Wednesday, September 21, 2005

You Asked

I've had a number of people ask what happened with regards to our passports. So, gather around and let me tell you our story. If one person can learn from our experience, it will all be worth it. Not!

Our last night in Paris was unforgettable. And not for any of the obvious romantic reasons associated with the City of Light. We were staying in a very small, old Parisian hotel, probably about 80 years old. The stairway leading to our tiny room on the third floor was dark and narrow. It was hot as anything and we opened the windows wide. Of course when you open your windows, right across the street are all the apartment buildings. You can see right into their homes and they can see into your place if your windows are open; but you can’t close your windows because it is so hot. So you keep them open and your lights off when you are in bed or they will watch you sleeping -- or trying to sleep. Anyway we tried to get to bed early but the French love to stay up late.

It was probably about 10:00 pm when we went to bed, but we couldn't sleep. The noise level was high. From about 11:00 onward, we could hear a young male, about 16 years old, talking on the phone as loud as can be. He screamed, laughed and so on until 2:00 in the morning and we had to be up by 4:00 so we were awake most of the night.

We got all packed up (most of it was packed up before we went to bed) and met our friends at their hotel, about a block away. Then we tried to hail a cab. That was difficult procedure. It took about ½ an hour. The taxis kept going by. I don’t know why they kept going by but they did. Anyway, we finally got a cab that took us to the bus depot. We got there about 6:30 and so we didn’t have a chance to eat. As a matter of fact, we didn’t eat until suppertime tonight.

At the bus depot we waited for another half hour for the bus and then in the darkness we drove off to the airport. We got there in about an hour and half and took an inexpensive flight to Spain. As a matter of fact, the cost was .99 Euros which was like $2.00 for the flight. But then you add on $150 for overweight luggage (note to self: travel lighter next time), the taxes and the busters to go the extra distance you are probably talking about a $200 flight.

The plane was rickety, small time, but we made it safely to our destination. After we landed we were herded onto another bus and we drove for 2 hours to get to Barcelona. By this time the rain was coming down. You would not believe the thunder and lightning. It was kind of a freak storm they’d had for a couple of days off and on, along with hail. Later we learned that it had been a tornado.

So we were at the bus depot and now we had to find our way to the metro. Of course no one speaks English (we are used to Mexico where a lot of the people speak English but here nobody speaks our language, nor seemed to care about us that much and that’s okay, we’re the foreigners!). We finally found our way on the metro and we went down where we had instructions to go to from the tourist people and found out we had gone in the wrong direction. So, we paid again and went back on the metro to go back where we came from. Meanwhile, we’re carrying along five pieces of luggage and we're running up and down these massive flights of stairs. About 50-60 of them! At one point, I leave Susan with the bags while I try and figure out where we are to go. When I get back, we discover that even in that time that she was standing there someone had taken one of our bags (yes, one of the ones we’d paid $100 for in overweight charges!).

It happened to be a backpack and it had a few toys we had bought for the grandchildren, my expensive sunglasses and our passports. For some reason we left our passports in that bag. Everything else, all our important papers, our tickets, etc. were in another bag. So the police there ran to and fro to try and find the guy, but they didn’t come up with anybody.

So, now we have no passports and we were worried we will not be able to board the ship the next day without them. The rain is beating down and it is kind of a depressing day. We took an hour to find the right underground and ended up some distance away from our hotel – didn’t know which direction to walk. We are dragging these five heavy suitcases along for several blocks only to learn we are going the wrong way. We are exhausted and somebody took pity on us and helped us get turned around and to the hotel.

At the hotel we begin to research what are we going to do now about our passports. They said we should phone the police first and we did that. We had to ask for English speaking people in Madrid, they translated for us, gave us an order number and then sent us down to the local police department. We walked over there but they were closed for some reason. We rapped on the door and finally somebody came and didn’t know what we were talking about. Once we got all that sorted out – about half an hour – they had heard from the English speaking department and gave us a file number saying we are now registered as being offended by a Spanish thief.

So then we proceeded to go back to the hotel and work on the Canadian Embassy. By this time it was 2:30 pm and they was closed at 1:00 so they forwarded us to the embassy in Madrid. They closed at 2:00 pm. For some strange reason, the embassies are only open for 2 to 2-1/2 hours during the day. We also phoned the cruiseship people. They weren’t in either. So, we didn’t know what to do. We walked around a bit and then came back to our room and finally got a hold of the cruiseship people. They told us that if we go to the Canadian Embassy they would give us a temporary passport which would get us through the cruise and the rest of our trip.

So we had to wait until the morning to do that. In the meantime, we decided to do some laundry. You would not guess what it costs to do a single load. We have enough clothes for 2 loads but when we learned it would be $40, we shoved everything into one big machine and only paid $22.
While that was on we went back to the hotel and contacted the cruiseship then finally at about 5:30 pm we were able to get some food. While at the restaurant, the thunder and lightning began to crash and the rain came tumbling down. It just poured as we sat there for about an hour. We were going to wait it out, but had to go back and get our laundry.

By the time we got back it was 6:30 and we were done in for the day. We had hoped to go to Las Ramblas which is a beautiful walking area in Barcelona but it was raining too hard. So we stayed in the hotel and got some rest, thankful our money wasn't stolen and the day was finally over!

Before we went anywhere the next day, we had to take care of our passports so we headed for the Canadian Embassy. Of course we had no idea how far it was so we got a taxi and wound around the city for about 20 minutes until we finally got to this remote place. Behind a locked gate was the Canadian Embassy where hardly anyone spoke English. It was about 21 Euros ($30) to get there by cab. Interestingly, when we came back, it took us about 1/3 of the time and only cost about 8 Euros.

I don’t think the guy that was the Consulate was there so another young girl sat in his seat and she didn’t know too much about anything. Cute, but didn’t know much about anything. And so she had to call somebody else whom she talked to, in Spanish, for about 15 minutes. When she hung up the phone she told us it was impossible to get a temporary passport. There was no way we could do it. She suggested we fly to Madrid (the centre for passports for Spain) but we couldn’t go until Monday. Well it was Friday now so we would have to sit for 2 days in Barcelona and then fly to Madrid and apply for new passports and once approved we could fly to Rome and meet the ship there. We would miss half the cruise but that’s the best we could do.

I said, "I’m sorry that’s not good enough." So from the embassy I called the cruiseship and asked if we could get on without a passport even though the Consulate had said it was impossible.

She told me, “Yes, you can do that Mr. Buzza. We will let you on with your photocopy and your driver’s license."

And the rest is, as they say, history.

We will deal with our temporary passports once we have disembarked the ship. All I can say, is I'm glad we didn't have to meet the ship in Rome. We would have missed some wonderful sights and shopping.


No comments: