Romania: I spent six months in Europe, acquiring a wife and 3 year old step child and started home on 11/11/11 to expedite visa processing. There is an inexpensive sleeper train from Bucharest to Timisoara, Romania that only runs Friday nights so I took a train from my apartment in Mangalia to Constanta, another to Bucharest, and the sleeper from there. It connects Saturday morning around six with an Intercity train to Budapest. I got a hot sandwich for breakfast and got on.
Hungary: The train arrived in Budapest on time. I had my 16 inch bike folded into a Samsonite spinner suitcase that I found for $10 at Goodwill and planned to take the metro across Budapest from the eastern station to the southern station. The metro was under construction and I couldn’t find the temporary entrance so I unpacked the bike and rode across town. I missed a turn and went about a kilometer past the station but turned around and made the train I wanted to Ljubljana with about 10 minutes to spare. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to buy food and there was no buffet car on the train so I rode several hours with only a few cookies and a half liter of water I brought along. The train had to switch locomotives near Lake Balaton and the conductor pointed me to a bar where I got a coke, bottle of water and a bag of chips, the only food they had. A couple of hours later we switched again at Zalaegerszeg, Hungary and there was a shop in the station with sandwiches and hot snacks, so the carried me on to Ljubljana.
Slovenia: I arrived a little after nine and had been able to use my European cell phone with an Italian number to call a the youth hostel in the Bit Center sport hotel and get a bed for the night. I stayed there previously when I biked from there to the Croatian border a couple of year ago on the same small bike. The hostel is about four km from the station and a few euros cheaper, 14, than the center hostels, 18-20. It’s convenient even without a bike as there are buses from the station that pass by it. After the long train trip I decided to stay two nights and rest. There wasn’t a flight scheduled from Aviano until Thursday in any case. I broke a brake cable and hoped to find a replacement there. On a Sunday there were some hypermarkets open, but no bike shops. I saw a bike shop that opened at 8am Monday which sounded good, but while I was looking a local man stopped and asked if I needed something. I told him about the cable. He said he had a shop where he rebuilt abandoned bikes for sale and took me there found a suitable cable. I installed it and was in good shape again. Monday I had a choice of a train or bus to Nova Gorica. The train was a bit cheaper but the bus was quicker. I had always used the train before so I decided to try a change. It worked out well as it stopped closer to the Italian station in Gorizia where I could get the train to Pordenone.
Italy: I had just enough time to pack the bike before the train. If I had taken the train from Ljubljana I would have had a two hour wait. I called ahead to Aviano and they said they could give me a space A room reservation for three nights, perfect for the Thursday BWI flight. I biked about ten miles to Aviano, checked into the room and got three days of food at the commissary. I got a family room with a full kitchen, two televisions, and a washer/dryer for $41 or $42 per night. I used the dead time on Tuesday to get my new dependents in DEERS and get a flu shot at the hospital in area one in downtown Aviano. I stopped by the terminal in route and saw a C5 to Shaw AFB on the schedule. It was past roll call so I asked if they had gotten any space-A’s and the rep said they could still get me on if I was ready to travel. I said thanks but I wasn’t packed so I’d just wait for Thursday. On Wednesday I washed all my clothes and packed. The same flight to Shaw was on the schedule again Wednesday, but I was skeptical so I waited for Thursday. It still hadn’t left on Thursday and had dropped off the schedule, but the BWI flight took all comers with a few empty seats for Ramstein space-As.
Germany: We had a quick flight to Ramstein where they said we would have a short turn-around, under an hour, and it would be better to wait in the departure lounge or we would have to go through screening again. I foolish took their advise and we spent about two hour in the lounge. We were further delayed by some Space-A’s who checked in their baggage and ran over to the exchange and were late getting back through security. We waited for them and then got off to BWI. The got a few Cat VIs on but they had early dates than I did so if I had been at Ramstein in stead of Aviano, I wouldn’t have gotten on.
USA: We got into BWI about 6:30 and got out of customs about 7:30. Since the BWI Jax flight is on Saturday I decided to meet my sister in Manasas on Friday so I could get the mail which had been forwarded to her. The DC youth hostel had beds available, so I took the free bus from BWI to the train station. The Marc commuter trains are $6 to DC but it was more than an hour to the next one. The taxi drivers said we could share a cab for $20 per person, but I saw there was an Amtrak train which was only $12 with my 15% over 62 discount. They also have a military discount which I think is 10%. I unpacked the bike and rode a couple of miles to the hostel. It was easy to find as the fire alarm was going off and there was a crowd in the street outside. The firetrucks arrived, and confirmed that there was no fire so I got checked into a 10 bed dorm for $38, but I had it too myself which was nice. Friday morning I got Amtrak to Manasas for $20 dollars and after lunch with my sister I got the Virgina Railway Express back for about $8. I switched to Marc there and got a nonstop train to BWI for $6. I took the shuttle back back to the terminal and settled in for the night at the USO. After checking email, etc. I got in one of the sleeper chairs until about 0300. I went up to check in for the 0400 roll call. There was a good crowd there, but only a third of the planes capacity so we all got on the 737 charter for the flight to Jax. That went quickly and the weather was nice so I unpacked the bike and rode the thirteen miles home.
I biked 4443 km(2760 miles) on my 20″ Dahon Mariner folding bike, about 100 km (60miles) on the 16″, and a few more on my 26 in Schwinn tandem on the trip. I spent about a five weeks in Italy, a week in Hungary, three weeks in Serbia, three weeks in Bulgaria, two weeks in Turkey, and about three months in Romania. Though the space-A went smoothly on the way back I did let the return get a little too close to Thanksgiving for comfort. I’m hoping to return on December 10, thinking that will beat the Christmas rush.
By George Johnston