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Bit By Bit Spending some months in Europe. Let's see how it goes... Check ya later, Barry.

Passport Control/ Norway to Scotland

USA | Friday, 16 April 2010 | Views [923]

It goes without saying that it was more than ironic when we decided, on Aprli Fool's day, that we were going to head home. The decision was instantaneous, and powerful, and we talked about it for hours instead of wandering around Scotland. We discussed the details, the reasonings, our feelings about it, both towards each other and even what people would think. We would like to point out that nothing negative spurred us homeward bound. As a matter of fact, the travelling has becoming more and more easy and we were finally approaching territory we had a real passion to see. It was, one hundred percent, the exchange rate. For all of our planning before we left, there is no way to factor in a crippling exchange rate. The percentage depleted us of at least thirty percent of our funds, more leaning towards forty, which is a staggering number. And while our hearts cried out to continue on the wide open road, returning home sounded good in a lot of ways too. All in all, we made the decision to stop while we were ahead. We will still be joining Rebecca's mother and sister in Greece in June, as originally planned, which we built our entire European trip around, hoping to end there. So that's that. We told everyone we would be back before you knew it. How true was that? As long as it has seemed since we left, virtually no time has passed. But will it be enough?

So remember how we said, before we left, that we were going to be staying in hostel dorms and couch-surfng? And remember how we mentioned not too long ago that it wound up being cheaper for two people to stay in a double room, most often anyway, because a surprising amount of hostels charge for the use of linen, for breakfast, and for internet privileges? Well, Michael had gotten us set up for couchsurfing as soon as he found out we were going to be leaving, and it has yet to work out. We didn't start out pursueing a host as often as we did towards the last few weeks, but every response was a negative one. On our way out of Stockholm we received a message from a glad retiree who even offered to pick us up from the train station. We had just long enough to high-five each other before finding out it wasn't going to work because said host's mother-in-law had finally started dying after years of being a critical state. We admit to being a bit picky with our search, as in wanting to be hosted by a couple, minimum age of 26. The purpose was to be with individuals who are at least semi-responsible. Of course we could choose to stay with the 21-year-olds who praise the power of the strong drink on their profiles, quoting how they want to experience as much fun as they can while alive and loving to party. As time went on we adjusted our search to those over the age of 26 even if they were single, but we still gravitated towards those who are already bringing in the retirement checks. Not to mention, a good amount of people are of the opposite political views, so where would be the fun in that? We could imagine it being a 'sleep with one eye open' scenerio. So couchsurfing didn't wind up going that well. And if we never wound up staying with someone and it means we were saved a probable kidnapping and years in a basement or some sort of lead paint poisoning or exposure to radiation: that is fine with us.

There are two more blogs that will cover the remainder of our trip. This one focusing on some more random topics (such as our decision to return to the States), and our experience with the UK's security. The second being a surmisal of our time in Scotland, which was wonderful, and a truly amazing way to finish our tour.

As we previously noted, it literally took twenty minutes to check in our bags and go through security in the Norwegian airport. We more than made up for that later.

The first flight left at a little after ten and got into London about an hour later. We arrived in London, had a nice meal, and spent a good amount of time ambling through duty free shops and reading. When it came time to board our plane, we found out that we had missed passport control. Passport control was 'right down the hall', which turned out to be practically a mile of escalator sidewalk. Despite all of the walking we have been doing, that jog really had us winded. We then waited through three rows of people waiting in line for customs, only to find out we hadn't needed to go through that line at all. How can you work at the airport and not know where people have to go? One lady said we could just go back to our plane. Much disgruntled, we double-checked with another man who sent us to international connections customs. With a twinge in the back of the neck, and a sharp pain gathering behind one eye, we got in the line labeled US Passport Holders, and us being the only ones in line, the lady behind the shielded desk (the passport control officer, if you will be so kind) instructed us to get at the back of the other line, which was not so long but labeled for those with UK Passports. We told her, "We have US passports" and boy did we get some attitude on that one. So we move to the other side, because what are you going to do?, and we're talking about how we're going to miss our flight, when the people in front of us suggested that we just ask everyone if we can go ahead of them. Everyone was most gracious, and there only a few parties in front of us, and we found ourselves face to face with Miss Passport Control once again. However, she had already decided not to like us. "You need to fill out the landing form," she said. "We aren't landing, we're connecting," we insisted with emphasis. For some reason, this made her even angrier, and she said she knew but we still had to fill out the form. Fully convinced as to the loss of our flight, and completely voided of steam, we went off to the side to fill out the form, muttering under our breath, and got back in line.

On our second turn we were helped by Mr. Passport Control, who had apparently noticed his colleagues frustration with us. What followed was an interrogation that was more intense than the ones we underwent in order to receive our secrent clearances for the USMC. It went something like this:

"We need an address of where you are going to be staying." We don't really have one, we have just been going to the tourist offices upon our arrivals.

"You can't expect me to let you into the UK with no means of getting out." We have plane tickets leaving from Ireland to the Czech Republic on May 5th.

