Friday, May 9, 2008

Eh? I Can't Here Ya!

I posted pictures of Peter Rath leaving Kamenicky Senov with his wheelbarrow on Monday. We haven't heard any details about his long walk yet, but when we do I will post. Recently, we were with a friend who tactfully reminded us to keep our voices down while walking through the small villages here, and recounted the experience of hearing two young loud American girls riled up about something in his flat across a highway & thought they were awful. WELL, he had a point, I was being loud & Chad has a strong voice, BUT we were excited. Why you ask? I haven't recounted much about getting our visas in the blog. We had a lot of expensive difficulty obtaining visas for Thomas and I, in time to remain legal. Our friends here politely listened, but did little more than nod since the Statue of Liberty no longer holds a torch. Flipping the bird to all foreigners takes so much effort. BUT when faced with another US citizen we were excited to relate all of the work we went through to remain here as a family, & warn him about the new rules regarding US citizens who plan to visit Europe for more than 90 days within a 6 month period.

Prior to the end of December US passport holders could visit non-Schengen parts of Europe for 90 days without a visa, cross a border, get a dated stamp from border control, return to the original non-Schengen site, and continue a visa free stay using this method of travel indefinitely. These travelers are not allowed to work or use state resources, etc. Thomas & I were traveling outside of the Czech Republic enough to stay legally without a passport, but in December it joined the Schengen Area. We read misleading information in the Prague Post, and had no regular access to the internet, but looked it up when we had an opportunity and misunderstood the rules. In January the Schengen website updated it's information to clearly explain the new rules. We were going to be illegal in 3 months, if we couldn't obtain a visa. Chad started calling around & was overwhelmed with conflicting information from all sources, and even made a trip to Prague to listen to the state department explain the new rules incorrectly, and answer questions with misleading information. He worked on this around the clock, when he should have been making artwork. We made several overnight trips to Prague in order to obtain, certify, and translate documents. Only some of these expensive documents were eventually used in our application. We finally made a trip to the Czech consulate in Vienna (we had to apply for visas at a consulate outside of the country & heard Vienna was the speediest). Peter Rath generously put us up in a hotel in Vienna and spent the evening with us at the drop of a hat. The next morning the consulate almost denied us the application because my insurance card was paper, not official plastic & was obtained over the internet. After spending $500 on the policy, dragging a toddler through Prague overnight travel, we weren't leaving without at least applying. Chad was really nice. It worked. We were allowed to apply, and told to bring new proof of insurance when the visas were ready. Then we were told we had the wrong documents translated. Chad was nice again. We took the train back to Prague & Chad stayed to have the appropriate document translated and expedited to Vienna. Thomas and I took another train back to Kamenicky Senov alone at night.

Fast Forward to March, we were running out of time & heard nothing from the embassy. Chad made more phone calls. Luckily someone important cared and knew someone else important that could make calls on our behalf. The next day the foreign police visited the school, asking for Thomas and I. We were at the baby center that day, in the next town over. I still don't know what they were checking on. I would like to think they were verifying our residence in a school owned building, not preparing to deport us or question us in a closet. We then received word that our visas were ready, just bring proof that we were insured until the end of June. Why would I buy a policy for the entire month of June, when I have a plane ticket flying us out of here in the middle of June? Why would I need a visa for the middle to end of June? There was a clerical error. Chad notified the consulate & you know what they did? Cancelled our application, and started a new one. Our application that took 3 months to process (only because someone lit a fire under someone else) was in the process of being cancelled. Thomas and I had 3 legal days left to obtain visas. Chad immediately contacted the consulate & the insurance company, late on a Friday afternoon. We called a friend who rushed over & took our documents to fax. We sweated that weekend.

Monday we were informed that it was okay, the cancellation letter had been retrieved and we could find out if our visas were ready after 3 PM that afternoon. Chad started calling at 3PM, and at 3:30PM he reached someone who said we could pick up our visas the next morning before the consulate IN VIENNA closed at 10:30AM, and we were reminded that our stay would expire on Wednesday (meaning after that we would have to apply and receive visas for Austria in order to pick up our visas for the Czech Rebublic, but we wouldn't be legal in the Czech Republic so the consulate probably wouldn't let us apply anyhow). We managed to gather together every possible document we could imagine needing, clothes, snacks, dvd player, and child and board a 4PM bus to Novy Bor, where we caught a 5PM train to Prague. We landed in Prague by 8:30PM on foot, stood in line forever to get 5AM train tickets (it's a 5 hour train ride to Vienna). We then secured a hotel room, searched for groceries to feed our child on the train ride the next morning, and then found a restaurant. We made it back to the hotel around midnight. We kicked ourselves for getting a room for 3.5 hours of sleep & tried to sleep.

The next morning we were delighted (as delighted as one gets on little sleep in the middle of travel) that our tickets were 700Kc cheaper than the first time we purchased train tickets to Vienna. The conductor told us we didn't have seats indicated on the tickets, but he had a perfect private car for women and children. We had a room we could try to sleep in. Thomas and Chad slept wonderfully. We got off the train, and ran to the metro. We got on the wrong car, "thank you kind and misinformed stranger," hit construction, finally reached our stop, and ran (through a huge park filled with toys, poor Thomas)to the embassy. We got there at 10:26AM. There was no one at our window. Chad got loud. Other people made comments. We were loud Americans & a woman appeared at the window. She looked at me. She looked back at the clock. I continued trying to catch my breath & sent fireballs out of my eyes in the nicest possible way. She took our passports, and we had to wait. 15 or so loooooong minutes later we had visas.

We were legal. We took our sweet patient boy to the park for an hour, returned to the train station, boarded the train and remembered to breathe as it took off. BUT we were informed we were in the wrong class and had to move. Ooops, we didn't pay for first class, and didn't know there was a difference but they had a problem filling all those empty seats with just US so we were escorted to similar seats in another car. Just as Thomas was drifting off to sleep we were told we didn't have seats on this train, and would have to pay. WHAT? 500Kc please. WHAT? Chad tried to figure it out & maybe he had run out of patience, but he held back pretty well & paid. Later we were informed by a bemused business man, that we were on a speedy train & that we weren't being cheated, this was normal, but the ticket agent in Prague screwed up & should have charged us when Chad requested the specific train we were on. ARGH. We arrived in Prague and took a bus back to Senov, even though I had resolved to never ever ride one on that journey after the Christmas vomit express with my parents. The next train back wasn't leaving for several hours & we were exhausted. So we took a bus through a blizzard back to Novy Bor. 2 hours later we exited the bus in Novy Bor and waited 30 minutes in the windy cold snow to board the SAME bus with the SAME driver to drive us back to Senov. It was at this point in the story our friend told me to pipe down.

All my life I've been told to speak up, and if Chad hadn't spoken up for us at the embassy we might not be here right now. I was embarrassed on Sunday, but on Tuesday we visited some friends from London (they are Czech natives). We didn't know where they were staying in Senov. We were told to follow a road toward a town, and look for a yellow building & a garden around the side. And you know how we found them? I heard LOUD English being spoken. A voice that drifted down an alley across a road in-between houses full of supposed annoyed Czechs beckoned us to our friends. We had a lovely time feeding & petting baby rabbits & playing out the end of a lovely afternoon. We will miss them and I will miss their loud English.

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