Thursday, 28 May 2009

Welcome To The Real World

We had a last look at Leon and a picnic lunch in El Retiro gardens,Madrid. Then a quick belt across Spain in the Renfe Avant, the Spanish equivalent of the TGV to Barcelona, the city of Miro and Gaudi and Picasso. Barcelona is a lesson to the world in what modernism may have produced if it hadn`t sold out to commerce and utility. Everywhere there are inventive, wonderful buildings as useful as they are beautiful. Late in the evening we saw The Palau de la Música Catalana, and while we were still closing our jaws we were robbed.

Barcelona is famous for two things above all else; architecture and thievery, which are both done with intelligence and panache. We had done everything right: valuables back at the hotel, essential stuff next to the body, not much money on us. A young man hailed us and asked for directions. Being used to the cameraderie of the Camino I stood with him while he spread his map on a wall. Suddenly two guys in leather jackets approached and produced police identification. They searched the young guy then demanded to know why we were talking to him. Were we buying drugs? Were we illegally exchanging money? Could we please produce our passports and turn out our pockets? Passports and pocket contents were examined. They nodded, apologised, shook our hands and advised us to go back to the hotel as this was a dangerous neighbourhood. We did, only to find that my wallet had been emptied of cash - about 100 euro. We had been well and truly rumbled by a gang of three, who were onto a good little earner for 10 minutes work. At least they left me my credit cards. We would have been well and truly stuffed without them.

We left this morning on a painfully slow train through the sleazy industrial parts of Barcelona. At Montpellier we caught the train for here, the leafy city of Lyon where we will beware of young men bearing police identification until we can land safe and sound at Taize tomorrow afternoon.

4 comments:

Margaret said...

Well the people whose home we are housesitting at the moment had their rental car wheel clamped in France a couple of days ago, and it cost them 120 euros. That was after they had driven onto the race track itself in Le Mans by mistake. So if you see a couple of bemused Kiwis on your travels, ask them if Margaret and Graeme are housesitting for them. lots of love.

Alden said...

That ripoff is a bit of a classic ruse. We were told of a more alarming one. You are approached by a weeping woman who throws a well wrapped baby at you - as you let go of everything and reach out to catch the baby (that turns out to be a very life like plastic doll) your luggage is quickly snatched by accomplices and off they all go.
There is also another scam where you are approached by someone holding a gold ring or another piece of jewellery - I forget exactly how this works, but I know the end bit - yep you loose all your luggage.
It seems a crying shame that you can be put off talking to or helping someone out of fear of being mugged but that in many tourist spots is the unfortunate reality.
The advice I was given was to scan the crowd in busy spots and look out for people scanning the crowds of tourists. If you are approached and you are very suspicious tell them to F... Off - if all goes well they may well understand English.

Katherine said...

Panache indeed!

VenDr said...

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and in retrospect there were many warning signs: a guy asking a tourist for guidance and not a local for instance.There were also a few brighter ways we might have handled the whole process. Yes, we've heard of some of the scams and were approached a couple of times in Paris with the have you dropped this ring routine, but the essence of a good scammer is to surprise people, and this one caught us by surprise.

Would it happen again? well, not the fake cop scam but probably something else. The way we traveled meant that we relied on the goodness of strangers all the time. We found our way across Italy France Switzerland and Spain largely on our own and with a few words of Spanish, some rudimentary French and absolutely no Italian between us. Perhaps a couple of dozen times a day we asked for help,sometimes because we had not the foggiest idea of where we were, sometimes because we couldn't read menus or find the right kind of shop. Whether it was Perdon, senora, donde est un supermercado? or Ou est le Gare du Nord? We were invariably shown the most astonishing kindness, including by people in Barcelona. I guess we were helped over a thousand times. We were robbed once. I hope I can keep that statistic in mind and be open to the goodness of people rather than be dominated by suspicion because of the antics of a couple of daring and quite likeable scumbags. 100 euro was a small price to pay for the amazing human contact we enjoyed in 4 wonderful countries. I guess we'll be fair game for the next one in a thousand who has a bright idea for separating me from a few euros.