Europe, Germany, military hops, Space A

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

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.

airlines, France, Germany, military hops, Space A

France and Germany… a send off from the Army– Part 1

Although I am exhausted from two weeks abroad, I figure there’s no time like the present to write about our most recent experiences in Europe.  I have a lot to write… and lots of pictures.  If you have followed my main blog, you might have already read some of what I’m going to write about this trip.  This rendition will have pictures, though… and I promise to make it more travel oriented.

Our saga began on May 17, when Bill and I flew to Baltimore to catch the weekly Patriot Express flight that originates there.  We started the day by dropping off our dogs at Camp Bow Wow’s Northwest location; dropping off our car at mother-in-law’s, and getting a ride to the San Antonio airport, where we caught a flight to BWI via Atlanta.

On our way…

Waiting for the flight to BWI…

Big crowds on the planes!

I entertained myself taking photos with my iPhone as we approached BWI…

Just getting to BWI from San Antonio is tough.  It always involves an Atlanta layover and Atlanta’s airport is one hell of a place.  Bill was worried because our “roll call” was set for 8:30pm and we got delayed.  Fortunately, we arrived with over an hour to spare.  We checked in and, because Bill signed up for Space A on April 30 and is still on active duty until next month, we were very high on the priority list.  I think when all was said and done, we were number six on a list over one hundred people.  Active duty servicemembers, especially when they are on a mission, have emergency leave, or moving, have priority.  Next come guys like Bill, who are just trying to take ordinary leave.  Then there are two more categories… until one hits the dreaded “category six” retiree.  In a month, that will be Bill, but in May of this year, he was category three.

We made the flight, of course, handed off our documents, paid the $35 tax, and went through security.  I happened to be on the rag, as usual.  Seems like I can’t catch a break and take a trip when I’m not having a visit from Aunt Flow.  She was particularly nasty on that flight to Germany.  The seats are very cramped and the audio visual stuff provided by Atlas Airways is dated and kind of sucks.  But for $35 for two people, I really can’t complain!  Other than the somewhat narrow seats, the flight was pretty comfortable and not quite full.

What I stared at all night…

Bill preparing for a long flight…

Baltimore’s city lights!

The lady in front of me lacked situational awareness and put her hair over the seat and my screen.

Daylight brings beautiful sights of Ireland and England… although I think I took this when we were flying over Germany.  Lilacs were blooming everywhere.

The third guy in our row was a pleasant man on his way back to Stuttgart, where he had spent many years working.  He told us that though he is now based in Georgia, he was going back to Germany to get married to a local.  One of my favorite things about flying Space A is meeting new people and hearing their stories.

We were exhausted when we got to Ramstein, but there was nothing available at the Ramstein Inn.  We got a room at the Merkur, a four star property right off base.  For 99 euros a night, you get a very clean room with a TV, Internet, and a hotel restaurant.  Suited us fine, because although we were hungry, we weren’t in the mood to dine out.

While we were eating, Bill met an expat who lives and works in Belgium.  He gave Bill some job hunting tips for job hunting in Europe.  It would be a dream come true if we could move back, though I’m not holding my breath.

Wiener schnitzel rocks.  So does good beer.  All the good American craft beers I’ve been drinking lately have made me less impressed with German beers, which now taste kind of dull by comparison.  Bear in mind, though, that I drink very exotic craft beers and am a bit of a beer snob.  And I had no problems at all enjoying German suds…

military hops, Space A

England next month? Dare to dream!

So Bill is about done with the Army and has until July 1 before he’s unemployed.  In these last weeks, he and I have been thinking about going on another Space A trip.  Once July 1 rolls around, he will be a retiree with less priority on Space A trips than he has now.

We both want to visit Ireland and there are regular trips to Mildenhall AFB that leave from McConnell AFB near Wichita, Kansas.  If we can get to Mildenhall, it wouldn’t be too difficult to get to Ireland.  We could just take a train to the Welsh coast and then hop on a ferry to Dublin.  Of course, when it comes to Space A travel, one must stay very flexible.  It could turn out we start this trip and end up somewhere totally different.  Or it could turn out we end up nowhere.

Bill has a job interview this week.  If it goes well and they offer him a position, we could take this trip as a way of saying goodbye to Army life.  If it doesn’t go well, maybe we won’t…  We probably shouldn’t spend the money.  But travel memories are precious and can’t be repossessed.

