Traveling without a Passport: Lessons Learned

Welcome home, all of us—it’s been an eventful two weeks! For the holidays, Mrs. Satis, Little Satis and I had planned (for quite some time, I should add) to travel back to our ‘home’ town of Sheffield, England, to visit the dear friends we left behind when we moved to the Garden State four years ago. In particular I was looking forward to seeing my best friend Ben, who is directly responsible for The Redemption of Erâth existing at all, and whose little boy had just turned one.

We were due to leave on Christmas day (cheap flights and all), and so during the typically frantic last-minute preparations, we got out all our travel documents on Christmas Eve, including passports (both Little Satis and I share a British and US passport). As a matter of routine, Mrs. Satis asked me to check the expiration dates of the passports—after all, sometimes you can’t travel if the passport is close to expiration.

Mrs. Satis’ passport: fine.

Little Satis’ passport: fine.

My passport: expired—one year ago. My other passport: also expired one year ago.

Please, for the sake of matrimonial harmony, don't let your passports expire …

Please, for the sake of matrimonial harmony, don’t let your passports expire …

Well, hell hath no fury like a wife whose husband neglected to renew both of his passports and didn’t find out until the night before he was due to travel. After a great deal of frantic online searching, it was discovered that there was absolutely nothing to be done; a call to a (very friendly) United Airlines representative assured us that it is absolutely impossible to fly internationally without a valid passport. I mean, it kind of makes sense (duh), but it was worth asking.

What to do? The next day (Christmas day), I drove Mrs. Satis and our son to the airport, and watched rather pathetically as they passed through security with their perfectly valid passports, and drove home to spend the first of several very lonely nights. It was, in typical ‘me’ fashion, an auspicious beginning to our holiday.

My intention was to go to the passport office in New York city the following morning, argue my case as miserably as possible, and hope that someone would take pity on me and issue me a new passport. I set my alarm for 5:00 AM, slept poorly, and just before I stepped out of the house, thought maybe—just maybe—I ought to double-check the opening times of the New York passport office. Yep—7:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday … except December 26.

Damn you, keyhole …

Damn you, keyhole …

Brilliant. I was now looking at spending the entire weekend alone, while my wife and son were galavanting around Sheffield, enjoying themselves with our friends and going to pantomimes. In my despair, I decided to feed my depression with pizza and stepped out that night, into temperatures well below freezing, to collect from our local trattoria. The moment the door shut (naturally), I slipped my hand into my jeans pocket to check that I had the house keys. Not normally an issue, because there was someone else in the house to let me back in.

Only tonight, there was no one. And the keys … were on the kitchen counter.

Luckily my car keys were still with me, so I was at the very least able to pick up the pizza, which was the only thing that kept me warm during the hour I waited for a locksmith to come and jimmy the door open. Two hundred dollars and a crowbar later I was back in the house, and I was pretty sure the holidays couldn’t get much worse. It was in this state of mind that I checked Facebook, and discovered a friend from work was out performing at a gig nearby. I rarely had the opportunity to see her sing, and here—home alone, with no one to tuck in—was the perfect opportunity. But did I dare leave the house again? Decisions, decisions …

Mary and the Uptown Getdowns!

Mary and the Uptown Getdowns!

In the end I went, having quadruple-checked that the house keys were in my pocket before latching the door, and ultimately it was the right thing to do. Live music is a cheering pastime, and I stayed out until the end of their set, which went on until nearly midnight. Well-played, Mary.

As luck would have it, that was largely the end of my misfortunes; I spent Saturday and Sunday alone and got quite a bit done on recording The Redemption of Erâth: Consolation as an audiobook for Ben. Monday morning I was at the passport office at 6:00 AM (to find a line of fifty people already ahead of me), and to the surprising credit of the US government, a brand-new passport was in my hands by 1:00 PM. With hardly a pause I raced on to the airport, where my rescheduled flight was waiting for me (only $600 to change, too … ). By 1:00 PM the next day—only four days late—I was reunited with my family, and the vacation could begin.

The University of Sheffield, Firth Hall—where Mrs. Satis and I first met.

The University of Sheffield, Firth Hall—where Mrs. Satis and I first met.

With the exception of being unable to withdraw cash because my bank’s fraud team was a touch overzealous, the rest of the trip went off largely without a hitch. While I missed the pantomime (Peter Pan, at Sheffield City Hall), Mrs. Satis and I were nonetheless able to visit many of the places we remembered from our time there, including the University where we met and the Town Hall where we were married.

We even found time to drive up into the Peak District and visit Ladybower Reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley, and despite the cold and frost it’s still one of the most picturesque places I know in the world.

