Monday, June 30, 2014

The process of moving is beginning...

We served notice to our property managers.  I can hardly wait to ditch them.  I started some preliminary cleaning today because I am determined to leave this house in a better condition than we found it in.  Sadly, that won't be difficult.  This house was totally nasty when we moved in last year and we're expected to leave it in pristine shape.  Have I mentioned how much I hate our property managers?

Bill has been looking at houses in Germany and talking to the HR folks at the company that hired him.  He's been by USAA to talk about what insuring our car in Germany will cost.  Right now, we're planning to take one car, but I'm thinking it might be better to bring both of them.  The reason being is that my car is tiny and we know the other one will work in Germany because we took it there last time.  I don't want to store my car, especially since I bought it in Germany.  We would rather take the Mini on trips, but when it comes to hauling the dogs or handling guests, the Toyota is a better bet.

We're looking for a hotel that will allow pets, which shouldn't be too difficult… and hopefully one with free WiFi so I don't have to depend on the library at Patch to get my Internet fix.  I think I'm going to go ahead and buy a laptop if it looks like it'll be a long wait for our stuff to arrive.

I'm still worried about bringing the dogs, though I'm pretty sure we'll be able to do it without any problems.  And we have to either break our cell phone contract or keep paying for services we can't use… It's freaking $1000 to break the contract, which sucks.  I just got my new phone at Christmas time and am not wanting to change it.

I'm about to purge some furniture, too…  I mean, I have some stuff that is hopelessly dated but serviceable.  We might as well ditch it, though.  My parents bought it for my sisters in the 70s.

This is going to be so worth it, though.  I am looking forward to trying out a few more beer spas and writing about them on this blog… I also plan more cruises once we have an idea of how flush with money we'll be.

It seems like there are more resources now than there were in 2007, which is a good thing.  Bill has already impressed his new boss by finding the contact info for the HR lady in California.  The ball is starting to roll.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Repost of my Delta Airlines review from 2009…

I'm reposting this review I wrote of Delta Airlines back in 2009.  Ordinarily, I wouldn't post such an old review, but this one has the dramatic story of how Bill, Flea, MacGregor, and I got out of Germany.  Since Bill and I are moving back to Germany and are facing moving our pets again, I want to put this story out there for those who think it's cruel to fly with pets.  I think it's a lot more cruel to abandon them or try to rehome them if you don't have to.  Besides, we know for a fact that dogs are much loved in Germany and, in many ways, it's nicer for them there than it is in the United States.  That being said, I wish we could postpone this move until the fall, when it won't be so hot outside.

Incidentally, we use Delta more than the other American carriers.  I prefer them to USAirways, American, and United.  I'm hoping we can fly on a European carrier this next time, since it appears that they are more prepared to deal with animals.

Delta did fine in the face of drama and disaster

 Sep 16, 2009 (Updated May 23, 2010)
Review by   
Rated a Very Helpful Review

    Pros:Took good care of us and our dogs. Basically comfortable. Great flight attendants.

    Cons:Fare for dogs was high. Food wasn't that great. Entertainment system down.

    The Bottom Line:Delta performed admirably in the face of a disaster.

    Be warned... this is going to be a long review! Our dealings with Delta were such that I feel the long review is warranted.

    My husband Bill and I, as well as our two beagles Flea and MacGregor, very reluctantly left Stuttgart, Germany yesterday after having lived near there for the past two years. We enjoyed Germany so much that none of us were eager to board our flight to Atlanta, scheduled for September 14th at 11:00am. Nevertheless, Bill had his orders and I, as his bride, was forced to go back to the States a year sooner than expected.

    Bill tends to get very nervous about taking care of little details. This is one of the things about him that I alternately appreciate or am annoyed by, since the byproduct of all that nervousness can often be unwarranted stress. A week before our scheduled flight out of Stuttgart, we were in the airport after a flight from Budapest. Bill had to go double check with Delta for details about how they would deal with our precious canine cargo. He left the airport that day feeling reassured, but was still kind of nervous when we arrived for check in at 9:00am with Flea and MacGregor in tow, even though they had flown over with us two years prior.

    Checking in

    Many Germans love dogs and Delta's Germany based employees were no exception. Flea and MacGregor were in their carriers as we wheeled them up to the person who asks the vital security questions about who had packed our luggage and whether or not we had taken anything into our possession on behalf of a stranger. Those questions answered, Bill was allowed to use the Business Elite check in, since he has a Sky Miles card. The check in agent took three of our four bags and instructed Bill to deposit his bulky duffel back at the bulk luggage counter, the same place we would be leaving Flea and MacGregor. She filled out all the paperwork for the dogs' travels, charged Bill about $400 for the dogs' fares, and even came around to say hi to them. 

    Bulk luggage

    Another Delta employee walked us to the bulk luggage counter and helped us deal with the man working it, who didn't seem to speak much English. We took the dogs out of their carriers and sent their carriers through the x-ray, then walked them through the metal detector. After the bulk luggage staff fawned over our pooches, we stuffed them back into their carriers and said goodbye.


    It seemed to be business as usual at the gate as we waited to be called on board. Bill had gotten us seats in the so-called "preferred coach section". However, we were grouped into different boarding zones. Bill was in the second group, and I was supposed to be in the fourth. I can only guess this was because Bill is a member of Delta's frequent flyer program and I'm not. Anyway, no one said anything when we boarded together. We sat down in the leather upholstered seats 16C and 16E, located in the center three seated row. We also prayed that no one would take 16D.  No one did.

    The plane was clean, with two by three by two seating.  The flight attendants seemed very friendly, and we had blankets, pillows, eye masks, and earphones at our disposal. The seat pockets held in flight magazines, a duty free catalog, sick bags, and safety cards. There were screens on the wall and at intervals between seats that showed our planned route out of Europe. Those GPS updates are my favorite things about long haul flights. I generally hate most everything else about them. It seemed like we were in store for a run of the mill transatlantic flight.

    At approximately 10:50am

    Most folks had boarded the plane by 10:45am. We were listening to the usual pre-boarding announcements from the flight attendants, who delivered them in English and German. Another flight attendant was passing out newspapers in German as well as the Financial Times in English. Bill was fussing a little about the dogs, but then a flight attendant handed us little tags that assured us they were safely aboard. We were all set to get going when the captain came over the loudspeaker to let us know that a small situation had developed with a Lufthansa plane. It seemed there was a minor mechanical problem which would delay us a little bit. No problem. We sat back and relaxed, stealing glances at the monitors on the wall that showed the minutes ticking away. 


    The captain made another announcement, this time to tell us that the mechanical problem was worse than he first thought. The small Lufthansa plane (Contact Air) had landed with no rear landing gear. It had slid on its belly down the runway, leaving a trail of fire and smoke in its wake. The captain reported that no one of the 78 on board was seriously hurt in the dramatic landing, but the plane would need to be towed and all the debris would have to be cleaned up before we could be on our way.  He added that Stuttgart Airport only has one runway, so the delay would be between 2 and 7 hours.

    There was a chorus of groans from the passengers. Bill and I immediately recognized that the dogs would need to be liberated from their carriers at least once before we took off. Bill went to speak to a flight attendant about our dogs while I sat and waited with everyone else. A supervisor asked Bill to wait until at least the two hour mark before they took the dogs off the plane. She added that they had fresh air, light, and water while we were waiting. 

    Everybody off...

    Meanwhile, the captain invited everyone on board to deplane if they wanted to. Delta would be providing drinks and sandwiches for the wait. Bill and I decided to stay on board, since we knew it would be crowded at the gate and the seats in the airport were not more comfortable than the ones on the plane were. Only a few of us had decided not to deplane, which gave us a chance to chat with the very friendly flight attendants.

    We peeked out the windows and caught a glimpse of the maintenance vehicles that were dispatched to help clean up the mess left by the disabled aircraft. After we'd been sitting on board for a couple of hours, I told Bill I wanted to get off the plane because I was starting to get hungry. We went back to the gate and could see that we'd been smart to stay on board. There were few seats to be had.

    Delta deals with the disaster

    A smartly dressed Delta supervisor had a microphone in hand. She had just announced that she was about 99% sure our flight was going to be canceled. I grabbed a Coke and looked around at all the other folks, some of whom were eager to leave Germany because they had business or vacation plans. I was in no hurry to leave Germany, but I was eager to get out of transit.

