October 21 we left for Naval Station Norfolk, VA, via Rte 219. We found out later that it was not the best way to go. There were too many small towns, etc. We finally got to DC and the dreaded Beltway—almost as bad as our politicians as far as gridlock! Going down towards Richmond there are always tie ups. Getting past Richmond, the gas cost went as low as $3.09/gallon.
We got to NS Norfolk about 1930. We had made reservations to stay at Ely Hall. Old, but very nice at $55/night. We had remotely signed up for the Patriot Express (PE) flight on Tuesday. You can sign up (up to 60 days at a time) using Takeahop.com. Our signup had two days left.
Tuesday. Went to breakfast at IHOP Express at the NEX food court, then to the terminal to check in and found there were two hops to Rota AS, Spain. There was a C–17 at 1745 and a PE at 1800. We went to the mini mart for a Subway at 1500. Our show time was before 1800. We went to the terminal and finally boarded at 2000 hrs. We pushed back and started to taxi, but returned because of an engine problem in our 767. Finally at 0300, they canceled until 1400 the next day. We went back to our room that we had for two days, just in case we had to go back.
Wednesday. Called the terminal and returned to board about 1500. We took off about 1530. Jan and I had the front section (first class) with recliner seats. The movie screen was right in front of us and we had to endure three movies. It then became Thursday with the 6-hour time change. We landed at 0400 in Rota, refueled and took off for NAS Sigonella, Italy at 0600 for a 2.5-hour flight. We landed about 0830. There is a shuttle bus that takes people back and forth between NAS I and NAS II (airfields).
Our reservation at the Navy Lodge was ready at noon. We took a short nap. We decided to try Mojitos (restaurant) for dinner at the Sigonella Inn across the street from the base. I had two Moretti beers and they tasted great! Jan had spaghetti pomodoro and I had spaghetti con aglio e olio (butter and garlic). We also had a dish of roasted potatoes with bacon, onions and red peppers. Great! We set up a trip with ITT for Zafferana Ottobrebrata on Mt. Etna at $30/person.
Friday. We finally, went “Janshopping” and visited the commissary. We came back and stayed up until 2000 hrs. The jet lag, etc., took its toll.
Saturday. I got up numerous times due to the change in time zones. We got up, showered and shaved and went to the Post Office and the NEX. The facilities on NAS I are all within easy walking distances. We extended our reservation until Sunday, not knowing when our trip home would be available. We can always cancel. We went back to the on-base festival again. This night the clocks are to be turned back (from DST). Europe does it one week earlier than we do in the United States. Mt Etna erupted (small) this a.m., while we slept.
Sunday. (27 October) We had to be at the bus stop area NLT 0900 for our trip to Zafferana. There were about 20 people for the trip and we arrived at about 1030. There were literally thousands of people in the many streets. The festival is held every Sunday in October. Jan and I shopped, tasted the many foods, drank Coke (Light) (which is Diet Coke) and walked A LOT! The village is noted for honey and “dolce,” which are sweets. I think I tried most of them, including “granita”—which is a lemon ice, only a lot better—and gelato and canolli and lots of others. We left about 1630 and got back to base about 1900. The traffic was really bad coming from the festival. It was a great time!
Monday. Finally had a good night’s sleep. We went to ITT to arrange for our trip to Alia. This was the birthplace of my grandfather. We had been there five years ago, but I could not speak or understand Italian. I did practice before going, but it was difficult. We arranged for our driver, who was local, to stay with us to help converse. ITT can arrange for trips like this. The total cost was in the $200 range for the day. We wanted to do more Janshopping, but found that the NEX and commissary were closed on Mondays. Went back to do some laundry at the lodge. Washers were $1; dryers were $0.50. Had dinner at Mojitos again and just laid back the rest of the day and watched AFN (American Forces Network) TV (all 8 channels)!
