…from last entry. Disaster Day actually lasted for two days— Tuesday June 24th was The Day The Passport Vanished, and Wednesday the 25th was The Day We Had To Drive Back To London To The Embassy. I left off last entry with Baker B and I hiking over to the Devil’s Den, from our cottage, for a little late-in-the-day break from Lost Passport Madness. Kim had emailed the Embassy with “Passport Emergency!” in the heading, as instructed (remember this, Kiddies, if you lose your passport while traveling overseas. It was NOT easy to figure out.)
When we got back to the cottage, Kim greeted us with the astonishing news that the Embassy had emailed her back within half an hour, and gave her an appointment time. Her appointment was at 10:30 the next morning – Wednesday. You’re supposed to be there two hours early, though. And she had to have a photo made for the temporary passport. Of course by then it was way too late to get one made in Marlborough, so we would have to do that in London too. Baker B (who did not accompany us- I discouraged him as I didn’t want to have to deal with him too!) told us we better leave for London at 3:30. In the MORNING. My initial response was, “ARE YOU INSANE?!?” but we realized pretty quickly that yeah, he was probably right. It’s only a little over an hour from Marlborough to Heathrow (where we’d get the tube into London) but we had to figure out where to park, and we certainly did NOT want to get into London Morning Rush Madness on the M4, and then the tube ride would take awhile and we’d have to get the photo made and she needed to print out her paperwork (actually she just needed a copy of the appointment confirmation letter- she filled out a bunch of stuff online and didn’t think it worked, but in reality it did and the embassy had all that. Naturally it was difficult to tell that it had worked, though).
SO. Yeah. We left at around 4 in the morning, and we needed every bit of that time as it turned out. I’d come up with a plan to ask Hertz if we could leave our rental car there just for the day, since we got it from them to begin with and they’re right off the M4 at Heathrow – and we figured even if we couldn’t, they could tell us how to get to one-day parking. As it turned out, Hertz did let us park there. It was apparently an odd and unusual request, but the manager took pity on us and let us leave the car in the employees lot. From there we took their shuttle to the airport, and got the tube to Marble Arch, the closest station to the Embassy.
Kim had looked up a place that does passport photos close to the Embassy — Passport Photo Services, on Oxford Street. It’s a teeny little office at the top of several winding narrow flights of stairs, run by a guy whose father started it back in the 50s. If you ever need passport services in London, this guy is amazing. His teeny office was packed with stressed-out, upset customers, and he just dashed around cheerfully helping them with their paperwork (he also printed out forms) and taking photos and giving advice on dealing with the Embassy, and in general he was just wonderful. He also did storage for a small fee— we already knew we couldn’t bring electronic devices into the embassy, but for some reason I hadn’t considered my small Powershot camera to be an electronic device, and I’d brought it with me. Yeah. It’s an electronic device. I had to leave it, plus the car keys (no remotes!) plus my extra memory card, plus my memory stick which for some reason I had in my wallet.
On we went, to the Embassy. There were several really long lines already, but Kim found the one she was supposed to be in pretty quickly. The Embassy employees were very helpful and friendly. Even as they told me that I could not go inside the Embassy with Kim because…..
I didn’t bring my passport.
What I really really REALLY wanted to say (or shriek) was, “Well for fuck sake, of COURSE I didn’t bring my passport!!!! Why would I have brought my passport??!! Carrying around passports is what got us into this fix!!!!”
SIGH. That seemed like it could be really problematic because according to the Vague and Mysterious Embassy Website, you need someone to vouch for you and swear you are really who you say you are if you lose your passport…and I couldn’t very well vouch for Kim if I couldn’t go inside the Embassy with her. But one thing she DID do right was not have her driver’s license in the purse she lost, so she actually did have that with her as ID. (If it had been me with a lost wallet, my driver’s license would have been gone too since I was driving, so I really would have been screwed.)
Since I wasn’t allowed in, I headed off hoping to find some coffee and a loo, and happily came across a Starbucks nearly immediately. I was going to just use the facilities and get some coffee and then walk around, but I was so tired and so aggravated by the whole situation that I decided to sit there awhile and write in my journal. I’d managed to write an entry in my paper journal every evening, except for the previous one, which I’d skipped due to having to get up at 3:30 the next morning. So I hadn’t written about the !!!DRAMA!!!! and really needed to vent.
