September 18 – 19, 2013
All of the sudden, we found ourselves on a train to La Rochelle and then on a plane over the English Channel. This rather abrupt departure from our original travel plans arose because my sister Alyssa needed an overnight babysitter in London. This was an attractive opportunity because we were on the brink of unintentionally being illegal immigrants in Europe!
Here’s how that happened: beware it’s a bunch of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo so feel free to skim. It turns out there is this thing called the Schengen Zone which is a collection of European countries (which predates the European Union) who dissolved border controls between themselves while unifying the border controls between Schengen and non-Schengen countries. So no border guards between Germany and the Netherlands for example. As US citizens we don’t need a visa in advance of traveling in the Schengen Zone, but the catch is: in any 6 month window we can only be in the Schengen Zone for 3 cumulative months. We looked at the calendar and the map and realized that if we stuck around in France we’d over stay our time by two weeks and technically be illegal immigrants subject to fines, deportation and a ban from future travel in the Schengen Zone. The actual degree of enforcement of the rules is pretty unclear though and really up to the immigration officer who checks our passport when departing. We read about a few people flying out of Switzerland who were hit with over $1,000 in fines and deported for being over by just a couple days. Luckily, the UK is not part of the Schengen Zone, so we could just hide out there for a couple of weeks then come back and not have to worry about anything.
We spent the entire day getting to London, but it was worth it. Especially since Alyssa ordered delicious Indian food when we arrived at her flat.
The next day we laid around the flat doing nothing. I had picked up a little cold en-route, so we didn’t feel like venturing too far. It felt good to be lazy after a month of good, solid work.