Tuesday. This was the night for the time change in Europe. I had called for a wake-up call for 0600, but the phone system did not change the time, so it was 0500! We met the ITT driver, Rosario, at 0730, as arranged, and started towards Alia. It was to be a 2½ hour trip. We started on the Autostrada, which is the equivalent of the Autobahn, in Germany. After about an hour, we had to use “local” roads. The village was in the mountains and the roads were not great. We encountered some washouts in the roads and sheep and other obstacles.
We arrived and tried to find the city hall. The streets are all very steep. Jan had her knee replaced, so she could not navigate them. I finally found it, with the help of Rosario, and talked to a distant “cousin”. We exchanged “indirizzo” (e-mail addresses). Before leaving we stopped at a local “bar”, which is like a deli and had something to eat. We ordered three sandwiches, three drinks and the cost was only 6 Euros. Being a weight-conscious person, I bought some “low calorie” cookies. We left about 1245 and got back to base about 1500. Our legs and feet were really sore. We will try to go home tomorrow.
Whoops! Sorry! Just found out there was a C–17 going to Rota and Norfolk in about two hours! Packed fast! Called a taxi to NAS II for 1500. Registered, with two days left on our roll call list (made by using Takeahop.com). Took off about 2045, arrived in Rota about 2335.
On the C–17, the bottom of the seat can be extended to make a larger “butt” area by lifting it and pulling it out. It becomes almost a lounge chair.
We had reserved a room at the Rota Navy Lodge from Sigonella at $77/night. The Navy Gateway Inns and Suites (base lodging), are $55. They are both quite a long walk, so we took a taxi for 5 Euro. The temperature is about 45 degrees and windy! Roll call was set for 1355 the next day. Most flights to the States are RON, (rest over night) because of limitations of flying hours on the flight crew.
Wednesday. We got up about 0800 and went to the lodge office for a quick snack. They had everything except juices. I walked to the mini mart about 5–10 minutes from the lodge and got juice and muffins. In Spain and most of Europe retirees are not authorized to shop at the NEX, PX, BX or commissary. In Italy, you ARE authorized.
We took a taxi to the terminal and waited for roll call. There is a food court right next door and we opted for a KFC chicken dinner for$16.
I made reservations for Norfolk for tonight. Boarding started with about 23 PAX to NGU (Norfolk) at 1700 for the 8.5 hour flight to Norfolk. We arrived about 0830 and picked up our car that was parked in the long term area and drove to Ely Hall. We were planning to stop at Annapolis on the trip home.
The next morning, we ate breakfast at Five Guys. They also have breakfast sandwiches, as does Subway in the food court. Guess what? We did more Janshopping at the commissary and the NEX! Later, we found a Tim Horton’s right near our lodging. We went to bed early for the trip home. Couldn’t get rooms at Annapolis, so we decided to drive home.
We started at 0930 and got home about 2200. We stopped for about an hour for lunch and then went home via routes 495; 70; 11/15 and then the NYS Thruway from Rochester. I think this is the best overall route to take to Norfolk.
It was a great trip! Our military is the best trained and equipped military in the world! All personnel that we encountered knew their jobs and more. We met two security forces Airmen in Sigonella (one from Rochester, NY), that stopped to chat and made us feel like we were home. Jan and I had the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves (even though it was she that argued all the time, not me!) Our trip was not that expensive. Any purchases on the bases were in U.S. dollars. The Euro is worth about $1.40 U.S. (at the time of this report).
Using the Space-A system, although not always on time, saved a lot of money. The Patriot Express charges $17.50/person for a “head tax.” Even commercial charter aircraft have mechanical problems! Enjoy yourselves, you earned it.
Even though the flight crews and ground crews were not from Niagara, they did almost as well. Thank you for your service!
1SG Joe Reele, USA, (Ret.)
and Jan Reele
Joe Reele is a volunteer at the Retiree Services office at Niagara Falls Joint Reserve Base, NY.
Reprint from May–Jun 2014 • Volume 44, No. 3