The Eagles sure didn’t stink in Cologne… part 1

Last October, as Bill and I were preparing for our big move from Stuttgart to Wiesbaden, I found out that the Eagles, one of my favorite bands of all time, was going to be playing two dates in Germany in 2019.  2018 was our summer of concerts.  We saw The Rolling Stones in Stuttgart, Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt, and James Taylor (all at one show) in Dublin, Roger Hodgson in Stuttgart, and the Irish Folk Festival in Stuttgart.  I also knew we were going to be seeing Elton John in Stuttgart in May 2019.

Given that we’d already spent so much money on shows and knowing that a move always requires more spending, I hesitated slightly before I bought the tickets.  When we go to concerts, they usually turn into major spending events.  I usually book us a nice hotel, so we don’t have to worry about driving far to get to the venue or trying to park (although we made the mistake of driving to the Elton John show).  I also don’t bother with “nosebleed” seats.  There was a time when those were the best seats I could afford, but now I want to sit closer, which always means more money.

I asked Bill what he thought about seeing the Eagles, even though the band’s legendary frontman, Glenn Frey, passed away in January 2016.  After some thought, Bill was okay with attending the show.  Now it was time to choose a city.  I had a choice between Cologne and Munich.

We had been in Cologne once before, back in May 2012, when we took our very first Space A military “hop”.  I remember we stayed at the Ibis in the train station, which was fine for a night when we were totally exhausted, but probably wouldn’t do now that I’m older and richer.  I also know Munich is expensive, since we did a blind booking out of Cologne on Germanwings (now known as Eurowings) during that same Space A hop and got Munich.  Don’t get me wrong– Munich is so much fun; but it’s super pricey.  Even average hotels down there cost a mint.  Munich is also further away from us, now that we’re in Wiesbaden.

Both of the shows were on work nights, but the Cologne show was the day after Memorial Day, so we decided it would be easiest to go to Cologne.  Bill would use up one less vacation day, and both the concert tickets and the lodging were less expensive than Munich.  Now that we’ve been back to Cologne, I can say that we’ll probably go there for more shows.  Not only was it super easy to get to the concert venue, it’s also super easy to get to Cologne from where we live.  And, as a bonus, we discovered an amazing hotel in the Excelsior Hotel Ernst!  As long as we can afford it, I think the Excelsior Hotel Ernst has effectively ended our Ibis days in Cologne.

This trip was also important, because it provided an excellent opportunity for our dogs to try out a new doggy pension.  When we lived in Stuttgart, we used Dog on Holiday, which I would absolutely recommend to anyone.  In fact, we’ve decided that anytime we need to go to or through Stuttgart with our dogs, we will try to have them stay with Max and Christine.  But it wasn’t practical to take the boys to Dog on Holiday from Wiesbaden, so we needed to find a place for them closer to our new town.  In February, we visited the Tierpension Birkenhof, and arranged for our boys to have their first stay during this quick trip to Cologne.


I got us fifth row seats!


With all of the arrangements made, we set off for the “city of pleasant smells” on Monday of this week– Memorial Day.  Since our hotel was super close to the train station and the train station had a stop near Cologne’s Lanxess Arena, which was where the Eagles would be “crying”, we decided to take the Inner City Express (ICE) train from the Frankfurt Airport.  The Tierpension Birkenhof is fairly convenient to the airport, although not as convenient as Max’s pension is to the Stuttgart airport.




The Tierpension Birkenhof was recommended to Bill by one of his co-workers.  It’s always interesting to see the differences in the “doggy hotels” in Germany.  When we were in Stuttgart the first time, we used to use Hunde Hotel Haase, which was a beautiful facility in Bad Niedernau, a very country hamlet south of Stuttgart.  Kiersten, the  lady who ran it back in those days, was absolutely awesome.  But, when we came back to Stuttgart in 2014, she’d left and took the hotel’s good reputation with her.  We used the Hunde Hotel Haase a couple more times, but kept hearing horror stories about dogs that were left there.  That’s when we switched to Dog on Holiday, which has been universally great, despite it’s somewhat urban location.


