If you’re reading “Adventures and Images” for the first time, welcome! Because the first 4 installments tell a chronological story, you may want to read the other three posts first. There is a link to each prior post at the bottom left. Most of the posts I’ve written so far tell the story of our 3 week journey this summer to Budapest, Prague and Paris. Most are generously populated with my photography. The brief story that follows is an exception.
You’ll recall in the first post from Budapest that the European trip was built around a week long class in street photography where I would study and shoot with Valerie Jardin in Paris. I packed a nearly new camera my dad had given me as a present, which would be the camera I would use for the course. (A mirrorless Fujifilm X-Pro 1.) I brought a new camera bag my instructor recommended, and a fabulous lens I had just purchased for the class. In addition, I brought along a small Canon S95 “point and shoot” for times outside of class where I wanted the smallest camera hanging from my belt.
The night before leaving Budapest for Prague, I packed the camera and camera bag into a roll aboard suitcase for the train trip the next morning. A taxi took us to the train station, and we waited with the bags until a porter helped us onto the train. All the bags went directly over our seats. We never left the seats at the same time, and the bags were never out of sight — not for a second. I did take the roll aboard down briefly to retrieve an article, then put it right back overhead.
When we arrived in Prague, Lorn was napping while I was unpacking. I opened the roll aboard, and the camera case, the camera and lens were all gone. In disbelief, I searched the apartment dozens of times. I contacted the manager at our apartment in Budapest, convinced I must have taken out the camera bag sometime before we left. No one had been in the apartment after our departure. I offered to wire him money to ship my belongings overnight, and another 50 euros for his trouble. He agreed.
The following day he e-mailed me and asked if I’d hidden the bag somewhere. It wasn’t in the apartment. Lorn and I verbally retraced every step from Budapest to Prague. The bags never left our sight! I vacillated from hysteria to neurotic anxiety. There was an element of denial for the first day or so. I still believed I had somehow unpacked the camera and absent mindedly put it somewhere in the Prague apartment, but that turned out to be wishful thinking.
What would I do? I couldn’t possibly do street photography with a point and shoot camera — it isn’t fast enough: you’d miss half the shots. I returned to the train station and was told, “That train went to Berlin. If you left something on that train, you’ll never see it again.”
I searched trusted photography sites and considered buying a camera in Prague. Too little selection; nothing I really wanted. I researched camera stores in Paris. There were 7 camera stores in two blocks located twenty minutes walking distance from our apartment. Maybe some would have a rental department. It was the best option — rent a camera for a week and the problem is solved.
Our plane from Prague was scheduled to arrive at 11:30 on Saturday morning. Stores would undoubtedly close at 5:00. How long would the taxi take from the airport to the apartment? I purposely didn’t look at my watch once during the hour long bumper to bumper crawl into Paris. When we finally arrived, we walked as fast as we could. Arriving at the right place at 2:00, I was thrilled to learn they were open till 7:00. My class began the following day, Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
Two of the stores had rental departments, but both were closed on Saturday. Damn. Next option: buy a used camera — lots of stores sold them. They weren’t much less expensive than buying new, so I finally settled on buying a Nikon D3300 — a new model which had very favorable reviews, but would be easy to learn because I own a similar Nikon I use for canine photography.
I explained my dilemma to Stephane, the store owner, who was quite sympathetic. He warned me that the Nikon wouldn’t have a valid warranty in North America (only in Europe) and that the VAT (value added tax) was $135, but he would give me a self addressed envelope I could mail from the airport after the forms were validated, and he would refund the tax to my credit card the very next day. So I would spend a hefty sum for a new camera I only needed for a week, and I couldn’t expect to sell it because there was no valid warranty in North America. Well, at least I would get the VAT back.
You may be thinking, “How did Eric post all those pictures from Budapest and Prague without a camera?” I took all of them with my little Canon point and shoot, which does a pretty decent job.I’ll let you be the judge of the quality of the images I took with the Nikon in Paris, which will be the subject of the next installment of “Adventures and Images.”
Jumping ahead to our return to Oregon, I waited a week for the refund to post to my VISA card, but none appeared. I e-mailed Stephane to ask why I hadn’t been credited with the VAT refund, but in spite of the fact that I knew 3 people in the store had read my e-mail, there was no reply to my inquiry. I contested $135 of the sale with VISA, and they credited the amount to my card, explaining the merchant had 45 days to dispute my claim.
Stephane later wrote to apologize, explaining he had missed the message in the midst of a change in store location. I still have the Nikon (I really like it), and replaced the Fujifilm Camera with its successor model XT 1.
Oh, about the Prague police. I decided I should make a police report of the theft, in case insurance would cover some of the loss. Despite there being no other “customer” (or criminal) in the police station at 6:15 a.m., it took three hours for them to write a report and issue a case number. The policeman at the station accused me of fabricating the entire story. (Homeowners’ insurance did not cover the loss — the deductible was too high.)
I’m pleased that although I was certainly anxious and upset about the turn of events, it never came close to ruining the trip, and I never lost a night’s sleep. The camera was replaceable. It was a “thing.” We had our health. We weren’t hurt. And we loved our travels in Europe.