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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Impressed by Barcelona, Less So by Young Crooks

This year Aeroflot gave World War II veterans the chance to fly to Europe for free over the Victory Day weekend. Fifteen of us took the airline up on its kind offer and set off for Barcelona, the second capital of the country of Cervantes and the great architect Antoni Gaudi.

We arrived late in the evening and checked into our hotel. First thing the next morning we went to the Placa Portal de la Pau, where the Columbus monument stands. From the top of the monument's spectacular column we looked out over Barcelona and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. We would have loved to go for a swim, but it was not quite the season.

Barcelona is marvelous. To my mind it is comparable to Paris, which we visited last year. People who have been to Vienna also say that Barcelona stacks up very favorably.

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When we came down from the Columbus column, a tribute to the explorer's discovery of America and his announcement of it in Barcelona, we walked along the Ramblas, taking in the architectural wonders all around us, and particularly the work of Gaudi. When we got to the Placa de Catalunya we started down the steps into the subway station.

While we were walking a small group of young people, apparently students, had been walking alongside us, talking and laughing in their native Catalan. We, of course, didn't catch a word. When we reached the platform a train arrived in short order and we got in. There were no seats left, so we spread out through the car, trying to stay close to the doors. The students followed our example.

I wound up next to a charming young couple. The train car was bouncing around, and the raincoat that the young man held on his arm occasionally covered my chest. I politely removed it, and the young man mumbled in English, "Excuse."

When we finally got out and reached the street, one of our number shouted: "My wallet!" Similar cries were uttered by two other veterans as they convulsively dug through their handbags. I instinctively clutched my own bag, hanging over my shoulder on a strap, for it contained not only all my euros, but also my passport and my plane ticket. Only now did I understand why the young man in the train had covered me with his coat. I'd been saved by mere chance! And now, too late, we remembered that the guide who had accompanied us from the airport to the hotel had warned us that the city was full of pickpockets. Three of our group were left with nothing. Thus a merry group of "students" cleaned out some careless Russian tourists who forgot the old rule about not putting all your eggs in one basket.

We all chipped in to help out our unfortunate friends. But I fear the three vets left Barcelona with somewhat mixed impressions.

Vladislav Schnitzer is a journalist and pensioner living in Moscow.