Madrid Stories and Tips

Always watch everything of value

A few years ago on a cruise from Lisbon to Barcelona I wish someone had warned me about the growing problem of pickpockets and thieves in Spain, but no one did. On a side trip to Seville several of us learned the hard way.

To digress for a moment, I would like to point out that I didn't just fall off the turnip travel truck. During my life, I have traveled extensively all over the world and have well over 10 million air miles to my credit. No where however, have I had problems like in Spain, and this seems to be the common opinion of everyone I talk to that has been there.

Now back to Seville. The day was clear, warm and quite pleasant. The wife and I had passed through Maria Luisa Park and the Plaze de America. We visited Seville's leading monument, the Cathedral which is the third largest Gothic Cathedral in the world. We had lunch in the square, did some shopping and were heading back to the bus. We were walking down the Avenida De La Constitucion which is probably Seville's leading street. This was certainly not the sleazy part of town. The avenue is wide, has nice shops and was not crowded. It was also in the middle of the afternoon. We were about a block from the bus and had just crossed a street. I was about a pace ahead of my wife when she suddenly called out that I had something all over my back. I turned around and noticed a well dressed couple a few paces behind my wife. I also noticed my wife had something on her back as well.

About this time the young couple started looking and pointing upward indicating we had been dumped on by a bird. Since the spots were about the color and consistency of bird dumpings we naturally thought "Oh God - What a Mess". The young couple rushed up, pulled out paper towels and a bottle of water and started helping us clean up. After a minute or two we seemed presentable again so they left and we proceeded on to the bus. We later discovered the brown liquid was probably chocolate milk they had thrown on us . We also learned that mustard had been used in similar incidents.

I noticed the missing wallet about a quarter block away, but of course the couple had long since disappeared. I only had a few pesetas in it, but unfortunately there were three high limit credit cards, a drivers license, and social security card. Even though I called all credit card companies immediately the thieves had still managed to get almost $10,000 from them. The same think happened to several others including one man who even had his wallet in his front pocket. The ship's agent in Cadiz who was born in Spain took me to the police station to file a report. He told me that a few weeks earlier he had been in a small town for a family reunion when his pocket was picked.

Barcelona is something else too. There they have bands of gypsies who will either hand you a baby and pick your pocket while your hands are full or hand you a red rose. Don't take the rose. If you do they will harass you for money. If you pull your money out they will snatch it and run.

The last time we were in Spain on March 15, 2002 we were as prepared as anyone could be, but were still the victims of thieves. We had just cleared customs with everything on a cart. We stopped at the money changer to get a few euros, then to the car rental to check on our reservation for the next morning. The camera case was still with us then. The next stop was to get the phone number of our hotel and then to their pick up point. The camera case was then discovered to be missing even though we had our hand and eyes on everything. A police report was filed at the airport but, the police could care less. In the case was $1,300, about $7,000 in cameras, two cell phones (one international). I had that number shut off within hours but the thieves still managed to run up almost $900 in charges. There were also glasses, medicines, our schedule, airline tickets and other items in the case.

The next week when back in Madrid, we entered the American Express office where my wife got $200 from her checking account. She put it into a red purse and that in her pocket book. A few minutes later we stopped so she could purchase a few post cards, then accross the street to a store. When she opened her pocket book to pay for an item she noticed her red purse with the money was gone. Everywhere you went merchants were passing out preprinted notices warning that Madrid was full of thieves no matter where you were. Later one night when we were trying to find a specific restaurant I felt someone behind me feeling of my pocket and kicking me. When I turned around to confront him he spat at me.

I don't mean to sound negative about Spain, but I'll probably never go there again and I will strongly advise everyone I can not to either. If you really must go, then be certain that anything and everything of any value is locked to your person. It's not enough to just hang onto it.

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