By, Captain Nancy Aldrich
Now, let’s go International! I’ve had some fun times overseas. International layovers can be pretty interesting and exciting. I love to get out of the hotel and walk, so I was able to see and do a lot of things that I really enjoyed.
I had never had any particular desire to go to Spain, so when it showed up in my schedule I was not thrilled. That was a mistake. What a beautiful place! My layovers there were all in Madrid, so I don’t know about the rest of the country, but I loved Madrid.
On my first flight to Madrid we had a great time. We walked to the Prado Art Museum, which was opened in 1819, and houses literally thousands of wonderful works of art. It rivals the Louvre, and is a must for anyone going to Madrid. You can check it out at www.gomadrid.com/museums/prado. It is a fascinating place.
We would also walk down to Playa Major (in temperatures hovering between 40 and 45 degrees Celsius), which is a very interesting Square, with shops, restaurants, etc. There was one place that loved having flight crews come in, and they always had special treats for us.
I found Madrid to be a beautiful city, with amazing water fountains throughout the city. The locals enjoy their siesta every day, so restaurants do not normally open until after 9 in the evening. However, there were a couple that catered to flight crews and would open earlier. Our pick up time in the morning was early, so we needed to be in bed about the time most places were just opening.
One particular morning, the flight attendants were all very upset and angry. I tried to placate them, and asked what was wrong. “They kicked us out of the swimming pool,” was their answer. I wondered if perhaps they were partying and might have become a little loud and rowdy. They assured me, that was not the case. So I asked, “why did they make you leave the pool area?” The answer surprised me. “We were wearing bathing suits!” I guess it was a ‘nude swimming only’ pool!
Our layover hotel in Paris was only two blocks from the Eiffel Tower, (La Tour Eiffel, in French). It was a pretty good walk to the Louvre, but well worth the time and energy. I also walked to Notre Dame, which is a truly beautiful structure.
On my first night in Paris, the captain and I went to dinner. We were joined by another crew member who just happened to see us as he was walking by. Since none of us spoke, or read, French, we ordered from the menu not knowing what we were ordering. My ‘surprise meal’ was a tuna salad. While we were sitting there visiting and enjoying our meal, a street vendor strolled by, selling flowers. The other crew member went out and bought a corsage which he then presented to me. What a nice gesture! That was July 29, 1991.I kept that corsage until mid 2011, 20 years! Well, after all, it was the only corsage ever given to me by a gentleman, in Paris. I just couldn’t part with it!
I particularly enjoyed Frankfurt layovers. Our hotel was about a block from the Hauptbanhof (main railroad station). It was several years later that I met a group of Germans, who became friends. What fun we could have had if I had known them when I was flying there.
On one layover, I made arrangements to take a tour on the Rhine River, and had a wonderful time. The cruise up the river is beautiful, with castles every few miles. The Rhine is in very hilly country, and it is amazing to see the wineries on the steep hillsides. The hillsides are so steep that in order to harvest the grapes, the ‘pickers’ are harnessed and winched up and down. We sailed up the Rhine for several hours, had lunch, and then took a bus back. The bus stopped at several wineries. However, the tour started about an hour after I had arrived at the hotel, so I did not have time for a quick nap. The fatigue caught up with me on the bus ride, so I slept and have no memories of the winery tours. Our tour started in Rudesheim, which is a great little tourist town, with shops and restaurants. The food was wonderful. Of course, I love German food!
On one occasion, (I tell this story in my book) I decided to go for a nice long walk. After I had walked for about an hour, I saw a park. I was tired, and wanted to walk through the park and find a place to rest. As I walked into the park, it was like I walked into a brick wall. I could not walk into that park. I just stood there and looked, but something simply would not let me walk into that park. When I returned to the hotel, I was asking the concierge about it. I told him where it was, and described what it looked like. He said, “Oh, that is ‘needle’ park. It is where the drug addicts hang out. The police go in twice a day to take the dead bodies out.” Then, I understood why I could not walk into that park!
