September 16 – 19 Stranded in Madrid: MY PASSPORT WAS STOLEN!
September 16 Saturday – 19 Tuesday: Stranded in Madrid
I was up at 6:30am to say good-bye to Aliana, my cheerful and fantastic room mate. She cleared the safe and left my wallet on the table. I stayed in bed till 9am and took my time to pack. I put my wallet with my passport, ID card, credit cards, driving license etc inside my handbag (but not inside the inner zip compartment). I checked out after 11am and decided to go to the Retiro Park. Instead of walking, I took the metro at Sol for the first time on this trip. What a fatal (or a fateful) mistake!
I tried to buy a ticket at the machine and had some problems. A man speaking English standing next to me helped and I opened my bag to get coins. I was strolling in the park for at least over half an hour before I thought about getting some money from my bag. To my horror, I found the wallet had gone! For a minute, I was seized by anger,annoyance and frustration. What had happened? I should have left the wallet in the inner zip compartment as usual. Without a passport, I could not leave for Iceland that evening to meet up with Bing, Ellen and Kylie. My cash had gone and I only had less than €50 in a side pocket. Without credit card and cash, I could have dire problems to survive.
I could feel my blood pressure was rising and my head was swirling. I immediately told myself to relax, keep cool, stay calm and take a deep breath. I did not want further drama and had a heart attack. Instead of taking a metro to the hotel, I walked which would give me time to calm down and think. I knew I must report to the Police as soon as possible . As it was weekend and the Chinese Consulate was closed, I had to wait till Monday to apply for new travel document. Tthere was not much I could do for two days.
The 20- minute walk to the hotel helped clearing my head. The hotel staff told me to go to the main police station near the Santo Domingo metro station.
But the first thing I decided to do was to cancel my AE and Visa credit cards. The AE office in Madrid put me back to the HK office which answering machine was a nuisance. I did not know my PIN number and got stuck. At the end, I called Cathy who has worked for both AE and Hangseng Bank in HK and asked her to stop both cards. All of a sudden I discovered my Visa card had been kept in a separate compartment of my handbag. My heart was lifted and I was relieved. With a credit card, I could surviv while waiting for the issue of a new travel document.
I also informed Lawrence, my brother via WeChat of my situation. Then I walked to the police station which took me almost half an hour. The waiting room had a dozen of people, mostly visitors who all looked anxious and unhappy. A few were even crying. Madrid, like Rome and Paris are notorious for pickpockets. ~
It was the first time I had been pickpocketed losing my passport, money and credit card. What an experience at the police station! My conclusion is that the efficiency of the Spanish police cannot be compared with those of the Hong Kong police force. I got a ticket with number 17. But the indication board did not function. I did not know what was happening. A lady speaking English took me to another room and asked me to tell her what had happened. She called another person who asked me to repeat what I had already told the first lady. I understood the second person would prepare a police report in Spanish for me to sign. Before leaving the room the lady gave me the phone number of the Chinese Consulate and told me to call in the first instance. She did not see any chance for me to leave for Iceland that evening.
I returned to the waiting room. I reckoned half of the people I first saw in the room had gone while new victims continued to arrive. I watched a young Chinese girl crying. She had just lost her purse. She kindly let me use her phone to call the Chinese Consulate which reminded me to call the Hong Kong Immigration Department. This would speed up the issue of a new travel document.
I waited for a long time and noted that the person with ticket no 20 had been taken into another room. I rushed out to ask when it was my turn. An office turned me away and told me to remain in the waiting room. I persisted and stood outside their office. Finally an officer came out and took me in. What is the point of giving me a number?
Inside the office, things seem more organised with at least four officers taking statements. I gaven the officer the reference number and he retrieved the report already prepared by the person I spoke with over the phone. I corrected a couple of mistakes and signed the report. By the time I left the police station, it was about 5pm. Oh I had spent almost three hours filing a report!
I was hungry. The police station is only a few mintues’ walk from the Chinese restaurant Aliana and I had dinner the night before. I ordered a whole seabeam cooked in chili sauce. The meal cost less than €25. But it was too hot and boring to have one dish at dinner.
It was almost 7pm when I got back to Vincci Centrum. It’s time to find another hotel. I booked one hotel located on the other side of the block. When I got there, I was told they had no room. The receptionist accepted it was their problem and called a dozen of hotels in the area before he could find one in the similar price range. I walked about 1km to the hotel located on the corner between Gran Via and C, Montera. I was on the 4th floor (just above MacDonald) with full views of Edicico Telefónica.
September 17 Sunday: Self-Healing
I remained restless. I got up around 4am and used Skype to call the Immigration Department. The officer was helpful and tell me to go to the Chinese Consulate to apply for a travel document (that resembles a passport). Upon verification of identity by the department, the Consulate would issue me a travel document. He gave me useful information and I felt assured. I was able to use for the call. Otherwise, it would cost me a fortune to call Hong Kong for 30 minutes. I slept soundly thereafter and did not get up till midday. Sleeping was the best medicine for a penniless and exhausted person like me!