Tierpension Birkenhoff is a rather large facility that cares for dogs and cats.  It’s located in a somewhat suburban area, yet it’s near farmland.  The owner doesn’t accept VAT forms, and we haven’t yet met him.  We have met two of his employees, both of whom seemed very kind.  


I have noticed that each German dog facility has its quirks.  At the Birkenhoff, you’re not allowed to bring your own dog bed.  I’m not sure exactly why this is… I think it’s because the other doesn’t want to have to worry about the owners’ beds getting dirty.  Nevertheless, it does make things somewhat more convenient for us, since we’re about to trade in our RAV 4 SUV for a Volvo SUV and will probably have to bring the dogs in my Mini Cooper next time they stay.  Mini Coopers are small.  Dog beds take up a lot of space.


Frankfurt Airport train station to Cologne Messe


Once the dogs were dropped off, we made our way to the Frankfurt Airport.  Bill had reserved parking with ACS at the airport, which turned out to be very convenient, once we figured out where P4 was.  The reserved spots are reasonably priced and located near the terminal, so there’s no need to haul heavy bags long distances from far away lots.  Frankfurt Airport is a bit more confusing than Stuttgart Airport is.  It’s huge, and finding parking can be super confusing and annoying.  But now that we know where the ACS parking is, I’m sure we’ll use it all the time.  It really made parking super easy.


Frankfurt Airport also has a big train station, making it easy to access a lot of cities.  If we had left from Wiesbaden, it would have taken a lot more time, required us to park in the parking garage from Hell, and we would have needed to change trains at least once.  From Frankfurt Airport, it was a straight shot to Cologne.  


I like how, in Germany, “bullshit” isn’t a bad word.  You’ll even see it on billboards.


We had time for lunch, so we stopped at a restaurant called Little Italy, not to be confused with the Little Italy in Wiesbaden, which has become one of our favorite Sunday lunch stops.  The Little Italy at the airport is in the shopping area called The Squaire.  It’s not long on ambiance, but the food and service are good.

Mmm…  food!

Bill went vegetarian with spaghetti and fresh vegetables, tossed in a little olive oil and washed down with a tempranillo.


I had a very lovely tagliatelle salmone.  The salmon was cooked to perfection and melted in my mouth.  I love salmon that isn’t overcooked, and they did a really good job with this.  However, I probably would have preferred about half this much food.  


With lunch sorted, we headed down to the platform where we’d catch our train to Cologne.  But then, about ten minutes before we were to depart, our original train was cancelled due to some people on the tracks.  Don’t ask me what that means.  I have no idea.  Bill ran up to the Deutsche Bahn (DB) information kiosk, where he was advised that we should take another train. 


Instead of dropping us directly at the Cologne Hauptbahnhof, would go to the Cologne Messe stop.  That would require us to take a city train one stop over the Rhein River.  The nice thing about the train we took was that it went directly from Frankfurt to Cologne, with no stops.  It was also practically empty, which was a good thing, since changing trains also erased our seat reservations.  Within an hour, we were whisked to Cologne, having flown past beautiful scenery at about 280 kph.


I was surprised by how fast our trip from Frankfurt to Cologne was on the ICE train.  It was also very comfortable, since the train has clean toilets and a restaurant.  We did not use the restaurant during our trip to Cologne, but it was nice to have had the option.



Bill checks the schedule…


This is the life.  First class all the way.  Second class probably would have been fine, too.


We could have taken a more leisurely train to Cologne and probably saved some money, but this was a really nice way to get where we were going.  It’s been too long since our last train trip.  I think we need to take them more often.


It was a simple thing to take the S-bahn over the Rhein River to get to Cologne’s main station, home of the city’s majestic Dom and our hotel, the Excelsior Hotel Ernst.  



Repost of my 2012 Space A trip report… Part four

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.


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

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!


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.


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 captivated 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

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?

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.

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

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 2

My feet were horribly swollen after our long flight to Germany on the cramped plane.  

