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Carcassonne: worth the trip?

4 Sep

Carcassonne Towers

I have long wanted to go to the historic, fortified walled city of Carcassonne, a UNESCO world heritage site, located in southern France, with its fairy-tale looking defensive double walls, castle, drawbridge, watchtowers and cobbled streets.  Not only was I fascinated with it, I had read about and seen enticing photos of the five-star Hôtel de La Cité, located in the heart of the medieval citadel, and relished the idea of staying within the walled city. The hotel has the traditional, comfortable luxury that I favor, with inviting outdoor spaces and great views of the expansive valley below.

 

I had initially flown directly from Alicante, Spain to Toulouse, in the region of Occitanie, scheduling the first three days in Toulouse. For the fourth day, I booked the Hôtel de La Cité. Carcassonne is only a short, scenic 40 minute train ride from Toulouse. Unfortunately, I misjudged how long it would take to get from my hotel in Toulouse to the train station due to having to navigate around the old town and to get a ticket for my dog from an agent. Fair warning, I was able to book my seat on the train via the internet but not for my small dog, which had to be done in person at the train station. So I took the next train, an hour and a half later, with my small dog, Pepper, (AKA Pimienta) in his portable, wheeled carrier.

Pepper (aka Pimienta)

 

The train station in Toulouse had a piano permanently located in the waiting area, and many people spontaneously sat down and played. It’s these little serendipitous things that contribute to my passion for travel. There was also a foosball table, which kids and adults stopped to play. Be aware that in many train stations in France you need to get to your train by walking under the train tracks via stairs. If you have mobility issues and/or a heavy suitcase, it can be challenging. Allow extra time or if you are disabled, request help when booking your ticket.

 

Barbacane alfresco dining

Whenever I take public transportation like a train or bus, I try to go one timeslot earlier than my needed arrival time, in case something like this train trip goes awry. So even though I left an hour and a half later than initially intended, I still arrived on time at the hotel where I had scheduled to eat at the hotel’s Michelin star restaurant, Barbacane. Lunch was in the lovely garden area with views of some of the wall, watchtowers, and the valley below where Carcassonne residents now live. The prix fixe three course lunch which included two courses, each served with a glass of wine selected by the sommelier to pair with the food. Water was included and a choice of dessert or a cheese plate at the end, all for a quality, reasonably-priced meal of €39. Pepper sat quietly under the table.

 

Dog-friendly garden patio

 

After lunch, we went to my room, which was spacious, with elegant furnishings, a great bed and a menu offering a variety of pillows from which you can choose. Knowing I was bringing my dog, they gave me a room with stairs that led down to a garden area, where Pepper could do his outdoor duties. There also was a table and chairs on the upstairs patio. I was surprised and pleased to see they had a dog dish with water in the room ready for Pepper, the first time I have ever experienced that. And there was no extra charge for the dog, whereas normally there is.

 

After settling in to the room, I went out to explore the rest of Carcassonne within the walled citadel. The area is pedestrian with the exception of an occasional delivery vehicle, but it was very crowded with summer day trippers. There are a few buildings and museums worth exploring.

Saint-Nazaire

The Gothic-Romanesque Basilica Saint-Nazaire dates back to the 12th century and has beautiful stained glass. The rest of the buildings largely house touristic shops selling regional specialties including food (foie gras, cassoulet, truffles, and olives), local wines, knight-themed items, and cafes and restaurants.  It felt more like a crowded theme park than a historic site. I had only booked one night at the Hôtel de la Cité, as I first wanted to see if I enjoyed it enough to stay longer; I was glad I did. I considered exploring some of the other areas of Occitanie, but ultimately decided to head back to Toulouse and explore it further.

 

I used the internet to find a last-minute hotel reservation for the next three nights in a different area of Toulouse than my initial stay. After I arrived, I told the taxi driver the name of my hotel, he said it was just a short distance, waving his hand toward a large boulevard. So I walked, and walked, and walked. The hotel was not straight down the street, and I wandered for a while, luggage and dog in tow in the heat. I stopped for a cooling beverage, where I could ask the staff for directions. Feeling slightly refreshed and optimistic, I again set off for my hotel. An unexpected finding was that there were three hotels within a two block area that had the same name as the one I booked. Well actually, the main name was the same, with a slightly different second name. I finally found my hotel, which I initially found shockingly spartan after my stay at a five-star hotel. After I got over my initial dismay, I found the room adequate, particularly as I don’t spend much time in my room, and it was a dog-friendly hotel. I spent the next three and a half days in Toulouse exploring different neighborhoods, historic sites, and scouting out delectable food. I am already thinking about a return trip to Toulouse.

