Louvre Shut Due To Violent Gang Of Pickpockets

The Louvre temporarily closed on Wednesday due to a strike protesting trouble with violent pickpockets.

The Guardian reports more than a hundred staff walked out on Wednesday in protest over “increasingly aggressive” gangs of pickpockets that harass both visitors and staff. Staff members who have tried to stop the criminals have been kicked and spat at. The strikers are demanding extra security.

The popular art museum in Paris is now open again, according to the Louvre’s website, but the problem isn’t solved. With the influx of art aficionados, there will be an understratum of the criminal element.

Pickpocketing is a serious problem in many parts of Europe. While I’ve lived in Europe for more than a decade, I’ve never been a victim. Perhaps it’s because I used to live in New York City and learned to pay attention. I’m a frequent passenger on both the Madrid Metro and the London Underground, both notorious hotspots for pickpocketing. I always keep my wallet in my front pocket with my thumb hooked into that pocket and my fingers resting on the outside of my pants touching my wallet. Sure, that signals where my wallet is, but good luck trying to get it.

Pickpockets often target families with small children because the parents are distracted. When I’m in the Metro with my wife and little boy, my wife watches the kid while I watch them, with my hand on my wallet the entire time. Nobody has ever managed to rob us.

So if you’re planning a trip to the Louvre, or to Europe, or to New York City, pack your street smarts along with your guidebook.

Do you have any other tricks to foil pickpockets? Share them in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Benh Lieu Song]

Air France in-flight thefts solved – flight attendant arrested

Earlier this year, we wrote about an Air France plane that had been hit by a pickpocket. The thief had emptied the wallets of business class passengers, and upon arrival in Paris, local police boarded the plane, but were unable to find the criminal.

Six months after that incident, French police have arrested an Air France flight attendant suspected of being behind the thefts. In total, 142 Air France flights had been involved in theft incidents, and when police compared their reports with staff rosters, they pinpointed their suspect. Upon searching her home and a bank deposit box, they recovered jewelry, checks, credit card numbers.

When asked by Bloomberg about the incident, Air France had “no comment” on the arrest. Naturally, aviation law only covers luggage placed in the hold, so the airline does not accept liability for cabin baggage. Personally, I am amazed it took 142 reports of theft to finally get a hold of their suspect.

Just like we mentioned in January, always keep your personal items close to you, never let your wallet out of sight, and keep expensive electronics locked in your hand luggage. Sadly there is not much most you can do against in-flight theft, especially if it involves an inside job like this.

[Photo credit: DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images]

Dos and Don’ts in the developing world

We’ve been talking a lot here on Gadling about travel safety. Travelers should be aware of potential dangers no matter where they are, but what do you do when you’re obviously the richest person within sight? Here are some tips about what to do and what not to do when your monthly salary is higher than the average annual wage of the country you’re visiting.

Don’t let fear ruin your vacation
First off, most developing countries are as safe or even safer than the U.S. or Western Europe. In two decades of traveling in 26 countries, including places such as Iran, India, and Egypt, the only time someone tried to mug me was in a shopping mall in Danbury, Connecticut! That said, you do need to keep your wits about you.

Do wear a money belt
Yes, they’re dorky looking, but a money belt will foil most pickpockets if you keep it under your clothing. Even though criminals know tourists wear money belts, they’d rather go after easier prey. Developing countries tend to have harsh penalties for crime and scary prisons, so criminals don’t want to take unnecessary risks. Keep the day’s cash in your pocket so you don’t have to pull out your money belt in the marketplace. Stuff something bulky in the opposite pocket so the pickpockets go for your inviting bulge. Toilet paper is a good option, and may come in handy in case of a sudden onset of Montezuma’s revenge.

Do be aware of local scams
Scam artists employ different tactics in different countries. Often they take the form of a young man with good English approaching you wanting to invite you someplace, where you’ll be shaken down. Or they might give you a friendly tour of their neighborhood and then demand payment, getting increasingly threatening if you refuse. Your best source for the latest scams is an up-to-date guidebook and locals working in the tourism industry, such as hotel managers. They’ve heard plenty of stories.

Don’t flash your valuables
Why tempt fate? Leave the iPod Touch and the gold watch at home.

Don’t pretend to be poor
There’s nothing sillier than seeing some American backpackers trying to convince someone in Peru or Ethiopia that they’re really not that rich. Nonsense. You may be a struggling student back home, but you’re still living a life most Third Worlders can only dream of. You were able to afford an international flight, after all. Trying to pretend you’re just as poor as the locals is unconvincing and more than a little patronizing.

Do back up your photos
The most common item to be stolen is a camera. It’s easily snatchable and has a high resale value. Don’t run the rick of losing your travel memories. An inexpensive 4 GB thumb drive (also called a flash drive) can hold hundreds of photos. Transfer your pictures regularly at an Internet cafe and keep the thumb drive in a different location than your camera.

Do stay open to personal interaction
The best part of any journey is the people you meet. The majority of people of all nations are honest, so don’t worry too much. Most folks who approach you are simply curious or want to practice their English. Trust your gut and have a great time. Bon Voyage!

[Photo credit: Almudena Alonso-Herrero]

Pickpocket empties business class passenger wallets

Theft from airplane luggage is not new – but when I read about a pickpocket that emptied the wallets of five business class passengers, I realized that these thieves may have found themselves a new place to work.

