Planning is all important for any excursion but especially for Category VI passengers wanting a Space-A adventure in the summer. In late July, my wife and I traveled to northeast Italy, to the Dolomite Mountains, where we enjoyed a week of fun-filled hiking. We share our experience to help make your own travel successful.
Before leaving the US, we took time to contact our bank to ensure the right people knew we would be using our credit cards in foreign countries and to ensure we would not be charged “foreign transaction fees.” We also wanted to have something called a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), so we could decline this charge when offered by the car rental company. During the entire trip we had no problems with credit cards and were able to use them even at huttes (or rifugios) in the mountains.
Fifty-five days earlier I had signed-up for Space-A travel from BWI on the Patriot Express to Ramstein AB, Germany. Late in the evening at the BWI terminal we became the last Space-A passengers. Even after the manifest closed we waited, hoping for a miracle. Just as we were about to walk away, we were told of some last-minute adjustments and encouraged not to leave. In a few minutes we became the last two passengers to board. Good news. It was Satuday evening.
We arrived in Germany mid-afternoon on Sunday, when most businesses are closed. On Monday, in Mannheim, we rented a brand new Ford Focus from Europcar. The reservation was made in the US, but the details, including unlimited mileage and a return in Ramstein-Landstuhl, were finalized in Germany. Customer service at both ends was extremely pleasant. The total price for 15 days was 269 Euros. Contact Aaron Eastman, USAF, Retired, in Landstuhl, at 06371-61-98-98-0. We were told Europcar is now finalizing arrangements to leave and pickup cars on Ramstein AB. After learning to “pull-up” to shift the manual transmission into reverse and after setting the GPS in English, we drove to Oberammergau, where we stayed two nights at the NATO School Lodge (NSL), at 45 Euros per night. Contact Andy at Billeting@natoschool.nato.int.
After taking the cable car up the nearby mountain, where we watched para-gliders and sipped beer, we descended and had a delicious dinner at Hotel Arnika (local tel:8822-9110), just 10 minutes walk from the NSL. That night I ate fresh mushroom soup and venison. Did I say delicious?
The next day, we enjoyed hiking the AltHerronWeg from Oberammergau to Unterammergau and back. The “way” was mostly flat – just right for us. We stopped at mid-day for a very tasty liver-dumpling soup and a draft beer at a hutte, which alerted us to what we would find at Italian rifugios in the Dolomites – i.e.: excellent meals, served on chinaware. No need to carry your sandwich or to be hungry.
The drive from Oberammergau to Sapadda, in the Veneto Region (adjacent to Austria and filled with WWI history), was easy. We used a credit card to pay an autobahn toll as we drove through the Brenner Pass, to pay for gas, and to buy another delicious dinner well away from the autobahn. In Sapadda, we stayed seven nights at a time-share apartment at Residence Borgo Al Sole, for a very reasonable $369. I discovered this apartment by exploring the Armed Forces Vacation Club website.
After hiking for a week and eating wonderful meals (I ate venison at least seven times), we had to face reality and return to Ramstein AB. We took the fun route and stayed one night in Innsbruck at Gasthof Innbruecke, a hostel established in 1425. The bathroom and the shower were down the hallway, but everything was very clean and the cost was an affordable 69 Euros for two, which included a substantial breakfast. Old town Innsbruck was a very short walk across the river.
Upon arriving in Innsbruck I found a computer kiosk and applied for a room at the new and very impressive Ramstein Inn which is just part of the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center at Ramstein AB. I followed the rules for Space-A travelers by submitting 24 hours in advance–not more–of our expected arrival. The next day, I called to learn whether or not we had a room waiting. My cell phone didn’t have a European card but it worked when I called Ramstein. I believe the call went from Switzerland, where we ate lunch, to Maryland and then back to Germany, some 200 miles away. That was a long distance call!
In four days we stayed in three different rooms at the Ramstein Inn. The rooms were spacious and absolutely clean and inviting; the cost was a very affordable $39 per night. We tried for three days to get a hop back to BWI, but the number of Category III travelers was just too great and the chances of getting home via Space-A were very low, at least until school started. So, we implemented Plan B: we booked a commercial flight from Germany to Baltimore. At 0600 the next morning we caught the bus from Ramstein to Frankfurt International; there is no charge for this service.
My wife and I have t-shirts and hats with the message “Adventure before Dementia,” which has become our mantra. We consider ourselves to be travelers, not tourists. On this trip we had our adventure and learned important details for a time when we return to the region. We would be happy to answer questions from fellow travelers.
Col. John Church, USAFR, (Ret.) and Barbara Church
When not adventuring, they support a charity elementary school in Bauniyan, Kailali District, Nepal. See grassrootseducationnepal.blogspot.com
Reprint from Nov-Dec 2012 • Volume 42, No. 6