Part of me wants to blame it on my genes- my constant oversight of important details. The Steagall family seems to have a penchant for overlooking essential details while traveling. There was the time we showed up a day late when I was five for our flight to Jamaica and the time we arrived at a hotel in Costa Rica that had no record of our reservation, forcing us to sleep at a campground with walls so thin we could hear everything the newly wedded couple next door was up to. There was the incident where upon finally spotting out hotel, we drove down an alleyway sidewalk in Rome, so close to cafes that we were able to grab wine glasses off the tables of astonished cafe goers as we merrily went along in our minivan and the time we tried to drive up to the top of Zermatt, a village at the base of the Matterhorn, despite the multiple signs telling us that we could incur a $1,000 fine for bringing a car into the city. Needless to say, there is never a dull moment during a Steagall vacation. In terms of my own sordid history of travel mishaps, I have bought plane tickets for the wrong month, shown up a day late for a train ticket, waited at the Guayaquil International airport for ten hours a whole day early for my brother when he came to visit me in Ecuador and now it appears I have traveled all the way to Stockholm only to be told that I do not have the right kind of visa to enter Russia.
I arrived at O’Hare yesterday with plenty of time to spare and things were going great. My parents waited with me in the security line, even getting me a chocolate milkshake from Haagen-Dazs as a sendoff treat. My bags weren’t overweight (a feat considering originally I had convinced myself I need all of my american apparel lace leotards, shirts I hadn’t worn since senior year in high school “in case” I suddenly liked them again and four pairs of black heels…)and they didn’t charge me for bringing two. The flight wasn’t delayed and when I got to my window seat on the plane, I was surrounded by a group of 13 year old girls who managed to giggle the whole eight hours, showing me their fashion sketches along the way, which looked suspiciously like Bratz dolls; it was kind of endearing. The flight did not seem long at all. I read some young adult science-fiction (my favorite genre) and took a nap. Once in Stockholm, I wiled away my six hour layover by grabbing a cappuccino and surfing the interweb, watching as the other travelers who stopped at the cafe ordered beers and champagne despit it only being 7am. This is a country I could get used to, I thought to myself. I took another nap and the morning flew by. This travel day was a piece of cake.
1:10 rolled around and it was time for me to board. I grabbed my things, hit the bathroom (do bathrooms in europe remind anyone else of campground bathrooms? with their cheap plastic doors and the weird handles? maybe cruise ship bathrooms are more reminiscent?) and headed for the plane. I handed my passport, ticket and “visa” to the ticket attendant and let my eyes wander around at my very slavic fellow travelers.
“Excuse me, miss?” asked the ticket attendant in a rich Swedish accent, “do you not have a visa?”
“Huh? What? Isn’t that it?” I say, pointing at the piece of paper in his hand that says ‘invitation to enter Russia’ in Russian, “that is all my school sent me.”
“Well you see dear,” he said “this is only an invitation. You need something inside your passport just like the last time you went to Moscow.” He shows me the full page sticker I had received the last time I had gone to Russia.
“Well that is all I have. Will they not let me into the country? What do I do? My school didn’t tell me I needed anything else. I thought that this time it was different because its a work visa.”
“I’m sorry dear but you will need to go to the embassy in the morning and try to get a real visa. This will not allow you into the country and I can’t let you on the plane”
He was kind as tears started to spill at the realization that I would not be arriving in Saint Petersburg in three hours time started to sink in. He walked me through the steps I needed to take to begin to rectify the situation. He told me I needed to go downstairs and go through customs, go upstairs to the ticket counter and change my ticket to Tuesday’s flight, go back through security, claim my bags that they would pull from the plane, go back through customs and then go to the tourism center to book a hotel and get a train ticket to the city center. He grabbed his razor scooter and scooted along as I jogged beside him to the escalator that would take me to the baggage claim. (For some reason all of the employees at Stockholm International Airport have little scooters they use to get around. Kind of like a bronze age version of police tootin’ around on Segways. It was bizarre but made me giggle secretly to myself every time these very serious officials passed me by on a scooter with a basket on it.)
After getting down to customs, I realized that I wasn’t paying very close attention to my attendant friend and was suddenly lost so I decided to wing it. I wandered up and down the baggage claim carousels looking for my big ass bags until I found them and carried them over the arrival services desk. There I meet my second friendly airport employee as she helped me figure out what to do next.
She told me a story of how when she was 18, she was trapped in Hungary, unable to travel any further because she did not have the correct paperwork. It was at the height of communism and she said she was scared shitless. I suddenly realized that Stockholm is not too shabby of a place to get stranded in Europe. (Does Sweden count as eastern europe? Hmm that seems a debate for another day. The term eastern europe can be a loaded gun. Implying more than just geographic location and contains hints of orientalism in it. But like I said…maybe another post.) We booked a hotel room in downtown Stockholm on Kungsgaten, checked one of my bags into the airport holding services, rebooked my flight and got me on train to my hotel.
This would be an adventure I thought as I watched the Swedish countryside quickly dissolve into eighteenth century buildings and bridges. This would be great. A quick little jaunt in Stockholm before I entered the land of blinis and vodka.