Tuesday, October 29, 2013

why latvia?

With Jānis and Jon at the British Museum, about to embark on our adventure.
Maybe you're wondering how it was that we decided our trip to Europe should include Latvia and why we were so adamant that we should get there. The seed of this adventure started over a decade ago...

About a dozen years ago, our friend Sage took a job teaching English in a school in Riga. She's a cyclist and has toured through several countries by bicycle. One day she stopped in a bike shop in Riga to inquire about having some repairs made on her bike. The owner didn't speak much English, so he brought out his friend, a fellow bike mechanic, who was more fluent. He was studying translation and interpretation in college. Soon, they became friends. And Sage's new friend, Jānis, really wanted to come to America.

View Larger Map
In case you haven't checked the map.

Sage asked Jon if he would hire Jānis for the summer through a student work program. She assured Jon that Jānis was a good mechanic and a hard worker. He would live at Sage's house and bike to and from work. A little hesitantly, Jon filled out the paperwork and crossed his fingers that it would all work out for everyone. In the summer of 2004, Jānis proved his skills as a bike mechanic and was able to work on his conversational English in the process. At summer's end, everyone was sad to see him go. The next year, the shop was able to bring him back through the same program. This time, he stayed at our house. I remember picking him up at the Anchorage airport, how happy he was to be back in Alaska.

Throughout that summer we shared meals and commutes and hours at work. We biked together, hiked, camped. He taught Jon how to identify mushrooms, introducing us to food that is growing, sometimes literally, in our backyard. He made lots of friends in Anchorage and over that summer we became a close family. When it was time for him to return to Latvia and school, we said our farewells and promised we would visit. That was in 2005. And time does fly. We worked and started a remodel. Did a few trips. Stayed in touch. Meanwhile Jānis finished school and moved to London where he helped start a successful bicycle repair business. When we learned he was about to head back to Latvia, we figured this was the year to go.

And so it was at Gatwick airport that day last month where we reunited and he looked just the same and said we did as well, though all having been through so many experiences since we'd last met. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but together we would figure it all out. So, here's a cheer to friendships that endure over the miles and years. And here's to being able to pick up where we left off and still be friends when the trip is done!

I never asked what they wished for... maybe for a certain suitcase to show up... in Prague.

Shutterbugs, in Italy.
He keeps following me!
Our final evening. Jānis was about to take a photo of Jon and me when the owner/waiter snatched away the camera and took this one. We were caught a little off guard. At Quai 21 in Paris (which I would recommend).

Monday, October 28, 2013

dear riga

Europe Trip, Part 3.
First day of fall, on Gertrudes Iela (Street)
There may be no day finer than that sunny day in the fall that follows two weeks of rain. That day when you step outside into the crisp morning and you know, you just know, it's a perfect day for a hike. And a city may never look as fresh and beautiful as Riga did when we left the airport and rode across the bridge toward the older part of the city, felt the suspension of the car as it rumbled over the cobbled streets nearly 20 hours later than we'd planned. And a buffet may never fill my eyes and imagination as completely as did the spread of food laid out before us in Lido after having only coffee-stand food available to us for the previous 19+ hours. I was hungry, but mostly I was tired. Tired from our original flight from Alaska; from our running around on minimal sleep in London; from my almost sleepless night in the airport. From all the pleading and planning we'd done while in the transit zone. My body was tired; my mind was even more tired. But I filled my plate; ate my fill; then Jānis pulled out a birthday cake. He, Jon and Marcis (Jānis's friend who was driving around) added candles, lit them and sang me the birthday song. So was the celebration as I finally enjoyed my birthday on September 21st in Riga, Latvia.
Tired and full and, what? There's cake!?*
But things didn't stop being challenging. When Marcis dropped us at the apartment, we fumbled several times with the security code to get us into the building. Finally, after multiple attempts entering the code our host had carefully written on a business card, it worked. Then, in front of our apartment door we learned something about European locks: Put the key into the lock. Turn it once. Turn it again. Maybe, turn it one more time to finally unlock the door. Guess we didn't notice those instructions when she showed us the keys and it was not easy to figure out when overtired and already starting to dream while still on our feet. But compared to our sad room in London, the flat in Riga was a treat. Spacious, with a bedroom and a living room with kitchenette. Our own private bathroom! We found the extra duvet and climbed into bed for a very good sleep.

