Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Trip to Russia - Safety First!

Or: How my wallet was stolen

This should probably have been the first installment of my Russia series. But I didn't want to discourage you... It's not as if our little group was set upon by vicious brigands. Rather, it's how careless I was, and how you should learn from my mistakes.

The embarrassing story:
It was Tuesday morning, the third day of our organized trip, and our last day in St. Petersburg before sailing off to Mandrogi and other pretty places along rivers, lakes and canals on our way to Moscow.
We got up early-ish, and reached the world-famous Hermitage by ten a.m. Now, it's easy for me to say "world-famous", but I'd only first heard of it in the early 1990s, when Dmitri, a co-worker, (yes, a Russian), was disgusted at our ignorance. "Our" being his Israeli team-mates at LOGAL Educational Software, and our ignorance referred to our never having heard of the Hermitage museum.

Our small group stood a while in the long queue, and eventually joined the crowds in the museum's fancy corridors. Just so that you get an idea of what I'm talking about, here's a pic. The tourists in the foreground ("downstage") are my tour-mates:
A corridor in the Hermitage museum, St. Petersburg, Aug 11, 2015
We spent under 2 hours at the Hermitage, which is nothing, really. But time was short, the schedule was busy, and people had expressed their desire to have some free time to stroll Nevsky Boulevard and perhaps sit at a local cafe rather than have lunch consisting of an unappetizing lunch-box while sitting on the lawn in the park nearby.

I can't say exactly when I was pick-pocketed because, obviously, I felt nothing. As far as I know, I clutched my small, red, cross-body bag close to me at all times. But the place was crowded. I must have, at some point, raised my arms, perhaps to take a picture or just push the hair out of my face -- who knows. It was only a few hours later, once we were on the tour bus, that I looked at the messages on my iPhone telling me to contact my credit-card companies urgently... In disbelief, I checked my bag: no wallet. Absolutely and definitely. It couldn't possibly be hiding. It just wasn't there. Well -- you know the drill: Call your credit card company asap and cancel your card/s. And as soon as you have a chance, go online and check your credit and/or debit charges. "My" pickpocket was extremely swift and efficient, apparently, and must have made a dash for the nearest shops, where he or she spent a pretty penny. (As I write these lines, most of the charges have been cancelled, after the appropriate formalities.)

Helge looking at a flattering photo of me
he'd taken when we met in Toronto, winter 1972
My wallet had contained 2 credit cards and one debit card, not to mention some cash, a few photos of loved ones, a couple of business cards, and a small silver pendant that says I Love You, which I got from my ex-Norwegian penpal, Helge Blucher, when I met him for the first time (in Toronto, Canada, 1972) after having corresponded with him for nearly ten years. It was my good luck charm and had accompanied me in my travels for dozens of years.

As for the wallet itself -- it was a souvenir from our Thailand trip, an elephant(?) leather thingy dyed purple. My daughters thought it hideous.

As you can see, by this time we were at the glorious Peterhof Gardens, and I'm carrying my red bag sloppily on my shoulder, no longer caring whether anyone tries to fish anything out of it, since there was nothing left in it worth stealing. A small packet of tissues? Lip balm? Mints?..

Naturally, when my tour-mates found out about my plight, they were disgusted with how careless I'd been, and full of advice on what kind of bag I should have carried, and how silly it was of me to bring along three credit cards rather than one; or how I should have kept my valuables in a money belt covered by my T-shirt, and how I should get a form from the local полиция (police) confirming that I had reported the theft.

Naturally, I'd done none of the above. I can't stand money-belts -- they're extremely uncomfortable. I always take with me more than one credit card. And there's no way I could have gone to the local police; we were on an organized trip and had to get back to the boat on time, before it sailed without us. As for a cross-body bag that zips up more securely -- sure! Excellent idea. I've been having a whale of a time googling "secure anti-theft cross-body bags". My current favorite is this one. What do you think -- is $72 a reasonable price?


  1. The bag is lovely. And you know, if you are going to have a life, things are going to happen. Better to continue to enjoy your travels than to bemoan what cannot be changed.

  2. Sorry to hear about your experience, Nina. We are very careful on our travels, and Yigal rebutted a pickpocket on the PAris Metro last year. But while we were away our home in Israel was burgled. You can't win, it seems.

    1. I think yours was the more traumatic experience... Our home has been burgled 3 times, the last of which was while we were away. S--t happens, they say...