LIFTED IN LISBON

Lisbon Travel Blog

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LISBON

One sunny morning in October 2009, we landed at Lisbon’s airport. After taking a taxi to our hotel in the Rua Sao Joao Da Praca, a steep street in the Alfama, we set out to explore. We boarded a tram on route 28, and began our creaky journey uphill. I was just about to take a picture of the notice in several languages warning passengers to beware of pick-pockets, when we reached our stop. As I tried to disembark, several men tried to squeeze through the door at the same time as me. When I reached the pavement, I discovered that my wallet had been stolen.

The thieves got a good haul. My wallet contained several hundred Euros in notes, some UK Pounds, a few credit cards, and my UK driving licence.

LISBON
Fortunately, my wife had our passports safely in her handbag. I felt as if someone had just punched me in the stomach, winded.  Within minutes, we had cancelled our cards using a mobile ‘phone. There was only one credit card, which was not in our joint names, and my wife was carrying this. This became our main method of payment for the rest of the trip.  Somewhat stunned, we returned to our hotel, where we were informed of the location of the nearest police station.

At the police station, which was somewhere near the waterfront, we explained our problem. When the police officer heard that we had been on a tram, he asked which one. When we told him which, he sighed knowingly, and said something like: “Ah, the twenty-eight.” Then, he advised us to go to the Tourist Police Office near the city centre.

LISBON
We walked there feeling very despondent, and wishing that we had never left home.

At the Tourist Police, an official, who spoke perfect English, sat us down at his desk while we told our tale of woe. Incidentally, his colleagues spoke a wide variety of languages including, I noticed, Afrikaans. He prepared a report while we phoned a German bank, where we had an account attached to one of the cards that was stolen. The German bank official explained to me quietly in English that we would have to speak in German. That was his company’s policy. I managed with some difficulty, and the German card was cancelled. After that, the police official calmly explained to us that what had happened was far from unusual, and that the crime had certainly not been carried by anyone of Portuguese extraction.

COIMBRA
It must have been perpetrated, he assured us, by someone from an East European country which I shall not name for fear of causing offence.

After about 40 minutes, we left the police establishment feeling unexpectedly better about Lisbon. The highly intelligent, well-educated police officer’s manner had the effect of calming us, and making us feel much less concerned about our losses. He must have been a natural psychologist, if not a trained one. Four hours after the theft, I felt like taking photographs again, and looked forward to enjoying Portugal.

As I mentioned, my driving licence had gone. We had booked a hire-car that we were planning to pick-up after spending a few days in Lisbon. I rang the hire company, and explained the problem. They told me that without the licence, I could not hire the car.

COIMBRA
Very kindly, they cancelled my booking and fully refunded what I had paid for it. We had planned to use the car to visit various rural hotels in central Portugal. We managed to cancel all but one of these. The uncancelled one was accessible by train and taxi from Coimbra.

After enjoying the sights of Lisbon, we took a train to Coimbra, where we carried our luggage from one station to another nearby (this no longer exists). The local train that we planned to take to get us near to our rustic destination did not leave for several hours. During that time, I dashed through the rain back to the part of the town near the main station, and booked us into a lovely hotel in a modern-ish building, the Hotel Oslo.

PORTO
I returned to my family who were waiting at the local train station, and we ‘phoned the country hotel that we had booked earlier. They understood our predicament, and cancelled our booking, without charging us.

Instead of driving about rural Portugal, we spent a few highly enjoyable days in the lovely city of Coimbra. Our timing was great. We were there when students were returning to university. Everywhere we went, we encountered crowds of young students wearing mostly black (but also other colours) cloaks like Count Dracula might have worn, old-fashioned traditional students’ garb. Some of them were at the local university, and other groups visited from towns where their universities were located. There was an atmosphere of joyous carnival in the city’s streets.

We enjoyed Coimbra’s many historic sights.

MONREALE
We drank in bars where singers performed melancholic ‘fado’ songs. We ate delicious grilled meats in the city’s numerous ‘churrascarias’. In brief, we fell in love with Coimbra.

Next, we took a train to Porto, which we had planned to visit before leaving for Portugal. We enjoyed the city very much, and have revisited it since.

Had it not been for the pick-pocketing, we would never have visited Coimbra because I had planned our motor trip to avoid having to drive in towns wherever possible. As the saying goes: “every cloud has a silver lining.”

The theft taught me not to keep all my valuables in one place, as it is said, not to put all my eggs into one basket.

NEW YORK CITY
Some years later, we were visiting Sicily. We boarded a bus bound for the lovely monastery and other sights at nearby Monreale. As I moved down the bus, I was jostled roughly. As I began to sit down, an old man pointed at my wallet on the floor. I thanked him, and then picked it up. When I opened it, everything was in place except the cash (only one 20 Euro note this time!). The thieves had kindly left me my credit cards and London bus pass. I had to admire the speed at which they removed and sorted through my wallet before discarding it.

Long before all of this happened, in 1992, I made a trip to New York City. Before departure, I read several decent guidebooks because during my short stay I did not want to miss anything that looked interesting. Each of these books contained a worrying section on what to when you are mugged, not if you are mugged. As the day of departure for America drew near, I grew more anxious about the trip. I decided that it would be best if I secreted a reasonable amount of cash inside my socks, so that if -  sorry, I mean when - I was mugged, I would be left with some money. I am pleased to say that although Manhattan was excitingly edgy and extremely enjoyable, the muggers ignored me.

Travelling involves taking risks. Pick-pocketing is one of these, but it need not be disastrous if you distribute your valuables in different places. Even the most skilled pick-pocketers are not quick enough to pick more than one of your pockets at a time. 

vicIII says:
I would appreciate muggers to ignore me altogether...
Posted on: Sep 28, 2017
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photo by: Johnpro