That first morning of freedom in Riga, Jon and I got up and walked down the street toward some shops we remembered from the night before. Just over a block away we found a small coffee shop with beautiful pastries in its window. We stepped in, looked at the menu, relieved that cappuccino is a universal term. We ordered two. Pointed at two pastries for breakfast. Meanwhile, another customer who was standing at the counter drinking a glass of wine tried to speak to us in German (I don't know why) while the shopkeeper scolded her to leave us alone. When it was time to pay, I pulled out my credit card and the shopkeeper shook her head. I pulled out my cash. And although her prices were listed in both Euros and Lats, she would only accept Lats. (Latvia will finally adopt the Euro next January.) I still didn't have any. She pointed across the street and told me: "Bancomat." Yes! I hurried out to get Lats from the cash machine while Jon waited.
How freedom feels!
Ah, the freedom to come and go; to walk across the street to get cash; to choose where we want to sit and eat. I returned and we relaxed with our coffees and watched other customers come and go, their pastries placed in boxes that were then tied with string. We enjoyed the fresh flowers on our table and in the windows. Soon we were strolling around our neighborhood, looking in shop windows, noticing people carrying flowers. We peeked through arches and passageways and found an open-air market. Vendors sold meats, cheeses, produce, clothes. Some sold flowers. I remembered seeing two vases in  apartment. We'd be there for a few more nights. Let's get some flowers, I told Jon. I chose some gladiolas and cradled them until we were home in our apartment.

Jon, with Old St Gertrude's church in the background.
We headed out again in the afternoon with Jānis as our tour guide. The day was rainy, yet the water only made the cobbles more shiny, the umbrellas and statues more picturesque. I pulled my newly-purchased umbrella close to my head as wind blew in. We wandered into churches, one that was damaged during WWII by the Nazis, then neglected during the Soviet era. It was nearly empty of people on that Sunday afternoon. A woman sat near a donation box and told us of the slow renovations. I deposited a few coins as we prepared to leave. When we got to the Russian Orthodox church, I covered my head with my scarf (as the sign requested) before entering. The church was filled with devout worshipers who purchased candles that they placed in front of their chosen saintly icon. They lit the beeswax candles and began their prayers as we quietly looked at artwork that filled the walls. Potted flowers left in front of statues were cleared by nuns who moved silently through the building. A dome overhead was being renovated. It was clear that the orthodox church was bringing in lots more donations than Old St Gertrude's.

We strolled through the narrow, cobbled streets of Old Riga, which was nearly empty of other tourists, craning our necks as we admired the roof lines of the centuries-old buildings. We endured the rain until the chill and our appetites sent us into the interesting-looking Restorans Dārzs (garden). A paper-mache sculpture of a man seemed to fly overhead in the main dining area. We sat at a table by the window and ordered beers. The food orders seemed slow to arrive, especially since we were quite hungry, but once they began...
locally-made cheeses, a tomato soup which Jon declared made him like tomato soup, beet soup, zucchini (with more cheese), barley risotto with pesto and a chocolate dessert we nearly licked off the plate! Besides the creative food, the restaurant invited exploring.

What could be inside those barrels?
What do you think? Could it be...
Most interesting restroom I've ever been in!
After dinner, we walked toward the Daugava where it seemed the wind-whipped rain was being swept from the river. We briefly explored the riverfront, and then walked back to our apartment, the guys getting even more soaked along the way. We invited Jānis to stay the night on the sofa and the day ended with more chocolates (Latvians seem to love their chocolates, or maybe it's just Jānis) and drinking the traditional Balzams herbal beverage Jānis had bought the night before.

It was good to be tired out from all the walking, but eventually we needed to get our sleep, for the next day was Monday. Embassy day, when we would get our new passports.

*Photo taken by Jānis.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

happy birthday in no-man's land

Europe Trip, Part 2. (Part 1)

A border security guard escorted Jon and me to our luggage which was waiting for us in baggage claim at Riga airport (RIX). We pulled out our sleeping bags and our toothbrushes, re-zipped our bags, said goodbye to Janis and followed the guard to the "transit zone." That no-man's land of people who have landed but not yet been allowed into the country. Remember Snowden? We could stay on the ground floor or go upstairs, she told us. After taking a look at the upstairs, we returned to the ground floor and looked for a place to sleep.

