I had to make a pillowcase once. I was 9 or 10 years old and briefly involved in 4H or Girl Scouts or some other organization that would require its young members to do something like make a pillowcase. I picked out two soft, satiny fabrics so it would be extremely comfortable and unique on each side. I meticulously measured and cut the pieces. I double-backed the two sections and learned how to do some sort of special reinforced stitching for the seams because this was going to be a pillowcase I would keep for the rest of my life. I had even embroidered my initials on one side. I envisioned myself perhaps handing down this gorgeous pillowcase to my own children someday. I finally finished my masterpiece and was ready to take it to the next meeting and proudly show my troop leader. I couldn’t wait to get home that night and finally put it on my own pillow. That’s when I realized that I’d sewn the whole thing completely shut. There was no way to put an actual pillow into my amazing pillowcase. When I attempted to reopen one of the seams, my ultra-tight stitching caused the fancy, delicate fabric to tear. My beautiful pillowcase was ruined and all that work was for nothing.
Needless to say, I quit 4H or Girl Scouts or whatever it was shortly thereafter and never again pursued the art of sewing. The moral I took from this frustrating little scenario was don’t get so focused on the details that you overlook the obvious.
Yet, we realized this past week that’s exactly what we’ve done with this trip to Europe. We overlooked the obvious. The obvious in this situation is a little thing called the Shengen Agreement, which created a borderless area among 26 European countries in 1985. This essentially means that travelers coming to Europe no longer have to go through time-consuming border checks for every single nation they visit. Sounds like a good thing, and it certainly is. However, the Shengen Agreement also means that a non-European traveler can’t spend more than 90 days out of 180 days in the Shengen area. We’d heard of Shengen and have certainly benefited from the easy border crossings it created, but for this trip it presents a huge problem. We were planning to be in Europe for over 5 months and that’s….illegal. We would turn ourselves into illegal aliens and risk getting interrogated at customs, paying a fine, and receiving a red flag on our passports if we didn’t change our plans.
How we overlooked this issue reminds me of that stupid pillowcase experience. Like attaching two pieces of fabric, Europe was the easy part. No vaccines or visa applications. No extensive research on safety or possible political disturbances. No concerns about the potability of the water. No medical evacuation insurance. It’s just Europe – nice, easy, first world Europe. HAHA! Think again, Carisches!
The good news is, a number of countries are not part of the Shengen area, specifically Croatia and Ireland. Both were on our list of places we would like to visit, so we’ve included some significant time in these countries in our European schedule to ensure we don’t go over the 90-day limit. We will also need to get our passports stamped as we cross borders into non-Shengen countries. For example, Andorra is not a Shengen country either, but doesn’t typically stamp passports upon entry or exit, so we’ll have to specifically ask them to do it while we’re here.
The problem is solved, but the very unfortunate result is that we’ve had to cut Lisbon from our trip. The time we would spend driving through Spain and staying in Portugal, both members of the Shengen Agreement, would put us well over 90 days. We hate that we won’t be able to see this beautiful country or take advantage of the awesome hook-ups my good friend, Ines, had set up for us. It’s a bummer, but probably not as big of a bummer as dealing with a major issue at customs when we leave Europe.
When we initially discovered this problem I felt a flutter of panic. Then I looked down at the freshwater pearl necklace I wear which was mentioned in my Diving for Pearls post. It served as a reminder to just keep swimming. We would get this figured out. And so we did. Tonight we will sleep soundly on our mass-produced, perfectly sewn pillowcases.