Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How to Ruin a Vacation

Blogging, picture taking, photo editing, and journaling came to a screeching halt the day after I wrote my last post. On Friday August 19, overnight, our rental car was broken into. We discovered it Saturday morning. The broken glass and empty trunk were our first clues. Marc's golf bag, clubs, and extensive assortment of golf gadgets, gone. Golf attire, gone. Two pairs of roller blades belonging to Marc and Nick, gone. After a trip to the police and change of rental car, we tried to salvage the weekend. And we were doing pretty good til Tuesday night. The 23rd of August.

Marc and I had decided to take the train to Paris that evening, for a quick dinner, and to pick up a bigger rental car that we could return to Paris when we went home. After the car break in, Marc had moved up his return flight and was coming home with us. The new rental car we had picked up in Reims was too small and would have to be left in Reims. We thought we had found the perfect solution: combine a quick date night with picking up a new car. All good, right? Well, it didn't turn out that way.

We arrived in Paris at 6:00 after a 45 minute train ride. We walked from Paris Est to Paris Nord, where we would pick up the train to the airport, for our car pick up. We made a fateful decision to have dinner at a restaurant just outside the train station, before continuing on to the airport.

In retrospect, we did a lot of things differently. We sat outside, which we hadn't been doing too often, since smoking was allowed. But it wasn't too busy because it was still early, around 6:30. The waiter seated us at the end of a section of empty tables, beside a lone diner. We should have asked to sit in the middle of those empty tables. But we didn't.

What ended up happening, less than 15 minutes after we had sat down, was that the man next to us left, and walked off with Marc's backpack. And we didn't notice. Even after Marc's backpack had mysteriously found its way to that man's feet. Marc was a bit suspicious, but apologized, and returned the bag to it's place under his feet. But he didn't wrap the straps around his legs, as my seasoned traveler often does.

A few minutes later, the waiter asked Marc if he had his bag. We looked down and it was gone. What a horrible horrible feeling that is. The waiter said he saw the man cross the street and head for the train station. He and Marc made chase. Marc said he thought it was strange that the man wouldn't have entered the Metro station on our side of the street, rather than opting for the train station that was crawling with police and soldiers.

In retrospect, and we find ourselves saying that alot, we think the waiter was in on it. He seated us and continued to serve in between our tables, rather than from the empty side. That man, seated by himself, neither ate nor drank. While I believe I would recognize him, I remained focused on his unattractive hands and strange white phone, not his face. And obviously not focusing on him when I should have been.

That horrible horrible sick feeling was justified. In Marc's haste to take care of everything that busy Tuesday, he had traveled to Paris with his laptop, iPad, video camera, 2 external hard drives which he normally doesn't carry and which were his computer back up and waaaay too many of our photos, headphones, bluetooths, fancy computerized pens, you name it. The GPS we thought had been stolen from the car, which we later found in the hotel room, lost for real this time. Because Marc had met a colleague at the mechanic's that morning to give him a lift to work. The hard drives, normally in the hotel safe, were with him because he directly transferred data to someone who couldn't open the emailed version Marc had sent. And because the first colleague needed a ride again after work, Marc was rushing to make the 5:15 train. The thought of trying to leave his backpack behind had crossed his mind, but with an upcoming meeting in Ireland, he figured he might get some prep work done for that, during the train ride.

All things we should have done differently, but didn't. I was carrying a new purse that we had bought on the weekend, an early birthday gift for me. The zipper was all wonky, wouldn't close properly. So upon arrival in Paris, I gave Marc our passports. Thankfully, those, along with his wallet and cell phone, were in his pants pockets. Not so, my camera.

It was loose in my purse, and somewhat awkward, so when we were sitting down for dinner, I asked Marc to put it in his backpack. He obliged. So that too, was gone.

But having had a computer crash on me, and loosing a mere 3 weeks of photos several years ago, I now religiously back up photos before deleting them from memory cards, and I carry 6 CF cards for my camera, so that I can change them out every day or two. So I really lost nothing but the camera itself. I told Marc it would have been SO much better to lose my computer. Photos backed up on CD's and CF cards, both of which were in the hotel room safe. And not much else of importance. Yeah, it would have been an inconvenience, but I've backed up my computer before, so the recipes, files, contacts, are somewhere safe at home. Perhaps not completely up to date, but also not completely loss. With that hard drive gone, Marc lost templates, files, years and years of work. And between that and the computer, the three months of work that he'd done in Reims was lost. Not completely. But probably close to half.

