Tandem biking in Germany. Photo courtesy of Mark and Carol Hillman.
We had been considering embarking on a Space-A adventure for quite some time, and decided that this fall might be the time. After reading the accounts of other traveler’s adventures, we decided that we would take their advice and plan to leave after Sept. 15. We wanted to combine a trip to Germany with a road trip from our home in Iowa to the New England states. We also planned to load our bikes on the rack on our car so we could do some bike riding as well. Our plan was to try to fly from one of the Eastern U.S. Space-A locations, as there were more opportunities within a smaller geographical area.
We signed up on takeahop.com on August 2 with requests to fly from Andrews, Dover, BWI and McGuire. We thought we would head to that area and then, while monitoring their flights, decide exactly where to go to try and get on a flight. We also signed up for return flights from Ramstein and Spangdahlem on August 17. We like to plan any trips with overnight stays at military bases whenever possible. We decided we would leave Iowa on Sept. 22. Mark made lodging reservations at Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana for Sept. 22, at Camp Dawson in West Virginia for Sept. 23, and at Dover and McGuire for Sept. 24, 25 and 26. We hoped that three nights would be sufficient to cover lodging until we got seats to Germany.
On the morning of Sept. 22 we were on the road at 0600. The trip to Indiana was uneventful with good weather–we arrived at 1600. We had a DV suite at Grissom and found the accomodations to be very nice. There were no dining facilities available on base, so we drove into the nearest town for dinner.
The next morning we left at 0630, headed for West Virginia. We arrived at about 1600. It was quite a different setting, as Camp Dawson is quite remote, but is located in a beautiful area. We had nice accommodations again, and had dinner at the Liberty Lounge on base. The one drawback was that the Internet access was not good and we had wanted to access pepperd.com to see what flights were scheduled, etc. We did call the recordings at the bases and found that both McGuire and Dover had flights to Ramstein scheduled on Saturday night. We decided that we would check the recordings again in the morning and determine where to head.
We were on the road at 0700. We checked the website and recordings mid-morning and were not very encouraged. The time had arrived when we needed to make a decision regarding where to start. McGuire listed no flights to Ramstein in the next two days, and Dover has one tonight (Saturday) and one to Spangdahlem tomorrow night. We decided to take our chances at Dover.
We arrived at Dover AFB at 1330 and checked in at the PAX terminal. The flight to Ramstein that night had a roll call for 2225. The representative told us that ” lots of Cat VI’s have been getting seats”. We checked in at the lodging office to make sure we had until midnight to show up or cancel our room. The PAX terminal has a very nice USO and a beautiful VIP lounge, so waiting there was quite comfortable. We got ourselves organized and settled in. Mark cancelled our reservation at McGuire, but kept the one for Sunday and Monday (just in case!) The flight had zero tentative seats when we arrived, but at about 1930 it changed to zero firm. We were told that once it changes to firm they never change it back. We talked to some folks who had done more Space-A travel than we have, and then decided not to wait until the 2230 roll call.
We checked into lodging at 2100, a beautiful facility but their computer system was down. Not a huge issue, except for sending us to a room that was already occupied! We and the person occupying the room were quite surprised, but the desk was able to get things arranged fairly quickly. We checked the website and recordings the next morning and it looked like BWI is a possibility for today (2030 showtime, 26 seats). At 1030 we checked out of the lodging.
Our plan for the day is to sign in at Dover for tonight’s flight to Spangdahlem and then head to BWI to try for the 2030 flight. We still have room reservations at Dover and McGuire for tonight, so we will need to cancel one or both after we see how the roll calls go. As we had some extra time, we visited the AMC museum at Dover—quite interesting. We arrived at BWI at about 1500 (about a two-hour drive from Dover). We checked in as present, and at that time, we had no clue as to what our chances are.
The flight is still listed as 26 seats available. We spent some time in the USO and ran into a couple that we had talked to last night at Dover. They are Cat III on leave and hope to be able to get on the flight. When we went to the waiting area, there appeared to be at least 100 people waiting. When they posted the present list, it appeared that there were about 42 people ahead of us. We stayed for the roll call—no Cat VI’s were called. We drove back to Dover and arrived about 2245. The terminal was very busy and the flight was posted as 19 seats available. The rep told us that there were a lot of Cat III’s signed in. He also told us that there were two flights for Monday—1415 and 2200.
