As we prepared for our trip to Italy there was almost uniformly a two part response from friends.
Part 1. "How wonderful...you will so enjoy it...don't miss X, Y, Z..."
Part 2. "....but watch out for the gypsies...."
And then some tale of woe would ensue of them or someone they know being scammed, bamboozled, pick-pocketed, or in other way shapes or forms robbed blind on their vacation. I found myself, a person who typically ignores the email warning about rapes in parking lots, and new phishing internet scams, and directions to shred all my important identification, becoming quite paranoid about it all. I determined to leave my favorite "fit it all" bag at home because it didn't have a zipper enclosure, and because it couldn't be worn with a strap across the body. I toyed with getting us both money belts, but settled instead on a passport carrier and an inexpensive multi-pocketed messenger bag with a long cross-body strap (you'll see me wearing that in about every picture).
Contrary to all the warnings, however, we found 99% of the places we went to felt very safe and secure (perhaps to our own naivete or luck) and I soon loosed the death grip on my bag and Hubby's camera equipment. We did, however, have a couple of rather conniving individuals take us for what we were...happy travelers...too happy to fight them for justice.
The first came almost immediately in our first hour of Rome. Hubby was busily snapping the first of his 1200+ photos as our driver/tour guide waited at the top of the Spanish Steps. Such a beautiful day, we were all thrilled to be there and I wandered a little away from Hubby to view the many gorgeous patio spaces that overlooked the steep rise of steps. When I turned back around I noticed Hubby in rather close proximity to a swarthy gentleman who had been hawking wares in the square. I then noticed Hubby reaching in his pocket and giving the man 5 euros...why? Well not for any rare keepsake, but because the man had grasped Hubby's wrist and tied a half completed string bracelet onto his wrist and then insisted on payment.
Hubby was just too nice to argue...and after laughing "with" him (he was less than amused at first...) over the fiasco...less than one hour out of the airport...I was glad he hadn't. I was sure it would have been contentious and drawn a crowd, and after all, now we have our own gypsy tale to warn future travelers about. By the time we sat at our first meal in Italy a short time later, he was finally laughing as he sawed away at the strings.
Our second chance to be fingered as marks came from a cab driver. To be honest, since we walked so much and cabbed so little, I'm trying to remember exactly where we were taking the cab to/from...but regardless, Laura handed a 20 Euro bill to John (seated in front) for the fare. When we stopped, the fare was about 15 or 16 Euros so John handed the driver a bill. The driver then insisted that John had only handed him a 5 and gave it back requesting full payment....as we exited the cab we realized he had palmed the 20 and that none of us had really been sure enough that the bill John handed over was the 20 Laura had passed forward to argue it....another lesson learned. And again, good moods prevailed and we shrugged it off as a necessary tax on our trip.
Our last encounter was at the only point of stress in our trip. And here I have a word of warning not about gypsies but about bureaucrats. Our first rail trip from Rome to Florence was a bit rushed....some car service issues, some traffic, and some confusion on our part on the procedure. Needless to say, if you purchase the Eurrail pass, just know one thing the website, the packet, and the paperwork does not tell you. You must get to the train station a good hour or more before your FIRST train trip because you must go get on line at the ticket window ... a very long line... just for them to rubber stamp the date on the paper. By the time we realized this our train was about to leave the station. A local gentleman seemed to read the panic on our faces as we stood at the end of the track and encouraged us to follow him. Having already dealt with two gypsy scams...we were quite skeptical. I can still hear Laura's voice ringing in my ear, "I am NOT going to follow this guy...we don't know where he is taking us..." but our semi-trusting natures were still in force, so we held firmly to our bags, luggage, and money and followed him quickly up the platform. Where the man, ever so kindly, managed to explain the situation to the conductor, get us on the right train and the right car of the train, and happily go his way never having asked anything of us. He only said, "Prego, Buon Viaggio".
So fellow travelers to Italy, my lesson is this. Experience the place you go to with all of its quirks, its seedy underbellies, as well as its incredible beauty and grace. Don't be foolish, but don't be afraid either. Let yourself be a fellow human. Maybe you'll take home a few less euros and a few rueful laughs. But you may also allow yourself to meet a kind stranger at the train station.
"Grazie Amico Mio", you can say.
"Prego. Buon Viaggio." will be the reply.