Over a year ago, a retired Army friend advised us of the savings involved when traveling via Space-A. He went over the process but we didn’t absorb it all at the time. I retired from the Army in December of 2010, and continue working with my mortgage broker/loan refinancing business. My wife retired in December of 2011 and started asking our friend more about the Space-A travel process. She also went on the Internet and obtained information. While she was still working full-time, she started infrequently tracking flights from Travis AFB, CA, to Ramstein AB, Germany, as Germany was our destination. She spent about a year(!) putting together an itinerary of the things she would like to see. I felt I could only be gone from work for two weeks so she tried to keep the itinerary to 14 days, not including travel time.
Starting in March 2012, she started logging onto the AMC Space-A website to daily view the various bases’ out-going flights. By then, she realized that, although we may want to fly directly from Travis to Ramstein, it would more than likely be a flight from Travis to an East Coast base, such as Andrews AFB, MD, and then on to Ramstein.
We settled on going in May because she did not want to go during the time when it may be hot and/or humid. In emailing other retirees who had taken Space-A flights, she kept hearing the theme, “be flexible”. She had also been advised by two retirees, who had taken numerous Space-A flights, not to travel in June, July or August because those are peak travel times. Unfortunately, at the last minute, I needed to attend two business meetings on May 7 and 8. Then we had to remain at home for a grandson’s birthday and a granddaughter’s high school graduation, so we settled on the first week in June, hoping there would not be a problem.
Lesson #1: It’s true – don’t plan a trip in June, July or August!
In checking the Space-A flight schedule for Travis on June 4, there was a flight leaving to Dover AFB, DE. There were 10 seats available. We had our bags packed, drove to Travis and parked in the long-term parking.
We made friends with a retired Army civilian trying to get back to Rota, Spain, and a new lieutenant who had just graduated from the Air Force Academy and had 60 days before reporting for duty. His destination was Italy, then Japan, then Hawaii.
We were very naive in thinking we would get on that plane with ten seats! We did not get on, nor did our new friends, Alfredo and Josh. We went back home, 40 minutes away from Travis and they stayed at the passenger terminal. The next morning, we got up for a flight going Travis-McChord-Andrews with 19 seats available. The only reason we were selected is because about six people did not show up for roll call. Our friends, Alfredo and Josh, made it, too.
Before we boarded, we were advised that a wounded soldier was on the plane. We were asked not to engage in conversation with the soldier or stare at him, that he needed his privacy. However, when we boarded, he was lying on a gurney facing us as we came in and he was smiling and looked happy to see us. His right hand was bandaged. I saw him later on sitting down speaking with his nurse (how they heard each other, I don’t know!). He got off at McChord and we clapped for him as they rolled him off. He smiled in appreciation.
We finally landed at Andrews AFB, MD, around 2130 on June 5. We checked the flight schedule and it seemed our chances of getting a flight to Ramstein from Andrews were slim. We started thinking about alternatives, such as the base in Bangor, ME which, I was told, had frequent flights to Ramstein; driving to Norfolk NB, VA; or taking a flight to Rota, Spain, and then taking a Ryanair flight to Frankfurt. What about going into Sigonella, Italy, and taking a Medevac to Ramstein? Are there any flights going into Spangdahlem AB, Germany, rather than Ramstein? These were things we did not consider before-hand. We were really “green horns”!
Along with Alfredo and Josh, we decided to rent a car and drive two and a half hours to Dover AFB because the next day there were three flights going to Rota, and one flight going to Ramstein and another to Rota on Friday. Another couple overheard us talking about renting a car and asked if we wanted to get on a shuttle with them to a rental car agency, so we did. While driving from Andrews to Dover, my wife was excited to see the White House lit up, along with the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument because she has never been to Washington, D.C. (now that she knows Andrews is so close, I have a feeling that we will be taking a Space-A trip there!).
