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Trip Report Spain 2005

Author: Ben Shakman
Date of Trip: November 2005

A couple of introductory remarks:
Thanks to all members of the Space-A community that replied to my various posts and provided assistance, advice, and guidance. I especially appreciate the generosity of people who I’ve never met and their offers of assistance.

My family is slightly odd in that my wife and I are both in the military. I served in Iraq with the Multinational Division Central-South during 2003-2004 and she is serving with them currently on a one-year tour (2005-2006). We have two kids, aged 4-1/2 and 7. There is probably a book to be written in all of this somewhere.

The impetus for us to go to Spain is that I recommended a Spanish officer (who worked for me in the MND-CS) for a US decoration back in January 2004. The US Ambassador to Spain presented the award to him in a ceremony held at the US Embassy in Madrid on 7 NOV 05. I like to travel! I had a conversation with the kids a while back about how they are handling mommy’s deployment and the central theme that came out of that conversation was that they both wanted to travel more. Works for me!

I am quite verbose when writing. If your primary interest is in the mechanics of the trip, you will want to read the beginning and the end of the report only. Also, there are more than 100 pictures from the trip posted here: smugmug.com. If you choose to read the trip report while viewing the pictures you may enjoy the story more.

Monday 31 OCT 05
I left work a little early and met Allison (our 7 year-old) when she got off the bus at our house. We wrapped up the small amount of packing that I did not finish during the previous days and went to pick Lizzy (our 4-1/2 year-old) up from the sitter. I called Norfolk, Dover, and Charleston on the way to the sitter’s house and decided that Dover was our best bet for a Tuesday flight. They were reporting a 1541 showtime on the 1st and I knew that I would be up most of the night driving if we were to make that deadline.

It was 1700 on the nose when we hit the highway. A couple of hours later we stopped for dinner and both kids fell asleep shortly thereafter. They continued to sleep and I continued to drive. I stopped at 0100 for a potty break and also to borrow a hotel’s wireless Internet connection to send my leave form/Space-A signup information to Norfolk, Dover, Charleston, Rota, and Moron. We continued to drive until 0300 when I decided that we had made it far enough that I could afford a 3-hour nap.

Tuesday 1 NOV 05
On the road at 0600 and on the phone every 90 minutes with Dover to ensure that they still had the flight on their schedule. On one late-morning call I learned that the showtime had slipped an hour and decided that was sufficient time to allow us to sit down for a leisurely lunch. We ate in Maryland and then called again once we got back in the car at 1300 — the flight was still on! I decided that we were probably about 90 minutes away and opted to make that the last call to the PAX terminal before we arrived.

We rolled in to the PAX terminal’s parking lot at Dover around 1400 and went in to get marked present for the flight. I asked the USAF uniformed person at the counter about the flight and learned that it had fallen off the schedule hours earlier. The guy sitting next to the person in front of the computer asked him when it was dropped and he replied “earlier this morning.” I recognized the voice and was quite perturbed when he held up a piece of paper and said “that’s not what this says.” Proof that nothing is guaranteed when traveling Space-A. An aside — we missed a 1600 showtime at Norfolk that we could have easily made if their people were communicating. Lesson learned – I will now ask PAX reps if the information they are giving me is from the computer.

Knowing that Norfolk had two flights on the schedule for Wednesday and there were none projected out of Dover for at least the next 72 hours made my decision quite simple — drive to Norfolk. We had a nice drive down the peninsula capped off with dinner at the Stingray (delicious grilled scallops) and then a trip across the bridge-tunnel. We pulled into the parking lot at the Navy Lodge knowing that there would not be a room available, but planning to pick up a voucher to stay at another hotel in the area for the same price. The other hotel turned out to be halfway across town and we opted for the Hampton Inn near the main gate instead. I was able to get their “military rate” and only paid $6 more than the Navy Lodge was charging, plus they have an indoor pool. We went for a quick swim and then bedded down for the night.

