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May 12 2007 / Aaron

P0wn3d in Barcelona

Last weekend Christine, myself, and a co-worker took a trip to Barcelona. The cheap flights with Ryanair drop you in Girona airport — a small airport over an hour from Barcelona, but then there’s a connecting bus into the city center. We arrived late Friday night, around 11pm. Our introduction to Barcelona, a sort of foreshadowing if you will, was trying to catch a taxi from the bus to the apartment where we’d be staying. The taxis in the queue tried to hustle us by charging €10 per person, so €30 for what we knew was a relatively short trip. We ended up walking a distance to hail a taxi on a side-street, and get a normal metered ride. It ended up being only €10 to get us to the apartment.

We had been recommended to try these short-term stay apartments instead of an expensive full-service hotel. We had a three-bed apartment in the Eixample district just north of the more touristy older part of town. This was a great location nestled in by the University and many excellent markets, gritty bars full of locals, and fantastic Tapas bars. The owner checked us in late, showed us some maps of the areas and gave us some tips for our stay. He apologized that he only had a single set of keys for us, instead of the two we were expecting. The other pair had gone missing, so he would check for them the next day with the cleaning staff.

As we sat down at a tapas bar at 1am that night, it dawned on me that I know approximately six words in Spanish, and none of them describe food. We all played roulette with the menu and waited to see what they brought us. At least it was easy to order the wine.

The next morning Christine & I went down to the street and picket up fresh fruit from a small market and some croissants at the bakery along with some bottled water. We brought it all back up to the apartment for breakfast. As we were eating, it dawned on me how expensive Dublin is. This breakfast for three had cost me €10. In Dublin, it could have easily been triple that.

We then walked around the area, sat down for coffee, and caught the hop-on hop-off bus to zip around the city and see some sights, ended up by the ocean-front for a lengthy delicious dinner in the hot sun. We walked all the way back to the apartment, traversing Los Ramblas, a good mile or so of touristy flea markets and open-air shops. We went clubbing that night — the clubs there don’t even get started until close to midnight, and the go strong until 5am. Naturally, we slept in on Sunday.

We got up around noon and went out again to find some breakfast. To our surprise, everything was closed. They take Sundays seriously. We learned that things would be open later in the afternoon, and the touristy areas would still be open. We again found the hop-on hop-off bus and zipped up to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral, which is still under construction. The cathedral looked amazing. Downright demonic — in some areas. We were starving at this point so we wanted to find food. The area surrounding the cathedral is 100% certified tourist trap, so we wandered at least 10 blocks away trying to find something appetizing. Everything was closed, except for really seedy bars, so we headed back with our tails between our legs and ate an absolutely terrible meal at a restaurant next to the cathedral. The only comparison I can make is that it was the Spanish equivalent of a greasy-spoon truck stop, but with Spanish food instead of burgers and fries. Even the wine was bad.

The rest of the bus tour was pretty lame too. It just goes into the north part of the city which is mostly generic cityscape stuff. We ended up taking a taxi to the national palace which is up on a hill with a stunning view of the city. The museum there was closed though, so we hung around a bit taking pictures and then walked up to the Olympic park for a bit and hopped back on the bus, and rode it through stuff we’d already seen the previous day. We hopped off at the gothic area and got lost in the labyrinth streets. Again, almost everything was closed so there wasn’t much to see or do, save for wander up and down the narrow streets. We found our way back to Los Ramblas and ate at a fantastic restaurant there, then wandered back towards our apartment around midnight. We had a lot of wine, and we overshot our street by several blocks and as we were walking we heard live music down some narrow steps so we ducked in to check it out. It was a tiny little bar no bigger than a small apartment and it was open-mic night. So we listened to some excellent local music and drank some more and around 2am found our way back to the apartment feeling pretty good.

I struggled to unlock the door because…..the deadbolt was not in, and I knew I had dead bolted it before leaving. Hmm. I opened the door and the lights were all on, which I knew we had left off. And it didn’t take me long to see that my laptop was no longer out on the table. Fuck. We’ve been robbed. I quickly surveyed the apartment, and walked into the bedroom to see that my laptop back was gone. Shit, I had left my passport in there. I’d also left my wallet in there since Barcelona is notorious for pickpockets I just took cash and some cards with me that slip easily in a shirt pocket. My bag had also had my iPod, and the Nintendo DS I had just purchased the week before. Christine’s iPod was gone too, and V’s cell phone and her fancy sunglasses, and so on. Even my phone charger had been unplugged and taken (despite the fact I had my phone with me). More than anything, I was upset about my passport. It was too my relief that I found my passport and wallet (minus the Canadian & American cash), and even my return bus ticket to the airport had been removed from the bag and placed in the bedside drawer. I don’t know if they were being “kind thieves” or just being careful not to have any such incriminating ID on them if they were caught.

The whole thing stunk. No forced entry, so they had a key (remember that missing set of keys?). Nothing belonging to the apartment was taken — not even the flat-screen TV. We didn’t even know if we could trust the apartment owner or his company. Since this was an apartment, we had no concierge to call, and the owner’s cell phone was turned off. So V called around to her family to find a number of the police. She had to call about 4 numbers and no one spoke any English at all so it was tricky to converse. Around 4am two officers arrived who spoke a tiny bit of English. They didn’t do much other than tell us the location of the police station to go to in the morning where we could file a report with a translator.

So Monday morning, instead of having fun, we packed up and went to the police station. The translator wasn’t going to be in until 11 so we waited at a nearby cafe and had breakfast and coffee. We had a long wait again before making the final report. We got a copy, in Catalan and went for lunch then took a bus back to the airport where we waited until our 9pm flight back to Dublin. Bah.