    A few minutes later, the Delta supervisor announced that our flight was canceled and rescheduled for the following morning at 8:00am. She immediately started giving us information about what we needed to do. First, she told us we would not be able to get our checked luggage. Then she looked at Bill and said, "The only thing coming off the plane is this gentleman's dogs." That comment got a laugh out of everyone.

    Next, the supervisor addressed the fact that some people were losing a vacation day. She said Delta would be happy to change tickets for those folks, but they would not be able to change the destination. In other words, there would be no trying to score a ticket to Hawaii if the final destination was supposed to be Tampa. She told us Delta would put us up in a hotel for the night, provide transportation to said hotel, and give us meal vouchers. 

    Gone to the dogs

    When the supervisor was finished talking, people descended on her like a pack of vultures. I was concerned about Flea and MacGregor, who were no doubt scared and confused by all of this. After ten or fifteen minutes of confusion, I grabbed their leashes and went off in search of my dogs. I finally found them in the baggage claim near lost and found. Flea was pitching a fit, of course, while MacGregor was sitting quietly, taking everything in.

    A very pleasant baggage clerk asked me if they were my dogs. I said they were and she helped me take them out of their carriers and put them on leashes. I was very impressed by how much care and consideration this lady showed toward me and my dogs. I'm not sure if she worked for Delta or the airport, but she was uncommonly kind. She directed me to leave the carriers with her and take the dogs outside so they could do their business. I happily took her up on her suggestion and started looking for Bill. 


    It took Bill some time to get our vouchers. Meanwhile, I was trying to find him and walked our pooches all over the airport in my search. Finally, I decided it made the most sense to wait near the baggage claim. I went back there with my dogs and waited, trying to keep Flea from being too disruptive.

    Flea is a tiny beagle, but he has an enormous voice. He has no qualms about sounding off, especially in a busy place like an airport. He immediately got to work attracting attention to himself while I tried to keep him quiet. The lady from the baggage claim came out and asked me about the dogs' carriers. I said I still hadn't found Bill, so she offered to bring the carriers out to me. She even asked me if we needed food for the dogs, explaining that she lived on the other side of the airport and her dog had recently died. She had some food we could have if we needed it. Bill, being an excellent planner, had food for the dogs. What he didn't have was Flea's medication, which was stuffed in my suitcase. That, of course, was my fault-- Flea's pain medication for his cancer is in a 100ml bottle, which I thought might have given us trouble through security. I'd like to thank the liquid bomb plotters for that... Flea let out a few air horn like barks, which led Bill directly to us.

    Together again... and trying to escape the airport

    Our next problem was finding out if both the taxi and the hotel would accept our dogs. The very kind baggage clerk helped us out with that situation as well. First, she found out that the hotel would take our dogs. Next, she helped find a sympathetic cab driver. The hotel had a shuttle bus, but it was not suitable for carrying the dogs. Most of the cab drivers wanted nothing to do with transporting our dogs. Finally, one driver said he wasn't supposed to take dogs, but he'd do it anyway. The baggage clerk then helped me, Bill, our dogs, and one lady in a wheelchair, get settled in the cab. She even asked Bill to look in on the lady for her.


    I will write a separate review about Delta's choice of hotels for us. For now, I will just say that it was a relatively nice four star business class hotel. The food vouchers covered a buffet meal and water. 

    Flight to Atlanta take two

    So our trip back to America got started bright and early yesterday morning. At 5:30am, the same kindly taxi driver was waiting for me, Bill, the dogs, and the lady in the wheelchair. Our group was ready, but the lady in the wheelchair was late coming down. We finally got to the airport at about 6:00am, but then it turned out the lady had left some of her luggage behind. Somehow, she managed to get it before we got on board. 

    Check in, part two

    We had to check the dogs in again and get new boarding passes. Flea let out a howl or three while we were in line, which alerted the super nice baggage clerk who had been so helpful the day before. She came up to say goodbye to us and even told us about the airport pharmacy, which had over the counter medicines for dogs. I wish we had known about that before, but it's useful information for next time. The baggage clerk seemed irritated for us that we had to go through the check in process again. I was sorry to say goodbye to her.

    The lady who checked us in the second time was not as efficient as the first agent was. She didn't seem to know what she was doing in regards to the dogs. Nevertheless, we somehow managed to get through it. We dropped the dogs off at bulk luggage, once again letting them charm the staff there.

    Getting on board, second go

    The Delta official who tore our tickets for us let us know that our dogs were on board the aircraft and ready to go. We all got back in our seats and took off with no problem at 8:00am.

    The flight

    Our flight lasted about 9.5 hours. Unfortunately, the entertainment system wasn't working, so I couldn't watch the progress of our flight. That was kind of a bummer. Otherwise, the flight was very smooth and efficient. We even landed in Atlanta a few minutes early. 

    Food and beverage

    This was one area that I wasn't as impressed with. We were served a brunch not long after takeoff and had a choice of a cheese omelet with hashbrowns or chicken and rice. I decided to go with the cheese omelet, because I figured it was less likely to be gussied up with my least favorite food in the world, mushrooms. Well... unfortunately, the omelet did include a mushroom sauce. Luckily, it came with a roll and butter, a stick of cheese, fruit salad, cookies, and orange juice, plus an additional drink. I didn't get a good look at the chicken, but it looked like it came with a salad.

    The drink cart came through a second time, as the flight attendants offered water, coffee, and tea. I saw them pour soft drinks for some folks as well. Throughout the flight, they offered water, which was very welcome. I don't remember any other carrier doing that, even when I've flown transatlantic. A couple of hours later, the drink cart came through again along with free peanuts and snacks that could be purchased. Bill was all set to pay for some wine, but it turned out the wine was complimentary. I'm guessing beer was free, too, though spirits were not. We bought a $2 bag of peanut M&Ms.

    Toward the end of the flight, we were given little cheese pizzas, which were a bit salty, but edible. I washed mine down with another cup of wine. I guess I should be glad we got offered anything at all, given the state of the airlines these days. On the other hand, food that doesn't taste good is kind of a waste of resources. I would rather pay for better food than get free food I don't want to eat.

    One thing I noticed

    People seemed to have real trouble figuring out how to open the lavatory door. I watched person after person try to figure out where the door was and how to open it. It was pretty funny to watch. 

    Happy landings

    Our dogs arrived safe and sound in Atlanta and quickly made their presence known with a few sonic yelps. Thankfully, folks in Atlanta seem to know about beagles. A few people even admired Flea's hunting prowess as he tried to bag a pigeon in the pick up area. 


    I really think Delta did a fine job in taking care of us after the disaster in Stuttgart. Just about all of the flights going out of Stuttgart were canceled on Monday and I noticed there was another big Delta flight that was supposed to be going to Birmingham (England or Alabama, I don't know) that was also affected. Delta took care of them, too. I haven't used this airline enough times to know if it's better or worse than other American carriers, but I was impressed with them this time. I would definitely try them again

    For more information:

    Footage of the "crash" on September 14, 2009.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2014

    We're moving.

    When we were in Germany last month, I told Bill that I felt like our trip would lead us back to Europe.  We met an American guy who worked in Belgium and gave Bill job hunting tips.  We saw my friend, Audra, and her French boyfriend, and they said they hoped we could come back.  Meanwhile, we couldn't find anything suitable employment wise for Bill.  The jobs he was most qualified for were all abroad.

    Even though the focus has mostly been on Europe the whole time Bill has been looking, I still didn't want to let myself believe that we'd actually be able to go back to Germany.  I figured it was a pipe dream.

    Well, the stars have aligned and Bill was informally offered a job in Stuttgart this morning.  A letter of intent is coming to him within the next 24 hours and if all is acceptable, which I imagine it will be, we will be moving back to Germany within the next few weeks.

    I am feeling a mixture of elation and nerves.  I am elated because I know we're going to a place we love.  Of all the places we've lived together, Germany was far and away our favorite, even though living there can be a pain.  We loved the stimulation of living near so many great places.  We liked the food and beer.  We liked the culture.

    At the same time, moving back to Germany is liable to be a challenge on many levels, especially since we aren't going there on military orders.  On the other hand, not going there on military orders is going to simplify things since I won't have to get an official passport or a medical checkup like I did last time.  I probably could use either of those things, but they won't be required.

