Sinda and Mike enjoy the tranquility of the artist Monet’s gardens. Photo by the Slagles.
We signed up online on the Take a Hop website in mid July hoping for a flight back east in September. Our plan was to fly Space-A to Ramstein AB, Germany, and begin our journey from there. We had picked out a few French cities to see, bought a train pass (Rick Steves website) and thought to take a tour from RTT at Ramstein.
However, you all know how it goes with Space-A–best laid plans… some trips go off without a proverbial hitch and some only have hitches. Space-A can be both adventurous and grueling.
Here is our story:
Sept 3: Facebook: We started looking for flights to get back east or to Ramstein from Travis AFB. Many flight schedules are posted on Facebook now.
Sept 6: Travis: We arrived at Travis AFB, CA, and put our car in long-term parking across the base from the Pax Terminal. After checking in, we learned there is a new and closer parking lot for travelers who will only be gone 30 days or less. We caught a flight to Andrews AFB, MD, on a C17. Our flight was listed at 2235 and we took off at 0100.
Sinda and Mike settle in for their Space-A flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Photo provided by the Slagles.
Sept 7: Andrews AFB: We arrived at Andrews after the terminal had closed, so I called the Presidential Inn for a room. They were full but gave me the name of a shuttle service (Just Relax Transportation, 301 203-6819). John, the driver, suggested we go to the Presidential Inn anyway since they have a list of nearby hotels in the lobby. We did and lucked out! Someone canceled their reservation while we were standing there. From Andrews, it did not look promising to get to Ramstein. What to do?
Sept 8: Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI),MD: There was a flight out of McGuire AFB, NJ, with 19 T-seats and a huge flight from BWI with 145 F-seats. We decided to try for the BWI flight and rented John again to take us to BWI. There was a 0900 flight to Ramstein. Optimistically, I called Ramstein Central Reservations and reserved a room for the next night. BWI has a great USO on the first floor where you can store your luggage.
There was no way we could get on that flight—too many people PCSing. I canceled the Ramstein reservation. We waited until midnight and then called Ft. Meade, MD, for lodging for the night.
Sept 9: Dover AFB, DE: At Ft. Meade in the morning, we strategized with three other couples, also wondering what to do next. Two couples decided to rent a car together, go back to Charleston, SC, and try again another day. However, Felix and Debra from San Antonio wanted to continue trying now. We decided to rent a car at BWI together and drive to Dover AFB where we could possibly catch a flight to Rota NAS, Spain. It isn’t Ramstein, but it sure is Europe!
We had checked in at the Eagles’ Nest Inn at Dover, but discovered a 0100 flight to Rota. We signed up for it. By this time, our signup numbers were getting pretty high and we were all able to get on the flight. We took off with a full plane at 0400.
Sept 10: Rota NAS, Spain: The flight to Rota stopped after an hour to refuel in Bangor, ME. We didn’t even know there was a base there. We all went into the Pax Terminal during refueling for a brief rest and snacks. We landed in Rota at 2200, Rota-time. Once in the Pax Terminal, we called for rooms at the Navy Lodge and got two. When we arrived at the Navy Lodge and checked in however, we found our door missing its door knob and lock hardware since the door had been painted that day. Felix and Mike fixed the door since there were no more rooms available that night. We had a little Space-A party outside our door for fellow travelers and told each other our tales of woe.
Sept 11: Rota: We needed an extra day to recharge our batteries after going to four bases to get here. We rented a car, changed some dollars to Euros (Banco Popular on base) and strategized about our next move. Mike and I wanted to get to Paris since we had reservations at the French Officers’ Club. With our trouble getting to Europe, I had had to move the reservation back twice. They were very nice about accommodating us, but we needed to get there soon. Felix and Debra wanted to go on to Italy. We all decided to take the bus to the airport in Sevilla and then take commercial planes to our destinations. We booked flights online and then went out for a great dinner at a lovely hotel called Duque de Najera Hotel located on the beach.
Sept 12: Paris: We took a local bus from Rota to Seville. It was very nice and only cost 11 Euros per person. Once in Seville, we took a taxi to the airport. The driver spoke as much English as we do Spanish. We had booked seats on Vueling Airlines, operated by Iberia. It was a nice flight to Paris Orly. We got a taxi at the airport to drive to Cerce Nationale des Armies (French Officers’ Club) at the Hotel St. Augustin.
Sinda and Mike Slagle in front of the Eiffel Tower. Photo by the Slagles.
A word about the hotel: It is in a prime Paris location for 122 Euros per night. We could see the Eiffel Tower from our balcony! It was old world elegance with a nice staff and good breakfast (extra). We had a small room but it faced the front with a great view. Besides, we didn’t come to Paris for the hotel room.
Sept 13: Paris: Great day! We spent most of the day at the Louvre! We saw wonderful works of art including the Mona Lisa. The building itself is an architectural marvel. We left in late afternoon and strolled through the Tuileries located across the street from the Louvre. The end of the Tuileries opens up to the Place de la Concord, the center of Paris! On a historical note, a guillotine was located at the entrance of the Tuileries. We also went to the Musee de L’Orangerie located on the Place de la Concord and saw many many Impressionist paintings. There were two large, circular rooms of paintings by Monet. Three painting were 60- to 100-feet long each. After the Musee, we walked to the Hotel Crillon (located in the Concord by the American Embassy) for a glass of very fine French wine. We caught a taxi in front of the hotel and returned to our hotel.
