So, every travel experience has to have a few bumps in the road. Aside from the minor “i’m totally miserable here and with what i’m doing” shtick that I usually complain about, my time in Europe has been relatively stress free. I’ve had the leisure to travel all over and have an amazing time everywhere I’ve gone. Our trip to Bruges and Amsterdam was fantastic (update still to come), until the very end.
I’m just going to put it out there bluntly: We were robbed! One of our bags was snatched in Brussels Central Station on the very last day of our trip on the way to our airport hotel before catching our flight in the morning. We’re still not 100% sure how it happened, but we think it was the classic scheme where one thief distracts you while the other steals your bag. All while I was waiting for Sal with the bags outside of the bathroom in the station.
Those thieves must have gotten the best bag in the station that day. Let me recount the contents: one suped up Macbook Pro including case, one 32g 3G iPad including case, two passports (both Sal’s, one American and one Italian) one iPhone charger, one Macbook charger (mine), one pair of headphones and one RICK STEVES GUIDEBOOK, plus the bag itself (Muji). In total, we estimate that the bag was worth over $4,000. Of course, no amount of money compares to having your trip ruined, your flight missed and your sense of security in the world compromised.
The worst part about it is that I could have done nothing to prevent it; I was doing everything right! Standing next to the bags, against a wall, touching the bags and keeping my wits about me! A man came up to me-somewhat persistent and pushy- and kept trying to talk to me in French. I did not engage him and simply kept saying “No no no” until finally i yelled at him “I don’t understand French!” loudly, at which point he left quickly. I think that was it. I had to let my guard down for one second to deal with this man, who honestly made me feel nervous and unsafe, and I think it is in that time that another thief came around and somehow got the bag. All in all it took less than 30 seconds and I did not even notice the bag was gone. Only when Sal came out of the bathroom did he say something and we realized what had happened.
We missed our flight in the morning because the US Embassy was closed and we were unable to get another passport in time. We had to pay for an extra night at our hotel as well as for the emergency passport and to change to a new flight. The police were not helpful and still have not returned our e-mails asking if there have been any updates on the situation (it’s been almost a week!). The only hope we hold out for getting at least the laptop and iPad returned are the tracking programs installed on them that will begin working as soon as they are connected to the internet (which they have not been yet).
In a somewhat happy ending, Sal’s parents have homeowner’s insurance which covers most of the cost of the lost items, although not the costs incurred as a result of that loss, such as the hotel and new flights. Sal’s mom and her friend were coming to visit us this week anyway so she already brought a new computer with her (Sal can’t work without his computer)! So, we’ve already got a new computer and charger for me, which is great. And now we have family here with us visiting and we are in Amalfi for the weekend (even though it’s been pouring rain the whole time), so we are content.
Overall, it was a nightmare. I feel like I was targeted because I was a female, alone. Women- i know you can relate to this- when a strange man comes at you and is persistent, it puts you on edge and you lose your focus. Even for a minute and that’s all it takes! I feel less secure in my surroundings and I also feel angry at myself for letting it happen to me. I know this is an irrational feeling given that there was nothing I could have done to stop it, but I can’t help it. I am a very aware and vigilant travler and I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. It really goes to show that it can happen to anyone and that these people are super-trained professionals!!
I still don’t understand how it happened. I still don’t understand how I have been living in Naples since October, one of the most notorious cities for crime and petty theft, and have never had a single incident. Same with New York City, where I lived for four years and would often be out late at night on the subways etc. Never a problem! Yet, there I am, waiting outside a train station bathroom in Brussels in the middle of the afternoon, and I get robbed. Who would have thought?
Apparently, in the Brussels Central Station alone there are over 50 bag thefts per day. We met a really nice American bartender at our hotel who told us that he had been robbed at the airport as well as had his house in Brussels broken into 3 times! I guess Brussels is some sort of crime center? Everyone we talked to in the city about what happened to us was like, “Welcome to Brussels, that’s how it is here.” In the Rick Steves book (which i miss desperately! Why didn’t you warn us Rick!?!), he describes Brussels as “earthy” saying its a bit grittier than most European cities and not super safe to be in after midnight, which seems a bit uninformed and minimized according to what we learned while there. If it’s such a hotbed of crime, I would have expected a little more warning-especially given that the descriptions in Naples guidebooks are over-the-top exaggerated and super explicit about the amount of theft that goes on in the city.
So, a warning to travelers everywhere: Keep your eyes open! And if it happens to you and you were doing everything right, just let it go. Don’t beat yourself up over it, learn from your mistakes and know that karma will eventually catch up with the jerks who robbed you!