Another couple were trying to sleep in a corner of the no-man's land. They had pushed together two benches, removed light bulbs above their makeshift bed and were trying to sleep. We spread our sleeping bags on the hard floor. I didn't sleep much. I felt terrible. I had planned the trip. I had known there were rules about entering Russia, but hadn't seen this 90-day passport rule for the EU. I'd never seen the term Schengen, or if I had, I certainly didn't remember it. How could I have not seen it? While I kicked myself, Jon reassured me, told me to not beat myself up over it. I couldn't help myself. As the clock turned to midnight, I wished myself a "happy birthday" and hoped we wouldn't have to return to London.

"He doesn’t speak the language
He holds no currency
He is a foreign man
He is surrounded by the sound, the sound"

--You Can Call Me Al, Paul Simon

I woke at 4 a.m. from my restless sleep on the airport floor. Cold, hungry, tired and disappointed. Two vending machines, one with snacks and one with coffee, stood side-by-side in the corner of the brightly-lit section of the room. I walked up to them. They took Lats, the currency of Latvia. Money I was unable to get while in Anchorage. I had dollars, pounds and euros. The Paul Simon lyric wedged itself into my brain: He holds no currency. He is a foreign man.

I thought about our friend, Janis. When he had waited with us before going through customs we worried that something might happen to his luggage as it sat unclaimed. When we'd finally gone with the guard to get our sleeping bags, Janis's bag wasn't in baggage claim. I thought about how he had gifts for his sister and his mom in that bag. All his clothes and gear for the next few weeks of travel.  All of it gone.

I walked up the stairs to see if any shops were open. The coffee shop would open at 8. The two duty-free shops were closed; the currency exchange office was closed. I walked down a corridor that ended in a closed door. Another passport control site that led to the other gates and flights to other countries in the Schengen region. I tried to ask when it would be open. A cleaning woman didn't speak English. A man in a uniform rushed past. "You must wait," he called over his shoulder.

7 a.m.
"Sitting in a no-man's land
Here but not here...
Passports returned unstamped
denied entry and so we wait....
Barely a chill in the air
the tarmac's bare
the sky is clear
and we're still here...
...No snow, but we're Snowdened in Riga
We'll wait it out
we're Snowdened in Riga."
---I had some time to write a song...

The airport started coming to life. Passengers began entering the area where we'd slept. I powered on the iPad, planning to email Janis to find out what we could do to salvage our trip. He had contacted the embassy. Couldn't they help? They said we needed to go back to London. Couldn't someone meet us at the airport; help us with paperwork? No; it doesn't work that way. We wouldn't be let into the country. Eventually, I learned that we were the responsibility of the airline, airBaltic. Because they had allowed us to fly to a Schengen country without 90 days on our passport, they needed to get us back to London, though probably on our dime.

I went to a room that listed airBaltic on its door looking for someone from the airline. A woman there told me to pick up a phone in the corridor. I looked for a phone and finally found it tucked behind a sign and a plant at the top of the stairway. Picked up the receiver. Told the operator my name and that I needed to talk to airBaltic. He told me to call back in a minute or so after he had a chance to talk to someone. When I tried back, all I heard was: You must wait. My iPad's power was running low, so I borrowed an adapter plug from the other couple who were waiting in no-man's land. Stuck because the woman held an Israeli passport which wasn't recognized by the country they wanted to visit. We're not the only travelers whose plans have gone awry.

Later, I knocked on a sliding door that opened and closed near us. I could see officials in the room; it was another passport control. Finally, a man in uniform came out. Sergei. I spoke with Sergei (from border patrol) and pleaded with him to allow me to go back to my luggage to get some items (like the right adapter plug). It was the only way we'd be able to keep communicating with the outside world. To my surprise, he showed up later and escorted me out of no-man's land to the unclaimed baggage room of the airport. I found the plugs in Jon's bag. I also learned that our friend's bag hadn't been taken by someone else from baggage claim. It had apparently never left London! Though it wasn't my bag, the staff gave me a claim number I could forward to Janis. At least I had some good news. I returned with Sergei to where Jon waited. Though he was frustrated by the waiting, he never blamed me for not knowing about the 90-day rule. He was as relieved as I was that Janis's bag hadn't been stolen as Janis tried to help us the previous night.