Wednesday 2 NOV 05
We were up early (a hazard of traveling with my kids) and had a quick swim before breakfast. My wife called while we were eating and the kids got to talk to her over breakfast. We wrapped up the conversation and then headed for the PAX terminal on base. We arrived at the counter 30 minutes before showtime and learned that they did not do the whole roll call thing anymore. We headed upstairs to the dependants’ lounge and met some fellow travelers with children about the same age. The four kids played together for hours and then it was time for the bus ride over to Langley to catch the flight. During the course of the afternoon, I struck up a conversation with a retired gentleman who was living in Spain. He offered us a ride to the train station if we made it to Rota and I gladly accepted — one less piece of the puzzle to put together.

We arrived at Langley at about 1700 and were kept on the bus until 1800. We chatted with the Langley representative who boarded our shuttle and learned that she was unsure which of the two planes (sitting next to each other) we were supposed to board. Rather than attempt to come up with the right answer, she regaled us with a story about how she once put someone on a flight to Iceland by accident. We finally disembarked the bus and walked to the stairs. I stopped at the base of the stairs and asked the USAF person if the airplane was going to Rota and if our luggage had already been loaded. He confirmed that we were getting on the right plane but he had a puzzled look on his face. He asked me why everyone else had asked the same questions. I just shrugged and helped my kids up the stairs.

There were sufficiently few people on board that everyone had their own row of seats and no one needed to sit near the latrines. I fed the kids while the crew finished their preflight work and then we were airborne. One note — the cafeteria at Norfolk is the sole provider of in-flight meals and they cost about $6. Neither the kids nor I cared for the sandwiches; they were out of fruit and would not substitute anything else; and they don’t include condiments or napkins in the bags.

The flight was utterly uneventful with the exception of the fact that the passenger compartment was downright warm. We were down to t-shirts and my kids asked if they could remove their pants before they went to sleep. The loadmaster tried to get the cabin cooled off a little, but it stayed hot for the entire flight — oh well.

Thursday 3 NOV 05
We landed in Rota and were clear of the terminal by about 1000. Phil (the gracious retiree who offered us a ride) loaded us into his vehicle and we set out for the train station in Santa Maria. He assisted me with the travel arrangements as I do not speak Spanish and we wound up with less than an hour to wait before the local train picked us up and carried us in to Sevilla. I still had not acquired any euros and wanted to get some changed. The exchange rate at the station was horrible (1.51 Euro to the dollar) so I only changed $20.

We spent less than an hour in Sevilla before boarding an AVE bullet train bound for Madrid. The train cost about 168 Euro for the three of us and it was worth every penny to avoid another day of driving. The train was simply amazing — clean, comfortable, fast, quiet, smooth, and had restrooms and a bar/cafeteria car. The kids took a short nap very soon after we left the station and I stayed up for a while watching the scenery. Their countryside is beautiful and I enjoyed the opportunity to get a small hint of the flavor of a country that I had not visited since I was the age of my children.

We arrived in Madrid 2-1/2 hours later and made a beeline for the phones to call my Spanish friend. It took me a couple of tries, but I finally got through to him and made arrangements for him to meet us at the station. I took the kids and all of our stuff out into the open-air area adjacent to the ticket office to hang out for a while and watch the local people. They have a huge (bigger than a football field) indoor garden in the central train station in Madrid and the kids discovered that the pond was populated with turtles. They had a whole lot of fun trying to get bitten, but the turtles must not have had a taste for little kid fingers that day. They played and turtle-watched for over an hour while we waited for my friend. He finally appeared and shepherded us off to his car — a Ford Probe! We tore through the traffic in central Madrid and made for El Pardo (his base).

