I am a happy -- and very surprised-- woman. Yes, I am jumping for joy!!!!! My new passport has been delivered by mail today. And regular mail, at that. This is a long story, but one that has to be told. We should all grab a cup of tea to help us get through this one!!!!
Sadly, I suffered the loss of my passport less than 2 weeks after I moved to Venice, back early February 2008. You always hear horror stories about people being ripped off in the train stations, and here it happened to me. In the blink of an eye, my wallet including all my money, my credit cards and identification, my passport, and a brand new Blackberry were lifted from my purse, in the Florence train station. I've traveled safely in Europe for years, and still this happened to me. There are no words that can describe how violated you feel when you are the victim. But worse, there is then the realization that you have no money, not one dime on you. I had no return train ticket, and no means to purchase one. I didn't even have the ability to call my husband. Fortunately, I had relatives meeting me at the station who were incredibly supportive through the whole ordeal. We had to make the police report, call the US consulate in Florence to report the stolen passport, call to my US bank and credit card companies. Everything was replaceable, but what a pain in the butt. Through the whole ordeal I had visions of me having to put a scarf over my head and kneel down to beg for money in the train station in order to get home. Now that was a real nightmare.
I got through the first phase of the process, making all the calls. Next I had to get replacement documents and credit cards, including my passport. I needed to go back to Florence. I really didn't want to set foot anywhere near that train station again anytime soon, but, in order to get the replacement passport, that was required. Nothing is ever easy.
I called the Consulate in Florence to ask what their open hours are, they told me 9-12. That's all they told me. The next monday I got on the train headed back to Florence, took a cab to the Consulate, and discovered they were closed, for Presidents Day. We're in Italy, who celebrates Presidents Day??? This trip was a bust. I went back to Venice.
It turns out you just can't walk into the US consulate anyway, even if you were standing right at the front door, you have to make an appointment. The website says that people from Venice are supposed to go to the Milan consulate. So, instead of going to the closest consulate, the one that is only 2 hours away, I was supposed to go double the distance. I called the Florence consulate and explained what I wanted. They agreed to give me an appointment in Florence instead. Thank you, God.
On the appointed day I arrived in Florence by train, then took a taxi cab to the Consulate. Again. And got turned away for being early. They won't even let you wait outside in front of the building. The guard showed me where a caffe was down the street and told me to come back 5 minutes before my scheduled time.
I did as directed. I went for a cup of tea, and returned at the correct time. My name was cross checked on a clip board, I was let inside the huge front door. Hmmm... this is a bit like getting in to see the Wizard of Oz. My purse and coat went through the x ray machine, I also walked through the machine, and my cell phone was put in a drawer. I was ushered into a waiting area and given forms to fill in. I had everything I had been instructed to bring- 100 dollars in US currency, the police report, a photocopy of my passport (thank goodness I had this), and 2 recent passport size photos. Take a note: If you are over here and this happens to you, make sure you tell someone at the photos store exactly what you want the photos for. US Passport photos are a different size than European passport photos.
The process was painless once I got to the woman behind the thick plexiglass window. She examined all my papers, and told me to sit down and wait again. A few minutes later, a different consulate official came to the window, called my name, had me sign a form, raise my right hand and swear to something. I was given a temporary passport good for 12 months, and an instruction sheet for how to obtain a permanent passport.
To get the permanent passport, you need to return to the Consulate, with the temporary passport and the instruction sheet, anytime before the expiration date on the temporary passport. I heaved a sigh of relief, got myself back to the Florence train station, and put the whole ordeal out of my head, thinking I will deal with the permanent passport some other time. I just wanted this to disappear for awhile.
I had much bigger fish to fry, managing all the legal stuff required for my citizenship, which took months and months. I knew that my US passport expired in February 2009, and had that date in the back of my mind. In December of 2008, my daughter came to visit and we went to Florence. I called the Consulate to see if I could get an appointment while we were there. No. It was the holidays. I made a mental note to call back right after the holidays, as I would need to get this task done before end of February.
In January, our house sold in Baltimore. I needed to get back to the USA pronto to get the house emptied and do the settlement. And this brought up passport issues again. GRRRRR. I thought I could travel on my brand new Italian passport, but upon calling the US Consulate in Florence, I discovered I needed my US passport in order to enter or leave US territory. My temporary passport would expire before I would be done with my business in the US, so I had a huge dilemma. I ended up having to get special permission from the Consulate General in Florence to re-issue another temporary passport. And yes, another trip back to Florence. And another 100 dollars in US currency.
I went back to see the wizard, and this time walked out with a second temporary passport. Not their normal protocol, but they were cutting me some slack. I didn't argue.
I've been back from the US almost a year. You've probably already guessed that I put getting my replacement passport WAYYYY on the back burner until now. Yup. Guess what I found out during all the time that had transpired. Low and behold, all this time there has been a US Consulate office right here in Venice. It's been here for 4 years, and my, oh my, they handle replacement passports. I was bound and determined I was NOT returning to Florence to get this completed this time.
In mid- December, I did some additional research on the US Consulate website and found the email address for this Venice office. I emailed the same day, and got back a response that said to call them. I called, got voicemail. I made 4 phone calls, left messages, and eventually later that day I did get a return phone call. Wow. There actually is a real live US Consulate representative in Venice. I made an appointment for the next week. I gathered the list of things required: the temporary passport- check, the receipt for the 100 dollars US I'd already paid- check, the information document I had been given by the Florence Consulate - check, a stamped self-addressed envelope- check , and 2 current passport photos. They have a photo machine in the office, so for 10 Euros I can get those done on site.
The US Consulate office for Venice is located at the airport, down near the water taxi stands. I took the bus from Piazzale Roma to the airport, walked down to the docks, rang the bell at the Consulate office, and was buzzed in. No x ray machines, no big doors or hoopla waiting for the wizard this time. The woman behind the desk was pleasant, cheerful and very helpful. She took all my stuff, and told me I should probably have my passport no later than January 11. I asked - should I come pick it up?? No need, it will come in the mail. Are you sure? I have had a devil of a time getting things like books, packages, Christmas cards even delivered in any timely manner in the regular Italian mail. She assured me everything would be fine.
Darned if I didn't get an email from the Milan Consulate office last week informing me that my passport was ready. And today it arrived in my mailbox.
This whole experience has been a cross between Mission: Impossible and easing on down the yellow brick road to see the Wizard. There certainly was no "easing" going on anywhere along my path!!! Having lived through this, I am positive I will need the 10 years break before this passport expires and I attempt to tackle this one again. By that time I hope they have a system where they insert some kind of chip under the skin in my arm. Yes, I vote for that. How much could that hurt?