Bag-Snatchers & Shifty Cabs in St. Petersburg

As we’ve traveled, we’ve discovered something weird about my approach to travel: I’m obsessed with catching a scammer in the act.  I mean, I’m no Conor Woodman.  I’m not going to attach secret cameras to my buttons and then intentionally put myself in harm’s way.  I’m far too lazy for THAT kind of nonsense.  But I will say that while Andrew books our flights and hotels, I’m researching possible scams for the area we’re visiting with great, paranoid fervour.

After all, Andrew and I are venturing into other cultures, utterly clueless — and this does make us a target.  It doesn’t matter how hard we try to look like locals — and trust me, we do try (sort of) — we know we’ll always look like tourists. So, I’m quite confident that despite our best efforts (which are probably laughable), we’re easily identified as tourists from a mile away.

I’ve always been weirdly sensitive to things that feel… off.  And I’m a little skittish, impulsive, and violently dislike being touched by anyone to whom I haven’t given permission.  I also fail to tolerate people that I perceive to be stealing my valuable time.  I’ll straight-up walk away from strangers that stop me on the street with some kind of story they want to tell me.  I’m jumpy and bitchy like that.  And I’m not very concerned about whether or not I’m hurting anyone’s feelings with my self-preservation-focused behaviour.

And yet… we have indeed been scammed.

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Approaching Palace Square.  Home to much loveliness… and the occasional bag-snatcher.

It happened when we first arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia.  The cab drivers there are very aggressive at the airport… a phenomenon that is not strictly reserved for Russia, as we have later discovered.  But as this was our first encounter with a persistent cab driver, we simply hopped in… and proceeded to have the longest cab ride of our life.  It was July 2010 and Russia was in the midst of a super-intense heat-wave (of course it was — we were there) and this cab had no air conditioning, so we were probably near to passing out by the time we reached the vicinity of our hotel and were told to hand over about $100 (Canadian) more than we knew a typical cab ride should cost.  We’d probably been circling the perimeter of St. Petersburg for a very long time.  We felt pretty horrible about having been taken advantage of like that… though in hindsight it could’ve been much, much worse.  We learned our lesson: we don’t need to worry about hurting the feelings of persistent cab drivers at the airport.  I feel like I can hear the entire internet yelling, “DUH!”  Yeah well… I never said I was a traveling expert.  Just pretty much fumbling around the world, really.

But that very same day, I’m proud to report that I caught a thief in the act!

We were wandering around the Palace Square/Nevsky Prospect area where the tour buses line up in the morning.  There was quite the crowd of tourists, and I just focused on keeping sight of Andrew.  Well, to be more accurate, I kept a keen eye on Andrew’s day-pack, whilst clinging protectively to my own.  Suddenly, I could FEEL IT: we were being watched — someone was taking a special interest in us.  In that split second, I saw HIM — a bag-snatcher!  He’d been following us as we wandered around all flustered!  We looked exactly like the kind of confused idiotic tourists he surely made a habit of targeting.  He’d been watching us and keeping pace.  HOLY COW.  Andrew had stopped walking for a second, and I saw HIM standing right there, staring at Andrew’s bag with a strange level of interest.  I just knew this guy was about to take it.  I felt a sudden rush of adrenaline, my eyes widened, and I roared, “LIKE HELL YOU ARE.  I SEE YOU.  IT’S ON!”  Andrew turned to me to find out what I was yelling about, I took my eyes off the guy for a second… and he was gone, disappeared into the crowd.

Dammit!

I don’t know why I was disappointed that I’d chased him away.  I guess a primal, violent part of me wanted things to escalate so that I could actually hurt the guy.  Andrew tells me this is laughable, since I am apparently not very big, and not as strong and tough as I think I am.  Not to mention, you don’t really want to get into a scuffle when traveling.  It could really complicate things.  It’s best that I was just super-sensitive and aware and called the guy out and scared him away with my crazy-eyes and yelling.

I guess.

*sigh*

Yes… I suppose it was for the best.

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Most of our travel pics involve me clinging protectively to my bag.  It’s just kinda my thing.

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