We spent two nights in Dover outside the base because the temporary military lodging was full. Some flights had dropped and we started to get worried. By now it was Thursday – four days into our vacation time. I happened to check the McGuire AFB, NJ, and for that day, they had one flight going to Ramstein with 73 tentative seats and two flights on Friday (53 and 73 seats tentatively). We again decided to rent a car and travel to McGuire.
Alfredo decided to wait in Dover for a Rota flight, but Josh decided to come with us. He thought at this point, his best bet would be to get to Ramstein and then go to Italy. At the rental car agency, another person came to the office who was also going to rent a car to go to McGuire. It turned out to be one of Josh’s classmates who had also just graduated from the Air Force Academy. His name was Jason and he was trying to get to Ramstein. We invited him to share a ride so that was nice for Josh and Jason to compare notes about training, etc.
My wife felt that if we didn’t get on any of these flights, we should go back home and try again in September, but I wanted to forge on.
Lesson #2: Be prepared to not always be selected on the flight you wish to be on!
We arrived at McGuire AFB (a very nice facility) around 1430. We learned that the flight leaving that day for Ramstein reduced their seating to 48 confirmed, and that the two flights for tomorrow had been reduced to one flight.
We were selected for that night’s Ramstein flight! Out of 48 seats, only 42 seats were filled. We were all giving each other high five’s when our names were called.
The flight was supposed to take off at 1855 but was held up for two hours due to cargo loading, having to let air out of the plane tires to get the load on, etc. There was a seven-team canine unit that was going to be on our flight. We heard the dogs barking as we boarded the plane.
We were on a C-005 from McGuire to Ramstein AB. We arrived at Ramstein around 0930. Josh and Jason said goodbye to us and we parted ways.
Ramstein AB is like a small city! The mall had everything, including a furniture store! After we checked in (we had no previous reservation but we had no problem), we went to the bank right there at Ramstein to exchange our US dollars for Euros. For $1500, I received $1170 in Euros – the US dollar at that time was worth 78 Euro cents. This is one reason why our trip totaled closer to $5,000 rather than our planned $4,000. It was also due to the unexpected car rentals at Dover and Andrews and higher-than-expected hotel rates.
Speaking of hotels, Ramstein had the nicest rooms of any hotel we stayed at – and at a much lower rate! We paid between $100 to$140 per night at the hotels we stayed at previously. We were expecting to pay between $80 to $130 per night.
We picked up the rental car (Hyundai stick shift!), along with a GPS, which was INVALUABLE!! Gas at the time was about $7 per gallon, which we had expected.
Before leaving for our trip, we opened up a travel account at the bank so the account could not be linked to any of our other accounts in case it got hacked into or something fraudulent happened. Also before we left, we made up computerized address labels to stick on postcards so we would not have to spend so much time on them.
While I took a nap in our lodging, my wife began making hotel reservations. We couldn’t do it sooner until we knew for sure what day we would arrive in Ramstein. We lopped off staying a second day at Ramstein and a day of visiting Burg Eltz from our itinerary, since we had lost days in getting to Ramstein. So our final itinerary consisted of the following:
Trier (1 day) is the oldest town in Germany and has the largest collection of Roman ruins next to Italy. We visited the St. Matthias Church that holds the relics of Matthew, the apostle; the Porta Nigra (Black Gate), the only remaining gate of the four miles of wall that fortified the city during the Middle Ages; St. Peter’s Cathedral (oldest in Germany), which contains the remains of Jesus’ robe; Constantine Basilica; Elector’s Palace with garden; and the Kaiserthermen (remains of vast imperial baths built in the 4th Century). The ruins of the Roman amphitheater were also on the list but we ended up too tired to go.
Lesson #3: Don’t pack too much sight-seeing into one day or you will be too exhausted to see it all.
We drove from Trier through the Mosel Valley (very pretty!) to Koblenz, a large city located on the Rhine River. We stayed in a nearby area called Lahnstein. We were very disappointed in the hotel room – you had to walk sideways between the end of the bed and the wall!
