All my friends are traveling to Europe…

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Okay, so not all of them are.  Just a few of them that I know of are headed there.  My friend Nicole, whom I met at Fort Belvoir when I was her neighbor, went to Barcelona to catch a 12 night Disney cruise.  Her cruise will take her, her husband, and their two kids from Barcelona to Venice and they’ll be hitting some prime destinations in five different countries.

While I don’t think I’d want to sail on Disney owing to the kid friendly factor and the size of their ships, I’ve heard that the Disney cruise experience is really special.  It offers a nice experience for parents with the knowledge that their kids are well looked after.  I have another friend who has done a Disney cruise with her husband and daughter and she raves about it.  If I had kids, I’m sure I’d be all for it.

Another friend is going to France to visit friends.  I don’t know as much about her trip, except that it includes her son and a trip to Euro Disney.

I have a cousin who just went to Italy, where she’ll be studying all summer.

Bill is angling for an overseas job that he might very well manage to get.  If he does, that could mean we’ll be flying over the big pond again before too long.  If not, it may mean we’re headed for the poorhouse.  I’m only slightly kidding.  I think things will work out, though.  They have a way of doing that.  Hard to believe we were just in France and Germany a couple of weeks ago.

Irish pubs are apparently a "thing" in France…

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So, we’ve been back from Europe for about ten days now and I’ve been reflecting on the trip.  One thing I noticed when we were in France is that Irish pubs are apparently a “thing” there.  In Lyon alone, Bill and I actually visited three Irish pubs.  There were quite a few more that we didn’t visit.

Since Bill and I had been hoping to go to Ireland on this last trip, we found it kind of funny that there were so many Irish pubs in France.  I mentioned it to my American friend, Audra, who lives in France.  She said, “Not a one of them is very authentically Irish, are they?”

Some places seemed more authentic than others did.  In one bar, they had a good drink list that included several Irish suds and whiskeys.  But none of the Irish pubs we visited had Irish music or anyone from the Republic working there.  In fact, most of the Irish pubs we visited in France were decidedly French in terms of their menus and atmosphere.

This all made Bill and me decide that we need a trip to Ireland next.  Unfortunately, there’s no telling when that can occur.  We need to find employment and a place to settle first… then we need to do some fundraising.  I trust we’ll get to Ireland someday, though.  It will happen.  And when it does, I hope to find some real Irish pubs.

This one in Alexandria, VA comes pretty close…  Bill and I used to go there when we lived near DC.  They had quite a few Irish people working there.

Repost of my 2012 Space A trip report… Part four

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Our very first military hop to Europe! Part 4… the ride home!

May 29, 2012 (Updated Jun 1, 2012)

The Bottom Line Space a is a nice military perk!

For part 3, click here.

Planes, trains, and automobiles…

Early Sunday morning, Bill and I made our way back to Ramstein Air Force Base via two trains. We went to the Trier station to catch the 6:20 train. Bill decided to buy some coffee and croissants and orange juice for me. The cashier couldn’t break Bill’s 50 euro note, so he went digging for change. He place a five euro note and a two euro coin on the counter and dug for more change. Unfortunately, he neglected to notice the bum standing too close to him who swiped the two euro coin. Bill was understandably upset. Thankfully, the cashier was cool about it. I told Bill he needed to perfect his “get the f away from me” look.

The first train took us to Saarbrucken and the second took us to Landshtul. From Landshtul, we got a cab to Ramstein, where the airport was packed with people hoping to get home on a space a flight. Bill had signed up for our return week immediately upon our arrival in Germany, which turned out to be a good thing. As it turned out, there were three flights going to the States that day, but only two of them offered any space A seats. The first flight, to Andrews Air Force Base, only had ten seats. The second, to Charleston Air Force Base, only had fifty seats. And there were a hell of a lot more than fifty people in the terminal that day!

I could see that a lot of the folks waiting around were either retirees or dependents. Again, the fact that Bill was a category three traveler worked in our favor. We didn’t make our preferred Andrews Air Force Base flight, but we did get on the Charleston flight, along with forty-eight others.

Military transport!

Unlike our first flight, the flight home was on a C-17, which is a military cargo flight. Adding to the excitement was the fact that the flight was carrying hazardous cargo. We paid $9.10 to get on this flight… for two boxed lunches. It turned out seven of the boxed lunches didn’t make the flight, so Bill gave up his and shared mine with me.

The plane had very few windows and there were two rows on either side of the aircraft with seats in them. The cargo was strapped down in the middle of the aircraft. Our luggage was wrapped up on a pallet in the back of the plane. An adorable young airman gave us a very laid back safety briefing and handed out ear plugs, since there’s no insulation on the C-17. While the seats weren’t especially luxurious, they were pretty comfortable with generous space between them. I laughed when the airman asked parents not to let their kids climb all over the explosives in the back of the plane.

