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Stolen passport puts crimp in vacation

Having to replace the document while out of the country is a headache for travelers.

By DONNA SHERF
Published July 31, 2005

We were walking toward the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, Spain, playing tourist - pointing at flower-laden balconies, asking directions, but trying to be conscious of people around us. We walked past a fudge shop, looked in the window and, in a split second, my neck jerked and I knew what happened: My travel bag had been ripped from my body.

I yelled and my husband and I chased the thief down the alley. I could see him holding my bag at shoulder height, with the strap flapping in the wind. He turned a corner and the chase ended: We had lost sight of him.

We returned to the fudge shop, where the owner called the police. We were told to report to the nearest police station. There, we filled in two forms, listing the contents of the bag: two passports, one credit card, my driver's license, U.S. currency and euros.

An officer stamped the forms and said we could use the copies he gave us for identification in order to board our plane the next day. We questioned his remark, then asked about a U.S. Consulate office. He told us the nearest one was in Madrid.

The next day we were at the airport early, before US Airways opened its counter. A security agent asked for our passports and we showed him the stamped forms. From the look on his face, I knew we had been misinformed.

The security officer told us we would need to have new passports issued, and to do so, we would have to go to the U.S. Consulate in Barcelona. (The police officer who had handled the theft report was wrong about our having to go to Madrid. Spain's capital is the location of the U.S. Embassy, but there has been a U.S. consul in Barcelona since 1797.)

The airport officer suggested that we first go to the tourist bureau in the terminal for help. There, an understanding woman called the consulate and set up an appointment for us. She also reserved a hotel room within walking distance of the consulate, because we could not get passports in time to make our flight that day. Then this woman walked us to the terminal's photo shop, so that we could have made the pictures required for our passports.

After passing through security at the consulate, we were given six forms apiece to fill out. Information required included our parents' names, birth dates and places of birth. Two and a half hours later, after paying $94 each, my husband and I were handed new passports.

When we returned the next day to the airport and waited in line, I happened to recognize the papers the woman behind me was holding. I asked if she had been robbed, and when she said said yes, I pointed to the photo shop and gave her directions to the tourist bureau. She, too, had been given incorrect information by Barcelona police.

- Donna Sherf of St. Petersburg is the founder of the the National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents.

[Last modified July 29, 2005, 09:22:04]

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