The Berkeys Fly Space-A to Italy and Croatia

The Teatro Olimpico, in Vicenza, Italy, the oldest enclosed theater in the world . (Photo provided by Tom and Ina Berkey)

The Teatro Olimpico, in Vicenza, Italy, the oldest enclosed theater in the world . Photo provided by Tom and Ina Berkey.

We planned our annual Space-A trip by blocking out April, planning to “get started” the day after Easter. We wanted to go to Italy and explore off the beaten track. We had seen the major cities and surroundings in Italy so we planned to fly into Aviano AB, Italy, one hour north of Venice at the base of the Dolomite mountains, and see the small towns and villages of northeastern Italy.

After listening to the recording for Baltimore Washington (BWI) for several months we knew that a contract flight leaves most Tuesdays, heading for Aviano via Ramstein AB, Germany. We signed up about 45 days ahead and kept a copy of the email in case we weren’t on the AMC signup list. There seemed to be planes with 180 to 220 seats available most weeks. Keep checking until your chosen departure week!

We parked at Curtis Bay Coast Guard Station, 8 to 10 miles from the airport. The base has a parking lot just outside the gate where civilian employees park, and they are happy to have you park there for as long as you like. Its great for Space-A travel of uncertain duration. Sign in at the front gate security building (telephone: 410-636-3993). There is lodging at the base if you need it, and security will call a cab for you or use your cell phone. Bay Taxi (410-766-7313) or Associated Cab Co. (410-766-1234) are familiar with the base and respond quickly. The fare is about $22 to $28.

When we arrived at the AMC terminal at BWI on the international concourse, we were amazed at the numbers of people waiting for the “showtime” roll call.

“We’ll never get on,” we thought. But we did.

The plane is a regular contract flight called “Patriot Express,” flown by a number of independent airlines, and has all the amenities of a commercial flight without the hassles. For $32 in airport taxes we had a wonderful day, Wednesday, local time.

We had called ahead to reserve a room at Mountain View Lodge, DSN 314-632-9191/4074, Civ from US: 011-39-0434-30-4040, or email: on the base.) The Lodge is THE NICEST place we have ever stayed. It’s worth making the reservation even if you forfeit one night’s cost ($39) – a nice bed and shower is a welcome sight after the overnight flight. If you are an O-6 or above, call Protocol directly (Commercial: 011-39-0434-30-4704, email: and arrange for your room. Every person was very helpful and courteous. If you don’t have a room there, the Lodge personnel will help you find a clean and reasonably priced hotel three miles from the base in the town of Aviano.

Aviano AB is unusual in the way it’s laid out. The flight line and AMC terminal are on one side of the runway and the major part of the base is on the other side – including lodging – about seven miles around the perimeter of the flight line. Then two remote areas, called Areas I and II, of the base are in the town of Aviano.

A bus does take you from the terminal to the lodge, but base transportation is very sparse. We found that a car was very helpful and we rented through Europcar on base after we arrived. It was cheaper than the rate quoted in US. There is some scarcity of autos, so it might be good to reserve ahead. We had a Fiat Panda (think very small) and it was just fine for the two of us. We paid about $270 USD per week which included taxes and required insurance. The price might be slightly higher than renting off base, but it was worth it for the convenience of being able to turn it in on-base 24 hours a day.

We join those in previous articles in emphasizing that a portable GPS is worth its weight in gold. They’re indispensable in finding your way through the bewildering city streets, back alleys, and roads that don’t show up on most European maps.

Space-A explorers, Tom & Ina Berkey at an Italian cafe. Photo by Tom and Ina Berkey.

Space-A explorers, Tom & Ina Berkey at an Italian cafe. Photo by Tom and Ina Berkey.

One great advantage of Italy is that retirees are allowed to purchase items at base facilities such as the commissary, BX, etc. These are about a block from the lodge. The all-services club is just across the street. The club has limited service but has Mongolian BBQ on Wednesdays and a lovely brunch buffet on Sunday. The bar has good bar food and cheap drinks and a great indoor/outdoor patio – best hamburger we’ve had recently. The food court in the BX has the usual fast food offerings. The commissary closes at 2000, but it has a “Grab and Go” which is open from 2000 to 2400.

One of our first stops is always the Travel Office, known as ITT here and RTT at Ramstein. After a good night’s sleep (Thursday by now), we rented the car and headed for Area II to the ITT office, DSN phone 632-3107.

We booked a Saturday tour bus and boat to Croatia. The early arrival for pickup (0430) and the late return (2330) were challenging, but the tour bus was comfortable and the escort was very knowledgeable.

We passed Trieste, a lovely seacoast town in Italy, then traveled briefly though Slovenia to enter Croatia and travel to a peninsula jutting into the Adriatic Sea called Istria.

Our tour group boarded a sightseeing boat and sailed along the Istrian coastline to visit three beautiful, ancient seacoast villages, Porec, Vrsar, and Rovinj.

The picturesque, seacoast village of Rovinj, Croatia. Photo by Tom and Ina Berkey.

The picturesque, seacoast village of Rovinj, Croatia. Photo by Tom and Ina Berkey.

Our final stop at Rovinj is listed on Rick Steves’ TV program of “10 undiscovered European Gems” and National Geographic’s list of places to see this year. How lucky can we be? And we thought the village lived up to the hype – beautiful scenery, winding streets, cathedral on the top of the hill with a bell tower and 191 steps to the top for a breathtaking view.

Lunch on the boat was memorable too – mackerel fish, freshly caught, roasted and served with heads and tails attached. The fish was delicious after we got past the sight!

We had supper in the seaport town, Porec, before boarding the bus back to Aviano.

ITT has tours leaving every weekend. We always wait until we arrive to make the reservations. We made a day trip each day for the next week, returning each evening to the lodge at Aviano. Here are some highlights:

The interior of a bascilica in the ancient Roman city of Aquileia, Italy. Photos provided by Tom and Ina Berkey.

The interior of a bascilica in the ancient Roman city of Aquileia, Italy. Photos provided by Tom and Ina Berkey.

Aquileia: Two hours south of Aviano, Aquileia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and dates from the 1st Century. It has a beautiful basilica with priceless mosaics on the floors and the walls and a lovely baptistery next door filled with early Christian symbols. There are also other ruins on the canal and a good museum.

Palmanova: Another UNESCO site near Aquileia, Palmanova has a duomo (cathedral) that sits on a central village square with nine gates around the square. Udine: One hour east of Aviano, Udine has a striking castle on a high hill, originally surrounded by a moat and a wall. The “Piazza Liberta” is known as the “most beautiful Venetian square on dry land”. The duomo is 13th Century with stunning altar pieces by Tiepolo.