As a South African, I need a Schengen visa to visit Europe, and honestly, the process is as bad as applying for a British one. One would think that, having a British visa would allow me entrance to Europe, since they are part of the EU, but no such luck.
It is all very strange that every Schengen country has different rules in order to get a Schengen visa, yet, when you get it, you have three months to travel to any Schengen country you like. Also the form you fill in is the same for all Schengen countries. I first tried to get one for Spain. Well, many conflicting websites later, I found I had to go through an intermediary..and then scan their website daily to get an appointment. This was my first encounter with the technology needed to be a traveler in this side of the world.
I then decided I would try for the French and the Spanish visa at the same time and see which was more efficient. I managed eventually to get appointment at the French one, so carried on there. Their rules were incredibly bureaucratic and illogical. You cant go ANYWHERE without a hotel booking (via some website or other..I am not sure that AIR BNB counts as a hotel. I thought the best way was to have a place to stay with Agathe, my fellow French volunteer, but you have to have a letter of invitation, which she duly wrote,
Well, the only place you can get a visa is in London..for the entire country..hows that for first world organisation! In SA there are 3 places..Cape town, Pretoria and Durban. You have to go in person for “Biometrics” , where they photograph you and fingerprint you..all electronic. So I took a day off to go to London, which is 100miles from where I live.
Well it went smoothly driving there, finding a cheap all day parking (When I say cheap, its R100) and then going in with the tube.
The tube to the station I needed (olympia) wasn’t running at the time, (technology failure!), so, I got out at the previous tube station, and luckily I knew where I was from my previous visit (see blog 1) and so headed where I thought I was going..on foot (luckily for feet). Well. It took me 3 hours to find the place..luckily I gave it plenty of time. some high street art I found along the way.
Luckily for smart phones that I could find the address on opera mini, but ran out of airtime to get google maps, then couldnt load new airtime due to a technological hitch at Vodacom.
At first they wouldn’t let me in without my invitation..which I had failed to print. Luckily for smart phones, I could call it up. Then they usually scan your bags for instruments of destruction..except, at that point, the searcher had to go to the loo, and so I just walked in (Luckily for non-technological human needs) so they did not find my pen knife.
Well there were three levels of checking my application. One at the reception desk, where they pointed out a mistake in my date, but let me through. The second wouldn’t let me through, and I had to fill in a new form because of the date error. They also found that my ferry ticket didn’t have my name on the page with the details, and my insurance didn’t have the dates but the number of days. Then they said, my letter of invitation from Agathe wasn’t the official one..which is supposed to be a form that the inviter has to fill in and have stamped by their local councillor. Now Agathe is still in England..it would have been a little difficult for her to go home to France, get the form, go to her councillor and get it signed, just so that I could come and stay.
Then they said I had applied for the wrong visa as I was visiting friends and not touring (tourist visa). (I wondered why you cant do both). So either I had to have Hotel bookings for my entire trip, including where I planned to go to in Spain, or I had to apply for visiting visa and fill in a new form. She said “For all we know you will be sleeping on the streets”. No room for changing your mind or being impulsive here. But I suppose the world is on paranoia alert. I might even want to stay there and become a refugee in the Jungle, while I await their magnanimous concession to live and work there. Who knows, I come from Africa after all…third world and desperate for civilizing.
I also noticed that the people awaiting Schengen visas were mostly Chinese with a smattering of Africa and Arab. ( the discriminated few..no Americans, no Australians…why not? Are they more worthy than us lowly citizens? Less prone to asylum seeking?..perhaps)
Well eventually I did fill in a new form, applying as a visitor, and with some persuasion, I just asked them to submit it. It then goes to the next level..which is the consulate..who MAY be more lenient, as I had enough money to support me..had to provide bank statements, a letter for Ruskin mill that I was working there, plus pay slips of my meager stipend. I also had to have at least 3 months on my British visa AFTER I return. (Other countries do not have this regulation).
The third level was the Biometrics and hefty payment, that I would lose if they refused my visa. At this point, I stopped caring. I am only going for 2 weeks, for heavens sake, is it really worth it just to see a few mouldy buildings? I decide at that point that I was done with traveling. Give me a hole I can creep in with no smart phones, no wi-fi, somewhere in my own warm country. Really, traveling is just another myth promoted by good advertising and glossy photos. In fact I wont postpone my stay, as planned, and I will get back at the soonest convenience..luckily for airplanes, and forget my down Africa trip. From now on I agree with Byron, I wont go anywhere that requires a visa…its all a money making scam and not worth the effort. In fact, Home is where the Heart is.
Well 2 hours later, I entered busy London again. Saw an old Fiat 500. I used to have an old green Fiat 850 called snarley. I was going to visit Maurice (another lost OLD friend) for coffee next to the Serpentine, but that was scuppered by time at the consulate mostly and his family obligations. I thought of visiting a couple of museums and places, but didn’t feel the yen. I went past the Olympia exhibition centre, which had a wacky bright green and purple carpet with an exhibition of home ware…lovely space, but homeware? Not for me who has no home at present. Went to an exhibition of contemporary Arab art. Then felt that maybe I shouldn’t if I am trying to get a visa for Europe. They might think I am plotting something.
So I took the tube back to my car and drove back to Nailsworth, happy to reach my cosy room and a bath.