Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Visa trip to LA

In Poland, your permissions to live in the country are separate from your ability to work in the country. US citizens are allowed to stay in Poland for 90 days without a visa, but after that you must leave the Shengwen Zone (virtually all of Europe). I flew into Amsterdam before transferring to Krakow on October 7th, so that is the start to my 90 day countdown, and Cameron's clock started about two weeks earlier. We knew we would have to fly back to the US to deal with visas, but I assumed that we would push our 90 day limit rather than waiting hardly a month. Oh well!

With advisory from the Remitly lawyers, Cameron made an appointment at the Polish Consulate in LA for Tuesday, October 29th. We flew into LA the day before, and were flying to Seattle the day after. Our route took us from Krakow to Amsterdam to Seattle to LA and oh boy were we tired when we finally made it to California! We had been up for over 24 hours by the time we touched down for the last time that Monday, if you don't count the few hours of plane sleep. However, may I recommend Delta for your next international travel plans? As soon a it was safe to do so, the fight attendants delivered water bottles and menus to everyone. The menus listed out the schedule of meals and beverage services, which included free adult beverages and a warm cookie delivery! Since I love plane movies, I watched five of them (Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald, Yesterday, Water for Elephants, Space Jam, and Gone Girl). I bet you can guess which two Cameron chose.

It was one of those very large planes where there are two aisles and the seat arrangements are three-four-three. We were in the middle cluster of four seats, and Cameron had volunteered to sit next to a seat neighbor. He was Danish, and very much wanted to talk to Cameron about our travels, his travels, and his art. He insisted that he was a very famous artist, as was solidified by the fact that the King of Denmark had purchased one of his pieces. He thought that Cameron's long hair signified that he too was an artist which naturally extended to me being an artist as well. He complained a bit that the airplane wine was too dry and the font on the menus was too small. He had forgotten his reading glasses and kept asking us what the menu options were, but he insisted that we not read the menu to him, just interpret it. We also learned that he owned a hotel and that his children found his lack of technology skills laughable. Overall, he was quit the character; not unpleasant to be next to and talk to, but I was thankful that Cameron was there as a buffer.

Thanks to the Global Mobile Entry app we were the first through customs in Seattle; it was so quick that it felt like we had done something wrong. Once through, we had to re-enter security and then wait three hours for our plane to board. It was strange to be in Seattle but unable to step outside and interact with it. If we weren't planning on being back in two days I would have been quite sad.

I napped a little on the flight to LA but regardless my eyes were fatigued and bloodshot by the time we landed. It was another 20 minutes from the airport to our hotel, and if we weren't both starving we would have gone straight to bed. Instead, we walked across the street to a ramen restaurant and were able to delay our bedtime to about 7:30pm. I would have hoped that after the exhaustion of travel I would have slept for 12 hours and woken up at the right time for our new timezone, but instead I woke up multiple times in the night and by 4:50am I was up for good.

We doddled around the hotel a little waiting until 6am for the breakfast place I found on Yelp to open. With burritos in hand, we walked down to the beach for the sunrise. The Santa Monica Pier's Ferris wheel was lit up and welcoming, but we followed the shoreline in the opposite direction with the intention to keep walking until the sun was in our eyes. Since we were on the west coast, the run didn't rise over the water, but with smoke from a nearby wildfire in the air we still saw a beautiful display of reds and pinks in the sky and warm light hitting the buildings along Ocean Avenue.

The few other people who were on the beach were either 1) jogging, 2) taking Instagram photos of themselves, or 3) homeless and sleeping on the beach. As we walked back towards the pier we saw more people from category 2 and less from category 3. The pier was largely deserted, except for a few joggers, fishermen, and ride operators who were doing their morning checks before the park officially opened at noon. Down from the pier was Muscle Beach (which I kept assuming was "Mussel" Beach).

Cameron was keen to test our some of the exercise equipment there, but on the way down he spotted the contents of someones wallet left at a playground. There were some police officers nearby whom we hoped to deliver the stack of cards to, but they seemed preoccupied with someone else. We sat at a nearby bench for a little bit, rummaged through the cards, and tried to find the presumed owner on Facebook. While Cameron messaged him on Linked In, I learned that the owner went to a local university, had a few debit and credit cards, some punch cards to local fast food restaurants, and two drivers licenses with different birthdates. We finally were able to hand the cards to the police officers and explained where we found them, but I do like thinking about how the police will react to the poor kid's fake ID. With a job well done and needing to warm up from the cold morning, we walked back to our hotel to brainstorm how else to waste time until our afternoon appointment with the Polish Consulate.

Since we were scheduled to be at the Consulate at 12:45, we decided to walk through downtown Santa Monica and have lunch before taking the 15-minute Lyft ride. Downtown is mostly a few blocks of high-end shops and tourist-focused restaurants with a few fun dinosaur hedges as street decor. We didn't need anything and we didn't have room in our suitcases so we didn't go into any of the shops. We ate an early lunch at a trendy health-focused place and we loitered longer than the meal required just to waste time. Our Lyft driver was happy to complain to us about the ride-share scooters and we were happy to listen.

