Europe 2015: house hunting and trip planning

2015-03-31first day in shorts

First day in shorts!

Spring may finally have sprung in Central Virginia. Since my last post, we have had pleasant temperatures every day, though it still dips to near freezing every clear night. My muscles are getting stronger, as I train to recover from the relative inactivity forced on me in March. It is Holy Week in Western Christendom, which is a busy time for someone who sings in the Church choir. Nevertheless, I have managed to get out on the bicycle every day. Yesterday, I rode past the first blooming Brandon pears, and the forsythia are turning yellow on the sunny sides of the highways.

This week I would like to bring you up to date about the preparations for the trip to Europe, because there have been sudden, big changes.

As many of you know, I have been trying to obtain an elective residence visa for Italy. The only thing that I lack is a rental contract. Going through the rental agency websites was getting me nowhere, and I had pretty much resigned myself to a tour this summer, hoping to find a place to rent while I ride around the country.

Buseto

Sicilia

Last Friday, while riding out in the country, it occurred to me to ask for help from friends on the scene. When I got back to the house, I posted an appeal on a listserv for Italian<>English translators, and a similar appeal on the Facebook group frequented by translators in Italy. Within an hour I had leads to four apartments all over the country. By that evening, there were a dozen apartments in the mix. I was stunned by the generosity and helpfulness of my colleagues all over the country.

Venezia

Venezia

By last weekend, the list was down to four places, any one of which would be a dream location: Venice, the west coast of Sardinia, Trapani in Sicily, and the Adriatic Coast. With help from son Daniel and my friend/mentor Cheryl, I decided on an apartment inland from the Adriatic Coast, close to the many parks and preserves in the Abruzzo Region. I have sent the signed contract and the deposit to Italy. If I can get the countersigned, registered contract in hand soon enough, the Consulate in Philadelphia should be able to issue a visa before I leave in June.

Sardegna

Sardegna

The current itinerary for Europe 2015 is based on my not having an elective residence visa in time. I plan to fly from Washington to Rome in early June, checking into an Air BNB apartment in Trastevere. Cheryl would join me the next day, and a week later, we would join my classmates from Notre Dame International for our 50th High School Reunion. After the Reunion, Cheryl and I plan to ride north to the Ticino Canton of Switzerland, south to Expo 2015 in Milano, and the Lake District of Italy, cross the Dolomites to Venice, then down through Croatia and Montenegro.

Lago Maggiore

Lago Maggiore

After taking a ferry to Ancona, we would ride south along the coast (stopping by the new apartment along the way), visiting the Gargano Peninsula, Bari, Alberobello, the heel of the boot (Santa Maria di Leuca), and Taranto. Crossing Basilicata and Calabria, we would visit Crotone and the big National Park of Sila. The ride up the west coast to Paestum, Napoli, and Gaeta would lead us back to Rome by mid-September. Cheryl would fly back to Vancouver, and I would return to Washington.

Of course, if I have the residence visa, I would see Cheryl off in Rome, then make my way across the Apennines back to the apartment.

Abruzzo

Abruzzo

If you are thinking of trying to ride around Europe for more than three months, it helps to understand the nature of a tourist visa, and the Schengen Agreement. The tourist visa is what many travelers get in their passports when they cross a border, with no special advance permission. It is typical for travelers between Western Europe and the North America. Tourist visas used to give the traveler six months in the pre-computer days, but now they only last 90 days. That means that the traveler has permission to be in the country for 90 days in any six-month period. Any time spent outside the country during the six months from date of entry does not count toward the 90 days. When the total of 90 days is reached, however, the traveler must leave the country to finish out the six months since the first entry.

The Schengen Agreement changes everything with a simple twist. It is a treaty among 26 contiguous European nations, which sets up a common immigration boundary for travel by foreigners. See http://www.schengenvisainfo.com/schengen-visa-countries-list/. The tourist visa stamp in one’s passport at the first point of entry is now called a “Schengen Area visa”. The traveler has 90 days in the entire 26-country area in any six-month period. schengen_eu_countriesNo longer may one travel for 90 days in France followed by 90 days in Italy followed by 90 days in Switzerland. In the example of my travels this summer, our respective reservations into and out of Rome are more than 90 days apart. We need to spend some time outside the Schengen Area, so that we do not exceed 90 days in the Schengen Area. Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania are not members of the Schengen Agreement (yet). If I were in Northern Europe, I could achieve the same thing by crossing the English Channel, because Great Britain and Ireland are not part of the Schengen Agreement either.

Obviously, I cannot ride a bicycle very far in Europe in just 90 days. That is why I am seeking a residence visa. Once I have my residence established in any member of the Schengen Area, I can go back and forth to and from that country. I can still spend only 90 days in other Schengen Area countries at a time, but with Italy as a base, I can live on my bicycle and stay out of trouble.

If you are planning to use public transit (air or train), or any form of motorized vehicle, the time-distance problem almost evaporates. You can tour the Schengen Area easily, then tour the non-Schengen countries for three months before returning to the Schengen Area. Thus, to live on the road in Europe would not require a special visa beyond the tourist visa, unless you are walking, or riding a bicycle.

Note that tourist visas and elective residence visas carry a prohibition against working in the country, so anything I do professionally has to be for my company in Virginia. I must publish anything that I write through American publishers, not Italian ones. Obviously, I will not be able to accept interpreting assignments in Italy, but I could take an assignment outside Italy and fly back, much as I do now in North America. Similarly, all my taxes will be withheld and paid in the United States, not Italy, because I cannot earn income in Italy.

If you have perspectives or questions about visas, or arranging to travel extensively in Europe, please make a comment or ask a question below. I am no expert, but I can share the links and sources that I have found in tackling this challenge.

I wish all of you a blessed and joyous holiday, be it Easter, Passover, or a Spring Break from school or work.

Next week, another sea story. Until then,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan.

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