El Pardo is the location of one of the royal palaces and also home to the royal guard — Willy’s unit. He is the platoon commander for the dog platoon and has about 60 soldiers and an equal number of dogs assigned to him. As a junior leader in the regiment, he is friendly with other junior leaders there as well. This state of affairs resulted in some really neat experiences. He took us on a tour of the royal garage and we saw all of the motorcade vehicles and some other really neat stuff including a line of about 50 police-model Harley Davidson’s, a bunch of Mercedes, Cadillac, Audi, Rolls Royce, and custom built automobiles. We also had coffee and tea in the bar on base. Of note for those who have not visited Europe — “bar” has a completely different meaning than it does in the US. In this instance, it was more of a coffee shop. We had coffee, tea, and cokes and donuts for the kids — except Lizzy, she wanted some of Willy’s coffee (my mother-in-law started her on that). The k ids played, the adults chatted, and then we headed for his apartment (piso — an apartment is quite a bit smaller, more like a studio apartment in the US) to meet his wife and family. Initially, the plan was that we were to stay at the visiting officer’s quarters maintained by the Spanish, but neither my friend nor the US military attaché at the embassy were able to get them to verify a vacancy for us. As a result, Willy announced that we would be staying with him.

We arrived at his building at about 2100. He lives on the outskirts of Madrid and south of El Pardo so he appears to be in a great location for getting to work and also accessing the city. His wife was working on dinner when we got there and refused all offers of assistance (a theme that continued through the entire visit). Willy and I chatted some more and my two kids played with his older daughter — Esther, age 3. She was a little bit shy and my kids are very outgoing so they took a couple of hours to get comfortable with one another. We sat down to a leisurely dinner at about 2200 — typical dinnertime in Spain — and had a great meal. The kids and I were completely wiped out after our trip and all of the day’s activities so we went to bed just after midnight and slept for 12 hours.

Friday 4 NOV 05
We were supposed to get up early and go watch a Spanish military parade, but we slept through it accidentally. Our hostess, Eva, told me that we were going to get there just at the right time for the luncheon. The kids and I got ready and then we all left for the short ride over to El Pardo. We toured the grounds a bit and I was introduced to a number of Spaniards. We also made our way over to where they were preparing the paella for the luncheon. The company that they hired brought out what I thought was a huge paella pan — a full 3 meters in diameter. Willy explained to me that they were known for preparing paellas for huge feasts and we talked with the cooks for a while. They gave me one of their brochures that indicated they were from a restaurant called Galbais and they were located in Valencia. With Willy translating for me, I learned that they hold the world record for the largest paella ever prepared — it included 6,000 kg of rice and was prepared in a pan that was 21.5 meters in diameter. The 3-meter pan looked small in comparison yet it was still bigger than other pan I had ever seen.

We ate some tapas and had a little red wine while waiting for the paella to be served. My little one (Lizzy — age 4-1/2) completely surprised me by eating her entire plate of paella. I also enjoyed mine, but Allison (age 7) did not care for it much and only ate the rice. This represented a complete reversal in the children’s eating habits.

After the luncheon broke up, we toured El Pardo for the remainder of the afternoon. We visited the kennels where the kids were able to play with a number of the friendlier dogs. We also went to the stables and saw the king’s 80 or so parade horses (and pet just about every single one of them). Finally, we saw a one-of-a-kind automobile that was kept in a separate garage. It was a six-wheeled Mercedes touring car. Only three of them were ever built and the Spanish one was the last one in existence. This one belonged to General Franco. The other two belonged to Mussolini and Hitler.

We went back to the apartment and I took the kids on a short walk with Eva so that we could get some bread for dinner. Spaniards are currently being torn between their traditional ways of shopping each day for fresh ingredients and using the “hiper-mart” in the interest of economy. It was great to visit a traditional Spanish bakery and I tried to buy the kids some cookies, but Eva would not let the clerk take my money. We hit an ATM on the way back and I finally laid my hands on enough Euro to actually do something of substance. I was amazed to reflect on the fact that I had already spent two full days in the country without even having enough of the local currency to pay for lunch. We had another fine Spanish meal and strategized the coming days.

Saturday 5 NOV 05
We had a quick breakfast of churros (Spanish donuts, shaped a little like a pretzel) and the traditional thick Spanish hot chocolate (mainly for dipping, although you drink it afterwards) then loaded up the kids for a trip to the zoo. Eva and the baby stayed at home so it was two grown men escorting three little girls.

