So, we did this whole move thing really, really fast. When we started talking to shipping companies and immigrations people, they said it normally takes 6 months to do an international move... but overachievers as we are, we had to make it faster than that: from deciding Aug 4 to do this trip for real, to the day we arrived on the plane, Sept 14, was about 6 weeks. It's not that we were trying to make things difficult, but since I hadn't had any income since quitting my New York job in June, and we had been tapping into our savings for almost a whole year before that, we just needed to do this as fast as possible to stay afloat. So, the day our visas were approved, we bought our airplane tickets--with only 5 days' notice.
Apparently it's easier to get a plane ticket for a human than for a cat. We called British Airways the next day and they said they don't allow animals on their planes at all--if we want to bring our cat, it will cost almost $800 -- to put this in perspective, our tickets were $1300... and, we have to arrange this through BA cargo. We called them, too, with no answer. We called a few times that day and left a couple of messages... same the next day... Friday we finally hear from them that we need to give them 5-13 days' notice, and since we're down to less than 48 hours there's nothing they can do. Rebecca spent probably another 5 hours on the phone and ultimately we find out that if we'd flown Air France we could have brought the cat into the cabin with us for free... but being so cat-friendly as the French are, they'd gladly take our cat next week for (only) about $300. We scramble to get friends to take care of these details (thanks to Shana and Leah) and fly in to France ourselves.
Ah, but this is only the beginning. Our cat is scheduled to arrive in Paris / CDG on Sept 18th, and I have booked a TGV (bullet train) ride from here to there, leaving at 5:30am, only to find out that there's no bus that runs before 6am and I need to go 3 miles from the apartment in the dark. Well, I'll just pack light I decide, and I scope it out by bus the day before, as well as pick up my tickets in advance. The ticket vending machines here don't work with American credit cards, and knowing this I thought everything should go smoothly in the morning.
I'm pretty familiar with the trip from Besançon to CDG so it does go smoothly, until I get to the airport itself. I assumed the train stations would be labelled like they are in the US--something like Arrivals, British Airways, terminal A; Arrivals, Air France, terminal B, or the like. But no. There are only two train stops, labeled abstractly: Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. So I guess, get off, and see no airport at all--just office buildings. I find one for Air France, ask in sputters of franglais where I might find my cat... yes, really, I'm looking for a meow, meow CHAT, and when the people are convinced I'm not joking they send me to Terminal 2, Arrivals. Oh well, wait for a train, a shuttle, and find my way to the Arrivals. Just one problem. This is international arrivals, and there's a wall of sealed doors between me and baggage claim. You see, most international baggage comes along with the passenger. Well, I'm picturing my poor cat sitting on the side of the conveyor belts meowing and meowing for someone to pay attention to her, and I look all around for some employee somewhere. None in sight, just weary travelers hustling away with their bags. So I decide to go up to departures, figuring there must be some Air France people up there. Repeat the whole comic skit again--yes, a chat, where can I get her? They have no idea... maybe I should ask at the Arrivals window. Where's that? Blah blah descendre blah blah blah blah. Oh, that means down. But that's just where I came from. This is not going very well, and I've now been here for 2 hours. My return train ticket is scheduled for noon so I can be back to Besançon to meet Zander's prospective teacher. I go back down and find the right window and literally wait for 30 minutes as this Air France agent calls number after number looking for someone that knows where my cat is. Finally she says I need to go back to Terminal 1, take a bus to Fret 1, and ask the guards at the gate for further instructions. OK, so I do that (takes 45 minutes) and I'm now see it is already 11am. Forget the return train--I'm over an hour away from the station. Now I'm sweating bullets because I know lunch break starts at noon, and everyone, and I mean, everyone, will be gone for 2 hours.
Replay the skit where I insist I'm looking for an animal, a chat, and they suggest I go to veterinary services. Makes sense to me. They give me driving directions, then realize I'm on foot, so suggest I go outside the security fence, walk along the sidewalk, and go in the other entrance, 1/2 a mile away. OK. Get to veterinary services to a person that can't understand my accent AND is fending off an angry customer on the phone, and have to wait 15 minutes to find out that no, they don't have my cat here... but wait, they can call around and see where she is. Now it's 11:30. I get to the freight claims desk, and they say--oh, we were trying to call you. There's a problem with your paperwork. It says here that a man is coming to pick up the cat, but that won't work, because the owner, Rebecca Dhondt must pick up the cat, or fax us authorization for you instead.
Hmmm.... Flash back to Besançon, about 9:30am. Olivier gets a call. He tries to stop by our apartment, but Rebecca's already left for shopping for the day, and she has NO phone or any other way to be reached.
I guess we're not getting that fax.
I rifle through my stack of papers, and find something from a vet that lists me as the owner. I then beg. I assert that this is my pet. The clerk says he needs to go find his supervisor.
They come back at 11:50 and say they have decided to approve me as the one who can pick up the cat without the fax. Now I have to pay them 70€. For what?? I protest. I already paid hundreds of dollars to get this cat here. They simply show me an invoice and I resignedly pay. They stamp it, disappear, and I sit down, awaiting a scared and jetlagged cat.
But NO. They come back out and say I'm free to proceed to customs now to retrieve my cat. It is 11:55. I see a whole bunch of coworkers headed out of the building for their lunch break. I'm ready to cry, but I choke out--where's customs?
The first guy has no idea what I'm talking about. I can't believe I'm going to have to wait another 2 hours. Then somebody yells out--it's up that ramp.
So I run. I get inside and hand over my paperwork to a customs guy who says, gruffly: there are problems with your papers. None that I know of. I say hopefully. At this point, two other people walk in to the room, asking about a pickup as well, and he replies to them curtly: it's lunch time. You can come back in 2 hours. (see, we are not always completely unlucky!) Although, it was not that fortunate that I hadn't managed to eat at all that day, what with leaving before the rising of the sun and trekking all over the airport ever since.... For anyone, this would be tough - but for me, this is torture. My body is literally digesting itself.
He looks at my papers again, rips apart the stapled stack, hands the top sheet to me, and walks away. I strain my ears for any meowing... he comes back with another rubber stamp and tells me I'm good to go and get my cat.
I wait another 15 minutes in some cargo bay and, by some miracle, the workers haven't left yet for lunch. I am finally able to get a Simone! I then walk outside (it starts to drizzle) and see my bus (that runs on a 30 minute interval) drive by. Simone kitty and I start crying together - at lease I am no longer alone. I walk to the bus stop, wait for 1/2 hour and eventually get home around 6pm.
Happy birthday to me (oh - did i forget to mention this all occured on the anniversary of my birth this year?)