We headed back to lodging—so glad that we had kept our reservations for the night. We cancelled our McGuire reservation. Although the trip to BWI had not proved fruitful, we still felt it was worthwhile because we saw how the system worked there, etc. The next morning we checked on flights and found that Dover has a flight today at 1755, 19 seats tentative; and McGuire has a flight for 2055, also 19 seats tentative. We walked across the street to the golf course snack bar for breakfast and then checked in at the PAX terminal at 1130. The Ramstein flight has been changed to “zero-firm”. There were still many people waiting. The next flight out of Dover is scheduled for Tuesday night at 2200. We decided to drive to McGuire and arrived at 1400.
We checked in—so far the flight is still on for tonight—19 seats tentative. The representative told us that they will probably get more seats—and that “Cat VI’s have been moving”. We took a walk and ate dinner at the All-Hands Club. The roll call was at 2055 with 26 seats. It appeared that all Cat III’s got seats, but no VI’s. Tomorrow there are two flights scheduled—one at 1410 with 73 seats and one at 1830, seats TBD.
Sept. 27 – Walked to the PAX terminal to sign in; then to the lodging for breakfast. Made a room reservation for tonight. Back to the terminal, unloaded our luggage and took the car to long-term parking. Interesting to see many of the same folks from last night. It is certainly more convenient to have our car and not have to wait for shuttle, etc. At 1300 the flight schedule that had been posted as 73T changed to “TBD”. There are also two other flights for today posted the same way. There is a rumor that the flight last night had to turn around and come back—not confirmed. Mark called Ramstein and made a reservation for three nights–we are feeling hopeful. Roll call at 1410, and all but 15 got seats. We bought our box lunches, boarded the C-005, left at 1820, and arrived in Ramstein at 0808. The flight was uneventful.
Ramstein Inn. Photo courtesy of Mark and Carol Hillman.
Sept. 28 – After landing, we walked across to the Ramstein Inn. Everyone is right about how convenient it is. We were lucky and our room was ready for us to check in. We took the shuttle to the Hertz office on base. We decided to try and see if we could get our reserved car there rather than going into town (where we had actually made the reservation). No problem, we could pick it up this afternoon. We decided to walk to our lodging and a very nice gentleman stopped and offered us a ride. We unpacked and went to the “Brit Cafe” for a cup of coffee and a snack. Back to room to clean up. We walked to the Exchange—what a beautiful mall—and then walked to pick up our rental car. Surprised to have a BMW—things are different in Germany! As many had suggested, we requested a diesel, but there were none available.
We decided to explore a little and drove into Ramstein and found a market to pick up a few groceries, since we were not allowed to purchase on the base. We decided we just wanted to walk somewhere for dinner, so we went to the nearby Community Center and had pizza. Early to bed—we were exhausted!
Sept. 29 – We slept in this morning, and then left at about 0900, headed to Trier. We arrived at about 1030. A very pretty drive, and the autobahn wasn’t too intimidating—just stay out of their way! We did a short walking tour and then drove to Bernkastel-Kues along the river. The vineyards are just as everyone describes them—straight up and down! The town was very busy with tourists, so we headed a little farther up the road and then headed back to Ramstein. We stopped in town and bought bread, wine and cheese for tomorrow’s lunch and something for breakfast. The weather has been beautiful so far—in the 70’s and sunny. We went to dinner at the German restaurant near our room—very good! We took advantage of the laundry facilities also.
Sept. 30 – After breakfast in our room, we left for Cochem and arrived at 1115. It is a lovely town right on the Mosel River. We walked to the mustard mill and had to make a purchase there. Then we found a bench along the river and had our wine and cheese lunch. Another beautiful day! We decided to go the castle Burg Eltz (Rick Steves writes that this is his favorite castle “in all of Europe”) rather than Cochem castle. The ride to the castle was very pretty, and the walk from the parking was very steep. The tour was interesting—the castle is under renovation right now—but Mark would have really liked to see all of the “behind the scenes ” areas. We arrived back in Ramstein at about 1730 and had dinner at the Chinese restaurant across the street. (We were in the DV quarters, so it was nice that there were restaurants close by). Mark made a reservation for Sunday night at the Inn.
