The Campbells Barge on Another French Canal and Take The Family on a Whirlwind Tour of Their Favorite Places in Europe
On September 12, 2013, we flew out of McGuire AFB bound for Ramstein Air Base. We had done our homework, submitted our space-a request form well in advance, and were boarded shortly after we checked in. We flew on a KC-10, a flying gas station, which was very entertaining, as another KC-10 and the one we were on took turns practicing refueling mid-air for a few hours at the beginning of the flight. After the entertainment ended, the passengers all settled in for a short night and arrived early in the morning at Ramstein on a damp and drizzly day.
Our space-a friends, Herb Harfst and his wife Landis Shepherd, were waiting for us at Wasgau, the German coffee shop in the mall attached to the Ramstein Inn, and after catching our breath and having some coffee and brotchen, we headed for the annual OWC Welfare Bazaar for a few hours. Following that, our German friends, who live about 45 minutes from Ramstein, came and picked us up and we spent a couple of days with them while waiting for four of our relatives to arrive at the Frankfurt Flughafen to spend the remaining month in Europe with us. Herb and Landis continued on with their own space-a adventure.
Sharon’s sister and brother-in-law, Mary and George Troup, and her cousin and his wife, Bill and Kathy Smeltzer, arrived in Frankfurt on September 17 and we picked them up in the large van we had rented. We headed to Rudesheim for a cruise on the Rhine River. Mary and George had spent time in Germany when George was in the Army, but Bill and Kathy had never been to Europe, and at that point their heads were spinning because we didn’t give them one minute to rest before hitting the ground running.
Even though we had spent seven years stationed in Germany (four years in Bamberg and three years in Berlin) we had never gone on a Rhine River cruise. It was really beautiful. Our German friends, Werner and Margit, also accompanied us. Following the cruise, we went back to Muenchweiler, where our German friends live, had a wonderful meal at a local Italian restaurant and everyone collapsed for the night.
The following day, Werner and Margit showed us around the local area. We had lunch in the huge wine barrel in Bad Durkheim. The annual Wurst and Wine Fest had ended only a day or two before. We also visited Landau and the tiny town of Rhodt.
On September 21, we left our German friends and drove to the quaint, walled village of Rothenburg. The night watchman tour is not to be missed! It’s hilarious as well as informative. We spent the night in the Hotel Golden Lamb right in the main marketplace. The girls shopped at Kathe Wohlfahrt while the guys tried to put a dent in the German beer supply.
The following day we headed to Salzburg, then to Bad Reichenhall where we got rooms in a lovely gasthaus, the Karlsteiner Stuben. The man at the desk at the gasthaus just happened to mention that the annual Herbstfest at Bad Reichenhall was ending that night with a bierfest, and he thought we might like to go. We walked to the fest and it was fabulous! There’s nothing like a beer fest or wine fest in a small town. The band was terrific and the beer and food just wonderful.
The following day we went to the Eagle’s Nest, then on to the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch. We had stayed there several times in the past, and there’s not a trip to Germany that would be complete without a few days at the Edelweiss. Our relatives just loved it, especially the cowbells ringing in the meadow early in the morning when it was foggy and not quite dawn, and then waiting for the sun to rise over the Zugspitze. We all could’ve stayed there forever. The guys loved hanging out in Zuggy’s Base Camp, drinking beer, while the girls did laundry.
The day after we arrived, we took the train to Munich, had lunch at the Hofbrauhaus and then went to Oktoberfest for the remainder of the day. As was the case with many of the things we did on this trip, we had gone to Oktoberfest several times in the past, but this was the most fun time of them all, and it was great to see our family cross off yet another item on their “bucket list.” While in Garmisch, we also went to the Neuschwanstein Castle, the Weiskirche and Oberammergau.
On September 26, we headed south through the Brenner Pass to the Italian Riviera and spent the night in Finale Ligure at the Hotel San Giuseppe with a view of the Mediterranean Sea (and a very busy railroad station). The following morning we went to a large market in Ventimiglia, then on to a windshield tour of beautiful Monte Carlo.