There was one toilet and it didn’t have running water. The airmen had left us handiwipes instead. Next to my seat was an outlet. Bill plugged in my iPad so it could charge. There was free bottled water and cereal bars, too.

Once the plane was airborne, the more experienced folks spread out air mattresses, sleeping bags, and blankets. Quite a few people took naps fully reclined on the floor. Try doing that on a commercial flight! I watched a couple of movies on the way to Gander, Newfoundland in Canada. I had never been to Canada before and it was cold outside when we landed at the tiny airport. The staff opened up the restaurant and duty free shop just for us during our 30 minute pit stop. Once we had refueled, we were all called back to the plane for the rest of the ride to South Carolina. Once there, we’d have to figure out how to get to BWI to get my car.

We arrived in Charleston at about 7:00pm. I realized at that point that we were not going to be able to get out of Charleston that night. Bill and I were both exhausted and Bill was also suffering from a nasty bug he picked up. We decided to go to a local hotel to rest up for the next day, which we knew would be just as long. It turned out there weren’t many cabbies in Charleston that could get on the Air Force base, so we had to wait awhile to go the few miles to the hotel. Once we were there, Bill and I both collapsed after I booked an expensive one way flight to Reagan Airport in Washington, DC. I would have booked a flight to BWI, but it would have been more expensive and required a layover in Atlanta. Bill assured me there was ample public transportation to BWI from DC. In retrospect, I should have just booked the BWI flight. I won’t make that mistake next time.

Another flight…

The hotel shuttle got us to the airport in Charleston. We checked in at U.S. Airways; I paid to upgrade us to first class. The flight was expensive to start with, so I figured an extra hundred bucks for nicer seats was no big deal. It turned out the flight was full, so Bill and I didn’t get to sit together. I sat next to a guy who was dressed for business, but had neglected to zip up his fly. After seeing him blatantly picking his nose, I decided to focus my attention on the view and took some photos of the sky.

Trains and buses…

We landed in DC at about 9:00am, picked up our bags, and caught the yellow line metro to the hub where we could switch to the green line, which was supposed to take us to Greenbelt metro stop. As it turned out, there’s track work being done, so we had to get a free shuttle to the metro stop. I couldn’t help noticing that the German trains were way nicer.

Once we got to the Greenbelt station, Bill went looking for someone who could break his $20 bill. The bus to BWI only takes exact change. Luckily, one of the metro workers had small bills and helped Bill out. Then we were on our way to BWI at last. We got there at noon… the same time we would have gotten there had we just bitten the bullet and accepted the layover in Atlanta. Moreover, we only saved about $50, though in fairness, we would have saved more if I hadn’t upgraded us to first class. On the other hand, that first class flight was pretty awesome, except for my seatmate.

Automobile

We loaded up my Mini and headed back to North Carolina at a little after noon, stopping for lunch at Austin Grill in Springfield, Virginia, not too far from where we once lived. After lunch, we hit Whole Foods and picked up some Georgian wine. Then we started driving south. Our trip was mostly uneventful, except for Bill’s continual hacking and almost being proselytized by Baptists at a Virginia rest stop.

We got home at about 8:00pm and now I’m catching up on everything… It’s hard to believe just two days ago, we were in Europe!

Things I learned…

Being in Germany again after almost three years made me realize several things. For one thing, I still feel very comfortable in Europe, especially Germany. I totally wouldn’t mind moving back there.

For another thing, I understand a lot more German than I thought I did. Bill and I actually turned down an offer of a menu in English on our last night. I picked up a lot of words, though I still don’t speak the language.

When Bill and I went to Luxembourg in 2009, I assumed I would never have a need to go back. I did, and I’m glad I went. We had a great time there.

Every time Bill and I go on a trip, something weird happens and it’s usually funny.

Don’t let any creepy people get too close to you, especially early in the morning.

Military hops are worth the effort, as long as you have flexible plans. And military transport is more comfortable than commercial transport is. You get a larger luggage allowance and if you’re on a military cargo plane, you have a lot more room to move. I’m not sure I’d want to bother bringing a sleeping bag or an air mattress, but it’s good to know it’s an option.

Young Air Force airmen are adorable. And the ones on our flight seemed to be having a good time.

Now that I’m not a space a virgin anymore, you can bet we’ll be back for another trip! Maybe next time, we’ll get to Spain.

Repost of my 2012 Space A trip report… Part two

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Our very first military hop to Europe! Part 2… places we saw– part one

May 29, 2012 (Updated May 30, 2012)

The Bottom Line Our travels in Europe.

For part one, click here.

Our blind booking…

After enjoying a tasty German Sunday evening repast and Kolsch beers at a Kolsch brewery, Bill and I went to the lobby in the Ibis and completed our blind booking flight. I was hoping we’d end up somewhere exotic or interesting, but it turned out we got a flight to Munich.

