The Di Roccos’ First Space-A Adventure to Europe

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The Adventure Begins at McGuire AFB
The Adventure Begins at McGuire AFB. Photo courtesy of John & Elaine Di Rocco.

We had decided to plan our first Europe adventure flying to Ramstein with the Waterfields. There are always many flights leaving from McGuire and Dover. Our plan was to stay in Ramstein for a few days then try to take the MEDEVAC bus to Vicenza, Italy. We were successful on our first try leaving out of McGuire AFB, NJ. It was on a C-005. John and I had never been on one,  but John and Rene had been on C-005s before. On Wednesday, 27 April 2011, our flight out of McGuire was scheduled to go directly to Ramstein AB, Germany. They had roll call and we were waiting to be called to go through security. A very nice fellow Space-A traveler told  us that we were going to Dover first to fuel up. Being new to this, we didn’t take anything for granted. Seems he was correct, but I don’t exactly remember how he knew before us.

We left McGuire at 2015. When we arrived in Dover, we were told to stay on the plane, that the wait would not be long, as  we were just refueling. Within five minutes, we were told to take our things and deplane. Once we got into the terminal there were other people there waiting to get on this flight also. After the usual confusion, we were told the C-005 was having maintenance problems. SURPRISE! We called for lodging and we able to get rooms for Wednesday night at the Eagles Rest Inn for a very affordable $39.

We went for breakfast Thursday morning and saw some of the crew. They told us that the C005 still had issues, and was not leaving anytime soon. We decided to check out after lodging assured us we could get a room again. We went over to the terminal and were told the C005 could be leaving at some point. We told them that the crew members said that the plane was not going anywhere soon. The PAX terminal was not aware of this. We have learned that the PAX terminal does not have all the information, but not any fault of theirs. That’s just the way it works.

We ended up spending Thursday in the terminal and sleeping there also. Since the C-005 could be ready at any time, we did not want to take a chance on getting a room and missing the flight. Dover has a very, very nice USO room, so we were able to hang around there until they closed. Our flight finally left Friday morning at approximately 0745 and we arrived in Ramstein at 2115.

We had reservations at the Ramstein Inn for a one bedroom suite with a nice kitchenette and a separate living room with a sofa bed for $48.25. The smaller units at $39 were all taken, but we did not mind. It seems that they save these for active duty military personnel. It always touches my heart to see these many young people in uniforms fighting for our country. The lobby, at times, was full of service men and women coming and going with their bags. We are so fortunate for their help and the honor to be able to fly with them and see places we would not be able to see if it were not for flying Space-A.

The base shuttles run all day until 1800 and we were always able to get around the base using them. The smaller lodging units are in the newest building where the Mall is and within walking distance of the terminal. We were just happy to get reservations. As noted in the very informative article by George Driscoll in the Sept-Oct 2011 issue of R&R Travel News®, you should always try to call reservations for rooms. They sometimes have more information then the front desk, although sometimes the reservations lines are closed on weekends. We were able to get reservations from them when the front desk did not show any.

Saturday, 30 April we went to check out what trips were offered through RTT Travel Ramstein. Their website is www.rtttravel.com. The office is closed on Sundays, but we were able to book a tour for Sunday. It was a Castles on the

Dirocco's in front of the RTT Bus
Di Rocco’s and Waterfield’s in front of the RTT Bus. Photo courtesy of John & Elaine Di Rocco.

Rhine & River Cruise. The cost was 79 euros per person ($120.18 USD). It included round trip transportation, Rhine River cruise, castle tour, wine tasting, three course German meal, and cable car ride. After we booked the tour we headed for K Town, short for Kaiserslautern. There were lots of small shops and we just walked around enjoying the perfect weather. We had decided before we left that we would not rent a car for our first trip to Europe. We took cabs as well as using trains. There is also a kiosk right outside RTT with more maps and information about what is available to see.

Sunday, 01 May we went on the tour and it was worth every Euro. The tour bus was not far from our rooms. Our tour was of Burg (Castle) Reichenstein. It is one of the oldest castles on the Rhine. This castle has weddings there.

We were given plenty of time to go through the town with many shops and we actually had two wine tasting adventures. We had one at the restaurant where we had lunch. There was another one at a shop where the owner (Stefan Kollmar) gave us wines to taste. He also sold cuckoo clocks and many other wonderful souvenirs, as well as wine, of course. Their website is: www.giftsfromgermany.com. The ride on the Rhine River allowed us ample time to view many other castles. What a breathtaking sight to see these castles perched so high. They looked as if they could fall right off the ridge. We arrived back at the hotel at 1900.