The police in Paris were little help, advising us we'd have to wait for at least an hour to file a report, and explaining that it was not allowed, in France, to view security camera footage. Now we realize that there's a good chance our thief was not on the train station footage, but we didn't know that then.

We still had to take the train to Charles de Gaulle airport, pick up our car, and drive the hour back to Reims.

We were so done. Defeated. Deflated. Discouraged. Wanting so desperately to JUST GO HOME. This was Tuesday night and we had busy plans for the rest of the week. Drive 5 hours to Amsterdam on Wednesday. Marc was jetting off to Ireland from there Thursday, for his meeting, while the kids and I toured. He'd return Friday morning, we'd get back to France for Friday night, celebrate my birthday in Paris Saturday and fly home Sunday.

But we wanted none of that. We just wanted home.

Marc notified employers and colleagues and the short version is that we did make the decision to return home Thursday. Ireland was out of the question as Marc had nothing for that meeting, what with his computer being gone. We certainly didn't feel like a road trip. We were anxious to get home, more than a little concerned about our financial security being breeched with this theft. While Marc didn't use this computer for most of our financial stuff, when he was on the road, he would pay bills, view our accounts, that sort of thing, from this computer. We wanted to get home, notify the bank, credit card companies, credit reporting bureaus, and of course, our insurance company. So we paid a $1000. change fee to come home three days early.

But in all bad things there are always silver linings. As the immigration officer pointed out upon our arrival in Philly, we were all there, intact, no broken bones, physically unharmed. He said he'd seen a lot worse. Many times. This fellow was actually hilarious and lightened our mood significantly.

We caught the early train home. Our wonderful neighbors were able to have our car waiting for us at the train station, and because we were home so early, I managed to pick up accumulated mail before the post office closed.

Our house was still standing, the cars all there, and most importantly, the basement was dry! We were so anxious, with the excessive rain that made August an all time record month for our area. Certain that we would come home to a musty soggy basement. Damp yes, but never full of water. Again, our neighbors had checked everytime it rained, redirected downspouts, and all remained dry. They moved our cars around to make it look like we were around, and our home was just as we left it.

We got home two days before Hurricane Irene was scheduled to hit. In time to hunker down and defend our home! To celebrate my birthday by candlelight, as the lights waivered, but the power remained, enabling our pump to keep running and our basement to stay relatively dry. Our original return flight on the 28th was cancelled due to the hurricane. The airport was closed. The trains stopped running. So we would never have made it home that Sunday. Coming home early was a good thing.

We're knee deep in insurance claims right now. I really should be doing that instead of writing this. But I'm tired today, after a somewhat sleepless rainy night. The rain makes me nervous. I'm always afraid that the power will go out and the sump pump will stop running and our basement will fill. It's happened before; its not just my wild imagination! So I figured I could more easily write with a tired brain, than try to properly document everything required by the insurance company. That's tomorrow's job.

Small victories and good things happening, reminding us that all we've lost are things. The hard drives are actually the worst, especially for Marc. But he's rebounding. School's started, Nick has his Funk and Reggae show at the School of Rock this week, Gaby's soccer season starts Saturday, and her name was chosen to be one of eleven UD kids to walk our pro soccer team, the Union, onto the field for this Saturday's game.

And we got our $1000 back from US Air. The day after we returned home, US Air announced they were waiving change fees for folks trying to reschedule their travel around the hurricane. So we sent them an email, asking if they would consider reversing the charges, given the situation. It took them over a week to get back to us, but it was worth the wait. That money will cover one of the deductibles for our two insurance claims!


  1. OMG, omg. What does one say to a story such as this. Only that I am glad you are all home safe and sound. I was so enjoying your vacation vicariously through your blog, too. :-(
    Well, you are another year older, another year wiser, you have a beautiful family to stand beside you and lots of friends that wish you well.

  2. As always when this happens it ends up as the big memory of your trip. It is always those times that we don't follow caution that stuff goes missing. I will always recall how we lost the photos of a trip to Mexico, one where a professional photographer, national geographical no less, was in out group and took photos of us against incredible back drops. Dumb us, the bags with rolls of film never arrived.