As a preface to this post, I would like to say that spontaneity is a trait which is important to cultivate in oneself. Very important.
In my last post, I talked about how captivated I’ve been by Brittany, and how much like home it has felt, and just how little I have wanted to leave. So it should come as no shock to anyone that I spent much of my free time the week following my return from Romain’s parents’ house trying to find a loophole in my visa that would allow me to stay longer, or barring that, at least a form I could use to apply for a little more time. Katherine, my beloved host, who had taken me in on short notice when I found that the place I was staying in Orsennes wasn’t quite right for me (a post about that will follow, I promise), and to whom I had returned after visiting Romain, kept saying, “If it’s meant to happen, it will. Don’t panic or anything.” I tried to take her advice, but I kept on looking. Then, Sunday night, I thought to look, and discovered something, much to my horror and irritation: that the US visa arrangement with Europe is a Schengen visa, but one doesn’t need to apply for it. This means that, as a US citizen, one can be within the Schengen area (25 countries in Europe – not all of them, but many of them) for 90 days in a period of 6 months. No more than 90 days. For the whole area. When I’d initially been looking up visa specifications for France, I think I’d found this tidbit somewhere, and it was no problem, as I planned to go back to Ireland, which is not a Schengen country, after I’d finished with France, and not really bother stopping anywhere else. So when my mother was planning a trip to Italy to travel with me, we scheduled it for after I was finished with my 90 days in France. Which, upon learning of the real visa specifications, suddenly became very, very impossible.
It became apparent that, if I wanted to visit my mother in Italy (which I really have to, as she’s got the tickets and everything), I’d have to leave France quam primum (Latin for “pretty darn quick”), and hie me to Ireland where I knew I could stay with my European-Based Emergency Backup family, who hosted Willow and I last year when we were in Ireland. The problem was that I’d already bought a train ticket for Wednesday to go back to Montbrun Bocage, the first place I stayed here, and visit friends there, and then I was supposed to go to the Pyrenees from there and my last host in France. I spent between about 8 and 9 o’clock at night trying to find suitable flights from Toulouse – I already knew that there was no way I could get to my last host, but I hoped that I could at least see my friends – and the flights were expensive, and I had Romain at the other end of Skype chat helping me deal with things, and it all came to a head when I called my mother and told her that I’d only be able to get 14 days in Italy, the way things were going, and then I’d have to leave, and my stepdad said: “Do you have your Canadian passport?”
I didn’t. Had I had it, he said, I could have theoretically traveled (illegally, but possibly) on two passports, and therefore two visas. Maybe.
This was just the last straw. Now, looking back (to when I was so naive and young…two days ago), it seems like such a bad idea, but at the time it seemed like the best way out of my conundrum. My father has been trying to get me to apply for my Canadian passport for probably 10 years, and I kept saying, “But I’ve got an American one! Why would I need another?” *sigh* I was so mad at myself that I called my dad, trying to see if I could find a way to get that passport, right quick. No possible way – I had my passport photos with me, in France. “Fool!” I thought, “You ruin everything!”
I went downstairs, in need of Katherine and a cup of…well, anything really. She took one look at me and said, “I’ll pour a couple glasses of wine and we’ll sit outside. Looks like I’m going to need a cigarette.” The whole story came out, and after a few suggestions of possibilities, she looked at me and said, “Why don’t you catch the ferry with me tomorrow?” (She was going to England for a quick visit.) “I’m already going, so you’ll have a ride, and then you’ll have company!” This was now about 9:30 at night, and dusk was eating the Breton countryside back to blue shadows. If I left the next morning, I’d miss my friends in Montbrun Bocage, but I would gain 8 days of Schengen time – enough to come back to France after Italy and have the final visit I’d hoped for. By midnight, I’d bought my plane tickets, and an hour and a half later, I was packed. The next morning (after some kerfuffle over hotels and suchlike) we left, and arrived at the ferry with enough time for Katherine to buy a bottle of wine (for later) and a cup of coffee (for RIGHT NOW OH MY GODS), and we were on our way.
So! Here I am, on day two of three days of traveling (the problem with last minute tickets is that they’re rarely at a decent time, so all my traveling gets me where I’m going at hours too late to catch trains to get anywhere else), sitting in my hotel room at Exeter, having eaten enough for breakfast and dinner at their buffet, and having commandeered a couple apples and a yoghurt for later, when I know I’ll be too cheap and too stressed to think to buy a decent meal. I have a hostel booked for tonight in Dublin, which is right next to the train station, whence I shall catch a train tomorrow at 8 o’clock in the morning, and get my ass to Limerick and to my hosts.
(Speaking of Limerick: I have spent so much time in that station. Every time Willow and I would try to go somewhere, we’d get routed through Limerick. The second-to-last time we went through there, the bus system failed us, but we met a very lovely and interesting man from New York City, which was a great comfort to us. He saved my life. He and I decided to get some food at a convenience store across the street, and though I looked both ways, I forgot that in Ireland they drive on the left. If it hadn’t been for him tackling me and removing my by force from the street, I would have been a goner. So thank you again, Michael. I remain eternally in your debt!)
So: I have left Brittany, and France, but with the hopes of returning rather promptly. As Katherine said, if it were meant to happen, it would, and a solution would present itself. And so, my dear friends, remember: spontaneity is a virtue. I never would have found Katherine without being spontaneous in the first place, and I never would have been able to go back to Brittany without spontaneity in the second. But remember too that I was spurred to behave thus by dire circumstances: I never would have left Orsennes so early had I not been unhappy there, even though one of the other girls I’d made friends with was going to Paris for the weekend, and I never would have left France early had I not had visa problems.
The one problem with such actions, though, is the sense of irresponsibility one gets from letting people down. I managed to get a refund on my train ticket to Carbonne, but I will not get a refund on the lost time with my friends, nor with my final hosts. I also don’t get a refund on their opinions of me. Had I thought ahead, and realized I’d need to go to Ireland for a while in order to go to Italy in June, I wouldn’t have scheduled anything in France for May, and that would have been infinitely better. I might even have been able to get more time in France without saying “non” to any hosts or friends. But as it is, I currently have a boatload of fresh spontaneity remorse floating behind me, even as I am terribly happy for the outcomes of this visa explosion. Not to mention that I am eternally indebted to Katherine, who though she was crazy busy on Sunday and had her own fish to fry, helped me think things through and get all the way to my hotel. I’m acutely aware that I’d be a little more than out of luck were it not for her. Spontaneity appears to be often inflected with gratitude and remorse.
Well, my dear friends, checkout is in an hour, and I’ve got to find me a way to get to the airport without too much trouble. Tomorrow I’ll hopefully be among friends by noon, life will go on from there.