As the morning wore on, our space became overrun with passengers. I continued to call airBaltic. I was prepared to get on a plane back to London. Meanwhile, when I wasn't looking, Jon had made a plea on my facebook page telling people we were stuck in the airport and asking what to do. At the time, I was pretty annoyed with him. I felt embarrassed and un-savvy. I felt like the hapless travelers we sometimes hear about who have to change plans because of an oversight. Now it was ME! I didn't want people to know that I was this clueless! Jon had also posted a personal message on our friend Sage's timeline. Sage is pretty well-traveled and always has a story about how she overcame one bureaucracy or another. Her response was to say, adamantly: "DO NOT get back on a plane. Remain where you are. They can not forcibly remove you from the transit hall." She was the only person advocating this position. Everyone else who woke up to Jon's message told us to go back to London. Some gave us the embassy information. None of them could do anything. None of them had been to Latvia, except Sage.

At one point, I went to the currency exchange office to get money to use a pay phone to call the embassy. The man handed me his phone and let me make my call on it. Still, the person at the embassy said there was nothing he could do. He could not bring paperwork to us; we could not be brought to the embassy no matter how many times I pleaded with random border security staff: "I want to go to the American Embassy." My hopes deflated. I was ready to give up. I emailed one of my U.S. Senators.

That day's airBaltic flight from Riga to London was boarded and took off without anyone contacting us. The message to me when I picked up the phone to call the airline yet again: "They know about you. Everybody knows about you." The only thing is, it didn't seem that anyone knew about us, but we were about to change our luck.

-----This is where I need to say that the order of events is still not clear to me. At one point Sergei offered me a telephone number of the person the Embassy consul should contact in Latvian border security. Was that right before I used the currency exchange guy's phone to call the embassy? I guess the order of it all is not as important as the fact that there were moments when we threw off our concerns about bringing attention to ourselves and realized that the only thing to do was bring attention to ourselves.------

We moved upstairs and leaned against the outside wall of the duty-free shop, around the corner from the coffee shop, across from the airBaltic lounge (off-limits to us) and just a few feet from the courtesy phone. I made a sign: "We are Prisoners of airBaltic and RIX. We have rights." (I'd seen a poster about passenger rights and figured that was a good line to use.) Believe me when I say that I'm very aware now that I made a mistake in not doing enough research on rules for entering Europe. This much I also admitted when the passport control first explained it to me. And I'm very aware that I was about to become the "Ugly American" asking for special privileges such as bending this rule and begging to be allowed to go to the embassy. But the airline had not reached out to us once, not even to say someone would meet with us at any appointed time. We were in the dark as to how long we would wait. Could it be days? Jon added a sign to mine: Hours Waiting... writing down numbers and crossing them off until it was 15, 16.

Hurried passengers slowed. Some asked us what was happening. Some, even frequent travelers, told us they did not know about the 90-day passport rule. One even checked his expiration date. Now it was an outreach effort. While waiting to be sent back to London, we could at least educate others on the rule. Of course what we really wanted was for the officials to take notice. Mid-afternoon, I emailed our contact at the embassy telling him what we were doing. I told him people were taking notice. How long did it take for the officials to see us? I don't know, but there came a point where five Important People stood around us in a semicircle discussing our case. People from the airport, border security, one from the airline. Before, we were a behind-the-scenes problem; now we were going to be a public relations problem. We hoped we wouldn't be arrested.

When not talking to people, I was on email or facebook. Looking for a solution. In the middle of the stress, I read a message from Twitter:
Passersby must have thought I was quite mad as they watched me laugh hysterically at that and other tweets my sister in St Louis had posted. She provided the comic-relief I needed. And it reminded me that one day I'd be able to laugh at the entire incident. One day.

I got a message from the consul: "The Border Guards will not let you through and are blaming airBaltic for your situation. AirBaltic is blaming the weather and they claim they are trying to fix your situation. Hopefully we can get you on the next flight. I'm also calling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to put pressure on airBaltic." The weather?* It was a clear sunny day, the day we were supposed to visit the coast and celebrate my birthday. But at least the people who could do something were communicating.

The wheels began turning more quickly, though still at a Saturday pace. With no further flights to London, I think the airport people just wanted us out of there. A few more emails back and forth to the embassy and to Janis, who was doing all he could to call and email people he knew. Jon wrote "19" on the list of number of hours waiting.