Oktoberfest in Germany. Photo courtesy of Mark and Carol Hillman.
Oct. 1 – Today is the bus tour to Munich for Oktoberfest. We had made this reservation through RTT before we left home. We left the base at 0545. The guide informed us that it would be a seven-hour drive—we had thought it was supposed to be five. It is another cool, beautiful sunny day. Arrived at Oktoberfest – What an experience! The bus driver is required to stop for nine hours, so we will not be leaving until 2200. It was much bigger than we had imagined—-packed with people and really not very clean. Getting a beer is a major accomplishment! It was our first time at Oktoberfest, and we decided that we should have done it 30 years ago! A once-in-a-lifetime experience!We arrived at our hotel in Grainau at about 2400. It was a lovely hotel and the town was very pretty.
Oct. 2 – Breakfast at 0800, bus to leave shortly after nine. Another gorgeous day. We made it back to Munch city center to see the glockenspiel at 1100. We then walked to Hofbrauhaus—very busy, so we just walked through and then back to main street where we found a sidewalk cafe for lunch. We were glad to head back to the bus for the trip back to Ramstein. Traffic was very busy on the way back—we returned at about 2200. Glad that we had been able to reserve a room for tonight.
Edelweiss Lodge and Resort, Germany. Photo courtesy of Mark and Carol Hillman.
Oct. 3 – We stopped for a quick breakfast at Burger King on base and headed for Garmisch. The weather continues to be beautiful—we are so lucky! We had seen a special advertised for the Edelweiss Lodge and were able to make reservations for two nights. We arrived at about 1330. What a beautiful facility! We had a great view off the balcony in our room—we could see the pasture , the mountains and hear the cowbells! We walked downtown for dinner and ate at an outdoor garden. Oct. 4 – Woke up to the cow bells—went to the breakfast buffet which was included in our special package. We decided we would like to spend another night here, so checked at the desk and it was no problem. We checked the Internet for flights—the flight yesterday to McGuire went out full—and only to Cat III. We explored the town by car and checked in at the Hertz office and extended our car rental to Friday. We found the visitors’ center and found lots of good information—in English. We drove to the the Olympic Ski Jump from the 1936 Olympics and then stopped at a market and got our usual lunch. We went back to the hotel and had the lunch on our balcony and after some relaxation went for a walk. After some more exploring we walked downtown again for dinner.
Oct. 5 – Mark called Ramstein to make room reservations and was able to do so for three nights. Our plan is to leave Garmisch tomorrow morning, visit castles on the way back to Ramstein. This morning we rented bikes—-they had a tandem available, so we decided to try that for the first time—-decided we like our own bikes better! We biked
Linderhof Palace near Edelweiss in Germany. Photo credit Mark and Carol Hillman.
to Partnach Gorge and then walked in. Very impressive! Another beautiful day, but quite cool in the gorge. We biked back to Edelweiss and then drove to Linderhof (one of King Ludwig II’s homes) and toured the palace. It had very ornate and beautiful grounds! We ate the lunch we had brought with us and headed back home. We got back to our room around 1700 and decided that we would stay at the hotel to eat tonight, as both of us were tired.
Oct. 6 – We checked the flights at Ramstein—one flight to McGuire today at 1700. Maybe we should try and get back in time for this one? Mark tries to get someone on the phone to determine projected seats available but couldn’t reach anyone. We decided to drive directly back and try for the flight this afternoon. We will leave more castles for our next trip. We left Garmish about 0945 and arrived at Ramstein at 1515. The 1700 flight to McGuire has 53 T seats—it looks like there are about 80 people ahead of us. There is also a 2050 flight to Dover. We decided that we should go ahead and turn the car in, so we went and filled with gas and came back to the base. We found out that we could leave the rental car in the lot at the PAX terminal (very convenient) and that it wasn’t due back until 1400 tomorrow. We went back to the PAX terminal at 1625 for the 1700 roll call—very busy! There were 57 seats and the roll call got to Cat V’s. Still approximately 30 Cat VI ahead of us. We are lucky to have the car and a room. We checked in and did some laundry. Tomorrow, flights are to Dover at 0930 and Andrews at 1000.
