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.