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Pickpocket spot near Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

Pickpocket spot near Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

Nov 2nd, 2016, 07:44 PM
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Join Date: Nov 2016
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Pickpocket spot near Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

Hi all! I just came back from Europe and would like to share my traveling experience in Barcelona to help people who will visit the Sagrada Familia area. Before I start, I want to make it clear that I’m sharing my story because I want to help people avoid what I went through in Barcelona. My intention is not to blame anyone and any business or say bad things about the police in Barcelona.

I recently went to Barcelona to watch a soccer game. It was my second time visiting the city. Before this trip I enjoyed Barcelona in general and always thought it is safe. In a late afternoon, my brother, my husband and I planned to go to Sagrada Familia. While we had an hour free time (our admission time to Sagrama Familia was 5:45PM), we decided to go to Costa Coffee, which is across from Sagrada Familia for a short coffee break.

When we walked into the coffee shop, we saw people sitting around. Everyone looked relaxing. There were about 3 staffs (2 guys and 1 girl). We found a table with 4 seats near the front door and sat there. When my husband and my brother went to order drinks, I sat on a chair against the wall and put my small backpack next to me (My backpack and I were on the same chair. It’s a small Longchamp navy backpack. It’s light-weight and doesn’t take up much space so that’s why I was able to put it next to me on top of my sweatshirt). The camera was on top of where I sat. I thought I was pretty safe so I could relax. My brother came back shortly. We chatted for a couple minutes and then checked our phone. My husband came back with the drinks a few minutes later, and we just sat there and never left our table. About an hour later..when we were about to leave Costa Coffee to go to Sagrada Familia, I realized “my backpack was gone”. I was confused and horrified. Although I didn’t have a lot of cash, I brought two credit cards, my driver license, my passport and my husband’s passport out in case we decided to go shopping. I couldn’t think clearly when I first found out my backpack was stolen. At first I thought I left it on the tour bus, but I knew that it happened in Costa Coffee as soon as I recalled I took out my coin purse to get something for my brother in the coffee shop. I thought I was dreaming because how could I not feel anything when someone stole it from the chair that I was sitting at. My brother was sitting across from me for the whole time. My husband was sitting next to me. There are people in the coffee shop. The camera was just above where I was sitting. How could this happen?!

My brother went to the staffs in Costa Coffee immediately. One of the staffs (possibly the supervisor of Costa Coffee) heard what happened and went to the front door. There was a homeless man sitting outside of the coffee shop the entire time we were there. We don’t understand Spanish, but it seemed like he asked the homeless man if he had seen anyone (You could probably guess what his answer was). After he came back inside, he said some Spanish words to a local who was sitting across from us. The girl immediately moved her backpack to her legs. I was wondering why he didn’t say the same thing in English to warn others since there are many tourists in the shop. We didn’t know what to do. I was so scared. I know a few customers saw my face and were wondering what had happened. My mind was blank. We were only staying in Barcelona for 2 more nights and we had to fly to Athens after the FCB vs. Man City game. I lost 2 passports. How were we going to continue our trip? How could we fly to Greece and return to Los Angeles? I started to shake and blame myself in my head. I travel many times and always try to be very careful. I was just having coffee in a coffee shop and my purse was with me. How could this happen?

We were helpless. We didn’t know what to do except for sitting there. The staffs in Costa Coffee didn’t come to us. They looked at us, avoided making eye contacts, and did nothing. When we went up to them, they told us that they could not let us see the camera. We asked if they could call the police. The answer was “No” (I guess things are different in Spain). The staffs told us that the only thing we could do is to go to a police station and report the lost. They gave us the address of a police station nearby and that was it. We asked for the address of the coffee shop in case the police asked. They did not even write down anything. The staff said, just tell them it’s Costa Coffee-Sagrada Familia. I assume this must be a “famous pickpocket spot” to the police in Barcelona that they don’t even need to have an address and they know where it is at.

