Happy Chance

Lady Cat 6 just loves Serendipity! There I was, at the beginning of June, craving some Yiya time with our grandboy in North Carolina, when, what should appear on NAS Whidbey’s forecast? A very rare flight to MCAS Cherry Point…North Carolina (https://www.facebook.com/CherryPointVAL/ )! Sponsor and I quickly dug our summer togs out from their winter storage, packed up, made lodging reservations for a couple of nights at the Devil Dog Inn, and presented ourselves at the terminal for roll call! 

As the only space a passengers for the flight, which was going to Cherry Point via Edmonton, Alberta, to pick up some Marines and take them home, we had our pick of seats on the comfy C 40 (737).

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Spit spot, we were heading north and east towards Canada, with the Cascade Mountains spread out below us like a row of tipsy ice cream cones.  After a short stop to pick up the duty passengers, we were on our way again to our final destination.  The flight was smooth, the Marines were fun, and the pilot was quite entertaining.

Upon landing at Cherry Point, we were met by a van (serendipitous!) and driven to the Devil Dog Inn, the former transient enlisted quarters. There is also a fancier lodging – the Cherry Point Inn – but that is a few miles away from the terminal. We had planned on walking to lodging, so the Devil Dog was the best choice. The room was comfortable, though the bed was on the small side. As always, though, the price was right! The van driver pointed out the MCX and several on-base eating establishments on our way to the Inn, and after getting settled in our room, we walked over to the Roadhouse for a quick dinner.

Next morning, sponsor took a long walk to the main gate to meet the Enterprise car rental representative and pick up our car. We had planned on two nights at the Inn, so we could do a beach day before heading inland to the family. Atlantic Beach was the perfect spot for sun, sand, surf, and Italian ice! Following dinner out in town and another night of rest, we were on our way to our boy!

For our return to the great Pacific Northwest, we had our eye on a flight from Pope to McChord, with Andrews Air Force Base and Oceana as back-ups. Pope would have been perfect, just an hour and a half drive, but, the flight dropped off the board. So, we packed up again, made a reservation at the Presidential Inn on Andrews, and headed out on a 5+ hour drive to Plan B.

The first flight of the day, a medevac run with a roll call of 06 something, dropped McChord off the itinerary, then the roll call for the second got delayed for a few hours. We still had our rental car, so took advantage of the extra time by driving to the Suitland Metro station, and hopping downtown to our Nation’s Capital for a short visit.

The roll call at Andrews was the strangest we’ve ever attended! After the PAX rep announced the imminent roll call and requested anyone not marked present to report to the service counter, there was…nothing. Finally, about an hour later, I very politely inquired when roll call would begin. I was told it was already over. I responded that no one’s names had been called. The PAX rep responded that everyone was on the flight, and they would begin taking our bags in another hour or so. OK. Thanks for letting us know. And that was it.

We boarded my very favorite plane (yes, the C 17) and 6 hours of alternating naps on the floor later, landed at McChord. We had reservations at the Evergreen Inn, and had planned to take a commercial shuttle the next morning up to Seatac Airport, and then another commercial shuttle to our car, parked at Whidbey. BUT, while we were in the air, a flight from McChord to Whidbey was posted for the next afternoon – serendipity again! Instead of spending the next day on the shuttle buses, we slept in late at the Evergreen (a leisurely 22-minute walk from the terminal on a lovely, balmy night), enjoyed their breakfast buffet, then walked back over to the terminal for roll call.  Twenty minutes after taking off from McChord, we were landing at Whidbey – sweet!

Some space a trips take a lot of doing, and a lot of effort. This one was pretty much a door to door piece of cake! Happy Chance was with us from start to finish, and Lady Cat 6 is now one tired, happy Yiya, resting up for her NEXT adventure!

The Air, the Bus, the Train, the Sea, and Sardinia

 

It’s been about three weeks since Lady Cat 6 and sponsor splashed down at home, returning from our adventure to Sardinia!  Our travels on the island will be another post; for now, let’s talk about the travel logistics.   As is often typical with space a, some things went according to plan, some missed the mark, and the ability to plan on the fly proved critical to success!

Our flexible Plan “A” had several possible iterations: catch a flight from JBLM (Joint Base Lewis McChord) to JBMDL (Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst), and then connect to one of the forecast flights from there to Rota the following day.  From Rota, there were also two flights on the forecast we could pick up – either to Naples (preferred), or Sigonella (workable). Once in Italy, if traveling from Naples, we’d catch the train to Civitavecchia (north of Rome) for the ferry to Olbia, on the north end of Sardinia. Or, from Sigonella, we’d rent a car and drive to Palermo for the ferry to Cagliari, on the southern coast. What could go wrong, right?

We left McChord as planned on April 11, catching my favorite ride (C 17), bound for McGuire. YAY! With very few passengers and little cargo, the flight provided an opportunity to test out our new, lighter weight, smaller-packing inflatable mattress (Klymit Static V) for warmth and comfort on the floor. It was perfect! We took turns stretching out and napping across country.

