Several years ago, for our 35th wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided to take a trip to Spain. Since we had gotten married on December 28, this trip would fall between Christmas and New Year’s. We offered to take our daughter along, as she had studied college level Spanish for several years and could serve as our interpreter and “tour guide.”
We booked our flight for Christmas Day. When Christmas dawned, the skies were leaden grey with a strong threat of snow. Predictably, it began snowing around 10 a.m. and continued to snow steadily. Since our flight was out of Philadelphia at 6 p.m. and mindful of the two hour window for advanced check-in, we left Harrisburg around 1 p.m. By now, there were nearly six inches of snow covering the roads.
Our trip along the Pennsylvania Turnpike was uneventful until thirty miles from Philadelphia. My husband suddenly yelled “Watch out” as a Tracker went zipping by us in the passing lane. The car fish-tailed, then struck the medial barrier, slid back across the right lane, rolled twice and came to rest on the side of the road. Incredibly, no other car was hit, but we were shaken. We quickly pulled off to the side of the road, as did several other cars. We ran to the Tracker, resting on its side, not knowing what we would see. The driver was completely alert, unzipped his window and climbed out.
Once back on the road, we chattered about the “close call” of the careening Tracker. Finally, we arrived at the Philadelphia Airport. The rest of the customary steps to traveling to Europe proceeded uneventfully. We checked our luggage, went through security ourselves and waited for our flight on Delta airlines.
Perhaps we should have seen the Tracker accident as a harbinger of future events, for when we boarded our flight, a short one to JFK, we took off and proceeded to fly for TWO hours. The usual flight time is thirty minutes, so we were attuned to some discrepancy. Finally, the pilot came on the public address system and announced that we were returning to Philadelphia as JFK was snowed in.
We spent the remainder of Christmas day in the Philadelphia Airport, rebooking our flights with overwhelmed ticket agents who had no idea a plane was returning to Philadelphia. With our new tickets in hand, we rushed to secure an overnight room at a local hotel. The following morning, we boarded an Air France flight to Paris, with a connection to Madrid. We endured one more setback when we missed our connecting flight in Paris. The Air France gate attendants were completely imperious, haughtily telling us “Sorry, even though it is early, the plane has left the gate and you cannot board.” Rerouted once more, we finally arrived in Madrid.
By now, we were on “Plan B” for our vacation. We had originally intended to stay overnight in Madrid and take an early morning train to our first destination, Granada. Since we obviously weren’t going to be staying in Madrid overnight, we were able to change our train time until late afternoon.
When we reached the Atocha train station, we were primed for our vacation to begin at last. The next challenge was reading the train schedules with little time. Not only were we in an unfamiliar train station, but reading destinations in Spanish took a little longer. When we figured out which track we needed to be on, we descended to the lower level where our train would depart.
I charged ahead, off to find the correct track. I was loaded down with a wheeled suitcase that I was dragging behind me, a backpack full of my immediate travel needs, a plastic bag with just-purchased soft drinks and snacks, and my purse slung over my shoulder.
When the train pulled into the station, we had five minutes to board. We located the correct car for our reserved seats, and I began to push my way onto the train. Suddenly, a woman got in front of me. With every move I made to go to our seats, she blocked my way. I was vaguely aware of her fiddling around in my plastic bag. My daughter, realizing this was very likely a gypsy woman, said, “Mom, yell at her to get out of the way.” So, dutifully I began saying, in English “Excuse me, EXCUSE ME.” Just as suddenly as she appeared, she vanished.
We found our seats, relieved, and sat down. Then, almost casually, my daughter said, “Are you sure you have everything?” I said, “I think so” but opened my purse to check anyway. My wallet was gone! I was stunned. Even though I knew the gypsy woman was doing “something” I was naïve enough to believe she was only fiddling with the plastic bag of recently purchased foods. Of course, that was a diversion for her real aim—unzipping, then reaching into, my purse and skillfully removing my wallet.
The events of the two days washed over me, and I excused myself and went into the bathroom. There, I sat and cried, out of frustration, and out of sadness. I did not mind losing my money, and I knew we could stop any charges on credits cards. What made me incredibly sad were all the family photographs I carried in my wallet, including a one of a kind photograph of my mother who has been dead for more than ten years.
I had to shake off my sadness, and focus on the happy family celebration ahead of us. The rest of the journey was blissfully uneventful. We marveled at each of the lovely Spanish cities we visited. We reported all the credits cards stolen, and made a police report of the theft. Even though we returned to the Madrid train station, authorities had found no sign of a stolen wallet. Somewhere, a gypsy woman was $300 richer, and had in her possession a much loved photograph of a white haired woman.