We missed our opportunity to visit Sagrada Familia. We had to go to the police station instead. We took two subways. It wasn’t a long ride, but it felt like forever. When we finally got to the police station, we met with a translator and filled out a form. The translator was friendly. After we told her what happened, she filled out a take-in form and asked us to wait in line to give that form to a police. When I submitted the form, the police told me to wait till someone call me in.

So my husband, my brother, and I sat there with a group of people. We waited patiently. I called my credit card companies to report the lost, and started browsing the web to ask Google what to do when my passport is stolen and where the US consulate is in Barcelona. Many people who got there the same time we did were called by the police. Each of them went inside, came out, and left. We waited and waited and kept wondering why it took them so long to call my name. We are in our 30s. We are from the US so they should know that we are able to communicate with them in English. Why? Finally, after 3 hours, a police came out and called my name. He handed me some forms. I still remember what he said to me, “Just fill out these forms, ok? Very easy, ok?” “Okay.” - That’s all I could say. I was tired. I didn’t know what to do except for going through each question and filling in my answers. When I finished the forms, I went to the front window. The same police man came out and took my forms. No questions for me. He just went back to his office. When he came out, he gave me a copy of the forms that I completed and said I could leave. That was it. I waited 3 hours and was told that a police would call me in, but all they did was to ask me to fill out some forms. He made a copy and told me that it’s a police report. It was 9:30PM when we left. Honestly, I never expected my purse and my passports could be found by seeing the attitudes of the staffs in Costa Coffee as well as the police in the police station. What makes me upset is that if you just want me to fill out a form which is the so-called “police report”, why did you ask me to wait 3 hours? Why couldn’t those policemen just hang me the forms? We were so hungry and it was cold. It was clear to me that the thefts did it cleverly and the police made no attempts to follow up. I just hope I could go to the US consulate and reach someone to help me.

Fortunately, things went well when we went to the US consulate the next morning. The employees in the US consulate were very helpful and efficient. They made me feel like I was at home. I feel so thankful. With their help my husband and I were able to have our emergency passport in less than 2 hours. We were able to attend the FCB vs Manchester City game that night and fulfilled my bucket list. We left Spain the next morning. We enjoyed the rest of our trip in Greece and came home safely.

After I came home, I did some research and realize that statistically, Barcelona has the highest pickpocket rates in Europe. What we went through in Barcelona that date urged me that I need to share my experience to help other tourists in Barcelona. If you plan to visit Sagrada Familia, please remember my story and pay close attention to your belongings. Even though you think you are in a safe place, it might not be as safe as you think. My experience in Costa Coffee-Sagrada Familia has taught me a valuable lesson. Before you travel, make sure you do some research on what to do if bad things happen and have the address and phone number of your country’s embassy/consulate. Do not carry your passport out unless you really have to (I did that because I was planning to go shopping and I learned a valuable lesson in Barcelona. Next time I will just bring a copy of my passport). Lastly, thank you for reading my long post. Stay calm when bad things happen during your trip. Happy traveling.
Cyu504 is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2016, 08:21 PM
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I am sorry about your misfortune, but your story is similar to many others. "Thought we were safe, we were watchful, we have traveled many times, then finally happened to me."

>>> Do not carry your passport out unless you really have to (I did that because I was planning to go shopping and I learned a valuable lesson in Barcelona. Next time I will just bring a copy of my passport).

Spain is one country I was told multiple times when trying to use my credit card with a copy of passport that "Your copy of passport is no good. I need to see the REAL passport as in id to accept your credit card." So I carry passport, but not in my backpack, but in a neck pouch that many pooh-pooh as unnecessary because they are always alert and would notice any pickpocket attempt, all you have to do is to be aware of your surroundings. Now that you have gone through an experience, you can judge how effective just being aware strategy is.