The zoo is located in the “entertainment” district. Also located in the same area is an amusement park, a couple of museums, and street walkers who sell themselves in broad daylight — Europe is certainly different than the US. Fortunately for me, the kids were looking the other way when we drove past that group and thus I narrowly avoided their questions.

The zoo cost 60 Euro to enter for our group — I managed to pay before Willy knew what happened — and lunch was another 30 (same story). My friend commented over sandwiches that we looked like divorced dads spending their allotted time with their children. I reflected on that all day as I noticed a disproportionate number of similarly constructed groups wandering the grounds as well.

The zoo in Madrid was fantastic! Their enclosures are much different than anything that I have seen in the major zoos in the US. Specifically, they have the larger animals in a habitat with a moat around the edge. On the viewing side of the moat is a 3-4 foot wide strip of grass and a sign telling you to stay off the grass — that’s it! There were no big fences to look through or barriers so high that the kids need to be lifted up to look at each animal. I suppose that the Spanish have reached a point in their legal system where their courts acknowledge that stupidity does not equate to liability if you get injured. The kids loved how close they were to the animals and the fact that they could walk around and see everything without needing to be picked up all the time. The kids really liked the bears, elephants, and penguins. They also had the opportunity to throw breadcrumbs at the ducks, geese, a free-range peacock, and some begging flamingos. We had a great time at the Madrid Zoo and I certainly consider it one of the best that we have visited.

Sunday 6 NOV 05
We woke up at a normal hour and Willy and I took a walk while his wife watched all four little girls. We went to a “churriscoria” and bought the days breakfast. We picked up a half-liter of chocolate, a half-dozen of the huge churros, and two dozen of the regular ones and it was about 8 Euro for the lot. The kids demolished almost all of the smaller ones and I am pretty sure that the baby ate two while the bigger kids had at least 6 each. The grownups were left with the larger ones (that weren’t as good) and the crumbs.

We loaded up the same divorcee crowd and headed for the hills — literally. Willy took us over to a mountain area called Sergovia and we stopped in a small town named Valsain for an outstanding lunch of traditional Spanish food and wine. I discovered that Allison likes lamb when she commandeered about half of my meal. She also has a taste for red wine and I gave her a very small portion. Lizzy ate spaghetti and we were all sufficiently fortified for what would turn out to be a somewhat physically demanding afternoon.

We left the restaurant and headed into the base of the valley where half of the town was located. We walked around and saw some cows out in a pasture and some horses in their stables. After stretching our legs for a bit, it was time to go hiking in the forest that covered the hills and mountains in the area. We went back across the main road and headed uphill. We stopped in the other half of the town so that the kids could all pet some dogs that were wandering around and then we headed up the trail that led to the forest. We discovered a fence at the edge of the forest and had to search for a gate. The explanation that Willy gave me was that the government sold the rights to carefully controlled timber harvesting activities to local companies and one of the provisions was that they had to allow open public access. I joked around with him and he assured me that the fence was not simply put there to prevent the trees from escaping. Thus, we went through the gate and into the forest.

We climbed up hill for several hundred meters of vertical elevation and probably almost two miles in horizontal distance. We stopped along the way several times to take pictures and climb on rock outcroppings. We finally reached a ridgeline that offered a fantastic view of the surrounding area and the valley below and rested for a few minutes before continuing back down. We utilized a logging trail and followed it down to a municipal area where we took the road back down to the town. Naturally, the way down was faster than the way up and we had fun running down the road until Lizzy slipped on some cow crap and did a face-plant in the middle of the trail. All during the vacation I had been telling her not to step in poop and she managed to find the only cow pie that we saw on the entire hike and tripped over it — oh well, she’s little and resilient.

I brushed her off and we made her feel better by finding a donkey for the kids to pet. After the donkey, we pet the same dogs that we saw on the way up and then continued back to the restaurant to clean up before getting in the car for the trip over to Segovia.

