Pomegranates remind me of Armenia in general and New Year’s in Armenia in particular.
By Myrthe on January 4, 2014
I took this picture at the Rotterdam Public Library, where for the past weeks there’s been an exhibition of the typical Cracow Christmas cribs. The exhibition brought back memories of my trip to Cracow almost twenty years ago to visit my oldest friend Anna, who is from Silesia and studied in Cracow at the time. I spent New Year’s Even with her and on that trip, we also visited that year’s exhibitions of nativity scenes in Cracow. I hadn’t thought about this particular trip in years, but while I am writing this, more memories come up.
I miss blogging, writing, observing, taking pictures, being creative. I know I haven’t blogged regularly in the last I don’t know how many years. I also know that I tried to get back to posting more regularly several times and never managed to keep the momentum going. But I miss having this blog as something of a creative outlet, a way to sort out my thoughts and ideas. So I’m giving it another try. But instead of writing long(ish) posts like I used to and instead of a Picture-A-Day kind of project for this year as I initially had in mind (but which I probably won’t manage to keep up for more than two weeks), I want to try to post shorter things and pictures more often, though hopefully there’ll be the odd longer post as well. We’ll see where I end up with this.
By Myrthe on September 18, 2013
This is the second part of two posts in which I share my experience traveling with my two cats from Tbilisi to Holland and the preparations that involved. You can read the first part here.
Don’t feed the pets the last twelve hours before your trip and don’t let them drink water the last four hours before. Put an old sweater or an old blanket that smells like you in the cage. Also, put a food bowl, a small bag of wet food and a small bottle of water in their cage, especially if you expect your pets to travel in the hold so they can be fed as soon as possible upon arrival by the animal handlers at the airport. My vet recommended that the cats wear disposable diapers while traveling, but I didn’t think that was necessary and would only make things more stressful. If your pet is traveling in the hold, tape copies of your pet’s travel papers in a plastic folder on the travel cage. I have to admit I dutifully did this, but the tape didn’t stick well enough, so I had already lost Nirvo’s papers in the hustle and bustle of Tbilisi airport before I even reached the check-in line.
Fortunately, friends took me to the airport by car and helped me drag my luggage and cats around. I was very grateful for them to be ready to give up half their night (of course, the flight to Amsterdam is one of those regular middle-of-the-night flights every frequent traveler to and from the Caucasus loathes). Count on things taking a bit more time if you are traveling with pets, so be early at the airport and at the gate. Upon entering the Tbilisi airport building, everyone (and I do mean everyone, not just travelers) has to go through a security check complete with X-ray and detection gate. This meant that I had to take the cats out of their travel cages, walk through the detection gate with a scared cat in my arms while the cage passes through the x-ray machine and put the cat back in the box on the other side. I then had to walk around the security area, sneak back in line and repeat the process with the second cat while my friends took care of my luggage. Of course, the security officers and the other people waiting in line were not happy about me taking so much time and skipping lines, but what else could I do? Keep doing your thing and let other people go ahead as much as possible and you should be fine.
As my cats are fairly big and I had two cat carriers that were bigger than the usual size allowed for taking pets in the cabin, I expected them to travel in the hold with the luggage. I won’t deny I was a bit nervous about that. However, at the check-in counter, the woman who helped me told me my cats were traveling with me in the cabin and that she’d give me two chairs in the very last row. On the one hand this was nice, because now at least I knew the cats would be near me the entire trip. But this also meant I had to drag my carry-on luggage (a trolley suitcase and a shoulder bag) plus the two travel cages with me through two airports, something I had not counted on.
