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Losing Your Sh*t in Switzerland: My Experience With SBB Lost and Found

This is the story of what I lost and found in Switzerland, how SBB handled it and what I learned from my experience.

Start from the beginning.

About a month before we left for Switzerland, I bought a Sony Alpha a6000. I know, not top of the line, but it is the kind of camera that feels like my first “real” camera. I bought it because I love photography and we were planning a trip to Switzerland that I knew had to be documented well enough for a few pics for my wall. After using the camera for a few weeks, I decided I was breaking up with my cell phone camera in favor of the real thing. I was so excited to take it to Switzerland.

How was the camera working out?

In the first few days in Switzerland, I had already taken hundreds of pictures in Lucerne. I uploaded those pictures and was so happy with the result from the camera. We left Lucerne and made our way down the Golden Pass to Interlaken, where we were setting up camp for a week. This train trip is beautiful. Neal and I took picture after picture out the window.

When we rolled into Lauterbrunnen, our mouths dropped. It.is.gorgeous. I must have taken a thousand pictures of the waterfalls, the mountains, the cute adorable houses up on stilts. The lakes, the castles, gondola rides. I shot everything. My 128GB stick was bound to fill up.

But we had no charging mechanism at the AirBnB–Switzerland has a different plug than Europe, and I had failed to get an adapter. With no charger, my computer was dead and I couldn’t upload the pictures. I knew that once we got to Montreux there had to be a workable plug or at least a store that actually sold adapters.

We ended up finding an adapter on our last day in Lauterbrunnen. I thought to myself, I should upload the pics from the camera. But I hemmed and hawed and vowed to do it in Montreux instead. We got up on the day we left Lauterbrunnen so excited for what else was to come. I took a few last shots of the waterfall in town and we boarded the train. It was going to be a long trip: the train to Interlaken, then to Visp, then to Montreux. More than a couple hours of travel ahead of us.

How was the train ride?

The train to Visp wasn’t as interesting as the Golden Pass. Or, rather, we had taken most of the same train trip the day before going to Kandersteg. I didn’t take a lot of pictures, but I kept the camera fastened tightly around my neck. When we boarded the train to Montreux, we settled in for the hour and a half it would take to get there. I was sitting in the sun and it was the hottest week Europe had seen in decades. The camera strap was itching to get off my neck. I took it off and put it on the little table at our seat. All good, only 45 minutes left to go.

When the seat across the aisle went vacant, I longed to be in the shade. We decided to make the move to get out of the sun. No problem, I grabbed my camera and put it on that seat’s table instead. Neal got our bags and switched everything over.

Finally, we were in Montreux! We could tell just coming into the train station that it would be beautiful there. Neal grabbed our bags and I grabbed the camera. He asked me to put our books away, so I set the camera on the chair and, without thinking, we put the bag on the chair as well. Or maybe I put it back on the table and placed the bag on the chair. I’ll never know.

I put the books in the bag and felt great. We strapped the bags to our back and waited in the entryway to get off the train. Our lovely hotel was less than ten minutes away. I fired up Google maps and off we went.

Then what happened?

Not ten seconds after stepping off the train, I realized what I had done: I left the camera somewhere on that train. I asked Neal, knowing he didn’t, Do you have the camera? My heart sank. His eyes grew. I reached my hand out as the train rolled out of the station.

So what did you do?

The first thought we had? Maybe we can catch up to the train. If we run, if we catch a faster train, if we find a taxi?? Such a silly thought but the stress of losing 4 days of pictures had our minds racing. I didn’t know what to do, so I started frantically googling. I stumbled quickly onto SBB’s lost and found website. As we continued to make our way to the hotel, I tried calling the number listed and couldn’t get anyone. It would connect and then drop immediately.

When we got to the hotel, Neal, bless his heart, started throwing up on the hotel staff that we lost our camera and needed to use the phone, before even telling them who we are and that we needed to check in. The hotel lady was actually extraordinarily unhelpful. She told me that if it didn’t work when I tried calling them, “there’s probably no one working to pick up the phone.” Uhhh. That wasn’t the issue, but I couldn’t press it. I had already filled out the SBB lost and found form and felt resigned to let that process work.

Was there any hope?

Well, the lost and found service has a very cool option of dropping your lost item off at a train station for you to pick up. I put Montreux thinking it’s only two stops away right now, maybe they can turn around! Dummy… Of course there is a process the lost item has to go through. There’s no one sitting at the lost and found website going “hey Montreux train, you’ve got a lost item, go back.” So when we left Montreux the next day, I updated the form to say we would be in Zermatt. It can’t possibly take more then 4 days, right? Right??

Of course, wrong. Zermatt came and went and I didn’t receive so much as an update from SBB. Worse, I was no longer able to modify my lost and found form to say where I would be next. When we got to St. Gallen, I decided to try harder to figure out how to call the number for lost and found. It turned out I wasn’t dialing it right. I was trying to figure out how to dial it internationally when I wasn’t international… So I just dialed the number as-is and it worked!

What did they say??

The woman on the phone told me my camera had been found!!! A huge sigh of relief. But then how to get it to me? She said it was sitting at the train station in Zermatt, hence why I could no longer change the station for pick up. Also, I had originally told them to text me updates. Another mistake. I should have said email. The woman on the phone changed my preference to email. She said there won’t be enough time to get the camera to me before I leave.

Pro tip: If you’re a week or so out from leaving, put the airport as the station to have the lost item dropped off at. That way you can pick it up on your way out of the country.

I had really been hanging on to some lost hope that I’d be able to resume taking beautiful camera shots of our vacation. We left Switzerland without the camera. A week went by and I had not heard anything. I started to think I should have taken the train to Zermatt and just got it before I left. My next thought was to try to find an email address I could write since international calls were now going to cost me $15. I ended up finding a general customer service email address: ticketshop@sbb.ch. They were extremely helpful! But then another week went by and I heard nothing…

Did they ever get in touch?

I was convinced they weren’t going to contact me without a lot of work on my end. So I decided to find a way to make an international call that wouldn’t cost me $15. I connected with a very friendly woman. She said that me reaching out to customer service actually complicated things because they created a new ticket for me. She corrected everything. Within 2 or 3 days after that, I got the email from the fundservice. They said that I needed to provide them with a copy of my passport and my credit card information and they would send the camera!

How much did it cost?

$100. It cost $100 for them to ship it to the states. But they shipped it FedEx international overnight! So two days after I paid, the camera was in my hands. The pictures uploading as I write this post.

How long did it all take?

I got my camera back after about a month of back and forth. Considering I thought I’d lost it forever, that’s not too bad. There were definitely ways I could have been reunited much earlier, but I didn’t know them at the time. I’m grateful no one stole the camera and that SBB has a system that actually gets lost items back to their owners.

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