    I have also heard that the housing situation isn't quite as dire as it was a few years ago, since the military is now making people live on the installations instead of the economy.  Fewer people are being sent to Germany on orders now, so there could be less competition for a home.  Last time we were in Germany, we lived in a cheap hotel for six weeks.

    I don't look forward to the long wait for our furniture to arrive, nor do I look forward to trying to find yet another place to rent.  I also don't look forward to trying to move our dogs.  On the other hand, I know I love Germany.  We also have some things going for us that we didn't have last time.  For one thing, we know the area and we already have some transformers so our electronics will work.  We even  know of a good place to board our dogs, though we have different ones now.

    Anyway… very soon, things will be crazy again.  Hopefully, the transition will be as smooth as possible.  This blog is about to come to life in a big way… because when we live in Europe, we travel a whole lot.    

    Monday, June 23, 2014

    The Internet has made travel books obsolete...

    This morning, I was in the bathroom thinking about how I planned my monthlong trip to Europe back in 1997.  I had a book about Europe written by Rick Steves.  It came with the Eurailpass I bought which, at that time, entitled me to travel 30 consecutive days on trains in 17 different countries.  I was 25 years old at the time, so I was able to buy a second class pass.  If I recall correctly, in 1997, that 30 day pass was selling for approximately $560.  

    I went to Europe without much of a plan.  I was going to meet a couple of friends in Zilina, Slovakia on one date, and my sister in Madrid on another.  Other than that, I was free to go wherever my heart desired.  Armed with my trusty travel book, I decided to visit Bacharach, Germany, an adorable little town on the Rhein.  It was my first stop and I probably never would have heard about it had I been left to my own devices.  Rick Steves made it seem like such a cool place.  He was right.  It is a great little town and I was delighted to get to go back there last month.

    It's funny to watch this video and realize that Bill and I walked in the same places Steves is walking…

    But then, after that, I kind of quit using Rick Steves' book.  Once I got more comfortable with riding the trains, I started getting on and off whenever I felt like it.  Often, I ended up in major cities, but sometimes I ended up in suburbs or small towns.

    Nowadays, I have a lot of travel books, but I rarely take them with me when I travel.  Now I have an iPad and an iPhone.  They are easier to carry and have a wealth of information that is updated more  frequently and accurately than books are.  A travel book comes out yearly with marginally new information.  Much like a textbook, it's a resource that can't be easily or inexpensively updated, but must be up-to-date in order to be worth anything.  Good luck selling your used copy of a 2012 travel guide, even if you've never opened it.  You won't get near what you paid for it… thought that could probably be said for just about any book unless it's a very rare title.  

    With an iPad, I can research a city and make hotel reservations without leaving my seat, as long as I have access to WiFi.  I can read descriptive passages and look at photos without having to turn pages or lug heavy volumes that take up precious space in my luggage.  

    As someone who loves books-- even heavy travel books-- this realization is kind of sad to me.  However, as someone who purchased Rick Steves' 2008 guide to Europe and realized that much of the same information was in it that was in the 1997 edition, I think this development could be a good thing.  

    We're still waiting to find out if our future has Europe in it.  I'm hoping something happens soon… 

    Thursday, June 19, 2014

    Germany is looking more likely now...

    Bill talked to a recruiter yesterday for several jobs in Germany.  I think there is a very good chance they'll present him with a job offer.  If the terms are acceptable, and I think they will be, we will probably move back to Europe.  Hopefully, this move won't be too painful, but I anticipate it will be.  Most moves, especially international ones, are a pain…

    That being said, I love the idea of going back to Germany and being settled there for a few years.  It's a sure bet this blog would get a lot of attention.  Then we can come back and buy a house.

    My birthday is tomorrow.  A job offer for Bill would be a good present…  especially if it means we can get out of this house we've lived in this year.

    Saturday, June 14, 2014

    All my friends are traveling to Europe...

    Okay, so not all of them are.  Just a few of them that I know of are headed there.  My friend Nicole, whom I met at Fort Belvoir when I was her neighbor, went to Barcelona to catch a 12 night Disney cruise.  Her cruise will take her, her husband, and their two kids from Barcelona to Venice and they'll be hitting some prime destinations in five different countries.

    While I don't think I'd want to sail on Disney owing to the kid friendly factor and the size of their ships, I've heard that the Disney cruise experience is really special.  It offers a nice experience for parents with the knowledge that their kids are well looked after.  I have another friend who has done a Disney cruise with her husband and daughter and she raves about it.  If I had kids, I'm sure I'd be all for it.

    Another friend is going to France to visit friends.  I don't know as much about her trip, except that it includes her son and a trip to Euro Disney.

    I have a cousin who just went to Italy, where she'll be studying all summer.

    Bill is angling for an overseas job that he might very well manage to get.  If he does, that could mean we'll be flying over the big pond again before too long.  If not, it may mean we're headed for the poorhouse.  I'm only slightly kidding.  I think things will work out, though.  They have a way of doing that.  Hard to believe we were just in France and Germany a couple of weeks ago.

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

    Irish pubs are apparently a "thing" in France...

    So, we've been back from Europe for about ten days now and I've been reflecting on the trip.  One thing I noticed when we were in France is that Irish pubs are apparently a "thing" there.  In Lyon alone, Bill and I actually visited three Irish pubs.  There were quite a few more that we didn't visit.

    Since Bill and I had been hoping to go to Ireland on this last trip, we found it kind of funny that there were so many Irish pubs in France.  I mentioned it to my American friend, Audra, who lives in France.  She said, "Not a one of them is very authentically Irish, are they?"

    Some places seemed more authentic than others did.  In one bar, they had a good drink list that included several Irish suds and whiskeys.  But none of the Irish pubs we visited had Irish music or anyone from the Republic working there.  In fact, most of the Irish pubs we visited in France were decidedly French in terms of their menus and atmosphere.      

    This all made Bill and me decide that we need a trip to Ireland next.  Unfortunately, there's no telling when that can occur.  We need to find employment and a place to settle first… then we need to do some fundraising.  I trust we'll get to Ireland someday, though.  It will happen.  And when it does, I hope to find some real Irish pubs.

    This one in Alexandria, VA comes pretty close…  Bill and I used to go there when we lived near DC.  They had quite a few Irish people working there.

    Sunday, June 8, 2014

    Repost of my 2012 Space A trip report… Part four

    Our very first military hop to Europe! Part 4... the ride home!

    May 29, 2012 (Updated Jun 1, 2012)

    The Bottom Line Space a is a nice military perk!

    For part 3, click here.

    Planes, trains, and automobiles...

    Early Sunday morning, Bill and I made our way back to Ramstein Air Force Base via two trains. We went to the Trier station to catch the 6:20 train. Bill decided to buy some coffee and croissants and orange juice for me. The cashier couldn't break Bill's 50 euro note, so he went digging for change. He place a five euro note and a two euro coin on the counter and dug for more change. Unfortunately, he neglected to notice the bum standing too close to him who swiped the two euro coin. Bill was understandably upset. Thankfully, the cashier was cool about it. I told Bill he needed to perfect his "get the f away from me" look.

    The first train took us to Saarbrucken and the second took us to Landshtul. From Landshtul, we got a cab to Ramstein, where the airport was packed with people hoping to get home on a space a flight. Bill had signed up for our return week immediately upon our arrival in Germany, which turned out to be a good thing. As it turned out, there were three flights going to the States that day, but only two of them offered any space A seats. The first flight, to Andrews Air Force Base, only had ten seats. The second, to Charleston Air Force Base, only had fifty seats. And there were a hell of a lot more than fifty people in the terminal that day!

    I could see that a lot of the folks waiting around were either retirees or dependents. Again, the fact that Bill was a category three traveler worked in our favor. We didn't make our preferred Andrews Air Force Base flight, but we did get on the Charleston flight, along with forty-eight others.

    Military transport!

    Unlike our first flight, the flight home was on a C-17, which is a military cargo flight. Adding to the excitement was the fact that the flight was carrying hazardous cargo. We paid $9.10 to get on this flight... for two boxed lunches. It turned out seven of the boxed lunches didn't make the flight, so Bill gave up his and shared mine with me.

    The plane had very few windows and there were two rows on either side of the aircraft with seats in them. The cargo was strapped down in the middle of the aircraft. Our luggage was wrapped up on a pallet in the back of the plane. An adorable young airman gave us a very laid back safety briefing and handed out ear plugs, since there's no insulation on the C-17. While the seats weren't especially luxurious, they were pretty comfortable with generous space between them. I laughed when the airman asked parents not to let their kids climb all over the explosives in the back of the plane.

