Pickpocketed In Barcelona

When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.

Despite the warnings, Steve was confident that if he kept his wallet in his front pocket it would be safe.

During our first week in Barcelona, the first city we visited on our journey throughout the world, Steve was pickpocketed.

How It Happened

It happened on a crowded Metro car on a Friday afternoon. First one woman bumped into him. While she was apologizing another woman bumped him on the other side. As the doors were closing they jumped off the car, taking his passport, forty Euros, and three bank cards with them.

We were shocked, angry, and unsure of what to do. A lady who saw what happened suggested we go back to the stop where it happened and check the garbage bags in case the thieves took the cash and threw everything else away. Fortunately, the bags were clear and not too full so they were easy to check. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any of Steve’s items.

We decided to go to the police station but had no idea where it was so we asked a young man on the street. He pointed us in the right direction but we arrived at the station only to find it was permanently closed. Struggling to maintain our composure, we asked for help at a nearby store. The owner helped Steve find the next closest police station while I stood on the street calling our banks.

We easily found that station and couldn’t believe it when we saw a sign that said, “Temporarily Closed for Renovations”. This was truly an “are you kidding me?” moment. Luckily there were several policemen just leaving a meeting and they directed us to a third station. It was a tense walk down the Ramblas as we wondered if it would be open.

And after a short wait, we were able to make a report with a policeman who spoke English. He said we must go to the U.S. Consulate first thing Monday morning to report the stolen passport. He prepared the police report and asked Steve to sign it. It was all in Spanish, but Steve had no choice but to sign it since he needed it to get a replacement passport.

Statistics on the number of pickpocket incidents are hard to come by. We knew the number in Barcelona was high, but we were shocked when the police officer told us that they process 400 reports a day. Of course, not everyone is going to report a pickpocketing incident, especially if the only thing stolen was cash. They know they will never see that again. Sometimes people don’t even realize they have been pickpocketed. They may think they lost their wallet or phone.

Over the weekend Steve looked up information on the consulate. The website said you must make an appointment online, and the next available appointment was more than two weeks away.
We opted to go there in person on Monday and plead ignorance about the online scheduling. After all, the police officer did tell us to go first thing Monday.

While at the consulate we met several groups of Americans who had either been pickpocketed or had their rental cars burglarized. We bonded over our misfortune. When it was Steve’s turn he was informed that his passport had been found and was waiting at the Metro station lost and found. Good news since a replacement costs $145.

As frustrating and time consuming as this experience was, it could have been worse. The thieves tried to charge $900 worth of shoes, but our credit card company declined it. Luckily I still had one debit card in my name that we could still use while we waited for our replacement cards. And we had enough cash in our apartment to cover us for several days. The fact that we were still going to be in Barcelona for three more weeks was also good. We would be there when our replacement cards arrived and the loss of Steve’s passport didn’t have immediate repercussions. Several of the people we met at the consulate had to change flight and cruise plans because their passports had been stolen.

After this Steve bought a camera bag that he refers to as his purse and his first money belt. We no longer carry all of our bank cards in the same place.

Cities With the Most Pickpockets

Petty crime can happen anywhere. However, there are several cities that continually make the list of the most pickpocketed cities in the world. This list is from an article published by Clever Travel Companions in 2018:

1. Barcelona, Spain
2. Rome, Italy
3. Prague, Czech Republic
4. Madrid, Spain
5. Paris, France
6. Florence, Italy
7. Buenos Aires, Argentina
8. Amsterdam, Netherlands
9. Athens, Greece
10. Hanoi, Vietnam

Common Pickpocketing Scams

Pickpocketing scams are limited only by the thieves’ creativity and acting ability. Here are just a few to be aware of:

1. Being offered something out of the blue. A woman offers another woman a pretty flower as if it were a gift. The second woman takes it and quickly finds out that payment is expected. I saw this happen to one woman. The thief was so bold that she tried to take money from the money holder around the tourist’s neck.

2. Being bumped by a person. Of course, you look their way, giving their partner a chance to pickpocket you. This was the one used on Steve.

3. Being asked to fill out a petition, usually by a young, harmless-looking woman. While your attention is on that, her partner in crime is relieving you of your valuables.

4. Being distracted by a shell game. I have not seen this one on any lists I’ve checked, but I believe it has to be a scam. We watched a man running a shell game near the Eiffel Tower. He would pick a spectator and ask him to watch while he moved three cups around. It ended with the spectator making some easy cash. I am sure that easy cash was a pittance compared to what was lifted from other unsuspecting spectators during the game. When we tried to get a photo of the group many of those gathered around covered their faces.

