare de Lyon at the end of our Parisian holiday, so Sponsor left early Saturday morning to pick it up. Ahead of us, we had only to navigate the infamous traffic circle of hell at the base of the Arc de Triomphe in order to get out of Paris and on our way to the Normandy Beaches. I was a nervous wreck!  We had the great fortune, however, to be passing through on a Saturday morning when all was relatively calm. Before we knew it, we were through, and on our way north!

Next time: Normandy and beyond.

Holiday Travel

Yes, yes, I know this post was supposed to be France…I am exercising my Lady’s prerogative. I was making Christmas lodging arrangements for visiting east coast family this morning, so holiday travel is on my changing mind.

In general, it is not recommended that Cat 6 travelers attempt catching a hop during any school holiday period, Christmas included. True enough, in general. But there are opportunities to be had if traveling domestically, or even internationally, if able to employ the dreaded “F” word – flexibility.

The possibility with the most reasonable odds is traveling domestically.  Since most Cat 2 and 4 travelers’ eligibility ends when their plane reaches the Continental US (CONUS) and most Cat 5 eligibility starts and ends at one of the coasts, Cat 6 travel within CONUS is generally easier to accomplish. 

Lady Cat 6 and sponsor have enjoyed very good luck over the past few years using space a to travel from the great Pacific Northwest to the eastern seaboard and back. We shoot for a middle-ish of December departure, and wait until after the New Year to return. We’ve been able to fly within two to three days of our target window each time. That’s plan “A” again for this year.

Besides being flexible about timing, we are also anticipating needing to flexible regarding our flight destination. We know where we would like to fly, but we also know all the possible terminals we could fly to and still make our holiday work.

Keep in mind that as Christmas gets closer, the number of flights tends to decrease. Air crew have families too. The closer to December 25 you try to fly, the less options you will have.

International travel is more difficult, but may be accomplished under certain circumstances. One thing in Cat 6′ favor is we are generally flying in the opposite direction from most space a travelers during this time. They are trying to come home for the holidays, while we are more interested in going out. If you are able to depart by the middle of December and can wait until several days after the New Year to return, you stand a decent chance of getting a hop.

Another international option to consider is travel between Christmas and New Year’s. Most Cat 2, 3, 4, and 5 travelers want to be at their destination for Christmas and return by New Year’s in order to start school on time, so the missions (remember, there are fewer of them) during the week between tend to have more seats available. European Christmas markets run until around January 6, so you could still enjoy them if you’re interested in a quick holiday turnaround.

As mentioned earlier, I have taken care of our lodging arrangements at our final destination already. We will reserve a car at our hoped-for destination terminal in another week or so, knowing we can slip the dates and sometimes even the pick-up location if needed once the reservation is made. On base lodging is a good possibility upon landing, since there is not a lot of activity going on during the holidays. And, finally, we are prepared to either purchase expensive tickets or even not go at all if there really are no space a flights available. 

Holiday travel presents significant challenges for Cat 6 travelers, but with flexibility in planning and expectations, Outer Space A is a very Merry place to be!

NEXT Time: France

Fall Trip 2015 Part One: Getting There is 1/3 The Fun!

Looking back over our latest space a adventure, flexibility, as always, was the key to travel success.

Day one: We left beautiful NAS Whidbey on September 13, stopping at Reno and Topeka (for barbecue…oh yes, and fuel) on our way to Norfolk. We had arranged for an Enterprise rental car to be staged in the terminal parking lot due to our late arrival, which made getting to our lodging at Ely Hall – located on base, but nowhere near the terminal – quick and easy.

Day two: A relaxing morning to wait out the Norfolk area rush hour, then a leisurely drive to Dover and the Eagles Rest Inn (DV Suite!) on base. We were not expecting any flight availability based on the 72 hour forecast, so this was just a Remain Overnight (RON, in flight language) on our way to our final destination of McGuire.

Day three: Up and out early in order to arrive at McGuire, return the rental car, and be in the terminal in time for afternoon roll calls for two flights to Ramstein. On the off chance we didn’t make either flight, we stopped by the All American Inn on post and secured a few nights’ lodging.  Good thing, because we didn’t make it out that day. A very few seats ended up being released, but our Cat 6 sign up date and time did not make the cut – still quite a few Cat 3 and 4 families returning to Germany. We did make some new friends while waiting, and getting acquainted and sharing stories made the time fly by.

Day four: All of us back at the terminal for the day, but no seats were released on any of the flights due to cargo requirements. Our new friend group of 8 drowned our sorrows together imbibing in fine German cuisine and BYOB beer at Sebastian’s Schnitzel house, outside the Fort Dix gate. A fine evening was had by all!

Day five: No flights on the forecast, so sponsor and I decided to while away the day at Long Island Beach, NJ. We rented another car for the day and headed out. A delicious lunch at the Blue Water Café, followed by hours of sun and sand and strolling at the beach were a wonderful alternative to sticking around the base all day. We returned to our room rested and relaxed, and ready to go – we hoped.

Day six: Our buddy group meets back at the terminal again. There were several flights forecast, and we all felt lucky! Sure enough, our friends bid us arrivederci when they were selected for the first flight of the day, and, several hours later, we were selected for the second – a KC 10 tanker with over 60 seats available. We were joined by about a dozen travelers who had flown up from Charleston after not making it out of there earlier in the day – they were successful by being flexible, too!

Once we were selected for our flight, we went online to Deutsch Bahn (German train – www.bahn.com ) and purchased tickets from Ramstein to Paris, France. We had already arranged for lodging at Ramstein, so we were set. We settled into our seats for the long flight to Germany. Hooray!  Upon arrival, customs and immigration for our small flight went quickly. An early check-in to lodging, a long nap, walk around the base, dinner, and good night’s sleep later, we grabbed a taxi to the Ramstein train platform. Ten minutes later, we were on our way to Paris!

It had taken 3 days longer than “planned” to get to Germany, but we made it! The new friends, the evening at Sebastian’s, and the day at the beach all made the wait just another part of the adventure – not bad, at all! 

Next time: France.