Now we’re trying to see what we can get covered by insurance. With no obvious break-in or forced entry, we don’t know how well the insurance company will treat us as we just have our police report. I’ve never had to claim insurance before, so we’ll see. It sucks to lose a laptop too. I’ve changed all my passwords on everything I can imagine, and every day I realize some little snippet of code or important file that didn’t have a fresh backup. I had a new laptop my first day back to work. My walk to work is now sans-music, and I have a couple of DS games I haven’t even played yet and now no DS to even play them on. But it was just stuff, and for the most part it’s just a rude thing to be robbed like that. It causes a lot of inconvenience — all the work of filing the report, replacing the items, making insurance claims, and losing a day of our vacation.


So Barcelona was a really cool city with awesome food and a great vibe. The tourist traps were god-awful and abundant as anywhere, but there was lots of authentic culture and grit to make up for it. Despite the culinary delights the city has, we left with quite a bad taste in our mouths.

Also see Christine’s take on the adventure, with pictures


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  1. Alex Kasprzyk / May 12 2007

    Oooooooof, that’s pretty rotten! You shouldn’t be shy — place the full name of the company, office address, and address of the apartment here for Google to record. Hopefully other people won’t get caught out by those crooks!

    (P.S. Tell your papa I’ve not ignored his eMail, and will reply soon!)

  2. Tony / May 13 2007

    Your experience in Barcelona reminds me of a similar situation that I had in Rome, except that the thieves took everything that I had packed in the car while I checked out of the hotel on my way to the airport to return back to the U.S. My suitcase, my wife’s suitcase, all the bags with the souvenirs gathered during two weeks of traveling — gone! The thieves must have had a small car because only one big box with four Spanish figurines was left.

    It was a strange feeling to come back to the U.S. without any luggage. The customs officials were curious. The box with the figurines got misrouted by the airline and I came home empty-handed. I got the box one week later.

    Fortunately, there were three sources of insurance that covered the loss: The rental car contract had insurance while traveling to or from the airport. Since it was a business trip, the company picked up part of the tab. Finally, my home-owner’s insurance covered the remainder. Having a copy of the police report facilitates filing the claims.

    Somewhere in Rome someone is wearing my nice business suits.


  3. bill / May 13 2007

    Cool, Alex. Best of luck tracking him down when you find the time. No panic. No sweat on the Left Coast.

    Oh hi Aaron. I’ve put a hex on the thief or thieves. They’ll have a minumum of a week of diahrea, the worst kind. After a couple of days, they’ll use Kurt Vonnegut’s line: “There go my brains.”

  4. d / May 14 2007

    You were had, man. Why would the thieves leave the plasma TV and other apartment stuff? Because that’s the racket. Like Alex says, let others learn from your misfortune.

    On the upside, hey, you were in Spain! And you have that cool police report in Catalan as a souvenir!

  5. Bob D. Smith / Oct 5 2007

    My wife and I landed at the Air France terminal from Paris on September 3 about noon. We stayed up late the night before therefore we were very tired waking up early and getting to the aong trip to the Paris airport. After landing it took a long time to get our 8 total bags on 2 carts, and we went to the Information desk to get a map, find out where the Tennis Center and where the Hotel was located. Before leaving the airport to get a taxie, my wife got in line to buy a phone card. Unfortunately she left her handbag on the cart in front of me on top of the other bags. She had a backpack on and she said she was weighted down and the handbag was heavy too. I was watching the bags on the cart and a young boy or man in a white t shirt, around 6 feet tall tapped me on my right shoulder and asked me “where are the phones in English”, I said “I don’t know” and in 5 seconds when I turned around to look at the carts where our bags were located, Jeanne’s handbag was gone off the top of the cart by another accomplice to the robbery. I am 77 years old and have been traveling very much all my life and we were taken by professional thieves. My wife has never had this happen to her before and it is a hard pill to lose money, cell phone, camera, new watch, 6 credit cards, dairy of trip to South America in Nov. 06 and many other items. I screamed where is the police we have been robbed and a airport emplyee took me 100 yards to the wrong station and after explaning to them I was told to go to another station 10 yards from the terminal. My wife and I had to give the police the details and what was in the pocketbook (handbag)which was a shocking time to try to remember everything (and we have had to add more items to the report after our memory of trying to fine things came back to discover they were also in the bag. We were given (900 numbers for Visa, Mastercard, and American Express to call the USA on our Credit Cards to stop usage. We tried to call t-Mobil to stop calls on our cell phone and all we got was a recording “leave a message”. It was Labor day in the states and was a holiday and that did’nt help on our bank acoounts too. The thieves charged $800.oo within the 30 minutes of our robbery. WE kept trying to talk to a person for T-Mobile and it was 5 days of allowing the thieves to use the cell phone they built up $750 worth of long distance calls before we got a friend to go directly to T-Mobile to notify them of the robbery (the last call was 7:23 pm on Septemer 7. We are not receiving good news they will do anything and we may have to pay when they wouldn’t answer the phone. We don’t know whether to fight it, hire an attorney, alert the Congress,or keep talking and providing facts of trhe cinstant efforts we made to contact T-Mobile. We are compling information for the Insurance recovery and it has been time comsuming for my wife to get new Driver’s licence, new credit cards, other cards all the hurt that has come with the losses of money etc. We hope after we send the detailed numbers of phone calls made by the thieves, maybe they can catch them. We hope this information of our experience will help out to others to be aware, do not be distracted of keeping an eye for one second watching your luggage and valubles.

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