Iskandar Setiadi

Flag #21 - Europe Solo Trip Pt. I: Preparation & PyConX Italy

Welcome back to my blog! After a long journey of gathering 7 promised stones, I've finally finished writing the first part of this post. Initially, I planned to write it as soon as I came back from the trip months ago, but the gratification monkey won and here I am! This time, I want to share a (not so) long travel diary about my trip to Europe (PyConX Italy & solo trip) earlier this year.

Prelude: Solo Trip

If you've read my post at Flag #18, I set several personal goals and two of them are to visit >= 10 countries & Europe by the age of 25. Back in Nov' 18, I thought to myself, "Okay, I haven't had any chance to visit Europe so far. This is also probably a good opportunity to go crazy and do solo travel!" What could possibly go wrong, right? Oh, the famous last words lol

Without further ado, the first step to go crazy is purchasing a flight ticket that oneself could not easily refund. I picked two countries as the main destination point: France & Switzerland. Initially, there are some other shortlisted countries: Austria, Italy, and Luxembourg. At the end, France was chosen not because of the Eiffel, but the main reason is ... the rabbits; it's a pilgrimage town of "Gochiusa". France also has Versailles, which is part of my bucket list. Switzerland was chosen because of the otherworldly Alps. Now, the one million dollars question, can anyone guess why I added those 3 countries into my shortlisted list? So, ... Austria was there because of "Shuumatsu no Izetta", Elystadt is modeled after Innsbruck, Austria. Italy was on the list too because of its Venice, which is showcased in "Aria The Animation", "Maria-sama ga Miteru", and so on. While Luxembourg was on the list because of "Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai".

Anime Pilgrimage: Elystadt from Izetta (Left); Innsbruck in Austria (Right)

For the timing itself, since winter is probably not a good timing since there will be too much snow in Switzerland, early spring sounds like a good choice. However, early May is a Golden Week period in Japan, which makes flight tickets crazily expensive. End of May to early June sounded like a good season to travel, as the weather is generally good and it's not a high season for people to travel in those countries.

Flight ticket was secured and there's more than half a year to go, so let's think out the details in 2019!

PyConX Italy

Golden week this year was particularly long since there're additional holidays for the Japanese emperor abdication. Everyone tried to create a plan for this long holiday period, but flight ticket is stupidly expensive. Fortunately for me, the company that I worked on will provide travel budgets if any employee becomes a speaker in mid-to-big sized conferences. PyConX Italy was exactly held in the golden week period, and as my CfP got accepted, I could secure a round-trip flight ticket that I won't be able to afford by myself, yeah!

Having an Indonesian passport sucks, as we need a visa to travel anywhere in the globe. I've never applied Schengen visa beforehand, but there's a saying "Think big!" So, my plan was to apply for both my conference visa altogether with my personal trip visa. One of them is technically a business visa and the other one is a tourist visa. You could probably see how this visa stuff will become a ride to hell soon enough orz

Visa Application

I printed out requirements form for both business and tourist visa application. Half of them are quite easy to procure, but the other half are not that easy. The first one is a trip to the bank, where I should get a proof of sufficient balance in my bank account. The second one is a travel insurance THAT is issued from a Japanese insurance company. I emphasized "THAT" here, as there will be a problem later on, if you keep reading this post you'll figure it out soon :') The third one is a "recommendation" letter from your company, which states you'll still work there and will go back to Japan after the trip is over. The other requirements are quite normal, such as round-trip ticket, accommodation bookings, photos, etc.

Around March '19, I thought to myself, "Okay, now this is a good time to start planning for my personal trip." I started throwing some cities name in France & Switzerland to my list, and made hotel reservations here and there. In addition, I purchased Swiss Travel Pass, which came with discounted rate if you're still 25 years old or younger. At that point, everything were going too well, if I could say.

