Our honeymoon had a rather inauspicious start inasmuch as we could. not. get. on. a. plane. J and I traveled Space-A, which is to say, Space Available military flights. The benefits of this type of travel are that 1) it’s basically free, 2) flights run almost every day, and 3) flights go to a variety of destinations. Sweet perk of military life, right?
The downside is that it’s Space Available, which means 1) you aren’t guaranteed a seat or a flight at all 2) flights are first-come first-served, and 3) a variety of destinations means that you might not get a flight that’s going where you want to go.
It pays to be flexible.
J and I headed out on a Saturday afternoon in mid-July, full of excitement and promise and a little loopy as he had just returned from an overseas business trip and wasn’t quite rested up yet. We drove to Dover AFB in Delaware. A flight was leaving Dover that night and headed to Ramstein AFB in Germany. Our backup plan was the two flights headed to Germany the next day and a room at the Air Force Inn on base.
As we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the plan started heading south. The Saturday flight was cancelled. By the next morning, one of the Sunday flights had been cancelled and the other had a mere 9 available seats. Still, we trudged to the Passenger Terminal with hope in our hearts and a deck of cards in our hands and sat for 6 hours to find out that we hadn’t made the cut. After one more night in DE, we drove three hours to McGuire AFB in New Jersey. No flights were scheduled for Monday, but TWO flights were set to leave on Tuesday.
Day four: success! Our flight was a Boeing C-17, a huge cargo plane with jump seats built into the outer walls. We were among the 14 people selected for this flight, which left Tuesday evening and arrived, let’s see…6:30 pm departure + 8 hr flight + 6 hr time change = 8:30 am arrival.
We’d decided to lean into the travel day and get to our first destination, Luxembourg City, no matter what. It actually helped that we arrived early in the morning, as it gave us a lot of time to fight with the German train system.
Our first stop was (of course) Starbucks where I ordered the largest coffee I could think of and tapped into the free wi-fi to update my bearings and the time on my phone.
From Ramstein, we needed to get to the train, Europe’s most efficient and cost-effective method of transport. We grabbed bus 147 to Ramstein-Meisenbach, in the village center. At €2,10 each, the bus ride was far cheaper than a taxi, and we figured since Ramstein-Meisenbach was a scheduled stop on the bus line the language barrier shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
So wrong. So, so wrong.
Our bus drive was a lovely German woman who spoke exactly zero English. I have a working knowledge of French, but my Deutsch is less than sub-par and my sleep-deprived brain couldn’t even come up with the appropriate sign-language dance. Fortunately, an older lady on the bus was mercifully bilingual and helped us out.
Ramstein-Meisenbach Train Station is less of a “station” than a platform stop on the local train line. Trains in Europe seem to fall into distinct categories. Large, reservation-required trains run from major cities and between countries. They make relatively few stops at smaller, regional hubs. From the regional hubs, local trains head out in many directions and make quite a few stops.
We procured tickets to Kaiserslautern at a kiosk near the platform and waited for the appropriate train to arrive. Turns out, we needed to take the train toward Landstuhl instead, which we determined as the train for Landstuhl was leaving the station. Oh poop.
Honeymoon Tidbit #1: European trains tend to run once per hour on the same minute (10:07, 11:07, 12:07, etc). Miss one? Take the next one an hour later.
We waited for the next train exhausted, cranky, and overheated as we experienced the tail end of a 5-day heatwave that plagued western Europe. A military wife and her two friends who were headed to Amsterdam arrived at the platform. While the wife had been in-country for over a year, she’d never strayed out on her own and was having an even harder time understanding the train system than we had. By this time, we were veritable experts and were able to get the three girls up to speed and make sure that they ended up in the right place.
Landstuhl is only one stop from Ramstein-Meisenbach, so a few minutes after we finally boarded the correct train, we were on a platform waiting again. We used the larger kiosk at the regional station to buy tickets all the way to Luxembourg. We thought our next stop was Saarbrucken, but the language barrier had us again. We boarded a train toward Saarbrucken, but actually got off in Trier. From there we should have gotten on the train to Luxembourg, but we missed the first one due to labeling confusion (read: the label changed AS THE TRAIN PULLED AWAY).
Honeymoon Tidbit #2: Trains are on time. Like, really on time. If you are at the right track and a train pulls up at the appointed time, get on it. Even if it looks wrong, get on it.
Finally on our way, J caught a bit of sleep while I watched the German countryside race past the window. It could have been Iowa with the gentle rises and green fields for miles. We made it into Luxembourg about 4:30 pm. It was only about 2 blocks to our hotel, but it took us a while to actually find the door as it was slightly hidden and locked.
Auberge Gaglioti is a quaint, 12-room hotel tucked on what seems like a quiet street. I spoke conversational French with the front desk manager (win!) who informed us, among other things, that we should be back in the hotel by 11 pm, which I found oddly specific.
Two main bridges connect the two halves of Luxembourg City, spanning not a river, but a vast gorge. We wandered the city center and across Pont Adolphe. J wanted to try the Luxembourg City Skyliner a, a 360° glassed in tower/elevator that provides panoramic views and pre-recorded narration in several languages. At €7 each, it was a lovely introduction to the layout of the city.
Heading back, we stumbled upon a descending stone staircase and set off on a sunken path at the base of the old fortress.
By the time we resurfaced, we were near the Luxembourg Viaduct which took us back across the gorge to our hotel. Dead on our feet and starving, we opted to eat at the attached restaurant. We tucked into some amazing Italian food and dragged ourselves to bed. The advertised air conditioning in our room wasn’t working, so we had to keep the windows open. It soon became clear to us why the hotel door had been locked and a curfew was recommended. The quiet street was actually the home of Luxembourg’s red-light district. Surrounding our hotel were questionable clubs and all manner of…ladies of the night.
Fortunately, we were so tired that even the heat, loud music, and yelling couldn’t keep us from sleep.
Stay tuned for Part 3!