Germany, 2012: Wanting to enjoy good Fall weather in Europe while avoiding the scarcity of Space-A seats in the summer, we decided to attempt a September trip to Germany. We put our names on the Category 6 roster in July and then waited … watching for a flight towards Germany out of McChord AFB near Tacoma, WA.
Tuesday, Sept. 11 showed a flight to Dover and a sudden flight direct to Spangdahlem AB, Germany. We dashed out of the house (having already packed) to make the three-hour drive to McChord from our home in Hood River, OR.
We arrived in time. Signed in as present. But Spangdahlem got canceled—bummer. So we waited for and took the Dover flight later that afternoon. En route to Dover our flight was diverted to Fort Campbell for “a higher priority mission”. Later, we pieced together that it had to do with the murders/rioting at the American Embassy in Libya. We will probably avoid traveling on Sept. 11 in the future … a seeming favorite date for bad guys.
The ground support people were helpful in getting all 25 of us taxis and rooms in an off-base motel. Finally got to bed about 0330.
The next morning we all broke into conference groups in the breakfast buffet area to figure out “what next”? Eight of us, including an active-duty wife traveling with four children decided to rent two cars and drive to Nashville International Airport (about 40 miles) where we bought tickets for Philadelphia with the goal of reaching McGuire AFB, NJ, in order to be ready for several flights listed for Ramstein AB, Germany, over the next few days. Rental cars, plane tickets, and motel room came to about $750 for the day!
Things went a little smoother at McGuire. We were not called for the first Ramstein bird, but did get called for the midnight flight. (If using a rental car at McGuire, go with Hertz. They have a key drop off box in the terminal). We took off at 0130 and arrived at Ramstein about 1600 local on Friday, Sept. 14. Tried for a room at the new Kaiserslautern Military Community Center facility but they were booked.
The good folks behind the counter called protocol for us (Dan is retired O-6) and got us a beautiful suite at the DV lodge, $53 per night. We booked three nights to give our bodies a chance to adjust to the time zone change and to give ourselves a chance to get the lay of the land—visit with the folks at tickets and tours, get a rental car, make reservations at Edelweiss, etc.
After breakfast we visited the Ramstein AB mall. Wow! Stopped by “Car Rental Row” in the mall and went with AMC Rentals because they had a Mercedez available and since we were in Germany—why not?! It was 545 Euro for two weeks. We called Edelweiss to see if rooms were available, no problem. Made reservations for Monday night through Wednesday night.
(Space-A tip: Edelweiss policy is to charge you if you decide to shorten your stay, but it seems easy to add a day or two. So book for the minimum number of nights you might want, then add more as you might need them.)
Sunday after chapel we decided to do the Rhine River cruise departing from Bingen, about 45 minutes away. Typed address for tour boat office in our Garmin GPS we brought from home. Took us straight there without a hitch.
Beautiful sun-shiny day. Sat top-side open air and thoroughly enjoyed the views of castles, towns, vineyards, and river traffic.
This tour has about six or seven stops down river, then turns around and makes the same trip back to Bingen. We got off by mistake one town early but it turned out great. We loved the little town of Oberwesen and had an amazingly good lunch there at an Italian restaurant with an outdoor pavilion—salad, spicy salami pizza, and a delicious light beer. About six hours start to finish. It was 20 Euro each for tour boat fare; well worth it.
Monday, we drove to Garmisch-Partenkirchen where the Edelweiss resort is located, about five hours from Ramstein. Checked into a standard room, very nice. Walked the grounds and took a few pictures. Ate a light supper and crashed for the evening.
Tuesday morning we awoke to a crystal clear blue sky. Decided to do the Garmisch Classic tram and hike; a series of three trams with a half hour hike in between. Spectacular views of the valley and surrounding mountain peaks. At the top of the first gondola is the Alspix Platform, two viewing piers that stick out into space with a thousand foot drop beneath you. Made my stomach queasy! At the bottom in the valley below, we walked into a cow pasture to listen to their bells.