There are many more scams. This article by The Professional Hobo shares some travelers’ first-hand experiences.

How To Avoid Being Pickpocketed

Protecting your valuables from the grubby hands of pickpockets should start before you leave for your trip. Here are three things you can do ahead of time:

1. Make a copy of your passport. When you are sightseeing there is no reason to carry the original. Keep it locked safely away in your lodgings.

2. Record the information on your bank cards: card number, account number it ties to, and the phone numbers for customer service.

3. Activate text or email alerts for your bank cards and accounts.

Continue your vigilance while you are traveling:

1. Don’t carry all your cash and cards in one place. Consider leaving what you don’t need for the day safely in your lodgings.

2. Use money belts or other devices designed to keep your valuables safe. Pockets of pants are not a good choice whether in front or back. The harder it is for you to get to your money or cards, the harder it will be for thieves.

3. Trust no one! I know this goes against how most of us feel, but particularly when you are in a crowded place, make it obvious that you are protecting your bag or backpack. Honest people should not be offended by this. It is not uncommon to see people wearing their backpacks in front in places that are notorious for pickpocketing like Barcelona’s Las Ramblas.

4. Be skeptical. If someone tries to give you something you didn’t ask for or asks you to answer a survey, walk away. Remember that pickpockets can be any age and may look very respectable. They are also great actors.

5. Get aggressive if necessary. While Steve and I were sitting in a nearly empty metro station in Paris a woman approached me and said something in French. I did not understand and let her know. My actions should have made it obvious that I wanted no further interaction. She got closer and I held up my hand in a stop gesture. She continued to get even closer, so I loudly said “get back”. I got some looks, but she got the message.

What to Do If You Are Pickpocketed

If in spite of your best efforts you do become a victim of a pickpocket there are the things you need to do:

1. Take a deep breath and let that anger out.

2. Check nearby trash cans. Most pickpockets are looking for cash. They may toss everything else.

3. File a police report if your passport or insured items were stolen. This will probably be the hardest part since you may not speak the language or have any idea where the nearest police station is. Stay calm. It will all work out. Be aware that you will be required to sign the police report if you need it to get a new passport or file an insurance claim even if you can’t read what you are signing.

4. Call your bank card providers and have your stolen cards canceled. You still have other cards and cash tucked safely away because you have prepared for this, right?

5. Contact your embassy if your passport was stolen to make arrangements for a replacement. Be aware, these are not cheap. All the more reason not to carry your passport if you don’t need to.

6. Contact someone back home if items with your home address were taken. While most pickpockets just want your cash, some may have bigger plans in mind.

Final Thoughts

I think one of the reasons we find pickpocketing so frustrating is that the chances of a pickpocket being caught are very small. Don’t let these vile creatures ruin your next trip.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo by Andrea Natali on Unsplash.com

6 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Barcelona

Boisterous and beautiful. That is Barcelona. This city in northeast Spain is a sight to behold and a privilege to visit. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems.

Here are 6 things you should know before visiting (or revisiting) Barcelona.

1. Gaudi’s Creations Grace the City

Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) was a Catalan architect and a master of the Modernisme (or Catalan Art Nouveau) style of architecture. Modernisme is characterized by organic and botanical motifs, symbolism, rich ornamental details, and curves as opposed to straight lines.

Here is information on 21 sites in Barcelona where you can admire Gaudi’s talents. These are three of the most-visited Gaudi sites:

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family) is Gaudi’s masterpiece and the culmination of his life’s work. It was so important to him that he chose to be buried inside it. This Roman Catholic minor basilica is the most visited sight in Barcelona.

Stepping into the basilica is a magical experience. The sunlight shining through the stained glass bathes the interior in vibrant colors.

Light coming through colored windows in La Sagrada Familia
This is what greets you when you enter La Sagrada Familia.
Ceiling detail in La Sagrada Familia
Support columns that suggest trees and an exquisitely detailed ceiling.

Be warned, La Sagrada Familia will most likely spoil you for all other churches.

The exterior is as astounding as the interior. Its three facades represent three phases in the life of Jesus: nativity, passion, and glory.

Exterior detail on La Sagrada Familia
One small section of the exterior detail.

Construction began in 1882. The estimated year of completion for all but some decorative elements is 2026. If that deadline is met it will have taken 144 years to build. The year 2026 marks the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death by being run over by a street tram at the age of 74.

Exterior view of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain
You can’t view La Sagrada Familia without seeing the cranes and netting.

