As the first of many backlogged posts thanks to the unbelievable, yet very enjoyable, workload I’ve had over the past few months here at ULB: I bring you Canada!
The trip was purely for pleasure, mum was presenting at 46th SIOP Pediatric Oncology Congress in Toronto and bringing the brother along, and since it’s closer to fly from Brussels to there than to Manila, I found myself in Canada. The immigration official was certainly amused: “Why come all the way to Canada to meet your family?” “Because Canada is beautiful!” *stamp*
Admittedly the pre-trip preparations were not the smoothest of things.
I had to apply for a Canadian visa while in Rome, and to say that the VAC they outsourced their visa processing to was a nightmare is an understatement. There were numbers for the queue, but everyone got one, two, or three, looked at them and just cut straight to the desk. The Canadian man who was waiting with me the first time I visited the VAC was going absolutely insane—his passport had apparently been stolen in Rome (a common occurrence), and he had applied for an emergency travel document and was told it was ready that day, just in time too as his flight back home was that afternoon— he had his suitcases with him and everything. He told me, us two being the only English-speakers in the room, that he had been waiting since the place opened and so far people kept cutting in line. I told him that he should have done the same, but he told me that the people at the counter only spoke Italian and told him to sit down. It was at that point that I realized my queue number meant nothing, that I would miss my class if I waited there indefinitely, and I left and wished the poor Canadian luck in his endeavor.
I tried waiting at the VAC a couple of other times, but to no avail, the queue meant nothing. Unfortunately that summer was a particularly busy one, passport-wise. I had summer schools in Switzerland, Norway, and Hungary, plus a month-long fieldwork visit. I couldn’t trust this badly run ‘International Organization for Migration’ representing Canada in Rome with my passport for an indefinite period of time, especially since the concept of time seemed meaningless to them. I cannot stress enough how irritating it is to be faced with such inefficiency, particularly when other embassies in Rome (for instance, the Hungarian Embassy, Philippine Embassy, Swiss Embassy) were paragons of time management! I was literally in and out of the Hungarian Embassy in under twenty minutes both times, most of it spent trying to get through the very sensitive automated security scanning door.
In the end though it all went well, I contacted the Visa Section of the Canadian Embassy directly at Via Zara 30, explained my situation, and they were extremely kind and took my status of moving-around-and-needing-my-passport-urgently into consideration. The visa was processed online, I dropped by late-August right before moving out of our apartment, showed the guard at the Embassy door the printed email and my passport, they let me in and later that afternoon I received my visa! Bless you, efficient Canadian embassy. You do not deserve the tragic VAC ruining the image of Canada just a few streets away.
To be fair, it wasn’t just Italy, even Brussels gave me her fair share of challenges. Getting my suitcase up and down the endless flights of narrow concrete stairs at Village Patrimmonia was no joke— disabled-friendly indeed. I left Brussels with a few clothes, and I returned with ice wine, maple syrup, maple cookies, maple butter, delicious stuff but heavy.
It was all worth it though, to see my family again, and for a week! Also, Canada truly is beautiful.