July 30, 2012

Operation Brit Kittehs is a go!

Operation Brit Kittehs has finally (FINALLY) gotten settled.

As I mentioned in my last post, the plan has officially become a drive to Denver the day before my flight, which has now moved to September 3rd. After several phone calls and extended emails, all I could manage to wrestle out of Iceland Air was a free change of itinerary. I tried for a hotel voucher, maybe some discount with the rental car, but it was a no-go. Either a full refund and I'm on my own finding a ticket at least $1000 more expensive, or they could do that one-time flight change. By the time we got to that point, I was so worn down I was just happy not to have to pay any more for the change. The moral of this story is, airlines suck - but at least Iceland Air sucks a little less than others.

Meanwhile, the cat kennels have been ordered (along with various accoutrements from an awesome website called dryfur.com, who are experts in helping prepare kennels and pets for travel). The boys will be traveling separately rather than smooshed into one larger kennel, not only because it's a bit cheaper but because they'll be more comfortable that way. Not to mention it'll be less of a hassle trying to fit them in the rental car. They've done long drives before (moving from DC to Maine, then from Maine to Minnesota) so the one-day drive to Denver shouldn't bother them too horribly. Plus we get a night in a hotel for them to chill before we go on to the airport. Not that they're going to enjoy it, but it'll also help that I'll be with them most of the way.

Which pretty much leaves my to-do list with pack/purge, cancel cell phone, and get the boys their final check-up before the flight. It's a bit weird to see all those tick marks on my list and know that from this point on it's mostly just basic moving stuff and saying goodbye to everyone. I'll be paying my last rent check in the US today. I mean, weird. Even though it got pushed out a week, it's still really damn close. And it's really actually happening.

I've been watching the Olympics quite a bit, not so much for the sports (although I do like gymnastics and diving) but for the London love. Olympic Village is only about a mile from my school, Queen Mary University. In fact, I believe the dorms are even being used by some of the Olympics people. Plus I just adore every shot of the city; at one point I simply stared and breathed "I'll be living there soon." For all the difficulty I've had making this happen (most of it related to Operation Brit Kittehs), it's so very worth it. I can't wait.

July 19, 2012

Some good news, some headdesk-worthy news

We'll start with the news that had me slamming my head against my desk today. It's all about Operation Brit-Kittehs.

When I cancelled my Delta flight and booked through Iceland Air, I made sure beforehand to call IA, as well as British Customs and the animal control people at Heathrow, just to make sure this would be fine. I was assured numerous times, after explaining my trepidation following the Delta incident, that Iceland Air would transport my boys in the cargo hold per the rules of British Customs. So I made my reservation and began shopping for an appropriately-sized kennel for the cats.

Today I called IA to officially book the boys on the flight. The woman I talked to said it was done, that I was to bring them to the baggage counter the day of the flight and pay the extra cost then. All was right with the world.

Then I got a phone call.

Turns out I had to do the actual booking through the cargo department, so I was given another number to call. Needless to say, I could feel something wasn't right. I called the cargo department, and after a protracted and hideously frustrating conversation, was told that the only (ONLY) city in the U.S. that they don't ship cargo from? You guessed it. Minneapolis. And the nearest city they do ship cargo from? Denver. The one in fucking COLORADO.

This is where the headdesking began.

Grinding my teeth, I called the reservation line back and got another woman on the line, who was absolutely flabbergasted by this news. So much so that she took my number down and promised to call me back tomorrow once she'd sorted this all out. I do kind of love her right now. However, I don't hold any delusions at this point that I'm going to be able to bring my cats with me from Minneapolis to London.

So now we're on to plan... I don't know, R, maybe?

After spending most of my afternoon researching online, I decided my best bet is going to be switching my IA flight from Minneapolis to Denver. Then, because no flights, trains, or buses going that route are willing to let me bring two cats on their vehicles, I will rent a car and fucking drive to fucking Denver with my fucking cats. Because yes, it is that important to me to bring them. And it will still be far cheaper than having a company ship them for me.

The only sticky part of this plan is how much I can wring out of IA. I fully expect a free change of my flight. I'm hoping for perhaps a hotel voucher in Denver since the fourteen-hour drive means I'll need to spend the night at the airport rather than driving all night to make a 5:00pm-ish flight. What I'm going to try extra hard for is to get them to foot the bill for the rental car. I'm guessing that will be a no, but I'm sure as hell going to try.

Also, maybe a bump up to first class. I mean, c'mon people!

Fear not, there's still good news. It starts with a UPS "we missed you!" note on my door Monday evening. I thought it was a package related to something else, so sort of forgot about it until the "um, hallo? Y U NO HOME?" notice I found on Tuesday. I decided to just work my way to the UPS store via eleventeen buses to pick it up myself, since they apparently only deliver during work hours and insisted on getting my signature.

Eleventeen buses and a mile or so walk to the UPS place later, I was surprised to be handed a shipping envelope rather than a package.

It can't be my visa, I thought. They said they'd email me when it was approved or denied. Plus I'm supposed to arrange payment for a courier to deliver it to me.

