Full Circle Part 3: The Long Way Almost Home

WP_20170404_17_36_45_Pro

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.

WP_20170424_12_26_39_Pro

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.

WP_20170427_20_27_57_Pro

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!

WP_20170429_002

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.

WP_20170329_19_42_32_Pro

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.

WP_20170331_17_17_46_Pro

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!

WP_20170413_014

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!

The “Road” to Morocco: The Final Chapter

NOTE: At the time of our travel, the Moroccan Dirham (MAD) was 10 to 1 USD. Easy to divide MAD prices by 10 to get the US equivalent.

January 20: Our tour of Morocco began in the hustling (literally!) bustling port city of Tanger (Tangier).  Waving off swarms of “mosquitos”, we made our way across the port, through the medina gate and up the tangled streets to the Hotel Continental (http://www.hotel-tanger.com/lhotel-continental-tanger-034 website in French), our base in the city. 

 

23

While the grand old place is somewhat run down, we chose it for its history (Churchill, and other luminaries and scoundrels have graced the premises over the years), and because it’s clearly visible right above the port and so fairly easy to get to, “unaided”, on foot.  Our room (second floor, no elevator but yes air conditioning and heat!) was a bit dated, but clean and comfortable, and the price ($45 USD, terrace-top breakfast included) was right! After wandering around the streets and having dinner, we turned in to rest up for a full day of exploring.

Following a lovely roof top breakfast overlooking the port, we set out. Our must-sees were the original American Legation museum,

18

which documents Morocco’s being the first nation to recognize the US. Next, a ramble up the hill through the busy street markets to Saint Andrew’s Anglican Church (open for visits when there is not a service going on), and the Roman Catholic Cathedral (locked up except for Mass times). The Kasbah, a hike to the top of the town, has a fabulous museum documenting history and culture from pre-Roman to modern times.  We had a truly delectable fish dinner and lemon tart dessert near the hotel at Restaurant Rif Kebdani (http://www.rifkebdani.com/ ) – it was one of our best meals in Morocco!

January 22: Off to the train station (Gare) by taxi (take Petit Taxis in town in Morocco – Grand Taxis are for longer distances) for our departure for Fez. We bought tickets for the entire journey all at once at the Tanger station, so we wouldn’t have to be standing in line at every stop. First class tickets (6 seat enclosed compartments) are extremely reasonable, and guarantee a window seat if you want one. We found our car, compartment and seats, settled in, and relaxed for several hours watching the varied scenery glide by. Agricultural fields, olive groves, herds of sheep and goats with attendant shepherds/goatherds, seashore, Morocco’s got it all!

Arriving in Fez, we caught another Petit Taxi to the gate to the medina for our walk to our lodging at Dar Seffarine (http://www.darseffarine.com/ ). We would NEVER have found it on our own if Sponsor had not been there last year; he was picked up at the station and shown the way. Our room was one of the two deluxe suites and the price – $130 per night, was well worth it! There are, however, very nice rooms for considerably less. All include breakfast on the roof! Expect lots and lots of stairs and no elevators; there were 49 steps up to our room, and more to get to the rooftop garden!

wp_20170122_17_04_11_pro

Both of our nights in Fez, we dined at the Dar (for an extra fee, a bit less than we would have spent at a restaurant). It was easier than trying to find a place to eat in a strange city, and afforded the opportunity to visit with the other guests. The typical Moroccan food was quite delicious!

Fez is a much larger city than Tanger, and the medina and souks are quite labyrinthine, so we had arranged for a guide (Rachid Sebbar – rsebbar2@gmail.com tel: 06 76 64 97 55) to help us make sense of it all and keep us from getting lost. It was fascinating seeing the local craftspeople, hearing their stories, and learning how life in the medina has not changed much over the centuries! People still bring their bread dough to the neighborhood baker, and bathe in the neighborhood hammam. Tile patterns are still cut and set by hand, cedar and other wood is hand-carved, copper and tin are hand-hammered into pots, pans, utensils, and cut into intricate lamps, and slippers and carpets are hand-sewn and woven. It was well worth having an expert on hand to explain, and introduce us to the crafters!

January 24: Caught the train to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. As we traveled along, we struck up a conversation with two of our compartment mates – Officer trainees of the Moroccan Army. They told us all about their training, and enjoyed hearing about our travels. We made reservations on the fly at Riad Dar Zouhour (http://www.darzouhour.com/hotel-en/ ), for about $45 per night; breakfast, as always, included. Lodging was a manageable, fairly straightforward walk from the station with the help of google maps.

