Highway robbery - Ann Mah | Ann Mah

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Highway robbery

By Ann | June 4, 2013

It was all going so well. But those are fateful words, I see that now. There I was on assignment for Condé Nast Traveler, faithfully scouring the provinces for the country’s best regional cuisine. I had discovered buckwheat crêpes that resembled fine lace in Brittany; dipped into a bowl of still-simmering cassoulet in the Languedoc. I had snapped photos of fat tabby cats wandering the cobblestone streets of Carcassone and discovered new friends and ancient arenas in Arles. I had even argued with a Cassis waiter to obtain the day’s last two servings of bouillabaisse.

crêpe

cassoulet

chat

arles

bouillabaisse

But while driving to the second-to-last-stop on my eating tour of France — Lyon — things took an unpleasant turn. At an autoroute rest-stop in the Ardèche, my handbag was stolen. It happened in only seconds — I got up from the table to fetch a napkin, my friend was tapped on the shoulder and distracted — poof! — the bag was gone. I lost my passport, my phone, my camera, my enthusiasm (not to mention the keys to the rental car — thankfully, I still had my wallet). It was, quite literally, highway robbery.

Thanks to the kindness of friends and strangers, we eventually limped into Lyon and dined on quenelles that evening. I am deeply grateful to each and every one of them. The next day, I forced myself to continue my research. More than anything, I wanted to go home to my cozy, safe and tranquil apartment in Paris and never go outside again. But when you’re a freelance writer on assignment, the show — and the eating — must go on.

Yesterday I went to the American Embassy to apply for a new passport and while waiting in line, I heard many, many stories much worse than my own. A purse picked on the rue de Rivoli. A couple whose backpacks were snatched from the overhead rack as they slept on the train. A young woman clutching her bag in her lap, dozing off on the train and waking to find all the contents gone.

It’s the type of thing you think will never happen to you — I’m a New Yorker for crying out loud! I’m a travel writer! — until it happens to you. As another friend said: “Who knew there were roving bands of thieves preying on people at autoroute rest-stops?!” But things are just things, and money is just money. And in the end, the quenelles were pretty darn good — and the bouchons of Lyon, and all the kind people I found there, went a long way to erasing the sting. Stay safe, friends. As the guard at the US Embassy told me yesterday, “Gardez-vous le moral!”

Topics: Uncategorized, Voyages | 24 Comments »

24 Responses to “Highway robbery”

  1. Animesh Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 10:59 am

    As I said on Twitter, Ouch!!

    BTW did you have one of those “locate my phone” apps?

    -A

  2. Jaana Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Yikes! Happy to hear you’re okay but something like that has a bigger affect than one might think. I had my valuables (money, bus card and phone) stolen once from my locker at work, only because I had accidentally dropped the piece of paper that had the code for the lock on it. Thankfully they had left my passport but it was a hassle to get everything in order.

  3. Jill Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 11:26 am

    As you say, Ann, it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t happen to you until it does. So sorry to hear that and the hassle with the passport. I thought our passports were stolen and spent a fortune replacing them at the British Embassy in Paris – until months later, discovered my husband had neatly placed them in a pouch in the video camera. Had no idea there was one! Was an unhappy bunny!

    Thank goodness for lovely people that helped you and above all, that you kept the chin up and kept on going! Bravo. Bubbling cassoulet? Mm. Serve that Cahors and everything is better :-)

  4. Gillian Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 11:30 am

    So so awful. The Italian equivalent, Autorgrill, are notorious for the same thing. Wishing you a speedy data and passport recovery.

  5. CK Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Every good traveler has this kind of mishap at some point; the experience, though frustrating, ultimately makes you an even better traveler. Quenelles are a nice way to soothe the hurt!

  6. Lindsey Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    A very stressful/disconcerting road bump on your journey but one that will undoubtedly have a happy ending (and you already got your preview with those quenelles the evening of the robbery!). Thank you for sharing the story, it’s a reminder we must be prudent at all times!

  7. Lil Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Clearly they have been observing and planning their strategy well. Most people could have done little against something like that.

    A friend of mine put the strap of her bag through a leg of the chair to prevent opportunistic snatch like that, because even if she’s not sitting on the chair, the thief would still waste precious seconds to untangle the bag out. Quoting her “if I had to lose it, at least I knew I didn’t make it easy”.

    Hope the replacement passport won’t take too long to be ready. Other adventures awaiting, and more delicious discoveries to be made!

  8. thyme (sarah) Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Oh gosh…I’m so sorry Ann. A very good reminder to us all. I’m about to take off again and I’ll be much more alert!

  9. Robin Katsaros Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    So sorry Ann. I’ve been hearing more and more stories about this. I don’t know if there is an uptick in the number of occurrences or if they are just being reported more. But honestly, what difference does it make? It happened to you, that is tough and I simply wished it hadn’t. My guess is that although you certainly didn’t want this to happen to you, you are stronger for it. Thanks for sharing and reminding us all that in the end, it’s the friends and supportive family that get us through. Take care….