 

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Bringing Pets to Europe

27 Feb
Pepper

Pepper prior to move

Bringing pets to the European Union (E.U.) from the U.S. is much easier than what it once was. No longer are there long required quarantines. The United Kingdom has relaxed their requirements and no longer have quarantine requirements. https://www.gov.uk/bringing-food-animals-plants-into-uk/pets-and-other-animals Non-E.U. countries, the policies can be different. Finland, Ireland and Malta also have their own pet import regulations. The following reflects the current requirements for up to five dogs, cats, and/or ferrets coming to an E.U. country from the U.S. As governmental regulations can change, it is advisable to check the website for the USDA APHIS (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.) Then click on the “Live Animals,” and enter your EU destination. For Canadians, the regulations are similar. Up to date guidelines for exporting pets from Canada to the EU can be found on the website: Canadian Food Inspection Agency under “non-commercial export of dogs, cats, and ferrets to the EU.”

 

  1. As far out from your desired departure date, check with individual airlines regarding their pet transport policies. Start by checking their websites, and then speak with an actual airline representative to get the specifics. Weigh your animal to determine whether they are eligible for travel in the cabin, under the seat in an airline-approved carrier. The weight allowed includes the pet, carrier and anything else placed in the carrier. Including his carrier, my dog, Pepper, was just at or slightly above the weight limit allowed by many airlines, so I booked on airlines with a more generous 8 kg. /17 pounds limit, including Swiss Air, Alitalia, and Iberia. Since my last flight which was in early 2015, several of the major carriers have increased their in cabin weight allowance to be 17 or 20 pounds. Also, some types of dogs are not permitted, such as snub nose dogs, in which case you can consider a pet relocation service. There are different policies for very young, unvaccinated pets. Airlines charge varying rates for transporting pets, from $50 to over $500, so take that into consideration during your research. Check to see if there are periods of time they do not transport animals in the cargo hold due to expected inclement or extreme weather. Some airlines don’t take pets via cargo in hot months as they have had animals die. If your pet will be in the cargo hold, consider booking during months or times that are typically temperate: morning or evening in the summer and midday in the winter. Also, direct (non-stop) flights are better for pets. Make sure the carrier purchased meets the airline’s regulations. Carriers or crates must afford the animal to move around, and typically have an absorbent cushion or rug with adequate ventilation. A carrier with wheels will make moving your pet through the airport far smoother. Because there are so many different airline regulations, costs, weight limits, etc., when deciding on an airline, I made a written grid to record each airline’s policies for easy comparison.
  2. Book your flight as soon as possible to guarantee a spot for your pet as they have a limit to how many pets can be on a flight. Space availability for pets is also determined by the type of aircraft, cabin and seating. Make sure your pet has a reservation. During the three times, I flew back and forth between California to the E.U. I was charged for my pet when I checked in at the airport. If you will be using other ground transportation once you arrive, such as a train, bus or car rental, check their pet transport policies. The first time, I brought my dog from Madrid to Alicante via train, and the second time directly to the Alicante airport via plane.
  3. Well in advance of your travel date, get your pet used to the carrier or crate. In the beginning, put the pet in it with a toy and snack. As s/he gets comfortable, leave the pet in the carrier when you leave home. Take your pet in the carrier on walks and in the car to get used to motion. For pets who will transported in the hold, it is especially important to get them used to being in their crate and moving.

