I just wanted to share a tid bit of advice from our experience on this trip. We live in a new age where as long as we have a cell phone we have all we need to navigate a foreign country and document it through the ever popular selfies. The problem is our dependence on cell phones means we tend to walk around with them in our hand either watching a map or prepared for the next photo op. While in London we witnessed something that has apparently become quite common: a pair of motorcycles with 2 riders each were chatting with each other then driving on the sidewalks to snatch phones from tourists hands. Just a new version of pick pocketing which any traveler can tell you is a problem in most densely populated tourist spots.
Andrew and I aren’t particular selfie people but we do on occasion take one. So while in London after walking our way through tourist spot after sourist spot we made it to Wellington Arch which is between Buckingham Palace and the beautiful Hyde Park. For those who haven’t been, Wellington Arch is situated in the middle of a large traffic circle with a laid brick surrounding. While there aren’t any bollards it is clearly not meant for cars to drive on. I took my photos of the Arch then asked Andrew to snap a selfie of us while a red bus drove by along the traffic circle. Just as the red bus passed behind his head we started to put the phone down and then a motorcycle pulled onto the walkway.
I immediately knew something was off but didn’t think fast enough. I believe we were their initial target but we put our phone away before they got to us. I watched the driver point to 2 women standing together about 10 feet away from us, they drove right next to them and the passenger grabbed the phone as they pulled away. This all happened very fast mind you and we were in a bit of shock. As soon as it pulled away Andrew and I walked over to the women to check on them. The one who had her phone taken was clearly shaken, we told them the emergency number to dial and all discussed everything we could remember about the motorcycle and the riders. As we were talking a police van started driving on the walkway and we waved them over.
We stayed with the women and helped describe the incident and the people again. We did our best to remember what we saw but sometimes it’s hard to remember details from such a quick incident. Then we Andrew showed them how to log into Android and track her phone (let’s be real I’m not savvy like that), and at last they got in the police van to head to the station and file a report. Finally Andrew and I continued on our adventure and crossed the road to enter Hyde Park. We had just entered the gates (there’s another street to cross once you enter the park) when we saw the motorcycle again. This time it was in the road and the riders were talking to another motorcycle with two people on it. They broke off and both rode onto different sidewalks trying to get close enough to someone with a phone out. A woman near me said, “What are they doing?” to which I started saying loudly their game and that we had just witnessed them doing it to someone else.
This time I paid particular attention to every detail I couldn’t see before, the ski mask on the driver under the helmet, the olive green (previously described as black) jacket on the passenger, the yellow stripes on the bike and the lack of a license plate. We called the police and described every detail as well as the direction we watched them ride off in. I so badly wanted to tell every person I saw after that walking with a phone in their hand to put it away and watch out but after a few hundred feet and hundreds of people with their phones out I realized it would be but a drop in the pond.
We in fact encountered a few other incidents on our journey, the second of which we were warned about. Both andrew and I are lucky enough to work for the same company which is based out of Paris, this means at least for Andrew’s position we have dealings with Parisians. One of them gave us a heads up about a common trick used by pick pockets at Sacre Coeur. These men will say they are from Africa and they have a tradition, a gift. One man will hold onto your hand and try to tie a string to your finger while another (we saw at least a dozen of them and groups of 2 or 3) will try to use the distraction to get into your pockets from behind.
Third and finally, be aware of your pockets on trains. Now this I feel has been said so many times but is worth the repeat after our experience in Athens. Our first subway ride we had our backpacks from just having arrived in the city. Andrew was being the super gentleman and holding them both. A man saw him starting to remove them as he got on the subway and this action made him a target.
Thankfully Andrew is paranoid already and always keeps a hand or arm near his pockets, and only keeps things in his front pockets. He felt his phone move and clamped his arm down immediately, when he turned around he saw a man holding a shopping bag through which he had slipped his arm to reach into Andrew’s pocket undetected by those around. Here’s the crazy part to me, Andrew is a 28 year old 6’5″ athletic looking dude, this guy was at least a foot shorter and two decades older than Andrew but he was brave enough to target him.
In my opinion this all just goes to show it doesn’t matter how intimidating you think you look they will try whatever they can to steal from you. So though it’s been said before, pay attention to your surroundings and travel safe.
Also, I promise the next post will be a fun overview of our first country and no talk about thieves at all.