Tea, rain, full English breakfasts and plentiful public transport … it was the full British experience, cut short by only a few days. Ben was absolutely giddy to receive his signed copy of The Redemption of Erâth: Consolation, including the first five chapters as audiobook for his (dubious) listening pleasure. Little Satis got to spend time with his (girl)friend since nursery school, and Mrs. Satis and I had enough time to reminisce about our time in Sheffield.

Ladybower Reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley.

Ladybower Reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley.

Sometimes I regret leaving, and sadly there was far too little time to do everything we wanted to, but it was ultimately a wonderful winter vacation, salvaged by, of all things, the US passport office. It would have been lonely indeed had I not been able to renew my passport.

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The Great Summer Road Trip

It’s taken me quite some time to get around to this post; I intended to write it up almost a month ago, but photos are an integral part of what I wish to share, and it’s taken me quite some time to sort through them. From the 2,000+ that I returned with, I culled it down to 666 (heh heh), and from that a collection of 154 personal favorites. I won’t be sharing every single one of them in this post, but you can see the whole set here.

The Song Spinner – Pauline Le Bel (1991)

Earlier this year, one lazy Saturday afternoon when the clouds were dark and the rain heavy, we stumbled upon a little-known film called The Song Spinner. It was based on an eponymous book by Pauline Le Bel. It’s a beautiful and darkly mystic tale of a country ruled by silence: any sort of noise is gravely punished. The movie was stark in its portrayal of this; eerily quiet, there is no score, and the characters quite genuinely speak throughout in hushed whispers. Only one girl, Aurora, hears the wonder of music in her own head, and yearns desperately to be able to voice her melodies. When she meets a mysterious old lady who secretly encourages this song, the stage is set for a beautiful and inspiring change across all of the kingdom.

Anyway, as enchanting as the movie was, even more so was the filming location: snow-swept plains, a cobblestoned village, rustic and desolate. Utterly taken by this incredible scenery, we looked up where it was filmed, and discovered the distant Louisbourg Fortress, on the far tip of Nova Scotia, Canada. Only about…twenty hours from where we live. Well; there was suddenly no question of where we were to go this summer.

A Bellefonte Duck. She knows she’s in a special place!

However, our journey turned out to be far more epic than that. Over the course of two weeks, we travelled over 4,000 miles, through twelve states and two countries. Our first stop was my mother’s home in Kentucky. Little Satis had been spending the summer there with her, and we were to pick him up. We spent only a couple of days there before setting off once more. Our next destination was Cape May, New Jersey, to spend a day or two on the beach. What fun! But first, we stopped at a little town we discovered last year and fell in love with: Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. This charming little victorian town is nestled next to a small river, and is filled with beautiful buildings, lovely shops, and a small park by the stream that is simply overflowing with ducks.

The sun sets over the Cape May beaches.

From here it was off to Cape May. We had booked a small bed and breakfast last year, but were forced to cancel due to the inconvenience of hurricane Irene (stupid tropical storms). We’d not been to Cape May before, but my anxiety was unfounded – it was every bit as lovely as we had been told. Though it was a fairly traditional east coast seaside town, the water was warm and the beaches clean…just right for sandcastles! The sunset, despite being on the wrong side of the beach, was beautiful nonetheless.

One of the fabulous examples of victorian architecture in Providence, RI.

We spent only a night here: our trip was far from over. Onwards we pushed, up, up to Rhode Island, and the small town of Providence. It was an odd town, Providence; not nearly as gracious as we had expected, being almost run off the road by an impatient twerp in a pickup four times the size of our car. Still, despite the stress of that evening, we realized the next morning that we were on the doorstep of Brown University, and here was the charm we had been missing. Once more a town built in ages past, we were surrounded by old brick homes and towering architecture. Crime rates aside, if I were to go back to school, it might well be here.

The Irish Piper puts in to port.

Not satisfied with one town that day, we rampaged our way further up the coast, passing through Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire to arrive in Portland, Maine, just before a delightful storm drenched the best lobster dinner we had ever – ever – had. Portland, I verily fell in love with; an old world fishing port, it was awash with the sea and the salt and the grumblings of genuine bonafide sea dogs! I have an hopeless attraction to the old and run down (in the most positive sense of that phrase…), and Portland fulfilled me in every way.

Sadly, we were only to stay there one evening, for now it was time for the true push: northwards, up and onwards to Canada, and Nova Scotia. We spent the night in a town called Moncton, on the border of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, but I have little to say: we didn’t like it much at all!

The dark and dramatic lighthouse of Louisbourg.

And so, on the tenth day of our monumental trip, we arrived, finally, in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, and the beauty of that rugged, windswept land was more than we could have hoped for. Three days, we spent, traveling, visiting, and seeing all that could be seen. (We had plans to see whales on the third day, but the wind didn’t seem to care and cancelled all the outings that day.)

