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Space-A Rookies – How Jack and Beverly Chmielewski Found Their Way Home From Italy

Beverly and Jack Chmielewski in the “streets” of Venice, Italy. Photo provided by Jack and Beverly Chmielewski.

Beverly and Jack Chmielewski in the “streets” of Venice, Italy. Photo provided by the Chmielewskis.

After retiring last year, Beverly and I decided to give Space-A a try. After reading Military Living® articles, we contacted one of the contributors who also resides in Jacksonville, FL. The Feldmans were so gracious and met with us for lunch and we got to hear all about the exciting world of Space-A travel from a “pro.” They told us about all the places they had been and how they were able to do a lot of traveling to new place at a minimal cost. We were hooked.

Being avid cruisers, we were looking for an area other than the Caribbean, and found a cruise out of Tampa, FL, that debarked in Barcelona, Spain. Knowing that NSA Sicily and Rota, Spain, and Ramstein AB, Germany, were within train rides of Barcelona, we decided to take the plunge and try to get back to the continental U.S. (CONUS) via Space-A. My wife did some more research and saw that the Legend was continuing on to the Mediterranean and visiting nearly all of Italy, plus Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Marseille, France. After seeing that the ship debarked in Venice and that Aviano AB, Italy, was an 11 Euro train ride away, we decided to do back-to-back cruises and take a hop back to Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI).

The cruise was wonderful and seeing Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia and France in a month was a blur. The carriage rides, 12th century architecture and even a Communist Party rally in Sardinia were highlights and eating fresh seafood at every stop made it the trip of a lifetime. The stress level went up a bit when we only were able to reserve three nights at the Mountain Inn at Aviano AB because we were retirees. So every day we would go down to the front desk and see if anyone had checked out so we could stay at the lodge until the flight on Thursday. This system not only stresses the retirees but also the staff who have to continue doing searches through their system to find empty rooms for the 30 couples waiting for the flight to Ramstein and on to BWI. We were even called “Space-A guests” in the brochures.

I wanted to put the word out so people awaiting flights in Aviano should be prepared to find a hotel off-base. Taxi cabs can only take you to the gate so be prepared to walk the mile or so to the Inn or three miles to the AMC terminal on flight day if you are staying at a local hotel. The Exchange and commissary are excellent and with a full size fridge and microwave, with help from the food court, we ate quite well. (Editor’s note: Italy is the only European country where US visitors with active duty or retiree military ID are allowed access to US military commissaries and exchanges.)

A villa in Gorgozzo, Italy, near Aviano AB. Photo provided by the Chmielewskis.

A villa in Gorgozzo, Italy, near Aviano AB. Photo provided by the Chmielewskis.

When you visit Aviano do not miss Gorgozzo, a small hamlet with an underground cave that spawns a river through the community of quaint cottages. It reminds me of a Thomas Kinkade painting, only this one is real.

Aviano AB Passenger Terminal. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

Aviano AB Passenger Terminal. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

Fortunately, there was room for everyone on the flight, and with the help of a rental car shared with a fellow traveler from the cruise, we got our six bags to the terminal. There is a shuttle that stops near the Mountain Inn and goes to the terminal with plenty of time to make roll call. The terminal is very nice and DVs (O-6 and above) get free coffee, pastries and computers. Everyone else must purchase their coffee from vending machines and provide their own devices. The terminal is new and resembles a 1930’s Italian train station. Very pretty and quite comfortable.

An Omni Air 777 provided the transportation to BWI, via Ramstein, and it was very comfortable. After renting a car, we stayed with family until we caught the Patriot Express from BWI to NAS Jacksonville. It was the trip of a lifetime and Space-A made it very affordable. The cruise was $4100 for 28 days at sea, the room at Aviano was $260 and the rental car at BWI was $150. The only cost of the flights was $62 for passengers landing at BWI. Not bad for one and a half months of travel. (Editor’s note: Some airports must collect a head tax or a federal inspection fee from Space-A passengers on commercial contract missions.)

Our first experience with Space-A was a good one. We learned to have a backup plan and to stay calm – well, at least calmer. Combining a trans-Atlantic cruise with Space-A is a winning combination. We suggest sailing over to Europe (April–May reposition cruises) rather than sailing back (September) to avoid missing your cruise due to a canceled Space-A flight. Also don’t stay too long in Europe or you’ll run into summer travel and dependents visiting relatives stateside. On the other hand, catching a hop after the kids go back to school in September could be fairly easy, at least until the holiday season.

A few days after we got home, Beverly came running out of the office and said, “Jack, did you know we could fly to NAS North Island in San Diego (CA), catch a cruise to Hawaii that ends in Vancouver, (Canada), and then catch another cruise to Alaska that debarks in Seattle (WA), get to Travis AFB, (CA), and …”

I think I created a Space-A monster.

YNC Jack Chmielewski U.S. Navy (Ret) And Beverly Chmielewski Jacksonville, FL


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