Oct. 7 – Checked the Pepperd website first thing this morning (we had brought our netbook with us on the trip, and this turned out to be a good idea—most of the places had Internet access in the rooms, or at least in the lobby.) The two flights were still listed for today. We walked over to the PAX terminal to make sure we are still signed in—now the Dover flight is listed as zero F. Three flights listed for tomorrow: McGuire at 0500, BWI at 1440 and Andrews at 1545. We bought some breakfast at the bakery and went back to our room and checked e-mails. We saw a winefest advertised in Neustadt and got some information about it from the information booth in the mall. We decided to drive to Neustadt (about an hour’s drive). Unfortunately, when we got there we discovered the winetasting didn’t start until 1700—we didn’t want to wait around that long. Back to Ramstein.
The weather has finally turned on us—today is rainy and cool. We checked on flights again—McGuire is moved up to 0400. We went to dinner at the Pfeffermuhle Restaurant in Landstuhl—some friends had recommended it. It was very quiet and nice. We went to bed early to be ready for roll call tomorrow morning.
Oct. 8 – Called PAX at 0230–they said the McGuire flight is zero T. We decided to walk over to the PAX and get signed in for the day. Unfortunately, the terminal was closed until 0400. Lots of people walking over to the terminal and back to the Inn. It looks like the only possibility for today is the 1440 BWI flight. We need to decide what to do about the car—it is due back at 1400 today. We came back to the room and napped. Mark realized that we should probably sign up on TakeaHop.com for other locations in the U.S. in case we end up somewhere other than our original plans. We have a reservation for three more nights at Ramstein, but we have to check out of this room at 1100 today. We went to the PAX terminal, and at 1315 we heard that there are 123 seats on the flight. Once again, the terminal is really packed. Six Cat VI’s got seats—still 27 people ahead of us. Tomorrow there are flights to Andrews at 1000 and Charleston at 1200; on Monday to Dover, McGuire and Charleston.
Oct. 9 – Went to the PAX to sign in at 0800. Now there is only one flight today—a MEDEVAC to Andrews at 1000. We made arrangements for a room for tonight and then walked to Burger King for breakfast and back to our room. We decided that we would go over for the 1000 roll call, but not check out of our room, we have until 1100. Two Cat VI made the roll call—we are moving up the list! We went back to our room—it worked out well that we hadn’t checked out. We decided to rent bikes since it was a nicer day and biked to Landstuhl’s castle. A nice ride and a good bike path, but a steep walk at the end. When we returned we checked on flights again for tomorrow: 0415 to Dover, 0630 to Charleston, 1030 to McGuire.
Oct. 10 – Called PAX and found that the 0415 Dover flight is still on and scheduled for 73 seats—yeah!! When we got to the PAX there was a long line of Cat VI’s waiting to sign in. We heard that there are 101 seats on the next flight which is going to Charleston and decided we would take that if we couldn’t get on the Dover flight. At this point, we just want to get back to the United States! Roll call for the two flights was held simultaneously–it looks like 174 seats would take care of most of the list. Finally we made it and we are on the plane (another C-005)! It was announced that it would be a nine-hour flight. We sat in the first row at the entrance because we thought we would like the extra leg room. That was nice, but it did make for cold feet! The flight was very smooth and we arrived at Dover at 1100. It took about 1 1/2 hours to get through customs, etc. There were about 20 of us who needed to get to McGuire, so someone coordinated and got two vans hired. We arrived at McGuire at 1500—we had called for a room because we thought it would be best to spend the night there and start fresh in the morning. There were none available, but they said to check in at 1500. We drove over to the lodging and were able to get a beautiful DV suite in the main building.
Oct. 11 – We decided our goal for today would be Westover ARB near Springfield, MA. Mark called and was able to make a reservation. We left around 0730—-we used our GPS and it took us over the George Washington Bridge. The $12 toll surprised us—we think we may have been able to find a better route. We arrived at Westover at 1230. After unpacking we unloaded our bikes and rode around the base—it was a beautiful afternoon. Did some laundry—-that is definitely an advantage of staying on base! We attempted to go to dinner at the club on base, but couldn’t get waited on, so we drove into town. We found a busy restaurant that turned out to have great food. The baked scrod was delicious!
