This all happens in less than 30 seconds. Just off the Eurostar and seeking an ATM to obtain euros, we are examining a wall map near a street exit of the Brussels-Midi Rail Station. A young man approaches and asks a question in French. As I turn away from the map to respond, there is a flicker in the corner of my right eye; someone has passed very close behind me and I sense has brushed my rolling suitcase and the briefcase attached to it by a strap and clip. Looking down I see that the case with my laptop, camera, portable GPS, mobile phone, and noise-canceling headphones, is gone. Thirty feet away I spot it in the right hand of a tall man walking rapidly toward the exit. I run after him yelling, "Stop, you stole my briefcase." Without breaking stride, he dips his right shoulder and sets the case gently down. By the time I cover the remaining 15 feet to retrieve it, both guys have melted away. Alerted by my shout, a few people have witnessed this little scene, but they all keep waking too. It is only then that we begin to notice the posted "Watch out for pickpockets" signs. From now on the briefcase strap is over my shoulder and the hanging bag, with just clothes, is attached to the rolling suitcase. It happens fast, and you simply aren't ready for it—especially when, all in the same day you've flown 10 hours from San Francisco to London, taken a train from Heathrow to Paddington Station, a taxi from there to St. Pancras Station and then waited three hours to make the two-hour Eurostar run to Brussels.

Brussels Pickpockets, Part II

Fast forward to a busy street in Brussels, the morning after our pickpocket experience in the rail station. Trying to figure out something on my new mobile phone, I stop for a couple of minutes in the middle of the sidewalk. Liz waits patiently. From here on, it's her story as I am totally engrossed in the phone. A young man walks by, stops about 15 feet away, then pauses to look back at us. His gaze, says Liz, is concentrated on the back pockets of my blue jeans (had to be my wallet). He lifts his eyes, they meet hers and he hurries on. Throughout the remainder of day and evening we walk the city's streets, wide and narrow; everywhere we see hundreds of young men with that same "lean and hungry" look. All items of value are now kept in zipped pockets.

A Final Brussels Street Scene

Two night later, as we turn down a rather dimly-lit, rather narrow street—no more than a block from our hotel, the Marriot—on our way to dinner at about 8:45pm, we hear shouts. Ahead about 25 yards two men are squared off to fight in the middle of street. Strung out along the sidewalks are perhaps a dozen others; bystanders or participants, we can't tell. Seconds later a police car, blue lights flashing, pulls up. A lone officer emerges quickly, shouts at the fighters and emphatically gestures them to face the wall of a building. They respond verbally and with gestures but do not move. Instantly the policeman turns to the rear of his vehicle and uncages a big dog. There is more shouting, and soon more sirens. In the meantime, we have crossed the street and passed the fracas. As we do, we can see the anger on the faces of those not directly involved (at the cops? at the fighters?). Less than a minute after the first police car arrives, there are more sirens, more blue lights, more shouts, and a dog barks. Just then we turn into our destination street where all is calm. In the 24 hours since our arrival we have had more excitement than in all our previous visits to Europe.