Thursday, December 10, 2009
Final day in Prague--final day of the trip
- Okay, here are the sad, gory details about how I allowed myself to be victimized by a pickpocket. We went back to the glass sculpture shop we discovered yesterday to buy a piece that Andrew particularly liked. While we were there, we became interested in other pieces by the same artist. It was warm in the shop, so since it appeared we would be there a while, I took off my winter coat and laid it on a chair. After we made our purchases, I retrieved my coat and we left the shop. Just a few minutes later, I reached into the coat pocket for my camera and found it gone. We raced back to the shop and searched all around the chair where I laid my coat, but I was already sure I had been robbed. The store clerk took us to a security office in the back and introduced us to the owner who said we could view the store videos to see what happened. After about an hour of fumbling with the security system, we finally found the right moments on the right camera and watched what happened, frame by excruciating frame. As soon as I took off my coat, while I was still holding it, a man who had just entered the shop walked up behind me and nudged the jacket with his foot, apparently verifying there was something heavy in the pocket. He then followed me over to the chair where I placed it, sat down in the seat beside it, and within 30 seconds reached into my coat, pulled out the camera, and left the store. We were warned when we first arrived in Prague about the pickpockets and we felt we were being very careful. Clearly this was a huge lapse in that effort to be safe, but it is very difficult to be vigilant every minute of every day. One lapse and in 30 seconds my camera was history. Fortunately, I had downloaded all the pictures just two days before, so we lost only the last two days of images.
- After printing pictures of the thief, we walked a couple blocks to the police station to file a report. After the receptionist heard our story, she called in a police officer and had a brief conversation with him in Czech. After he left, we pressed her to tell us what he said. Reluctantly, she quoted him as saying, "These things happen every day in Prague. If you don't want it to happen to you, then you should not come to Prague." As if to validate his attitude, a young couple came in soon after we did, saying the woman's wallet had been stolen out of her purse on the subway. She lost all her money, credit cards, and her ID, which is necessary for them to travel back to Greece in two days. That put our loss into perspective for us. We lost two days of pictures and a nice camera, but our troubles were over once we got a copy of the police report. Their problems were just beginning. And they seemed like such a nice young couple. We felt bad for them.
- After retrieving a copy of the police report (written in Czech and completely unintelligible to us), we went back toward the hotel feeling a bit lost and vulnerable, suspicious of every one who passed by. Being about 4pm, we stopped into a restaurant, which is catering to tourists, for a small bite to eat. There are many of these in the square and we had avoided them up to this point but we were tired and just needed something to tide us over until dinner. So we both ordered soup and salad. My soup was so bad I couldn't eat it, so I had to order another bowl like Andrew's, since his was at least edible. Andrew's "cucumber salad" turned out to be a lot of chopped up cucumber floating in some kind of clear liquid and my "carrot/pineapple salad" was shreded carrot and a few bits of pineapple also floating in a clear liquid. Not exactly our idea of salads, but we were feeling starved for vegetables, so it met the need okay. We decide not to go back to that restaurant later for dinner though. All the restaurants in the Old Town Square all seem to be hawking the tourists. In fact for blocks in every direction around the square, there were nothing but tourist shops and tourist restaurants. It was like spending four days at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, except for the walking tours we took the first two days.
- After a refreshing nap back at the hotel, we decided to venture out to a restaurant. As tired as we felt, we just couldn't imagine negotiating a meal at one of the tourist restaurants, so we walked the extra blocks to go back to NoStressCafe. Unfortunately it was closed for a private party. A second restaurant was unexpectedly full ("reservations only"), being Friday night. Feeling somewhat at wits end about where to eat and still feeling uneasy about our safety, we went in the next restaurant where we saw a few patrons but also empty tables--what appeared to be a nice Italian restaurant. This turned out to be one of the more bizarre restaurant experiences we had. Perhaps it was just our own paranoia from the events of the past few days (being victimized by both a cab driver and a pickpocket), but we began to worry that we had offended the owner of the restaurant by refusing to try the white truffels at $30 per gram. "We shave off as much as you like. You tell us when to stop and then we tell you afterwards how much you owe." That just seemed too risky to us. So we ordered the tasting menu which was so much food we could only eat about half. The owner/waiter seemed very displeased that we didn't finish it all and asked us to sit with the food longer to see if we could eat more. We didn't want to offend him further, so we complied, getting more and more worried about how to escape from the restaurant without further offense. In the end, we left a larger than usual tip, warmly thanked the owner/waiter and hoped he was happy with us as we left. If this doesn't make sense as I tell it, it may be because I have left out some of our observations and questions about what was going on between being enthusiastically welcomed and then feeling quite uneasy about the environment. Needless-to-say, this did not help our feelings of vulnerability in Prague. As beautiful and interesting as the city is, we do not recommend it for tourists until something is done to better protect them. As the policeman said, "If you don't want it to happen to you, then don't go to Prague."
I never caught anyone in the act of stealing from me before. Here are the pictures we took to the police station that were captured from the security videos. This is what you get instead of pictures from our last two days in Prague.