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Things seemed to be going extra right when we landed at McGuire! There was a pop-up (not previously on the forecast) flight to Rota holding a roll call in a couple of hours! That would get us in to Rota with plenty of time to spare for catching one of the Italy flights. We already had a reservation at the All American Inn on base at McGuire, so we just stuck around until roll call, and got manifested on the flight. Since there were several hours to take off, and the plane was an older C5, we hung on to our reservation at the All American Inn on base, just in case.  After turning in our bags, we waited. And waited. And waited. Did I mention the plane was a C5?

Finally, around 2200, our bags were returned to us and we were told to come back the next morning. Good thing we still had that lodging reservation! Off to the Inn we walked. We called the terminal in the morning, and were told to come in at noon. We called at 1130 and were told 1500. Oh, goodie! Time for lunch at Pudgy’s! We considered removing ourselves from the manifest, but, both of the other flights to Rota had dropped off the board, and nothing else was forecast. The C5 was our only hope.  At 1430, another delay…and then another. We made the most of being stuck and went out for dinner at Sebastian’s Schnitzel house, which we love, and then returned to the terminal and waited several more hours.

By the time we finally left – 17 minutes before the crew was going to have to call it quits on time – we knew we had missed the connections at Rota. We had made reservations at the Rota Navy Lodge, again, just in case we had to wait around for a day or two. We settled in to the dark for the long transatlantic flight. Fortunately, there were few enough passengers that almost everyone had a row to themselves. Landing at Rota, we found our options limited, since the 72 hour forecast had nothing going anywhere near Italy.  Off to the lodge we walked, pulling our very lightweight luggage behind us.

After a good night’s sleep, planning on the fly produced Plan “B”: spend the day and another night in Rota, then take the bus to Sevilla and fly commercial from there to Roma via Ryan Air. From Roma, proceed by train north to Civitavecchia, as in Plan “A”. Since Sevilla was celebrating Feria, their big flamboyant Spring festival, we decided to toss in a night there before flying on.

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Reservations for lodging in Sevilla and Roma, and flight from Sevilla were quickly arranged online, and then we headed into town on foot to the police station to get our passports stamped.  It’s a LONG, but pleasant walk through the old town and along the waterfront most of the way. Once officially entered into Europe, we caught a taxi back to the base, had lunch and a siesta, then spent a lovely evening out in Rota,  enjoying dinner at a little place recommended by another Cat 6 traveler.

The next morning, we were up and out early, walking to the bus station near the front gate of the base for the bus/bus/plane/bus/taxi/train/ferry journey from Rota to Sevilla to Roma to Sardinia.  One week to the day after leaving McChord, we were settling into our bunks for the ferry crossing to Sardinia – FINALLY! 

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We spent just over a week on a leisurely exploration of the island – so leisurely we only covered the northern half! Then, the weather turned cold and rainy, so we headed back to Olbia.  This time we took a ferry to Livorno, where our return plan commenced.

Plan A for getting back to the US was to take the free medevac bus from Vicenza to Ramstein, and catch a space a hop from there to anywhere on the east coast. We were visiting eastern family before returning to the magnificent PNW (Pacific Northwest), so we weren’t concerned about getting all the way west. We purchased train tickets from Livorno to Vicenza, and secured two nights’ lodging at the Ederle Inn on post. Bus #1 from the Vicenza train station deposited us right outside the gate, and after our IDs were checked, we were in! Early Thursday morning, we were at the appointed pick up location for the medevac bus, outside the health clinic, and were soon off through the Austrian Alps to Ramstein – where we had also secured a few nights’ lodging at the lovely KMCC complex.

This time, Plan A came together without a hitch! We had just enough time the day after we arrived to enjoy lunch at the German Kantina before reporting for roll call to McGuire. Another C 17! This flight had more passengers and cargo, but I still found a little nook between the crew luggage and boxes of helicopter blades to lay out our mattress. Several long naps after reaching altitude, we were back on terra firma.

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After another night resting up at the All American Inn, the Enterprise car rental guys picked sponsor up at the McGuire main gate, and we were on our way to PA and OH for our family visits. We opted for commercial tickets the rest of the way home because nothing was heading our way from the east coast when we were ready to leave. Sometimes there are transcontinental dry spells…exactly a month after departing, we landed at Seatac Airport. We spent the night at a nearby hotel, and sponsor got up early the next morning to take public transportation down to McChord to retrieve our car for the drive home.

In summary, we flew space a from the west coast to Rota, Spain (with unplanned delay enroute), took a couple of buses and flew commercial from Rota to Rome, Italy, and then proceeded with commercial train and ferry travel to Sardinia and back to Vicenza. From Vicenza, we caught the medevac bus to Ramstein, and from Ramstein we caught a hop back to McGuire. After our visits, with no space a opportunities in sight, we flew the rest of the way home commercial. In total for our commercial flights, we spent about one quarter of what it would have cost us to fly commercial to Italy from the west coast and back. On the way, we got to eat at two of our favorite McGuire area restaurants, had a beautiful walk through and dinner in Rota, finally checked Feria in Sevilla off our bucket list of things we want to do before we die, got to spend a few days in the Eternal City and enter St Peter’s through the Jubilee of Mercy doors (I’m Catholic, so that was a BIG deal!), had a wonderful week in Sardinia, enjoyed another spectacular ride through the Alps, partook of homestyle German food at the Kantina aboard Ramstein, and had FABulous visits with family before returning home.

All in all, I call that a successful space a adventure!