The benefits of honesty

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

A Memorable Place

July 23, 2000|By Dennis Steele, | Dennis Steele,,Special to the Sun

The desire for efficiency during a trip to Italy, Austria and Hungary last summer led my wife and me to book an overnight sleeping compartment on a train from Padua, Italy, to Vienna, Austria.

Although we had read warnings about the high potential for theft on overnight trains, we felt, given our experiences on several previous trips to the United Kingdom and Europe, that we would have no trouble.

We boarded the train just before midnight and were the first to occupy the compartment. The conductor said two people would be joining us at the first stop, and we turned in for the night.

By the time the new arrivals boarded, we were asleep. I remembered to mention, while half-awake, to the person now occupying the top berth opposite not to forget to engage the security latch on the door. Having thought I heard it snap into place, I quickly fell back asleep.

Sometime later, in the middle of the night, I was awakened by the sound of someone moving through the compartment. I turned to look and saw a man who appeared confused, as if he had entered the wrong compartment in the dark. As soon as he saw me looking at him, he mumbled an apology and backed out the door.

It was not until morning that we discovered the man had been far from lost.

My wife's wallet had been taken from her backpack. Her driver's license, local store credit cards, $43 in cash and keepsake photos were gone. We have always kept valuables in separate locations while traveling, so her major credit cards, travelers checks and passport were not in the wallet.

We arrived in Vienna stunned and confused, and headed for our hotel. We explained our plight at the front desk. The manager immediately offered us complimentary breakfast and allowed us to use the phone near the desk to begin contacting various companies to cancel accounts.

After we regained our composure, we were able to enjoy Vienna and the rest of our trip to Budapest.

About 10 weeks after arriving home, my wife received a letter from the U.S. Embassy in Rome. The message in the letter was as startling as the robbery itself. Her wallet had been recovered by Italian police, apparently intact -- including the $43.

By authorizing a deduction for the postage, it would be returned. She signed the release and mailed it back to Rome. Several weeks later, her wallet arrived without a single item missing.

Everyone has heard stories about travel nightmares. We were fortunate enough to be part of a travel story that proves there are still honest people everywhere.

Dennis Steele lives in Baltimore.

Beach commuter

By Sylvia Cooke Martin

Columbia

While traveling through Ghana, in western Africa, I became enchanted by the town of Elmina, and I decided to get up at 5:30 a.m. to watch the colorful fishing boats go out into the Gulf of Guinea. I didn't see the boats, but as the sun rose about 6 a.m., women and children began walking by on their way to town to work and to sell their wares.

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RAKVAG, NORWAY

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