I wasn’t that disappointed about going to Munich. Munich is a fun town and I hadn’t been there with Bill, except to stay overnight before an early flight to Oslo. As soon as I started looking for Munich hotels online, I realized that our cheap flight would lead to high hotel prices! But thanks to that trip in 2009, we knew of a good hotel. It happened to be at the Munich airport. At first I was reluctant to book a stay at the Hotel Kempinski because I wanted to be in Munich. But then it occurred to Bill that we had an early flight back to Cologne on Thursday and being in an airport hotel would be convenient. Plus, we also knew that the Munich airport is awesomely populated with conveniences. So we booked our expensive Munich room, confident we’d be happy with our choice.

Monday morning

We enjoyed a typical German breakfast at the Ibis, included in our rate. All in all, I was pretty happy with the Ibis. The room was tiny, but had a nice hot shower, a flatscreen TV, and free Internet in the lobby. The bed wasn’t the best, but I was so tired, it didn’t matter.

Since our flight to Munich wasn’t until the afternoon, Bill and I strolled around Cologne’s old town. Right next to the train station stands the city’s very impressive cathedral. We walked inside and I was awestruck by its vastness. Bill was overtaken by how beautiful everything was. I always get a kick at the ease he gets moved by beautiful places and Cologne’s cathedral is definitely beautiful.

We walked around Cologne and I took pictures of graffiti. For some reason, I have a knack for finding stuff. On the other hand, Germans post a lot of goofy stuff on signposts and walls. That afternoon, we took a train to the Cologne airport. Bill was upset because Germanwings never sent me a confirmation for our flight. We went to the counter and the ticket agent found my reservation with no trouble. We dropped off our bags and had lunch at a German Argentinian chain restaurant called Mareda. Its speciality is beef, but I’m not usually impressed by German beef, so I ordered Wienerschnitzel. Bill had goulash. We both enjoyed the free wifi in the airport. Free wifi is apparently a rarity in Germany!

Our flight to Munich was quick, painless, and peaceful. It lasted about 40 minutes. The most memorable thing about it was the sight of a young guy walking around with a t-shirt depicting a naked picture of Claudia Schiffer.

We landed in Munich and checked into the Kempinski, where a very elegant man gave us the full tour of our expensive five star room. The Kempinski was even more lux than I remembered it. The huge flatscreen television had British channels; the bathroom was huge; and the Internet was not free. The Kempinski is a business hotel, though, so that’s not surprising.

That first night, I didn’t feel like going into Munich, so we headed to the Airbrau restaurant/brewery and drank some very tasty wheat beers. I was pretty fascinated by the people watching. I saw a vast array of interesting fashion choices, including one swarthy looking man wearing a t-shirt that said “I’m what Willis was talking about.” I had to wonder if the man even knew what famous television program his shirt was referring to… Those of us who grew up in the 80s certainly know!

Tuesday

The next morning, we went to McDonalds for breakfast because we didn’t feel like paying 30 euros for a hotel breakfast. I was amazed by the fact that the McDonalds had kiosks where people could order their food from a computer. It was sort of like a self checkout for fast food. I don’t tend to enjoy McDonalds that much anymore, but I had to admit the quality of the breakfast was pretty good and at seven euros for both of us, cheap.

After breakfast, we took the train into Munich and visited my favorite German gourmet store, Dallmayr, before touring the Residenz museum. Bill had never been there and I wanted to show it off to him. Imagine my surprise when I saw jars of Bone Sucking Sauce on sale for about $10. Bone Sucking Sauce is made right here in North Carolina.

Next, we went to the Residenz. I had been before, but had only seen the crown jewels/treasury. We purchased combo tickets and toured the whole museum. By the time we were done, it was time for lunch. We made our way to the Hofbrauhaus. Bill was sure it would be touristy and crowded, but it really wasn’t. We had mas krugs of fine German brew and enjoyed some very yummy German cuisine. One of Bill’s favorite German meals is roasted chicken. That’s what he had, along with potato salad. I had a wurst with sauerkraut. I let Bill eat the cabbage, though.

We wandered around Munich until evening and checked out the Farmer’s Market, which had a very handy public pay bathroom. I made use of that, needing to get rid of some of the two liters of beer I drank at the Hofbrauhaus. Then we climbed a very tall church tower, which helped burn off more beer and offered a gorgeous view of the city. We got to the top in time to see the glockenspiel show, then climbed down and visited a couple of churches, one of which had an atheist message stenciled/graffitied on the side of it. We went into one church that was having high mass and stood in the back, trying to be inconspicuous. Sweet Bill was overcome with emotion again, so we left quietly and went looking for dinner.

I was getting pretty tired of German food, so we stopped at an Italian trattoria I had visited on one of my day trips to Munich. Bill and I enjoyed pasta, wine, coffee, tiramisu, and people watching. We were the only Americans in there. I recognized one of the waiters, who I think actually might have owned the place. Last time I was there, he laughed when I tried to say “schtimpt”… meaning he could keep the change. I probably still haven’t gotten it right.