 

Rabat is a seaside city and most of it is walkable. Our day started with a mint tea at the beach, followed by visits to the Kasbah, Andalusian Gardens, and the Tomb of King Mohammed V, located next to the never-finished Hassan Mosque, which, with its many columns, reminded us of something out of Pompeii.

wp_20170125_12_32_46_pro

From there, we took a taxi to the ruins at Chellah, which is a site containing the remains of both Roman and Arabic settlements, and over 100 active stork nests!  I never knew storks made such a racket, constantly clapping their beaks – it was quite a cacophony!

January 26: Five hours on the train from Rabat to Marrakech. Another Petit taxi ride to the Bab Agnaou gate to the medina, and short walk to the wonderful Riad Bab Agnaou, named for the gate (https://www.riadbabagnaou.com/ web page in French).  Our room was about $45 per night, including breakfast. Again, we never would have found it had Sponsor not been met at the train and escorted last year. You can be, too!

Marrakech can be overwhelming, there’s so much to see! Tombs, palaces (The El Badia is stunning, with its woodwork, carved stucco, and tiles!), gardens, museums, and the huge souks (I’m still kicking myself for not purchasing the hand-made, bright red slippers with the turned-up toes for $8, but, traveling with only one backpack each, I just had no place to put them!).

Not to be missed is the ongoing sideshow that is the Jemaa el Fna square, with its musicians, snake charmers, magicians, dancers, storytellers, food stalls, restaurants, and people, people, people! We enjoyed overlooking the scene while enjoying lunch and dinner after mingling with the crowds.

January 29: Our time in Morocco was swiftly approaching an end, but we wanted a chance to take a quick respite from the frenetic pace of the cities before returning to Spain. So, at the mercy of a sweet little old taxi driver who had absolutely NO idea where he was going (he pulled over several times to inquire of police, other drivers, and a couple of teenage boys), we were off to the Supratours (http://www.supratours.ma/en/  a component of the ONSF rail system) bus station (right behind the train station!) for a quick overnight to the seaside town of Essaouira (buy tickets the day before). Upon arrival, we purchased tickets for the return trip. Our reservations were at Riad Al Zahia (http://www.riadzahia.com/ ), again, in the medina for about $50, with breakfast. It was an easy walk from the bus station with map in hand.

This was our relaxation stop, so we didn’t have any sights or activities on the agenda, just poking around the alleyways of the medina (we found a tiny, still active – according to the docent – Jewish synagogue that was open to visitors), having coffee at the beach, and people-watching in the main square. Nice!

 

January 30: Following a succulent fresh fish luncheon (with wine! Not many restaurants in the medinas of Morocco serve wine – though Morocco produces some lovely wines!), we hopped back on the bus to return to Marrakech and the Riad Bab Agnaou for our final night in Morocco. Our “last supper” was celebrated at the same spot as our first: the Kasbah Café (http://www.kasbahcafemarrakech.com/ ), just a couple of blocks from the Riad.

wp_20170126_19_36_04_pro

We took our time after dinner, relaxing at our table on the terrace, sipping our mint tea and listening to the evening call to prayer emanating from the minaret across the street. At last, it was time to return to the Riad and pack up for our departure.

January 31: Bidding our hosts adieu, we shouldered our backpacks and headed out to the taxi stand for our ride to the airport and flight to Seville. From Seville, it was just a short train ride to Rota, and our C17 flight home.  

At last, we had come full circle in our exotic tour of Morocco…for now. We hope that someday, soon,

We shall return!

wp_20170128_13_13_17_pro

The “Road” to Morocco, Part 2: Both Sides of the Pancake

wp_20170120_16_28_59_pro

The second we disembarked from the ferry in Tangier, we were immediately engulfed in a buzzing “cloud of mosquitos” – young men, one after another, insistently “offering” to “guide” us, or “help” us find someplace to eat or stay (for pay, of course)!  The introduction to Morocco was molto intensivo!

In the interest of providing a balanced report, let me first talk about the “downside” of visiting a country that is a dizzying combination of first, second, and third world.

