The reason I had to fly through Amsterdam was because in-cabin pets are not allowed to land in the UK, so the only way to enter is by sea.
I had booked a direct flight from Los Angeles to Amsterdam. But there was a problem in LA with my ticket. Apparently, it did not indicate that a dog would be traveling with me. I’d noticed this when looking at the ticket a few days earlier, so I had called KLM and they had assured me that the dog was, indeed, on my ticket.
But at the airport, no.
Maybe that’s just what they were telling me the problem was while they were checking Beesly’s papers and realizing that the USDA wrote the Netherlands, instead of the UK. I wondered if maybe that was why the airline kept asking me what my final destination was since my passport had a UK visa in it. Maybe, maybe, maybe. I had no idea. My final destination, for airline purposes, was Amsterdam.
“Amsterdam,” I kept saying.
I had worried about being turned away with my dog on the shores of England, but hadn’t anticipated not even being able to leave LA. I looked around at hip, tan people in their flip flops and thought about how my family’s life in Southern California had enveloped me in the warmest, most relaxing time for the last two and a half weeks, but now, standing at LAX, sweating in my coat and scarf, ready for a cold cabin and the rain of the UK, ready to put all of my preparations in motion, I thought , “All that matters is getting out of California.”
“Amsterdam,” I said again and was finally issued a boarding pass and waved on through to security.
When we landed in the Netherlands, the customs supervisor looked over Beesly’s paperwork and said, “Very good,” but didn’t stamp it or anything.
“Would you mind stamping the paperwork so that the UK can see she’s been approved by an EU official.”
“No need for that,” he said. “It’s all in order. All correct. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be able to come into the EU.”
“But can you just stamp it anyway?”
“Yes, I can see that it will give you peace of mind,” he said and smiled.
The vet in Vermont and the vet in California had both approved every single thing for Beesly, but after 3 and a half hours in the USDA El Segundo office, I was nervous. “They’re strict in the UK,” they had said. So my anxiety was not totally irrational.
It was difficult finding information about how to enter the UK once you get to Europe. The Eurostar, the fast train that runs between Paris and London, does not allow pets. Fortunately, I remembered a website I had used in Slovenia for train travel ideas, The Man in Seat 61 (https://www.seat61.com/dogs-by-train.htm), and found out about the Stena Ferry Line from the Hook of Holland.
It was cold and blustery in the Hook of Holland, the seagulls loud. We had several hours before the boarding of our ferry, so we walked into the little town. I stopped to look at the menu of a restaurant with a view of the water. A man jogging by yelled something to me in Dutch.
“Sorry, I don’t speak Dutch,” I said. He stopped jogging and came over to me.
“I was telling you that if you are considering eating here, I can recommend it.”
“Oh great,” I said. “Thank you very much.”
“Really? You sound English.”
Hm. I couldn’t believe that was true, especially after almost three weeks in Socal, where the laid back lilt had, for sure, infiltrated my speech. I tried to actually be laid back while in California and succeeded a little bit. It was easy because I wasn’t in my actual life there.
But in general, I fail at being laid back.
At the Hook of Holland, I sat watching the ships come in and out of the harbor, the light intensely hitting the water and had a glass of Sauvingon Blanc, a cheese omelette and hearty homemade bread. Relax now, relax, I was trying to tell myself. Beesly sat on the chair next to me, welcomed warmly in the Netherlands as she had been in Slovenia. But I was acutely aware that she was still not cleared for the UK.
Later, I fell asleep in the waiting area for Stena Lines, the Dutch ship company, and was awakened by the check-in supervisor, who let me know that she would be reading the dog’s microchip and looking at her paperwork. Oh God, this was it. This was the moment. The instrument beeped when the supervisor touched it to Beesly’s neck. She validated the number, took my papers and said,
“Wait here, please.”
A few minutes later, she came back with a literal green card for Beesly and told me who to show it to on the ferry.
“Is that it?” I asked. “Do I have to show anything in the UK?”
“No, it’s all set. Everything is in order. You don’t have to show anything except to the crew on board to let them know I approved it.”
I literally began to cry. I hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours and was jet-lagged and all of the stress and sweat of the preparations had come to a head. It was a huge release. I was crying as if something really huge had happened.
But something huge did happen. The preparations for Beesly were symbolic of my entire life being broken down into logistics and dealt with individually–each of my children’s details, packing up the house, coordinating and filling a storage unit, deciding what furniture to keep, the car, insurance, etc….and all the things of the heart…..Beesly’s documentation was just the final thing. The final thing needed to fully separate from my life in Vermont, from everything known.
Beesly and I walked along a steep, up-hill, half-mile long corridor with round windows that faced the sea. The song “Happy” was playing over the loudspeaker. We were all alone so I imagined that we were in a music video, moving upward with joy.
They even let her sleep in the private cabin with me. Because I was crying, they wrote down “emotional support” next to her name as the reason why she wouldn’t be staying in the kennel with the rest of the dogs. Fine with me. Totally, totally fine with me.
I was awakened by a lovely voice over the ship’s loudspeaker, announcing breakfast being served on Deck 9. The boat had docked in Harwich, England, and from the oval-shaped window, I could see the morning. A weight had lifted and there was the tiniest shift into an openness I used to feel.
There was time before the train was due to arrive, so I had a black coffee while sitting on a scruffed up couch in a deserted waiting area. And even though I had a lot of things to carry and manage, I felt peaceful, content.
The song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” was playing as we disembarked. That’s overdoing it, I wanted to say out loud. But I just smiled.
The train left Harwich International Port and arrived in London later that morning, where we took the tube a few stops, then walked above ground through a park to a different train station. There we boarded a train to Wolverhampton. I was served another cheese omelette.
At Wolverhampton, in the pouring rain, we boarded the train to our final destination. There was no place to sit, the train was packed. But soon, the crowd dissipated and we watched the sun come out and the dismal sky turn to light. We were in our new home.