Wednesday

We started Wednesday with breakfast at an Italian cafe and deep conversation. We had plans to visit Salzburg, which was included as a stop on our three day German railpass, even though it’s in Austria. I had never been to Salzburg. Bill had been once in the late 80s. But I have seen The Sound of Music many times, so I knew I was in for a treat!

We took the train from the Munich airport to the main train station, then switched trains to go to Salzburg. It took a couple of hours traveling through beautiful countryside to get to our destination. When we arrived, it was about 1:30 pm. We walked toward the centrum and stopped for lunch at a charming family owned restaurant where we enjoyed Austrian beer and some local specialties. I had green and white asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, ham, and potatoes. Bill had roasted pork, I think. I remember two big dumplings.

After lunch, we wandered to the centrum and I was awestruck by how beautiful Salzburg is. We passed the building where the composer of “Silent Night” was born, then crossed the river into the old town. We toured the cathedral and saw some beautiful horse drawn carriages. We were about to move on when a female driver approached with a couple of gorgeous black stallions. If I had to guess, I’d say maybe they were Friesians (I was a horse geek as a kid). I stood there capitvated for several minutes by these beautiful steeds, wishing I still had horses in my life.

I was drawn away from the horses by the sound of music. A quartet of four Russian Cossack soldiers were singing folk songs, accompanied by accordion. Now it was my turn to be moved to tears. After listening for a few minutes, I had to buy one of their CDs. Then we walked up the hill toward the Stiegl Brewery. I wish we had been there earlier; maybe we could have taken a tour! I was suddenly wishing we had booked a room in Salzburg instead of Munich.

As it was, we had to leave quickly because a storm was rolling in. We managed to get to the same restaurant where we had lunch before the sky opened. The man who owned the restaurant was delighted to welcome us back for beer and schnapps! He said the schnapps would make the hair on my arms stand on end, but it was actually not bad at all. Just tasted a little like minty gin.

On the way to the train station, I needed to make a pit stop. Fortunately, there was a shopping mall where peeing was free. We also ran into a group of ladies engaged in a “hen party”. I think it was in honor of someone’s 50th birthday… We will have to go back to Salzburg for a closer look sometime soon!

Repost of my 2012 Space A trip report… Part one

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I originally posted about my 2012 Space A trip on Epinions.com.  Since Epinions is now defunct and I want to preserve those stories, I am going to repost them here on my travel blog.  Keep in mind, these reports were written in May 2012.

Our very first military hop to Europe! Part I… flights

May 29, 2012 (Updated Aug 14, 2012)

The Bottom Line Our first military hop…

This is going to be a long story, so I will post it in parts…

Those of you who regularly read my Epinions reviews may have noticed that I haven’t posted in almost two weeks. That’s unusual for me, because I usually have plenty to write about and lots of time to do it in. As it turns out, my husband Bill and I just returned from a somewhat “seat of your pants” trip to Europe via military “hop”. I had been wanting to do this for some time and Bill surprised me with an email a few weeks ago, letting me know that he had arranged for time off so we could do it. I just got back yesterday and now have plenty to write about and lots of time to do it in. So here goes…

The adventure begins…
What is a military hop?

If you’re not affiliated with the U.S. military, you might not have heard of space available travel. The U.S. sends planes all over the world to carry out military missions. Some of the planes are chartered aircraft from Delta Airlines or Atlas Air. Some are military planes operated by the Air Force. When they have extra room on these planes, the space is made available to members of the military, retirees, and their dependents.

These flights cost next to nothing. People who want to take space a flights are ranked into categories based on their duty status and relevance to the U.S. military’s missions. A person who is going somewhere on military duty, for instance, gets top priority. Someone going home on emergency leave gets second priority. Bill, as an active duty soldier on leave, was marked “category three”. The ranking continues to category six, which includes retirees. It can be tricky to get a flight, especially if you’re a lowly category six. That’s why it makes sense to be prepared to purchase a commercial ticket or have some other “plan B”.

Before I was an Army wife, I was an Air Force brat. My parents traveled “space a” many times when I was growing up, but they never took me on any of their travels. So I was curious about what they had experienced. Since we live in North Carolina, we are within driving distance to several Air Force bases and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which has a terminal for U.S. military operations.

Passing the Washington Monument on the way to BWI…
Finding a flight

Bill joined a couple of messageboards dedicated to military space a travel. The one he checked most often was, by far, Dirk Pepperd’s board (www.pepperd.com). Every day, he would watch the trends in flights going into or out of the air bases closest to us. The flight schedules are typically released 72 hours beforehand. We were looking for a flight going out May 19th, so we started watching the messageboards for the air bases closest to us.

For about a week prior to our trip, we thought we’d end up leaving out of Charleston Air Force Base because it was closest to us and seemed to have the most seats available for flights to Europe, especially to Rota, Spain. I was researching things to do in Spain and thinking we’d finally get to see Seville together. But on May 16th, it was clear that Charleston wasn’t going to have any flights going anywhere we wanted to go. After checking all the other bases closeby, we turned our attention to BWI. On May 19th, it was offering 195 seats to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. We surmised that was our best bet to get a flight and decided to drive all day to get there.

