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.
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.
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!
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!