We were 30 minutes early for our appointment, so when the door to the Consulate was locked my first though was that they were out to lunch. Then I saw the camera and doorbell and were soon buzzed inside. It was a large pleasant lobby with a glass-enclosed receptionist in one corner, some cushioned benches to sit on, and a wall of large photographed portraits, presumably of famous Polish people. When we arrived there was a flamboyantly dressed woman talking in Polish to the receptionist, and it was somewhat comforting to hear the language and pick up on a few words. We looked at the photographs and took account of all of our documents while we waited our turn.

Cameron took charge at the window and handed over our applications, passports, two passport photos each, certified marriage certificate, and his work permit. The woman behind the glass checked to make sure all documents were original before she made black-and-white photocopies of them. She kept our passports and about $200 of visa application fees and sent us on our way. Relieved that it had gone well so far, I took a seat a bench and started to read a tourism book on Krakow. Cameron came and sat next to me and then asked if I was ready to go. I was surprised since I hadn't realized that we were already done with the full process; I had assumed that we still had a proper meeting to argue our case but it truly was as simple as passing off our documents and some money. Overall it's a surprisingly easy process, but it seems quite pointless to have flown so far to deliver some documents that could have been faxed or mailed.

Then next step is to wait. We paid for expedited processing but were given no indication of if our passports would be returned to us with visas in them. Cameron's visa is pretty much ensured since he has a work permit but my situation is far less stable. Since there is nothing that can be done, we just hope that everything shows up in Seattle as expected before our return trip to Poland on Sunday, November 10th. Otherwise this two-week trip might get extended indefinitely.

Our next Lyft driver was interested in Seattle and Poland, and afterwords Cameron and I both commented on how well-spoken he was. Back at the hotel, we changed into our swimsuits and got ready for round two at the beach. The road we took deposited us right back at Muscle Beach, and this time Cameron was ready. He did some monkey baring, rope climbing, and monkey swinging(?) whereas I only hung upside-down from a hanging bar. Once sufficiently warmed up (and after a little girl totally upstaged him on the rope climb) we walked down to the water.

There weren't very many other people out on the beach, which I attributed to it being a Tuesday afternoon outside of tourist-season, but once knee-deep in the water we realized it was also just straight-up cold. There were a few people who were fully enjoying the waves, but most of them were surfers that were in full-body wetsuits. The water was filled with fragments of seaweed and nothing about it seemed particularly inviting. After staying thigh-deep for about ten minutes, we decided to give up on swimming and instead sat on the beach to read our Kindles. Because we didn't have any beach towels we ended up sharing the rain-cover for Cameron's backpack as a seat. Even though there was full-sun, the ocean breeze was pretty cold and we hadn't brought sweaters down to the water with us. It didn't take long for us to give up on the beach.

Knowing there wasn't anything at the hotel room to entertain us, we walked back to the Santa Monica Pier to check out the rides now that they were operating. Cameron had never been on a Ferris wheel, but neither of us thought it was going to be worth the $24 ticket costs. We walked through the arcade and scoured the floor for an abandoned penny (for Cameron's pressed penny collection) but walked out unsuccessfully. I pined after a funnel cake but decided against that, too. A sign that I hadn't seen earlier that morning caught my eye, which led us to the $5 admittance into the Heal the Bay Aquarium underneath the Pier.

The Aquarium is very small, essentially just one large room with tanks around most of the perimeter, but we managed to spend at least an hour there reading all of the literature and taking time with each section. We saw seahorses, small sharks, jellyfish, and eels, among a variety of smaller fish, sea cucumbers, starfish, sea urchins, and shellfish. By far the most fascinating were the lobsters. There were three in a large rock-bedded tank and they moved about looking to terrorize each other and the other sea life stuck inside the glass with them. One started chasing and clawing at another, and on the whole looked like a monster dreamed up in a nightmare.

By the time we left, it seemed like we had spent a respectable amount of time out for the afternoon and had earned our showers and naps. I was tired, and could have fallen asleep but Cameron kept me from messing up my sleep schedule more than it already was. We left the room again around 5pm to re-peruse the downtown streets for a dinner spot, but after walking around we looped back to a Mexican restaurant across the street from the hotel. Since we had to leave the hotel at 5am the next day, we told ourselves that it was the flight-preparation that was sending us to bed so early rather than the jet lag from the previous day. We needed to be well-rested for our 12 day visa-wait in Seattle.

Heading to the beach, burrito in hand.

Good morning Santa Monica.

Santa Monica Pier amusement park.

Dinosaur hedges in downtown Santa Monica.

Locked doors to the Polish Consulate. 

I'm not sure what these are called–chain swinging? monkey vines?

Me flopping around upside down while a super buff girl is on the ropes next to me.

Cameron struggling to get up that rope.

Monster lobster stepping all over a poor unassuming sea cucumber. 

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