Full Circle Part 3: The Long Way Almost Home

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My three idyllic weeks studying Italian in the beautiful city of Lucca had come to an end, and it was time to bid arrividerci to Italia and begin the long trek back to the east coast, and ultimately home to the great Pacific Northwest.   Since our Plan “A” for getting to Italy had not worked out (Full Circle – Part 2: On to Italy!) and our car was located at Andrews instead of Norfolk, we decided to reverse our course exactly, and return to Ramstein via the Medevac Bus (Another space a option in Europe: Take The Bus) and try to return to our car.

Our lovely Air BnB host, Serena, gave us a ride to the train station on Saturday, April 22, and soon we were gliding along the Italian rails back to Vicenza, where we caught a taxi from the station to the gate at the base. We had booked lodging on post for two nights, planning to hop aboard the bus on Monday morning for the ride north.

After settling into our room, we headed back out the gate to enjoy dinner at one of our favorite close-by restaurants: Il Fauno (https://www.facebook.com/Il-Fauno-Restaurant-and-Pizzeria-130534530292074/).  Actually, we ate there both nights, as our other nearby favorite, Regina’s (https://www.facebook.com/Reginas-Italian-Restaurant-144079165656803/?rf=192517084101109), is closed on Sundays.

Speaking of Sunday…It was time for a lounge around, do-nothing kind of day. We slept in late, did a little laundry, wandered around base a bit, and re-connected with our new friend, Nancy, who was also returning to Ramstein on the Medevac bus. After weeks of go, go, go, it was nice to have a stop!

We were having problems arranging for lodging at Ramstein. There was a large conference going on the week we were to arrive, and it wasn’t until Sunday that we finally got a reservation, for one night only. We had no idea where we were going to end up, but at least we knew we had a room waiting, wherever that was!

Pre-dawn Monday morning (0645) found us outide the Vicenza medical clinic, ready for our ride north to Ramstein. Lots fewer passengers on the bus this time; pretty much everyone had a row to themselves. The ride took the standard 12 hours, though for some unknown reason, we only got two stops instead of the three or four usually made enroute.

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Thus began our record-tying five day marathon attempting to leave Germany!

At the check-in desk at KMCC, we were happy to find that our lodging was on the base at Ramstein, though it was up in building 542 again (near the Deutsches Haus!). We caught a ride on the lodging shuttle up to the building, then headed to the Deutsches Haus to meet Nancy for dinner, and turned in for the night – we had flights to catch beginning Tuesday morning!

The first day began quite promisingly, as we were quickly manifested on a C5 to Andrews! We called ahead and made reservations at the Presidential Inn for the evening, and were looking forward to an uneventful flight home.

And then…mechanical problems intervened. The PAX reps told us the flight was canceled, collected our boarding passes, put us back on the marked present list for the day, and returned our luggage. There were several other flights heading to the east coast, but all the seats either zeroed out, or they didn’t get to Cat 6 passengers.  Sponsor canceled our room at Andrews, then ran back into KMCC to try to get a room for another night. Our luck was better there – back to Building 542 we went, to another room on another floor of the building.  Another dinner at Deutsches Haus, another sleep, and Wednesday came, the second day.

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Again, there were several options on the forecast for the east coast, including the C5 that had canceled the day before.  Spangdahlem, a little over an hour and a half away via 200 euro taxi/shuttle, also had three flights going to the east coast, so we had a conundrum – wait out the roll calls at Ramstein, or take a chance on Spangdahlem. We opted to sit tight at Ramstein. As with the day before, all the seats zeroed out or were taken by higher category travelers, except for the C5. We waited and waited as the roll call delayed and delayed, until finally, the flight was canceled again. A few other travelers and we quickly agreed to split the cost of a ride to Spang to try to catch one of the flights there, but when we got to the parking area, the only vehicle available couldn’t fit all of us and our bags. Time was of the essence, so we opted to give up our places so the others could make it in time, and their luggage, too!