I poked at the envelope enough to determine the contents were decidedly passport-sized. I immediately ripped it open, pulled out what was indeed my passport (still not lost in San Diego or Louisville, thank goodness), and began to thumb through the pages.

There it was. One page thirteen. (Because OF COURSE page thirteen.) My Tier 4 student visa, pasted to the page, valid from August 17, 2012 to August 17, 2013.

Operation Gief Citizenship is officially a success.

This was the last hurdle in getting me to the UK for a year. I got accepted to Queen Mary, got my financials sorted, kept my grades up, did all the paperwork (ALL the paperwork), and now I'm 100% official.

I think we'll leave it on that extremely happy note. Hopefully there will be another satisfied update on Operation Brit-Kittehs soon.

July 18, 2012

The to-do list is slowly shrinking...

Ever wondered what it takes to move countries for a year and bring your cats along?


Operation Purge and Pack made some impressive headway over the last week or so. I have successfully culled my wardrobe down to only what I'm bringing with me (with the exception of a few items which I'm hanging onto for sentimental value). Half of my dresser is empty, ditto closet. No more piles of clothes laying around waiting to be sorted. I threw away a few bags of stuff that was too old or beat up for donation. The rest went to Goodwill.

I made some headway with storing books as well. I loaded up ten of these with most of my bookshelves:

As we use up more litter I'll finish up the books. The first ten are already living in Mom's garage. The empty shelves make me feel trés accomplished. Not to mention my brilliant re-purposing of litter buckets. Mum was also kind enough to buy me half a dozen plastic bins to store my movies and any other miscellany that I have room for. I have a box of those big black trash bags for storing pillows/blankets/etc in. I'm even working on a list of my furniture to determine what's going where. I am all over this shit.

Operation Brit-Kittehs is also cranking along nicely. I'm making final preparations with both the airline and the customs agent who is going to make sure everything runs smoothly once we arrive at Heathrow. The customs agent is going to cost me around $700, which is a vast improvement over the $4000 I was quoted for the whole package. I still have to buy a kennel, but I've got it narrowed down to a few choices. My main point of frustration is that the size I want to get is 1/2" too wide by the airline's standards. The next smaller size just doesn't look comfortably large enough for my two big boys, so I'm going to talk to the airline and see if I can squeak by with that extra half-inch before I actually buy the thing. Unfortunately the industry standard sizes are all pretty much the same (er... obviously), so I might be stuck with something a bit less comfortable if the airline gets sticky about it. If it has to happen, I'll just make the space as comfy as possible for them. Hell, maybe they'll even feel better in a smaller, cozier space.

Operation Gief Citizenship hasn't changed yet. I'm checking my email obsessively in hopes of getting some news soon, but there's still nearly two weeks before I have to start worrying. Which doesn't stop me from worrying, of course.

Cool, now I can check off "update blog" from my to-do list.

July 12, 2012

Operation Update Blog is a go!

Operation Study Abroad update will commence in T-minus three... two... one... BLEEP!

In spite of the universe throwing roadblocks all over my plans, things are coming along nicely. BRING IT, UNIVERSE. I CAN TAKE IT. Just let me knock on this wood right here and cross all appendages and also go hunting for a four-leaf clover...

One of the big things that happened since last we spoke is that I sent off my visa application. My passport is currently hanging out at the British embassy in New York, where it will hopefully return to me soon with a nifty little card or sticker or something indicating I'm a temporary citizen of the United Kingdom. So far the only news I have is that they received it and thus I can stop fretting that the USPS dropped it somewhere in Salt Lake City or Miami, never to be seen again. My only real worry for the application is all those fields I had to mark "unknown" in the "Father's Information" section; it held me up once before, I can only hope it doesn't delay things this time.

The saga of Operation Brit-Kittehs continues. I contacted some transport companies, and after one quote back at $4000 (FOUR! THOUSAND! DOLLARS!), I decided to just go back to plan A. I cancelled my Delta flight (got about half my money back, which I count as a win after all the runaround I got) and booked with Iceland Air instead - after calling everyone ever associated with either Iceland Air and/or British Customs to make sure they were really going to allow my cats on the plane and then back off it. As of right now I just need to choose a kennel for the boys and attempt to weigh them so I can get that info to the airline, then book with a company right at Heathrow that does Customs clearance for pets; not for free of course, but presumably for considerably less than FOUR! THOUSAND! DOLLARS!.

Much less exciting is the beginning of Operation Purge or Pack. (Yes, every aspect of this will now have an "Operation Official Name" tag. The visa application will henceforth be referred to as Operation Gief Citizenship. I make my own fun.) The roomie was kind enough to loan me a ginormous suitcase for the duration of my stay, so I decided to practice pack. Yes, I know. It's insane. I'm comfortable with that.

I've got about four trash bags full of clothes to donate, and I haven't even gone through my dresser yet. Once the clothes are done, step two will be tackling the general crap that I keep in piles because it's my stuff and I don't know what else to do with it. Some will be boxed up, most will go in the trash.

That's about it for Operation Study Abroad news. I know I'm not updating that often, but that should change as I get closer to my takeoff date... which is less than seven weeks away now. Stay tuned for more updates!