I had noticed passengers who were puzzled about more than just our predicament: they were also having trouble finding a gate that I knew was downstairs. But there was no airport map and the sign pointing to the gate was in small letters and hard to read. I started pointing out the directions to travelers, even escorting some people downstairs. 

I got an email from the consul showing me what he had sent to the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "If you allow them to pass border control, I will be able to issue them new passports on Monday so that they meet entry requirements for the Schengen zone." This was promising...

I was returning from one of my trips down the stairs when Sergei came to us. He had us collect our things. Told us we could go. Go? Yes. He escorted us through passport control where we were asked a few questions: where are we staying; how long; where will you go next? Then our passports were stamped. Sergei escorted us through a security check, then he took us on the long walk to the unclaimed baggage room. "Is this where we walked earlier today?" I asked him. It was hard to remember. Had I really walked outdoors with him all those hours ago? "Yes," he answered. It did not seem familiar.

Sergei directed us toward the unclaimed baggage room and we stopped. This was as far as he was going with us. I wanted to hug him, but held back and shook his hand, thanking him, instead. He had been the most helpful person in the entire airport. Jon offered his thanks, then off we went to get our bags. The same woman who had helped me get the outlet plug was at the unclaimed baggage room and remembered me. We gathered our bags and signed a form, then walked away. Out of the airport and into the fresh air and fading daylight.

Soon Janis and his friend Marcis picked us up and we drove across a suspension bridge into the city while opera played on the radio. We dropped our things at the apartment I'd rented, changed clothes and then we headed out for my birthday celebration, now a celebration of freedom! A feast at Lido, the largest selection of Latvian food I will ever see. Finally, we were free to set out to explore Latvia and a bit of Europe. Happy birthday indeed!

*After we left the airport, we learned that due to foggy conditions in the early morning, a number of flights had been routed to Riga and the airBaltic staff had spent their day getting other people out of Riga while continuing to tell us to wait. Had the flight to London not been full, we would have been on that flight, I'm sure. I also think that had someone, anyone, from airBaltic come to talk with us in the first 12 hours of us being in the airport, we would have not been as frustrated, nor would we have been as adamant that we be allowed to stay in Riga.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the unreality of it all

Two-thirds of the way through our European trip, I was sitting in the back seat of our friend's mom's station wagon writing: "When we return home I may just sit down and ask myself 'What just happened?'" We were about to cross the border from Italy into France, driving along the coast through tunnel after tunnel that had been carved from the coastal mountains. Between tunnels we could view town after town perched between the road and the Mediterranean. I began this post fewer than 48 hours after arriving home and at the time, it seemed to have been a dream. But it was not a dream and I have the receipts and my folded and refolded itinerary to prove it. Also a few souvenirs and a temporary passport. It all happened: London, Riga, Prague, Salzburg, Genoa, Arles. Lespignan, Paris. I have proof. I just need to piece it all together.

Jon and I had been wanting to make a trip to Europe for a few years. Our friend was living in London and about to move back to his home country of Latvia. (Latvia? Check the map. It's that small Baltic country between Estonia and Lithuania, butting up against Russia and Belarus.) We decided to fly to London to meet him, then fly together to Riga for a few days before traveling around, visiting a few cities. At first we were going to do a short trip, maybe cover some ground in the Baltic region before flying out from Copenhagen. But some other friends had recently moved from Alaska back to southern France. We thought it would be nice to visit them. Jon glanced at the map and suggested we fly out of Paris. I'll admit, I was concerned. It may all look close together on the map, but Europe is a huge place with so many things to see. I booked the trip and crossed my fingers in hopes that we would see what we wanted on our lists.

bike, bus, ben
Upon arriving in London, our friend, Janis (pronounced Yannis) met us at the airport and we traveled by train to central London for lunch and a stroll around the busy city. After a few dropped calls and messages, we finally arrived at the place we'd booked for our stay (which is its own story) and were able to get some sleep. The next day, we continued our explorations with a visit to the British Museum with its wealth of items collected within: Greek urns, early Roman artifacts, the much-visited mummies and Rosetta Stone. Our minds full, we strolled around the city, looking into shop windows as the light began to fade: Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, where we decided we were all very hungry. We found a pub near Big Ben and drank our not-quite-cold beers while waiting for our food. Meat pies, curry. Enough to fill the void. Then off into the night to the nearest tube station and the noisy trip to the sad room we'd rented for our stay.
Earlier in the evening I had picked up the book District and Circle.
The next day we took the now-familiar tube (mind the gap!) to Janis's work place where we picked up three folding Brompton bicycles for our explorations. We wanted to go to Greenwich to see the museum. Janis mapped the route, then we cycled together along streets and paths to get to the museum and observatory located on a hill high above the city, which is the most logical place for an observatory, after all. The museum and observatory were surrounded by a large, almost rural-feeling green space. We studied the exhibits while rain began falling. We learned, among other things, about the quest to solve the "longitude problem" a problem that had puzzled scientists and sailors for centuries.
Not quite portable.