Unfortunately, there was no room at all at lodging Wednesday evening, and we ended up at a hotel in the nearby town of Steinwenden. The room was basic but comfy; there was a restaurant on the premesis, and a lovely 5K sculpture walk trail around the town for a little exercise, fresh air, and head-clearing.  Another delicious dinner, another sleep, and Thursday came, the THIRD day!

Following breakfast at the hotel, we decided to take the little train back to Ramstein. We missed the bus connection at the Ramstein station, and called a taxi back to the terminal. Another day spent waiting for seats that never materialized over several flights. Another trek to the check-in desk for ANOTHER room in building 542, another dinner at Deutsches Haus (I was beginning to think I would eat their entire menu before we ever left Ramstein!), another night’s sleep, and Friday came, the FOURTH day!

There were only a couple of flights on the forecast, both in the morning, neither with enough Cat 6 seats (at least they GOT to Cat 6!). Fortunately, this time KMCC had a room for us, available for early check-in, in the main building – hooray!

It was time for another outing. We dropped our bags in the room, then rushed out to catch the bus outside KMCC to return to the train station and take the train to Landstuhl. In all the times we’ve transited Ramstein, our only experience of Landstuhl was the ER at the Army hospital – not a very happy memory of the town! We had a lovely short train ride, then strolled up the street from the station into the town. It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, including an excellent Chinese food lunch! We had planned to ride the bus back to the Ramstein station and transfer back to the bus to KMCC, but it was running late. We caught the train again, with moments to spare, and were soon back in our room overlooking the flightline.  Dinner at Romano’s in the mall, back to sleep, and SATURDAY came, the FIFTH day!

As we made our way back, yet again, to the terminal, we chatted about our options. Sponsor remarked that he was ready to bite the bullet with tickets any time I wanted to. But, knowing we had a few days left yet on our sign up and encouraged by the number of flights on the 72 hour forecast and that a few Cat 6 passengers had gotten out the day before, I decided to hold off  through the weekend. We could take stock again on Monday, if we were still at Ramstein.

The space a gods smiled upon us at last! We manifested on the second flight of the day, a C17 (yes! my favorite!) to Dover – and, most importantly, we actually took off! The flight was pretty full of cargo, but there was still room to take turns stretching out on our trusty Klymit Static V blow-up pad for the duration of the flight. At last, sweet space a success!

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There was still the little detail of our car, parked at Andrews. Lodging at Dover was full and the next day was Sunday, which meant getting a rental car might be tough. Fortunately, Enterprise is open Sunday mornings and had a vehicle available (Andrews has an Enterprise drop box in the terminal, so they are the most convenient to rent from). We found a room at the Microtel Hotel, less than a mile from the base, and within walking distance of Enterprise, and we agreed to split a taxi to the hotel and the next day’s rental with our new space a friend DB, who also had a car at Andrews. The taxi, from Andy’s taxi service, was truly a rip-off: $30 ($10 per person) to go that less than one mile! Don’t use Andy!

Sunday morning, April 29, we picked up our rental from Enterprise, and, along with DB, began the 2 hour drive to Andrews.  The ride went smoothly, and we enjoyed trading stories with and getting to know another friend made possible thanks to our space a adventure! The cars were right where we left them, and we were soon back on the road to our east coast base in Greensboro – and another week planned with the grands before embarking upon the final adventure – finding a flight back to our beautiful PNW!

Next time… the final chapter: Home to Whidbey at Last!

 

 

 

Full Circle – Part 2: On to Italy!

Family visits happily concluded, it was time to move on to phase II of our springtime space a journey – three weeks in my favorite little city in all of Italy: Lucca! I had signed up at Lucca Italian School (www.luccaitalianschool.com) for language lessons beginning April 3, and rented an apartment from Air BnB with a check in date of April 2, so we had hard dates by which we needed to be in the city.