We spent our first day under cloud and rain, and wandered the locality of Louisbourg proper. We visited an aging, disused lighthouse, atop a heightened crag, from where we could look across the sea and spy the fortress, lost within the mist.

Desolate graves at the edge of the land.

The weather being what it was, it was only fitting that we stop by the local graveyard (something I have a bit of an obsession about); it was heartbreaking to see four headstones in a row, bearing the same name from over two hundred years ago; some unhappy accident or disease claiming the lives of an entire family.

Further in keeping with the drear of the day, we visited a colliery– led into the abysmal depths by a miner of over forty years, we breathlessly learned of the horrors of mining at the turn of the century. Throughout  the harshest winter, in a climate where your very eyelids could freeze shut, entire villages of miners were kept at ransom by the mining companies: paid less than they could live off of, they were kept in permanent debt, owing their very lives to the company. Every man, without fail, was expected to work every day: if one should fall ill, they would have no choice but to send their sons. If they did not, they would be turned out from their home, and left to starve and freeze to death.

Imagine living in these depths sixteen hours a day, seven days a week.

On the second day of our stay, the weather improved, and we finally, after so many months of waiting, arrived at the reason for our entire voyage: Louisbourg Fortress. A French colonial fortress, it stands on the edge of the sea, preserved perfectly for over two hundred years. Populated by an entire village’s worth of period actors, you are transported verily to the heart of the nineteenth century. Somehow they manage to pull this off with grace; from the live cannon fire to the delicious stew served in pewter, we were taken away to a different world. Even the very children gathered caterpillars in bonnets and breeches, and the gardens were tended by a lovely old man who removed his three-corned hat to speak to my wife.

The ancient rooftops of a great fortress.

The place is grand: in the morning-to-night time we spent there, we were unable to visit every corner of the living fortress. In every building and courtyard were thrills and delights, from weaving lace to tending sheep, and the ever gracious townsfolk were more than willing to show you how to help. Little Satis spent about twenty minutes at lace (threading precisely one stitch), and even discovered an entire room filled with period toys (took a while to leave that one!).

The sea near Chéticamp, along the Cabot Trail.

It is a wonderful experience, and I urge any who plan to visit this part of the world to take part in their daily lives. Sadly, we could not stay, though on our final day we drove the length of the Cabot Trail: a 300-mile costal path that passes to the northern-most tip of Cape Breton and back again. It was here that we were treated to simply the most stunning, breathtaking scenery; of all the places I have been in this world, I can think of nowhere else that could surpass it for sheer beauty. The azure seas, deep blue skies, and all the vivid hues of trees and grass and rock come together to rise you above the ground, and place you verily at the ending of the world.

Can you imagine such a breathtakingly beautiful view?

It was a bittersweet moment when time came to leave; we stopped little on our return, heading home with beauty and longing in our hearts. It is a long way from home – but I would not hesitate for a moment to return.

Laurelwood Arboretum

I don’t feel I can strictly call this a post; we went to a local arboretum this weekend, and I just wanted to share some of the sights.

It was a thought my wife had; we’d been trying to find this place for some time. We knew exactly where it was, but each and every time I failed to find the entrance to the place. Needless to say, we had a huge fight, and naturally she was right.

So all I really want to say is, I’m sorry, darling wife, and I hope these pictures help make up for it. This was a beautiful place you took us to.

Thank you!

As the name suggests, there were trees. They were awfully tall.


Flowers they had, also. I will apologize here and say I know nothing about flowers, other than they’re pretty. If you know the names of any of these, let me know!


Isn’t this a funky little guy? He looks sneaky, like he’s trying to tap you on the other shoulder as you walk past.


Some of the colors were wonderful beyond description.


Even the purest white was dazzling, and radiant.


Fire and passion, embodied in petal and pollen.


The day was beautiful; azure skies and wisps of white, and greenery all around.


A wonderful fountain, in a pond of green.


Each path, large and small, was individually named; Dorothy led us to Hickory Hill.


Ducky girls day out. They certainly enjoyed the pond scum.


Many critters there were, also; isn’t this little lady beautiful?


Small and unnoticed, the busy fellows who make this all possible.


I am astounded by the dragon’s wings – ephemeral, almost non-existent, and suddenly this gorgeous streak through the very center.


Champion of the winged creatures, at first it looked like a shine of silver and blue. Look closer, and see the hundreds of minute spots that make up her beauty.


And finally…quiet, still, tucked away in the glen and hiding in the shadows, the most precious sight of all. Across the stream, we gazed upon each other, and I’m certain she knew I meant no harm.