    There was one toilet and it didn't have running water. The airmen had left us handiwipes instead. Next to my seat was an outlet. Bill plugged in my iPad so it could charge. There was free bottled water and cereal bars, too.

    Once the plane was airborne, the more experienced folks spread out air mattresses, sleeping bags, and blankets. Quite a few people took naps fully reclined on the floor. Try doing that on a commercial flight! I watched a couple of movies on the way to Gander, Newfoundland in Canada. I had never been to Canada before and it was cold outside when we landed at the tiny airport. The staff opened up the restaurant and duty free shop just for us during our 30 minute pit stop. Once we had refueled, we were all called back to the plane for the rest of the ride to South Carolina. Once there, we'd have to figure out how to get to BWI to get my car.

    We arrived in Charleston at about 7:00pm. I realized at that point that we were not going to be able to get out of Charleston that night. Bill and I were both exhausted and Bill was also suffering from a nasty bug he picked up. We decided to go to a local hotel to rest up for the next day, which we knew would be just as long. It turned out there weren't many cabbies in Charleston that could get on the Air Force base, so we had to wait awhile to go the few miles to the hotel. Once we were there, Bill and I both collapsed after I booked an expensive one way flight to Reagan Airport in Washington, DC. I would have booked a flight to BWI, but it would have been more expensive and required a layover in Atlanta. Bill assured me there was ample public transportation to BWI from DC. In retrospect, I should have just booked the BWI flight. I won't make that mistake next time.

    Another flight...

    The hotel shuttle got us to the airport in Charleston. We checked in at U.S. Airways; I paid to upgrade us to first class. The flight was expensive to start with, so I figured an extra hundred bucks for nicer seats was no big deal. It turned out the flight was full, so Bill and I didn't get to sit together. I sat next to a guy who was dressed for business, but had neglected to zip up his fly. After seeing him blatantly picking his nose, I decided to focus my attention on the view and took some photos of the sky.

    Trains and buses...

    We landed in DC at about 9:00am, picked up our bags, and caught the yellow line metro to the hub where we could switch to the green line, which was supposed to take us to Greenbelt metro stop. As it turned out, there's track work being done, so we had to get a free shuttle to the metro stop. I couldn't help noticing that the German trains were way nicer.

    Once we got to the Greenbelt station, Bill went looking for someone who could break his $20 bill. The bus to BWI only takes exact change. Luckily, one of the metro workers had small bills and helped Bill out. Then we were on our way to BWI at last. We got there at noon... the same time we would have gotten there had we just bitten the bullet and accepted the layover in Atlanta. Moreover, we only saved about $50, though in fairness, we would have saved more if I hadn't upgraded us to first class. On the other hand, that first class flight was pretty awesome, except for my seatmate.


    We loaded up my Mini and headed back to North Carolina at a little after noon, stopping for lunch at Austin Grill in Springfield, Virginia, not too far from where we once lived. After lunch, we hit Whole Foods and picked up some Georgian wine. Then we started driving south. Our trip was mostly uneventful, except for Bill's continual hacking and almost being proselytized by Baptists at a Virginia rest stop.

    We got home at about 8:00pm and now I'm catching up on everything... It's hard to believe just two days ago, we were in Europe!

    Things I learned...

    Being in Germany again after almost three years made me realize several things. For one thing, I still feel very comfortable in Europe, especially Germany. I totally wouldn't mind moving back there.

    For another thing, I understand a lot more German than I thought I did. Bill and I actually turned down an offer of a menu in English on our last night. I picked up a lot of words, though I still don't speak the language.

    When Bill and I went to Luxembourg in 2009, I assumed I would never have a need to go back. I did, and I'm glad I went. We had a great time there.

    Every time Bill and I go on a trip, something weird happens and it's usually funny.

    Don't let any creepy people get too close to you, especially early in the morning.

    Military hops are worth the effort, as long as you have flexible plans. And military transport is more comfortable than commercial transport is. You get a larger luggage allowance and if you're on a military cargo plane, you have a lot more room to move. I'm not sure I'd want to bother bringing a sleeping bag or an air mattress, but it's good to know it's an option.

    Young Air Force airmen are adorable. And the ones on our flight seemed to be having a good time.

    Now that I'm not a space a virgin anymore, you can bet we'll be back for another trip! Maybe next time, we'll get to Spain.

    Repost of my 2012 Space A trip report… Part three

    Our very first military hop to Europe! Part 3... places we saw part 2

    May 29, 2012 (Updated May 30, 2012)

    The Bottom Line Luxembourg is more interesting than it seems...

    For part 2, click here.


    Early Thursday morning, Bill and I had a flight back to Cologne. At that point, we were still trying to figure out where we wanted to go next. I was thinking we'd like to go to the Rhine region. In 1997, I had spent a couple of nights in Bacharach, Germany, which I remembered as an adorable little town right on the river. But I also remembered there wasn't a whole lot to the town. We finally decided we'd go to Trier, a town very close to the Luxembourg border. Luxembourg is very close to France and Belgium; Bill and I went there for my birthday in 2009. Trier also boasts the Porta Nigra (Black Gate), an ancient Roman gate that was built between 186 and 200 A.D.

    I checked us into the Mercure, a chain hotel located directly across the street from the Porta Nigra. I was immediately happy about the price, which was much cheaper than the Kempinski. We took a train from the Cologne-Bonn airport to the main train station in Cologne. On the way there, a group of teenagers got on the train together. Just before they boarded, a couple of undercover ticket inspectors checked everyone's tickets. Upon realizing that Bill and I are Americans, one of the inspectors exclaimed "Thank you! Americans!" Just what we needed. When he commented that other Americans had also been onboard, I dryly said "I don't doubt it", which made him laugh for some reason.

    The inspectors were still in our car when the group of teens came onboard. One of the teens, a tall, dark-haired girl with bangs and a brazen attitude, seemed to be in charge of everything. She was the one who spoke first when the undercover ticket inspector busted them. The loudmouth inspector pounced on them, saying "Hallo! Fahrkarten bitte!"

    Bill and I looked around and though neither of us is anywhere near fluent in German, we got the gist of what was going on. I chuckled as I noticed that all the folks were smelling the same BS we were smelling as the tall teen and her friends tried to talk their way out of trouble and failed miserably. We got off at the main station, along with the teens and the inspectors who had busted them. We had to wait about forty minutes for our train to Trier and those kids were still on the platform waiting when we left.

    While we were waiting for our train, I noticed a handsome, well-built, dark haired guy standing nearby. He had a lot of gear, including a hat. I happened to peek when he opened his wallet and saw that he was a cop. The cop was wearing shorts and it looked like he had shaved his legs. He smiled broadly at me as I fussed with Bill, whose eyebrows had become unkempt.

    The train to Trier was hot and crowded. We opened the windows and settled in for a long ride to the old city. Some of the places we passed looked very appealing. I almost wished we didn't have a hotel reservation so we could get off! I was especially impressed by Gerolstein, a town that boasts some fabulous fizzy mineral water.

    When we got to the hotel, Bill and I changed clothes. It had suddenly gotten very hot. We walked around Trier, enjoying the sight of the massive Roman gate. I imagine you can climb it if you want to, but I didn't have the desire to. It was sad to see that some folks felt the gate was a good place to stash their trash.


    On Friday, we got a train to Luxembourg. We had been there before and I didn't remember thinking it was fabulous. Luxembourg is a beautiful country, but we made the mistake of staying in a hotel in the business and government district. Since we were coming for a day trip, we wandered around the center and ended up getting lunch at a nice restaurant by the center square.

    A group of high school students from a town fifty kilometers from Munich had set up to play music in a gazebo. Bill and I happened to be there just in time for a three course meal which included wine, coffee, and a champagne apertif. We enjoyed the music, which was pretty good considering it mostly came from high school students. There was also a large, very drunk man careening around the area with a big can of beer in his hand. He had misbuttoned his shirt and looked like he'd been drinking for hours. Nevertheless, he seemed to be enjoying himself, talking to people in the crowd, dancing and conducting to the music, and generally just being a fool. He was as entertaining as the musicians were.

    We went back to Trier for dinner at a Greek restaurant. I had been pining away for Greek food since we left Germany. I had dorada and Bill had gyros. Of course there was beer and ouzo, too.

