Around about now a lot of us are thinking of summer travel plans. Hereâ€™s a story you might find interesting (maybe even funny in that glad-it-didnâ€™t happen-to-me sort of way). The storyâ€™s a reminder to take good care of your passport – especially when travelling in another country.
August 2006 â€“ France â€“ homeward bound, sitting on the train from Lorient, Brittainy to Paris. The group of us â€“ Stuart Easton from New Zealand, James and Kylie MacHattie from Toronto â€“ all tired, all piped-out, etc (heavy on the etc). About an hour or so from the station I have this sick feeling wash over me. James says, straight away, â€œwhatâ€™s wrong?!â€ â€¦ â€œI left my passport in the hotel room, hidden under the TV setâ€, says me.Here’s the super-condensed thumbnail sketch of what happened: I borrow a guy’s mobile phone on the train …call the hotel …they have no English. So, drawing on my limited and unpracticed French I say, er, scream to the guy at the hotel, â€œsous la tÃ©lÃ©vision!”. He sort of gets it â€¦ runs up to the roomâ€¦comes back, â€œnon passeportâ€.
I knew it had to be there and he must’ve misunderstood…
So, I resign myself to having to replace the thing. Its late afternoon on Wednesday, the Embassy in Paris closes at 430 pm. At 130 pm just short of the train station there is a malfunction and the train stops – for an hour. Finally itâ€™s diverted to another station. We all humph into a taxiâ€¦weâ€™re in the deepest and darkest of Paris suburbia. 40 Euros later we arrive at the hotel. I have 45 minutes to get passport pictures taken and get to the Embassy in the centre of Paris (the hotel is near Montparnasse station, Paris’s version of Toronto’s Mississauga or Glasgowâ€™s Paisley). So, try to hail a taxi â€¦ none around that isn’t full. Apparently all of Paris is on holiday the first two weeks of August … time ticks…I give up … (btw, my travelling companions were all hugely supportive and game to go for it) â€¦
My flight next day is on Air France to Washington then to Toronto…I knew I needed a passport with the U.S. stop. After an afternoon and evening tramping around Paris (a lot of fun, I have to say) I set the alarm for an early morning to schlep to the embassy.
So, next morning, my friends long gone on their happy flights home, I make my way to the embassy. I find a photo placeâ€¦it opens at 0830 h â€¦itâ€™s 0700 h â€¦ so I wander about the place keeping the garbage collectors and milk delivery guys company.
At 0830 h sharp the doors open and in I toddle to get passport photos taken. â€œJe voudrais acheter des photos de passeport, svpâ€, I say. Ha! The passport photo machine thingy is broken! Iâ€™m sent down the road to another shop on the Champs ElyseÃ©s. This shop opens at 0900 hâ€¦I loiter â€¦wait for it to open. Thereâ€™s a lady in front of me looking to have her photos taken, too. Click, click â€¦ she has her photos in minutes. I sit down for mine. Boom. The flash on the camera breaks. I thought for a second if crying right about now might help. Anyway, the guy fixes the flash. I have my photos in 20 minutes. I walk along to the Canadian embassy. A great walk, btw, Champs ElyseÃ©s, Arc d’Triomphe â€¦ all great â€¦ all sorta lost because of my passport problem.
Get to the embassy. Wait in an empty waiting room of the Canadian Embassy for 1 hour and 15 minutes for someone to come, hand me forms (about the exact time my scheduled flight was taking off). I fill in the forms, wait 35 minutes, pass the forms in, just in time for the embassy staffer to tell me she can’t issue a temporary passport unless I have a flight booked with a date! My head spins. Delirium is setting in.
I’d already missed my flight and couldn’t reach Air France or anyone but voicemail at the Lorient Festival office …
I was handed a list of airlines and numbers.
I call Air Canada and get a one-way for 230 pm that day (this is 1130 am). Good value at $2000. Another 20 minutes pass…the agent comes back…I pay 20 Euros for some temporary pass she says she will fax to Charles de Gaulle airport’s Air Canada office . Great.
So, I race to the airport (60 Euros) run in…and â€“ surprise – the Air Canada office has not received any fax. I call the embassy. Itâ€™s closed – they closed early for renovations â€“ or something – an hour and a quarter passes. Itâ€™s 1:30 pm, I start begging …” je suis Canadien, mon Dieu!”
They let me go. I run to the check in, they check me in – last row â€“ toilet, 38C – and I run to the security line up. Its 10,000 miles long. I give up. Iâ€™m, thinking I wasnâ€™t met to leave France. Finally they open up another queue…I run…and get through….using my Ontario driver’s license I pathetically beg my way through the various passport checks …a close call at the gate…I was literally last on the plane.
Seated beside a very large elderly Italian lady living in France (who required constant seatbelt buckling assistance) I head home.
Oh, and seat 38C electronics didnâ€™t work: The X-Men isnâ€™t so great without sound.
Anyway, a whingy story; all to say, donâ€™t perdre your passport.
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