Your Holiday Disaster

A theft catapulted Sara Duncan into an episode straight from a Kafka novel

It Was the Prague to Warsaw Express and the carriage door was swinging backwards and forwards as I opened my eyes. I wondered how it had become unlocked. As I sat up, I noticed the contents of my rucksack were strewn on the floor. Panicking, I picked up my handbag. About pounds 60 in dollars was missing. My credit card and plane tickets back to London were still there.

I shouted to Ray to wake up and check his rucksack which contained all the rest of our dollars. Thank God it hadn't been touched. In the next compartment there was a dodgy-looking guy who spoke English. He told me that everyone had been robbed.

A short time later, we sat on a seat at Warsaw Central Station, unwashed, untoileted, unfed, and completely disorientated. I was determined to report the theft to the police, because to claim on our travel insurance we had to have a police report. I stopped a man in uniform who didn't speak English. A young passer-by who spoke English overheard and brought us to a railway policeman. He advised our helper to take us to the police office within the station. After a short time, an officer arrived and indicated that we were to follow him. He led us out of the station and into a police car, which took us to another police station. A young officer smelling strongly of vodka appeared and crouched in front of me. After a few minutes I realised that as well as trying to chat me up he was explaining that his wife spoke English. He produced a mobile phone and after a few attempts got through to her. I explained that I needed a certificate for insurance purposes. After many misunderstandings I managed to convince her that I could not identify anyone, did not want my money back, and only wanted a piece of paper from the police.

After a further wait, a reporter who spoke excellent English and had been engaged as interpreter appeared. Our story was explained again. A police woman was drafted in to type our statement but found it difficult to copy our English words, so Ray volunteered my typing services. Unfortunately I could not work the ancient manual machine. The journalist lost patience with us all and typed out the statement.

We were then free to go. We had no Polish currency, we were starving, and we hadn't a clue where we actually were. The journalist took charge of us. He walked us to a hotel which changed some of our dollars. Then we went to a bar and ate soup and drank several beers, while we heard his life story. Eventually he took us to a hotel in the suburbs. I went to my room and lay down with my passport and our travellers cheques under my pillow.

In the end the insurance company refused to refund our stolen money, because it was in the rucksack and not on my person. Next year, on the Moscow to St Petersburg train, I stayed awake all night guarding our luggage and documents.

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