We’ve been traveling for almost 3 years and nothing criminal has ever befallen us. Until a few nights ago in Athens, Greece. That’s when I was the victim of pickpockets while riding the Athens subway.
Yup! Even now I can hardly believe it — because THAT could never happen to me. I’m too smart/alert/aware/strong/smooth/intimidating/focused/well-traveled/etc. for someone to remove money from my pocket without me noticing. But it happened.
My wife and I were returning to our Athens Airbnb rental from an afternoon at the National Anthropology Museum. As we boarded the metro train at the busy Omonia station, a group of 4 men stepped in front of us, got on the train, then immediately stopped, blocking most of the doorway entrance. Ellen loudly said “excuse me” and bounced left through an opening at the far edge of the door. I kinda bounced backwards, off the train, and tried again. I said, “excuse me, can I get on the train”, and the group of guys parted slightly, making a small opening for me to squeeze through. As I did so, my little, orange, zippered, coin pouch disappeared from the front left pocket of my jeans.
It was such a strange few seconds that once standing comfortably inside the half-full subway car, I immediately checked my pockets. Yes, I suspected a pickpocket attempt. When I felt something in each front pocket, I assumed I had come through unscathed. It was only a couple subway stations later — after the crooks had exited — when I actually tried to find the coin pouch and realized what remained in my pockets was keys, a wad of paper receipts and my point and shoot camera. The coin purse was long gone.
I never felt anything – other than being jostled from 2 sides as I pushed through their gauntlet. They were professionals. Numbering at least 4. People told me later that sometimes groups of 10 or 15 actors will operate pickpocket schemes in Athens. My troupe was average looking, decently dressed, in their 40’s — they didn’t look like trouble. And it’s just as well that I didn’t discover the theft while they were still nearby. Most likely, they would have ignored any accusations or attempt at recovery and simply exited the train. But there was 4 of them versus me. And no doubt they have some kind of weapons ‘if needed’.
The good news; when the thieves unzipped my worn little pouch, all they found was about 15 euros ($18 USD), a subway pass with 1 day remaining, and my souvenir beer bottle opener from Rome. They were probably not happy. Ellen had been carrying our spending money that day — another $50-$60 in euros. (Our credit/debit cards and passports are almost always left hidden in our rental units.)
All in all, it turned out as well as could be hoped for. Still, it was a lesson learned: If something weird is happening around you – especially when you are in a crowded public place – immediately put your hands ON YOUR VALUABLES, ignore the ruckus, and move quickly away from the chaos before relaxing and releasing the stranglehold on your possessions. In my case, I could have pushed through with hands IN pockets, or simply darted to the next open entrance door a few feet away – again, with hands IN pockets, holding my stuff.
Pickpockets are all over Europe – not just Athens. Rick Steves has some advice for European travelers so they aren’t swindled! His post is here.
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