    Saturday morning

    I was really hoping we'd get to go to Belgium or France on our last full day in Germany. We flipped a coin to see where to go and France won. Bill went to buy a ticket to France and somehow ended up with a ticket to a Luxembourg border town instead. I was disappointed when we got to our destination, Rodange, which appeared to be a very sleepy border town. Nevertheless, it was lunch time, so we went looking for food. After about fifteen minutes of walking, we spotted a church at the top of a hill. We figured that was where we might find good eats, so we walked up the hill and sure enough, there was a little bistro across the street.

    A sign on the door read that there was a set menu- soup, cordon bleu, bread, and vanilla pudding for dessert. It looked good, so we went in and sat down. Elvis Presley played over the sound system. After a few minutes of waiting, a pleasant looking man came in and set placemats depicting Portugal in front of us. He told us he was from Portugal, a country that remains on my bucket list. Then he explained what they had to eat... a three course meal including soup, a main dish, and dessert.

    Bill was worried he might not have enough euros on him to pay for the meal, which turned out to be very tasty. He visibly winced when I acquiesced to the host's suggestion of coffee to go with our sweets. Imagine Bill's delight when the bill came and it was just 28 euros for both of us! Bill was expecting it to be almost three times that much! The host explained that we were in the country, where prices are cheaper! The same place had a six course meal being offered that night for 33 euros a person. I bet it was amazing.

    We left the restaurant feeling good and not so sad about being in a sleepy Luxembourg suburb. Just as we arrived at the train station to figure out where to go next, we ran into a group of people. It was mostly young women, though there were a couple guys as well. It looked like one of the women was older. Several of the people were wearing devil's horns and/or wigs. One guy was dressed in drag, complete with a blond wig, lipstick, and a note written in French on his back that said "I love penises". But he wasn't even the most outrageous one. There was a lady wearing a housecoat and a rubber penis on her nose. If that wasn't weird enough, at one point, she lifted her housecoat and revelead the diaper she was wearing underneath. Then she scratched herself for all to see.

    We got on the train back to Luxembourg and the crew of dressed up Luxembourgers got in the same car. I immediately dubbed our ride the "crazy train". These folks were gamely posing for pictures. In retrospect, I should have gotten some myself! I don't know what they were celebrating... a marriage or birthday? Who knows!

    We spent the rest of the day in Luxembourg, eventually encountering a group of fraternity guys who were all wearing t-shirts that showed a naked guy wearing shaving cream over his privates. After all that excitement, we needed to have some beer. We hit a local spot that served Diekirch Reserve, which we followed with glasses of champagne. Then we made our way back to Trier, where we had one last German meal consisting of asparagus, Hollandaise sauce, and pig... schnitzel for me, ham for Bill.

    Stay tuned for the story of our trip home!

    Repost of my 2012 Space A trip report… Part two

    Our very first military hop to Europe! Part 2... places we saw-- part one

    May 29, 2012 (Updated May 30, 2012)

    The Bottom Line Our travels in Europe.

    For part one, click here.

    Our blind booking

    After enjoying a tasty German Sunday evening repast and Kolsch beers at a Kolsch brewery, Bill and I went to the lobby in the Ibis and completed our blind booking flight. I was hoping we'd end up somewhere exotic or interesting, but it turned out we got a flight to Munich.

    I wasn't that disappointed about going to Munich. Munich is a fun town and I hadn't been there with Bill, except to stay overnight before an early flight to Oslo. As soon as I started looking for Munich hotels online, I realized that our cheap flight would lead to high hotel prices! But thanks to that trip in 2009, we knew of a good hotel. It happened to be at the Munich airport. At first I was reluctant to book a stay at the Hotel Kempinski because I wanted to be in Munich. But then it occurred to Bill that we had an early flight back to Cologne on Thursday and being in an airport hotel would be convenient. Plus, we also knew that the Munich airport is awesomely populated with conveniences. So we booked our expensive Munich room, confident we'd be happy with our choice.

    Monday morning

    We enjoyed a typical German breakfast at the Ibis, included in our rate. All in all, I was pretty happy with the Ibis. The room was tiny, but had a nice hot shower, a flatscreen TV, and free Internet in the lobby. The bed wasn't the best, but I was so tired, it didn't matter.

    Since our flight to Munich wasn't until the afternoon, Bill and I strolled around Cologne's old town. Right next to the train station stands the city's very impressive cathedral. We walked inside and I was awestruck by its vastness. Bill was overtaken by how beautiful everything was. I always get a kick at the ease he gets moved by beautiful places and Cologne's cathedral is definitely beautiful.

    We walked around Cologne and I took pictures of graffiti. For some reason, I have a knack for finding stuff. On the other hand, Germans post a lot of goofy stuff on signposts and walls. That afternoon, we took a train to the Cologne airport. Bill was upset because Germanwings never sent me a confirmation for our flight. We went to the counter and the ticket agent found my reservation with no trouble. We dropped off our bags and had lunch at a German Argentinian chain restaurant called Mareda. Its speciality is beef, but I'm not usually impressed by German beef, so I ordered Wienerschnitzel. Bill had goulash. We both enjoyed the free wifi in the airport. Free wifi is apparently a rarity in Germany!

    Our flight to Munich was quick, painless, and peaceful. It lasted about 40 minutes. The most memorable thing about it was the sight of a young guy walking around with a t-shirt depicting a naked picture of Claudia Schiffer.

    We landed in Munich and checked into the Kempinski, where a very elegant man gave us the full tour of our expensive five star room. The Kempinski was even more lux than I remembered it. The huge flatscreen television had British channels; the bathroom was huge; and the Internet was not free. The Kempinski is a business hotel, though, so that's not surprising.

    That first night, I didn't feel like going into Munich, so we headed to the Airbrau restaurant/brewery and drank some very tasty wheat beers. I was pretty fascinated by the people watching. I saw a vast array of interesting fashion choices, including one swarthy looking man wearing a t-shirt that said "I'm what Willis was talking about." I had to wonder if the man even knew what famous television program his shirt was referring to... Those of us who grew up in the 80s certainly know!


    The next morning, we went to McDonalds for breakfast because we didn't feel like paying 30 euros for a hotel breakfast. I was amazed by the fact that the McDonalds had kiosks where people could order their food from a computer. It was sort of like a self checkout for fast food. I don't tend to enjoy McDonalds that much anymore, but I had to admit the quality of the breakfast was pretty good and at seven euros for both of us, cheap.

    After breakfast, we took the train into Munich and visited my favorite German gourmet store, Dallmayr, before touring the Residenz museum. Bill had never been there and I wanted to show it off to him. Imagine my surprise when I saw jars of Bone Sucking Sauce on sale for about $10. Bone Sucking Sauce is made right here in North Carolina.

    Next, we went to the Residenz. I had been before, but had only seen the crown jewels/treasury. We purchased combo tickets and toured the whole museum. By the time we were done, it was time for lunch. We made our way to the Hofbrauhaus. Bill was sure it would be touristy and crowded, but it really wasn't. We had mas krugs of fine German brew and enjoyed some very yummy German cuisine. One of Bill's favorite German meals is roasted chicken. That's what he had, along with potato salad. I had a wurst with sauerkraut. I let Bill eat the cabbage, though.

    We wandered around Munich until evening and checked out the Farmer's Market, which had a very handy public pay bathroom. I made use of that, needing to get rid of some of the two liters of beer I drank at the Hofbrauhaus. Then we climbed a very tall church tower, which helped burn off more beer and offered a gorgeous view of the city. We got to the top in time to see the glockenspiel show, then climbed down and visited a couple of churches, one of which had an atheist message stenciled/graffitied on the side of it. We went into one church that was having high mass and stood in the back, trying to be inconspicuous. Sweet Bill was overcome with emotion again, so we left quietly and went looking for dinner.

    I was getting pretty tired of German food, so we stopped at an Italian trattoria I had visited on one of my day trips to Munich. Bill and I enjoyed pasta, wine, coffee, tiramisu, and people watching. We were the only Americans in there. I recognized one of the waiters, who I think actually might have owned the place. Last time I was there, he laughed when I tried to say "schtimpt"... meaning he could keep the change. I probably still haven't gotten it right.


    We started Wednesday with breakfast at an Italian cafe and deep conversation. We had plans to visit Salzburg, which was included as a stop on our three day German railpass, even though it's in Austria. I had never been to Salzburg. Bill had been once in the late 80s. But I have seen The Sound of Music many times, so I knew I was in for a treat!