The medinas (ancient cities) and their souks (tangled mazes of equally ancient shopping alleys) are a third world experience. You will frequently smell urine, and sewer gas, and other odors, while out and about.  The streets are not clean (though the bathrooms are!). There are no sidewalks. As you walk along, you will share the space with mopeds zipping by (in both directions), small, motorized vehicles of all shapes and iterations, donkeys, horses, carts, and even cars and trucks.  You will see beggars sitting in doorways and in front of mosques. You will probably see thousands of stray cats (though not many stray dogs). You will be confronted with the heads of animals hanging outside butcher shops to “advertise” the types of meats available. If you express any curiosity or interest in an item you see in a shop in a souk, you are going to get a sales pitch (and, probably, a glass of mint tea). The pace of life is loud and frenetic, a bit frenzied for those who are accustomed to a more sedate, modulated existence.

wp_20170130_10_24_54_pro

 

And then, there is the constant, incessant, presence of those aforementioned “mosquitos”. While the port area of Tangier was, by far, our most “in-your-face” experience with them, we ran into more benign variations of the species on a daily basis, throughout the country.  To be clear, none of these people appeared dangerous or frightening. Irritatingly persistent is the most apt term I can think of. They were all very friendly, and respectful, in their own pushy way. Eventually, most gave up and said goodbye, and headed off to find another “victim” when they were finally convinced we were not going to take advantage of their services. They are a fact of life for tourists in the medinas.

That’s the downside.

On the other hand, the transportation system is first-rate. Morocco is investing heavily (thanks to China, most likely) in high speed rail. We saw TGV trains parked at stations, awaiting the completion of the new tracks that will accommodate them. Construction of those tracks was busily taking place along the routes we traveled. Beginning sometime next year, the trains will come into service, cutting travel time significantly between major cities. The current train cars are a bit dated, but they are clean, well maintained, and comfortable.  Personnel in train stations and aboard trains spoke English wherever we went, so there was no language issue. It was a real pleasure to sit back and watch the countryside glide smoothly by. 

65

Buses make connections to locations trains do not service. Again – the equipment is clean and comfortable. Again – personnel at the stations spoke English. Many buses even have wi-fi available! Seating is assigned, so if you have a preference for the sunny or shady side, figure out which is which and ask for seats on the driver’s side or opposite. The rest stop we visited on the way to and from Essaouira was comparable to the Autogrill or other similar type of establishments along the autostradas of Italy and Germany.

Taxis are kind of hit and miss. They’re supposed to be metered, but most are not. You can (and should!) bargain for the price. Taxis right outside train and bus stations (and, probably airports but we didn’t come in that way) are most expensive at first glance, but most will bargain down to between half and two thirds the original price. Also, if you walk a block or two away from the station and hail a cab, the starting price will be less expensive.  The exception to this, at least in Marrakech, is taxis to the airport    (a 10-minute – 2 mile – ride from the medina). All the taxis we saw had official-looking stickers on the windshields indicating a standard charge for the airport, and the drivers held firm. Our most expensive fare, which was to the airport, was the equivalent of $5.  The others ranged between $2 and $4, which made taxis a great “bargain”.

Of course, there are wonderful architectural and cultural sites to visit, and shopping, if you are into shopping, is a marvelous adventure! Morocco is a place where hand-made craftsmanship is still highly valued, and, even if you’re not in the market to buy, you can see the people who make the goods at work in shops and stalls and squares throughout the medinas. Everyone is happy to explain their particular expertise, and proud to show their wares.

wp_20170129_14_57_32_pro

Moroccans as a people are very welcoming and friendly! Almost everyone speaks some English, and many are quite fluent in our language. Morocco was the very first nation to recognize the US, while we were still fighting our revolution, and Moroccans are very proud to point out that fact to American visitors. “We are your oldest friend!” was almost always among the first words spoken upon learning we were visiting from the US. Also almost always, there was some expression of uncertainty about whether or not the US would continue to be friends with Morocco, but that’s another tale. Expect this topic to come up in conversation, though, because it will. Moroccans are very curious people!  They are proud of their country, their King, their history and culture, and eager to share and to learn. We found them to be gracious and open hosts!

Whew! Two posts in and I still haven’t gotten to describing the places we visited in any detail!

NEXT: Tangier, Fez, Rabat, Marrakech, and Essaouira! 

wp_20170130_11_34_03_pro

The “Road” to Morocco, Part 1: Logistics

Ever since my sponsor enjoyed a solo trip to Morocco just about a year ago ( Let Your Sponsor Go! ), he’s been on a mission return, with “moi” in tow. Thus, our first overseas space a adventure for 2017!

wp_20170120_16_22_09_pro

From Rota, Spain (via space a from Norfolk), we planned a circuit, taking the ferry across the Straits of Gibralter to Tangiers, spending a couple of nights each there, Fez, and Rabat, then finishing up with several days in Marrakech.  From Marrakech, we tucked in quick overnight break to the relaxing seaside town of Essaouira before departing for Seville on Ryan Air and making our way back to Rota for the return hop to the east coast.

Our transportation looked like this:

January 17: Depart NAS Norfolk on Patriot Express (PE) for Rota. Room reserved at Navy Gateway Inns and Suites (NGIS) on base.

