How one stupid move can ruin a tripWritten by Roger Holliday Claudia Fischer | | email@example.com
There was an eerie inevitability about today’s topic and an almost uncanny convergence of stories in which all roads lead not to Rome, but to rip-off.
It started with a brief consultation with a friend about to leave on a two-week river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest.
We read over the itinerary, advised her on the best optional tours, how to figure the different currencies, the tipping and staff gratuities, and where to go for a good meal on a free evening in Amsterdam.
Then, almost as an afterthought, she mentioned that she and her husband had just purchased multi-pocketed Tilley jackets, so they could have their passports with them at all times.
“Whoops,” we said. “Bad idea. Much better to keep passports, tickets and any other valuables in a hotel safe or, at least, in a locked suitcase case in a closet, rather than risk taking them onto the street.”
That brief exchange, plus the onset of the travel season, reminded us that it was probably high time to address the subject of safe travel. Because we know, from personal experience, that it takes just one false or stupid move to ruin a trip.
Coincidentally, that very night, the subject came up again while we were watching a DVD sent us by our Toledo Free Press Aussie correspondents, Robert Mathyson and Martin Woodward — peripatetic Sydneysiders who travel more frequently and to more exotic destinations than anyone else we know.
These guys know how to do a mean video and so we were quite happy to float vicariously with them from Japan to Prague, Moscow to St. Petersburg, Amsterdam to Rotterdam, London to Rugby. Before taking the Queen Mary II to New York, flying onto L.A. and returning home.
It was in the middle of some highly evocative scenes of St. Petersburg and the Hermitage Museum that filmmaker Robert casually mentions that he “lost” his wallet.
With safety and St. Petersburg already on our radar (having just finished “The Madonnas of Leningrad” by Debra Dean) we immediately e-mailed Robert for further details. Next morning, we had our answer.
Seems that he and Martin were standing on a busy St. Petersburg street corner outside the Nevsky Prospekt Metro Station at four o’clock in the afternoon when three youngish women herded him into what he thought was a hot dog line, and promptly picked his pocket.
Robert said that he knew within 10 seconds that “he’d been done” but to give chase would have been useless as he couldn’t remember what the women looked like — and they could probably run faster.
Now, under normal circumstances, the incident wouldn’t have caused much of a problem as the wallet in question was basically “a sacrificial one” containing a single Mastercard and a minimum amount of cash.
However, on this occasion, as luck would have it, they’d visited an ATM earlier in the day and, using a second card, taken out $700 in Russian rubles to pay for various tours they were taking.
Within 40 minutes of the actual theft, the credit cards were hit for more than $10,000. And the two spent the rest of the evening on the phone to two banks trying to get things sorted out and find a mutually acceptable location where new emergency credit cards could be delivered. But the new cards lacked a particular PIN chip now often required in Europe and were virtually useless (more on that problem next week).
It is important to note that in all their years of extensive travel this was the first time they’d ever been pickpocketed. Robert primarily attributes this first, and hopefully only, act of robbery to the fact that he was wearing lightweight Haggar slacks, with easy pocket entry, rather than his usual tighter-fitting jeans, because Haggars weighed a full kilo less. .5 kgs vs. 1.5 kgs.
Sometimes you just can’t win for trying.
E-mail Holliday Travels at firstname.lastname@example.org.