    We took the train from the Munich airport to the main train station, then switched trains to go to Salzburg. It took a couple of hours traveling through beautiful countryside to get to our destination. When we arrived, it was about 1:30 pm. We walked toward the centrum and stopped for lunch at a charming family owned restaurant where we enjoyed Austrian beer and some local specialties. I had green and white asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, ham, and potatoes. Bill had roasted pork, I think. I remember two big dumplings.

    After lunch, we wandered to the centrum and I was awestruck by how beautiful Salzburg is. We passed the building where the composer of "Silent Night" was born, then crossed the river into the old town. We toured the cathedral and saw some beautiful horse drawn carriages. We were about to move on when a female driver approached with a couple of gorgeous black stallions. If I had to guess, I'd say maybe they were Friesians (I was a horse geek as a kid). I stood there capitvated for several minutes by these beautiful steeds, wishing I still had horses in my life.

    I was drawn away from the horses by the sound of music. A quartet of four Russian Cossack soldiers were singing folk songs, accompanied by accordion. Now it was my turn to be moved to tears. After listening for a few minutes, I had to buy one of their CDs. Then we walked up the hill toward the Stiegl Brewery. I wish we had been there earlier; maybe we could have taken a tour! I was suddenly wishing we had booked a room in Salzburg instead of Munich.

    As it was, we had to leave quickly because a storm was rolling in. We managed to get to the same restaurant where we had lunch before the sky opened. The man who owned the restaurant was delighted to welcome us back for beer and schnapps! He said the schnapps would make the hair on my arms stand on end, but it was actually not bad at all. Just tasted a little like minty gin.

    On the way to the train station, I needed to make a pit stop. Fortunately, there was a shopping mall where peeing was free. We also ran into a group of ladies engaged in a "hen party". I think it was in honor of someone's 50th birthday... We will have to go back to Salzburg for a closer look sometime soon!

    Stay tuned for part 3...

    Repost of my 2012 Space A trip report… Part one

    I originally posted about my 2012 Space A trip on  Since Epinions is now defunct and I want to preserve those stories, I am going to repost them here on my travel blog.  Keep in mind, these reports were written in May 2012.

    Our very first military hop to Europe! Part I... flights

    May 29, 2012 (Updated Aug 14, 2012)

    The Bottom Line Our first military hop...

    This is going to be a long story, so I will post it in parts...

    Those of you who regularly read my Epinions reviews may have noticed that I haven't posted in almost two weeks. That's unusual for me, because I usually have plenty to write about and lots of time to do it in. As it turns out, my husband Bill and I just returned from a somewhat "seat of your pants" trip to Europe via military "hop". I had been wanting to do this for some time and Bill surprised me with an email a few weeks ago, letting me know that he had arranged for time off so we could do it. I just got back yesterday and now have plenty to write about and lots of time to do it in. So here goes…

    The adventure begins...

    What is a military hop?

    If you're not affiliated with the U.S. military, you might not have heard of space available travel. The U.S. sends planes all over the world to carry out military missions. Some of the planes are chartered aircraft from Delta Airlines or Atlas Air. Some are military planes operated by the Air Force. When they have extra room on these planes, the space is made available to members of the military, retirees, and their dependents.

    These flights cost next to nothing. People who want to take space a flights are ranked into categories based on their duty status and relevance to the U.S. military's missions. A person who is going somewhere on military duty, for instance, gets top priority. Someone going home on emergency leave gets second priority. Bill, as an active duty soldier on leave, was marked "category three". The ranking continues to category six, which includes retirees. It can be tricky to get a flight, especially if you're a lowly category six. That's why it makes sense to be prepared to purchase a commercial ticket or have some other "plan B".

    Before I was an Army wife, I was an Air Force brat. My parents traveled "space a" many times when I was growing up, but they never took me on any of their travels. So I was curious about what they had experienced. Since we live in North Carolina, we are within driving distance to several Air Force bases and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which has a terminal for U.S. military operations. 

    Passing the Washington Monument on the way to BWI...
    Finding a flight

    Bill joined a couple of messageboards dedicated to military space a travel. The one he checked most often was, by far, Dirk Pepperd's board ( Every day, he would watch the trends in flights going into or out of the air bases closest to us. The flight schedules are typically released 72 hours beforehand. We were looking for a flight going out May 19th, so we started watching the messageboards for the air bases closest to us.

    For about a week prior to our trip, we thought we'd end up leaving out of Charleston Air Force Base because it was closest to us and seemed to have the most seats available for flights to Europe, especially to Rota, Spain. I was researching things to do in Spain and thinking we'd finally get to see Seville together. But on May 16th, it was clear that Charleston wasn't going to have any flights going anywhere we wanted to go. After checking all the other bases closeby, we turned our attention to BWI. On May 19th, it was offering 195 seats to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. We surmised that was our best bet to get a flight and decided to drive all day to get there.

    We had to be in Baltimore by 8:00 that evening... that was when "show time" would be. In reality, people were showing up much earlier than that. We arrived in Baltimore at about 6:00pm, signed up for a flight, and were immediately approved. We then got in line behind what seemed like hundreds of servicepeople in uniform, most of them with weapons locked in cases. They were headed to Afghanistan. We also saw lots of families with pets. They were moving to Germany for an assignment. There were also plenty of retirees. It looked like most of them were successful in getting on the flight.

    We stood in line for about an hour to drop off our luggage. The USO was there to give us care packages... yes, even the civilians! A man asked me how much I weigh and I lied, of course. Then we were at the ticket counter, where we dropped off our bags and paid the $16 per person head fee. Yes, Bill and I paid just $32 to fly to Germany!

    Flight to Germany

    The flight was conducted by Atlas Air, an airline contracted by the government. It was like just about any other flight, except many of the people onboard were on their way to war. The guy sitting next to Bill and me was in uniform and looked pretty petrified. It was his first deployment. He didn't move the whole flight and didn't speak until toward the end, when he confessed that it was his first time.

    The aircraft looked like it had once been operated by a Japanese airline. The signage was all in Japanese and the seatbacks all had video monitors on them with poorly translated English instructions. The programming was all in English, but some of it had Japanese subtitles. I watched the Christmas episode of Glee, then switched to the channel that showed our progress toward Europe.

    Back in Germany!

    We arrived in Germany in the afternoon, picked up our luggage, and made our way through customs. A nice German lady helped us get a cab, which showed up minutes after we called. The guy driving it was an American veteran who moved to Germany 33 years ago and had raised his family there. We were telling him about our two years in Germany and how we had hated to leave. I swear, if we ever had the chance to live there again, I'd take it in a heartbeat!

    The cab driver dropped us off at Kaiserslautern railway station and wished us a good time. We purchased a three day Germany pass and hopped on an ICE train (inner city express) to get to Cologne, Germany. I wanted to go there because of the cathedral... and the fact that the airport is a hub for Germanwings, a discount airline that offers cheap "blind booking" flights. Bill and I had flown with them twice when we lived in Germany. I was eager to take another blind booking flight and see where we ended up.

    Cologne, Germany

    On our way to Cologne, we looked at the beautiful Rhine region flying by and I remembered how much I love Europe. Bill and I had never been to Cologne before, except once in 2008 when we had to change trains there on a trip from Germany to Brussels, Belgium. The connections were so quick we had no chance to see anything there.

    When we got off the train, we were both exhausted. We checked into the first hotel we saw... an Ibis that was literally in the station. We checked in, dropped our bags, took showers, and immediately headed out for some dinner.

    Stay tuned for Part 2...

    Friday, June 6, 2014

    France and Germany… a send off from the Army-- Part 12

    On the night before our flight out of Savannah, I fell asleep at about 8:00pm.  By 1:00, I was awake again, trying to adjust to the Eastern time zone.  I had to take an Advil PM to drift off to sleep, which I managed to do… only to be awakened by Bill at about 3:30am.  We had a 5:30am flight to Atlanta and he was getting everything straight.  I got up and dressed and we took the hotel shuttle to the airport along with an adorable older couple.  They had "bad knees" that they'd had replaced, so Bill helped them in and out of the van. They said, "Maybe we should tip you!"  Too funny.

    Bill on the plane...

