Problems, and the solving of same

by , under expeditions, life

Publishing this after the fact (though written in stages) because I was completely sure that people would have replied with advice, on the blog, on Mastodon, on Twitter, even if I’d asked explicitly not to do that. Advice from people not on the spot would have made me much too nervous. I had all the help I needed: see the “Good people being good” section at the end.

I was robbed of my purse (wallet, if your dialect has that; the thing I keep my money and cards in, not the thing I keep that thing in) in Barcelona. When we came out of the history museum (with the Roman city underneath) it was raining and we’d both left our umbrella at the hotel, so Spouse went into a tourist shop to buy some, and I stood in the entrance looking at mosaic lizard key rings. (I still want a mosaic lizard key ring! Because LIZARD. Also MOSAIC. I might go and get one when we have half an afternoon in Barcelona on the way back.) Then I felt myself being jostled, turned, and saw a middle-aged American woman (I knew she was American because she apologised to me and I heard her accent) fumbling with her umbrella.

Then we went to eat at the Bishop’s Cafe, and when we were leaving I picked up my bag somewhat clumsily and my phone and pen fell out. Out of the compartment where the purse ought to be as well.

I emptied my whole bag. I searched on the floor, and also on the floor near the seats we’d had before we realised that this was a place where the staff seats you (and saw several sets of people who came in after us being seated before us; we should have stayed where we were). We asked at the cash register. Nothing. “Then you’ve been robbed,” Spouse said, but we went back to the museum, the last place I’d had it, because I remembered putting the euro coin from the locker in it and it in my bag AND ZIPPING UP THE BAG COMPARTMENT. And Spouse also remembered me zipping up the bag compartment. Good thing, because otherwise I’d have blamed myself even more than I already did anyway. Nothing at the museum either.

Spouse remembered that he’d seen a young man who didn’t look Spanish walk (not run) away when he came back from the shop and found me saying “no problem” to the American woman.

Now if I hadn’t said when arriving in Barcelona “there’s no need to keep my ID in my phone case any more” I’d still have it. (But Spouse said that if he had an ID card instead of a full passport, he’d keep it in his wallet as well.) The thief was in so much of a hurry that he (I’m assuming it was that young man and not the American woman) didn’t take the phone with much more monetary value, but the purse that was on top, containing only 4 single euro coins, a tenner in the outside pocket (which I completely forgot to mention when I was at the police station; it’s my semi-secret emergency money), some cards that got blocked right away unless he wants to travel by public transport or go to the museum in the Netherlands and disguise himself as a middle-aged woman, and a lot of things with only sentimental value like the lock of strawberry-blonde baby hair that was cut from Prima’s head when she was christened. Another annoying thing is that I finally had the PERFECT purse and I don’t know if I can find another that fits me so well.

We took a taxi back to the hotel — it was much further than I thought — and I called the bank in the taxi. Very, very helpful man on the other side; understanding without being patronising, blocked my ATM cards and not Spouse’s on the joint account, asked when I’d last used either (in the Netherlands), could reassure me that there were no suspicious transactions, and mentioned the account I only keep to automatically pay the swimming pool and which I don’t have a card of. He also advised me to go to the police to report my stolen ID, which was my next concern anyway. (Note to self: see about museum pass, public transport pass, and store loyalty card. Not as much hurry as the rest.)

The hotel receptionist knew where the police station was: quite close. She gave me a printout (A4 sized) of my ID which she’d scanned at registration, and also said that she’d been robbed in town several times as well, it’s just something that happens.

At the police station we were referred to a woman called Marta, petite and wow-grade beautiful, who was at that moment helping a young man who’d lost his public transport pass, in fluent French. With us she spoke fluent English. She filled in all the papers, asking for things I’d never have expected (my father’s and mother’s first names! But as Spouse said, that’s part of your name in Spain) and even calling the embassy for me so I could apply for an emergency passport.

The embassy man was sort of helpful but exasperating because he went far … too …. slow … for me, as if I’d never heard of a web address before. I appreciate it if people who are going to spell something say it before they spell it so I know what to expect! As it was, I’d written half the thing before he got to one-quarter most of the time. It was especially exasperating that he told me to “write along with him” EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. And even then, I still had some questions, and Spouse thought of a couple more questions afterwards. But what I had to do was to scan or take pictures of all relevant documents, attach them to an email message, and write in the email message exactly where we were going to be and when. That seemed doable.

So I downloaded the forms he’d told me to download and fill in, and ran into the next problem: I had to sign the forms, and couldn’t do so on the laptop that I could fill in the rest of the forms with! I called the embassy again — this time they were already closed and not open until Monday, but I was put through automatically to the consular whatever, exactly what I needed anyway — and I got another person who told me to print the forms and sign them and take photos and attach those. She could also answer my other questions! When I went to the hotel reception desk with the printing problem they gave me an email address (of the reception) to send the forms to so they could print them. Then I noticed that I’d filled in ’20’ instead of ’16’ in the “when was your ID issued” field, because the form took only two-digit year numbers and I’m so used to typing “20xx”. Could amend that in the print, though.

