Whenever one mentions the city of Brussels, a few things come to my mind, mainly chocolate and beer. Before actually visiting the city, I really expected that sort of thing, but I was wrong…oh so wrong.
We left in the morning of the 11th in a very uneventful train ride that lasted for about six hours before we actually reached the city. Upon arrival, we got off the train in a very typical looking European train station. We walked around the city and found our hotel. They assigned us a room for four people even though our party only had two people (we would have had more people if we could have arranged it in time). The room even had a flat screen TV and a bathtub (not just a regular shower!). What a great first impression.
After dropping off a few things, we went out to explore. We didn’t really have a plan as to what we wanted to see, so we walked from one place to another with an attitude like, “hey, that looks cool, let’s go there.” Using this method of exploring, we saw a few buildings with really cool architecture, like the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and the Square Ambiorix.
After reaching the basilica, we realized that we ventured really far from the city center, so we decided to take the metro to the city center. At the metro stop, we looked on the map to see which direction we needed to go in. One of the local with his family waited at the metro stop and saw us looking at the map and so he explained how to get to the city center. I suppose he could instantly tell that we were tourists. The guy seemed nice, but almost too nice. I found that kind of suspicious and we avoided him for the rest of the metro ride.
We went on the metro, and off we went. A direct route to the city center didn’t exist from where we were so we had to transfer to a different train. One thing I noticed right away at our transfer station was the fact that there were so many people trying to cram on a train. I saw this and knew that could be trouble. Before going to Brussels, I had read on the Canadian foreign affairs site about what to look out for in Belgium. It explicitly warned travellers about pickpockets operating at metro stations. Knowing this bit of information, I pretty much kept my hands in my pockets the whole time to prevent anybody from getting in there.
As I got on this crowded train, I did my best to get on the train while watching out for any petty thieves. At one point, my mind wandered, and my hands left my pocket. During the time between getting on the train and cramming on with everyone else, the dextrous hand of a pickpocket reached into the left front pocket of my jeans and grabbed hold of my precious wallet. Not long after, I noticed my empty pocket and immediately knew what happened. I had let my guard down for less than a minute and disaster struck. In a panic, I looked around for where my wallet could have gone even though I knew that all of my attempts would prove futile.
I looked at my friend and simply said, “somebody stole my wallet”. My friend then looked at me with an expression that said, “are you kidding me?” Normally, I joke around a lot, but never about something like this. I was dead serious. I knew what I had to do next. Call the credit card company to block my credit card and go to the police station to report the crime. I didn’t really see a point in reporting the crime since they couldn’t really do anything to get my stuff back, but I might need the report as proof for losing the cards that I had in there.
I talked to the first staff member of the metro I found and asked him where one would go to report a crime. I followed his instructions and when I arrived at the station, I found a police outpost. I went inside to talk to the police about the crime, but they simply told me that they were closed for the day and directed me back to the place I came from for help. Really? Are the police in this city that incompetent?
Knowing that I couldn’t really get these people to help me, I went back to where I came from. I went up to the information point and asked an employee there where I could go. Two security guards came out and directed me to yet another police outpost. This one had closed too. Okay, whatever, so what if the police here suck? At the very least, I had to call to cancel my credit card. I asked the security guards where I could have access to a phone to cancel my card. They led me to the nearest phone booth. Really? My wallet was stolen. How could I possibly have any money to make a phone call? They clearly weren’t very bright.
Afterward, one of the security guards took out his cell phone and called a number for stopping credit cards. After talking to the guy on the other end, I found that he could only block credit cards local to Belgium and he gave me a different number to call (I really hate bureaucracy). The security guard looked at the number I just wrote down and just shook his head. He probably didn’t want me calling it because it was a long distance number. I guess he cared more about his phone bill than helping someone out.
The next thing they did was direct me to an actual police station nearby. Luckily, they were still open when I arrived. I borrowed their phone and called the number that the security didn’t let me call earlier. The guy on the other end told me that this number only works for Visa cards. I had a MasterCard. I was given yet another number to call except this time, the number didn’t work. I don’t know how I was able to interact with so many incompetent people in one day. I thought about what I could do next and realized that I could call home and ask my parents for the correct number. I briefly told them about what happened over the phone, assured that everything else was okay and that I didn’t lose my passport. They gave me the number; I called it; and then got my card blocked. I even arranged for a new card to be sent to me.
The next step thing to do was to get the police report. I waited around for an hour or two and finally got everything done. I basically told the guy what happened, where it happened, and what was in my wallet. My wallet had 170 euros, driver’s license, my student ID, two bank cards, a credit card, my Bahn 25 card, and my Stuttgart metro pass. By now it was 8:30 at night. I hadn’t eaten since the morning either so I was immensely hungry. Using money I borrowed from my friend, I went to eat at McDonald’s. Afterward, I spent the rest of the night walking around the city. Despite the fact that I wasn’t in the mood to do anything anymore, I still walked around the city and saw what I could. During my walk, I could see how shady the city actually was. Some parts of the city were dominated by shady streets full of foreign immigrants. I suppose that’s the reason for why some people here need to resort to stealing to make a living.
The next morning, we took the first train out and went to Amsterdam. We had already booked our accommodations there before leaving Germany, so it didn’t make sense to go home early.
When I told my friends this story about my wallet, a few of them found it really surprising that pickpockets managed to steal out of a front pocket. It surprised me at the time too. Some of my friends even shared stories about how someone they knew once got pickpocketed in Brussels too. If only I had known that earlier. I guess it’s like what my parents said afterward, “I learned my lesson the hard way and paid for it with my wallet.”
More photos here