    When we got to Savannah's tiny airport, we found it surprisingly busy.  The Delta agent who took our bag warned us that we needed to hurry to security.  There were crowds of people checking in and TSA, in its infinite wisdom, had only one security lane open.  They eventually opened a second one for those who were "pre-checked", but there were still many people rushing to get screened in time to catch their flights.  It took a good thirty minutes just to get through security and we worried about missing our flight to Atlanta.  As it turned out, the flight was delayed.  We were among the last to board, but we still waited about fifteen minutes to get out of Savannah.

    One good thing that came out of such an early flight…

    When we landed in Atlanta, our flight to Houston was also boarding, so we had to rush to make that.  Once we got in the air, things settled down a bit.  We landed in Houston at about 9:30am or so.  It was my first time in Houston's airport.  In fact, I've never even really visited Houston-- just drove through it to get to San Antonio last year.  I liked the fact that there are trees there.  Bill graduated high school in Houston, so he knows the city.  Of course, it's a lot bigger now than it was when he was a kid.  The flight to Houston from Savannah was $218 per person.  Had we flown to San Antonio, it would have been at least double that.

    We rented a car to drive to San Antonio.  It wasn't a bad drive at all… took about 3 hours and there wasn't much traffic, perhaps because it was Sunday.  On the way to San Antonio, we called Bill's mom, who had kindly let us park our car at her house, to let her know to meet us at the airport where we would be dropping off the rental car.  She said we should stop at Buc-ee's, which is a gas station/convenience store chain in Texas.  It's kind of a cross between Cracker Barrel and Wawa.  They sell candy and cookies and other stuff and they have funny signs that are vaguely off color because they refer to beavers.

    Funny signs at Buc-ees to remind people to pick up after their dogs...

    Well, we stopped at the one on the way to San Antonio and I have to say, it was a mad house!  Making matters worse were all the people trying every which way to get to a gas pump, which made the parking lot pretty dangerous.  There were swarms of people in the store, too.  It took awhile to get to a pump and I noticed the crowding didn't have a very good effect on peoples' affects, if you know what I mean.  Nevertheless, my mother-in-law had been talking about that place for ages.  Now I can say I've been.

    Major traffic at Buc-ees…

    We got the car dropped off and Mother-in-law picked us up.  We couldn't get the dogs from Camp Bow Wow until 4:00, so we hung out at her house.  I was becoming really irritable and bitchy because I was tired and hungry.  Bill was also pretty tired.  By 4:00, we were pretty much dead on our feet.  We went to the kennel, got our dogs, and were told we weren't allowed to bring Arran back there because they claimed he'd been "aggressive".

    Now, I don't doubt Arran got bitchy during his two week stay at the kennel…  He's not a bad dog at all.  He likes other dogs and people.  We got him from a beagle rescue where he was fostered with other dogs and he got along with them fine.  He does like his space, though.  We didn't take the dogs to the airport location as we did in January because that location was fully booked.  I have a feeling the second location was also pretty well booked.  As we waited in the lobby for the dogs, we could hear the raucous din from the back where the dogs were kept.  Obviously, Arran needs a calmer environment than what is offered at Camp Bow Wow.  Our other dog, Zane, had no issues at all, but Zane is a super friendly dog who loves everybody.

    I was pretty perturbed about how this situation was handled.  In their emails to us, the staff kept harping on how "sweet" our dogs are.  But then the assistant manager who spoke to us about our "aggressive" dog made it sound like Arran's issues were all his fault and he'd put others at risk, though he didn't hurt anyone.  We have a local contact in Texas who could have picked the dogs up if Arran's behavior was that much of a problem.  We could have called Camp Bow Wow and given them payment information, too.  Obviously, they were more interested in the $945 I paid for the dogs' care than actual safety.

    When we got home and I checked the phone messages on our land line, there was one from Camp Bow Wow to let us know that Zane threw up once.  I know some dog owners want to know about such things, but as it was apparently a one time issue and we were in France (and therefore could do nothing for Zane), I don't know why we needed to know that he puked one time.  If it were a repeated incident that required treatment, that would be another thing altogether.  I would have hoped they would have emailed us, though, since it's easier to communicate that way when you're abroad.

    And then, I did some checking online and came across this article which, based on the author's description, I'm quite sure is about the Camp Bow Wow chain…  I understand that the locations are franchises and they aren't all created equally, but I have a feeling that this woman's post rings pretty true for the locations in our area.  She writes of very crowded conditions and dogs being grouped by size and age rather than play style.  She also writes of dogs being squirted with water, and employees being told not to pet or play with the dogs.  I chose Camp Bow Wow because it got really good reviews on Angie's List and Yelp!  However, it's pretty clear that it's not the best environment for all dogs.  

    After reading that article, I felt pretty ashamed that we'd left our dogs there on our two trips this year.  When we lived in North Carolina, we used Sandhills Pet Resort and never had any problems with Arran being "aggressive".  What's more, when our dearly departed dog, MacGregor, stayed there and suddenly got very sick (he had a spinal tumor that took an MRI at NC State to find), the ladies at Sandhills cared for him and loved him as if he was their very own dog.  They were also less expensive.

    The bottom line is, should we stay in San Antonio, we will either find a locally owned boarding facility for our dogs that offers more personalized care or we will find a pet sitter.  No more corporate doggy day care chains for us.  Arran can't handle environments where there are a ton of dogs in a small space.  It's too stressful for him.  In retrospect, I'm glad Arran "told" us how he felt.  Given that Bill is still job hunting, I doubt we'll need to board our dogs anytime soon anyway.

    Zane and Arran get cuddle time...

    "Aggressive" Arran...

    I'm amazed by how quickly this week has flown by.  It's hard to believe that a week ago, we were in Europe.  We had an amazing time and, once again, I am ever so grateful to the Air Force for getting us to and from Europe safely.  And I am grateful to our government for extending Space A privileges to us.  I hope we can do it again sometime in the future.    

    Thanks for reading about our trip!

    Thursday, June 5, 2014

    France and Germany… a send off from the Army-- Part 11

    After two nights at Hotel Goldinger, Bill and I decided to get a room at Ramstein.  We had actually been thinking we'd try to leave Germany on Friday, the 30th of May, but there weren't any flights going out.  The Air Force lodge at Ramstein is within walking distance of the passenger terminal, which makes it really convenient.  We booked for two nights, hoping that we wouldn't need both nights.  This was my first time staying at the Air Force lodging at Ramstein and, I must say, I was impressed by how nice it was, especially considering that it only cost $55 a night.  I did think it was funny that there was a check list for bomb threats by the phone.

    We were given a room that reminded me of something I might see in a Hilton.  There are American plugs in the rooms, which makes it easy to charge iPads, iPhones, and whatever else have you.  There are laundry facilities that people can use free of charge.  All you need is soap.  The inn is also connected to the largest BX/PX I have ever seen.  In fact, the BX/PX complex is like a big mall.

    I was glad to be able to wash clothes and Bill went to Chili's to get us some lunch.  Later, after the clothes were washed and dried, we walked around the big AAFES complex and I was reminded of when we lived in Germany.  There are a lot of local vendors/artisans there that make knick knacks and gifts.

    It looked like there were going to be a couple of flights leaving Ramstein on Saturday, though neither of them were offering many seats for Space A travelers.  I had a feeling we could be staying at Ramstein for two nights.  We passed time at Chili's and talked to a soldier who was living in Germany under sad circumstances.  I posted about that on my main blog, so I won't rehash it here.

    The next morning, Bill picked up some pastries and coffee at a bakery and then we made our way to the pax terminal.  There were lots of people there, many of whom had apparently been trying to get out of Germany for days.  An airman announced that roll call for a flight to Hunter Airfield in Savannah, Georgia would be in 20 minutes.  The flight to Georgia was a surprise.  It wasn't noted on Ramstein's Facebook page; so it was a lucky thing that we were there at the right time.

    We had been planning to go for a flight to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, but when Bill heard the call for Georgia, he wanted to sign up.  The flight had six seats available and, as Bill was a cat 3 who'd signed up for Space A when we first arrived in Germany two weeks earlier, he was at the top of the list.  We easily made the flight and were soon on our way back to the States in a C-17 with four others.

    One of the few places dogs aren't allowed in Germany...

    I much prefer military flights to chartered flights.  Although you have to wear ear plugs to block out the noise and the flights are usually longer because the planes move slower, I enjoy seeing the Air Force at work.  I also like not having someone reclining in my lap, kicking the back of my seat, or otherwise harshing my mellow.  On a military flight, you can actually lie down on the floor and sleep if you want to.  The airmen gave us blankets, which really came in handy because it was chilly on the plane.