The town of Segovia is nested in the foothills and dates back many centuries. There is a very prominent Roman-built aqueduct that brought water from the mountains and deposited it into cisterns inside of the walled city. We arrived at dusk and the place looked so beautiful. We walked around the old city for a while and saw a bunch of medieval-era buildings and a stunning cathedral that was bathed in the warm glow of many carefully positioned lights. We also stopped in a small pastry shop where the grownups had some coffee and tea and the kids ate some pastries. They also managed to sample some outstanding Spanish cookies that were cooked until crispy and featured roasted pine nuts and granulated sugar on top of them. I pinched a bite of one when the kids weren’t looking and it was quite good, although certainly an unexpected taste for the munchkins to enjoy.

We hit the road after buying the only durable souvenirs of the trip — red t-shirts for the kids with an image of a Spanish bull silk-screened on the front. Willy debated over the route back to Madrid before settling on the Autopista. That turned out to be a mistake as there was a traffic jamb that extended all the way back to the sign that indicated that we were 62 km from Madrid. Apparently, there are only three main roads that connect Madrid with the rest of the country and the majority of the residents of the city are from elsewhere and it is common to leave town for the weekend. Unfortunately, these facts all lead up to creating phenomenal traffic jambs on Sunday evenings.

We doubled back to Segovia and then back through Valsain on the way to the mountain road that took us back to his house. Another unfortunate occurrence is that his parents had already arrived in advance of the ceremony at the embassy the next day and we were making everyone wait for dinner. The drive through the mountains was great and the lights of Madrid as seen from a distance were incredible. It was very easy to make out where the city was located — one just looked in the direction of the solid line created by the red taillights on the highway.

We arrived at the Willy’s piso at about 2230 and immediately sat down to another wonderful meal painstakingly prepared by Eva. She even cooked up another batch of homemade soup that Lizzy liked and the kid plowed right through an adult portion in no time. Willy’s parents were very friendly and his father spoke some English so I was able to converse with him. His mother only spoke Spanish and she adored the kids. They all wound up playing together until it was time to force them to go to sleep — Monday would be an early morning for everyone.

Monday 7 NOV 05
I set an alarm for 0645 so that I could have us bathed and dressed to leave for the embassy at 0730. I wore the Class-A uniform that I had lugged halfway around the world and kept the jacket in the trunk of the car until we arrived at the embassy. I was mindful of the Level I anti-terrorism briefing that I received before leaving the US. The ride took about an hour due to the traffic congestion and we had some difficulties with the directions. We finally arrived and the kids and I piled out while Eva and Willy’s parents parked their cars.

I wanted to get there early enough to receive a short briefing about the ceremony. I learned that there were a total of five Spanish officers being decorated. The other four had all served as liaisons to various commands and were significantly senior to Willy. The others included a Spanish Admiral, two Colonels, and one Lieutenant Colonel. I received a copy of the agenda and the ceremony looked like it would be very special ceremony and that it was being held in the residence.

I fed the kids donuts in the cafeteria at the embassy and waited until the prescribed time to go meet with Willy and his family. He also brought his battalion commander with him and he seemed to be a bit surprised that I had traveled all the way from the US (with two kids in tow) to attend the ceremony. I told him that I considered it an honor to be there to see my lieutenant receive the proper recognition for the job that he did in Iraq.

We moved over towards the residence and went through a receiving line where we met the ambassador and his senior military attaché — a Navy O-6. We were led into a big room where the ceremony was to be held and discovered a bunch of field-grade US and Spanish officers in addition to several Spanish generals. We circulated a little bit and the kids enjoyed themselves and all of the attention they received. At one point, I looked over and caught them exchanging salutes with the Spanish admiral who was receiving an award as well.

The ceremony began at the appointed time and was conducted almost entirely in Spanish. Actually, the only piece of the whole proceeding that was comprehensible to me was the reading of the award citations as each medal was pinned. The decorations were all presented and then the Spanish admiral and the US Ambassador both made speeches in Spanish. A couple of waiters circulate around the room and handed out champagne flutes. We all raised our glasses, toasted the award recipients, and then had a brief reception with some light tapas that my children gorged themselves on — jamon and queso. I had the opportunity to talk with several more people and then the ceremony broke up and we headed for the vehicles and then went back to the piso to change.

