Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Nightmare Before Christmas

I had started to attempt a clever take-off on the Clement Moore "Night Before Christmas" poem but the computer was too slow and I was too furious, so I'll give you the straight story without the tortured rhymes.

It was supposed to be a festive holiday week in Argeles-sur-mer, joined by Donna-Lane's daughter, Llara. Llara had flown in to meet us in Dublin, after our three-week house- and dog-sit in Westport, Ireland. The plan was to spend a couple days sightseeing in Dublin, then fly down to Barcelona, and train up to our home in the south of France in time for Christmas Eve with friends. Llara was going to stay a week.

She never made it to France. Never actually made it to Spain, in fact.

When we de-planed in Barcelona and attempted to pass through the customs station in the airport, Llara was not allowed through. There was some problem with her passport. (D-L has a detailed explanation on her blog: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ie/2014/12/the-christmas-from-hell.html). As punishment for "overstaying" in Europe after earning her Master's degree in Scotland, the Swiss authorities had apparently banned Llara from re-entering the EU until sometime in 2016 - two 'fecking' years, pardon my Irish.

Except, the Swiss had never notified Llara she couldn't enter any European state! (Technically, any Schengen state, which includes most EU countries plus Switzerland, but not the UK, Ireland, Scotland).

We obviously weren't aware of the ban when we planned her trip and booked her ticket.

I'll keep this short but in essence they held Llara in a detention room (ie, cell) from mid-morning Tuesday until midday Wednesday - more than 24 hours - without providing her any food, and not even a blanket for warmth. They told her they would put her on a flight to Dublin Tuesday night, then screwed that up so she missed the flight. Which also made her miss her planned flight the Wednesday morning from Dublin to Boston - for which we had paid hundreds of dollars to change her original return flight with United Airlines. The Spanish police also illegally used my credit card to book a flight on Ryanair to Dublin for Friday - (apparently because the card had been used to book her original Ryanair flight from Dublin into Barcelona) - a flight which Llara ended up not taking because they subsequently found a Barcelona-London-Boston flight in the meantime (which we ended up paying for as well).

Bottom line, Llara made it safely back to Boston late Christmas Eve.

Scorecard:
Spanish customs / police: callous for ignoring common sense and common courtesy. Llara is obviously not a terrorist or criminal, and she had a return ticket. They couldn't let her spend a few days with her mother for Christmas?
Swiss customs: heartless and vindictive; she had paid a stiff fine for not being aware of the time allowed in the EU. They needed to bar her from coming back for two years? And never bothered to tell her?
D-L: frustrated and angry over the treatment of her daughter, saddened by a holiday turned sour. Relieved Llara made it back to Boston.
Cost: Over 2,000 euros for flight bookings, some never used, and cost of shipping a suitcase they wouldn't allow her to take because it "had touched Spanish soil."

We had already considered not using the Barcelona airport any more because of 1) the hassle of getting to and from there via multiple trains, and 2) the city's deserved reputation as a thieves' capital - for example, motorcyclists punctured our friends' car tire at a red light, then stole a purse and tried to steal their luggage as they changed the tire. I can promise you now we will never again set foot or spend money in Barcelona or Barcelona Airport again.

As it turns out, they should have let Llara in because D-L is a Swiss citizen, and a parent is allowed to have a kid visit them in Schengen. None of the narrow-minded bureaucrats involved seemed to be aware of that clause.

We are all now trying to return to "normal." Llara will spend the holiday with a friend, and we will see various friends who either live or have second homes in Argeles. It will be a memorable Christmas - just not quite for the reasons we'd expected.
 

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