It’s fun to think about it.  I would love to take one last trip before we become civilians.  And it seems fitting that we would visit Mildenhall, since that’s where my dad ended his Air Force career.

military hops, Space A

Tentative travel plans…

So Bill and I are seriously planning to take a trip somewhere… anywhere the military takes us, really.  We have a date on Saturday to take the dogs to a local “doggie camp”, where they will be “interviewed” and will hopefully pass the test so we’ll have a place to put them when we leave town sometime around the 10th.

We’ll either get a “hop” from Lackland Air Force base somewhere or we’ll take a commercial flight to Baltimore or Charleston, South Carolina and pick up a hop in one of those cities.  My money is on going to BWI, which has a dedicated terminal for military folks.  Last time we did this was in May 2012 and we ended up having a blast.  Taking a military hop is a crap shoot, though, because you never know if they’ll go off according to plan.  But then that’s part of the fun of the whole thing.  Last time we “hopped”, it cost about $40 round trip for transportation to and from Germany.

I have a feeling we’ll go to Germany again, even though we could also go to The Azores.  If we go to Germany, we may do another Blind Booking with Germanwings, which is a cheap airline in Germany.  We have done three blind bookings thus far and they have landed us in Barcelona, London, and Munich respectively.  Basically, you pay a cheap fare and end up going wherever they have tickets.  It’s a fun way to see Europe.  Last night, I was researching Manchester, England and trying to determine what we’d do on the off chance we ended up there.  That’s just one of many cities, though… We could go to Milan, Vienna, Salzburg, Lisbon, Zurich… the list goes on and on.

Or we could just go to Germany and stay there… or go to France by train.  It’s truly travel by the seat of your pants.

I worry that the weather will really suck during our trip, but I’m also really eager to get out of Texas for awhile.  And I know that soon we will not have as much liberal travel ability as we have right now.  We could wait and do this travel in a few months, when Bill is on “terminal leave”, but I think we will be more focused on getting Bill employed at that point and making sure we can pay our bills in the interim.

There’s a great military hop forum that recently switched to a new place.  It’s also gone from being a free site to a pay site.  I paid $39.95 for a “premium” membership last night.  I think it’s worth it.  The flight schedules are posted there as are trip reports and other handy tips.

My parents did a lot of military hops when they were younger and more mobile.  I’m guessing those days are over now for them… but Bill and I will enjoy them for as long as we can.

military hops, Space A, The Azores

The Azores came up again…

The other day, Bill brought up going to the Azores again.  It seems there are flights that go there pretty regularly and we could probably get a Space A flight with relative ease.  The Azores, while remote and rather primitive, are also extraordinarily beautiful.

Would you look at this place?  It’s stunning!

I don’t know what we will do if we manage to get there or how long we’ll stay.  But those views are enough to make me want to try to go.  That, and the promise of fresh fish and good port… and maybe a hop to the mainland for a few days.

My mother-in-law has kindly offered to look after Zane and Arran so we can make this happen… or perhaps we’ll end up somewhere else.  Even if it’s another trip to Germany, I’d take it.

military hops, Space A

Staying home…

Bill and I didn’t really go anywhere this past weekend.  It was a long weekend for him, since he typically gets both Friday and Monday off when there are government holidays like Columbus Day.  I would have liked to have gone and done something, but the weather was kind of bad.  Also, Bill wanted to brew some beer, which requires some time at home.  We had other things to do as well.

I hate the fact that we’re wasting these precious long weekends and not going on trips.  Of course, Texas is more expensive than North Carolina was, so it’s not as easy for us to go on trips anymore anyway.  But last night, Bill did bring up the possibility of taking a “hop” before he retires.  Lackland and Randolph Air Bases are near us and have occasional space available flights.  We could probably get one to California from here.

Bill and I took a space A flight to Germany in 2012 and had a GREAT time.  I am dying to do it again.  I told him if he wanted to plan something, I’m all for it.  We could still do space A flights after he retires, but his priority would be less, meaning the chance we’d be stuck somewhere beyond our desire to be stuck would be greater.

I would love to be able to go somewhere soon… I have the itch to travel.  When we went to Germany in May 2012, we ended up going to Cologne, Munich, Salzburg, and Luxembourg.  It cost us about $40 for the two of us to go to Europe.  We did spend some money while we were there, but you sure can’t beat that price for flying abroad.

The plane that brought us home from our Space A trip to Germany…