Saturday, October 24, 2015

Day 2: Sightseeing in Paris - Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, and the inside of a police station

Such a beautiful sunrise from the plane. Such a perfect start to what can only be a perfect day in Paris! That's what was meant to happen. 12 hours later, as I raced after the guy who had my wallet, I felt it was far from perfect.

Landing in Paris after a red-eye flight and a few drinks on the plan had me feeling a little mixed up. I was excited to be back in Paris, but I really just wanted to find a bed and sleep.  Instead, I found a Starbucks (and Mindy) and had an espresso. That substitutes for sleep remarkably well!

We spent some time filling out the reports on our flights ("paying" for the upgrade), and finally headed on our way to Paris downtown around mid-day. Although we're not early enough for one of the walking tours of Paris, we have time to drop our luggage off at the hotel, then wander around Notre Dame and the Seine before a fancy dinner at Table Maceo Parisienne.

We were rushing to get on a subway when a couple of guys who were also trying to make the train pushed us and themselves on as the doors were closing.  We were packed into a crowd right at the doors.  Not a problem - it's only one stop. As one body pressed against me, I kept adjusting my body to give him a little more space.  I also kept one hand in one pocket covering my wallet and one hand in the other covering my passport and phone. As I hadn't really slept on the plane the night before, I was feeling a little slow. Then everything happened a little too quickly.

The train lurched and I steadied myself on the pole, the doors opened, and there was a rush of people pushing past me to get out. I reached for my luggage and nearly fell out of the train as the guy who had been beside me roughly brushed past...his hand in my pocket. It took me about one second to realise what had happened. I told Mindy "My wallet is gone.  Watch the luggage" and I ran after those two guys who were already around the corner up the stairs.  I caught up to one and confronted him: "Monsieur!" 

In the ensuing second, several thoughts ran through my head. "Was this actually the right man? Even if this is the guy with my wallet, what do I do? He won't admit to anything, and I'm not about to tackle him to the ground. What if he gets violent? What did I do leaving Mindy behind on the platform with our luggage?  Is she ok?" I stood there, staring dumbly.  The man muttered something and walked away as I quickly headed back to Mindy.

We found a group of police officers in the station and I explained what had happened. They seemed genuinely concerned and provided several suggestions, including: "Don't be afraid to punch these guys.  The only language they understand is violence." More constructively, one suggested that we file a report at the police station, where they would have access to the cameras in the metro station. He seemed fairly confident there was a chance these guys could be caught.

We eventually found the Hotel Montmartre Clignancourt.  It was a short walk from the metro station, but I was flummoxed, and had trouble even reading the map.  Unimpressive hotel, but it will get the job done...the fifth-storey room and absent elevator just posed one more challenge to the afternoon with our heavy luggage.  I called to cancel my credit and bank cards, and learned that my "friends" from the subway had attempted to bill over $2900.00 to my credit card.  Thankfully, MBNA declined the purchase. Then we were out to find the police station.

While we waltzed right into the station, having explained my experience to the officer stationed out front, Mindy noticed that others were being frisked before being allowed in. Is this because we are Canadian? :) (Or do I look that pathetic and vulnerable?) I filled out the form to lodge my complaint, then waited while the man in front of me  explained  that he had bought an iPhone for cash from a random guy on the street, and the phone didn't work as promised. The officers gave a sympathetic shrug and said they couldn't do much if he was buying from the black market.

I presented my form and laid out my case. The officer thanked me for coming to file a complaint, took my form to the other room for a moment, and brought it back, stamped with the official stamp of the Paris police.  He asked me to sign each page, and then gave the form to me.  "What?" I stammered.  "Don't you need this, or do you already have a copy?" The officer appeared very sympathetic as he explained first in French, then in English, that the prosecutor won't pursue this.  It didn't matter that I could identify the alleged criminals  on video, that some additional information could be gleaned from the attempted purchase through an online store called Eden Shop, or even what the officers in the metro had said.  The prosecution only seeks video in cases of violence. There are too many pickpockets for the administration to follow up over a single incident. "But", Mindy protested, "are you saying these pickpockets know there are no repercussions? No-one is going to arrest them for this?  They'll just keep doing it!" The officer shrugged; a combination of sympathy and disappointment that he had to confirm her concern.  "There are too many cases for the prosecution to follow-up", he repeated. Feeling very dejected, I asked why I had bothered to fill out this form and lodge the complaint? "This is for your protection, in case your credit rating suffers, or they try to steal your identity."

We left the station and slowly walked back to the hotel.  I was depressed, tired, and frustrated that I had allowed this to happen to myself. I was not happy about this trip.

After a shower, we attempted to salvage what was left of the day to visit Sacre Coeur - the reason we booked a hotel in Montmartre in the first place.  Even through my disappointed lens, it's beautiful; both the church and the views of Paris.

(Note: Photos of the inside are forbidden, but we were not the only ones taking them.)

Dressed for a night out on the town (Mindy was paying), we set out to arguably one of the best restaurants in Paris - Table Maceo Parisienne. (Read the reviews, I'm not exaggerating.) Oh la la!! The food was incredible! A fig appetizer with the most incredible caramelized sauce, buttery-soft gnocchi with pears and chestnuts, and a chocolate cake for dessert that might have been worth losing my wallet over! And the wine!  Velvety smooth vintage Givry Bois Cheveaux.  I stretched that glass for as long as I could to savour the flavour.  I tried to buy a bottle, but the restaurant sells these bottles for $100 each, and I couldn't quite justify that.  Had we been going to Burgundy region, the winery itself sells bottles for $40.

With my hunger satisfied, and my mood elevated, we wandered around Paris by night, seeing the Tour St. Jacques, the Eiffel Tower and the Seine, and the Paris Opera House (camera batteries were dead by then).

Reflecting on my day now, I am still frustrated about the pickpocket, but it's less of a smudge on this trip in my mind. I lost around $200. I'm sure I have wasted $200 in equally bad ways before, and now it just means that Mindy now has to treat me through Holland and Germany!  Besides, I'm in Paris, and I have a rather unique souvenir in that police report.  How bad can things really be?

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