"How much money do you have access to?" "What do you do for work?" "If you are a student, why aren't you in classes right now?" By that point we were thoroughly irritated, but something moved between us, fingers playing on harp strings, and his exaggerated feelings towards our suggested incompetence bound us in a molasses of calm. We watched him with wide eyes, betraying no desire to win him over. We were serious business. We were wearing the black sunglasses and the trenchcoats. You think you are playing games with our heads, but you are just playing behind your desk. We knew that he could not keep us from entering the country. We did know that he could keep us from making our flight and, indeed, had probably succeeded in doing so. But when it reaches a certain point, what's the point in surrendering on behalf of anger and frustration? The answer to his last question was obvious, and Rebecca's compliance brought light to how dull his weapon had been: I did not sign up for spring classes because we were taking this trip. "What other countries have you been to?" "What are you planning on doing in the UK?" "What date are you leaving the Uk/and where from?" "Where are you going next in the UK?" For the third or fourth time he put down our passports, with a sardonic laugh of disbelief, and says, "So what you're telling me is that you have access to very little money, you are coming into the UK with no proof of when you are leaving. What does that sound like to you? What do you think they would say in the US?" In that moment, we shared a separate but simultaneous and enormous guffaw. Later on we joked about how great it would have been if we had looked at each other, laughed and thrown up our hands, and admitted with extreme joviality: we would let you come right on in, and pay you too! But at the time, we looked him square in the eyes, really trying to communicate that we knew how ridiculous he was being, and reminded him for the third or fourth time: Do you need us to print out our confirmation number? All we needed was access to the internet, and he could see for himself that we most assuredly had plane tickets. Finally, after more repeatings of the same nonsense that we didn't know what we were doing or why, Michael ended the whole session by stating plain and simple it was unnecessary for us to have an exact address as to where we were staying, and to know where we were heading next, as it seemed fairly obvious Europe got a lot of young people backpacking around. We had tickets out of the country, so if he needed a confirmation we could have it if we were given internet access. It was pretty much over after that. There was no more ammo. We all know about the young people who backpack Europe. Whenever we mentioned to friends that we were leaving for Europe, they would say, "Like backpacking?" And whenever we arrived in a new country they would say, "So you're backpacking?" Let's be real, Mr. Passport Control, if we can't at least be adults. He didn't seem to hesitate when he finally stamped our way into the country, but he did punish those little blue booklets. We actually heard the pages cry out in pain. Funny, how some of our only marks in the passports were dealt out like such a punishment. His wrist actually quivered, and it would have been no surprise to hear the bones crack and come slicing through his skin, pulverized under his severity. Yes, Mr. Passport Control, we see what you're doing. We realize that you are letting us in when you find it to be against your better instinct. We promise to not let you down, Mr. Passport Control.

Seeing as he let us go on the minute our plane was scheduled to leave the ground, we felt justified in assuming he had done it on purpose. Not to mention, another family from the UK was taken by the original lady in the US Passports line that we had been sent out of earlier. We wondered silently if she thought she was teaching us a lesson. Not to worry, Miss Passport Control, we know you have all the power, and we fear you and respect you for that. As a matter of fact, it makes us darn right helpless. And certainly not to sound ignorant, but to send home the reality of our interrogation, a very religious woman, covered from head to toe in black, right down to the gloves and slits barely making room for her eyes, was sent on through after a five second exchange. Miss Passport Control actually had time to take a break (apparently dealing with a UK family in th US line had really wiped her out), and was resummoned to verify the face of the religious woman, who could not be seen by a man, and to send her through.

Passport control opens to a place where you stand a yellow line and get your picture taken. Also, we are not sure in what order this transpired, but aside from our initial walk through security for our connecting flight, we wound up going through that same security twice more due to how everything transpired. It was actually getting to feel quite silly. And Rebecca, who had never worn so much cotton, kept setting off the alarm and requiring a patdown. The waterbottles also set off the alarm one of the times through, and while it did not cause any problems, we had to wait for someone to assess the situation and empty them. Once we went through all we immediately asked where we were supposed to go to get new tickets. The desk for our airline called baggage and told us that we had to go and reclaim our bags so they could be put on whatever flight we were going to be changed to, and it looked like the next flight left in an hour and half, but that we would probably be stand by. Great. Awesome. So, yes, this meant that we had to stand through the original customs line we had waited through and been redirected from earlier. And the funniest part of that was Mr. Passport Control had been transferred over to that station. We laughed to ourselves, the odds of getting placed with him, but it was the person in front of us who got the pleasure. It also felt silly explaining our situation to the man who checked our passport stamps, but he waved us on through.

We made it down to baggage, explained our situation, and a very exasperated baggage handler called up to the desk that had sent us down and very politely explained people who had missed their flights did NOT need to reclaim their luggage as it would all be handled through the system. He then called the main ticket desk for us and got us set up for another departure. How is it that someone in baggage can know the workings of the entire airport, and those with specific jobs can not seem to handle even that?

We almost stood in the wrong line to get our new tickets, but asked before it was too late and were redirected to Customer Service. Turns out the baggage guy really knew his stuff, as our seats were already reserved on that next flight (the ones we would have supposedly been standby for), and only needed to be printed out. By this time we were getting exhausted, but we still had to go through security. After all, we were back at square one. Well, we had bought some face washes and hair spray at one of the duty free stores on 'the other side' before everything had gone wrong, but when the man at security checked the receipt he said it wasn't valid. The receipt is supposed to read which terminal it came from. We were not going down without a fight. That man called another woman, and they both seemed rather confused at our insistance, as it was obvious we were lying and had bought the stuff at the drug store down the road. But insist we did, and while they were most polite, the man even swearing he believed us but still couldn't let us through, even trying to pack the stuff into those ziploc bags and failing, it was apparent that the woman was impatient with our lack of virtue. We insisted on someone from that duty free shop being contacted, and she disappeared. Right when we were about to throw up our hands and move on or risk missing our flight, she came sailing around the corner, waving the receipt, "It's the right store!" More apologies, and no hard feelings, she escorted us through security. We got our pictures taken again and we were boarded. By golly, we were on our way to Scotland!

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