Gainful engagement is another essential medicine in trouble times. I had not been able to work onmy travel notes without my computer. When I saw one in the common room in the hotel, I jumped with joy. I spent the whole afternoon on the computer and I felt good, relaxed, focussed and productive. I typed in ‘Passport stolen, Iceland trip cancelled’ in my website.
Fresh air, exercise and food are essential for a health mind and body. Around 5pm, I took a walk around Chueca before arriving at Mercado St Anton a modern market complex. There are many bars and eateries. It was crowded with great ambience. I was hungry and had a red wine and a steak. I returned to the hotel and spent a few more hours on writing and updating my website (though there are few readers).
September 18 Monday: Time for Action
I had to check out of the hotel as it was full. I found a room in a guest house two floors up in the same building. I now paid €60 instead of €120 a night. The Consulate is far from the city centre. I had to take metro Line 5at Gran Via, change to Line 4, get off at Aruto Soria and walk 20 minutes. As I had no WiFi connection and could not find the location on the city map, I had to ask for direction at Aruto Soria. But I was given wrong instructions and spent more than half an hour in finding it.
It was around 10 when I arrived at the Consulate. The waiting hall was full of people and I wondered how long I would have to wait.
Then I saw a counter designated for HK residents. The young lady from Guangzhou. speaks Cantonese and is most helpful. They were already aware of my case (the Immigration Department must have notified the Consulate after my call). I filled in the form and took a photo. She told me to wait and indicated that as soon as they received confirmation from Hong Kong, a travel document could be issued later in the morning. Obviously she was expecting a quick response. By the time the Consulate closed at 1pm, no confirmation had arrived. I was the last person in the waiting hall to leave at 1:15pm. I was annoyed as I had wasted over two hours waiting and frustrated as I had to make the same journey once more.
On the way to the metro station, I saw a nice restaurant called Lavaca which offers an lunch menu for less than €20. A good lunch helps one to relax and feel good. I had steak, salad, grileld egg plant, chips, hot crispy bread and a glass of red wine. The food, the service and ambience are excellent!
It was after 4pm when I got back to the guesthouse. As there was no computer available, I returned to the hotel I stayed before to use its computer. The staff were friendly and sympathetic with my situation. I was surprised to get a message from Isabel who jad looked at my website and knew my situation. She offered help and invited me to stay with her family in Pontevedra and to attend her wedding on September 24. I was moved. As it would be too late to find my way to join Bing, Ellen and Kylie in Iceland, I accepted Isabel’s invitation and planned to take a train to go to Pontevedra once I got my document.
September 19 Tuesday: Ready to leave Madrid with a new Travel Document
In order to make sure the confirmation from Hong Kong had arrived before making a second trip to the Consulate, I sent an email to the general enquiry of the Immigration Department before going to bed. I was delighted to get a reply from Hong Kong. I packed up and checked out before taking the metro to the Consulate. By 9:45am I got my new travel document after paying €30. As I intended to take the train at 4:20pm, I made a trip to the Parque del Oeste to see the Templo de Debod an ancient Egyptian temple (early 2nd century BC).
The shrine was originally erected 15km south of Aswan very close to the first cataract of the Nile. The construction of the Aswan High Dam threatened numerous monuments and archaeological sites. UNESCO appealed for international help to save the rich historical legacy. As a sign of gratitude for the help provided by Spain in saving the Abu Simbel temples, the Egypt government donated the Temple of Debod to Spain in 1968.
I took the metro to Ventura Rodríguez. On the way, I had a typical Spanish breakfast in a cafe (cafe with potato tart) and bought a colourful dress for Isabel’s wedding. The shrine is similar to those I have seen in Egypt in layout and style. As there was a long queue, I did not go inside.
The park is close to the Príncipe Pío train station. I thought it would be a good idea to buy the train ticket first. It was a mistake: the ticket office closed at one and I was told to go to the Atocha main station. I did (the second mistake I made today). The queue was exceedingly long. The lady at the information counter kindly told me there were still over 50 seats available on the 4:20pm train. She suggested me go to the Charmartin Station direct.
By the time I arrived at the station with my luggage, it was 3pm. I noticed from the board that a train heading to Santiago had just left. Had I known about this train, I could have come here direct after visiting the park and arrived in Pontevedra an hour earlier. Luckily I was in a good mood. I had a beer while waiting and read and rest on the train.
When I got off the train at the Pontevedra station around 10:45pm, I was met by Isabel. Her father, Raymond was waiting for us at the carpark. Carmen, her mother, gave me a big hug when I stepped into their house. I felt at home! I had a shower before joining them for a late supper with cold meat, wine and bread. I felt I lived like the locals and did not go to sleep till 2am.