    Bill and I bought box lunches, mainly because it's been my experience that the food served on military flights is actually edible.  This was no exception…  We had chicken, fruit salad, chips, a Rice Krispies Treat, water, and apple juice.  I was glad we bought the lunch, too, because I eventually got hungry even after having eaten it.

    I enjoyed meeting the others on our flight.  One guy was once in the Honor Guard in Arlington and now works in Europe in counter intelligence.  He was on his way to Oklahoma to see his new baby.  Two were doctors, married to each other  and getting ready to begin three year residencies in Washington, DC.  The other guy sounded like he might have been from the West Indies.  He was going to New York.

    We landed in Savannah in the early afternoon and then spent some time trying to get taxis.  It was very warm in Savannah, which was a shock given how chilly it was in Europe and on the plane.  A lady with a mini van took Bill, me, the guy going to Oklahoma and the guy going to New York to the airport area.  The doctors decided they would get a hotel downtown.  The lady who drove us to the hotel was funny.  She had a sign in her cab that read "No eating or drinking.  Throw up fee $250".  One of the guys mentioned it and I immediately understood.  I'm sure the puke fee mostly applies to drunks during festivals.

    Bill happened to have enough HiltonHonors points to score us a free room at the Doubletree Inn near Savannah's airport.  We checked in and I got cleaned up.  I was really craving a steak for dinner, but there weren't many restaurants near the hotel and the Doubletree's room service menu didn't offer steak.  Bill went out to get us fast food at Wendy's, but then he spotted a restaurant that did offer steak.  He went there and bought us dinner… and then when he brought it back, I opened the cartons and realized to my horror that the steaks were covered in mushrooms!

    Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but I actually have a phobia of mushrooms.  I don't eat them.  I don't even like to look at them.  No mention of mushrooms was mentioned on the restaurant's menu.  What was even weirder was that the steaks came with Caesar salads that were served with cheese and dressing on the side.  I don't know why the mushrooms weren't served the same way.  I mean, usually one who wants mushrooms has to request them and pay extra.  Unfortunately, the mushrooms kind of ruined my appetite.  I did eat a little after Bill scraped them off, but I was a bit traumatized by the fungus.  Yes, I know it's ridiculous… it's just one of my quirks.

    I booked us on an early flight on Delta going from Savannah to Houston because flying to San Antonio was outrageously expensive…  more on that next.


    France and Germany… a send off from the Army-- Part 10

    I felt like a new person after our first night in Landstuhl.  We got up and had breakfast in Hotel Goldinger's pretty dining area.  Besides being a small hotel, this place is also a "konditorei", which means they make pastries there.  I loved their dining room, which had the look of a garden or a solarium.  The breakfast spread they offer to guests is also very nice, with smoked salmon, smoked trout, breads, cheeses, vegetables, juices, cereals, and fruits.  They'll even cook eggs and bacon if you want.  Bill and I had a nice breakfast, overhearing a couple of professors from the University of Maryland who were apparently concerned about keeping their jobs because virtual education is taking over so much.  Bill joined their conversation while I sat there thinking about what we'd do on our last real day of vacation.

    I told Bill I wanted to visit Bacharach, which is an adorable town on the Rhein.  I went there in 1997.  In fact, it was the very first town I visited after my Peace Corps tour in Armenia, so it kind of holds a special place in my heart.  I had to figure out trains in order to get there and that's been a skill that has served me well.

    Charming sign at the Landstuhl train station.

    We bought tickets to Bacharach.  Since it was a holiday, the tickets were pretty cheap, but it would take a long time to get there.  First, we had to get to Kaiserslautern.  Then, we had to take a train to Bingen.  Finally, from Bingen, we would take a train to Bacharach.  It would take about two hours.

    Pretty castle in view of the Bingen train station...

    The ride was pleasant, since there's a lot of pretty scenery as you get close to Rhein country.  It was a bit cloudy, but there were no major rain storms.  It was a little chilly outside, but not so chilly that you'd need a jacket.

    Bacharach is as adorable as I remembered it.  It's a well-preserved town with lots of medieval looking buildings and cobblestoned streets.  There's a beautiful castle on a hillside that now serves as a youth hostel.  It's an uphill hike to get there, so we opted not to go.  Instead, we enjoyed the castle from afar.

    Just off the train… you can see the youth hostel in the distance.

    Adorable Bacharach...

    We ate lunch at a cute little gasthaus.  Bill had sauerbraten and I had roasted chicken.  The lady who ran the restaurant was funny when she noticed Bill didn't eat the beets in his salad.  She gave me a postcard of the restaurant and said, "Here's a souvenir for you."  Then she gave Bill the bill and said, "And here's a souvenir for you…"


    There's not a whole lot to Bacharach, but it still managed to be a very special stop during our trip on account of the biergarten we visited.

    Bacharach has a theater that also serves their own beer.  The garten is under a bright tent that looks like it was once part of a carousel.  Unbeknownst to us, on the day we visited, it was father's day.  In Germany, a lot of fathers and sons go hiking and then drink for awhile.  A huge group of men were there and they had obviously been there awhile by the time we showed up.  The cheerful waitresses brought out round after round of beer and schnapps.  Occasionally, the men would toast or break into drunken singing.  I happened to get some clips of their performances.  Some of the guys singing were pretty good!

    A video I made of our afternoon...

    The beer was pretty good, too.  I made our server beam when I ordered a mas krug-- one full liter of beer.  We spent several hours just hanging out and observing these guys who were obviously having a great time.  At one point, Bill went to the men's room and one of the guys in the German group started speaking to Bill.  Bill told him in German that he doesn't really speak the language very well.  The guy switched to English and struck up a conversation.  The guy was surprised we'd visit Bacharach and Bill told him that I had visited years ago and loved the town.  I wanted Bill to see it.

    Bill explained that he was about to retire from the Army and this trip was sort of our last hurrah.  So then the man told Bill that he had been drafted to the German Army and ended up staying for about thirty years.  He said his family had come from the East and the Americans helped them relocated to the West.  Bill said the guy got choked up as he said he'd never forgotten what the Americans did for his family.  I have to say, in these days when so many people have negative things to say about Americans and the military, it was really nice to hear something positive.

    Another man had heard we were Americans living in Texas and he came over to talk to Bill while I was in the ladies room.  It turned out the guy had spent a lot of time in Odessa and Midland, which is where the oil is/was.

    Our trip to tiny Bacharach was yet another incidence in which we went to a small town that presumably  has little to it and ended up having sort of a special day.  The last time we took a hop to Germany-- back in May 2012-- we ended up visiting Rodange, Luxembourg, a seemingly boring suburb of Luxembourg City.  We were annoyed about being there because we'd actually meant to go to France.  But then it turned out to be one of the most memorable days of our trip because we had a great and cheap lunch at a little restaurant run by a Portuguese family.  Then we ran into a "hen party", where we saw a group of people dressed in drag and a diaper wearing woman with a rubber penis on her nose…  I may have to repost my trip report from that hop, since I didn't have my travel blog in 2012.

    The trip back to Landstuhl was kind of long.  First, we took the train from Bacharach to Bingen and were joined by a number of guys who had been at the biergarten with us.  Then, when we got to Bingen, we were delayed for about 50 minutes because the train wasn't scheduled to leave until 7:55 and we got there at about 7:00.  The trip to Kaiserslautern also included a 20 minute cigarette break in Bad Kreuznach.  By the time we got to Kaiserslautern, it was well after 9:00 and the next train to Landstuhl wasn't for another 45 minutes.

    I told Bill I wanted to take a cab back to the hotel.  He balked, because he knew it would be a pricey trip.  I finally won out, though, because it was kind of cold outside and getting late.  The cab ride to Landstuhl was interesting, because I got to see just how much the massive number of Americans has affected both Kaiserslautern and Landstuhl.  We even passed a placed that served American style fried chicken!

    I kind of wish we'd stayed in Bacharach and explored the Rhein more.  Maybe if we get back to Germany, Bill and I will be able to do that.  I also still have yet to see the famous Medieval town of Rothenburg, so that may be reason to take another hop to visit Germany if we don't end up moving back there someday.


    This was in the foyer of the theater where the restrooms were located…  From a distance, they looked like real people!