Willy went back to his office for a short while and I used the break in the activities to take my two kids to the park near their home. I had been working on building my Spanish vocabulary over the previous days and actually managed to have a haltingly brief conversation with a lady while the children played. I was quite impressed with myself!

We returned to the apartment and then we all went to lunch at a local restaurant. I ordered two dishes with the intention of sharing them with the girls. They both liked the Cuban-style rice side dish and Allison ate a fair amount of the lamb. Neither kid cared for the rabbit dish that I ordered, although both of them tried it like little troopers. I thought that it was delicious and ate every bite. We had a nice local wine also and finished with flan. My plan was to get one dish and split it with the kids, but Willy’s mother insisted that each kid should have her own serving. Fortunately, she took all four kids outside to play once the sugar started to take hold of the children and they all seemed to have a great time running around.

Willy’s parents left shortly after lunch for their long drive back to Barcelona. Eva started working on dinner and Willy took the American kids and me to a “hiper-mart” which puts a Super Wal-Mart to shame. This seems to be the direction that retailing is going in Spain and it was amazing. The best way to describe this place is to say that it resembled Water Tower Place (Chicago) except that it was all one store. They had everything that anyone could possibly want as far as consumer goods and I bought a couple of small food items to take back to the US with me — some fine local vinegar that makes a great salad and some authentic Iberian jamon. One note on the jamon — it is damn expensive! The stuff is cured (not cooked) for up to three years and winds up costing about 50 Euro/kilogram or more. Seeing the price made it clear to me why the servings were always so small and why one can see right through most of the slices. I picked up two airtight packages at 200 grams each and plan to open one at Thanksgiving and one at Christmas.

We went back to Willy’s place and discovered a well-laden table of authentic Catalonian dishes for us to sample for dinner. There were four different types of sausages, two varieties of jamon, three kinds of cheese, an olive dish, and some Catalonian bread — toasted and then topped with olive oil, seasonings, and the juicy part of the tomato. It was still early for dinner so I worked on packing while Willy prepared the centerpiece himself — a Spanish tortilla: a quiche-like omelet with eggs and potatoes (I think it also included cheese and milk). As usual, dinner was out of this world and we talked at the table for about two hours before going to bed.

Tuesday 8 NOV 05
Departure day. I prepared some index cards with some critical phrases to help with the trip to Moron Air Force Base. I had Eva translate the phrases on one side into Spanish and she wrote the translations on the other side of each card. Willy drove us back to the train station and helped me with the arrangements for our return trip south. We booked passage on an AVE bullet train (108 Euro for the three of us) down to Sevilla. I also asked him to take a picture of us with all of our bags. I had my large (5000 cubic inch) backpack that the kids nicknamed “el grande” on my back, a smaller backpack on my chest, and a suit bag slung across the front of it. I think that I looked like a pack mule. Still, our luggage configuration was such that I was able to carry everything and still hold on to each kid with a separate hand. This situation contributed to my overall comfort about walking around unfamiliar places with the kids in tow. Willy was unable to go through security because he was armed so we said our good-byes by the x-ray machine that they use to screen baggage.

While waiting for the train, we went into a bar and I managed to order lunch to go without using any English. Allison had a bacon and cheese sandwich (hot); Lizzy got a small baguette with jamon and queso (cold); my lunch was a jamon and camembert sandwich (hot). We also had some fries and a couple of bottles of coke light. We found our assigned seats on the train and settled in to each lunch. The train was so comfortable and quiet that we barely noticed it when we left the station.

The trip was simply amazing! The train was just as fast as on the way north only this time I broke out my GPS. I was able to lean it on the window ledge without even holding it while we moved along at 170 MPH — the train was that smooth. Also, the seats that we had featured a neat little fold-out table with games pre-printed on its’ face. There was a small device on the side that had two buttons and a small display. It took a few minutes to figure out, but we quickly discovered that it was an electronic die. You pushed the button and a second later a number of lights would illuminate showing you what you “rolled.” What a great idea! I gave the kids a couple of small coins and they amused themselves playing the different games for an hour and a half. I bought them a couple of small notebooks before we reached Sevilla.

