the one with breaking the rule
The story happened in autumn 2012. It was at the end of the study year where I was crazy busy with the 17,000 words dissertation. Hence a good distraction is always needed. Mine was, as always, traveling. On every chapter I had managed to write in the document, I dedicate myself to browse for a destination. As the results: one month Eurotrip itinerary, complete with booked travel tickets and friends’ couch in numbers of cities to throw myself to.
Few days after the submission, I began my trip by departing from the greyish Edinburgh to the perfect blue sky holiday in Amsterdam. The start was smooth sailing. Days gone by with all things you can imagine in a backpacking trip. Roaming around some cities, getting lost, frugal eating and lavish drinking, taking naps in parks, hitting on cute guys, posting pics to Instagram, mesmerized in bookstores (including my first encounter with the Shakespeare and Co bookstore in Paris – the notable mark of Before Sunset, my romantic bible), and all that alike.
All seemed perfect. Until that one particular day.
I was halfway of my itineraries and just started the Eastern Europe trip with a friend, Ramon. We were on a bus from Budapest to Krakow, passing through those all consonant street signs while talking about this and that. And at some point he asked, “Let me see your passport, I wanna see the stamps.” I gave him my passport and we laughed a thing or two on my stories of some countries I have visited. Then he got on my Schengen visa. The visa that I was currently travel with.
“Hmm, when did you start your journey?” Ramon said.
“30th of August I guess… so it’s 12 or 13 days now. Why?”
“When do you plan of going back?”
“End of September. Why? I told you it’s a month-long trip.”
“Duy, your visa will expire in 2 days. It’s a 15 days visa.”
It felt like a cannon ball was hitting my tummy. Panic attacked. I checked my visa again and yes it’s clearly stated that it’s a 15 days visa. I did applied for a one month visa but I entirely had no idea why didn’t I rechecked on whether that one-month long visa was actually granted. I definitely blamed my long-hour writing dissertation days for this carelessness.
We barely spoke during the trip as my mind wandered. It was a mixed emotions. The major one was angry at myself of being so stupid. I have a perfectly superb itineraries at my hand, with some major tickets that I have pre-booked up until the end of the month. But how come I didn’t checked my visa? I started the trip with a little smug of finishing my master, but I can’t barely checked my visa! I feel utterly low. And I was also scared. That scenes of UK Border series, with all long hours in the police station and series of intimidating interviews and rummaging my luggage, popped up in my head like a popcorn.
Despite all of this anxiety, however, I did not want to give up my trip just yet.
So we arrived in Krakow and I was determined to go to the immigration to extend my visa. But it’s Saturday afternoon. There’s not much that I could do other than browsing on overstay to prepare my strategy. I found an ample of good stories actually, but none of which amused me back then. And to deepen my gloomy feeling, our itinerary on Sunday was to visit Auschwitz. Those weekend, even plates of desserts and good wines could not pull my smiles.
Then Monday came along. The last day of my visa.
I went straight away to the immigration office and spent a great amount of time in that office. I’m not sure if I have made myself clear, but it’s an immigration office in Krakow, Poland, by the way. That would involve plenty of people speaking language that I have no idea what was that about, plus some instructions that was definitely not in English.
I went to the first office and go to different rooms and officers. Finally the third person I met had a glimpse of what I want and he asked me to speak to someone on the phone because he can’t speak English. This lady on the phone asked me to go to the other office. And this shall be repeated at least two or three times, with some hours waiting in between and a chance to speak with someone behind the glass. They actually had similar answer that was leading to no. But I was just too determined I did not want to leave the office without speaking one on one to someone.
Finally at around lunch time I managed to have a one on one session with someone (who speaks well English). I explained everything and the answer remained the same. There is no way I can extend my visa in the country, unless it’s for something urgent like I get super sick I could not get out of the hospital.
So that’s the dead end.
It was the 15th day. The next day, my visa would expire. To be perfectly honest, I still did not want to end the trip. Certainly. My mind kept wandering. I had a train ticket to Prague, plane ticket to Berlin, another train ticket to several other cities in Germany and supposedly, I should end the trip at my friend’s vineyard in Basel. It was harvest time, they said. And they also said that I could bike to the border between Paris and Switzerland.
I left the immigration office in the afternoon with bag of mixed emotion, where super slowly, it went from wanting to poke myself in the head (we have ‘toyor’, that’s the exact term in Bahasa Indonesia), to just surrender.
So on that last night in Krakow, my anger has subsided. We had a good dinner and I can finally laugh at myself for this.
Then all the bars were closed. We spent few hours sitting blankly in the heart of the city, counting down the few hours left of me being legal in the country.
Krakow was a gorgeous old city with a warm ambience. The city lights were calm as if they’re trying to sooth my tension. The lights finally went out, and Ramon closed the night with his wise advice, “If you wanna break the rule, break it with something good. But not stupid.”
Then I did another research with colder head. It said that overstay for less than a week is often forgiven, but the Germany border is a definite no. And so I decided. I will continue my trip to Prague, but let go of my Germany leg.
We arrived in Prague on the 16th day of my itinerary. My visa has expired. I don’t know whether you’ve ever convicted a crime or being an outlaw, but that feeling was so infuriating. Everytime we encountered a policeman, or actually simply persons in uniform, I would be extremely anxious. I felt like everyone looked at me and they want to see my visa. When the waiter at the restaurant rechecked my credit card, I felt like they would checked on my visa too.
We spent a great three days two nights in Prague and finally left the country. At the immigration, I was ready with all of my excuses. I built up stories from caught up in a summer fling to something naïve like didn’t know how visa actually works.
Then it was my turn. The officer checked my passport. He looked at me and asked, “Did you entered Amsterdam on 30th of August?” I answered him with a solid yes. He checked on his calendar and said the line, “We have an issue with your visa.”
And so we went to the immigration office. Two women officers interviewed me on the reasons of my overstaying. Thank goodness that it was a relax one. They showed me some regulations saying that I broke the law and it should not happened (or course!). I sincerely apology and would accept any consequences. The officer said that she needed to check with her supervisor to determine my sanction, because there’s no written rule and it has to be treated case by case. I had to wait for 15 minutes. That was the longest 15 minutes I have ever had.
The verdict came along and I was requested to pay EUR 30 fine for overstaying. I paid them and had an extended visa stamped in my passport. It was a big relieve and then I flew back to London.
Will I ever overstay again? I don’t think so. That fugitive feeling is so burdening you don’t want to carry them on your holiday. But I didn’t regret the one I did. Prague was beautiful and it definitely worth the disobedience. The decision really closed all of those what-ifs.