Sept 14: Paris: Today we took a city tour from a brochure found in our hotel lobby. We saw all the sites one wants to in Paris: Champs-Elysees, Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge, Montmartre, Notre Dame, etc. We were dropped off by the Eiffel Tower for a river cruise of the Seine. We also had a nice lunch at a restaurant by the river. Afterwards, we walked to the Musee d’Orsay and saw 20 Vincent Van Goghs! There were many incredible works of art, but I love Van Gogh. We took a taxi back to the hotel.
Sept 15: Paris: Today we took a tour of the Palace at Versailles and Giverny, where Claude Monet lived and painted. Versaille was immense, opulent and ornate. It had once been 20,000 acres but was reduced to 2,000 after the Revolution.
Monet had bought land outside of Paris, built a farmhouse and then planted several immense gardens and a Japanese pond. His most famous paintings of water lilies were painted at his pond.
Sept 16: Nancy: After many wonderful days in Paris, we took a train to Nancy, France. We stayed at a charming hotel on the Stanislaus Square. We walked to a nearby park that had a zoo and wonderful brasserie (local French restaurant). Everything was lit up at night and people enjoyed socializing there.
Sept 17: Nancy: We took a city tour but it was in French! I know a little French but apparently not enough. A nice restful day.
Sept 18: Ramstein AB: We figured we had about 12 days left on our signup, so we decided to head for Ramstein and do a few things from there. We took four different trains to Kaiserslautern. We don’t speak German, however, we were familiar with the German train timetables available online (reiseauskunft.bahn.de) which told us which train and platform. We had called the day before to central reservations for a room at the base. They only had one in Vogelweh. When we arrived in Kaiserslautern, we took a taxi to Vogelweh, checked in and then taxied to the base. At the KMCC, central reservations told us we were to call protocol now for lodging for O-6 and above. Protocol put us in the Gen. John Cannon Hotel on base. Officers can’t get in the Ramstein Inn, we were told, unless the Cannon was full. So we had to go back to Vogelweh, retrieve our luggage, check out and go to the Cannon Hotel. It is a wonderful hotel whose rooms are suites for $54 a night.
The Slagles at the Tuileries. Photo by the Slagles.
Sept 19: Trier: We took the train to Trier, Germany. It is a beautiful German city close to the Luxembourg border. It was established during the time of Constantine, so the city is over 2,000 years old.
Sept 20: Ramstein: A recharging batteries day. We also started checking the flight schedules to see what would be flying to the States and west coast.
Sept 21: Luxembourg: We took a train to Saarbruchen and then an express bus to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. We took a city tour that concentrated on banks, schools and European Union buildings, since Luxembourg is instrumental in the EU.
Sept 22-23: Amsterdam, Holland: We booked a tour with RTT on base to take a bus tour of Amsterdam. We left the base at 0230 and drove to a farmhouse outside of Amsterdam for breakfast. There was also a cheese-making demonstration and a wooden shoe demonstration. Once in Amsterdam, we took a city tour on a cruise of the Amster River. Great city! Everyone rides bicycles. We wandered around the town, saw the Anne Frank exhibit and the Heineken Experience. We met a nice couple, Garvin and Caroline, with whom we had a great lunch by a canal. We arrived back on the base at 0200.
Sept 24: Ramstein: There were no flights going out that we could use, so we took a taxi to Landstuhl to see a movie.
Sept 25-27 Ramstein Pax Terminal: Every day for three days, we checked out of the Cannon Hotel, took the shuttle to the terminal and hung around trying to get a flight out. Every afternoon we called the Cannon and got another room for the night. Many flights were canceled. We tracked a flight to Dover–Travis that was delayed four times over two days. There was also a large number of catagories 3 to 5 trying for flights. With all the cancellations, everyone wanted Dover to get to the States.
Sept 27 Dover–Travis: We finally got on a flight to Dover–Travis on day 59 of our signup. To say we were getting pretty nervous is correct. We took off at 1825 to Dover and landed at 0300. We got on a plane immediately for Travis, but we sat in it for 1.5 hours while maintenance checked something out. The Airman with us told us to think good thoughts about Fred, the C-5 plane, of course.
Sept 28 Travis: We arrived at Travis about noon, California time. We got our car and drove home to Reno, NV. Our trip wasn’t quite the trip we had planned, but they never are. We visited five countries in three weeks. Probably the best parts of Space-A travel are the people you meet. Many thanks go to these people who shared some time with us along the way:
Felix and Debra from San Antonio, TX; Garvin and Caroline from Spokane, WA; Art and Julia from Seattle, WA; and Kathy and John from Ocala, FL.
CAPT Michael Slagle, USNR, (Ret.) and Sinda Slagle Reno, NV Sindaslagle@gmail.com
Reprint from Jan-Feb 2013 • Volume 43, No. 1