January 20:  Rota to Tangier. Walk out the Rota gate to the bus station. 30 minute bus ride to Cadiz, transfer to 1 hour, 45 minute bus to Tarifa. 5-minute taxi from bus stop to port. 30-minute ferry to Tangiers, Morocco. Spain stamps passports out at the ferry terminal, and Morocco stamps them in aboard the ferry.  Look for the line aboard the boat and get in it.

Once in Morocco, we traveled mostly by train: http://www.oncf.ma/Pages/Accueil.aspx  (page is in French, buy first class tickets). All prices below are conversions from Moroccan Dirham (MAD) to USD equivalent.

wp_20170122_10_05_34_pro

January 22: Tangiers to Fez (about 4 hours/$16 PP)

January 24: Fez to Rabat (about 3 hours/$12 PP)

January 26:  Rabat to Marrakech (about 5 hours/$18 PP)

January 29/30: Marrakech to Essaouira and back by bus http://www.supratours.ma/en/Produits-services/National-transport   (3 hours including 30 minute food stop/ $8 PP each way). Tickets sold one-way only, purchased bus stations in Marrakech and Essaouira the day before travel. 

January 31: Marrakech to Seville via Ryan Air. Seville Airport bus to train station. Train to El Puerto de Santa Maria. Taxi to NGIS. 

February 1: 0445 roll call for 10 hour C 17 ride back to Norfolk.

Easy peasy, yes?

We got out of Norfolk on our first try, on the planned date – YIPPEE! From Rota, all the transportation was clean, comfortable, and pretty much on time. Everyone spoke English at the train and bus stations, both in Spain, and in Morocco – there was no language issue making arrangements. We couldn’t have asked for better travel!

NEXT: Experience Morocco!

wp_20170121_14_43_48_rich

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).

WP_20160612_002

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.

IMG_20160411_095939

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.

12994451_1176328149058573_6242175190882949972_n

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! 

WP_20160421_009

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.

13138995_1186140661410655_6733283047334897770_n

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!

 

Aloha! February, 2016

Winter can be an ugly time in the great Pacific Northwest! After a spate of rain and cold…DURING a spate of rain and cold, a flight from beautiful NAS Whidbey Island to Honolulu (Hickam) popped up on the forecast.  We called the terminal to sign up, and got packing!

On the appointed day, at the appointed hour, we arrived at the terminal, travel ready!

Sponsor walked up to the desk to mark us present.

PAX rep: You know they’re going to Kona (the Big Island) now, not Hickam, right?

Sponsor: Uh, no, we didn’t, but we do now!

PAX rep: So, do you still want to go?

Decisions…decisions!

On one hand, there was another flight forecast – to Hickam – in about four more days.  On the other, we were all packed and ready, and it was raining buckets outside, and the weather forecast anticipated more of the same – a LOT more of the same.  We had already cobbled together lodging for four nights on the Pearl Harbor side of Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam (JBPHH), and had a rental car reserved. We just needed to get from Kona to Honolulu!

Quickly, we huddled over the Hawaiian Air app on our smart phone to scope out one-way fares. There were a couple available that evening for $130 per person. Ouch! But, Ok, we thought – we’ll go to Kona, rent a car for the day and hang out, then catch the flight over to Honolulu in the evening. Much better to spend some cash than endure the rain and cold for another minute, much less another four days.

Hawaiian tickets purchased, sponsor went back to the desk and said “YES!”

While we waited to board, we contacted the car rental and moved our reservation back one day. We would still be arriving in time to keep our original lodging arrangements intact. We were Good.To.Go!

Five comfy hours on a C-40 later, we landed at Kona and taxied up to a business services terminal off-airport. When the escort came out to bring the duty passengers off the flight line, she very graciously offered to run us down the road a half mile to the airport, and we very gratefully accepted.  Once there, we got down to the business of renting a car for the day. Unfortunately for us, there was some sort of convention going on, and the car was going to be $125 for just one day! Fortunately for us, Hawaiian Air said that for an additional $30 per person, we could move up to the next flight out. So, we forked over the money, checked in, had some lunch, headed out to the gate, and soon were on the 45 minute flight to Honolulu. Where it was warm and sunny! We caught a taxi over to the Lockwood complex on Subbase Pearl, and were settled into our lovely room before the sun set.

Our plan was to explore Honolulu and the western end of Oahu for a few days before visiting our friends on the windward side. We also wanted to host a few get-togethers to meet some fellow space a passengers from blog and online group in person. We had planned just about a week or so before we would begin looking for a flight back to somewhere in Washington State.

Day one on Oahu: A wonderful day on the north shore!