And it was a good thing that I sat there venting in my paper journal for quite some time, as Kim suddenly appeared out of nowhere half an hour or so later! Amazed that she’d actually found me (since we knew we couldn’t take electronics inside the Embassy, we’d left our phones in the car and had no means of contact — pretty darned inconvenient). Although the Embassy website said they’d take checks, in reality they would not so she needed to borrow my debit card to pay the passport fee– which they told her she could use (she had no money at all and we actually didn’t think about just getting extra out of our account for her earlier). I gave her my card and told her my pin number (and watched her just drop it randomly into her bag instead of putting it into her wallet, and thought, “I sure am glad I have another card since I’m probably never going to see that one again!”)
Sat there a few more minutes, and here comes Kim again. They wouldn’t let her use my card- after telling her she could pay with it, no, turns out she has to pay with cash. AAAGGHH!! So we both go and find an ATM (quite close by) and get out a bunch of cash. And back she goes again to the Embassy, and I wandered around a little bit, but was too tired to enjoy it (I walked through Selfridges — but it was overwhelming and I couldn’t take it in) and since she had no way of letting me know when she was done, I thought I’d better just go back and wait around outside the Embassy. I also didn’t have my camera, which apparently is vital to my wandering around enjoying things.
So I hung around outside the Embassy for what seemed like ages. It was kind of creepy — the US Embassy has armed guards with machine guns patrolling around, and since I’d known I couldn’t bring anything much inside I’d packed my jacket pockets with stuff like my paper journal and reading glasses and my wallet and pens and whatever other odds and ends I felt I couldn’t live without for the day. That was really inconvenient– we’d just had to leave everything in the car; ipad, phones, my big camera, everything it felt impossible to live without. But I felt kind of uncomfortable pacing around in front of the Embassy with oddly-shaped suspicious looking packed-full jacket pockets, in front of the machine-gun toting guards. All we needed was for me to be mistaken for a terrorist and get gunned down while waiting for Kim. And there was nowhere to sit so I had to pace around. Suspiciously. Finally I did go and sit in the park right beside the Embassy, which was pleasant but there were fairly high walls between the park and the Embassy so it was hard to see people coming out. I don’t know HOW many times I mistook the top of someone else’s head for Kim and jumped up to flag her down, only to discover it wasn’t her.
But she did get done around 12:30 or so, so it could have been way worse. Then we went to a nearby pub, had lunch and a much-needed pint, and headed back home. She had been issued a temporary replacement passport (which did not cause us problems at the airport; I was a little worried about that). And the fee she paid extended her original passport for three more years, so it wasn’t a big waste of money, at least for that. And.. now we know what to do if we lose our passports again. (Basically, DON’T LOSE YOUR PASSPORT. It sucks.)
As we kept saying, it could have been WAY worse. We were not that far from London (we could have been way out in the middle of the country, hours away), we’d already spent time in London and knew how to get around on the tube so going to the Embassy was no big deal as far as the getting-there part, we got to park at Hertz and ride the shuttle to Heathrow’s tube station which REALLY helped… really, it was not nearly as bad as it could have been. The worst thing was losing two days, pretty much, with all the drama. I think we got back to Marlborough around 4, and I immediately went to bed and slept till 7. But, in the summer there’s daylight till nearly 10! So we still had time to go out and wander around town after that.
And of course poor Kim was TOTALLY traumatized and felt absolutely horrible, no matter how we tried to reassure her that it was okay, these things happen when you’re travelling! And she certainly didn’t lose it intentionally.
And it WAS kind of fun getting to see London again. I looooove London!!
The Passport Photo shop on Oxford Street. That was a life-saver. For a whole lot of people, apparently.
The Winding Stairs.
The Marlborough Head, where we had lunch and a pint. Oddly named as we were staying in Marlborough.
Riding the tube back.
And —- poor tired Kim, who would KILL me if she knew I posted this! I only do it as it’s very illustrative of how we both looked and felt. This is back in Marlborough (the town) that evening, as we all three went to the Bear for beers. And decompression. And recovered from our Draaaama!!!Day.