The difference between having a really good time and not having a really good time takes no longer than a rapid blink of an eye and sixteen good days in Greece were swept away in an instant when a pickpocket struck on the Athens metro and in that awful moment all of the hospitality and friendship that we had enjoyed on the islands disappeared in a cloud of anger, resentment and mistrust.
I have always considered Greece to be an honest and safe place and Athens has always been regarded as a city where stealing from tourists was unheard of, where people can be trusted and it isn’t necessary to take the same precautions as you would for example in Barcelona or Rome but what I know now, but didn’t at the time, is that the Trip Advisor web site places Athens in the top ten places in the World for pickpockets. It seems that now Greece is in the EU and all sorts of undesirables are arriving in town that this is no longer the case.
It was the last day of the holiday and we had spent a good day in the Greek capital, visited the Acropolis Museum enjoyed the buzz of the Plaka and had a final meal before collecting our bags and making our way back to the airport. This was the fourth year of taking the 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 edgy and when the train arrived we had to force our way onto unusually crowded and uncomfortable carriages.
As soon as we I got on board I knew something was wrong. 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 for me 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 practised 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.
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!’
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 a certainty that haven’t got a ticket. Instead they prefer to swagger about like peacocks 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.
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 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 dog shit!
5th November 2012 Ekathimerini:
“A total of 42 people have been arrested on suspicion of being members of a gang of pickpockets who targeted passengers on the Athens metros and electric railway.
Police said that the suspects, of various nationalities but mostly Romanian and Albanian, were arrested on Tuesday. They allegedly targeted elderly passengers and women at stations, usually between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.
The suspects are accused of carrying out over the last six months 208 thefts of wallets and valuables, which they sold in Monastiraki and Thisseio.”