The Alps and Pickpockets [Gal About Town: Fashion and Travel at Your Fingertips]

After a lovely rainy day of stuffing our faces with chocolate and taking in Geneva, we woke up very early the next morning to catch our train to Salzburg, Austria. This was not going to be a “normal” train ride. For the next 8½ hours (you read that correctly) and one train change in Zurich, we’d be travelling by rail through the Swiss, German, Lichtenstein, and Austrian Alps. Four countries in a few hours, and a whole lot of really high mountains. We couldn’t wait.

It was still dark out when we arrived at the train station, but I had tried to organize it all so that the sun would be rising over the Alps as we travelled from Geneva to Zurich. I did the math right, and the results were breathtaking.

Normally I encourage people to “play it cool” when travelling and try to not make it glaringly obvious that you’re a tourist. That just wasn’t going to happen. My husband and I were like little kids glued to the outside window of a candy shop; our faces pressed against the train car glass and our eyes filled with wonder. Seeing the Alps for the first time was an awe-inspiring moment, that turned into one amazing view after another. We looked around the train car, and everyone one else was sitting calmly in their seat, not even paying attention to the beauty right outside their window. They’d seen those mountains thousands of times before, and the Alps had lost their wonder. It made me sad for a moment, and then I realized, we would not be able to blend in at all on this ride. We most definitely enjoyed ourselves as tourists, and because of that, kept our guards high. It payed off.

Earlier on during the train ride I noticed a passenger walking by us that I just got a really odd vibe from. He didn’t do anything in that moment out of the ordinary, but there was something just not right with him. As our train came to a stop in Bern we saw this guy again, and then we saw him pick up my husband’s suitcase, and try to proceed down the stairs (we were on the upper floor of the car). Since we were on our guard, we were able to stop him. He played dumb, and then tried to grab my suitcase as if, “Oh oops, I grabbed the wrong one! This pink suitcase with a paisley print is OBVIOUSLY my luggage!”  This guy was a lousy thief, but we would’ve been two unlucky tourists if we weren’t paying attention.

The would-be thief then ran off to the back of our train car, down a different set of stairs and off the train. We alerted employees, but obviously in a situation like that, all they can do is be on guard if they see him again.

We managed to enjoy the rest of our train ride to Zurich. Once in Zurch, we unfortunately did not have any time to take in an ounce of the city, or even the train station for that matter. We ran from one platform to the other and boarded our train to Salzburg. On this train we had decided as part of JP’s birthday gift, we’d splurge and go first class. It was only a $15 difference in ticket price, so why not? It was a nice car, but it was REALLY cramped. We were lucky to be able to fit our luggage in the overhead bin (one of the many reasons I forced us to only pack carry-on sized luggage). As soon as we settled in, we heard the voice of an American, explaining to a rail employee that she had just been pickpocketed. We came to learn that as she was climbing on to the train, the stealthy pickpocket had quickly unzipped a portion of her book bag, found her wallet, and made off with it. We’d later come to find out that the pickpocket was brazen enough to actually board the train, make it to the restroom, clear the contents of the wallet (except the credit cards), and left the wallet in the restroom to later be returned to its owner. How considerate.

We got to know the lovely yet unlucky woman and her husband. The woman was not your typical pickpocket victim. She was actually a middle-aged ex-pat who’d been living in Switzerland for well over a decade with her Swiss husband. She was the kind of person to look out for pickpockets, and to not draw attention to herself. But in that one moment as she was climbing the two stairs onto the train, the thief got her as her guard was down.

When travelling, I tend to be over-cautious when it comes to pickpocketing. When I was 19, and on a trip to Niagara Falls with friends, my wallet was stolen from my purse in a casino. From then on, it taught me to never underestimate your surroundings, and not to ever fully let my guard down.

A few things I’ve learned along the way, that have helped me keep my belongings are:

Never carry a purse, or bag (for you guys), that is easy for a thief to get into, or slash the bottom of. I always wear a cross body purse that not only has a secure closing (my current one actually has a twist lock) but also has several compartments to it. A cross body is much harder for a thief  to just grab off of you. Compartments make it harder for a thief to quickly root around and do a “grab and go”. If they were to actually make it into my purse, or slash the bottom, they’d probably only make away with my phone at most. I don’t keep a true wallet with everything together-just like you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Credit cards go in one area, cash and coins in another,  and items like a metrocard in another. I try to keep things in different places so that a thief won’t likely make off with EVERYTHING if they do manage to get into my purse. As for guys who only carry wallets, keep it in your front pocket, and actually, in areas of high pickpocketing, I suggest putting a chain on the wallet and attaching it to your belt loop right above the pocket. Doing it this way, you don’t actually see the chain, and thus don’t have to worry about committing a fashion faux pas.

Be extra cautious when wearing a backpack. Being that we were only bringing carry-on luggage for a 21 day trip, we needed the backpack for things we needed to get to often. If you are travelling with someone else, make sure they walk behind you when you’re wearing the backpack, this lessens the chance of someone quickly getting into the bag. If the woman on the train had boarded first, with her husband directly behind her, her wallet wouldn’t have been stolen. If you are travelling alone in a high-volume area, I suggest wearing your backpack to the front of your body. I know it’s a highly unattractive look, but wouldn’t you rather keep your belongings?

On a train, bus, metro, etc keep your belongings within eyesight and reach. Thieves look for items that they can grab quickly, or could be worth something. While on the train, if you are travelling alone, don’t use the restroom while the train is at a stop. This is the easiest moment for a thief to grab your belongings and get off the train. And I know it can be tempting, but try not to fall asleep, unless you have someone else keeping watch.

Never keep all of your important items together in one place, because if that’s what gets stolen, you are S.O.L.

Always make a photocopy PDF of your important items like passport, driver’s license, credit cards, and traveller’s cheques. Email them to someone a)trustworthy and b)usually close to internet access. They will be on of your biggest allies in an emergency.

It’s a pain to have to keep a constant watch, but it would be more of a pain to have to replace your phone, credit cards, money, etc.

Pickpocketing has been around since mankind has had worth anything to steal, so it’s not going away. And with better technology, and thousands of years to perfect their art form, thieves are more clever and cunning than ever.

We enjoyed our once-in-a-lifetime train ride through the Alps (four countries in one day!). But had we not been vigilant, it would’ve turned into a once-in-a-lifetime nightmare.

Tune in next time for tales of the Salzburg Christmas Markets, and our Christmas next to a Hitler hideout.

Now Boldly-but safely-Go!

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