La Sagrada Familia gets over 3 million visitors a year. You are unlikely to get in unless you book your visit in advance. You get a 15-minute window to enter the basilica.

Services are held in the crypt every Sunday and can accommodate about 200 people. Mass is held at the main altar only on special holidays.

Here is some information about the structure and symbolism of the basilica.

Casa Mila

Casa Mila is another Gaudi work in the Modernisme style. This was built in the early 1900s as a home for husband and wife Pere Mila and Roser Segimon. The locals thought it was ugly and nicknamed it La Pedrera, which means the stone quarry.

The front of Casa Mila in Barcelona
The front of Casa Mila with its distinctive railings.

The owners lived on the main floor and had apartments above that they rented out. There are people living in some of these apartments today. The building is currently also used as a cultural center, a foundation headquarters, and for commercial space.

The whole building is interesting, but the roof is a delight. This is just one of the many chimneys:

A chimney on top of Casa Mila

Park Guell

No visit to Barcelona is complete without a stop at yet another Gaudi creation, Park Guell.

This was built in the early 1900s at the behest of Count Eusebi Guell as a luxury planned community. Of the sixty houses planned only two were built. It became a public park in 1926.

The park has two parts; a Monumental Zone and a Free Zone.

The Monumental Zone covers 5% of the park. You must buy a ticket to enter and visitors are limited to 400 every half hour.

It is here you will see the iconic dragon stairway. Be sure to visit the Hypostyle Room. It is an open space featuring a multi-domed, tiled ceiling and 86 Doric columns. I missed the opportunity to get some fab photos. Please don’t make the same mistake.

In this zone you will also see gingerbread-style buildings like the one pictured below, the colorfully tiled Greek Theater (or Nature Square), and the laundry room portico.

The tile covered lizard, El Drac, in Park Guell
El Drac will be happy to welcome you to the Monumental Zone.
One of the buildings in the Monumental Zone
This building in the Monumental Zone looks like a gingerbread house, but don’t eat it!

The other 95% of the park is free to visit. It consists of many paths through lush vegetation. Warning, this is not a place for a leisurely stroll. It is hilly and very crowded and street vendors take up a good part of the walkway with their wares.

If you persist upward, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Barcelona.

A view of Barcelona from Park Guell with La Sagrada Familia in the distance
Park Guell is the ideal place to get great views of the city. You can see La Sagrada Familia in the distance.
2. There are Great Non-Gaudi Things To Do Too

You can find many non-Gaudi things to entertain you as well. Stroll the beach at Barceloneta, visit the Montserrat Monastery, shop at La Boqueria, or take a day trip to Cadaques to visit the Salvador Dali House Museum.

Fresh seafood at St. Joseph Market - La Boqueria
Fresh seafood at St. Joseph Market – La Boqueria

Here are four of our favorite non-Gaudi attractions:

Labyrinth de la Horta

Our favorite place in Barcelona was the little known Labyrinth de la Horta. This 22-acre park was once a private residence. The park was established in 1791 and donated to the City of Barcelona by the Desvalls family in 1967. It opened to the public four years later.

As the name suggests it includes a labyrinth. As you stroll through the park you will be surprised by unexpected scenes. Each one is a delight.

Garden and staircase at Parc del Laberint d’Horta
The owner’s back yard.
The labyrinth at Parc del Laberint d’Horta
The labyrinth

We recommend this park if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona for awhile. For most of our visit we did not see another person.

Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau

A hospital wouldn’t usually be high on our sightseeing list but we’re glad we didn’t miss the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau. The complex of 16 buildings was constructed from 1905-1930. It showcases the work of Modernisme architect Lluis Montaner.

Montaner believed in the therapeutic properties of nature, color, and form. This belief is reflected in the wealth of details both inside and outside of the buildings, and in the gardens.

The courtyard at Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau
The courtyard at Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau
Hospital room in Recinte Modernista de San Pau
Hospital room in Recinte Modernista de San Pau

The hospital was in use until 2009. A new hospital was built in 2003 and in 2014 this one became a museum and cultural center.

Sitges

Sitges is a beach town on the Mediterranean Sea 26 miles (42 km) southwest of Barcelona. We first visited it on a tour with included a stop in Tarragona (below). Even though we were there on a drizzly day we found Sitges to be captivating.

Sitges will beguile you with stately mansions along the promenade, as well as twisty side streets and quaint shops. It also has a sassy side as seen in some of these photos. It has just under 30,000 residents, but in the summer the number of people is close to 100,000.

We were charmed enough to visit it again on our own.