  10. Lisa, a.k.a. The Bold Soul Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    I got “picked” on the #1 metro in Paris on 2001 and also spent a few hours at the Embassy afterward, getting a new passport and cancelling my credit cards. The Embassy staff was actually pretty great, and in the end it became a lesson learned and a good story to tell: don’t leave your backpack purse ON your back on a crowded train and don’t even BUY a backpack purse that only has a velcro closure. My mom, who was with me, heard a MUCH worse story while waiting in the Embassy. A man had been in a fancy hotel in Cannes for the big film festival. While he was in his room, in his SHOWER, two thieves broken into his room and were in the process of ransacking it when he emerged from the bathroom in nothing but a towel. They grabbed his laptop and wallet, and knocked him down in the getaway process. He had to get friends to buy him an emergency plane ticket to Paris so he could get a new passport. Another couple were being “helped” to navigate the confusing metro tunnels with their luggage when the “helper” lured them into a place where they couldn’t actually exit — and then made off with all their bags! So in retrospect I think I got off easy – I had a new passport (and a new American Express card) in about an hour, and I was out about $400 USD in cash, but figured that was the price I paid to be a bit wiser next time. Glad nothing worse happened on your trip but I know how upsetting it must have been.

  11. Alison | a girl defloured Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    I’m so sorry, Ann. What a nightmare! I have to say that those ugly fanny packs of yesteryear are looking much less ugly after hearing all these stories.

  12. jeanne Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Ann, I am sorry to hear, but as you said money is just money and you are safe. It is good to hear your story and others because it makes all of us safer and smarter travelers.
    Take Care!

  13. Sandy Maberly Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    Ouch! Yes, they are only “things” but those things still cost plenty to replace, not to mention the time wasted in doing it! Sorry you had to suffer the anguish and aggravation of it all. So much dishonesty in the world is upsetting! Glad you’re okay though!

  14. Voie de Vie Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    Oh so, so sorry this has happened … but thanks for sharing it (and I do hope the sharing, along with the friends, lessened the sting). Where was that adorable tabby cat when it was most needed?

    Let’s hope karma follows those thieves.

  15. kristen @thekaleproject Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    You poor thing. It’s stories like these that remind us all to be a bit more careful, hold on tight to our bags while dozing on trains and to stay off our phones on the metro (i’m so guilty of this!) I’m glad it’s all working out and at least it was for a work trip to eat a lot of amazing food!

  16. Lindy Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    I’m adding my own ‘poor you’ lament to the rest. It is so unsettling. And i am mortified it happened in the Ardeche! I hope there were no special keepsakes.

  17. Lynde Says:
    June 4th, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    I am planning a 3.5 week trip to Europe with 2 weeks in a Paris apartment in October and am now nervous. I have been fortunate in my travels so far but hearing about being robbed on a train scared me as I will travel a lot by train. I have traveled extensively by train before going 1st class but I am now nervous given what you reported.

    Any tips would be helpful.

  18. Michael Says:
    June 5th, 2013 at 5:44 am

    I had my wallet shanghai’d in Shanghai a number of years ago. If only my Chinese was better at the time – I would have understood the play by play from a bystander.

  19. Emma Says:
    June 5th, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Ick being robbed is the worst. Despite backpacking o/s in the past I managed to avoid this (sheer luck really) but have had my home broken into so understand that sick feeling.

    Awful feeling but it does fade. I hope your camera didn’t have too many photos on it :(, I think that would be the most upsetting thing.

    Good luck for the rest of your trip Ann ♥

  20. Stephanie Doublait Says:
    June 5th, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Oh no!! I learned my lesson the day I arrived in Paris. As I moved into my apartment, several boxes and some furniture were stolen. Ever since, I pay close attention and 5 years later never another incident. I used to think my French husband was a paranoid maniac about locking doors and keeping an eye on everyone around us, but now it all makes sense!

  21. Bob Says:
    June 5th, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    What a rotten thing to happen! The best thing to put it behind you is to get everything replaced asap. This means every traveller has to be eternally vigilant and always on the alert. These professionals know all the dirty tricks for diverting your attention. Hope you are feeling better.

  22. Kim Says:
    June 6th, 2013 at 3:12 am

    wise words from that husband of yours :) ! So glad you are ok, and jealous, as always of your travels. Really loved Arles when we were there, we were surprised how much. But really, no old Paris Embassy friends spared you the wait in line!?

  23. adeline Says:
    June 6th, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    So sorry to hear of your loss. I bought a `purse’ for you that’s like a back pack. Hope it will keep you from harm from now on.

  24. katy Says:
    June 9th, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear about this (mis)adventure, Ann! But I think it’s great that, despite it all (the camera, the keys and the passport), you were still able to see the silver lining. Bon courage!

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