We had to be in Baltimore by 8:00 that evening… that was when “show time” would be. In reality, people were showing up much earlier than that. We arrived in Baltimore at about 6:00pm, signed up for a flight, and were immediately approved. We then got in line behind what seemed like hundreds of servicepeople in uniform, most of them with weapons locked in cases. They were headed to Afghanistan. We also saw lots of families with pets. They were moving to Germany for an assignment. There were also plenty of retirees. It looked like most of them were successful in getting on the flight.

We stood in line for about an hour to drop off our luggage. The USO was there to give us care packages… yes, even the civilians! A man asked me how much I weigh and I lied, of course. Then we were at the ticket counter, where we dropped off our bags and paid the $16 per person head fee. Yes, Bill and I paid just $32 to fly to Germany!

Flight to Germany

The flight was conducted by Atlas Air, an airline contracted by the government. It was like just about any other flight, except many of the people onboard were on their way to war. The guy sitting next to Bill and me was in uniform and looked pretty petrified. It was his first deployment. He didn’t move the whole flight and didn’t speak until toward the end, when he confessed that it was his first time.

The aircraft looked like it had once been operated by a Japanese airline. The signage was all in Japanese and the seatbacks all had video monitors on them with poorly translated English instructions. The programming was all in English, but some of it had Japanese subtitles. I watched the Christmas episode of Glee, then switched to the channel that showed our progress toward Europe.

Back in Germany!

We arrived in Germany in the afternoon, picked up our luggage, and made our way through customs. A nice German lady helped us get a cab, which showed up minutes after we called. The guy driving it was an American veteran who moved to Germany 33 years ago and had raised his family there. We were telling him about our two years in Germany and how we had hated to leave. I swear, if we ever had the chance to live there again, I’d take it in a heartbeat!

The cab driver dropped us off at Kaiserslautern railway station and wished us a good time. We purchased a three day Germany pass and hopped on an ICE train (inner city express) to get to Cologne, Germany. I wanted to go there because of the cathedral… and the fact that the airport is a hub for Germanwings, a discount airline that offers cheap “blind booking” flights. Bill and I had flown with them twice when we lived in Germany. I was eager to take another blind booking flight and see where we ended up.

Cologne, Germany

On our way to Cologne, we looked at the beautiful Rhine region flying by and I remembered how much I love Europe. Bill and I had never been to Cologne before, except once in 2008 when we had to change trains there on a trip from Germany to Brussels, Belgium. The connections were so quick we had no chance to see anything there.

When we got off the train, we were both exhausted. We checked into the first hotel we saw… an Ibis that was literally in the station. We checked in, dropped our bags, took showers, and immediately headed out for some dinner.

France and Germany… a send off from the Army– Part 12

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On the night before our flight out of Savannah, I fell asleep at about 8:00pm.  By 1:00, I was awake again, trying to adjust to the Eastern time zone.  I had to take an Advil PM to drift off to sleep, which I managed to do… only to be awakened by Bill at about 3:30am.  We had a 5:30am flight to Atlanta and he was getting everything straight.  I got up and dressed and we took the hotel shuttle to the airport along with an adorable older couple.  They had “bad knees” that they’d had replaced, so Bill helped them in and out of the van. They said, “Maybe we should tip you!”  Too funny.

Bill on the plane…

When we got to Savannah’s tiny airport, we found it surprisingly busy.  The Delta agent who took our bag warned us that we needed to hurry to security.  There were crowds of people checking in and TSA, in its infinite wisdom, had only one security lane open.  They eventually opened a second one for those who were “pre-checked”, but there were still many people rushing to get screened in time to catch their flights.  It took a good thirty minutes just to get through security and we worried about missing our flight to Atlanta.  As it turned out, the flight was delayed.  We were among the last to board, but we still waited about fifteen minutes to get out of Savannah.

One good thing that came out of such an early flight…

When we landed in Atlanta, our flight to Houston was also boarding, so we had to rush to make that.  Once we got in the air, things settled down a bit.  We landed in Houston at about 9:30am or so.  It was my first time in Houston’s airport.  In fact, I’ve never even really visited Houston– just drove through it to get to San Antonio last year.  I liked the fact that there are trees there.  Bill graduated high school in Houston, so he knows the city.  Of course, it’s a lot bigger now than it was when he was a kid.  The flight to Houston from Savannah was $218 per person.  Had we flown to San Antonio, it would have been at least double that.

We rented a car to drive to San Antonio.  It wasn’t a bad drive at all… took about 3 hours and there wasn’t much traffic, perhaps because it was Sunday.  On the way to San Antonio, we called Bill’s mom, who had kindly let us park our car at her house, to let her know to meet us at the airport where we would be dropping off the rental car.  She said we should stop at Buc-ee’s, which is a gas station/convenience store chain in Texas.  It’s kind of a cross between Cracker Barrel and Wawa.  They sell candy and cookies and other stuff and they have funny signs that are vaguely off color because they refer to beavers.