I have traveled in Barcelona with a daypack. However, I expected I would be pick pocketed, so absolutely nothing valuable inside. My jacket, travel guide, city map, umbrella, a water bottle. All my valuables were in that dreaded neck pouch. Sure enough when I got off the metro, I saw the call sign of a pickpocket. All the zippers were open. Nothing stolen, because physically there was nothing worth stealing in it. On the platform was an Asian lady in tears talking to a security about having her wallet pick-pocketed...
greg is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2016, 08:22 PM
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Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry for what you and your husband had to go through. I could just imagine how awful it was. I am happy to read the rest of your trip was wonderful.
cafegoddess is online now  
Nov 3rd, 2016, 12:04 AM
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I am glad that everything turned out ok. But just wanted to say that the reaction of the cafe staff and the police was not unique to Spain- I've reported car prowls in the US and it's pretty much the same thing. High tourist area+ High level of petty crime+ stupidity on your part= those folks hear the same sob story day after day. You fill out a form and there's not much they can do unless someone finds your purse in a bush. The worst bit is feeling stupid, I know- I tell tourists all the time to not leave valuables in plain sight in their car, I should know better, and yet I've done the same and paid the price.
marvelousmouse is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2016, 08:39 AM
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While a friend was eating in the outdoor area of a Barcelona restaurant with a Catalan colleague his computer resting against his chair disappeared. He figured that the staff was in on it, but of course couldn't prove a thing.
Michael is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2016, 10:13 PM
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I'm sad to hear of this incident, but -- I'm sorry to say -- I'm not particularly surprised.

One really should NEVER carry valuables in a back pack or anything else that isn't basically ALWAYS in your control! Use an under-clothing passport pouch for your passport, extra credit cards, and extra cash. (And keep a copy of key documents in that pouch, too.)

Don't cede physical contact with your purse or backpack unless you are willing to lose it -- keep it under an arm, or looped over your knee AND in contact with your calves, or whatever.

And don't expect local people -- shop owners or restaurant staff or police or anyone else -- to be prepared to know what to do for you, speak your language, or show you special favors.

I don't make these remarks to be mean, but to highlight that there are things you can do to protect your valuables. They are well described in most guidebooks, and the better guidebooks also include lists of consulates, etc., and how to contact them.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed -- even the most watchful and best prepared of people can be a victim anywhere, anytime. The best we can do is to be prepared and to know what to do if necessary.

I commend your ability to stay calm through it all and am glad that you were able to enjoy the rest of your trip.
kja is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2016, 10:26 PM
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Sorry. This is a very unfortunate experience to have anywhere in the world. But I'm curious why you thought anyone would communicate with you in Spanish (which is not the language of Barcelona - Catalan is, though they mostly speak Spanish, too - it shows a certain lack of local customs to think they were speaking Spanish). Do the restaurant staff and police where you live speak Catalan?

You can't just roam the world thinking everyone will speak your language.

Good reminder, though, for anyone who travels, anywhere. You never park a backpack "just next to you." You secure it by tying it to your chair or your leg or your arm. This has become second-nature to me.

Glad you were able to soldier on and that the American Embassy staff were able and willing to help you out.
StCirq is offline  
Nov 4th, 2016, 01:33 AM
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A couple of weeks ago someone posted an almost identical experience from Carcassonne.

High horse or not, there are lessons to be learnt:

First lesson. The Sagrada Familia and Carcassonne are both number-one tourist spots. And among these tourists are enough who are careless, so they are easy prey and hence, these spots attract pickpockets as plum pie attracts wasps. Same is true for the steps below Sacre-Coeur in Paris and several other spots. So, if you are going to such spots, use extra caution.

Second lesson. Backpacks are invitations for pickpockets. It is as easy as pie to grab a backpack that rests on the floor or leans against a chair or hangs over a backrest. It takes only a second and neither effort nor skill to steal a backpack. And, if caught, the thief could easy say "Oh, I thought it was mine - my backpack looks similar". Hardly any risk.

