Post by International Military Life Community Manager, Courtney Woodruff
A natural first response to receiving orders to a European duty station is “I can’t wait to travel!” In reality, there never seems to be quite enough time – or money! – to see it all, especially when your free time is determined by the needs of the military. Duty comes first.
Instead of watching your overseas tour slip through your fingers, make the most of your days off by planning quick trips to nearby destinations. To get you started, here are three day trip options for service members and families stationed in Italy, Germany and Spain. Once you’ve been, you will want to return over and over again to explore every nook and cranny of these incredible cities within driving distance of U.S. military installations.
If you are stationed at U.S. Army Garrison Livorno in Italy …
Photo by Courtney Woodruff
Wildly colorful and tranquil Cinque Terre is the perfect place to escape the drab hues and high tempo of a military installation for a day. From Livorno, you can take a direct train to one of the five villages that make up this paradise destination on the Italian Rivieria; or you can take a regional train from Livorno to La Spezia, and hop on a local line to your desired destination.
Even though hiking trails connect the cities, you will need more than 12 hours to explore the cities this way; the best way to tour Cinque Terre in a day is by ferry. Boats run on a loose schedule, making shorts stops at four of the five post-card villages during the warmer months from Easter to October. You can visit Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Some days, it is even possible to visit the nearby coastal cities of Portovenere and Portofino. If you find yourself in a time pinch, you can catch a train to hop from one city to the next.
Touring Cinque Terre by ferry gives you a unique and stunning view of the Italian Riviera and Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Marvel at the vibrant hues of the houses and structures that seem to be precariously stacked on top of each other on the rugged cliffs along the coastline.
When you arrive at your desired destination, the hardest decision you will have to make is how you are going to spend the rest of the day relaxing. Sample regional specialties like savory pesto, soft focaccia bread and fresh fish and seafood dishes at a beachside restaurant. Relax on the beach under a colorful umbrella with a shot of chilled Limoncello in hand, dipping your toes in the azure water to cool off every now and then. Or, lose yourself in shop for souvenirs with a cup of gelato in hand.
If you are stationed at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany …
Photo by Courtney Woodruff
Germany is known for its fairy-tale castles and cross-timbered houses, but did you know it is also home to some of the best-preserved ancient Roman ruins in the world? The fascinating city of Trier — the oldest settlement in Deutschland founded by the Celts in the 4th century BC — is located an hour’s drive from Ramstein Air Force Base.
Begin your tour of ancient Trier in the heart of the city, where the Romans entered once upon a time; The Porta Nigra, or The Black Gate, is the most well preserved Roman city gate north of the Alps. Pay the small entrance fee to tour the inside, and climb the stone staircase to the top for a sweeping view of the city.
Afterward, take a short stroll to visit the nearby Trier Cathedral, or Dom St. Peter, a Roman Catholic church dating back to the late 3rd century. It is said to house the Holy Tunic, the robe Jesus was wearing when he died. Next, visit the Roman Imperial Throne Room, or Konstantin-Basilika, which is the largest single-room structure from Roman times still standing today.
If you’re hungry, grab a table at one of the many traditional German restaurants for a hearty lunch of savory meat and potatoes — or make a quick stop at a street vendor to purchase a Bratwurst and a paper cone overflowing with crispy Pommes. Do as the locals do, and ask for dollop of mayonnaise for dipping.
Make your way through the underground labyrinth of Roman ruins at the sites of the Imperial Baths and Barbara Baths. Then, head to the amphitheater and imagine the stands filled with raucous spectators, cheering wildly as they looked on to gladiator games.
If you have time, plan to spend an hour or two at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, one of the most prominent Roman period archaeological museums in Germany. As you make your way out of the city, be sure to cross the Römerbrücke, a 2nd century Roman bridge that is still being used to cross the Mosel River today.
If you are stationed at Rota Naval Base in Spain …
Sun-soaked Sevilla, or Seville, is the capital city of Andalusia and a quintessential Spanish city just an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Rota Naval Base. Its colorful buildings, ornate architecture and romantic city squares will take your breath away.
Rather hop on the bus? Expect the ride to take 2 hours and 45 minutes. Your day will begin earlier, but you can take a siesta on the way there and back. Tickets start at just over 11 euros.
Start your day at Seville Cathedral, an awe-inspiring Gothic structure built in the 15th century on the site of an ancient mosque. Climb to the top of La Torre Giralda for what is arguably the best view of the city.
Next, tour Real Alcázar, the oldest active royal residence in Europe. Marvel at its gorgeous tile work and ornamented archways that are true to the Mudéjar architectural-style – a unique blend of Moorish, Arabian and Gothic influences.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, stop for a late lunch at an outdoor café. Nibble on a selection of tasty tapas and sip a glass of sherry, an Andalusian specialty made from a blend of wine and grape spirits. Afterward, take a stroll through the otherworldly Plaza de España, where scenes from “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” were filmed, to burn off any lingering effects of the dizzying beverage.
If you have time, tour the city from the comfort of a horse-drawn carriage or rent a pedal-boat to take a leisurely cruise down the Guadalquivir River. End the day with a lively flamenco performance.
What is your favorite hotspot within driving distance of your European military installation?
Additional information :
Check out the USAA – International FAQ
Courtney Woodruff is a military spouse, mom, writer, editor and web content manager currently living in Germany. She has a heart for our troops and their families and hopes to share what little she has learned along the way to help others overcome the unique challenges of military life. You can follow her adventures at her blog, Courtney At Home, or through her social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.