And so, March 28 found us setting out from our east coast base in Greensboro, NC (grandchildren!) for Norfolk with high hopes of catching the PE to Naples. Our plan was to spend a few days revisiting our old  Napoli stomping grounds (we were stationed there from 2005-08) before hopping on a train to Lucca. We had made reservations at NGIS at Capodichino so we would be a short bus ride up the hill from “downtown” Naples and train connections, and were looking forward to our first authentic pizza and vino in Italia!

Alas for us, plan A was a bust.  We waited dutifully in the terminal until all hope was lost, but we had not hit a good Cat 6 day for the PE.  On the plus side, we were able, after several snafus, to recover a piece of luggage that Whidbey had forgotten to send along with us to Oceana several weeks earlier! That bag had my Italian books in it, so I was particularly happy it arrived!  

Sponsor had made reservations at Ely Hall (really Ely Hall this time!), just in case, so we settled in to our room to regroup and move on to Plan B: Andrews to Ramstein, and Medevac Bus to Italy.

March 29, we headed north to Andrews for a C17 (my favorite!) flight to Ramstein. Instead of slogging up I-95, we opted for a more relaxed drive up Route 17. It was a great choice – beautiful countryside, beautiful day…

The space a gods were smiling upon us! We snagged a couple of seats on the returning Medevac run to Ramstein. Even the parking fairies were on our side, as the long term lot was being paved at the time, so we were able to leave our car at the far end of the short term lot, closer to the terminal. We even met a new friend, Nancy, who had come in from March ARB on the mission and was continuing to Germany! A couple hours later, we were on our way. When cruising altitude was reached, broke out our C17 kit, laid our pad out on the floor, then stretched out and settled in for the flight. The medical personnel had left the stanchions and stretchers set up from the outbound leg, and scrambled into their “bunks”, and since about half the passengers were children, the back of the plane resembled a kindergarten slumber party with the pads, mattresses and blankets scattered about on the floor.

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We had arranged lodging at KMCC, so while I waited for our bags, Sponsor headed to the check in desk to pick up our key.  After checking in, with a day and a night at our disposal before the next leg of the journey, we took a nice long nap, then wandered around the base.  The evening was capped off with a tasty dinner on the outdoor terrace of teh Deutsches Haus restaurant – by far the best dining option on base! The pork in apple/calvados sauce was scrumptious!

The next morning, March 31, we waited at the appointed pick up spot for the Medevac bus to Vicenza, Italy. All waiting  to ride space available  (about a dozen) were accommodated, though, for the first time in our many rides, the bus was fairly full with patients.  Perhaps because it was a Friday?  I did have a row to myself, so, no complaints :). Another lovely day, another spectacular ride through the Alps into Italia via the Brenner Pass.

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Our outbound space a travel now complete, we checked into our room at Vicenza lodging. The next morning, April 1, we met our new friend, Nancy, in the lobby, then proceeded to walk out the gate to get our taxi (lodging will call for one for you, but they are not allowed on base so need to be met outside the Chapel/Pedestrian gate) to the train station. All of us were heading for Verona – we, to visit with old space a friends Wes and Dina, and Nancy to embark upon the  first day of her planned tour of Nothern Italy. 

We had a wonderful overnight visit and tour of Verona before returning to the train station for the final leg of our journey to Lucca. Our host met us at the station and tok us to our lovely apartment near the school…and our Lucca adventure commenced!

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Another space a option in Europe: Take The Bus-

The Medevac Bus!

(current as of 05/2017)

The medevac bus exists to transport active duty/dependent medical patients between the Vicenza, Italy, clinic and the facilities at Landstuhl Hospital, near Ramstein. If there are extra seats available after patients are accommodated (there almost always are!), retirees and other authorized travelers can ride along. There is no sign up process, and no seniority/category. Just be at the designated pick up area at the appointed time, sign the manifest, and get on the bus.

