(Sorry, folks, this post is without pictures. I promise to make that up to you soon!)
I arrived in Valencia about 48 hours ago, and so much has happened since I went through airport security in Atlanta, my head is spinning. My trips through airport security were mostly uneventful, although I had to rearrange my backpack every time I went through a security checkpoint.
Before I even got on the plane in Atlanta, the gate agents wanted every piece of hand luggage weighed… and my carry-on suitcase was no longer deemed “carry on.” That bag was my portable office, for lack of a better description, so although I was extremely nervous letting it out of my sight, I had to trust that it would arrive in good condition.
The first flight was quite pleasant and passed uneventfully. In fact, we arrived in Frankfurt, my first stop, about an hour early. That meant that there was no place to park the plane, so we boarded buses to the terminal. As my initial entry point into the European Union, I had to go through customs and security again, and without that extra hour, I would NOT have gotten on my second flight, which was a 45-minute bounce to Zurich. Once in Zurich, I did not have to go through customs or any other security… I just had to get to the gate, thankfully. After a two-hour flight departing from Zurich, I was in Valencia.
In the luggage area, my bags came out of the plane in short order. While leaving the airport, a customs official asked to scan my luggage. Sure, I thought, why not? Well, I’ll tell you why this wasn’t a good idea: The official wanted me to open my bags and deemed that my “office” bag included too much “new equipment” and had to be confiscated. I tend to repack electronics in their original cases, so yes, the equipment looked new, although it was not. Everything was inspected thoroughly, even though the guy did not understand what some of it was (presentation controller, anyone?). Let’s face it, after 15 hours in transit and being awake for about 32 hours at that point, I was not the most articulate Spanish speaker.
To make me more agitated, I had a friend waiting to pick me up just outside of security who had seen an entire plane-full of people come and go, and probably wondered where I was. I asked if I could go get my friend, and the officials agreed that he could come into the security area with me. That was a true gift, because with Jose there, I had someone who could argue on my behalf. I knew right away this arguing myself with the official was a lost cause. I think that the customs agent started to feel bad that he was so intent on confiscating my suitcase at that point, but because he had started the process, pride, if nothing else, decreed that he needed to continue on his path.
So, the bag was confiscated, and I had a receipt for the items in the bag. To get the suitcase back, I had to come back the following day to the customs authority and plead my case. At this point, all I could do was gracefully accept defeat, and be both humbled and thankful that Jose was there to take me to my hotel and talk the situation through. After Jose left, a nap significantly improved my perspective, and another one of my friends, Cristian, and I met up for dinner. He offered to take me back to the airport the following day, because he had several days open in his schedule this week.
So, we went to the airport with the receipt in hand, and customs agents told us that we were in the wrong place. We finally found the right place, and, for the next three hours, worked with a customs agent to figure out that getting my bag back would cost me €70, which is about $100. So, leaving the airport with suitcase in hand, I was pretty happy that it only took me a day to get my bag back.
After that, I needed to get a scanner/printer and a new phone for use in Spain… and have obtained those in short order. Cristian, as my guide, has been invaluable, and negotiates the pattern of cultural and fiscal challenges facing a newbie in the environment.
And that was just my first day here.