The mail message came back: size too large for server. Eventually I had to split it in four discrete parts with different attachments, but they all got sent.

At one point Spouse noticed the date and said “I’d almost become superstitious!” And yes, it was Friday the 13th.

Then we had dinner at the hotel because we were too knackered to think of anything else, and the nice waiter was nice.

Next problem: we would be travelling on the AVE (high speed) train, with our Interrail pass, and you need ID for that! So we went to the station on Saturday morning to sort that out so we wouldn’t have to do it on Sunday morning and possibly miss the train. The man at the general train information office pointed us to the renfe information office, which was invisible from the station entrance, but there was another very helpful woman (called Carolina according to her badge) there who didn’t speak as much English as Marta but it was enough, and she called someone else in Catalan who knew more than she did, and told me that they were practically sure that I’d be able to use the Interrail card and get on the AVE with the copy of my ID and the police report.

Update: as I wrote in the other post we were just waved through when we showed our Interrail passes.

In Sevilla I got email from a Spaniard at the consulate, in passable English, saying the consul in Sevilla was on holiday but he’d get the things done for me, and did I have a phone number? I was surprised that I’d apparently forgotten the phone number in my first email because I knew they might want to call me, but I gave it and asked if I needed passport photos, and then got another mail immediately, giving me an appointment for Tuesday the 24th at 11:00 and asking me to bring two passport photos, 47,50 € and all the originals of the documents I’d sent pictures of.

While we were exploring a new part of town Spouse spotted a photo booth! So I had a sheet of very bad photos taken (bad as in: doesn’t look much like me, but the quality is adequate and there was a clear explanation of “how to take an official identity photo” so it’s acceptable). It’s a good thing because we didn’t see any shops advertising passport photography like in our home town. There were a few shops selling cameras, and one specialising in photos of weddings and First Communions, so I’d probably have asked there otherwise.

Tuesday the 24th rolled along (yesterday as of writing this part) and though I knew it couldn’t really go wrong I was still nervous. The weather didn’t help: nastily muggy even at 8 in the morning. But we found the consulate, and being twenty minutes early we walked around in the neighbourhood for a bit: little streets with fabric shops, notions shops, wool shops, flamenco-dress shops, flamenco-notions shops,  ecclesiastical-fabric shops, ecclesiastical-gear shops and antique shops. At one of the antique shops I found a bone medal of St Anthony of Padua for 2 euros! That lifted my spirit considerably. Then it was 10:55, the properly Dutch time to be just too early.

Door of the Dutch consulate in Sevilla with the shield above itThe consulate is on the first floor of a house full of offices and residences, with a wonderful courtyard (that I didn’t take a picture of, because there were people living there). We were greeted in the courtyard by a short stocky middle-aged Spaniard called José who I somehow thought was the consul’s secretary, but he is in fact the honorary consul himself (I’m glad I found that out right now, not before I went, because it would have made me even more nervous while dealing with him). The consul’s secretary, who sent me the mail, is called Julio.

I filled in a form with the things that go on a passport (name, date and place of birth, that kind of thing) and got another form to fill in but I could hand over the one I’d done in Barcelona instead. I signed with a special indelible pen and parted with two of the awful pictures. I now have a blue laissez-passer, and José told me he’d special-cased me because I wasn’t only using it to leave the country immediately by plane, but to travel via Barcelona and Paris over land. In fact what I’ve got now is a passport that’s valid until the end of May, and I need to go to the town hall and apply for a new ID before then. Easy: I’ve got all of May to do it in. Only it’s another annoying expense, of course. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll get better pictures taken or just use another of the awful ones.


We were shaky and needed coffee, but all in all it had only taken twenty minutes.

(And then I found the perfect purse as well, which I’ll show in a post that’s about the holiday, not about the trouble. Possibly even better than the old one except that it doesn’t have my keepsakes in it, apart from the new San Antonio medal.)

Good people being good

The hotel receptionists and waiter. The man at the bank customer service. Marta at the police station. The woman I called at the embassy (and also the man, because he was doing his best, and I acknowledge that at least 80% of people he deals with on a daily basis would have been in more of a panic and/or wouldn’t know how to use the internet). Carolina at the rail information office. José the consul. And Spouse, of course, who was the main reason that I wasn’t in as much of a panic as I might have been. (I’m usually very cool when other people are in trouble; he probably has the same skill and it rubbed off.) All these people deserve a special place in Heaven.

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