It all happened so fast. And I thought I was ready, and immune.
Before leaving the USA, we had arranged to meet our daughter, Christy, in Europe for a visit. This was to be her present for graduating from college. (One semester EARLY and WITH HONORS, but who’s bragging?) We had hoped to be in Lisbon with the boat by now, so she was to fly to Lisbon, and then we would tour Europe for two weeks.
Well, that didn’t happen. With our boat issues, we are still in the Azores awaiting parts. So, the plan was changed for Christy to fly to Barcelona and we would meet her there. It was planned as a two week holiday from boat work, with visits to Barcelona, Morocco, Gibraltar, and Lisbon. Barcelona was our first stop.
Barcelona is a beautiful city with a lot of history and sightseeing. It has some of the most fascinating architecture in the world, and more sights than you could see in a month. There are major museums for Picasso and Gaudi, and the old downtown area is fascinating. They also have a little futbol (soccer) stadium where we watched FC Barcelona defeat Malaga.
Barcelona is also known as a haven for pickpockets. I knew this, and thought I was ready. We went nowhere without taking precautions. My wallet was always in my front pocket, and I kept my hands always close to it. Every crowd we were in, I was aware of the presence of my wallet in my right front pocket, and my phone in my left.
My problem was I thought pickpockets operated like I had seen in the movies. I had seen scenes where a lady bumps into a gentleman and walks away with his wallet or wristwatch while the gentleman walks away completely unaware. Think of the scene in the movie “The Sting”. Well, I was ready for that. Not going to happen to me! Every slight brush on a sidewalk and my hands went straight to my pocket to make sure I had everything. After a few days, it was habit.
And that’s when they hit me. I still don’t know how many were involved (there had to be at least four), or if they only picked my pocket, or if they hit several tourists at once. Some of the details are still fuzzy in my mind, but this is what I remember of how they operated:
We were going back to the apartment we had rented via the Metro (subway). It was around 11:00 at night and I was tired. There was an older couple, maybe in their early 70’s in front of us with a piece of roll-on luggage and a hand-carried bag. I think they were innocent bystanders, but they wound up playing a role. We were at the station, ready for the train to arrive. When the doors open, you only have a few seconds to board, and everyone moves quickly to get on the train before it departs. This time when the doors opened, we stepped forward to board, and then everything happened at once.
The older couple got just inside the door, completely blocking it, and stopped. I don’t know why, but I now think someone right in front of them got on the train and then stopped, obstructing their path. People behind me started pushing and shoving. It was sudden chaos. There was either a hand or forearm in the small of my back, pushing really hard. You see videos of people in Asia trying to cram as many on the subway as possible, that’s what it was like. I looked down and the older man had got on the train but his bag was still outside. I thought then (and still do) that he did not have the strength to pull it over the threshold and onto the train, so I reached down, picked it up, and put it on the train while he continued pulling on the handle and people continued to shove us from behind.
Suddenly, it was over. The older couple got through, and the crowed melted away. The pushing stopped abruptly and when I turned around there was nobody there. I had no idea what caused it, but was really ticked off. There had been no reason for people to shove like that, and I thought it had just been extreme rudeness. I never thought that it could be a diversion.
It was not until I got off the subway at our stop that I felt my pocket. They stole only the map I had folded up in my right pocket. My wallet and phone were safe. I had been carrying this map for days, and it was folded into a wallet-sized rectangle on top of my wallet in the right pocket. When they grabbed it, they probably thought it was a wallet. Serves them right to get only a dog-eared, well-used, and many-times-folded map.
So I learned a lot. I am not immune to pickpockets, but am probably seen as a target. Having my wallet in my front pocket is not foolproof insurance. On the good side, putting something on top of the wallet, like a folded map, is a great idea. If I had been wearing my jeans, with deep pockets that are a little tighter, that would probably be a good idea, also.
For me, this was a cheap lesson. I lost only the free map that the apartment provided as part of the rental, and my ego took a huge hit. I don’t need the map anymore, anyway, and I’ll get over the ego bruising.
And, I gained some humility.