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Come for the Sangria, Leave Without Your Wallet

October 8th, 2012 · No Comments · Barcelona, tourism

I knew about Barcelona’s dire problem with pickpockets. No overview of the tourist experience in this city is complete until it mentions it.

Do a Google search for “barcelona pickpockets” and hundreds (thousands?) of results come back. Among the titles: Barcelona “Worst City for Pickpockets”Barcelona’s Fatal Flaw: Pickpockets

And one entire site is devoted to the topic: The bluntly named

You know where this is going, right? To my own experience with Barcelona pickpockets.

So, end of football game on Sunday night: Real Madrid 2, Barcelona 2.

Here is where Barcelona got un-charming in a big hurry.

First, the local union representing Metro train drivers (apparently) chose that moment — 95,000 people trying to get out of the western side of the city on a work night — to go on strike.

We left the stadium following the crowd (the reverse of our going in) … but then the crowd splintered. We found ourselves at a major intersection we did not recall seeing, early. We continued to go in the direction the most people were walking — going east on this major street. But we never saw the Metro station we came in on, and finally I approached a woman on the street to ask where the station was, and she said, in English: “No Metro. Drivers on strike. Buses only.”

So, at least five kilometers from where we needed to go. And 95,000 people headed in the same general direction. Cabs at a premium. And overloaded buses going … where?

We kept walking. A half-hour later, we saw another station, Placa Del Centre, and it appeared to be open … and yes, it was. If it would take us one stop, we could change trains and be “home.”

A train pulled up, and it was packed. My father-in-law (an old New York subway veteran) and I squeezed on, and then, at the last moment, three little people squeezed on, too. Right in front of me.

I was wearing a pair of cargo pants, with pockets (with snaps) on the thighs. My wallet was in there.

We were hot and tired, from the walk and the unusually warm evening, and the station (where the AC had been turned off) … which sets up the situation.

My guess is that these three people had 1) picked a packed car, 2) wanted to make sure they were right next to the door, to allow for a quick escape and 3) decided the bulge in my pocket represented a wallet that could be reached.

The duration of the trip to the next station did not last more than 90 seconds. I remember being distracted to my right — trying to find something to hang onto as the train lurched forward. And the littlest member of this predatory trio — a woman, maybe 25, maybe 5-foot-nothing, was slightly behind me and to my left.

I was staring right at the other two, who presumably were part of the team. One was an adult male, about 30, with acne scars, about 5-foot-8.

At some point during that ride, one of them unsnapped the flap over the pocket, and got a nasty little hand into my pocket, and took my wallet. I remember how crowded the train car was, and being distracted (by my own self) away from the little people … and I am confident that is where my wallet and I parted ways.

We got off at Sants Estacio, and no one was near me during the search for the proper platform, to change trains. The next train was not nearly as crowded, and I patted my left thigh to check on my wallet, and it was gone, and the nasty little faces of those three popped up in my mind. The ones who were last into the car, and the first off. (I had plenty of time to reflect; the train didn’t move for 10 minutes. More union activity, presumably.)

There is, of course, nothing to be done, at that point. Just manage the anger and disappointment, I suppose. Reflect on when it happened. And think through what was in the wallet, and the hassle of canceling credit cards, and replacing drivers licenses and health cards and …

I have been in lots of cities, some of them rich, some of them poor, and on hundreds of subway lines, many of them very crowded, and I have never before had my pocket picked. (Granted, I usually am more careful.) But I had never before been in a really crowded Barcelona Metro station.

In this piece by the BBC, a reporter talked to “Romanian” pickpockets ahead of the London 2012 Olympics, and they showed him some of their techniques.

(Ask the average “Romanian” about pickpockets, and they will quickly tell you that is a euphemism for a subgroup — many of whom, yes, come from Romania.)

Anyway, Barcelona has lots of “Romanians” and the BBC reported one of them saying: “It’s in the blood, it’s all I know. This is what we do and we do it well.”

My only consolation is that I was not carrying much cash. About 30 euros, about $80, and some UAE dirhams that criminals might have a hard time trading, in Spain. Several calls got the credit cards cancelled (no reports of activity), a note to my employer got things moving on the health card. The drivers licenses will be a hassle.

So, take if from me. Barcelona is blighted by this sort of not-so-petty theft. And it mars the entire tourism experience when you feel as if someone wants to rob you every minute of every day.

This has been a problem in Barcelona (as the online traffic demonstrates) for some time, and clearly nothing has been done to fix it.

It certainly colors my opinion of the city, and not in a good way.


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