At the security check at the gate, I had to go through the same routine of going through security twice with a scared cat on my arm. This time there were of course fewer people and I made sure I was early at the gate. The same tips apply as I mentioned before: as long as you stay calm, take your time and don’t let the security staff or other passengers waiting in line egg you on, you’ll be fine. Similarly, I made sure I was early in line for boarding, also because I had to go all the way to the end of the plane anyway. Fortunately, a friendly fellow passenger helped me bring my carry-on luggage on the plane and there one of the flight attendants helped me bring everything to my seat and get organized. I put Archy’s travel box on the floor between my seats and the row in front and Nirvo’s on the seat next to me.
In good Georgian chaotic style, a guy showed up who had been assigned the seat next to me, though the woman at check-in had clearly told me she would assign me two seats. Fortunately, the flight was not full (which is also why I assume they let the cats travel with me in the cabin instead of in the hold), so the flight attendants gave him a different seat and I could stay put with my precious cargo.
Once we were seated, I covered Nirvo’s box on the seat next to me with my jacket. This was a good move, as he immediately calmed down in the dark box and stayed calm the entire flight. I really recommend carrying a big shawl, a jacket or something else big enough to cover the cage and calm your pet down during the flight. Nirvo is much more nervous and less people-minded than Archy. Archy was stressed too, but took it all in better and quieter stride than Nirvo. In general, both cats were excellent the entire flight. They’d meow occasionally, but quieted down quickly when I petted them and talked to them.
The biggest drag of the entire trip came at the end. Schiphol Airport is big and I had to carry my luggage and the cats from the gate to the baggage claim area. There are small luggage carts in the transit area, but they only fitted one box and my shoulder bag, so I still needed one hand to pull the trolley and carry the other box and had only one hand to steer the cart. Not a good idea, so I abandoned the cart after only ten meters. I’ve never been so appreciative of the autowalks (yes, that’s what they’re called in English) at Schiphol Airport – Mind your step!
After collecting my luggage I obviously had goods to declare this time. I had to wait for the guy with the microchip reader to show up, so in the meantime I chatted a bit with the customs officers there (fortunately, it was quiet and they were not very busy), trying to improve their image of Georgia and the Georgians. The customs officer checked my cats’ papers very attentively and, as I mentioned above, calculated meticulously the time periods between the microchipping, rabies vaccinations, lab analysis and the actual travel. This all took about half an hour, but everything was fine and Archy and Nirvo were allowed to enter Holland.
From the airport home were another two uneventful hours by car. Within hours of arriving at our final destination, Archy was running around exploring his new surroundings. Nirvo needed more time to get over his big travel adventure and to adjust to his new surroundings. Yes, I was a bit stressed beforehand, but with careful planning and some extra hands at Tbilisi airport, this was totally doable. Which is not to say I am looking forward to ever having to travel with pets by plane again.
You can read part 1 here. I want to stress that in these two blogposts I am sharing my experiences specific to bringing two cats from Georgia to the Netherlands. Requirements for many countries and airlines will differ, so even though I hope my posts will be useful to people traveling with pets, do not take this as a standard guide on how to travel with pets.
By Myrthe on September 16, 2013
About a week ago, I left Tbilisi to move back to Holland. As soon as I started telling people a couple of months ago about my decision to leave Tbilisi, many asked me what I was going to do with my two cats Archy and Nirvo. Was I going to take them with me to Holland? Of course I was! Many others didn’t even bother to ask whether I was taking them with me, because they already knew the answer. Archy and Nirvo have been with me for seven and more than nine years respectively; they are my family. I was not going to leave them behind. So when I boarded my flight to Amsterdam last week, I did have two cats with me. Bringing pets into the European Union is totally doable, but it is a long process and definitely needs planning and thinking ahead.
My biggest piece of advice to anyone planning to travel with pets is to start early, especially if you are bringing pets that were born elsewhere into the European Union for the first time. My cats were both born in Armenia and I took them with me when I moved from Yerevan to Tbilisi in 2012. Since both cats are indoor cats and don’t go outside, I had never bothered to deworm or vaccinate them until I started to prepare for my move to Georgia. The requirements for pets crossing the Armenian-Georgian border are not very strict, a rabies vaccination was enough, so I had never bothered with microchips or regular deworming and things like that. When I realized at the beginning of 2013 that I might not stay in Tbilisi (though at that time I had no specific plans to leave yet), I also realized I needed to start preparing the cats for future travel and possible entry into the European Union. I am very glad I did, because the entire process took about 5-6 months, due to the required waiting periods between the different steps.
