Quite a first day in Spain
Dateline - Madrid, Spain Part 1 - No second date We begin today's newsletter with a story I read online while resting after 22 hours of in-transit time traveling from Los Angeles to Madrid. It was on MSN.com Inside Edition. The story reported that a woman met a man in person after connecting on a dating site called Tinder. They talked on the phone several times before they agreed to meet. That was a wise first step--enough phone conversations to get to know the man well enough to feel he was worthy to meet face-to-face. The woman insisted on meeting in a public place--the Phoenician Resort in Phoenix. They talked for a long time. She was feeling comfortable with him. When she went to the restroom, she asked him to watch her purse. Not smart. When she returned, he was gone and the purse was gone. She notified Phoenix police. They arrested the guy a day later on felony charges after trying to use her credit cards at a casino and at several banks. I know our Champs are too smart to do something like leaving a purse with a stranger, but felt the story would be a good warning about always being cautious when meeting strangers--even when you feel you can trust them somewhat. There was no second date, it goes without saying. Which leads us into Part 2--our first day in Spain, where, similar to the woman above, I should have been more cautious. Part 2 - "Quite a first day in Spain" After traveling for 22 hours, my partner Greta and I were pretty exhausted, and not thinking as clearly as normal. We grabbed an early seafood paella dinner at Madrid's Plaza Mayor, and decided to walk a mile and a half back to our hotel. Greta and I consider ourselves to be smart travelers--we have traveled together for 18 years. We are aware that pickpockets are always present, although you might not recognize them. Because I had my pocket picked one time, in Lisbon, four years ago, I am always careful in how and where I carry my money, passport and credit cards. In Lisbon, my wallet was eased from a front pant pocket on a crowded trolley car. Packed in like sardines. Couldn't move my arms. I immediately knew it was gone and said to Greta, "They got my wallet." She saw a guy on the floor taking money from it and jumped on him, putting her finger nails into his wrist. He screamed in pain. She got the money and wallet back. We were lucky for that and lucky she did not get hurt. This time in Madrid, my wallet was in the same place, my right front pant pocket; it should have been locked in the hotel room safe. It was too visible in the pocket, too much in it, so it was noticeable--a tourist no-no. Greta and I were walking back on Calle de Alcala, a nice major boulevard, holding hands, admiring the night lights of Madrid.
Calle de Alcala in Madrid at night Shortly after taking the above picture, a few steps later, I felt movement in the right front pocket. I wheeled around and there were three women within a foot of us; we had not noticed them getting close to us. I hit the woman who had tried to take my wallet hard in the shoulder, holding back a karate chop to her throat, which was my initial survival instinct. I was amazed at my adrenalin rush; I looked her in the eye and said, "I will kill you" and repeated the words again. It is amazing how you react when your body is being attacked and you are in danger. She could have had a knife or a gun. She and her two accomplices ran and jumped on a bus. Empty handed. I knew better than to carry a wallet in any pocket while out in public in a foreign country. But I thought, "Oh, Madrid is safe; I'll be careful, no sweat, it's in the front pocket." I was lucky, luckier than the woman in Part 1. If I had lost credit cards, my driver's license and money in the wallet, it would have put a huge damper on our trip. Travel lesson learned: Beware of pickpockets Any where you go, especially in foreign countries, there are pickpockets lurking. They strike when you least expect it. They work in groups. Subways and buses can be jammed and they work in those places. Do not carry things like purses or wallets that can be stolen. Shoulder purses and bags can be snatched or cut right off your shoulder. Take only a credit card, some i.d., and enough cash for the day. Secure them safely where no one but you can access them. If you need to take more, such as your passport, for example, put that in a money belt hidden under your clothing. Part 3 - Also in day one in Madrid The Madrid Barajas Airport is huge. I wear an exercise Fitbit that measures the number of steps I take in a day. To walk from the plane to where you pick up your luggage, my Fitbit racked up nearly 2,500 steps. Also, to get your luggage, you have to ride on a shuttle train for about 7 minutes. Once we got to the taxi stand outside the terminal, we showed the driver our hotel information on our printed-out reservation sheet, including the address. He said ok, he knew where that was. He dropped us near the entrance. We paid him the 30-euro fare plus a tip. We were relieved to get to the front desk, only to be told that the driver dropped us at the wrong hotel, that our hotel was a "10-minute walk away." So off we went--10 minutes turned into a half hour--pulling our luggage. Along the way, we saw another couple also hauling luggage heading in the same direction, and asked them if they were going to the H10 Hotel also. They said, "Yes, our taxi dropped us at the wrong hotel." It was the same hotel where we had been dropped.They were from Wales in the UK. We shared a small laugh. At the end of the night, Greta said, "This has been quite a first day in Spain." We reminded each other: when traveling, be prepared for anything and roll with the flow. Stuff is just bound to happen. But always be aware of your surroundings, and who is getting unnecessarily close to you. Assume nothing.