The next day we traveled to Remagen Bridge of World War II fame. It was very interesting and my wife got some great shots. I must admit, I did get a little irritated over her constant picture-taking! At the Remagen Bridge, we ran into a couple from Ukiah, CA, and, would you believe, that when we drove on to Cologne (1 day) and were going into the Cathedral, they were walking out? What do you think the odds would be on that?!
The cathedral was gigantic and beautiful. Construction started in 1248 and is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Inside the cathedral is a reliquary containing the relics of The Three Kings (Three Wise Men). There were a couple of other sites I wanted to see in Cologne but the GPS didn’t help us on finding one, and we were too tired (again) to continue looking for the second one, so we drove on to Wiesbaden.
Wiesbaden is a very nice area – not as hilly. The downtown was very nice – wide, tree-lined streets and a big park with a large fountain. It was only a stopping point for us because it would have been another two hours to our next destination.
The next day, we drove to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (1 day). This is a touristy city, a well-preserved medieval town with cobblestone streets (bad on the back!). It was very pretty and the Castle Garden was beautiful.
We drove on to Regensburg and spent the night in a “guest house”, where the family runs the “hotel”. We were very pleased with our room and the owners were friendly. This was the only hotel we stayed where we had to drag our luggage up the stairs.
Lesson #4: Pack as light as you can!
We visited Walhalla in the nearby town of Donaustauf. Walhalla is a majestic monument (looks like a temple) made of white marble and set in the hills. It was built in 1830 to 1841 “to the national glory”. It houses busts and plaques of statesmen, scientists, musicians, writers, etc., such as Albert Einstein and Johann Strauss (every six years, names are added and deleted).
Regensburg (1 day) is another one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. We visited the Dom St.Peter Cathedral, the most important Gothic structure in Bavaria; Porta Praetoria (“Unter den Schwibbogen”), which is part of a gate from the 2nd century that remained from the Roman garrison; Castra Regina, the largest surviving Roman structure in Germany next to the monuments in Trier; the Steinerne Brucke (Stone Bridge) built between 1135 and 1146; the Historische Wurstkuchl (Historic Sausage Kitchen) from 12th century and claims to be the oldest sausage restaurant in Germany; the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall – 13th century); Haidplatz Square, a picturesque square surrounded by historic buildings; the Justiabrunnen (Fountain of Justice), mid-17th century; the Hinter der Grieb, which is a narrow alley with medieval houses leading from the square; and a home where Goethe once stayed. My wife also wanted to get a photo of the former home of Oskar Schindler, who hid many Jewish families during the Holocaust but we could not find the address on the GPS and we did not have time to check with the Traveler’s Information center.
We then traveled to Passau (1 day), a BEAUTIFUL city on the Danube River. This was my wife’s favorite town. We attended an organ concert at St. Stephan’s Cathedral. The organ is the second largest in the world next to the 1st Congregational Church in Los Angeles (unfortunately, the music sounded like the background for a Frankenstein movie!). We visited the Veste Oberhaus (former castle of the prince-bishops) and took a boat ride to see where the Danube, Inn, and Ilz Rivers converge. We saw the old and new town halls and the Schaiblingsturm, which is part of the remains of Passau’s Gothic town wall, including a tower, built in 1250. We also wanted to visit the Wallfahrtskirche Kloster Mariahilf Church (“Mariahilf” means, “Mary, help!”), but again, we did not have time.
After the organ concert, we traveled down to Berchtesgaden, near the Bavarian Alps. The surrounding countryside was so beautiful. Although Passau was my wife’s favorite town, we both agreed that Berchtesgaden has the most beautiful scenery.
We stayed at another “guest house”. This one was much nicer and had an elevator. We took pictures of much-photographed churches– Maria Gern Church and a small church in nearby Ramsau Valley (Josef Mohr, was temporary associate pastor there in 1816. He also wrote the words to “Silent Night” the same year while serving at a different church).