We were back to Edelweiss by 1100 so we rented two bikes, bought a turkey wrap, stocked our backpack and took off for Partnach Gorge, about a 40-minute ride near the spectacular ski jump left over from the 1936 Olympics. It was three Euro each to enter and hike the gorge … an amazing narrow canyon formed by eons of rushing water. Back to Edelweiss to check email and skype family. Decided to go into Garmisch for a real German dinner. Had a pork loin dish with mushrooms, gravy, and spaetzel (noodles made with eggs). Finished off with strudle. Delicious! Walked the platz (pedestrian plaza) and window shopped for half an hour before heading home. Finished the day in the Edelweiss jacuzzi/hot tub … huge.
Wednesday brought our first, and only, day of rainy weather. Kind of a relief actually. Good day for laundry, reading, and taking a nap. Awoke Thursday to beautiful blue skies and sunshine again. Headed out for Ludwig II’s palace (Schloss Linderhoff) about 15 kilometers away. The Alpine desk at Edelweiss Resort provided us with a sheet of GPS coordinates for the most popular sights in Bavaria. Took the palace tour and walked the grounds. Pools, gardens, and fountains. Spectacular!
From the palace we drove to Oberammergau, about 12 kilometers … a quaint and picturesque town! Oberammergau is also known for it’s wood carvings … and they are unbelievable … detailed and carved to perfection. Ate outdoors in the warm sunshine … bratwurst, sauerkraut, and beer. Felt like a true German! Headed back to Edelweiss… maybe 30 minutes away … and extended our stay by two days at the reservations desk. Had a wonderful dinner that evening in The Pullman fancy restaurant.
On Friday we decided to see what Innsbruck, Austria, was like. So drove there in about an hour. A mistake (for us). Just another big city with traffic. We got out of there as fast as possible, up on an Alps hillside in a little village and had lunch over-looking the Innsbruck valley. Much more peaceful! Drove back to Edelweiss and spent the afternoon and early evening hiking around nearby Lake Eibsee and eating dinner on a balcony restaurant. Spectacular views of the Zugspitze mountains in the background, crystal clear lake in the foreground.
Got back to our room and decided the hot tub/jacuzzi sounded good for our tired bodies. Met the Edelweiss general manager and his wife in there and talked “sights to see” for 40 minutes while our bodies turned to prunes! Turned out to be a very nice day.
Saturday, we bid farewell to Edelweiss and headed towards Ramstein with Rothenburg ob der Tauber enroute. Rothenburg is Germany’s premier medieval city, dating back as far as the 11th century. About four hours from Garmisch. Spent the afternoon walking Old Town and taking pictures—cobblestone streets, shops, gasthauses, restaurants, churches, parks and the stone wall which still surrounds the city. Very picturesque. Took the “Evening Watchman” walking tour (daily, in English) at 2000. About 150 people showed up for this super informative, well presented, and humorous hour long tour.
Earlier in the day we had seen online that there was a 0530 Sunday morning flight back to the States with an ultimate destination of McChord so we decided to drive back to Ramstein after the tour to sign in as present and try for that flight. Got to Ramstein about midnight but upon checking at the terminal found that the flight had been pushed back. Got a room at the Ramstein Inn across from the terminal and went to sleep very tired.
The next five days amount to sad tales of cancelled flights and no seats. Early on we broke the cardinal rule of Space-A travel, “Take the first available flight in the direction you want to go”.
We could have been back in the States on Monday—our name was called for Charleston AFB—but we decided to wait for a “better” flight. We had daily flight vigils until Friday when we finally did get seats, that Monday Charleston flight looked like gold.
We made it to the East Coast (Dover AFB) late on Friday, Sept. 28. Tired of being in a terminal most of the week, we opted to fly commercial home to Seattle the next day … then took a shuttle to McChord AFB where our car was parked.
Our take away lessons: Beware traveling on/around Sept. 11. Also, getting to Europe from the West Coast and back is difficult. Will we try again? Probably, but we’ll do some things different. Most importantly, (1) take direct flights only–especially as you begin your trip and home is just an easy few hours away if you don’t make it on the plane. And, (2) obey the cardinal rule of Space-A travel! Other than that, a fantastic trip. We loved Germany!!
Col. (Chaplain) Dan Armstrong, USAF, (Ret.) and Jan Armstrong
Hood River, OR
Reprint from Mar-Apr 2013 • Volume 43, No. 2