The requirements to bring cats or dogs into the Netherlands and most countries of the European Union (but not all, there are a few countries that have additional quarantine requirements) include rabies vaccinations, test results from an EU-certified lab that the pet is protected against rabies, and a microchip. The paper work you need to show at the EU border are a pet passport, the lab results of the aforementioned test and an EU-certificate filled in and signed by the pet owner and the vet. You can download this form here (Scroll down to where it says “The forms in the various linguistic versions may be downloaded here”). The Dutch Voedsel- en Warenautoriteit has a very useful site to find the requirements to import pets into the Netherlands (in Dutch).
Additionally, to leave the country where you start your travels, you usually need a health certificate from the veterinary inspection that has to issued within 24 or 36 hours before traveling. Keep this in mind and make time for this on the day before you travel. In Tbilisi, getting this document from the State Veterinary Inspection was easy and straightforward, but the procedure took about an hour and required some back and forth between the Inspection’s office and a nearby bank, in part because the Inspection’s office is located somewhere outside the city center. Before leaving Armenia last year, I needed a similar certificate from the Armenian Veterinary Inspection. In Armenia I was specifically told not to bring my cats to the Inspection’s office and this certificate was free of charge; in Tbilisi I did need to bring the cats and I had to pay 50 GEL to get the document. So check for the procedure for the country you are in.
Microchipping your pet needs to be done at least 21 days before the latest rabies vaccination. Then there must be one month between the rabies vaccination and the drawing of the blood for the lab analysis. In Tbilisi it takes about two weeks to get the test results back. Finally, the pets cannot enter the EU until at least three months after the date the blood was drawn (independent from when you received the test results and assuming the test results are good, of course). So now you can see how getting your pets ready for import into the EU takes almost six months. All of these intervals were meticulously counted by the customs officer checking my cats’ papers upon arrival at Schiphol Airport. Of course, if you already did any of this at an earlier stage, you will need less time to prepare your pets. Also, the procedure I described here is for pets originating outside of the EU who will enter the EU for the first time. The requirements for pets who originated in the EU, left and then returned, is different.
My advice is to try to work with a vet who has expat customers and who is familiar with the procedure and the requirements. But of course, don’t just rely on your vet – do your own research as well. Also, I asked some friends who had recently traveled with pets from Tbilisi about their experiences.
Because I was traveling with pets, I decided to take the direct flight Tbilisi-Amsterdam to keep travel time as short as possible and to not have to deal with third countries and transits. This was a bit of a risk, as Georgian Airways/Airzena does not necessarily have the best reputation when it comes to losing luggage and canceling flights at the very last moment, but, as it turned out, everything went smoothly. A few days after I bought my ticket online, I called the airline’s Tbilisi office to make reservations for the cats. This took a couple of hours of dealing with phones not being answered or being busy all the time and calls being broken off mid-conversation, but eventually I managed to register that I would be traveling with two cats. About a week before I was to fly, I called the airline again to double-check if my cats were still on the list.
In part 2 I will share my experience traveling with the cats. I want to stress that in these two blogposts I am sharing my experiences specific to bringing two cats from Georgia to the Netherlands. Requirements for many countries and airlines will differ, so even though I hope this will be useful to people traveling with pets, do not take this as a general guide on how to travel with pets.
By Myrthe on November 24, 2012
These are my two favorites of the pictures I took today on a hike in Birtvisi Canyon southwest of Tbilisi. Getting out of the city to hike more often in the last few weeks is doing wonders for my physical and mental well-being.