An unexpected treat was taking an electric boat on Lake Konigsee to see St. Bartholoma, a pilgrimage church. We planned to take pictures just from the lake’s edge without the boat ride but then found out you had to hike in order to do that. It was a beautiful, short ride.
The following day, we took a guided tour in English to the “Eagle’s Nest”, Adolf Hitler’s house (called Kehlstein) high atop a mountain. The scenery was beautiful. We felt very conflicted taking in all of the beauty from the views, and realizing this house was a birthday gift given to such an evil and mentally ill person as Hitler. We viewed the extensive bunker system and finished up by getting some wonderful outdoor pictures.
The next day, we traveled to Munich. This is the one city we were not impressed with. Perhaps it was the part of town we stayed in. Our hotel was on a busy, noisy street.
Also, there was no air conditioning and the day we arrived it was warm and muggy. We only chose to stay in Munich because of its closeness to Dachau Concentration Camp, which we visited the following day. What a contrast to Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest”. Just knowing what happened there to so many people – the atrocities, the inhumanity to mankind, the horror of it all. These feelings stayed with us the whole time we were there (four hours). It was a very solemn time.
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at the Nymphenburg Palace. The garden grounds were very nice and restful. We sat on a bench and people-watched.
The following day, we checked out of our hotel and drove to Neuschwanstein Castle. The setting of the castle was very pretty. Unfortunately, they were doing some renovations, so part of the castle had a white covering over it so the pictures we took could not be ones to hang on a wall at home like we were expecting to do. We took the horse cart up the hill. Quite a walk! We also got some very nice shots of Hohenschwangau Castle, King Ludwig II’s boyhood home. My wife and I each lost nine pounds with all the walking and climbing of stairs!
We checked on the internet and learned that the following day, there were two possible flights leaving out of Ramstein back to the States. I decided to drive all the way from Neuschwanstein Castle to Ramstein (a four and a half hour trip!). We later added up the total number of miles we drove – 1,145 miles!
We arrived at Ramstein around 2200 and went to the terminal. There was a flight back to the States at 0425. We were wondering how that could be if the terminal did not open until 0400. At any rate, that flight never took place. We remained in the terminal the whole day waiting for the 1045 flight, which we did not get on. We hoped to get on the 1615 flight leaving the same day from Ramstein to Dover to Travis on a C-017. We made it!
While we were boarding, they advised each person getting on that a fallen soldier was on board. There was also a C-47 helicopter being brought back from Kandahar. One of the passengers was accompanying the fallen soldier’s casket to meet the soldier’s wife at Dover AFB.
While at Dover, there was a layover in order to move the casket off the plane and perform a ceremony with the wife present. They also removed the helicopter. We then re-boarded.
It seemed that everyone but us was well-versed on what to do because they all whipped out their mats and blankets and laid down on the floor of the plane! Because it was our first time, we didn’t think to bring a camp mat or blanket to lie on the floor of the plane. The neck rolls we brought were a waste.
We landed in Travis about 0530. The shuttle picked us up and took us to the long-term parking. We got home and immediately went to bed. It took us about three days to regain our living pattern. We kept waking up at 0200 or 0300 because we couldn’t sleep.
We both would definitely do this again – but in the month of September! We are thinking next year of going to Rota for four days and then to England and/or Amsterdam.
A couple of pointers: In preparing our itinerary, we used the Kindle versions of “Rick Steves’ – Germany 2012” and “Germany Travel Adventures” by Henrik Bekker. These were great because you could carry the Kindle around and locate the information you wanted rather than packing around two travel guide books. We also used the “DK” – Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel Guide to Germany” and searched the Internet for information. My wife found it useful to look up, in advance, pictures of places/objects we wanted to see so when we saw it, we’d know immediately what it was!
Thank you, Space A Travel!!
Beverly Feusier and
COL Mario MSB Feusier,
Reprint from Sep-Oct 2012 • Volume 42, No. 5