(Templehoff Airport in Berlin, pictured below)
looking structure sitting there all by itself. However, it’s other half sits in Berlin. The two are perfectly aligned, so that if you drew a straight line from the top curve of one, it would meet the other, symbolizing the flight of the airlift. This quote is engraved on the monument at Templehof, in Berlin:
On 26 June, 1948, The Berlin Airlift officially began to provide rood, fuel, and medicine to 2.5 million West Berliners cut-off from the world by a Soviet Union imposed blockade of all surface transportation. By the declared end of the “Big Lift” on 30 September, 1949, 277,264 flights had been conducted from West Germany to West Berlin, delivering in excess of 2.3 million tons. On the first day 32 C-47 aircraft carried 80 tons of supplies to Berlin. Two days later the Commander U.S. Air Forces/Europe, organized a dedicated airlift force to carry out “Operation Vittles.” A parallel British effort was called “Operation Planefare.” By late July the ‘lift’ had expanded to include 54 C-54 Skymasters and 105 C-47 ‘Gooney-Birds’ of the U. S. Air Force and Navy, along with 40 Yorks and 50 Dakota aircraft of the Royal Air Force. By the end of August, all the forces were being controlled by a combined airlift force. Eventually a fleet of 200 – 300 C54s formed the backbone of this force. Aircraft flew constantly to West Berlin for 462 days, despite great odds. At the peak of the ‘Lift’ in April 1949, the “Easter Parade” surge set a record of 12,490 tons carried by 1,398 flights within 24 hours. The Allies used loading fields at Celle, Fassberg, Fuhlsbuettel, Luebeck, Rhein-Main, Wiesbaden, Wunstorf, and a seaplane base at Schleswigland. They ‘off-loaded’ at Gatow (British), Tegel (French), and Tempelhof (U. S.) airports, and even the city lakes. Throughout the ‘Big Lift’ aircrews dropped packages of chocolate and gum by tiny parachutes to the children of the city. On 21 May, 1949, the Soviets admitted defeat by lifting the blockade. However, the “Air Bridge” continued through September to insure sufficient supplies would be stockpiled to thwart future blockades.
The “Lift” was the greatest peace time airlift operation in history. As one official put it, ‘it was born in peace, lived in peace, and died in a peaceful world – it kept the peace in Europe.” It produced many significant achievements in aviation and air transportation history. It established airlift as a major factor in maintaining world peace. it demonstrated the need for dependable air traffic control and all-weather landing systems. More importantly, the airlift proved the ability of the collective human will to sustain freedom throughout the world. For 42 years there were two Berlins, until they were reunited in Freedom.
Seventy-nine airlift personnel died to keep West Berlin alive. The names on the base of the “Luftbruecke” Memorial Monument recognize their sacrifice, and remain as an eternal symbol of the human desire for freedom. Those of us who know the price of freedom must forever keep it alive!
Berlin Airlift Veterans Association 1993
I was not able to get to Berlin on a layover, but visited there with my German friends in 2004. It is a very interesting city, and well worth seeing.
Another of my favorite spots in Germany is Mainau, a small island in the Bodensee (Lake Constance). This entire 111 acre island is a beautiful botanical garden, and is open all year. Every season, it is breathtaking, and well worth taking a day to see. I have been there several times and have enjoyed every minute spent there. It lies between Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, so if you are ever in any of those countries, make sure to see Mainau. It is the most spectacular botanical garden I have seen!
I think my favorite European layover, maybe my favorite all time layover, was London. There is so much to see and do there. Also, it is good to be in a place where the locals speak English – not American English, but almost understandable to my Texas ears!
On my first trip over, I was so tired, I went to bed and slept until late afternoon. Of course, then I could not sleep at night. I quickly learned to quickly shower and change clothes and get out and stay active until local bedtime. That way you will get a good night’s sleep, and be ready for the next day. It is hard to do, but the only thing that worked for me.
That first trip was a vacation, not a layover. We did several fun things on that vacation. One was renting a house boat on the Thames for a week. The place we rented from was in Wallingford, which was about 4 miles off the train route. We got off the train in Cholsey and walked into a Pub to ask directions. The funeral director was there and drove us over to Wallingford in his hearse. Before he drove us over, he took us to Agatha Christie’s grave at St. Mary’s. He had known her, and had buried her.
The week on the Thames was great, but I think, if I did it again, I would go in a hotel boat. We were in a little boat by ourselves. It would be nice to have meals prepared and to know where you were.
One of our stops along the river was Runnymede Meadow, where the Magna Carta was signed, in 1215 by King John. The British build some of the most spectacular monuments in the world, and I was anxious to see what kind of beautiful monument they had put up there. I was shocked to find nothing! Absolutely, nothing! Well, almost nothing. There was a small, handwritten, paper sign tacked to a fence post stating that this was Runnymede Meadow. I don’t think the crown has ever gotten over being forced to sign the Magna Carta! However, the American Bar Association has purchased a small piece of land beside the meadow and erected a nice monument!
We also visited the World War II RAF Museum, in Hendon. That is a fascinating place. One thing really impressed me, and I will never forget it. There is a wall with signatures of young men who died in the war. At the bottom of the wall, there is a simple, but profound, handwritten statement. It says:
“Life is nothing much to lose,
but young men think it is,
and we were young!”