Monday, 02 May we had not made any plans since, we were not sure we would be able to get reservations for three more days. We were fortunate. On Monday, we just relaxed. Mercedes are considered a luxury car here in the U.S., so both Johns got a kick out of seeing trash trucks and other utility vehicles made by Mercedes.

The Burg (Castle) Reichenstein
The Burg (Castle) Reichenstein. Photo courtesy of John & Elaine Di Rocco.

Tuesday, 03 May, went visited the town of Ramstein. It was a small town and we stumbled on an Information Center (Welcome Center) in a very small building. On the second floor there was a museum. It was a recreation of what a pharmacy would have looked like, as well as what a kitchen in a home would have looked liked. We had lunch at a restaurant called Paradox.

Wednesday, 04 May, we ventured out on our own and took a train to Heidelberg. The cost was 20 euros for the four of us for the entire day. RTT had given us this information and we had purchased the ticket from them. You may also get tickets online or at the station. Once again there were many shops and a huge castle, but we did not venture out to climb up the hill to see it. The German people that we met were very nice and spoke English, especially the younger ones. On the train we spoke to a very nice lady who was a school teacher and taught languages. Students there are required to take a language or two and study it for more than two years. I think that is why many Europeans speak English.

Thursday, 05 May we relaxed and walked around the base. We found a building staffed with British soldiers. They served British food ( Brit Café) and had a souvenir shop. There was also a German building with a small restaurant and souvenir shop. We had dinner at the Macaroni Grill at the Mall. I forgot to mention that since it is a U.S. base, the Mall had all American shops and restaurants.

In front of the MEDEVAC Bus. Photo courtesy of John & Elaine Di Rocco.
In front of the MEDEVAC Bus. Photo courtesy of John & Elaine Di Rocco.

Friday, 06 May our plan was to take the MEDEVAC bus from Ramstein to Vicenza, Italy, HQ, US Army Garrison-Vicenza. If you are not familiar with the MEDEVAC, it is a bus that goes between Ramstein and Vicenza. Since Ramstein has a large hospital, eligible personnel who require testing not available at Vicenza can go to Ramstein. Although the Vicenza base now has a new huge clinic, the MEDEVAC bus is still running to my knowledge. My husband and I spoke with two servicemen who had to have MRIs and hearing tests because of head trauma. If the MEDEVAC is not full, Space-A people may travel on it.

It was about a 12-hour bus ride through the Alps–quite beautiful and breathtaking. We left Ramstein around 0900. We made frequent stops for meals. There seem to be many McDonalds on the way. They have a different look from the ones back home. One overlooked huge snow-capped mountains in the distance. They even had a separate coffee shop, with espresso, of course. There were also Autogrills. These are restaurants built on overpasses that go across the highway. We did not stop at any of these but they did look interesting!

Autogrill on the Overpass
Autogrill on the Overpass. Photo courtesy of John & Elaine Di Rocco.

We arrived at Vicenza around 2100. It was a bit of a walk but very doable. There are no shuttles on base and cabs are not allowed on base. We had made reservations to stay at the Ederle Inn. They allow guests to make reservations for as many days as desired if there is availability. We were able to make reservations for three nights at first. Everyday we would check in with them and were able to get a total of five nights. You just have to check in frequently. They were very nice about it. We had the family suite for $78 and and additional $7.50 charge for each additional person. They were very nice and gave us rooms so we would be near John and Rene. The suites had kitchens with dishwashers. They used many of these for temporary housing for military and their families. We were allowed to eat at the dining facility at Vicenza, called South Of The Alps. It was a walk from our rooms, but after all of that good eating we needed to walk! There was a nice thrift shop–we always like to check them out!

For planning trips or things to do in Vicenza, we found the USAG Vicenza Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) center. Since it was run by the USAG the tours and trips cost less. Their website is www.vicenzaMWR.com. Unfortunately there were no trips planned for the time we were there. They also have bike rentals. John Waterfield rented one to check out downtown Vicenza.

Caserma Carlo Ederle. Photo courtesy of John & Elaine Di Rocco.
Caserma Carlo Ederle. Photo courtesy of John & Elaine Di Rocco.