Funny signs at Buc-ees to remind people to pick up after their dogs…

Well, we stopped at the one on the way to San Antonio and I have to say, it was a mad house!  Making matters worse were all the people trying every which way to get to a gas pump, which made the parking lot pretty dangerous.  There were swarms of people in the store, too.  It took awhile to get to a pump and I noticed the crowding didn’t have a very good effect on peoples’ affects, if you know what I mean.  Nevertheless, my mother-in-law had been talking about that place for ages.  Now I can say I’ve been.


Major traffic at Buc-ees…

 

We got the car dropped off and Mother-in-law picked us up.  We couldn’t get the dogs from Camp Bow Wow until 4:00, so we hung out at her house.  I was becoming really irritable and bitchy because I was tired and hungry.  Bill was also pretty tired.  By 4:00, we were pretty much dead on our feet.  We went to the kennel, got our dogs, and were told we weren’t allowed to bring Arran back there because they claimed he’d been “aggressive”.

Now, I don’t doubt Arran got bitchy during his two week stay at the kennel…  He’s not a bad dog at all.  He likes other dogs and people.  We got him from a beagle rescue where he was fostered with other dogs and he got along with them fine.  He does like his space, though.  We didn’t take the dogs to the airport location as we did in January because that location was fully booked.  I have a feeling the second location was also pretty well booked.  As we waited in the lobby for the dogs, we could hear the raucous din from the back where the dogs were kept.  Obviously, Arran needs a calmer environment than what is offered at Camp Bow Wow.  Our other dog, Zane, had no issues at all, but Zane is a super friendly dog who loves everybody.

I was pretty perturbed about how this situation was handled.  In their emails to us, the staff kept harping on how “sweet” our dogs are.  But then the assistant manager who spoke to us about our “aggressive” dog made it sound like Arran’s issues were all his fault and he’d put others at risk, though he didn’t hurt anyone.  We have a local contact in Texas who could have picked the dogs up if Arran’s behavior was that much of a problem.  We could have called Camp Bow Wow and given them payment information, too.  Obviously, they were more interested in the $945 I paid for the dogs’ care than actual safety.

When we got home and I checked the phone messages on our land line, there was one from Camp Bow Wow to let us know that Zane threw up once.  I know some dog owners want to know about such things, but as it was apparently a one time issue and we were in France (and therefore could do nothing for Zane), I don’t know why we needed to know that he puked one time.  If it were a repeated incident that required treatment, that would be another thing altogether.  I would have hoped they would have emailed us, though, since it’s easier to communicate that way when you’re abroad.

And then, I did some checking online and came across this article which, based on the author’s description, I’m quite sure is about the Camp Bow Wow chain…  I understand that the locations are franchises and they aren’t all created equally, but I have a feeling that this woman’s post rings pretty true for the locations in our area.  She writes of very crowded conditions and dogs being grouped by size and age rather than play style.  She also writes of dogs being squirted with water, and employees being told not to pet or play with the dogs.  I chose Camp Bow Wow because it got really good reviews on Angie’s List and Yelp!  However, it’s pretty clear that it’s not the best environment for all dogs.

After reading that article, I felt pretty ashamed that we’d left our dogs there on our two trips this year.  When we lived in North Carolina, we used Sandhills Pet Resort and never had any problems with Arran being “aggressive”.  What’s more, when our dearly departed dog, MacGregor, stayed there and suddenly got very sick (he had a spinal tumor that took an MRI at NC State to find), the ladies at Sandhills cared for him and loved him as if he was their very own dog.  They were also less expensive.

The bottom line is, should we stay in San Antonio, we will either find a locally owned boarding facility for our dogs that offers more personalized care or we will find a pet sitter.  No more corporate doggy day care chains for us.  Arran can’t handle environments where there are a ton of dogs in a small space.  It’s too stressful for him.  In retrospect, I’m glad Arran “told” us how he felt.  Given that Bill is still job hunting, I doubt we’ll need to board our dogs anytime soon anyway.

Zane and Arran get cuddle time…

“Aggressive” Arran…

I’m amazed by how quickly this week has flown by.  It’s hard to believe that a week ago, we were in Europe.  We had an amazing time and, once again, I am ever so grateful to the Air Force for getting us to and from Europe safely.  And I am grateful to our government for extending Space A privileges to us.  I hope we can do it again sometime in the future.

Thanks for reading about our trip!

France and Germany… a send off from the Army– Part 11

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After two nights at Hotel Goldinger, Bill and I decided to get a room at Ramstein.  We had actually been thinking we’d try to leave Germany on Friday, the 30th of May, but there weren’t any flights going out.  The Air Force lodge at Ramstein is within walking distance of the passenger terminal, which makes it really convenient.  We booked for two nights, hoping that we wouldn’t need both nights.  This was my first time staying at the Air Force lodging at Ramstein and, I must say, I was impressed by how nice it was, especially considering that it only cost $55 a night.  I did think it was funny that there was a check list for bomb threats by the phone.


