Well, we're here! I'm sitting in a airport hotel in Brussels, Belgium with my wife Sharon and Fiona the Fearless Kitty, and everyone else is fast asleep at 4 PM local time – six time zones is a lot of distance. I have been plotting and planning for months to get us and our Roadtrek campervan to Europe for years and it was both rewarding and a bit terrifying to see all the plans fall into place. It's like one of those giant domino things where you push the first one and they're all supposed to fall down – the theory can be fine, but it's only a theory. The proof is when it actually happens.
We turned our Roadtrek over to Seabridge and Atlantic Container Line, a giant shipping company back on March 27 in Baltimore, and it's finally headed out of Hamburg toward the port we will pick it up in, Antwerp, after stops in Halifax, Liverpool, Gothenberg Sweden, and now Hamburg. The freight forwarders at this end say it will be ready to pick up Tuesday, April 25, so it's three weeks plus for the whole process, customs, icebergs, mechanical maintenance issues, and all other factors being considered. There's no Sky Miles Club for RVs- they're cargo, and they take a while to get wherever you're trying to ship them.
We whiled away the days living in my sister's spare bedroom and getting all the paperwork necessary to get Fiona the Fearless Kitty certified as not a significant health risk to the EU, which involves a veterinarian, the USDA, and many trips back and forth. We wrangled with the airline about what size cat carrier would fit beneath the seats of all the planes we would be traveling on, did our own last-minute packing (which was easy, we both had been living with the same few changes of clothes and a handful of toiletries etc since dropping the Roadtrek off), and finally it was the big day – pack up our stuff and head to the airport. My sister is the hero of this whole operation – without her logistical support none of this would have happened. She even gave us a ride to the airport.
I was armed with file folders full of documentation on each potential obstacle to the realization of this grand plan – passports and visas, Fiona's permits, the shipping process, insurance, and so on. We get up to the counter and the rookie Delta Airlines agent announces that Sharon needs a visa to go to Belgium because she's Canadian. Out comes all the paperwork, we flag down an agent at the next counter who looks like she knows what she's doing, and we get it straightened out. We get our giant duffel bag checked through to Brussels, grab our onboard carry-on items including Fiona in her carrier, and head to the gate. There's an hour delay – Delta equipment problems. More anxiety, and we hit the ground running in Atlanta, looking for our connecting flight. Luckily it's in the same terminal and we get there with 30 minutes to spare, most of which was used catching our breath. We're now on the plane that will take us to Brussels.
Fiona had been fine on the 45 minute flight to Atlanta, but as the transatlantic flight hours started adding up, she got restless and began meowing. I took the carrier from under the seat in front of me, put it on my lap, and opened the bag enough to get a hand in and pet her. She calmed down. And that's how we did the last three hours as the sun came up and we came in over Ireland and Britain – continuous petting and scratching. Fiona seemed pleased with the deal she had negotiated.
And all the paperwork I had obtained to get her into the EU for six months? It stayed in the folder. We showed our passports to the customs official in Brussels, and I explained that we were bringing in a cat. In his minimalist English, he said, “You have a cat? Is is a good cat? Let me see the cat.” I hold up the carrier, with Fiona visible through the mesh. “That's a nice cat!”, says the customs man. He hands us back our passports, and off we go to grab a rental car and head for the closest hotel. One more night in another hotel up by the port in Antwerp, and we'll pick up the Roadtrek. I can just see me standing there at the dock with a half bushel of title, registration, insurance, etc., originals and three copies in alphabetical order, and the customs guy will say, “You have a Roadtrek? Is it a good Roadtrek? Let me see the Roadtrek. That's a nice Roadtrek!” That's almost exactly what happened when we got our long-term visas for France. I tell you, some people overthink these things 😉