Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Visa for Europe - Some tips

For last 2 Months we have been planning for a trip to Italy and figuring out the visa requirement(s). In this process, I read though many different articles and thought of jotting down what I think were some useful nuggets of visa related information.

Schengen Visa:
This is the visa required for most of the European countries which are part of Schengen agreement and more than 25 countries are part of it. . UK and Ireland are not yet part of this agreement, but Switzerland has joined this treaty last December.

Once you have a schengen visa, you can enter one country and travel freely anywhere within schengen territory. If you are going as a tourist, you need the short-stay visa which is also called Type "C" which allows up to maximum 90 days stay in a 180 days period.
Some info on immihelp which I found really Useful

Note: If you have a green-card, then probably you do not need a visa for most European countries.

Which consulate do you go to:
The rule of thumb is that you should apply for a Schengen Visa at the Embassy or Consulate of the Schengen country where you will be spending most no of nights on your trip to the Schengen Space. If you are only visiting one country on your trip then you apply for your visa at the Consulate of this Schengen country. If you are going to many countries and spending almost equal amount of time, then you can file in any of the consulates. But if you have a primary destination, then it is more advisable to go to that specific consulate. As for example, in our case we are going to Germany, Switzerland and Italy and in 9 Days and we are spending 6 days in Italy. So, we filed our petition in Italy Consulate.

What documents you need to produce:
This varies little bit from consulate to consulate. You can go to the website of the specific consulate and they generally list the required documents (and the order in which you should produce the documents)

Here is the Link to Italian consulate in SFO - At the bottom of the page there is a link to a document which lists all the required documents.

Photo Requirement:
Photo specification for schengen visa is not same as US visa or passport size photo. They have own specification and we took our photo from walgreens. The in the studio section might not know off the top of his head whether they do schengen visa photo or not..But if you him/her to check, then there is a option of Italy visa (or any other consulate) in the machine and chosing the right one finally works.

We went to another chinease studio where they charge 15$ per person for 2 copies. In walgreens it was just 7$ for the same :)

Some mistakes we did which you should not.
  • Irrespective of which consulate you go, Schengen visa application always asks for hotel reservation and they are very strict about it. We did the mistake of taking it lightly and we were sent back one time. When we went second time, we realized that they closely scrutinizes the lodging details - they actually matched our train itinerary with hotel reservations to see that there is no gap.. Come to think of it, they are actually very caring...they do not want to spend nights in airport or train stations ;)
  • Carry a glue and pen - else you will end up searching for a store in SFO's intimidating hilly area and buying a tiny glue for 3-4$.
  • Even though the timing says 1-3:30 - if you reach on time, you will be at the tail of a 10-12 persons long line. Reach there 15/20 minutes before time and you get done soon.

Seattle - During the Tulip Fest

From my school days in Berkeley, I have been hearing about Seattle Tulip Festival and every time I see the photographs, I regret for not going in that season. While, I didn't remember this time, Rakesh gave a pleasant surprise when he told me that that Friday we were flying to Seattle as that weekend was the last week for the month-long Tulip festival which happens every year in the month of April.

We flew to SeaTac airport and stayed in the close-by Holiday Inn. The tulip gardens were in Skagit Valley which was a 1.5 Hr drive(85 miles) away from airport area. We started out day early with a heavy breakfast in the hotel and as we were getting closer, we were getting more and more impatient. From far we could see the gardens and they were looking like soft silk carpets..

The "Tulip Town" (The Third) was a area where we could see all varieties in a single place and as we drove down further, we saw vast gardens where there were only one or two varieties( The red and Yellow photo)..Trust me these photos are nothing and your own pair of eyes give a much better kick...We just loved it and would like to go again :)

Burney Falls - A good weekend with family

It was the week ending on 12th June, 2009. For some reason my sis and I were both on a travel spree in that week and it was as if "life is a failure" if stay home for that weekend. On Thursday (being almost the deadline if we need to book some place), she was almost behaving like a travel agent who gives you numerous options to chose from and makes sure that you commit to one thing.

Unfortunately, I was caught up with ten different things at office and had little time to surf about places. Every 10 minutes, Yahoo messenger window kept popping up with a URL - some nice hike links or some hotel links. Exactly in the middle of all that, all of us received an email(quite a uncommon phenomenon) from Rakesh about some trip one of his colleague made and that is where we saw the name "Burney Falls" and found it really exciting..Till then we knew nothing about it..

That was the trigger and our sweet travel agent now got some direction rather than surfing aimlessly and finally she booked a cabin in Burney Falls State park. On Thursday, we went home early did all shopping and marinads and got ready to leave early next day to cut the traffic.

My sis and bro-in-law stayed home and took care of getting the SUV from Hertz and all necessary loadings. Rakesh and I headed home around 330 and we started exactly at 4pm..It was a 290 miles North on Fremont on I-5 North and then 299 and finally on Ca-89.The road was scenic, surrounded by lush green fields. we reached around 10pm and managed to find our cabin in the woods.

It was a cute looking log house without electricity- kind of fun. The 129-foot Falls was just a 5 min walk from the cabin..We ended our day with a few pita breads/hummus and little tabouli..

Next day we look a hike around the falls (which was about 30 mins) and then headed to McCloud river for our next falls hike. From Burney to McCloud was a 35 miles drive through a series of Doglas firs and up-down turns.. We started our hike on the Lower Falls and climbed up to Middle and Upper Falls. This is one of the most scenic hikes I have seen (in my short span of hiking experience)..The McClod river followed us all the way and we took breaks in between to see and relish the beauties of the fall..

Headed back to our cabin with all of us feeling terrible need of caffeine and was disappointed not to find a single coffee shop in the Burney town..Ended up buying a Okay-ish coffee from a gas station and satiated ourselves.

It was a quick and unplanned vacation - we all were rejuvinated and relaxed for many days!!