Dale (dalestan) wrote,

On visiting Europe

(Portions of this only apply to those of you who are (un)fortunate (take your pick) enough to live in the USA.)

Item the first: Tell the nice people at the US Department of State that you are leaving at least a month before you actually are.

Our story starts in West Lafayette, about 21 hours before I'm supposed to be on a plane flying east to meet my family. Except, of course, that I don't have a passport. Having caught on at about that time that it is apparently useful to call and ask "Why don't I have my passport yet?" I do so, and am informed "Because we haven't processed your application yet." Or some similarly brilliant excuse. Yes, I know you're swamped. But you've had a good ten weeks.

Item the second: It's often a good idea to get your flight rescheduled in person. Social engineering and all.

My grandmother were going to be on the same flight. So I take her to the airport, and get my flight rescheduled while I'm there. The nice man behind the counter waived the schedule change fee, which more than makes up for the gas it took to get me down there and back.

Item the third: If you failed at item the first, expect to spend a full day at your nearest passport processing center. In my case, that was Chicago, a ~2 hour drive away.

The nice people on the telephone finally said "Yeah, I think you'd better go to Chicago to get your passport in person. Here's an appointment for 9 AM." My thoughts went something like "OK. That means leave at 7. Allow an hour for getting photos, getting lost, traffic, &c., so leave at 6. Oh. Wait! Chicago. That means I lose an hour. Leave a 5." (Some of you are laughing. Shut up. I was sleepy.) The drive was uneventful, except for getting caught in some slow-moving traffic, caused by construction (at which point I realized I had *gained* an hour, not lost one, and immediately ceased any sort of worrying) and that I missed one of my last turns, and ended up about eight blocks north of the passport center. I figured that was close enough for downtown Chicago, and parked. I then spend a full hour wandering around because I couldn't keep track of which way I needed to go. (Again. Shut up. Three hours of sleep does not promote intelligent choices. Such as leaving the maps in the car.) I arrived at the passport center right on time, having spent five hours on a trip that was supposed to take three.
As I said, full day:
1) Learn that appointments don't matter.
2) Stand in line.
3) Put your name, rank, and serial number on a piece of paper.
4) Wait until they call your name. (sitting permitted)
5) Go upstairs.
6) Sit or stand in line until there's enough space in the other line.
7) Stand in the other line.
8) Get a ticket.
9) Wait until your number is called. (sitting permitted)
10) Submit your citizenship, identity, and travel documentation; passport application; &c., receive receipt.
11) Wait until at least 3 PM (sitting permitted, leaving the building permitted)
12) Submit receipt.
13) Wait until they call your name. (sitting permitted)
14) Receive passport.

I think I got everything in there. Maybe. Actually no. I skipped over a trip back to the car to dump my pocket-knives when I discovered that they'd be a problem.

In any case, nothing particularly eventful happened for the next 60-ish hours: Go home. Stop in random Shell parking lot to sleep. Finish going home. Finish packing. Sleep. Get up. Go to airport. Fly to Newark. Fly to Edinburgh. Take bus to downtown Edinburgh. Walk around in Edinburgh. Take bus back to airport. Fly to London.
Charge madly through the London airport to get to the Paris flight on time. Wait an hour. Board plane. Wait another four hours. Fly to Paris. Discover luggage somehow failed to make the connection, but would be arriving on the next plane. At this point, I had been traveling for about 36 hours straight.

Item the fourth: Determine the train schedule *before* deciding how long you're willing to wait for your lost luggage.

We decided to wait for the luggage. (Obviously, this is not The Luggage. Unfortunately.) This was a bad idea, because it meant we got to the train station promptly at midnight, three minutes after the last train left, and had to wait 5 AM for the next one. Then we spent until almost 2 discussing what to do, at which point we finally decided that with just over three hours to wait, the best thing to do would be to pull an all-nighter.

Once we got to Saint Rémy, we ate breakfast and took a nice nap. Around noon we ate lunch, showered, and then wandered around Saint Rémy. Over dinner, we visited with some old family friends. Most of them spoke English, which is a good thing, since our French ranges from minimal to nonexistent.

The next day (Sunday) we did some more visiting, spent the late morning and afternoon in Paris, and then played a little 2-on-2 Hot Box after dinner.

Monday, we headed back to Paris, to fly to Amsterdam, and then take the train to Utrecht.

Item the fifth: When in the Netherlands, don't plan on renting bikes on Pentecost Monday. There won't be any available.

We were not privy to that particular clue, and were planning to bike from the station to the house where we were staying. This did not work. Attempting to get six people home on two bikes, even in the Netherlands is difficult. (It's not uncommon to see someone sitting on the rear luggage rack of a bike, and they all have luggage racks.) In the end, two of us rode, and the remainder took a taxi. The luggage went with the other two in the first taxi.

We did get bikes on Tuesday, and spent the late morning and afternoon biking.

Wednesday, after lunch, back to the train station via taxi and bike, then via train to Amsterdam, and plane to Oslo. We wandered around in downtown Oslo for a while the next day, and then returned to the airport for our next flight, to Stavanger, and from there via boat to Karmøy. More visiting with family, and on Friday we hiked up one of the fjords. We got to see a glacier, but our sense of adventure had been misplaced, so we didn't wander around on the glacier.

Norway has a lot of impressive waterfalls in those fjords.

Saturday we spent retracing our steps to Stavanger, and then taking the train to Eigersund.

Item the sixth: When visiting someone you've never met before, make sure you have a phone number for them, and they have a phone number for you, and everyone knows the plans.

As you have probably gathered, we failed at this maneouver too. We were supposed to spend Sunday with my mother's second cousin, or some similarly close relative, who we had never seen before. This somehow completely failed to happen. Around 4 PM, however, we found her (the relative) aunt and uncle, and her (the relative, again) parents showed up not too long after that. We spent the rest of the evening with them, but went to bed early, so we could be up by 5, to catch the train to Stavanger, and then planes to Oslo, Newark, and Washington-Dulles.

In total, I count seven forms of transportation, counting the four different airlines as one, four sets of relatives and one set of friends to meet, and four countries, not counting the US.

For a trip that complex, I really don't think we got off too badly.

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