Bordeaux was supposed to be an easy, relaxed, three night detour. I didn’t even bother leaving the city, not wanting to put the burden on myself to board a bus to the coast or explore any nearby vineyards. I figured I’d just chill. I deserved a break after nearly three weeks of backpacking and two weeks of farm work. I deserved cheap grocery store wine and even cheaper baguettes and cheese.
It was going to be a fabulous end to my fabulous winter break. Stress-free. Inexpensive. Easy.
How did it go so terribly, terribly wrong?
This is partially my fault, but I choose to put most of the blame on mongo-corporate-sheep herders Ryanair and grossly inefficient, rightfully teased Belgium. RYANAIR! I AM NEVER FLYING YOU AGAIN! BELGIUM! I UNFORTUNATELY HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO EMBRACE YOU IN FULL BUT I WON’T BE HAPPY ABOUT IT FOR AT LEAST A WEEK!
My trip to Bordeaux was already longer than intended, simply because Ryanair wasn’t flying from this region of France to Brussels more than twice a week. Unless I wanted to return to Brussels immediately after the farm, I had to spend five nights in the area. Unless I wanted to spent 100 euro on 6 hours on trains as opposed to Ryanair’s cool 30 euro, 1.5 hour flight.
Alas, I am still in Bordeaux as I write this. I have spent nearly a full week in the Atlantic Coast and I am out hundreds of euros from trying to get back to Brussels. It takes great effort not to think about all the glasses of Rochefort beer this could buy me in Brussels — at 11.3 percent, my gosh, it could hold me in constant bliss for weeks.
After excellent planning and over an hour on multiple buses to get from the Bordeaux suburbs to the airport, I arrived at the Ryanair check-in desk 1.5 hours early.
The woman at the desk stared at my passport. I got nervous. I have had zero problems flying around Europe thus far.
“Your visa is — how do you say — no good?”
It’s true. My visa is no good. It has expired long ago. But it’s not my fault. For Americans studying in Belgium, the Belgian consulate only issues a three-month visa. After these three months, I am supposed to be a Belgian resident, no longer an American tourist.
That’s all fine and dandy, but it’s another issue when Belgium takes five months to make this residency thing official. I went to the appropriate offices in Brussels to get my resident permit, waiting in line for more than two hours every visit, three times since the first week of September. Does it really need to be my problem when Brussels feels no urgency to legalize its residents? The paperwork is all done. It’s been done for over two months. I’ve waited and waited, and I was told traveling within Shengen countries (European Union countries under an agreement with minimal border controls, which includes France) would present zero problems.
I explain this all to Ryanair. I show my Belgian student identification card. I say that I have classes in the morning!
Calls are made to management. The passport is passed around. The ultimate and final answer is no, I can’t board the plane, and I am lucky to not be deported back the USA.
I am upset, to say the least. But I also realize the luck in the situation: if this had happened in another country, in another language, I would have far greater problems navigating the city and its transportation options. Plus, I had an awesome couchsurfing host who welcomed me back immediately with laughs, a bed, hot soup and a night of painting.
Things could be a lot worse.
Then I had to print my train ticket for the next day, and after an all too enjoyable and leisurely breakfast at my host’s house, I got out a bit later than I should have. And the hotel that the tourist office directed me to for free printing had a small paper jam. And then my bus to the train station was a bit late. And all added up, I missed my train.
That also meant missing my connection train from Paris to Brussels. And this is where it all got even more expensive to change.
But once I make it to Belgium, I am probably not leaving for a good long while. I can’t afford these trips much longer and I’m surely not flying anywhere until my residency is 100 percent finalized.
This means adopting a bit of the French mentality that I’ve picked up this week in Bordeaux. In Brussels, I’ll make rituals of splendor out of meals and walks, fully focusing on simple pleasures like quality fig jam on hearty bread or a little extra sea salt on a buttery potato.
I met an incredibly passionate French student a few days ago in a patisserie, and during subsequent philosophizing over coffee, she said that people must take risks and must challenge themselves in order to stay alive. To be comfortable, to settle, is to no longer be human.
I am definitely not comfortable, so at least I still have some soul.