The ride through the spectacular Austrian Alps takes approximately 12 hours, depending on traffic conditions.

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There are 2-4 rest stops along the way, mostly at McDonald’s rest areas. The stop outside Innsbruck also has a separate German restaurant and a small store/gift shop. Stops are normally 20-30 minutes long.

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The bus is a very comfortable tour-type bus. There is a bathroom on-board, but passengers are encouraged NOT to use it unless absolutely necessary.

Schedule and pick-up points as follows:

From Ramstein to Vicenza, Italy:

  • Departs on Tuesdays and Fridays
  • Departure times/pick up locations (be at the pick-up point 10-15 minutes early!):
    • Landstuhl Hospital: 0900
    • Ramstein outside KMCC main building: 0930
    • Vogelwegh lodging office: 1000

From Vicenza, Italy, to Landstuhl, Germany:

  • Departs on Mondays and Thursdays
  • Departure time/pick up location: 0700 outside the health clinic (very close to lodging – be there by 0645!)
  • Drop off order: Vogelwegh lodging office (if there are pax going there – they skip it if there aren’t any); Ramstein outside KMCC main building; Landstuhl Hospital

Happy Riding!

Full Circle – Part One

Our latest space a trip started long ago, on March 11, and just concluded  last week Sunday, May 7. Whew! Talk about a trip!

The idea was to visit eastern CONUS family (Part One), and position ourselves on the east coast for a flight to Italy (Part Two), where LC6 had made arrangements for 3 weeks of Italian language school in April.  It’s not often we have to be a certain place at a certain time when “planning” on space a travel, but, when we do, we always allow ourselves a week or more to get where we need to be.  Departing early in March allowed us a few weeks with family (especially grandchildren!) before the week we planned to spend getting to Italy.

NAS Whidbey was cold and rainy and beginning to thunder as we took off March 11 for Oceana! Three C40s were going to Oceana that day, all around the same time: one direct, one with a stop in Kansas, and one roundabout route to Nellis, Point Magu, BACK to Nellis, and, at last, on to Oceana. Guess which one the PAX ended up on? Mechanical problems delayed option #1, cargo filled #2, and so…about 9 hours later, we arrived in Oceana, via option #3. Success!

Our car, however, was parked in the long term lot at NAS NORFOLK, 26 miles and a $60 taxi ride away.

There are no taxis permitted on base, so we called Uber – also not permitted on base – and resigned ourselves to walking out to the gate. In the dark. In the drizzle. Fortunately, an active duty sailor picked us up and gave us a ride. After clearing a slight mixup about who had ordered which Uber driver, we were on our way…only to discover, at the gate at NAS Norfolk, that Uber drivers are not allowed on base there, either, even with ID card-holding passengers as sponsors! The terminal is miles from the gate, and after much begging and cajoling and swearing on all that is holy (my sponsor even offered to leave me at the gate as a sort of “ransom”) that we would escort the driver directly back to THAT gate once we got our car, the guard relented. We were permitted to proceed. True to our word, after arriving at our car, we had the Uber driver follow us back to the gate, and made sure the guard verified he had left the premesis. 

On to check in at Ely Hall. Of course, our room was not there; it was at Murray Hall, which we had never been to before. We ended up bumbling around in the darkness with a poor map, and even more poorly-signed streets for awhile, but eventually stumbled upon the correct location. The room, as nearly always with NGIS, was clean, comfy and well-appointed.  We had snagged a bunch of half and half from the main lobby at Ely for our coffee in the morning (Lady Cat 6 detests powdered creamers – especially in those cheap packets where there is only one!), so with everything in order for a happy morning caffeine shot, we settled in for a long night’s sleep.

The next morning we were on the road north, making a circuit that included Pittsburgh and Cleveland before completing the eastern circuit in North Carolina. There, we’d take a breather and work out the next leg of our journey – to Italy!

NEXT TIME: OCONUS adventures!