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!

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!