Sign-up is 60 days in advance (via Takeahop.com); we signed up 53 days ahead to give ourselves a little buffer.
Sunday: We found a flight leaving tomorrow (on Facebook), from Charleston to Ramstein, Germany, after it stops in McGuire first and then another one on Tuesday going direct to Ramstein. We took off for our Space-A Hop after church. We stopped in Newnan, Georgia (7 hours away) at an Evergreen BandB Travel Club Member’s home to spend the night.
Monday: Left for Charleston Air Force Base and we were there 6 hours later. We met our friends, Janet and Earl at the terminal. They live in Jacksonville, Florida, so only about a 4-hour drive for them. We found out we couldn’t be manifested all the way to Ramstein, so WE decided to try for the direct flight tomorrow. Fortunately, another one popped up for the next day (going to Spangdahlem in Germany), so we had two chances. We stayed in lodging on the base, $54.00 per night, and it was really nice. The four of us went into the city of Charleston,and Earl took us on a little our. Then we had some great ribs at Sticky Fingers, a restaurant that has been there for years and years.
Tuesday: Went to the golf course’s clubhouse (Wrenwood’s Golf Course) for breakfast and lunch—checked out of lodging at 11am but reserved for tonight just in case we didn’t take the flight today. Showtime was 1540 but take-off wasn’t until 2100. Shortly after showtime, they told everyone there was a change, and the C-17 plane was now going only to Andrews Air Force Base and not to Germany. Lots of people left the terminal. When Phil and Earl walked back to long-term parking (3 blocks away) and brought the cars, we found out the plane scheduled switched again and it was going all the way to Germany (Hurray!). Everyone got on the plane—about 30 of us. It made for a pretty long day: hanging out in the terminal for 7 hours. We flew up to Andrews AFB and had to get off the plane for them to refuel, but we
were there 2 hours—due to lightening. We left there at 1am and got to Ramstein at 9am (an 8-hour flight). It was 3pm local time; they’re 6 hours ahead of us. I slept on the floor of the cold plane (as did a lot of others)—we used our blankets and also our “quillows” (a quilt that makes into a pillow) that we brought along. We’d bought 2 boxed meals when we checked our luggage ($9.50 for both). Each box had a sandwich, chips, soda, and breakfast bar. When we got there, we walked across the street to Ramstein Inn/Mall to see if we could get lodging for the night. We were told they were filled up, but to check back with them at 1800 (6pm). Retirees can’t rent cars from there, but she (at Enterprise Car Rental) called a cab for us (6 Euro) to go to Hertz to get a car. We got a Peugeot—fairly good-sized car—so it would fit all of our luggage. We got a rate of $820.00 for 3 weeks, which included a 15 percent discount with my AAA card, and also 2 drivers could be put on the contract. We declined the insurance as our credit card will cover that. We checked back for lodging at 1730 (5:30pm), and they had a 2-bedroom family unit (1 bath) for $60 per night. It was super nice… But the only one problem… It was 40 flights up with no elevator (poor guys!)
Thursday: We left at 10:30am and headed for Bautzen, Germany, about half a way to our first stop (Krakow, Poland). We found a T.I. (Tourist Information) so we could have them find us lodging for the night. We stayed at Zum Echten for 62 Euros per night. It was a restaurant and pension, it was very nice and included a great German breakfast of yogurt, hard-boiled egg, hard rolls, salami, other luncheon meats, cheeses, tomatoes, cucumbers, orange juice and coffee. We walked around the square and found a good, local German restaurant and had German beer and a great meal. We walked down to the river—it was so beautiful on the bridge where the towers were all lit up. We walked back to our pension and had some fantastic apple strudel, with ice cream.
Friday: Headed for Krakow, Poland—Earl has done all the driving, and I really commend him on these autobahn roads—sometimes we were cruising over 100 miles per hour! Whee! That’s the way everyone drives here—really fast! Janet and I were in the back seat, and the guys were in the front seat—driving and helping each other navigate—Krakow is 686 miles from Ramstein, so we were on the road each day for 5 or 6 hours. Janet went on the computer and found us a pension to stay for 4 nights in
Krakow—great rate of $180./each for all 4 nights. Earl’s GPS is working out really well—we’ve never travelled in Europe before with one—sure makes life easier. We had to check into our pension at a hostel; parking and breakfast came with it. It’s called Mo Mo Town and is in a good location—in the Kazimierz Jewish Quarter, just a 20 minute walk from the town centre (Main Square). It’s a very basic place—nothing fancy at all—but adequate, and we have live serenading below at night by the restaurant (outdoor seating). We were on the 2nd floor (25 steps up), so not much fun dragging all the luggage up! We walked to a pub/gallery restaurant that we all enjoyed a lot—sat outside in a large garden and had traditional Polish beer and cuisine. Their money is 4 to 1 and quite confusing to figure out … and getting money from the ATM is also lots of fun—Ha!
Saturday: We walked to the city centre (square) and did the “Free Jewish Quarter Walking Tour”; it was a good tour and great guide—last area we went to was the former Jewish Ghetto (across the river/bridge) and ended up at Schindler’s Factory; it was a 3-hour tour—way too much walking for me—we had to have walked 7 miles or more. We sat outside and had pizza and beer. Went back to main square and the 4 of us took the horse and carriage ride—horses looked so majestic (all decorated!)—it was a 20 minute ride and lots of fun! We ate dinner at a nice restaurant, across the street from our pension called Szara Kazimierz—sat outside in the back garden area and shared a meal and also a plum crumb cake dessert.
Sunday: Went to Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial and Museum (Concentration Camps) an hour away. It was so sobering/sad/horrendous!! The Nazis were such horrible, horrible people—just inconceivable—1.5 million people were tortured—I just can’t imagine!! This all went on between the years 1940-1945. The Nazis deported at least 1,300,000 people to Auschwitz. Of these, 1,100,000 were Jews. Auschwitz is the largest Nazi German Concentration/Death Camp. We went back to the restaurant we went to 2 nights ago ‘cuz we liked it so much; again had potato pancakes—a Polish cuisine and Phil had good Kielbasa sausage; back at 9pm.
Second Monday: Had breakfast at the hostel, one block from our pension; decided to go our separate waysand meet up at 3:30. Phil and I rented bikes for 3 hours and really got to see a lot of Krakow. We started out riding along the Vistula River—went by the Wawel Castle and dragon and on the walk/bike path in the park, surrounding the city. Also rode all around Old Town and the Main Market Square—was pretty challenging in and out and around people and cars, but was lots of fun and better than so much walking.
Returned our bikes and stopped at a sidewalk cafe and had a traditional Polish lunch with soup, Goulash, apple cake and beer. Met up with Janet and Earl at 3:30 by St. Mary’s Church and decided to do the Guided City Tour by electric car (golf cart)—1 hour tour—did Old Town and WWII Jewish Ghetto area and stopped by Oscar Schlindler’s Factory—all so interesting and another gorgeous, 75 degree day w/sunshine. Our guide dropped us off in the area where we were staying, so that was nice. Back again to our favorite outdoor garden restaurant—wish I would have taken the name of it!
Second Tuesday: Today was “Move-on Day.” We left Krakow and headed for Bratislava, Slovakia. It was a 5.5-hour drive through some beautiful scenery.
Overall, we traveled to Ramstein, Germany; Krakow, Poland; Bratislava, Slovakia, Budapest, Hungary; and Ljubljana, Slovenia during August 31st to September 25th, 2014!
CSPO Phil Bettisworth, U.S. Navy, (Ret.)
and Lorna Bettisworth
Reprint from Jan–Feb 2015 • Volume 45, No. 1