    Pepper in transport crate

    Pepper in transport crate

  4. Well in advance of your scheduled flight, find a veterinarian who is certified and experienced in pet relocation to your scheduled EU destination. I strongly recommend meeting with the vet for an initial session to make sure s/he is qualified and experienced in completing all of the required steps within the tight timeframes necessary. Make sure the vet has the correct form (ANNEX II) and has previously completed them. If your pet is not already had a microchip inserted, this is an ideal time to do it. Let the vet know it is for travelling to an EU country. For EU countries, it must be an ISO 15 digit microchip, either 11784 or 11785. After the chip is placed, the pet must have a rabies vaccine, even if it already has a valid rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine can be on the same day the animal is chipped or at a later date. This rabies shot must be administered at least 21 days before your flight departs. I did not understand that my dog needed to get a new rabies shot, nor did my vet inform me at the time of the dog being chipped. Thus I had to delay my departure date which resulted in a several hundred dollar change fee. During your initial appointment with the vet, I recommend having the vet do a physical to make sure there won’t be any last minute health issues. I also got him to prescribe a slightly sedating medication for the long flight. If you get a calming medication, make sure it is not contraindicated for flights, as was the first medication my dog was prescribed by a less experienced vet. Some airlines do not permit dogs to be sedated. Since my dog was flying in the cabin, I felt it would be in his best interest to take a sedating pill since he would be in his carrier for 12 to 15 hours, and I would be able to monitor him. Twice I gave him a trial of the pill before departing to make sure there were no adverse side-effects.
  5. The vet has to fill out the ANNEX II form about 12 to 15 days before departure. Then that form has to be mailed or taken by hand to your local USDA office, for certification. You have to enter the EU country within 10 days of the USDA certification, which is a very tight timeframe. This means that you should schedule the final vet exam and paperwork completion, at an early enough hour to allow you to get it to an overnight mail service. Make sure to check the USDA website for the mailing address for your region, mandatory fees which you must include, and include a return overnight mailing document with your address. Keep in mind some “overnight” mail services do not deliver on the week-ends.
  6. Prior to departure date, check for pet relief areas at the airports which you will be using. Some have indoor pet areas. For example, at the LAX airport international terminal in Los Angeles, near the business lounge, was a pet play and relief center with artificial grass. Arrive at the airport at least three hours in advance of your scheduled departure. About four hours prior to checking in, feed and provide water for your pet, and play to get them tired. At the airport, let the pet relieve himself one more time. Put the pet in the crate which in advance you have supplied with a “pet potty pad,” empty water dish, and cherished toy. Make sure the crate door is securely closed. Keep the pet paperwork handy in the pocket of the in-cabin pet carrier, or for a checked crate, somewhere else easily accessible. The pet must remain in the carrier in the airport and during the flight. If you have an airline transfer and there is no inside pet area, if you go outside, you will have to go back through security screening. Make sure to allow enough time in case of long lines.
  7. Once you are to your new EU home destination, find a good vet by asking local ex-pats who demonstrate attentive and caring behavior toward their pet. Ask around, and eventually, you will start to hear one or more of the same names recommended. Unless you are fluent in the language of your new country, make sure the vet can speak English. Introduce your pet and yourself to your new vet, instead of waiting for an emergency. At your initial appointment, find out about local health issues, get any vaccines or preventative medicines for your new country, a dog name tag with your local phone number, and a European pet passport (which is legally required.) Then, get out and explore your new home.

    Pepper (aka "Pimienta" in Spanish) at outdoor beach concert

    Pepper (aka “Pimienta” in Spanish) at outdoor beach concert

Six Easy Steps for Bringing Pets to Spain

3 Jan
Pepper at beachside concert in Altea

Pepper at beachside concert in Altea

Bringing pets to the European Union (E.U.) from the U.S. is much easier than what it once was. No longer are there long required quarantines. However, in non-E.U. countries, the policies can be different. For the United Kingdom, there is a four month quarantine. Finland, Ireland and Malta also have their own pet import regulations. The following reflects the current requirements for up to five dogs, cats, and/or ferrets coming to an E.U. country from the U.S. As governmental regulations can change, it is advisable to check the website for the USDA APHIS (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.) Then click on the “Live Animals,” and enter your EU destination. For Canadians, the regulations are similar. Up to date guidelines for exporting pets from Canada to the EU can be found on the website: “Canadian Food Inspection Agency under “non-commercial export of dogs, cats, and ferrets to the EU.”

 