As the conference was held in Italy, I needed to make a visa appointment with Italian embassy. The schedule seemed to fill up quite fast, so the earliest that I could get was around 2 weeks from that day. On the appointment day, I went there and... I couldn't find the entrance to their embassy. WAT. I encircled the entire building complex for 15 minutes, only to realize there's a door with bell behind a road construction. The entrance is literally a backdoor. WTF.

To make things worse, there's a road construction and no queue when I went there

I tried to submit my double-entry visa application, anndd ... yeah, I saw that coming. They didn't allow me to combine my visa application with personal trip as my personal trip has nothing to do with Italy. orz. The problem here was, there're only 3 weeks gap between the end of PyConX Italy to my personal trip. FUN, FUN, FUN.

Florence, Italy

PyConX is the tenth year anniversary of PyCon Italy and it was held in Florence. The city is probably well-known for its Renaissance influences and it's a home for famous artists such as Michelangelo. The food here is great and it's quite interesting that wine is much easier to find than non-sparkling water. However, the bus system here is not so... great: unclear route numbering, rude driver, and broken ticketing system. Nevertheless, Florence is still a quite nice destination to visit for its uniqueness.

Dawn time view of Florence

It's quite rare to meet another Asians in this conference (understandable, it's in Europe), so when we met one, we tend to gather and have a conversation together. Coincidentally, one of the keynote speaker, Yenny Cheung, is one of the Asian who is currently working in the Germany branch of Yelp. She gave a motivating talk on public speaking, so you should check it out! Yuri (my co-worker) became her "best-friend" so fast that we ended up having lunch & dinner together for the next 2 days straight. We put our trust on Yelp people because they simply have one job: recommend us to a good restaurant :lol:

Delicious meat and wine

There's a unique way of drinking coffee in Italy. Caffè corretto, or "a corrected way of coffee", contains a shot of espresso with a small amount of liquor (grappa). In addition, people usually drink caffè corretto at night time! So, I guess it's a battle between espresso and liquor, which decides whether you'll sleep or stay awake that night.

The "corrected" way of drinking coffee, sure

For the unimportant announcement, there's an upcoming animation adaptation, Arte, which will feature Florence as its main theme. Taken from the synopsis, "Arte was born into an aristocratic family in Florence during the 16th century Renaissance era. Being female, it was unheard of for one to become an artist. Driven by her love of art, Arte is willing to cast aside her aristocratic lifestyle to become an artist." In case you cannot wait for the animation, you can start checking the manga out!

Since we had one free day on the last day, we decided to visit Pisa. The distance between Florence & Pisa is about 90 km, which takes around 90 minutes by train. We went there with one of HENNGE ex-intern, Akul, who is currently studying in Netherlands and also became a speaker in PyConX Italy.

When you drank wine too much, never trust Italian architects

Re: Visa Application

Okay, the long flight to Europe sucks. The visa application also sucks. Could I cancel my personal trip now? Umm... no? Please?

For my personal trip, I went to Switzerland embassy as I will stay longer in Switzerland than in France. It's part of Schengen visa application rule, so make sure you read the rule carefully on handling which embassy you should go to. Of course visa application won't be that easy, right? So, my travel insurance is issued by Schengen company, and as it's not issued by a Japanese company, they told me they couldn't receive my visa application , sigh. Since I don't have much choices, I made a trip back to the office, opened my laptop, booked a new travel insurance as fast as I can, and went back to the embassy for the second time that day. Unlike Italian embassy, Switzerland embassy provides a postal service so I didn't need to pick up my passport by myself, bless Swiss merchants, they know how to do business XD

6 different languages in a single receipt, Switzerland * claps *

While Italian embassy took ~4 weeks (2 weeks waiting for registration and 2 weeks waiting to pick it up), Switzerland embassy is so efficient in this matter. Switzerland embassy doesn't require an appointment so I could just go there and put my application in. The entire process only took 1 week and they delivered my passport back to my house!

The D-Day

(To be continued in Part II ...)

See ya next time!

Author: Iskandar Setiadi - Type: Experience - Date: 10th Sep, 2019

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