We planned our annual Space-A trip by blocking out April, planning to “get started” the day after Easter. We wanted to go to Italy and explore off the beaten track. We had seen the major cities and surroundings in Italy so we planned to fly into Aviano AB, Italy, one hour north of Venice at the base of the Dolomite mountains, and see the small towns and villages of northeastern Italy.
After listening to the recording for Baltimore Washington (BWI) for several months we knew that a contract flight leaves most Tuesdays, heading for Aviano via Ramstein AB, Germany. We signed up about 45 days ahead and kept a copy of the email in case we weren’t on the AMC signup list. There seemed to be planes with 180 to 220 seats available most weeks. Keep checking until your chosen departure week!
We parked at Curtis Bay Coast Guard Station, 8 to 10 miles from the airport. The base has a parking lot just outside the gate where civilian employees park, and they are happy to have you park there for as long as you like. Its great for Space-A travel of uncertain duration. Sign in at the front gate security building (telephone: 410-636-3993). There is lodging at the base if you need it, and security will call a cab for you or use your cell phone. Bay Taxi (410-766-7313) or Associated Cab Co. (410-766-1234) are familiar with the base and respond quickly. The fare is about $22 to $28.
When we arrived at the AMC terminal at BWI on the international concourse, we were amazed at the numbers
of people waiting for the “showtime” roll call.
“We’ll never get on,” we thought. But we did.
The plane is a regular contract flight called “Patriot Express,” flown by a number of independent airlines, and has all the amenities of a commercial flight without the hassles. For $32 in airport taxes we had a wonderful day, Wednesday, local time.
We had called ahead to reserve a room at Mountain View Lodge, DSN 314-632-9191/4074, Civ from US: 011-39-0434-30-4040, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org on the base.) The Lodge is THE NICEST place we have ever stayed. It’s worth making the reservation even if you forfeit one night’s cost ($39) – a nice bed and shower is a welcome sight after the overnight flight. If you are an O-6 or above, call Protocol directly (Commercial: 011-39-0434-30-4704, email: email@example.com) and arrange for your room. Every person was very helpful and courteous. If you don’t have a room there, the Lodge personnel will help you find a clean and reasonably priced hotel three miles from the base in the town of Aviano.
Aviano AB is unusual in the way it’s laid out. The flight line and AMC terminal are on one side of the runway and the major part of the base is on the other side – including lodging – about seven miles around the perimeter of the flight line. Then two remote areas, called Areas I and II, of the base are in the town of Aviano.
A bus does take you from the terminal to the lodge, but base transportation is very sparse. We found that a car was very helpful and we rented through Europcar on base after we arrived. It was cheaper than the rate quoted in US. There is some scarcity of autos, so it might be good to reserve ahead. We had a Fiat Panda (think very small) and it was just fine for the two of us. We paid about $270 USD per week which included taxes and required insurance. The price might be slightly higher than renting off base, but it was worth it for the convenience of being able to turn it in on-base 24 hours a day.
We join those in previous articles in emphasizing that a portable GPS is worth its weight in gold. They’re indispensable in finding your way through the bewildering city streets, back alleys, and roads that don’t show up on most European maps.
One great advantage of Italy is that retirees are allowed to purchase items at base facilities such as the commissary, BX, etc. These are about a block from the lodge. The all-services club is just across the street. The club has limited service but has Mongolian BBQ on Wednesdays and a lovely brunch buffet on Sunday. The bar has good bar food and cheap drinks and a great indoor/outdoor patio – best hamburger we’ve had recently. The food court in the BX has the usual fast food offerings. The commissary closes at 2000, but it has a “Grab and Go” which is open from 2000 to 2400.
One of our first stops is always the Travel Office, known as ITT here and RTT at Ramstein. After a good night’s sleep (Thursday by now), we rented the car and headed for Area II to the ITT office, DSN phone 632-3107.
We booked a Saturday tour bus and boat to Croatia. The early arrival for pickup (0430) and the late return (2330) were challenging, but the tour bus was comfortable and the escort was very knowledgeable.
We passed Trieste, a lovely seacoast town in Italy, then traveled briefly though Slovenia to enter Croatia and travel to a peninsula jutting into the Adriatic Sea called Istria.
Our tour group boarded a sightseeing boat and sailed along the Istrian coastline to visit three beautiful, ancient seacoast villages, Porec, Vrsar, and Rovinj.
Our final stop at Rovinj is listed on Rick Steves’ TV program of “10 undiscovered European Gems” and National Geographic’s list of places to see this year. How lucky can we be? And we thought the village lived up to the hype – beautiful scenery, winding streets, cathedral on the top of the hill with a bell tower and 191 steps to the top for a breathtaking view.
Lunch on the boat was memorable too – mackerel fish, freshly caught, roasted and served with heads and tails attached. The fish was delicious after we got past the sight!
We had supper in the seaport town, Porec, before boarding the bus back to Aviano.
ITT has tours leaving every weekend. We always wait until we arrive to make the reservations. We made a day trip each day for the next week, returning each evening to the lodge at Aviano. Here are some highlights:
Aquileia: Two hours south of Aviano, Aquileia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and dates from the 1st Century. It has a beautiful basilica with priceless mosaics on the floors and the walls and a lovely baptistery next door filled with early Christian symbols. There are also other ruins on the canal and a good museum.
