In October 2014, I traveled to Barcelona, the heart of Catalonia, Spain. I had gone over to Europe as an exchange student to EDHEC Lille, from my Alma Mater, Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode (Calicut), India. Apart from studying in the first world, the idea was definitely to travel and explore the beautiful European countries. I had travelled to France from India, in August 2014, and my travels across the continent, started soon after.
So yes, my friend Bhavya and I, reached Barcelona. We got off from our Eurail coach and stepped onto the platform. It was hard to believe, that we were finally in Barcelona. We had had a long train journey, starting from Marseille, France, which ended finally, as we arrived here. We saw the board in front of us, which had “Barcelona Sants” written on it, in bold letters. We took a picture with the board, to remember the moment by.
It was night time when we reached, so we planned to head directly to our hostel. As my travel card was giving trouble during payments through POS machines, I decided to withdraw some money from the ATM. Meanwhile, Bhavya checked out the Eurail app, for the train we were supposed to take, in order to reach our hostel.
Once I got back, we started walking towards the platform, in which the train was supposed to arrive. I had a suitcase, a backpack and a handbag with me. We descended down the escalator to arrive at the platform. After reaching the bottom of the escalator, I decided to shut my handbag, which was still open (and I was aware of it). And the moment, I was about to pull the chain, I noticed that my wallet wasn’t there. I froze. I thought to myself, why the hell did I not shut the bag earlier. My head was whirring, I was about to call Bhavya, who was walking ahead of me, when someone tapped on my shoulder.
I turned backed and there was a man standing, with my wallet in his hand. He spoke something in Spanish. What I understood from his gestures, was that, “a man was running away with your wallet, I caught hold of him, retrieved your wallet and returned it to you”. I thanked him and he left. I opened my wallet, only to find that all my money was gone, the fresh, crisp €80, which I had just withdrawn from the ATM, was gone. Suddenly, it occurred to me, what if this guy was one of the crooks, from the gang of pickpockets, just acting nice, after passing on the money to his gang members.
I asked Bhavya to take care of my bags and ran behind him. I shouted at him, “you have stolen my money, give it back”. Agitated, he answered back in Spanish. Again, what I understood from his gestures was, “I got your wallet back and you are yelling at me?”. I realized, that there was no point of shouting at this guy, either I could report this theft to the cops or just let it be and leave. Thankfully my passport was safe with me. Also, the pickpockets had not taken my travel card, my Eurail pass and some other European and local Debit/Credit cards in my wallet. They had only taken my money.
With great difficulty, I tried to look at the brighter side. What if they had taken my wallet and never returned it; or what if they would have taken my travel card, Eurail pass, credit/debit cards. Without my Eurail pass and my travel card, my travel would have come to a complete halt. It would have been horrible, as I had just started travelling, with a majority of the continent yet to be explored.
If it had to, it could have been much worse. However, it was not like I was being all saintly about it, it was killing me, killing me bad. I was reprimanding myself for not paying attention, for choosing to go down the escalator before shutting my bag.
While undergoing this mental tug of war, I finally reached my hostel, being extra conscious of every person standing/walking around. I went to a nearby ATM and withdrew money to pay for the hostel. I was thinking, what if I had not withdrawn money at the train station at all, I could have withdrawn from an ATM near the hostel, like I was doing now. After completing all the formalities, my room was allotted to me.
I set my bags in my room, freshened up, changed and plonked on my bed. It was time to call home, to tell them that I have reached Barcelona and was now safely (well, almost) in my hostel room. At home, my sister picked up the phone. She was excited about my visit to the wonderful city, and being a travel lover herself, she was already researching about places I could visit. Nevertheless, my mind was still dazed, thinking about my surprise “Welcome to Barcelona”.
After knowing that I had reached safely, and before providing a download of the potential itinerary, she said, “BTW you must know, one of the things which tourists have been warned about travelling in Barcelona, is the rampant pickpocketing”….
PS – I wrote this article just to highlight, that one needs to be careful while travelling to any city or country around the world. In no way, I want to pin point at the city of Barcelona or the country Spain. In fact, Barcelona, is one of the best cities that I have been to, in my travels around the world. The energy and warm vibe of the city/country is different from rest of Europe, making it one of my favourites. The lively las ramblas, the enigmatic gothic quarters, the mesmerizing Sagrada Familia, the delicious tapas and paella, the intense flamenco et al, have forever created a space for Barcelona in my heart….Do visit this beautiful city/country and revel in its zestful spirit…