Returning to London, our ride included busy streets and a few sidewalks as we pedaled in the rain to the Tate Modern. On that particular day, most of their galleries were closed due to an unnamed technical glitch. We hadn't much time anyway because we were to join Janis at an end-of-season work party that would double as his going-away party. We zipped along the wet streets, navigating roundabouts and cobbles until finally making it back to his work place which occupied one of the many enclosed arches underneath the city's rail line. We changed into nicer clothes, then boarded a bus to take us to the party. Yes, upper level on one of the ubiquitous double-decker buses which gave us a unique, white-knuckle view of London's rush-hour bus, car, scooter and bike traffic. Yikes!
View from the upper deck doesn't look all that scary. Lots of bikes
jockeying for the same space as the buses, cars and motor scooters.
At the party, a man who works for the London ambulance service (a client) asked me if we'd biked through the grassy park-like area on our way to the Greenwich museum. Yes, we had. That, he told me, was where during the plague the bodies had been sent for burial. I paused for a moment at the gruesome thought of all those bodies buried unceremoniously on the outskirts of the city. Then I couldn't help but think of this.

We stayed out late that night, joining the coworkers as they migrated to a corner pub where they proceeded to get drunk as college students at a frat party. Finally we walked to the tube stop to see the truly deranged on the late night train, shouting admonitions, scaring the other passengers, including a young woman we offered to walk with if the man exited at our stop. After a late night take-out order of schwarma, we walked the now-quiet streets back to our room and to bed.

The next day we packed our bags and took the tube one last time to the city where we stashed the luggage so we could take another walk around before our late-afternoon flight. It was a warm, sunny day. We walked by St Paul's Cathedral, then crossed the Millennium Bridge, past the groundlings waiting to get tickets for the Globe. Janis had left to finish his packing and wrap up some business. Jon and I were on our own for the afternoon. We returned to the Tate to see if everything was open. But first, some lunch. We went to the restaurant (not to be confused with the cafe) in the museum. I remember looking at the menu and when Jon seemed hesitant, I remember telling him: I want to sit and enjoy a meal and not feel like I'm rushing. Because everything we had done for the past few days had felt like a race to do what we were doing so we could go to the next place, do the next thing. Pile that atop the jetlag and who wouldn't be a little stressed out? So, we got a table. Shared parsnip and pear soup, barley risotto, Suffolk chicken with potatoes, I don't remember everything, but I slowed down and was aware of each flavor as we relaxed for the hour. We then wandered the galleries where we saw works by Picasso, Dali and others, plus an entire room filled with Soviet Propaganda posters. I was glad we'd returned to see more of the museum.
Detail of gate at the Globe.

How could I walk past this?
When it was time to meet Janis, he was running late. Jon and I sat down in a coffee shop to wait for him while I sent a message to our host in our next city: Riga. Then came the next rush: when Janis finally showed up, we gathered our bags from his workplace and hustled to the tube station, then the train that would take us to the airport. What I remember most of the rush to the airport was running down a spiral stairway in a tube station, lugging my suitcase because an escalator was out of order, then sitting in a hot train, sweating, relieved that we would make the airport in time to catch our flight. I didn't know at the time that at the next airport I would want everyone to hurry up. Because once we were in RIX, everything came to a stop.

The man checking passports looked at mine. Looked at Jon's.
Took them to a woman in a room near Passport Control.
She asked a few questions.
We couldn't enter the country. I didn't understand. Schengen. You must have 90 days before your passport expires to enter the region known as Schengen, the region that includes 26 European nations that have open borders with each other. We both had 76 days left on our passports, having applied for them at the same time almost 10 years ago. What could we do? It was midnight. They let me call the U.S. Embassy. Was that the first time someone said we needed to go back to London and get temporary passports from the embassy there? Maybe. I would have all night to worry over what to do.