We were given a room that reminded me of something I might see in a Hilton.  There are American plugs in the rooms, which makes it easy to charge iPads, iPhones, and whatever else have you.  There are laundry facilities that people can use free of charge.  All you need is soap.  The inn is also connected to the largest BX/PX I have ever seen.  In fact, the BX/PX complex is like a big mall.

I was glad to be able to wash clothes and Bill went to Chili’s to get us some lunch.  Later, after the clothes were washed and dried, we walked around the big AAFES complex and I was reminded of when we lived in Germany.  There are a lot of local vendors/artisans there that make knick knacks and gifts.

It looked like there were going to be a couple of flights leaving Ramstein on Saturday, though neither of them were offering many seats for Space A travelers.  I had a feeling we could be staying at Ramstein for two nights.  We passed time at Chili’s and talked to a soldier who was living in Germany under sad circumstances.  I posted about that on my main blog, so I won’t rehash it here.

The next morning, Bill picked up some pastries and coffee at a bakery and then we made our way to the pax terminal.  There were lots of people there, many of whom had apparently been trying to get out of Germany for days.  An airman announced that roll call for a flight to Hunter Airfield in Savannah, Georgia would be in 20 minutes.  The flight to Georgia was a surprise.  It wasn’t noted on Ramstein’s Facebook page; so it was a lucky thing that we were there at the right time.

We had been planning to go for a flight to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, but when Bill heard the call for Georgia, he wanted to sign up.  The flight had six seats available and, as Bill was a cat 3 who’d signed up for Space A when we first arrived in Germany two weeks earlier, he was at the top of the list.  We easily made the flight and were soon on our way back to the States in a C-17 with four others.

One of the few places dogs aren’t allowed in Germany…

I much prefer military flights to chartered flights.  Although you have to wear ear plugs to block out the noise and the flights are usually longer because the planes move slower, I enjoy seeing the Air Force at work.  I also like not having someone reclining in my lap, kicking the back of my seat, or otherwise harshing my mellow.  On a military flight, you can actually lie down on the floor and sleep if you want to.  The airmen gave us blankets, which really came in handy because it was chilly on the plane.

Bill and I bought box lunches, mainly because it’s been my experience that the food served on military flights is actually edible.  This was no exception…  We had chicken, fruit salad, chips, a Rice Krispies Treat, water, and apple juice.  I was glad we bought the lunch, too, because I eventually got hungry even after having eaten it.

I enjoyed meeting the others on our flight.  One guy was once in the Honor Guard in Arlington and now works in Europe in counter intelligence.  He was on his way to Oklahoma to see his new baby.  Two were doctors, married to each other  and getting ready to begin three year residencies in Washington, DC.  The other guy sounded like he might have been from the West Indies.  He was going to New York.

We landed in Savannah in the early afternoon and then spent some time trying to get taxis.  It was very warm in Savannah, which was a shock given how chilly it was in Europe and on the plane.  A lady with a mini van took Bill, me, the guy going to Oklahoma and the guy going to New York to the airport area.  The doctors decided they would get a hotel downtown.  The lady who drove us to the hotel was funny.  She had a sign in her cab that read “No eating or drinking.  Throw up fee $250”.  One of the guys mentioned it and I immediately understood.  I’m sure the puke fee mostly applies to drunks during festivals.

Bill happened to have enough HiltonHonors points to score us a free room at the Doubletree Inn near Savannah’s airport.  We checked in and I got cleaned up.  I was really craving a steak for dinner, but there weren’t many restaurants near the hotel and the Doubletree’s room service menu didn’t offer steak.  Bill went out to get us fast food at Wendy’s, but then he spotted a restaurant that did offer steak.  He went there and bought us dinner… and then when he brought it back, I opened the cartons and realized to my horror that the steaks were covered in mushrooms!

Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but I actually have a phobia of mushrooms.  I don’t eat them.  I don’t even like to look at them.  No mention of mushrooms was mentioned on the restaurant’s menu.  What was even weirder was that the steaks came with Caesar salads that were served with cheese and dressing on the side.  I don’t know why the mushrooms weren’t served the same way.  I mean, usually one who wants mushrooms has to request them and pay extra.  Unfortunately, the mushrooms kind of ruined my appetite.  I did eat a little after Bill scraped them off, but I was a bit traumatized by the fungus.  Yes, I know it’s ridiculous… it’s just one of my quirks.

I booked us on an early flight on Delta going from Savannah to Houston because flying to San Antonio was outrageously expensive…  more on that next.