We exited the train station and jumped into a waiting cab for the short ride over to the bus station. Unfortunately, we arrived 30 minutes too late to catch the bus that would let us off at the main gate to the base and wound up in town instead. I paid about 12 Euro for the trip and enjoyed watching the countryside rolling past at a slightly slower speed than on the train. I had a half English/half Spanish conversation with a gentleman on the bus and he offered to call us a taxi to take us out to the base. He went into the bar across the street from the bus stop in Moron and came back a few minutes later with an American. He introduced himself as Woody and offered to call us a cab. We walked over to the bar and I bought the kids a couple of sodas while we waited for Paco the cab driver to arrive. Woody worked on base for one of the contractors and he called another friend to confirm our flight was still good to go. He told me that the flight was originating in Kuwait and it looked like it would probably leave ahead of schedule. It was a brief 25 Euro trip out to the base and Paco dropped us off right at the front door to the PAX terminal. I guess that you can charge extra for that sort of service and I did not really mind as it had been a full day already and I knew that it would be a long night.

We went into the terminal and they could not find our signup that I had sent them via email on the November 1st. I used one of their passenger waiting area computers and pulled up the email to show to the young Spanish employee. She left for a while and came back with a copy of the email and my leave form and told me that she would honor the signup. It turned out to be a non-issue as there were only six passengers on the flight anyway. We headed to dinner at the mess hall as it was approaching closing time and I wanted to be sure to get in-flight meals as well. We wound up with dinner and two in-flight meals (quite good) for a total of 13 Euro and then headed back to the terminal to wait for showtime.

The PAX terminal staff at Moron was very friendly and accommodating. We checked our baggage and they made copies of our passports. We struck out on getting the souvenir passport stamps on the way in to Spain and there was no way to get an exit stamp as it was after business hours. The staff offered to stamp the kids passports with their Space-A terminal stamp and I agreed that it would make a unique souvenir. The flight was headed to Dover (our truck was in Norfolk) and they tried looking up all sorts of possible connections for me to no avail. I finally resigned myself to doing a one-way car rental from Dover to Norfolk and looked up all of the rates that I could on the Internet while the kids played and drew pictures. I finally settled on Avis as they gave me $50 in “we’re sorry that we screwed you over” vouchers on an earlier trip where they put me and the kids on the road in a car with alignment problems and bald tires during a rainstorm.

We boarded the C-5 at 0200 (an hour early) and went up the internal stairs. The big kid is part monkey and had no problem climbing up the ladder to the passenger deck. My little one is not quite so lithe and needed me to carry her backpack so that she could ascend the steps.

We selected our seats, ate our meals, and took off. The cabin was very comfortable and had a different style of seats than the ones on the way over. These seats allowed one to lie down without having anything poking you in the back. The kids and I slept most of the way across the Atlantic.

Wednesday 9 NOV 05
We got off the plane at about 0400 and were through customs about 20 minutes later. We hung around in the terminal for a while and cleaned ourselves up in the bathroom while watching the clock inch towards opening time at Avis. I used the phones and Internet connection to make a rental car reservation and we wound up with the guy at the PAX desk calling someone to give us a ride out to the main gate to meet up with our ride to Avis at 0830. We picked up the rental car and wound up with a Buick LeSabre instead of the cheap thing that I had initially reserved because they needed to send it back south.

We drove back down the peninsula and stopped for lunch before hitting the bridge-tunnel. It was much nicer going across the bridges in the daylight and the kids really enjoyed the view. We pulled in to the airport at Norfolk and dropped off the rental car. I asked in an off-handed manner if it would be possible for someone to drop us off at the base and was told that it would not be a problem. My total out-of-pocket cost to move the three of us from the PAX terminal at Dover to our vehicle in Norfolk wound up being less than $50. We were on the way home at about 1500 — another great vacation behind us.

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