Who's the mug in Barcelona?

Following the recent news that TripAdvisor users voted Barcelona as the pickpocketing capital of the world, it was inevitable that someone would get mugged at Abta’s Travel Convention this week. What I didn’t expect was for it to be me…

A preferred mode of transport for Barcelona thieves
A preferred mode of transport for Barcelona thieves

The first piece of advice I normally shell out when writing a ‘how to be safe in a city’ piece is ‘don’t walk around with your mobile phone showing,’ the second is ‘stick to busy main streets and avoid dark alleys’. The third should now be ‘follow your own advice’ – because last night my iPhone was snatched from my hand by a passing cyclist.

Abta had recommended that delegates who wanted to socialise after last night’s opening party should head to Born, an area famous for having more than a dozen bars all within a couple of hundred yards of each other. And so it was that myself and a handful of other journalists, who eschewed the shenanigans in favour of a superlative meal at Barcelona’s brand spanking new W Hotel, found ourselves in a bar in called Mix waiting for the rest of the Convention to catch up.

Around midnight I stepped outside to make a couple of calls: one to home and the other to Jamie Wortley of tour operator On The Beach, who was trying to find us but was having a hard time doing so. As I was trying to give him visual clues to point him in the right direction, a chap swooped by on a Bicing bike that you can rent on any street corner in Barca and swiped the phone mid-conversation.

Why did it happen? Well I was walking down Comerc Street, the main drag through Born, it was busy but not too crowded and there was an army of Abta’s local volunteers around, conspicuous by their bright red waistcoats. It felt safe and comfortable but clearly wasn’t and I let my guard down a little.

Begrudgingly, I have to give the chap his due: it was a well-practiced and perfectly executed crime. He’d obviously been loitering just behind me as I walked, waiting for a time when I was more relaxed and there were less people immediately around me. The snatch itself was flawless, hardly disturbing a hair on my head despite his bombing past me.

I tried to give chase shouting to some of the volunteers but, despite a semi-decent lunge from one of them, he managed to get away. Ten minutes later a police patrol car turned up but the officers were at best nonplussed at yet another mugging in the city. Their best piece of advice? ‘Don’t go to the local police station, it’s in a bad area and too dangerous to get to,’ I was told as he seemingly forget he was driving the very means that could get me there safely.

Instead I had to turn up early two hours early this morning for my flight home to do the paperwork at the airport’s Mossos D’Esquadra – the Catalan police force – headquarters

I’ve always felt there’s something bizarre about reporting a crime ­– the police seem to have an uncanny knack of making you feel as though you’re the criminal and it’s a feeling that multiplies when you are trying to make yourself understood but don’t speak much of the language.

Officer 14098 and I got there eventually via some schoolboy Spanish and English, along with a smattering of my acting and his hand waving. The report though has him mixing my places of birth and abode and my mobile number on the form is actually that of my passport. Hopefully the insurance company will take it into account – but that conversation could be my next mugging given the amount of get out clauses policies tend to have.