Saturday, 07 May, we took a cab to downtown Vicenza. There were many wonderful shops and I guess because it was the weekend there were lots of people. Rene and I always enjoy cruising the shops even if just to look. My favorite shops are the bakeries.

Sunday, 08 May we took a train to Verona. We took a local bus to the train station. You can buy the ticket for the bus from lodging but it cost a bit more. We bought our tickets for the trains when we got to the train station but you can buy these online as well. You can check out the time schedules online at www.trenitalia.it. Make sure you have some euros in coins because you have to pay to use the bathrooms at the train stations.

Once we reached Verona we stopped to eat at a wonderful restaurant and sat outside. It is always so relaxing to sit outside, have a glass of wine and enjoy the culture of Italy. There was a festival going on with music and there were antique motorcycles on display. There were also craft stands. It was a great way to get souvenirs for family and friends back home. We had not been aware of the festival, so that was a nice added surprise. Since we were on foot it was a long walk from the train station to the city. Once we walked to the area where the festival was, we pretty much stayed in that area, so we did not see the local sites like Juliet’s house or the arena which looks the coliseum in Rome.

Monday, 09 May we got a late start but ended up in Venice. The Vicenza base has a bus, similar to a tour bus that runs back and forth from there to the Marco Polo airport. It is about an hour ride. It stops right in front of lodging, and it runs approximately every three hours. They offer this since the base does not have an air strip. We took this bus for free and once we arrived at Marco Polo airport, there were local buses there. From there one can hop on a bus to go to Venice. The cost for each of us was six euros for a round trip ticket, quite a deal! It was about a 15 minute ride to Venice and it literally put us within walking distance of Venice. All the other buses and the trains arrive in the same area. The latest bus going back to the Vicenza base leaves Marco Polo airport at 21:20 on week days. Just be sure to allow enough time to get on the local bus to get back to the airport! Of course, taking a vaparetto (water bus) ride was a must! The prices vary. Rene and I bought some jewelry while John and John just hung out and waited for us. What great husbands they are!

Tuesday, 10 May, we relaxed. Then on Wednesday, 11 May, we went to a winery. We had been told by various people that the wineries there are quite different from what we are used to in the states. You can go to a winery and they will give you a small glass and you may sample as many wines as you wish, no charge. One disadvantage of not having a car was we were not able to drive around and enjoy the countryside, looking at the scenery and the vineyards.

The maintenance man at lodging was very helpful. He was from the states and has lived in Italy for many years. He suggested a winery called Muraro. As it turned out there are two Muraro wineries and we ended up the one he had not suggested. The other one had a web site set up for visitors. This was alright since we still enjoyed it and the owner was so nice. Since it was a distance from the base our cab driver hung around and waited for us. He would not sample any of the

Muraro Winery Tour
Muraro Winery Tour. Photo courtesy of John & Elaine Di Rocco.

wines since he was on duty. We respected him for that. The wines were in huge stainless steel barrels and the owner gave each of us small glasses to sample what we wanted. I read that they use the stainless steel barrels because they do not have to replace them like the wood ones. Well, the wine was “buono”. While we were there a man pulled up with a small pick up truck. He took a rather large container and went over to one of the barrels of wine and filled it up. I do not know what the cost was to fill such a large container. The minimum amount of wine he would sell was 5 liters for 7.75 euros. What a deal. He also carried the wines in glass bottles with labels on them with the name of his winery. He also offered free gift boxes. These wines were a bit more money. He also made olive oil.

Thursday, 12 May, we took the MEDEVAC back to Ramstein. We had made reservations for Thursday night. There were flights going to Andrews AFB on Saturday. Once we arrived at Ramstein we checked the terminal and there was a flight going Friday morning to Dover. As tired as we were we decided to go for it. Since it was an early one we decided to cancel our reservations and just hang around the terminal. The terminal closes at night for flights but we were allowed to just sit there.

Friday, 13 May the flight left, no problems and we arrived in Dover at 0800. We rented a car and drove to McGuire AFB here we began our trip. Except for our departure from McGuire when our adventure began, we had a wonderful time and everything went smoothly for our first Space-A adventure to Europe with John and Rene Waterfield.

SFC John Di Rocco USAR (Ret.)
Elaine Di Rocco (spouse)
Laurel Springs, NJ
elainedirocco@comcast.net

Reprint from R&R Travel News™ Jan-Feb 2012 • Volume 42, No. 1