A narrow street with dining tables and chairs in Sitges, Spain
Just one of the many places that says “come explore me”.
People in costume strolling the boardwalk in Sitges, Spain.
The funky side of Sitges
Tarragona

Tarragona is 51 miles (82 km) southwest of Barcelona. It is known for its well-preserved Roman ruins.

The Ferreres Aqueduct in Tarragona
The Ferreres Aqueduct
The Tarragona Amphitheater
The Tarragona Amphitheater
3. They Have Cava and Cava Sangria

Cava is the Spanish equivalent of Champagne. Almost all of it is produced in the Catalonian region of Spain.

A pitcher of cava sangria
Doesn’t this look delish?

Cava can be used to make cava sangria. It is especially enjoyable while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea on a sunny day. Be sure to give it a try when you visit the area and let me know what you think.

I tried to make it when we returned to Florida, but it just wasn’t the same. I guess I’ll have to return to Catalonia.

4. It’s Really Crowded

There are simply too many people in Barcelona. One reason is that it is very densely populated. Only 1.6 million people live in the city. However, the population density is 16,000 people per sq. km. (compare this to New York City’s density of 10,700 people per sq. km).

A second reason is that over 30 million people visited Barcelona in 2017. Of these more than 2/3 were day-trippers including cruise passengers visiting the city as one of their ports of call.

Cruise passengers come into the city by the thousands yet usually only visit for the day. They tend to go to the most popular sights like the Gaudi attractions listed above.

In an effort to control tourism the city passed a law in 2017 that forbids the building of new hotels even if they are replacing existing ones. You can read more about that here.

Barcelona continues to struggle with solutions to its overtourism problem as detailed in the July 12, 2019 Forbes article.

5. It’s Really Noisy

Because Barcelona is so crowded it is also very noisy. The noise is due to the large amount of traffic. Many people ride motorcycles which adds significantly to the road noise. It is not unusual to see people slowly ride their motorcycles onto the sidewalks.

Even with our windows closed we never got a break from the traffic noise.

A young woman in high heels riding a scooter
A common scene as we sat on our balcony
6. Pickpocketing is a Persistent Problem

When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, take it seriously.

A quick Google search of several websites show Barcelona is the city in which you are most likely to be pickpocketed, followed by Rome.

While these petty thefts can happen anywhere, the Metro and any crowded tourist attraction or area (think La Sagrada Familia and Las Ramblas), are especially worrisome.

It is not uncommon to see people walking with their backpacks on their chests to keep them safe. Simply put, you can’t be too careful or too paranoid about pickpockets in Barcelona.

Our Pickpocketing Experience

Despite the warnings, Steve was confident that if he kept his wallet in his front pocket it would be safe.
During our first week in Barcelona Steve was pickpocketed on the Metro.

Because Steve’s passport and several bank cards were taken we had to file a police report. That was easier said than done.

The first police station we went to was permanently closed and the second one was closed for renovations. The third time was the charm.

Fortunately, there was an English speaking policeman there and he took our information. But, when it came time to sign the report it was in Spanish. We couldn’t read it, but Steve had no choice but to sign it.

We were shocked when the officer told us that they process 400 reports a day. That isn’t including people who don’t report petty theft because they only lost cash.

A few days later we were notified that Steve’s passport had been found. That saved us the $145 replacement cost.

The thieves tried to use one of our credit cards to buy $900 worth of shoes. Thankfully the credit card company denied the charge. Our loss was 40 Euros (about $44 USD) and a lot of time.

Our Personal Take on Barcelona

In two years of travel one thing has been constant. That is the warmth and kindness we have been met with. The one exception was in Barcelona.

For example, we visited a nearby supermarket nearly every day and used our basic Spanish, but never got a smile out of the cashiers. We did not take this personally. As we watched the crowds from our balcony we did not see many smiles.

We enjoyed learning the history behind the famous sights and taking in the beautiful architecture and street art but we didn’t love Barcelona. Were our expectations too high? Were there too many unfriendly people? Did listening to the constant street noise get old really fast? Probably a little of all these things.

We feel fortunate to have experienced Barcelona. In light of the city’s serious issues with overtourism, we will probably not return soon. If we do, it would be to visit nearby towns combined with a shorter stay in Barcelona. And definitely a return trip to Labyrinth de la Horta.

Trip Details

Dates: April 22 to May 23, 2018

Number of days: 31

Total cost: $3,600

Cost per day: $116

More Information

You can find out what we spent during our first 8 months as full-time travelers in The Bottom Line: Our 2018 Full-Time Travel Costs.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image of the Arc de Triomf by Leo Korman on Unsplash.com