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To Catch a Barcelona Thief

My daughter found an empty wallet on the street with keys attached to it a couple days ago and didn’t think much about it, dumping it back on the sidewalk after checking it out. Now she wishes she had turned it into the police so at least some poor suffering fool (like me) would have it returned. There was a line at the Barcelona police station of tourists reporting stolen purses, bags and wallets, me among them on Saturday. It has been 13 years since I’d been violated by a petty thief, so I suppose I was due.

There I was enjoying the morning sun at an outdoor café at “Plaça Nova” facing “La Catedral” in “Le Barrio Gótica” having a frothy cappuccino while working away on my laptop. The computer bag and a catch-all bag sat on top of my purse, and all three under my feet, seemingly safe. Imagine my surprise when I looked down to find my purse, and only my purse, with almost all my worldly goods, gone, gone, gone.

I had no phone to call my daughter and no money to pay my bill. The waiter didn’t speak English, but he wasn’t about to do anything, anyway. It happens every day all day long and who knows, maybe he’s in on the scam and turns a blind eye for a cut of the deal.

Paris is a pickpocket’s dream…so it’s likely more amazing that I’ve escaped it all these years…but perhaps it’s because in Paris, I’m no longer a tourist in touristy spots looking out of place, like I did in Barcelona in the hottest tourist trap in town.

Over the years I’ve helped so many friends in similar situations, that the panic wasn’t so acute, but my first instincts were to look everywhere to see if the wallet had been taken and the rest of the bag dumped in a nearby trash can. No luck. No police on the spot, either. There was no choice but to head back to my daughter’s apartment and send her out the door to scour the neighborhood. I promptly got on the phone to cancel eight credit/debit cards, 5 checking accounts, the cell phone account and agonize over all I had lost…stupidly.

Luckily, just before leaving the apartment, I left my house keys and jewelry behind. The all important agenda with all pertinent information was separate in the computer bag (what a blessing!) and the keys to my daughter’s apartment in my pocket. The biggest loss — my favorite eyeglasses, which just prior had been switched for sunglasses to take in the beautiful new sunny day. Ha!

Once the calls were all made and there was nothing more to do, which took almost three hours, we headed to the police station to file a report, where a line-up of tourists from all over the world were crying the blues. I was one of the luckier ones.

I tell this story because surely many of you have experienced a similar situation, but if you haven’t, then let this be a warning and a lesson. A violation of this sort is sure to ruin your vacation if you let it, so it’s best to either avoid it or know how to deal with it. I learned a few things along the way. Let me share some pointers:

First off, don’t travel with so much, unless you’re willing to lose it. It’s a mistake to think “better safe than sorry” when really, thinking it was safe to have so much access to money just made for sorrow. Planning better would have left all but one or two cards at the hotel or apartment.

Never carry too much cash, either. Leave some of it behind so you won’t be penniless. With one debit or credit card, you can get more cash at any ATM, now virtually everywhere you travel. If you carry a few checks, for safety (ha!), then be sure you have noted which check numbers.

Make a copy of your passport to carry and leave the real thing behind with other important papers. Make a record of all your credit card numbers, access phone numbers to the credit card companies, passwords, etc., but leave it behind with your passport. You’re going to need this!

Pay special attention in high tourist-traffic areas. If you must place your things next to you, find a way to strap them to you, the chair or table, or under your legs so there is no way anyone can lift them without your knowing. Men who carry their wallets in their back pockets are doomed. There are a number of tips online to being a smart traveler and learning to avoid pickpockets. Now after the fact, I find them! But here are some other helpful things to know:

To cancel all your Visa cards in one fell swoop, the emergency 24-hour number is 1-410-581-9994. Write this down keep it separate from your cards. This one service representative was able to cancel all cards and provided me with the emergency phone numbers for MasterCard, American Express, my U.S. bank and my French bank. She filed a report for each card and provided me with a report number to use when tracking the status.

An emergency card or cash is obtainable, but only within the time it takes for an express service (such as UPS, DHL or FedEx) to get it to you. The weekends excursions make it the most difficult to accomplish this, of course! The emergency card will be a temporary one, with a new permanent one to follow a few months later. Don’t forget how many automatic payments you have attached to these cards that will need reinstating! Keep this information with your other important records, but leave it for later. For now, do all you can to return to enjoying your vacation!

My daughter and I were back in business about 4 p.m. and then out to put the misfortune behind us so we could take in our time together in the beautiful and lively city of Barcelona. ‘Course, not a trash can was passed that I didn’t look in to see if by chance, my bag was there, and memories of some of my lost items continue to float past my internal eyes.

Still, a late lunch at the “Taller de Tapas” on one of the tiny ancient streets of “La Ribera” near the “Museu Picasso” with a pitcher of “Sangria” was a great way to forget our blues. A little drunk, we headed north to the “Passeig Gràcia” to visit the Gaudi-designed apartment buildings and other fine examples of Art Nouveau architecture. At dusk, an inexpensive taxi ride brought us to “Le Moll d’Espanya” at the port where we visited the “Aquarium” and took in a film at the Imax theater about “Mystic India.”

Before the tragic theft, on our first day exploring Barcelona together, we lunched at the “Marché de la Boqueria,” an expansive covered market of every sort of food product, just next to “La Rambla,” the long main thoroughfare of a sort like the Champs-Elysées; shopped for spring clothing around “Plaça de Catalunya;” met friends for drinks at a cozy café and dined on “paella” at “Can Majó” Restaurant at the port. Before closing our eyes, a friend read my Tarot cards and predicted some sort of separation that would affect me. Little did we know then, what that meant!

Sunday there was nothing to do but to continue to enjoy the city…take in the “Fundació Joan Miro” and other sights at the “Montjuic” before heading back to Paris today where the reality of the loss will surely set in.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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