May 7, 2012 at 3:25 PM

The Swiss Connection

"Switzerland now requires that all passports be renewed in person at a Swiss Consulate. Unfortunately, the nearest consulate for New Mexico is in, yup, Los Angeles"

By Liz Simon

Trips & Quips

Liz Simon is a photographer, writer and cyclist who likes to combine the three in her quest to discover the nooks and crannies of New Mexico. Sometimes, means of transportation other than bicycle are employed---including the Rail Runner and motorcycle.

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A couple of days ago, I flew to Los Angeles and back in the same day. The flight from Albuquerque left at 7:30 a.m., so you can imagine what kind of an unGodly-hour-of-a-"wake up" call I had here in Santa Fe.

The reason for this almost-middle-of-the-night penance is due to the fact that I have two citizenships, and hence, two passports---one, U.S., and the other, Swiss.

In "the old days," it was easy to renew a Swiss passport. All I had to due was fill out an application, write a check, get a new photo and send all of that with the old passport to the nearest Swiss Consulate. Those were the days. No longer. Now the Swiss have gone to what they refer to as a "biometric passport." When I first heard that, I thought they were going to take a retina scan or something like that. Not quite so esoteric, but almost…they wanted finger prints. I can't exactly do that through the mail can I? So, you guessed it, the Confederation Helvetia (Switzerland) now requires that all passports be renewed in person at a Swiss Consulate. Unfortunately, the nearest Consulate for New Mexico is in, yup, Los Angeles.d

I've never been to L.A. and I expected mayhem, frankly. Instead, I found a very organized and neat airport and a very picturesque setting. The consulate is closer to Santa Monica and that's where I spent the day. But first a little insight into what a Swiss Consulate is like. Given these days of high security, I expected something rather formal. The word "formal" doesn't really do it justice. I arrived at their office, on Wilshire Boulevard…a handsome, modern building with nice plantings out front. Knowing the Swiss as I do, I wouldn't have expected anything other than a class act.

I walked inside and was "greeted" by a security guard who inquired as to my business. He sent me over to a "greeting desk" where I was further questioned as to my purpose. I explained that I wished to renew a Swiss passport and that I had an appointment and gave the name of my contact. I then signed in, and was escorted to the elevator. The reason I was escorted is because the floor I was going to had to be coded into the elevator so that I could not stop at any other floor.

Entrance into the consulate office was easier than that, and of course the decor was modern, minimal and very tasteful, with red and white dominating the color scheme. I expected to be able to walk into the office proper and sit down to speak with a Swiss official. Nothing doing. All transactions take place under a slip-through which is built into the bullet-proof glass…kind of like what you'd see in a bank. My other naive assumption that SOMEONE would take my fingerprints…ink pad style. How quaint of me. I was directed to go into a very high tech cubicle which was part of the waiting area. In there, I was linked up via a voice patch to the official I had been speaking with. Within that cubicle, my photograph was taken and my fingerprints were SCANNED. Gone are the ink pads of old. I should have known better, right?

I had been in email and voice correspondence for many weeks with the woman who "took" my fingerprints. She'd been so patient and so lovely, that I had brought her some of our New Mexico chocolate. I tried to buy some from a Santa Fe chocolatier, but they were all sold out. I ended up buying three lovely "slabs" from an Albuquerque company instead. She was so delighted with the gift---and so was I when the passport, which is supposed to take many weeks for delivery, showed up at my house in one!

Santa Monica is a real gem by the way. I walked the entire town all day, right down to the ocean, and loved it. It's clean, the restaurants are excellent, and everyone was very friendly. The neighborhoods off of Wilshire Boulevard are charming and livable. This was not at all what I expected, and the surprise was a pleasant one. Even the traffic was not awful…there were cyclists on Wilshire. I think Santa Monica would be a wonderful destination for a holiday, and I will keep it in mind. In the meantime….

"Hupp Schweiz"…."Go Switzerland".

PS I'd love to be able to send you over, as usual, to my personal blog at Trips and Quips for more photos, but the Apple software I used to create Trips and Quips is no longer being supported; and I find myself in the unenviable position of having to learn an entirely new program. The entire site will have to be reconstructed from the bottom up. Hopefully, these photos will give you some flavor of the trip:

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