En Route to Paris
Madrid is now history and we are on our way to Paris via another modern European bullet train. The train from Valencia was superior to Acela in “luxury” and cruised along at speeds close to 300km/h (185 mph), even faster than the bullet trains in the US. Bullet trains in the US? What do you mean we don’t have any bullet trains in the US?
So this was going to be the blog about how terrific Madrid is—a New York style, high energy city with monumental avenues, vast plazas and urban spaces, narrow Medieval streets, beautiful parks, world class museums, countless cafes and restaurants, and much, much more. I will touch on that at some point but not here.
This blog post is about yet another incident. If you have been following the blog, you know we have now had two “incidents.” The first incident occurred on Day 25 in Valencia and involved Embry falling on a rock on the beach, resulting in a deep wound requiring six stitches and producing a award winning black eye. Kudos to the Spanish health care system for patching her up. The second incident was described in blog post Day 27 and recounted our being stopped by the police for having our bright lights on at noon on a sunny day. Both ended on reasonably good notes.
Incident Number 3—and I am sure others will follow—occurred around 6:30 pm yesterday on our third and final evening in Madrid. Having awakened from a siesta following another nine course “tasting menu” feast from a world class chef (good friend, by the way, of the famous Washington chef of Jaleo and other restaurants, Jose Andres) in a tiny, upscale café only minutes from our hotel, we decided to go for a walk. The sidewalks were jammed with all kinds of people, and you had the feeling you could have been in Times Square or leaving the stadium after a Nats playoff game. We were no more than a hundred feet from our hotel when a bald headed guy in his forties, wearing a bright red shirt, turned to me and asked if I spoke English. In a heavy Spanish accent, he said “Need to check your wallet. Think you were just robbed.” I immediately checked my back pocket. No wallet.
“Think he went that way and into that store. Just happened. Need to act fast.”
Instincts take over at times like this. I immediately turned around and retraced our steps looking for a shady character with my wallet. Now you might ask what I would actually do if I found some shady character who looked suspicious.
“Excuse me, but did you happen to come across a wallet in the last minute that is not yours; and if so, could you kindly return it to its rightful owner?”
Alas, as I stared into the vast multitudes all around me, no one looked shady; then everyone did, and then everything seemed a blur. Then I heard Embry’s voice. Always the one to act quickly and decisively, she had charged directly into the store where the nice, baldheaded guy said the suspect probably was. It was a small ice cream shop with no seats and about a dozen people standing around, mainly twenty-somethings, either eating ice cream or standing in line to buy some.
“Someone in this store has my husband’s wallet and I want it back right now!” She was shouting, loudly enough for me to hear her about 20 feet away above the noise of the street and the endless chatter. All eyes were fixed on her, and none of the customers were saying a thing. I nudged my way in and scanned the crowd for a shady character. There were only a couple of likely suspects, young guys, but they seemed innocent enough; and I noticed one of them was searching through his pockets as if he were trying to find a set of lost keys, then looked up at Embry and shrugged with a look which said, “Sorry, can’t find it anywhere.”
Then several women took out their purses and rummaged through them trying to find the wallet. Two of the women opened their purses for Embry to inspect.
No wallet anywhere. Must not be in the store. Maybe look somewhere else.
Now five minutes had passed, and our window of opportunity was over, but does anyone actually think that the thief, had we found him, would willfully return the “lost” wallet. What were we thinking? Embry’s comment was that it never hurts to try.
We dejectedly followed our steps back to the hotel where we reported the incident to the people at the desk, to which the response was something like, “Oh, ho hum, sorry, not much you can do.” A guy not much younger than me who was standing in line behind me, commented in perfect English (a Canadian from Alberta), “Sorry to hear the news, but welcome to the club. Our traveling companion had his wallet stolen yesterday. Lost everything. Happens all the time in Madrid. Welcome to Spain!”
So what was supposed to be a leisurely evening stroll turned out to be a two hour ordeal on the phone trying to cancel credit cards and ATM cards. Have you ever tried to cancel an ATM card when you do not know the number of the card or the tax id or social security number which is on record for the card and can’t remember the name of your first pet or your mother’s birthday? But that is another story which does not merit time here. Like the fellow club member who lost everything yesterday, so did I, except thankfully I have my passport; and Embry still has some money in her bank account. How all this finally gets resolved will be the subject of a subsequent blog.
The most disappointing aspect of this incident is that it cast a pall on what otherwise was a wonderful experience and a wonderful city. The Madrid story will be next.