The sun was shining, the waves were gentle, and the shrimp truck food was out of this world! We drove all the way to the end of the road past Dillingham Air Field, intending to hike out to the point where north meets west Oahu. Getting caught in a band of rain, we decided not to chance a slippery trail. Instead, we headed back into the sun. That evening, we fought through hellish traffic from Pearl Harbor to Waikiki to meet up with some new friends at the Barefoot Bar at the Hale Koa. A wonderful time was had by all – so wonderful we all decided to extend the evening by dining together! By the time we were ready to return to lodging, the roads had cleared, and it only took about 10 minutes to get back.

Day two: touring Honolulu.  In all the visits we’ve made to Hawaii, we had yet to spend any time in the Capital City. The day began with dim sum breakfast in Chinatown, followed by a ride up the Aloha Tower, and was capped off with a visit to the FABulous Bishop museum. We spent so much time enjoying artifacts and docent talks about the history and culture of the Hawaiian people that we never made it to the Iliolani Palace – next time! Evening found us at the bar at Sam Choy’s, on Hickam, for meet-up number two. The bar was a madhouse! If we ever do that again, we’ll just make early dinner reservations and start out enjoying our drinks at a nice table in the restaurant!  Becoming acquainted with some more new friends we enjoyed a lovely evening sharing stories and tips for traveling space a.

Day three found us heading out to the very western end of the H1 for a seven mile round trip hike to the tip of Oahu from west side, since the northern route did not work out previously (it would have been shorter, though!!!).  On our way, we checked in with our friends, only to discover that they were sick with some nasty virus, and there would be no visit this time around. Disappointed as we were, we knew it was better not to expose ourselves.  At dinner that night, we checked the Hickam Facebook page and noticed a flight to McChord the next night. After calling the terminal and being told there was nothing else on the forecast for the rest of the week, we decided to follow space a rule #1 – always take the first flight headed in the general direction you want to go.

Roll call for the McChord flight was not until 2300, so after stopping by the terminal to mark ourselves present we still had a whole day to enjoy the beach at Bellows before saying “Aloha” to Oahu. It was a rough surf windy day, but still perfect for lounging and strolling on the beach. Then, sadly, we returned to lodging to get cleaned and packed up and grab a bite to eat before it was time to head to roll call.

It turned out that four of our new friends were trying for the same flight we were! Fortunately, there were plenty of seats available and we all got on – no new friendships were tried in the crucible of seat competition! Following the normal “minor maintenance issue” C-5 delay of about two hours, we all boarded and took off for McChord. Five roasting/freezing (Hawaii from the waist up, Alaska from the waist down!) hours later, we touched down at McChord. Saying farewell for now to our new friends who were hoping to catch a hop to Andrews the next day (they did!), we hopped in our rental car and headed for home.

A short, but very sweet, visit! 

Only a few more weeks of rainy weather left to endure, then on to Italy in April!

 

Looking back; Planning ahead

As 2016 takes flight, Lady Cat 6 is taking a few moments to recall space a journeys from the year just past. It was a good one – 7 trips in all!

My sponsor and I wasted no time getting started in 2015, making our first trip of the year to Hawaii, in January.

March found us winging our way to Singapore, with a roundabout routing  for the journey home that began at Yokota, continued to Kadena, and then on to Hawaii, where we ended up getting “stuck” for several days before finally catching a hop through Travis home to McChord.

May was a busy month, beginning with space a to Alaska (commercial home), and ending with a visit to North Carolina (via Dover) including another extended tour – this time of the eastern seaboard – to get home.  We began our homeward journey by dropping our car at Pope, hopping to Charleston, hopping to Andrews (when their flight to McChord was canceled), and finally hopping to Norfolk for an overnight before at last catching a C 40 back to Whidbey.

In July, we flew to Oceana to visit east coast family for several weeks (commercial home).

August was our space a highlight of the year, with a FABulous flight to Hawaii with our son at the controls of a C 17 (commercial home)!

Our second overseas trip, a tour of Paris, Normandy, Brittany, the Loire Valley and Strasbourg began in September. On the return we enjoyed another visit with family before scoring cheap commercial tickets home, well into October.

Finally, to cap off the year, we flew commercial back to the east coast to spend the holidays with family, and are planning to inaugurate the New Year with a space a hop home to the beautiful Pacific Northwest sometime next week – we’re flexible about when and where from.

Whew!

Already looking forward to Hawaii in February, Italy in March or April, and additional family time throughout the coming year. Maybe we’ll squeeze in visits to San Diego or Guam in there somewhere, too!

2015 was a busy space a year, and I’m anticipating lots of exciting adventures in 2016! Hope to see you somewhere in outer space a!