The thief earned around 4,000 euros ($5,800) from just five wallets in the business class cabin. When the passengers alerted the cabin crew, police in Paris were called and were waiting for the plane. The Air France plane had left Tokyo, so given its length, most of the passengers were probably sleeping when the thief hit.

The lesson here is simple – if you fall asleep on a plane, be sure that nobody can get at your belongings. Sadly, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. I’ve read reports of people having their laptop computer stolen, or other valuable items removed from their bags. In some cases, thieves may even be able to remove items from the bag placed under your seat.

A great site with tips on how to be safe on the road, along with stories of theft, muggers and pickpockets is Thiefhunters In Paradise. If you worry about your belongings, this really is a great resource to learn how criminals operate.

Copenhagen at Christmas–or at any time of the year is splendid

In Denmark in December, darkness settles in around 3:30 p.m. Spend a few days where there is such an early sunset and late sunrise, and you’ll know exactly why a festival of lights is a grand idea. Danes embrace the Christmas season with candles, evergreens and warm mulled wine.

The result of the cheer is a feeling that the world is drenched in pools of warm, soft glows. The candles and evergreens promise that the darkness will eventually lighten is enough to carry one towards spring.

The mulled wine called glugg, help seal the deal. The best glugg is served with the almonds, raisins and spices still in it.

Toss in a city of stunning architecture that artfully blends the old with the new, cobblestone walking streets, and centuries old canals and there you have it: winter magic. Copenhagen in December is a visual treat.

Last December, I traveled back to Denmark where I had spent a semester in college living with a family about twenty miles outside of Copenhagen. The trip brought back memories of my first Christmas away from home and reestablished the thought that I must have been Danish at one time. Denmark and me? A hand to a glove.

Here are my must see suggestions if you head to Copenhagen at any time of the year. On this visit, I was with my 16 year-old daughter so I picked out the places that I thought she would enjoy, plus those that would offer her a wide overview of Copenhagen’s cultural history and delight. We were also interested in spending as little money as possible.

We traveled twice by train into Copenhagen from our friend’s house where we stayed.

Day 1: In the early afternoon, we started out at Nationalmuseet, the Danish Resistance Museum. Denmark’s resistance movement against the Nazis during World War II is impressive. The museum tells the story of how the movement started, the important players and what occurred in Denmark between 1940-1945.

Since the time I visited when I was in college, the museum has a new building and the exhibits have been updated. Most of the information is also provided in English. Take time out to watch the videos of interviews that are scattered throughout the museum. They have also been translated. This museum is marvelous and it’s FREE. I repeat. FREE!

From here we walked to Amalienborg Palace to see where Queen Margrethe II lives with her family. Depending upon when you arrive, you can see the changing of the guard. We missed this, but we enjoyed watching the guards anyway.

As you go to the palace you’ll also see the gorgeous Fredriks Church, also called The Marble Church. We didn’t go inside the church or tour the Amalienborg Museum in the palace complex as we were in a hurry to get to Nyhavn and the canal boat ride. Besides, the day before, we had toured Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød, a town in the northern part of Sealand, the island where Copenhagen is located. Of all Denmark’s castle’s, it’s my favorite.

At Nyhavn, the oldest part of Copenhagen’s original harbor, we took in the Christmas market where I found glugg and we ate pølser, the Danish version of a hot dog. Pølser is better. Each cost about $3. Nyhavn is also where you can catch a harbor canal tour. There is more than one company but DFDS Canal Tours is the only company to offer winter excursions. The boat tour takes visitors along the canals that were dug out by prisoners in the 17th century. This is one of the best ways to find out about Copenhagen’s history while seeing important landmarks–both modern and historic.

The statue of the Little Mermaid is one of the tour’s points of interest. If you go on the 50 minute tour in winter, bundle up. The $12 per person fee we paid seemed like a bargain.

After our tour that started before dusk and ended in the dark, we browsed the Christmas market once more and watched the ice skaters at the area’s outdoor rink before walking back to the train station.The market is an excellent place to buy Danish-style Christmas ornaments and fur hats. We bought a nativity set and a rabbit fur for my son. He used to be Daniel Boone in a past life. The $10 fur was the best present ever.

Day 2: (Between the two days, we took a ferry from Helsingør, Denmark to Helsingborg, Sweden to go to the Christmas festival at Fredriksdal Open-air Museum. Helsingør is where Kronberg Castle of Hamlet fame is located. Shakespeare set the play here. Remember? “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

We started out at Rosenberg Castle to see the Crowned Jewels. The castle was closed on that day. Oops. Next stop, shopping along Strøget, the pedestrian shopping street. Here I discovered I had been pick pocketed. Credit card? Gone. Money? Gone. Someone snagged my wallet right out of my day pack. Next came the detour to the police station to file a report and call VISA.

Without any money or a credit card, there wasn’t any reason to go to Royal Copenhagen, as we had planned. Sure, it would have been a gorgeous store to visit since it was decked out in its holiday finest, but how depressing would that have been? Why go to a place to shop when you can’t shop?

Instead, we headed to Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli, an amusement park that opened in 1843, served as inspiration for Walt Disney when he was designing Disneyland. During the Christmas season, Tivoli is a twinkling fairyland. Glugg and apple fritters are plentiful and the amusement park rides are in full operation. Every building and tree seems to be awash in holiday lights. We were content to walk around the park enjoying the ambiance and displays.

We left Tivoli for home around 9 p.m feeling satisfied, despite a day of being robbed. On a return trip, we’ll see the Crown Jewels and Royal Copenhagen. They’ll still be around.