That Time We Almost Got Scammed in Krakow, Poland
After landing at the airport in Krakow from Paris, we took the public bus to the city center to save money over a taxi. When we were only two stops from getting off, a “ticket controller” dressed in plain clothes came on board—badge, scanner and all. That’s when things got a little dicey. You see, not understanding Polish, Justin inadvertently purchased a singled round-trip ticket instead of two one-way tickets from the vending machine. We were escorted off the bus by the “controller” where he signaled his English-speaking companion over.
We were to pay a fine of about $40 U.S. on the spot for our mistake. Justin, angry because we clearly weren’t trying to cheat the system and paid the equivalent amount, refused and said we wanted to go to their office. When they insisted that was not possible because “foreigners are required to pay the fine immediately,” Justin stormed off. Minh, who’s much more compliant and hates getting into trouble, felt conflicted and reluctantly stayed behind with the two men. This forced Justin to come back to exchange more heated words when he proclaimed we would wait for the police. And wait we did.
After over a half hour lost in arguments and holding out for the authorities, the men mysteriously left our sights. A little confused, we decided to slowly start drifting away—first hovering around the bus station entrance, then working our way into the nearby shops inside the station and farther away. As soon as we turned a corner, though, we found ourselves in a busy mall where we booked it through to the opposite end as fast as possible, a la Jack Bauer in 24. Free at last!
We recognize in hindsight that we purchased the wrong tickets, but had these been legitimate ticket controllers, they probably wouldn’t have left us when they realized we would not pay any fine without first talking to the police. Or deny the existence of an official office. Or say they were authorized to use force against us. Or that the police would charge us an additional fine to talk to them. Since we also refused to hand over identification, these likely scam artists didn’t have anything to hold hostage, allowing us to make our escape when the opportunity presented itself.
Lesson of the day: NEVER BLINDLY FORK ANYTHING OVER TO STRANGERS OFF THE STREET. We would have paid the fine because we admit we were in the wrong but ONLY in the proper facility.
You’d think this unnerving first impression would have turned us off from Krakow, but quite the contrary: we found love as soon as our heartbeats settled and we stepped into the quaint and colorful Old Town. Our stay in Krakow was otherwise filled with sunny days, beautiful sights and delicious food. Being out of Western Europe again, we got to enjoy life at a more affordable price point, which meant cappuccinos as we pleased and a pitcher of sangria with dinner. Next time we return, though, we’ll be sure to brush up on our Polish (particularly the words for “round-trip” and “one-way”).