Barging in Europe…

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As if I didn’t need any other temptations, now I’m tossing around the idea of taking a barge cruise through Ireland or possibly France.  I had already been watching French Country Waterways’ Web site for some time, but their prices seemed a bit out of our reach.  They also only do cruises in France.  I would love to do a French river cruise sometime, but I think I might want to visit Ireland first, since I have no real memories of ever going there (if, in fact, I did).  I lived in England in the 70s, but I was  a wee lass at the time and don’t remember everything about the experience.

But then I started looking at European Waterways, which offers French cruises, but also has barging in Ireland, Germany and Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium, Scotland, and Italy.  Barging is different, really, than regular cruises.  The vessels are very small and intimate, with only about a dozen people or so at a time, sometimes more, sometimes less.  And you travel at a very slow pace… slow enough that you could get off the barge and walk if you wanted to, easily keeping up.  It’s all inclusive and informal, yet the food is supposed to be very good.

Of course, yesterday, I got an EOB from my dental insurance provider.  The fuckers denied my claim for payment for my cleaning and exam.  I think it’s bullshit and plan to raise hell about it.  Met Life Dental sucks, though.  It actually makes me miss United Concordia.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand…  I showed the video to Bill and he was delighted.  We might just do this.

Beautiful places…

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Just made these videos today….

The photos are mostly of Europe, though some spots in the Caribbean and United States are also thrown in for good measure.  The music is “The Water Is Wide” by The O’Neill Brothers and “How Great Thou Art” by Amy Grant and Vince Gill.  Enjoy!

And Scotland…

And more beautiful places…

France…

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When we first got married, my husband, Bill, used to make a lot of jokes about France.  Since he’s a soldier, he used to talk a lot about how the French were wimps during wartime.  I don’t know about that.  I was awfully impressed a few years ago, when a couple of French snipers killed a couple of Somali pirates who were holding several people hostage.  But anyway, like a lot of guys in the military, my husband used to join in the good natured ribbing about the French running from battle…

And then we went there…

My husband promptly fell in love with France.  It started with our first venture into France while we were on a trip to Italy in 2008.  We were staying at Bella Baita, a B&B about 30 miles from Torino and not far from the French border.  The B&B was high in the Alps and on a clear day, you can see the French border.  I was sick of Italian food because we’d been in Italy all week.  So I proposed we go to France for a little while.

Bill was hesitant.  At the time, I think he wasn’t used to being able to pass over borders with ease.  But we headed west, driving through majestic mountain passes and around multiple switchbacks.  We finally crossed over the border and watched as the signs went from Italian to French.  We stopped in the first city of any significance, Briancon.  There was a handy parking lot there.  We had lunch outdoors at a charming little cafe, where I had a delicious salad and mustard marinaded chicken and wine.  And then we walked around the charming downtown area for awhile… until I needed to pee.

As it turned out, the public pay toilet was broken, so we went back to the cafe, where we had spent about 80 euros.  The bartender was kind of an asshole and told me I had to buy a drink before I could go pee.  Fortunately, the waitress who had served Bill and me overheard and gave him a ration of shit.

The parking lot where we parked for our day trip to France.

 

 The gate to the old town

 Another shot

 A view of the scenery from the parking lot

 Waterfall coming out of the Alps

The inside of the neighborhood cathedral

 

After the impromptu trip to Briancon, we had a chance to go back into France on the way home.  We took a shortcut through eastern France and had lunch in Strasbourg, where I proceeded to drink too much red wine…

View from downtown Strasbourg…

 

In May 2009, we enjoyed a magical weekend in Paris.  We stayed at Hotel Le Six, and just wandered the streets, eating good food, looking at the crowds.  At one point, we spotted two hapless Mormon missionaries who looked harried as they passed us enjoying a wonderful lunch at a little bistro.

A month later, we stayed in Luxembourg for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday and took a day trip to Nancy, France; a beautiful city in Northeastern France, not far from Belgium.  We ate lunch at a South American restaurant and scored points because our terrible Spanish was better than our non-existant French!

And a month after that, we dipped back into France to take my mother-in-law out to lunch on our way home from an epic tour of five countries in one day… and if I haven’t blogged about that yet, I definitely will.  We stopped in Marckolsheim, France and had yet another nice lunch, again with people who barely spoke English.  It was refreshing.

In Europe, a lot of people speak English.  That’s convenient, of course, but it’s also sad.  Because it makes the place seem less European and more American.  And it makes it harder to learn a new language.  There are pockets of Europe, though, where a person can go and feel like they are truly away from home.

Bill loves France now.  At some point, we are going to have to go there on vacation so he can enjoy the wonders of France for longer than a day trip or a long weekend.  I’m thinking about one day booking a trip with French Country Waterways, a barge cruising outfit.  We’ll have to save for it because it’s expensive…  But wow, what a week we’d have, huh?

We also want to visit the Champagne region for obvious reasons.  Actually, I could live on champagne, given the opportunity…

Taittinger… probably my favorite champagne.  I like it even better than Dom Perignon…

I think we need to move back to Europe.