Today, I picked up my USA visa. It has been a long journey. I needed to apply for a six month visa, rather than the usual three month waiver, if I was going to be able to cross the USA at a reasonable pace, and not have to race against the calender. To do this you have to make an application online, then visit an USA Embassy for an interview.
I began the process in a hostel in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, way back in July. My plan at that stage was to have the interview in Lisbon, Portugal, and as the availability of wifi through Central Asia and Iran was at that point unknown, and I was having a few days rest, with excellent wifi, I took the opportunity. The form you fill in is not simple, especially on a Samsung Notebook, and it took me a couple of long days, gathering all the information I needed. Thankfully, it was here I met Charlie and Jack, and Jack offered to be my USA referee.... thanks Jack. And so the application was submitted.
And then plans changed. I crossed Central Asia and Iran quicker than expected, which meant that meeting Juliet in Albania wasn't going to fit in with her holiday dates....... how about we meet in Rome? Now that called for some thought. Getting my visa in Rome would allow me to buy cheaper airline tickets to New York, being able to buy them earlier. One of the instructions on the visa application is.... Do Not Pre Buy Tickets to USA. But could I get to Rome in time to get the process completed before Ju arrived........ surely......?
Yep, I did it, and enroute I followed up the application. Rome meant some more paperwork, and payment..... either bank transfer, from an Italian Bank (don't belong to one), or Debit Card (the one I left NZ with has lapsed, and the NZ bank would not let Juliet register a PIN number for my new card, because it's Not Her Card). With only hours left before the whole application would void itself, Juliet was able to pay with her card, from Christchurch.....Phew.
Interview day, and I'm lined up at 10am for my 10.15am appointment. At 11.15am I checked through security. At 11.45am I'm called to the desk. They can't find my application. It needs to be transfered from the Lisbon Embassy files, but it's not working. 12.15, and still nothing...... and the Consulate is closing for lunch. I need to come back at 2.30pm..... I'm first in line, because I lined up at 2pm, and get through security by 2.45pm. Woohooo. They've found the application. The lady is very interested in my plans, and we chat, and then I'm summoned by the Consul.
"Why do you need more than the 90 day waiver?"
"Where will you be staying?"
"How will you finance you trip?"
"Okay. Visa is granted. Pick it up from DHL in four days."
So I decide to get out of the bustle of Rome for a few days, and cycle out, and get sick, and have been recouping at Zagarolo Wiki Hostel. But today I could go and pick up my passport. I'm not up to 30km on my bike, so the other option is public transport.
The first leg, into Central Rome is by train. At 9am, it's only a small train, and it's packed, and stuffy, and hot and smelly, and it's winter. I'm struggling to breath, and trying not to cough over everyone. Thankfully, it's only 40 minutes, but by the time we arrive, I'm feeling pretty wasted. Still no time to waste. I need to get to DHL before they decide to close for a siesta. I need to find Tram number 14. It's pouring with rain, but I dodge the worst, and jump on the tram just before it leaves..... I hope it's going the right way. 21 stops and I have to get off..... did I count correctly? The tram is packed solid, and I can't see the street or stop names...... I take a gamble. Yes. Got it right. Next, bus number 508. Ten buses come past before 508. Let's hope I can count the 14 stops.... Yes. Nailed it. Now it's a 1km walk...... and the DHL office is still open. Yeha. It's taken just over three hours. It takes less than five minutes to sign for my passport, and then I get to reverse the process. Six and a half hours on public transport. I'm knackered. But, I've got a six month visa for the USA, valid for ten years. Now that's got to be worth the effort.
I can book some flights. I want to fly from Lisbon to New York, but the flights I've found will not allow me to carry excess baggage. So I've booked flights from Madrid, and will go from Lisbon to Madrid by train. Well I tried to book them. Got everything sorted, until the payment, and the NZ bank told me I was using the wrong PIN number. I don't believe it? Luckily, the booking saved itself long enough for Juliet to pay with her cards. I'm going to have to give her some very special hugs when she arrives on Saturday.
I leave Madrid on 29th April, and arrive in New York on 30th May. The plan is to cycle down the East Coast to at least Winston Salem in North Carolina. Then head west across the South to Austin, Texas. Then north to Denver, and Salida Colorado. South, to Durango, and Flagstaff, Arizona, and west to San Diego. Who's coming?