My big Greek odyssey: robbed and snubbed

Was it a Greek tragedy or farce? We're standing on the third floor of the Omonia police station in downtown Athens.

Was it a Greek tragedy or farce?

We’re standing on the third floor of the Omonia police station in downtown Athens.

There is no separate processing line for women tourists who have been robbed, or any tourists in a similar predicament.

So you find yourself in the midst of handcuffed drug dealers, young vacant-eyed prostitutes and other distraught people who have been robbed.

The policeman processing you looks 16.

The older officers are probably in the streets controlling the day’s demonstration against the government.

You are one of several other tourists from across the globe who have been robbed of passports, airline tickets, Euros, cameras and documents.

I’m passed a document that asks the name of my father, not my husband.

My father’s been dead 50 years.

If you enter this system you are denied use of the police phone.

You can’t talk to anyone – and, yes, you are the least of the officers’ problems.

So how does a seasoned traveller, who has journeyed to Egypt, South Korea, Jordan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Namibia get into this situation?

Here’s how.

Last November, my 22-year-old granddaughter, Sydnie, a graduate of the University of Ottawa, was selected to be a tour guide at Vimy Ridge.

The family planned a trip to France in the first week of May to participate in her last tour.

After touring France, Sydnie and I were to take a 17-day side trip to Greece

My husband would join us in Athens for the last seven days.

The plan was to rent apartments in Paris and Athens and live off the local economy.

The Paris apartment was great and we toured the sights and even followed the clues to Jim Morrison’s grave in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, where I rang the hand bell at closing time.

After two blissful weeks in France, including a side-trip to Avignon, we returned to Paris.

From there half the team flew home to Canada while Sydnie and I flew to Athens.

There, things got really sketchy.

Our landlord met us at the airport and whisked us to a huge, reasonably clean apartment on Eptanisou Street with two large bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a bathroom and small balcony – all in need of a few repairs or refurbishment.

Once, I fell backwards onto the aged marble floor when a door handle to the dining room came off in my hand.

But we were in a heritage neighbourhood and a short walk to the Metro station that would take us to the heart of this ancient, historic city.

In fact, that’s where we were headed when the robbery happened.

It happened in a few seconds.

Thieves pushed me into a crowded train, created a diversion by yelling at me and then stole my wallet.

This on the first day of our Greek odyssey.

I exited the train at the next station dazed and confused.

I played the whole scenario over and over in my mind.

I recalled the person observing me as we purchased our tickets, the woman screaming at me, the shoving that knocked me off balance causing me to release the grip on my shoulder bag.

The terror in my stomach – the feeling this wasn’t or couldn’t be happening.

That feeling subsides a little each day, but a month after the robbery my sleep was still troubled.

It was an awful experience.

The hours after the robbery are indelibly printed in my mind.

Fortunately I had left my tickets, passport, and 500 Euros back at the apartment.

Still, we had to get to a phone and cancel my credit cards.

We found a police station downtown, but were told we had to go to the one nearest the robbery to file a complaint.

And no, we could not use their phone; we were told to find a pay phone.

After giving you this information they are done with you.

So we then decided, because there was no phone in the apartment, to buy a Greek cellphone.

My granddaughter had her credit card and some cash.

We now started our search to find the right police station.

People were not very forthcoming with directions.

Maybe they felt we were going to report them.

Finally, I found a policeman who directed me to the police station nearest the Omonia metro station.

So we found ourselves in the right location to lodge a complaint among the aforementioned cast or characters.

There was a man, formerly from Ontario, whose visiting friend had just been robbed. His carry-on bag was snatched and he’d lost his passport, tickets, and wallet.

Another lady spoke of chasing a woman who had grabbed her purse in the Victoria Station, but no one came to her assistance.

A young woman was sobbing uncontrollably.

Our turn came to go into the office, and like a game of charades, we acted out what happened.

We left the number of our new phone.

Our ability with charades and our comprehension of broken English were improving by the hour.

After leaving the police station, we made contact with VISA and they actually seemed to care and were sorry for my troubles.

I had not made any purchases with my credit card since leaving Paris, they had talked to my husband and would have a new card couriered to me on Monday morning.

Then I started wondering, why I carried my Yukon Driver’s Licence, my Maple Leaf Lounge card, Whitehorse and Petrolia library cards, and assorted other cards that just aren’t relevant in Greece?

I felt like an idiot.

Sometimes thieves just take your money and throw the wallet away, so we stopped at other Metro stations to see if my wallet had been turned in.

But we didn’t find it.

It seemed I was always asking the wrong questions to the wrong people.

On Monday the courier and VISA card arrived.

But the following night and every night, I ruminated on the robbery.

I felt vulnerable, unsafe, tormented and tried to think of ways to get my wallet back.

Was I missing something, did I leave something undone?

On Tuesday, we ventured downtown again and found the IVIS travel agency.

Sydnie thought I would have a better chance to forget my troubles if we got out of Athens for a while, so we booked a ferry to Mykonos.

I tried to pay for the trip with my VISA card, but it wouldn’t work.

So we used Sydnie’s VISA card to pay for our trip to Mykonos.

In the meantime we toured the ancient Agora, in the shadow of the Acropolis, and made calls to my bank from one of the first forums for democracy.

Any of the Greek people we told of the theft were concerned and outraged.

They blamed “foreigners” and pleaded with me to forget that part of the trip and enjoy their beautiful country.

The trip to Mykonos was a new and strange experience for me.

The Blue Star ferries are huge, clean and efficient.

The whole place was bombastic and alive with backpackers, tourists, Greeks and people of all nationalities.

Theft stories were related and the others commiserated.

That whole situation was still on my mind.

Ten days after our arrival in Greece, my husband arrived and the three of us went to Delphi, Epidaurus, Mycenae and Corinth.

We toured, we dined in sidewalk cafes and we shopped.

My husband nicknamed Sydnie and me, the Canadian Synchronized Spending Team.

But you know, I just couldn’t forget being robbed.

We eventually left Athens for Montreal where my husband was to attend a conference.

In Montreal, I went to the Greek consulate to see if they would FAX my police report to the police station near the Victoria metro station, and ask if anything had turned up.

Once again I was in the wrong place for this type of inquiry, and was told to contact the Canadian Embassy in Athens.

Once we got back to Whitehorse, I did just that.

They didn’t check the police station, just the lost and found at the metro station.

Nothing had been turned in.

Today, one month after the robbery, the photos of the trip flash by on the computer.

And, you know, I look happy, tanned and healthy.

Postscript

It is now two months since the robbery and my confidence in travel is blemished by the violation of the robbery.

And each morning I check my mailbox to see if my empty wallet will appear.

Sheila Rose is a traveller

and sometimes writer who

lives in Whitehorse.