Our next stop was the Rhone American Cemetery near St. Tropez, France. Cousin Bill’s father was part of the landing force which came ashore here in August 1944 as the Southern flank unit supporting the Normandy Invasion. Some of his brothers-in-arms are buried here in this awe-inspiring site. We brought along some of Uncle Bob’s handwritten notes from the landing and shared them with the caretaker, Bruce Malone, who is a retired Army Master Sergeant with two Masters degrees in military history. He was an encyclopedia of knowledge and information. We never dreamed we could enjoy a visit to a cemetery so much! Later that day, we toured the famous Fragonard perfume factory in nearby Grasse, France, and then spent the night in the lovely Hotel Albatross.
The next day, we drove on to Remoulins, France and spent the night at Bize De La Tour, one of our very favorite French B&B’s. The place is nearly a thousand years old and is just spectacular, and the owner, Pierre, is the nicest and best host ever.
On September 29, we drove to Port Cassafieres, a base for the LeBoat barging company, and took a taxi to the town of Homps where we got on our boat, the Magnifique, and spent the following 7 days cruising the Canal Du Midi. This is the second time we have used LeBoat to barge on a French canal, and it will not be the last time. It is truly one of our favorite ways to spend a vacation. The boats are beautifully outfitted, clean, spacious, comfortable and easy to drive.
Our boat actually accommodated 10 people, but since there were only 6 of us, we had tons of extra space. Each of our rooms had an en suite bathroom. The kitchens are equipped so well they even include egg cups, and there were 3 refrigerators on board. Cruising a canal is one of the most relaxing vacations you can possibly take. We stopped along the canal at lovely, small villages, bought great wine and stocked our boat with fresh food from the markets, cooked dinner on board a few nights and ate out at the local restaurants on other nights. There is even a bread barge along the canal, and you can pull your boat up to the barge and purchase baguettes, croissants, olives, pates and other regional foods.
There are several companies that rent self-drive boats in Europe, but LeBoat (a US company) is by far the best one. Their boats are the most beautiful and well maintained. Barging is possible in canals all over Europe and is a relatively inexpensive way to spend a vacation since the boat is both your transportation and lodging, plus you have a fully equipped kitchen to take advantage of local offerings. Next year we hope to barge in France’s Burgundy region.
After we arrived at Port Cassafieres and retrieved the van, had some great pizza and beer at the LeBoat base, we headed over to the Mediterranean Sea to dip our feet in the water. We then found an Ibis Hotel where we spent the night close to the town of L’Isle Sur La Sorgue, home of a Sunday market that is not to be missed. This one was touted to be one of the best markets in France. After having been to several markets in Provence over the years, we can definitely agree with the rating. It was unbelievable. Vendors lined the streets of this small, quaint village, and there was so much fresh food, olives, cheeses, vegetables and fruits, chickens roasting on spits, huge pans of paella being made, local merchandise including Provencal tablecloths and olive wood utensils, lavender products—you name it. If it was made in the south of France, it was available at this outstanding market.
We then headed to Switzerland, spent the night in a gorgeous hotel, Les Cygnes, on the French side of Lake Geneva, then up through the Black Forest to the cuckoo clock town of Triberg, Germany. Driving through the Black Forest, we saw a sign for the Schone Aussicht, a wellness hotel high on a mountain. After a twisting, turning drive through the forest, we came to the hotel, which was so high, it was actually in the clouds and shrouded with fog. The rooms were typically Bavarian and lovely and the beer and food just wonderful.
The following day, we ended our fabulous month in Europe back in Germany in the tiny town of Ungstein on the Weinstrasse at the Restaurant Am Pfalzer Landhotel. The owner allowed us to pull our van into the biergarten so we could unpack it and then repack it one last time. Our final meal in Germany was the best one of the whole trip, and breakfast the following morning was served in the ancient wine cellar.
Sadly, our European adventure had to come to a close. We drove the Troups and Smeltzers back to Frankfurt and dropped them off at a hotel where they stayed until the following morning when they caught their flight back to the US. We drove to Ramstein, turned in the van and got on a flight back to McGuire a short while later.
We arrived home on October 11 after having completed another wonderful Space-A trip. We are so grateful for the men and women of the military who make this way of travel possible. The flight crews are so accommodating and pleasant. Flying Space-A is one of the very best benefits available to military retirees.
If there are any questions, we would be happy to answer them.
Charles Campbell, LTC, USA (Ret.) Sharon Campbell
Reprint from September–October 2015 • Volume 45, No. 5