Third lesson. The police cannot help. Chances to catch a pickpocket an hour after the theft are nil. You may need a police protocol for your insurance or for the consulate but do not expect that inspector Clouseau comes round the corner and hands you your stolen items back.

Fourth lesson. No one else can help. And no one else is responsible. If you left your backback on the floor of a restaurant neither the waitstaff nor the owner are responsible. And how should they help? What should they do about a thief who is probably already 5 kilometres away. Also, if something is stolen during a bus ride, the driver is not responsible for the theft. The only person who is responsible for taking care of your stuff is you.

Fifth lesson. Pickpocketing is rife at certain tourist spots, but robbery is extremely rare. So, wear your valuables as close to your body as possible. The good old neck pouch will do the job. I have a pouch that is attached to my belt and I wear it inside my pants. I put credit cards, passport and greater amounts of cash into it. Then I have my wallet for the coins and small amounts of cash. If it's stolen, then it's gone and forgotten. No big deal.

I admit I wear a fanny pack if it is warm and I have no jacket. But I am aware that a fanny pack is not safe, so I put only things into it which are not a too big loss (like smartphone, camera, sunglasses). And a fanny pack is still MUCH safer than a backpack which is probably the unsafest container for valuables at all (together with handbags). Put bottles in the backpack, sandwiches, a rain jacket or an umbrella, but never your passports.
traveller1959 is offline  
Nov 4th, 2016, 12:27 PM
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I backpacked Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague and Munich recently. I've heard horror stories and bad experiences galore! One recurring point was that people just weren't using common sense and made it very easy for pick-pocket gangs.

#1 rule for myself and more experienced backpackers was to not look like a target. This right here is golden:

"Walk with purpose and try to look and try to avoid that lost lamb look, even if you have no idea where you are. If your group has to look at the map, try and find a shop, cafe or an alcove to do it in, rather than standing around in a circle of confusion."

This was by far the most prevalent scam I saw and it worked over and OVER:

The Clipboard Cover Scam

"Someone holding a clipboard will approach you, asking you to complete a survey of some sort. They'll shove the sheet into you face, obscuring your view and allowing them, or an accomplice to dip into your bag.

(The clipboard/paper/book scam is used all over the world)

Again, there are plenty of adaptations. People asking directions hold up maps, nightclub promoters wave posters and scalpers flash phony tickets in front of your eyes. They all serve the same sinister purpose, so don't let yourself be fooled."

In Paris, some older men were at a cafe and would cheer and drink every time a Syrian kid was able to scam tourists for 1-2 euros. Two women would start a fake fight. The fake argument lasts 10-30 seconds. Their "children" would fake cry. The "Mothers" would storm off leaving a child behind. He/she would ask passing tourists for metro money to get home. Worked like a charm.

I was eventually invited to sit and drink with them. I was lit by 11am. That's a different story for another time though. lol
ndnwill83 is offline  
Nov 4th, 2016, 12:54 PM
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There is also the "please sign our petition to stop drugs", all over Florence and Venice.
Everyday I would run into them when I am out and about.

I always tell them "I love Drugs"! I love the look on their faces, after awhile they stop asking me.
cafegoddess is online now  
Nov 4th, 2016, 03:17 PM
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-In Paris, some older men were at a cafe and would cheer and drink every time a Syrian kid was able to scam tourists for 1-2 euros.-

Why did you think they were Syrian?
rialtogrl is offline  
Nov 4th, 2016, 05:44 PM
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So sorry you had this experience. We always carry our passport, credit cards, and most of our money in a money belt under our clothes (we've gotten them from Rick Steves, American Eagle, REI) keeping only enough money for immediate purchases in our purse or backpack, I carry a Pacsafe Citysafe 200 cross body bag with slashproof strap, zippers that can be locked closed, and a strap that can be looped through a chair back or table leg. Zippers on the backpack are attached to the fabric of the backpack using large safety pins. There are no guarantees of safety, of course, but so far, so good!I hope this was one time bad luck for you.
drchris is offline  
Nov 4th, 2016, 06:04 PM
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rialtogrl asks an excellent question...
kja is offline  
Nov 4th, 2016, 10:49 PM
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I am sorry to hear about your terrible experience in Barcelona. I liked Barcelona a lot despite having an unpleasant experience as well. Having this experience has taught me to be more vigilant than before and to over-prepare for cases of emergency.