I guess I’m sentimental, but that statement always brings tears to my eyes.
I stayed in two different hotels on my layovers in London, both were quite nice. The first was in Kensington Gardens, very close to Prince Charles and Lady Di’s home, and a short walk to Hyde Park. The second was right across the street from Hyde Park, which is a lovely place to walk.
It would take me a little over an hour to walk to Westminster Abby, which I visited on almost every trip. I would walk right past Buckingham Palace on my way. About another hours walk would get me to The Tower of London, a must see. To really see it, you need most of a day. I visited most of the typical tourist sites. However, toward the end of my career I had a roommate who was from England. She told me about two special places that very few people had heard of, both were spectacular.
First, was Churchills’ War Rooms. This is a small basement area in a government building, about 2 blocks from Westminster Abby. It is amazing. It is so small that you can see the whole thing in about 45 minutes. It is the place where Churchill lived during the war. There is a very small room, a closet really, that was outfitted with the latest (WWII vintage) radio equipment. This is the room from which he communicated with Roosevelt, and the room from which he conducted most of the war. It was closely guarded, 24 hours a day. No one was allowed in but Churchill. You can also see his bedroom, the stenographer’s room, the war room and the War Cabinet Room, where Churchill said, “this is the room from which I will conduct the war.” Churchill kept shifts of about 20 stenographers typing 24 hours a day to record the events of the war. Many of the people who worked there during the war would not be allowed outside for months at a time, so they posted a small sign in a hall to tell the people who were working what the weather was each day. Being a student of history, I found this place fascinating! It was only opened to the public in the late 90s. It is also a must see if you go to London.
Another interesting area is Greenwich, which is right across the Thames from London. There you can stand astraddle the Prime Meridian, zero degrees longitude, so you have one foot in the Western Hemisphere and one in the Eastern Hemisphere. The National Maritime Museum is there. It tells the story of the development of the chronometer, which is an extremely accurate clock, or other timepiece. Chronometers are used in scientific experiments, navigation, and astronomical observations. It was the invention of a chronometer capable of being used aboard ship, in 1762, that allowed navigators for the first time to accurately determine their longitude at sea. I have often wondered what made the inhabitants of a small island think they could conquer the world, which Great Britain did. It was the development of the chronometer. Because they were the only people who understood and used the chronometer, they were the only people who could navigate the oceans accurately. It is a great museum to visit.
Also, at Greenwich, you can see The Painted Rooms (the other place my roommate mentioned). These are rooms that were closed to the public for many years because they were the dining rooms of the Old Naval Academy. The Painted Hall is one of the finest banqueting rooms in Europe. It was used for State occasions for many years. While I was walking through the rooms, I was alone, except for the docent. She told me that she was Italian and had been to the Sistine Chapel on many occasions. She said this was much better. Of course, never having been to Italy at the time, I did not believe her. However, I have since been to the Sistine Chapel, and I agree with her. The Painted Rooms are much better. First, they are much larger, and are covered from floor to ceiling with beautiful paintings. Second, you can take you time there and really observe the beauty. In the Sistine Chapel, you are rushed through and must keep walking, so it is hard to really see the paintings. If given a choice of seeing one or the other, I would always choose the Painted Rooms in Greenwich, England!
On my last flight, the company gave my daughter a ticket so she could accompany me. It was a flight to London. One of the great things about London is how easy it is to get around. Their ‘Underground’ is one of the best transportation systems in the world. So, Dawn and I got busy sightseeing and riding the underground. However, this day, it was awful. Once in the morning, and once in the afternoon, someone had committed suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming train. The whole system was shut down for most of the day!
Since the underground was not reliable, we took buses and still were able to see and do a lot. We went to Harrod’s, what an amazing place. I had never been searched going in and out of a department store before, so that was a new experience. We had lunch down in the basement, food area. I took a picture and was soundly scolded for doing that. Walking through the fresh meat area, my daughter pulled me over and quietly asked, “is that a cat in the meat counter?” No, it was squirrel! But, it did kind of look like a cat.
London is a great place, and I always enjoyed being there. When I was there, I felt safe walking around. I’m not sure about that now. I have often said, walking around London you can hear almost every language in the world, except English! London is full of foreigners, and many languages are heard on the streets. Also, you can get about any kind of food. I was never impressed with the Mexican restaurants there, but the Italian and Greek restaurants were very good. Expensive, but good! British food leaves a lot to be desired, in my opinion. However, if you can find a place that makes good steak and kidney pie, it is worth the effort.
This article is beginning to get long, so I will save my Indian and South American adventures for another article. I hope I have whetted your appetite for foreign travel.
Captain Nancy Aldrich, Aviation writer Aug. 2012