After a night’s rest, Bill and I decided to go to the Kaiserslautern train station.  We knew we wanted to go to France, but I also had an interest in visiting the Rhein.  We flipped a coin to determine where we would go next.  Heads would take us to Reims, France, which is Champagne country.  Tails would take us to the Rhein River.  Heads won, so we purchased train tickets from Kaiserslautern to Reims.  The train journey would take us to connections in Saarbrucken, Strasbourg, and Champagne-Ardennes before we reached our destination.  It was an all day affair.

On our way!

At one point, Bill ended up in the bar car to buy me the French equivalent of a sandwich you’d get at a gas station, along with a small bottle of wine.  Actually, it was pretty good.  I had a club sandwich, which had ham, bacon, egg, lettuce and tomato on very fresh wheat bread.  It had a nice mustard sauce on it, too.  The wine was local and excellent, of course.

I took this photo because I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen colored toilet paper.

Champagne! (check the sign)

Bill enjoys the view…


We got to the Reims train station in the late afternoon.  We didn’t have a hotel reservation and we were both still pretty jet lagged from our travels.  After fruitlessly trying to use the local interactive guide near the station with no Internet access, I finally suggested we hit the local Ibis.  You can pretty much find an Ibis hotel near most train stations in certain European countries.  Bill and I have stayed in a few of them during our travels.  They can be counted on to be clean, basic, and no frills.  The one near the Reims station is no exception, although they do sell champagne at a pretty good price at their little bar. We got a bottle of my favorite bubbly, Taittinger, for 42 euros.  Quite a bargain, given that we bought it at a hotel…

I thought it was funny that the hotel sold feminine hygiene products alongside its champagne…

The bar at the Reims Ibis.

Expensive bubbly at a cheap hotel!

We went out to dinner and ended up at this place called Cote Cuisine.  I think I was lured there by the sight of the cute little garden where they were serving dinner.  We didn’t have reservations and the waiters were very “weeded”– as in, they had more business than they could handle in a timely manner. It was okay, though.  The food was good and while the wait staff wasn’t all that friendly, we enjoyed ourselves anyway.

Serrano ham appetizer…

Our first bottle of champagne…

I had turbot.  Bill had monkfish…

The turbot was delicious, but the sauce was totally sinful and made mostly of butter.  I love butter, but I had to eat that sauce very sparingly.

Bill loved the monkfish.  I didn’t try it because of the mushrooms in it, but he pronounced it delicious.

Chocolate and vanilla tart for me…  

Chocolate mousse for Bill…  I think?

We walked back to the Ibis and got some sleep in the no frills bed after enjoying more champagne…  I wish we’d had more time in Reims.  I would have liked to have visited some of the champagne houses. We did manage a day trip to Epernay, which is where the champagne is produced.  More on that in the next post.


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…


Back in the States…

We managed to get a flight to Savannah, GA.  We were at the top of the list and there were only six of us on the flight, along with a large, dismantled helicopter.  It was nine hours of being chilly and wearing hearing protection.  Tomorrow, we will catch an early flight to Houston,because it was much cheaper than flying to San Antonio.  We’ll drive a rental car to San Antonio and pick up our car at Bill’s mom’s house, along with our two troublemaking dogs.  Looking forward to seeing them and writing up this trip.


Arrived in Germany…

Now I’m jet lagged and on the rag.  Sometimes menopause seems so appealing to me.  It’s nice to see Germany again, though.  I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed trees.  San Antonio has them, but they’re kind of small and scrubby.

Our flight was full and there were many families with kids.  As much as I thought I wanted them, now I see why it’s good we don’t have them.  At my age, maybe I’m too old and cranky to appreciate them.

Bill and I landed at a hotel just off Ramstein.  It’s popular with Americans.  He’s already talked to a guy who works at SHAPE in Belgium.  It would be great if this trip turns lucky, but I’m not holding my breath.  I’m wide awake at 12:16am, after being totally exhausted earlier.  We need to decide what we want to do while we’re here.

I want to go to France.  Wine helps soothe the menstrual beast.