Oct. 12 – The club had advertised breakfast, but there was no one around when we got there, so we left at 0700 and stopped at trusty McDonald’s. We headed to Portsmouth, NH—very pretty ride. We had hoped to do a cruise and see the Isles of Shoals because some of my ancestors had arrived there. Unfortunately, they were closed for the season. We headed for Freeport, because I wanted to go to LL Bean. The town wasn’t what we expected at all—I was very surprised to see how many stores and outlets were there. A shopper’s paradise! We looked through our Temporary Military Lodging™ book again and discovered that Bangor has an ANG base at the airport, We were able to find the phone number on the Internet and called and secured a room for tonight. One more night in military lodging! We checked in at about 1600. The lodging is not at the airport and a little hard to locate. Also a little less than desirable, but OK. It appeared that the people working there are doing the best they can, but that the facility has not been updated for quite some time.
Oct. 13 – It rained during the night and the morning was drizzly, cold and foggy. Our destination today is Acadia National Park. We hope to do some biking, but we will have to see what the weather does. We arrived at Bar Harbor at 0800 and went to the park visitors’ center. We then drove into town and found a room that was ready to check into. We drove the Park Loop Road—27 miles—very pretty even though the weather was not ideal. It was too foggy to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain, so we missed that. We went back to our room around noon—we decided it wasn’t a good day for biking but we wanted to get out for a little while so we went for a walk on one of the carriage roads. The carriage roads are a remarkable system of transportation around the park. We went to a seafood restaurant back in town for dinner that was recommended by the hotel clerk.
Oct. 14 – On the road at 0700. The rain has stopped for now, but it is still overcast and cool. We are now headed for Niagara Falls. Mark called the Air Reserve Station there. Nothing available because it is drill weekend. We drove through some really hard rain on the way to Vermont. We didn’t stop to think that finding a motel room on the weekend in the middle of “fall colors” might not be too easy! We have seen some absolutely beautiful colors, by the way. We finally found a room in Wilmington, VT. The owners were telling us about the terrible flooding they had when the hurricane caused the torrential rains there last summer. The first floor of their motel was destroyed, along with many other buildings in the town. They told us they only had a five-minute warning. The town is slowly recovering.
Oct. 15 – On the road again at 0700. We expect to get to Niagara Falls today. Very rainy and windy today. Arrived in Niagara Falls at about 1330 and found a motel. We went to the visitors’ center downtown and then had dinner. We were able to make a reservation on the base for tomorrow night. Our plan for tomorrow is to do all of the “tourist” things at the Falls. Unfortunately, the weather is still not supposed to be any better.
Oct. 16 – Not raining this morning—yet! We got to the Falls at about 0845 and got tickets for the first trip of the morning on the “Maid of the Mist”. The trip was wet, but definitely worth it. This was our first visit to Niagara Falls, and it is most impressive! We walked to Goat Island to get some different views. People had told us that we should go to the Canadian side also, but we decided that we had seen enough, especially with the weather not being very pleasant. We checked into our room at the base—very nice facility. Did some laundry and went into town for dinner.
Oct. 17-18 – Early start—on our way home. We stopped in Elkart, IN for the night. The next morning we were on our last leg—it was nice to start seeing “Iowa” on the highway signs! We arrived in Des Moines at 1330–we had driven 3985 miles on this wonderful trip. We have great memories of our Space-A trip. The articles we had read before going were extremely helpful. Some of the lessons learned, which have been discussed by others but that were reinforced for us:
• Patience, flexibility and a positive outlook are imperative! • You will meet some really nice people along the way, and you may see them several times. • The GPS in the car was invaluable: what a great invention! • Timing and luck are a big part of the trip-you may wait several days for a flight, or you could show up and be on your way the same day.
We are so lucky to have this wonderful privilege available to us. We did meet some people who have done many Space-A trips and were a little disgruntled because they said there are more people traveling this way than years ago, making it more difficult to get on flights. However, we are already looking forward to our next trip! Capt Mark Hillman, USN, Ret. & CDR Carol Hillman, USN, Ret. Des Moines, Iowa email@example.com
Reprint from R&R Travel News™ Jan-Feb 2012 • Volume 42, No. 1