Palmanova: Another UNESCO site near Aquileia, Palmanova has a duomo (cathedral) that sits on a central village square with nine gates around the square. Udine: One hour east of Aviano, Udine has a striking castle on a high hill, originally surrounded by a moat and a wall. The “Piazza Liberta” is known as the “most beautiful Venetian square on dry land”. The duomo is 13th Century with stunning altar pieces by Tiepolo.
Barcis: This mountainside village is set on a breathtakingly beautiful lake, Lake Aprilis. Here, we had our best lunch of the trip on the patio of the Hotel Celis.
Piancavallo: Another mountainside village, Piancavallo is a ski resort in winter. It was closed down for upgrades but was still worth the trip for the fine views and a beer break restaurant half way up the mountain.
Sacile: Eighteen km from Aviano, Sacile was originally a feudal town but took on its present appearance in the 15th to 16th Centuries when they built along the banks of the River Livenza. We had lunch at a gorgeous restaurant, Cellini, overlooking the river by the duomo.
Pordenone: Only 10 miles from Aviano, Pordenone is worth exploring. We found the ancient part of the city with shops lining the cobblestone streets. At one end sits the St. Marco Cathedral and a free Civic Museum and lots of cafes and shops. We were fortunate to attend a fantastic evening concert in St. Marco cathedral.
We began our second week at Vincenza U.S. Army Base in north central Italy, about two hours west of Aviano. We stayed at the Ederle Inn (DSN 314-634-8034/8035; Civ from US 011-39-0444-718034/8035) for three days. We made reservations at Ederle after we arrived in Aviano. Lodging was very nice and included breakfast. From here we visited the following towns:
Vicenza: A UNESCO World Heritage site. This town is known as the “city of Palladio” (think Palladian architecture). The Teatro Olimpico, designed by Palladio, is the oldest enclosed theater in the world and built about 1580 to 1585. The Teatro gave the first introduction of perspective views into Renaissance theater. The walking streets are lined with Palladian designs and architecture.
Verona: West of Vicenza, we parked near the Verona Arena, a Roman amphitheater and a fabulous venue for summer opera. We began a day of walking. One famous tourist sight is Juliet’s house but we did not go in because of the crowds.
Built in the 12th Century, the duomo still has the original doors and portal. The nave is filled with art including Titian’s “Assumption of the Virgin.” St. Elena Church excavations to the left of the altar date from the 6th Century, and it feature beautiful mosaic floors. The Baptistry contains a Romanesque font made of a gigantic piece of marble and features carved scenes from the Nativity cycle.
The Teatro Romano high above the River Adige is spectacular and the river is lined with lovely cafes. Other churches include the Basilica San Zeno Maggiore, the finest example of Roman architecture in Northern Italy, dates to the 9th Century and is dedicated to St. Zeno, Verona’s patron saint. The front door is flanked by two marble lions and 48 panels in bronze, sculpted in 9th to 11th Centuries. A Campanile is on the side of the church. Verona has two other important churches, but our day ran out!
Asolo: An ancient hill town, Asolo is “the town of a Hundred Horizons.” It sits 50 km from Vicenza and has lots of 15th Century charm. In the early 1500’s, Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cypress, ruled this village. It is also “home to many writers, poets and artists”. Robert Browning’s poem “Asolando” is dedicated to this village.
The Church of San Gottardo, 14th Century, was on the ancient walking street lined with many shops and cafes.
Our favorite was Antica Osteria al Bacaro.
Maser: The Villa Barbaro is considered one of the best examples of Palladian architecture. The villa is still lived in but guests are allowed to explore rooms on the first floor. It also has a charming wine bar with tastings and light fare.
Marostica: This medieval walled town is near Maser. Every two years the town sponsors a chess festival played in the town square with real people as the chess pieces.
Padua: East of Vicenza, we parked on the Piazza Cavour in Padua, and walked to our sites from there. First, we purchased tickets for the Scrovegni Chapel, a sight worth the wait. The museum was closed on Monday. We visited the Chapel in groups for 15 minutes. The frescos by Giotto are considered the most important art leading up to the Renaissance (1300). The art completely covers the walls with 38 scenes depicting the life of the Virgin and of the Church. The ceiling is cobalt blue. This Chapel is indescribably magnificent – a must see.
The cathedral next door, Chiesa degli Eremitani, was completely destroyed in 1944. We also visited the Basilica
di Sant Antonio, a huge interior with tombs, art and checkerboard marble floors. This Basilica honors St. Antony, patron saint of Padua. Donatello’s seven bronze statues and central Crucifixion (1444) are highlights. We spent the remainder of the second week at Aviano further exploring the nearby countryside.
We caught the Thursday weekly flight back to BWI. There was no problem getting a seat. One advantage of
boarding in Aviano AB is you are manifested through to BWI. The flight stops to refuel and pick up passengers at Ramstein, but you can’t be bumped. The cost for two was just the U.S. re-entry tax, $58. Don’t ask why the cost difference for outbound and inbound flights – just accept it.
At the time we were there, April 2012, Aviano AB flight operation facilities and runways were being improved. This can affect flights in and out of the base. The work is expected to continue for the rest of 2012. It is best to check to see if any of the work will effect base air traffic during the time you plan to travel. They use Marco Polo Airport in Venice as an alternate.
At BWI we took a cab back to the Coast Guard station, picked up our car and drove back to Williamsburg.
Once again, Space-A is our favorite way to travel. Flying is quite easy compared to commercial flights. Meeting new friends everywhere is delightful and surely the price is right!
Col. Tom Berkey, USAF, (Ret)
and Ina Berkey
Reprint from Sep-Oct 2012 • Volume 42, No. 5