On 10th January 1863 London became the first city in the World to open an underground railway line and began a trend for travelling in long dark tunnels. Whilst this makes for convenient transport it also provides an environment for thieves and low life pickpockets.
2009 was the fourth year of taking the Athens metro and I have never felt uncomfortable or unsafe in any of the previous three years but this time something was different. Syntagma station was busy and felt dangerous and edgy and when the train arrived we had to force our way onto unusually crowded carriages.
As soon as I got on board I knew something was wrong and this is how they did it. At the very last moment a group of three or four young men rushed onto the train causing mayhem and confusion and pushing and shoving and moving other legitimate passengers around. In the melee we were separated so couldn’t watch out for each other and I knew instinctively that something was going to happen in that carriage. In hindsight it is easy to see that we had been targeted, we had been on holiday, we were off our guard, weighed down with bags and the way that Kim was looking after her bag made it obvious that there was something inside that she would prefer not to lose.
One man stood by the door but then I sensed that he was determined to stand next to me and he pushed in and stood so close I could smell his body odour and it was most unpleasant. I knew what he was doing but luckily I was wedged in a corner so I gripped my wallet in my pocket in a vice like white knuckle grip and turned away from him so that he couldn’t get a hand to my right side where my wallet and my camera were. He knew he was rumbled, gave up and moved on pushing and shoving the other passengers as he went.
Kim was stranded in the middle of the carriage but I could see that she was clutching her handbag tight to her chest and I felt reassured that she too was being extra careful. Suddenly I noticed that she was bothered by something and was examining her ring. One of the thieves had placed a bit of wire around the stone and had pulled it so hard that it had bent the ring and it had hurt her finger. She said that at the time she thought it had been caught in a zip or a strap from someone’s bag but this must be a well practiced diversionary tactic because at the moment she reacted he managed somehow to open the zip of the bag and remove the first thing that he found. All of this happened so quickly and at the next stop they were gone and so was Kim’s camera.
Apparently the Athens metro has become notorious for thieves so wouldn’t you think the police would do something about it, these guys are so easy to spot and it’s certain that haven’t got a ticket. Instead they prefer to swagger about in groups walking around Monastiraki and the Plaka and being completely ineffective. The Foreign Office web site now advises “Most visits to Greece are trouble-free, but you should be aware that the tourist season attracts an increase in incidents of theft of wallets, handbags etc. particularly in areas and events where crowds gather”. I can’t imagine that this is good for tourism and I am surprised that Greece isn’t tackling this problem and cracking down hard on offenders but it seems that it isn’t a priority.
Thinking about it now, what surprises me is why they would target people who were so obviously on their way home, suntanned, grubby and footsore and with all money spent on the islands, surely it would be more lucrative to rob people on the way out! This reminded me of the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when they were guarding a payroll delivery – ‘No one is going to rob us on the way down – we haven’t got any money on the way down!’
This incident rather spoilt the holiday and we left Greece with a sour taste in our mouths. I suppose it might have been worse, the thief didn’t get her purse or our passports that were also in the bag and without those we would have had an extra night in Athens to endure but for Kim the loss of her camera with all of her holiday memories( including her favourite of the naked man on the beach on Ios) was a real Greek tragedy. Even the camera was unimportant except for the little chip inside with over seven hundred pictures that cannot be replaced. I know that this has hurt her badly, she rarely mentions the holiday now, can’t bring herself to look at my very similar pictures and I wonder if next year she will even feel like returning to Greece which until this incident has always been our favourite place.
I console myself with the thought that hopefully the thief wasn’t a Greek and he was disappointed to only get a camera when he probably hoped he had stolen a purse. I hope he develops a horrible incurable disease and has a short, painful and miserable life (preferably behind bars)! And when he finally dies and gets to Hell (as surely he will) I hope he has to spend eternity in a cold damp corner with his head in a bucket of shit!
We did return to Greece the following year but we certainly didn’t stop off in Athens on the way to the islands – we flew directly to Rhodes instead.
When I went to Rodos I was glad I skipped Athens. Maybe one day I would go just to see some ruins but nothing else is appealing to me.
Where in Rodos did you stay?
Actually Athens is a great city and although we skipped it in 2010 we went back in 2011. Rhodes is a nice island we stayed at Ixia, Lindos and in Rhodes town and also spent a few nights in nearby Symi which in my opinion was one of the best Greek Islands.
What a horrible experience. I’ve never heard of that ring and wire tactic before! Glad you were able to go back to the islands and enjoy yourself.
We got over it but in 2010 we missed out Athens and went directly to the islands. Last year however we were confident enough to return but we took better care of our possessions that time. I have just reread your excellent blog about Athens from Novemenber last year.
Saw this same trick at the Paris Metro and also in Barcelona. But this happens everywhere, also here in Amsterdam. At times on the train there will be announcement about the presence of pickpockets so everyone is reminded to be on the lookout for their belongings.