July 31, 2019
This year our decision to revisit Europe for our September travel was taken very late. We also were very confident that we will get the Schengen Visa as we had gotten it last year as well. The first set of tickets I booked were for a round trip to Vienna from Hyderabad and we got an amazing fare of under Rs. 1 lakh for the two of us on Indigo. Within ten days of booking it, Indigo sent a message saying one leg of the journey was canceled as they had made changes to the route !! When they offered a full refund I just took the refund and searched for other airline offers. Found a decent fare on Emirates, but the only challenge was it was a round trip from Delhi and we had to cut short our trip to Hyderabad and take two extra flights.
With that background, we applied for the Schengen Visa and chose a July 31st appointment so that there was enough time to get the visa before our travel. The Visa application appointment at VFS Gurgaon was at 11 am. We had a call at 9 am that we completed in 30 minutes and Krishnan booked an Uber around 10 am. The Uber never turned up so we just walked down to get an auto. The lone auto that was standing outside acted as though he was Mukesh Ambani’s first cousin. Krishnan got pissed off and that guy refused to come anyway.
Another auto came by and he asked for 200 bucks. We agreed because we were getting worried that we will miss the Visa appointment. He went through the road where Ansal’s apartments are and suddenly where that road met with the Sohna road there was a massive traffic jam and we couldn’t see a way to turn into the service lane. The auto driver tried and couldn’t go beyond 100 meters. Then I asked him to turn back thinking we could turn into the Malibu towne road but that was not possible. The auto driver tried to act smart, muttering about how he could have taken us across to the ILD tower and Krishnan started getting upset. We finally asked him to drop us off at the point where the road met Sohna road. Krishnan and I got off, crossed into the divider and started walking towards the ILD building. The service lane was ankle deep in water and anyway had no space for even an ant to walk … so there we were, walking on a parapet wall in the middle of cars in a traffic jam.
The sidewalk/parapet wall on the Sohna Road was uneven with huge open sewers and we had to walk almost 1.5 kms to reach the VFS office. We got totally soaked in sweat and momentarily I didn’t want to live in India :). Just reaching an office was such an ordeal … and the service lane is supposed to be for vehicles going both ways, but it was impossible for an auto or even a two wheeler to get in.
We managed to reach a couple of minutes before 11 am, just in time for the next drama to unfold. When we presented the papers we were told that we had to refill the form as we had used the Norwegian one instead of the Austrian one. We had to use the form that comes up on the VFS global website for the Schengen visa. The headings are all the same – but in several languages while the Norwegian one is in English. The person at the counter Bharat, gave us two blank forms and just asked us to fill in the details right there. That was easy, but his next question put us in a spot of bother. He asked us whether we still wanted to apply from Austria as we were staying in Germany for more days. We said, the website mentioned port of entry or the country where you were spending maximum days so we chose Austria as Vienna was our port of entry. Bharat said, it would be better that we either applied from Germany as we were spending maximum days there or there was a possibility that Austria might refuse the visa. So we said we would apply from Germany.. but then Bharat said in that case we had to book an appointment for another day !
Just before all this happened, I had read a small information notice that was stuck on the counter window saying Germany visas will take between 3 to 4 weeks…. So I immediately asked Bharat what was an alternative to our situation. He was really helpful and said, just book a hotel in Austria for another week and that way you can apply from Austria. We immediately booked an Airbnb for an additional week in Vienna from the 21st and changed our itinerary accordingly. In the rush to book the Airbnb I hadn’t noticed their “strict” rules for cancellation. We didn’t want to cancel, but even if we wanted to change to a different Airbnb, we would lose 50%. But most importantly we managed to submit the visa application and we got a decent Uber driver with a clean car on our return trip home.
P.s dated Oct 13, 2019 – We had already booked our non-refundable train tickets from Vienna to Munich on Sept 9th. So we went off to Zagreb from Munich and then returned to Vienna on the 21st to stay in the same Airbnb that had “strict” cancellation rules. It turned out to be one of the nicest Airbnbs that we had ever stayed in !! Strange how sometimes a decision taken under duress brings a pleasant experience.
Some things that we learnt from this whole drama –
- Book hotels on Agoda or Booking.com if you aren’t sure of your travel plans in Europe. These two websites offer free cancellation and its required in Europe because many countries are accessible over a short train/bus ride and getting locked to an Airbnb sometimes doesn’t work.
- Always check the Visa guidelines. They keep changing and its better to understand the rules before filling up the application.
- Plan to be at the Visa office 30 minutes ahead of your appointment time :):). Traffic is unpredictable and Uber is not reliable at all. They just cancel at will.
- Always wear comfortable shoes, so you can walk without any difficulty, especially women.