Friday, May 9, 2014

TRAVELING WITH OUR CATS TO FRANCE - DONE!

Veterinary examinations done. Paperwork done. Reservations made. All that's left is to make the trek.

Cathey and I had decided, both for our own sanity and that of the cats, to spend only one night in a hotel prior to boarding our flight for Europe. One night was the minimum given that we had to completely clean out the house before we left, mattresses and all. We'd given some thought to spending as much as a week in a hotel but decided that would be both excessively costly and excessively stressful both for us and for the cats. Camping out in a familiar place, even in a severely stripped down condition, made more sense.

The cats were a bit spooked by this time. In fact, the past few months had been quite stressful for them. They knew that something was up but they didn't know exactly what. Strange people marched in and out of the house. Furniture and furnishings disappeared at an alarming rate. And there were those frequent visits to the vet to consider. But to their credit, and perhaps to ours, our Siamese sisters didn't completely freak out. Instead of running and hiding, they clung closer and closer to us. They spent more time on my lap in those last couple of weeks than in the past couple of years.

So, on the day before our flight we watched as Dr. Clutter cleaned us out. Everything went - mattresses, box springs, sprung sofas and arm chairs, unwanted and unsaleable furniture, everything. We put the cats in their carriers, turned the key on our home of 30 years, and didn't look back. We picked up our renter - a minivan that was required due to our four full-sized suitcases, two carry on bags, and two carriers. We dropped off our cars (sold for just about their scrap value) and checked into the local Best Western, chosen because it was both close to our house and is one of the few in the Lehigh Valley that accepts pets.
On their new bed in their new
home, safe and sound

The cats checked out the room thoroughly, announced their relative displeasure, and slept tight up against us.

Our flight time was 12:50 PM, so given three hours to get to JFK (two on average but we figured a cushion) and given three hours to check in (two required but again, a cushion), we left the hotel - after a decent free breakfast - at 7:00 AM. Traffic was light so we made good time and the cats were no more upset than during the much shorter rides to the vet. We discovered, however, that if the two zipper pulls on Chloe's carrier were in just the right position, she could arch her back and pop the zipper open. No problem. Just set the zippers at the halfway point instead of all the way to one end or the other.

By the way, these are the carriers that we used. They worked well enough. Yes, we had the zipper problem. And yes, a determined cat could probably scratch through the mesh if left unattended. But all in all, we were satisfied..

At JFK, I paid a red cap way too much money to watch out for Cathey and the cats in the terminal while I returned the renter and took the tram back. After the usual long wait in line to get to the ticket counter, we discovered that the Turkish Air agent had been trained to check in cabin-riding pets but had never actually done so. She excused herself to go talk to her supervisor and, about a half-hour later, returned to tell us that we had too much luggage. Neither the website nor the reservation agents over the phone had been clear. I'd thought that we could bring both the pet carriers and our carry on bags into the cabin. Nope. We'd have to pay for the carry ons or put the pets in the hold. Pets in the hold was not an option. $320 later, we were set to go.

We made a mistake during the boarding of our flight to Istanbul. When we got to our seats, all the way in the back of the plane, window and aisle together, a mother and child were sitting in them. We showed them our tickets and they realized that they belonged in the center section. So they moved. As it turned out, one of the three seats in their section was empty. So they were able to stretch out and be comfy. We shoulda kept our mouths shut. But it worked out OK. The stewardesses and most of the passengers loved our cats. (One passenger was a grouch. "Are they good travelers," she asked dourly. "I don't know," I replied. "They never traveled before." Eyes rolled.) And the guy and his young daughter in the seats ahead of us probably made more noise than the cats. The cats themselves never got over-excited. All in all, a fairly normal overseas flight.

We deplaned last, found our way to a quiet corner of the international terminal, put on the girls' halters and leashes, and let them out under close supervision. They stuck together like glue after a quick leg stretch, had no interest in the bits of food and water that we offered, and settled down using Cathey's coat for a pillow. After a five hour wait, our flight from Istanbul to Marseilles was called. Unfortunately, no jet way. We had to take a bus and climb stairs into the cabin. Not fun with both the cats and our carry ons, but we managed.

At this point, Chloe had enough. She began rolling on her back and kicking at the carrier. Not yowling, mind you. But showing signs of panic. Shortly after takeoff we understood why. Her bladder just could not hold out any longer. So she peed...while Cathey was holding the carrier on her lap. Ugh. Not terrible UGH! But ugh just the same.

It's a short flight from Istanbul to Marseilles. We were again the last ones out. A jet way instead of a bus, thankfully. Another long line, this time at passport control. And all the while, we could smell Chloe's pee. Not UGH enough for anyone else to notice, but we could. Finally, we reached the guy in the passport control booth.

Our instructions when applying for our long-stay visa had been specific. Your passport must have two blank pages facing each other, one for the long-stay visa and one for your entry stamp. So we opened our passports to the visa page when we handed them over. The guy looked our passports over, flipped through pages, and stamped them somewhere in the back. Maybe it won't matter. (It didn't. More about the immigration form in a later post.)

We picked up a cart for our luggage, loaded up with the cats' carriers on the top, and headed for customs. Nothing to declare. Except cats. I had their paperwork out. You remember, the paperwork that cost us hundreds of dollars, a trip to Harrisburg, and several dozen gray hairs to obtain? The customs agents on duty just waved us through. I pointed to the cats. They smiled and waved us through. The folks who told us that they never had to show the paperwork were right. Would I fly without the proper paperwork? Never. But it is galling.

The ride to our house in Quarante was uneventful. The cats were more than pleased to be released from bondage when we arrived. And they spent the next few weeks taking over their new home.

For now, that's the story of their journey. Perhaps we'll talk about the acclimatizing process in future.


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