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How I became Europe's Biggest Loser

It began in Slovenia. 

I was traveling through the Balkans with a school group as part of a “study tour” for one of my classes. We were scheduled to depart for Sarajevo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that morning. 

I woke up early and walked to the nearby post office to mail a package, but confusion caused by the language barrier meant it took longer than I anticipated—I sprinted back to the hotel just in time to make the bus, only to realize I’d left my wallet at the post office. 

My professor held the bus as I raced back and forth once more and collapsed into my seat. I fell asleep and woke up two hours later, just as we were approaching the Croatian border. 

I reached for my phone to check the time, but my coat pockets were devoid of any phone—so were my jeans pockets, my purse and my backpack.

By the time we stopped for lunch, I’d come to terms with the fact that it was gone.

I figured I would just have to buy a new one, and in the meantime I would use the cheap and barely-functional Android every Miami student received upon their arrival in Luxembourg. 

It could call, text and access Google Maps; that would get me through the next couple of weeks.

“You’re very calm about this,” one of my classmates remarked, but mentally I was hitting my head against a wall.

We arrived in Sarajevo late that night, and the next morning, I checked Facebook on my laptop to find a woman back in Ljubljana had found my phone and, using the Miami ID tucked into the card holder on the back, looked me up on Facebook to let me know. 

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Excitedly, I messaged her my address in Luxembourg. Moments later, she replied that she had given it to the police. We were traveling with a local tour guide, who told me she would be able to pick it up for me when she returned to Slovenia. 

Effusively grateful, I considered the problem solved.

The next day, the study tour ended, and our week-long break began, and my group was headed to Rome. 

Sitting in the tiny airport’s café, we waited for check-in time. When the time came, we got in line at the front desk, and I rummaged in my pockets for my backup phone. 

I came up empty—and it wasn’t in my purse, or my backpack, or my carry-on.

“Don’t tell anyone else this,” I said to my friend Brooke, “But I’m going to go look for my phone.”

“Julia, no,” she said, exasperated, but I was already gone. 

It wasn’t on our café table, and our waiter hadn’t seen it. The information desk sent me to the lost and found, who sent me to airport security, who took me into an airline’s office to translate, who called the local police to report a stolen phone, though I insisted I could’ve just lost it and just wanted to know if anyone had found it.

My friends were through security by this point and were watching with increased anxiety as the security line grew longer. 

Brooke explained the situation, and one of my other friends convinced an employee to take him to search the lobby for me. While he searched, I was upstairs, being ferried from office to office, and he returned to the gate empty-handed.

“I didn’t find her,” he said.

“What do you mean, you didn’t find her,” Brooke said, starting to panic. 

“Don’t worry,” he replied. “There’s no way she left this airport.”

At that point, I was leaving the airport.

I filed the first police report of my life in a small, dimly-lit room where the chatty officer translated my situation to two older officers smoking cigarettes while I kept a nervous eye on the clock.

Finally, the officer walked me back into the airport and deposited me in the security line. Feeling thoroughly downtrodden, I trudged slowly thinking of how stupid I was to lose two phones in as many days, when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Is that your friend?” a man ahead of me asked, pointing to the other side of security. 

I did indeed see one of my friends, waving at me and pointing at something in her hand: my phone.

She’d accidentally picked it up off the table of the café and put it in her purse, and hadn’t realized until she’d gotten through security. Since she had no way of contacting me, we had been trapped for the past hour and a half in a dramatically ironic comedy of Shakespearean proportions.

My group then went from Rome to Florence to Cinque Terre; it was on the train to the latter where we got off in a hurry, one stop earlier than anticipated in the little town of Corniglia. 

The owner of the Airbnb we were staying in drove us to the mountaintop villa, a kilometer from the nearest village in either direction along the coast. The villa’s terrace had a stunning view of the mountain greenery and the Mediterranean Sea far below. 

I reached for my phone to take a picture.

It wasn’t in my pocket. 

And of course, it wasn’t in any of my bags. I realized with deepening despair that I must have left it on the seat of the train. By this point, my friends had more or less run out of pity for me. 

To be honest, so had I.

I brooded over the utter joke my life had become. Clearly my phones and I were not destined to be together. 

I tried to see if I could track my backup phone and, shockingly, was actually able to get a spotty signal: it was in the train station of Monterosso, two towns over.

But, I had no way of getting there that night, and we were leaving early the next morning. The only way I could retrieve it would be to get up at dawn, hike into Vernazza and take the train (without a ticket) into Monterosso—with no way of telling time or contacting the others once I left. 

If all went seamlessly, I would make it back to Corniglia in time to meet the others and catch our train to Venice. If anything went wrong, I would be royally screwed. 

The risks out-weighed the benefits, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the phone behind when I knew exactly where it was.

So, the next morning, I set off on the narrow mountainside path. 

When I arrived in Monterosso, the man in the station told me that the worker who found my phone would not be in for two hours—luckily, I had the time to spare. 

I caught the employee who had my phone on his way in the door of the station, retrieved it and hopped ticketless back on the train to Corniglia just in time.

About a week later, back in Luxembourg, a package came from Slovenia: my original phone, returned to me at last. Not for the first time (and not for the last), the things I’d lost had all come back to me through a combination of the kindness of strangers, my own stubborn persistence and sheer, dumb luck.

Telling the story to friends and family over and over again, I couldn’t help but feel like there was a metaphor in there somewhere, but we were all too busy laughing to find it.

@ArwineJulia

arwinejk@miamioh.edu 

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