  1. As far out from your desired departure date, check with individual airlines regarding their pet transport policies. Start by checking their websites, and then speak with an actual airline representative to get the specifics. Weigh your animal to determine whether they are eligible for travel in the cabin, under the seat in an airline-approved carrier. The weight allowed includes the pet, carrier and anything else placed in the carrier. Including his carrier, my dog, Pepper, was just at or slightly above the weight limit allowed by many airlines, so I found an airline with a more generous 8 kg. /17 pounds limit. Also, some types of dogs are not permitted, in which case you can consider a pet relocation service. There are different policies for very young, unvaccinated pets. Airlines charge varying rates for transporting pets, so take that into consideration during your research. Check to see if there are periods of time they do not transport animals in the cargo hold due to expected inclement or extreme weather. Some airlines don’t take pets via cargo in hot months as they have had animals die. If your pet will be in the cargo hold, consider booking during months that are traditionally temperate. Make sure the carrier purchased meets the airline’s regulations. Carriers or crates must afford the animal to move around, and typically have an absorbent cushion or rug with adequate ventilation. A carrier with wheels will make moving your pet through the airport far smoother. Because there are so many different airline regulations, costs, weight limits, etc., when deciding on an airline, I made a written grid to record each airline’s policies for easy comparison.
  2. Book your flight as soon as possible to guarantee a spot for your pet. Make sure the pet has a reservation. During the three times, I flew back and forth between California to the E.U. I was charged for my pet when I checked in at the airport. If you will be using other ground transportation once you arrive, such as a train, bus or car rental, check their pet transport policies. The first time, I brought my dog from Madrid to Alicante via train, and the second time directly to the Alicante airport via plane.
  3. Well in advance of your travel date, get your pet used to the carrier or crate. In the beginning, put the pet in it with a toy and snack. As s/he gets comfortable, leave the pet in the carrier when you leave home. Take your pet in the carrier on walks and in the car to get used to motion. For pets who will transported in the hold, it is especially important to get them used to being in their crate and moving.
  4. Well in advance of your scheduled flight, find a veterinarian who is certified and experienced in pet relocation to your scheduled EU destination. I strongly recommend meeting with the vet for an initial session to make sure s/he is qualified and experienced in completing all of the required steps within the tight timeframes necessary. Make sure the vet has the correct form (ANNEX II) and has previously completed them. If your pet is not already had a microchip inserted, this is an ideal time to do it. Let the vet know it is for travelling to an EU country. For EU countries, it must be an ISO 15 digit microchip, either 11784 or 11785. After the chip is placed, the pet must have a rabies vaccine, even if it already has a valid rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine can be on the same day the animal is chipped or at a later date. This rabies shot must be administered at least 21 days before your flight departs. I did not understand that my dog needed to get a new rabies shot, nor did my vet inform me at the time of the dog being chipped. Thus I had to delay my departure date which resulted in a several hundred dollar change fee. During your initial appointment with the vet, I recommend having the vet do a physical to make sure there won’t be any last minute health issues. I also got him to prescribe a slightly sedating medication for the long flight. If you get a calming medication, make sure it is not contraindicated for flights, as was the first medication my dog was prescribed by a less experienced vet. Some airlines do not permit dogs to be sedated. Since my dog was flying in the cabin, I felt it would be in his best interest to take a sedating pill since he would be in his carrier for 12 to 15 hours, and I would be able to monitor him. Twice I gave him a trial of the pill before departing to make sure there were no adverse side-effects.
  5. The vet has to fill out the ANNEX II form about 12 to 15 DAYS before departure. Then that form has to be mailed or taken by hand to your local USDA office, for certification. You have to enter the EU country within 10 days of the USDA certification, which is a very tight timeframe. This means that you should schedule the final vet exam and paperwork completion, at an early enough hour to allow you to get it to an overnight mail service. Make sure to check the USDA website for the mailing address for your region, mandatory fees which you must include, and include a return overnight mailing document with your address. Keep in mind some “overnight” mail services do not deliver on the week-ends.
  6. Prior to departure date, check for pet relief areas at the airports which you will be using. Some have indoor pet areas. For example, at the LAX airport international terminal in Los Angeles, near the business lounge, was a pet play and relief center with artificial grass. Arrive at the airport at least three hours in advance of your scheduled departure. About four hours prior to checking in, feed and provide water for your pet, and play to get them tired. At the airport, let the pet relieve himself one more time. Put the pet in the crate which in advance you have supplied with a “pet potty pad,” empty water dish, and cherished toy. Make sure the crate door is securely closed. Keep the pet paperwork handy in the pocket of the in-cabin pet carrier, or for a checked crate, somewhere else easily accessible. The pet must remain in the carrier in the airport and during the flight. If you have an airline transfer and there is no inside pet area, if you go outside, you will have to go back through security screening. Make sure to allow enough time in case of long lines.

Once you are to your new EU home destination, find a good vet by asking local ex-pats who demonstrate attentive and caring behavior toward their pet. Ask around, and eventually, you will start to hear one or more of the same names recommended. Unless you are fluent in the language of your new country, make sure the vet can speak English. Introduce your pet and yourself to your new vet, instead of waiting for an emergency. At your initial appointment, find out about local health issues, get any vaccines or preventative medicines for your new country, a dog name tag with your local phone number, and a European pet passport (which is legally required.) Then, get out and explore your new home. Most eateries in Spain are dog-friendly.

Pepper saying goodbye to my son, Spencer, who was returning to California

Pepper saying goodbye to my son, Spencer, who was returning to California