A bag was snatched by two guys on a motorcycle as we were returning from our last dinner before departure the next day. So instead of spending the evening packing and enjoying the last few hours in Barcelona, we spent hours in the Emergency Room (thank god nothing was broken) followed by hours at the police station reporting what had happened.

I can tell you that the hardest thing was to cancel credit cards IF you do not remember the number or not sure about which company issued the card. VISA card issued by a Japanese company was particularly difficult to cancel. Apparently there are about 200 different companies that issue them (department stores, small banks, etc). So unless you know where to call, you are in for a very stressful night. Now, I have my credit cards copies (without CCV number in the back ) and carry those separately from my actual Credit cards. And I leave copies of credit cards and passport in the hotels safety deposit box too.

Medical insurance helped during that Barcelona incident. As well as it did when we had to call a doctor to come to the hotel in Salzburg. Without insurance that visit alone was 500 euros. So now I never travel without insurance!

Safe travels to all!
minamax10 is offline  
Nov 4th, 2016, 11:40 PM
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I am sorry this happened to you.. but not at all surprised.. no one should ever put their purse or backpack on the floor or on their chair when travelling. Frankly as you say you were an experienced traveller I am surprised you didn't know this. Also.. passports and excessive cash or credit cards should be left in hotel safe or worn in a money belt under your clothes.. period, not put in a backpack on the ground!

My daughter and her friends when to Europe for a few months this april-june.. they were all 19 , and I told them all this before they went.. they did as I said.. were careful all the time but only with money and passports, but they did lose a pair of boots in Amsterdam, that my daughter left out one night at a hostel, instead of locking them away in her locker.. so you must watch all your stuff, all the time. In a way it was a good thing this happened to her at beginning of her trip as she then had to believe me when I told her to be careful all the time.. I think she thought I was just being paranoid and warning her to much about thefts.

I am sorry it happened.. really I am, I can imagine how upsetting it was.. and how much time you had to waste getting new passports etc. .. but you were not behaving in a safe manner ( safe for your stuff I mean) and I too don't know what you expect coffee shop staff to do for you, you made a fatal error in being a bit careless.

Now you know, don't do this in Rome, or Athens, or Paris or London, or anywhere really, .. Barcelona has pickpockets.. but so do all those cities and many many more. Its not just Barcelona.
justineparis is offline  
Nov 5th, 2016, 05:58 AM
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I noticed that the moderators have removed a post which I considered as totally harmless.

I wish the moderators were so quick with deleting the Korean spam threads.
traveller1959 is offline  
Nov 5th, 2016, 07:09 AM
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@ traveller1959: That you missed the offense doesn't mean it wasn't there.
kja is offline  
Nov 5th, 2016, 07:18 AM
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I find "come down from your high horse" not too offending.
traveller1959 is offline  
Nov 5th, 2016, 07:49 AM
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In Barcelona I am always on high alert. There is long history of pickpocketing and theft from tourists. We fought off an attempt that left the perpetrator screaming for help. She was totally ignored by everyone. No police were in sight to report her attempts.
HappyTrvlr is online now  
Nov 5th, 2016, 08:08 AM
Join Date: Apr 2005
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I love Barcelona and have been several times but it IS rife with pickpockets.. I always wear a cross body bag and keep my hand on it at all times.
Sorry to hear your story- I would have freaked had that happened to me. So glad it didn't ruin your trip. I think it's important for people to share their stories- it keeps the warnings out there....
Smeagol is offline  

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