The good news is that nothing is as bad as it seems. The bad news is that nothing is as good as it seems.
-comedian Wayne Federman, Don’t Quit Your Day Job podcast (February 7, 2017)
Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything…we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who hads the vision to realize it as such.
-Henry Miller, The Henry Miller Reader
I think I'm going to need something more powerful than deep breathing right now.
As if these past few days weren't challenging enough, I am now in an even greater travel pickle. I finally got everything squared away for Mango's and my voyage to the UK via ferry from Holland and we arrived without issue this morning in Harwich. Actually, the Dutch ferry lady who so kindly helped me with my hotel scramble on the 28th hooked me up with a first class cabin on the ferry, so I was feeling pretty good. Little did I know that the feeling wouldn't last long. When we debarked in Harwich and went through customs, the agent off the bat seemed suspicious of me. This is essentially what went down: "How long are you in the UK for?" "Two months." "Why are you here?" "To travel." "Where do you plan on going afterwards?" "Ireland and Spain." "How will you get there?" "I haven't booked or figured out transportation yet with my dog." "What is your job?" "I don't have one right now; I travel and keep a blog and am building up a freelance career." "How are you paying for this?" "I sold my home in the US and am using those funds. I can show you my bank account with the money if you'd like." "Where else have you travelled recently?" "Sweden, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands." And just like that, UK Border Force detained me, thoroughly searched my bags and person, pronounced that I was arrested (having a spot of weed in my bag from the Netherlands didn't help; I use marijuana to treat my depression and travel anxiety, although it definitely didn't relieve my travel anxiety today), and processed my paperwork to kick me out of the country. Then two agents escorted me back on board. Oh, and they placed a UK travel ban on my passport. Forever.
Although the UK Border Force was extremely polite* compared to past experiences with the US TSA, their policies are painfully short-sighted for people with living situations such as mine. For example, if it's obvious that someone is travelling long-term, they are following the rules, and they are financially independent, BS like this should not happen. I have US citzenship and I'm well aware of how ridiculously difficult it is for foreigners to receive permission to live, work, or even travel to the US, regardless of one's credentials, so now I better understand those frustrations over non-issue issues like this.
To be quite honest, and as sour grapes as this sounds, I wasn't super excited about visiting the UK. (Wait, I take that back because I was looking forward to some good used English book stores, not Stonehenge or anything a normal person would be bummed about missing.) Since it's outside of the Schengen Area where I actually *wanted* to be, I was just using my two months in the UK (and one in Ireland) as a 90-days holding time until I could re-enter Spain (in the Schengen Area) where I was headed to apply for a freelance visa to live. About twenty years ago I visited the UK so it's not a top priority for me to revisit, not to mention an experienced blogging pal eerily warned me about this exact situation (which I thought would never happen to me). But I mainly wasn't too keen on visiting the UK because it has a lot of issues similar to the US, issues that I was happy to leave behind in August but was willing to deal with for two months: extreme surveillance on citizens, political corruption, consumerism culture, less dog-friendliness, greater car dependency, and an insanely high cost of living. And let's not forget Brexit and Boris Johnson. So trust me, UK, I don't want to live in your country; I barely wanted to visit your country and now I definitely don't want to spend a cent on you. UK, I've come to terms with this and I'm perfectly comfortable with our relationship status at this moment, although I am a bit upset at you because I wasted 30+ hours of intense travel research and planning on you, and thousands of dollars are tied up in rentals I must now try to get back.
What to do now? I wrote this en route back to Holland where immigration escorted me to terra firma, thankfully without shackles, and proceeded to put me in a corner and scold me for an hour because my 90 days is up in the Schengen Area. The immigration officer let me go, but not without stamping my passport with an 'x' and telling me I have seven days to leave the Schengen Area. On the train back to Rotterdam I thought about where I would go and decided to return east to my trusty companion who rescued me from my last failed attempt to travel to the UK: Croatia. I will take the train there (17 hours trip) for about three weeks where I will investigate traveling to Thailand or Japan with Mango. (Pick a country, any country... It's like a surprise vacation for myself! SURPRISE!) After being in expensive, cold, and rainy Europe for more than 6 months now, I could definitely use a break. I know it's going to take time, patience, research, and money to plan my journey to this dog-, transit-, budget-, and sandal-friendly destination so wish me luck.
But before I go, I'll share a bit of my ferry journey with Stena Lines. It was interesting, and it felt more like a cruise than an 8-hour overnight commute. The ferry is apparently the largest of its kind in the world, and the ship is pretty massive. It has restaurants, bars, casinos, shops, and movie theaters in addition to transporting semi-trailer trucks and cars. As for Mango, the kennel on board was nice but smelly, and it's too bad that dogs must remain in the kennel at all times. All-in-all, though, I highly recommend Stena Lines.
*Yes, the UK Border Force did freak me out when they stated I was under arrest, etc., but I was honestly too tired, stunned, and jaded to get emotional about it; it is what it is. Besides, it's their job to scare people like that, right? (I could have done without the agent's snarky "you do know that there is a process to move to a country legally, and you need to get visas and everything taken care of" as she sifted through the papers in my bag, papers which included the application for a freelance visa in Spain.) I'm just grateful that they didn't abuse their power in the situation and make me feel crappier or more stressed, especially since I had some weed on me which is a controlled substance in the UK. While I was detained, a gentleman agent eagerly took Mango on a walk where Mango took two healthy dumps (take that, UK!); they brought me water and loved on Mango and fretted over his access to food these next few days (what about my rumbling belly??). An agent even let me use her cell phone so I could email my London apartment host. I was held for less than hour and fortunately wasn't handcuffed or thrown in jail (although I did ask them if Mango could stay in the cell with me).