Recently returned from a great trip to Italy. Has anyone else encountered clean, nicely dressed young women "assistants" helping people on or off trains in Florence ( even helping you find your seat on the train) ??? I am 60 & had a minor problem lifting bag onto the train when women we now believe were NOT train employees at all "helped" us. Then they demanded 2 Euros. Realized we'd been duped...but took us so by surprise that we paid--guess they jumped off before train departed????
They are not necessarily Roma people, but this assistance is frequently offered. The people do not represent themselves as train employees, you accepted their help (I've done it, too, traveling with a friend and her heavy luggage), so they provided a service and you accepted it. Frankly, in my friend's case, €2 was a bargain.
they are all over Italy. You got off cheap if they only demanded 2 euros.
Still have your wallet? You are lucky....
I'd gladly pay EU2 for help with my bags getting on and off trains! I don't care who they are as long as they didn'ta steal my walleT!
Why are you calling them gypsies? Did you ask them about their heritage?
At the start of our ride from Florence to Vernazza there were a couple local fellows hassling an American on the train before departure for a larger tip, having helped he and his wife with their bags. As George points out, he's lucky to have his wallet, as well, I suspect. As Michael suggests, they could be Italian's from the neighborhood, we don't know, do we?
Best advice is to refuse help and carry your own bags, after packing as lightly as possible.
2 euro!!!! last summer I tried, but couldn't, stop an American woman from accepting help with her bag. The man then demanded 15 euro. I had already moved down the aisle but came back when I heard him yelling at her - and taking her bags down. Guess he couldn't tell the difference between the Pillsbury Dough Boy and a Linebacker. He went running and almost fell off the train. Lucky for me? On the other hand, I've seen (many times) travellers just be nice and help each other get bags aboard. Amazing how quickly everybody got on the train, bags got put away, and we all settled in for a nice ride! Yep, just as helpful at the other end! God, I love to travel in Italy!!!
I've also encountered the "unofficial bag helpers" on occasion, the last time being at Napoli Centrale. He had somewhat of an "official" bearing and was dressed in such a way that it suggested a uniform. I generally refuse their help as I'm quite capable of hauling my own bags on and off trains, but on that occasion I relented. I can't remember how much I "donated" but it was only a few Euro. As a result of that one experience I'm now ruthless when it comes to "bag helpers", regardless of how forceful they are.
Another type of scam I've seen (last time at Milano Centrale) is the teenagers leaving a card on each seat with a "hard luck story", usually written in Italian. Just before the train departs, he runs through each car collecting the cards and any donations that are forthcoming. When he arrived at my seat, he didn't seem to understand the meaning of the word "NO", and kept repeating the word "money" with increasing volume and more of an "in your face" demeanor. When I started to get out of my seat, he got the message and made a very hasty departure.
Travel in Italy is always interesting.....
I posted this and did not intend to offend anyone. To me the term"gypsy" is not synonymous with the Roma people or any other ethnic group--rather only people who are here today and gone tomorrow. I received unsolicited help believing they were employees of the railroad and realized I'd been fooled. I was very lucky this person didn't take my luggage or wallet and only posted this to see if this was new trend so others could be forewarned.
@lisaew - What can we say? In all of your other postings, questions, and concerns we have constantly reassured you that you will be fine. You had stated that you have traveled in Europe before. Italy is not substantially different. However, if your bag is so heavy that you cannot conveniently handle the bag, then you need to rethink what is in the bag. That is simple. Over the years we have spent a month or more traveling in Italy and never had a problem. Take the reasonable precautions that you have been advised about in your other postings, you will be fine. STOP over thinking everything or else you will be nervous wreck - or stay home.
Remember, people seldom post (except in travel reports) about no problems. It is always the problems that get posted. The rants because someone got ripped off for 10 Euro. (NOT directed a lifesteem) We are in our 70s, have been traveling very regular for the past 18 years although first trip was 42 years ago. Have spent nearly a year in Europe during that time. Have spent about a month in Italy. Was in Italy twice last year. We have never had a single problem or even close with one exception and that was very minor. But I could get ripped off on the next trip. There is a potential for a few more problems but reasonable precautions with a little street smarts should carry the day. Stop worrying about it and do what you would normally do. But ditch the heavy suitcase.
Just a little addendum to this thread I started. I only wanted to know if my MINOR train incident was part of a pattern or a one time thing. My question was not a "rant." We (2 women ages 24 & 61) had ten joyous, amazing, safe days in Italy. My bag was not exceptionally heavy but at my age & little stature, it takes a little effort for me to climb the train steps with a bag. It was no big deal to have the "assistance" of a stranger who demanded a small amount of money--just curious if this has happened to others.
I'm in Florence now. Today I was struggling with the self service ticket dispenser, when a woman suddenly appeared and showed me how to do it. After receiving the ticket, I gratefully thanked her and walked away. She followed me and when I turned around, she was holding out a hand for money. Since I did receive a helpful service, I gave her a few Euros. When she asked for more, I said BASTA. As long as everyone knows that the help you are receiving isn't being offered out of kindness. It is a business transaction. They see tourists struggling, offer help, expect to be paid. In the US, it's called a business opportunity.
I am sorry Lifesteem, the comment about a rant was not directed at you. That was a reasonable question. I was responding to the issues raised by lisaew. I have seen it both ways. Once in Rome at any out of the way Metro station the ticket machine had been so heavily used that you could not read the signs on the keys. For me it was anybodies guess as to which button to push. We are just standing there staring at the machine trying to figure out what to do next when a young lady came up and asked in Italian about Termini. We kind of nodded, she punch a few buttons, held up four figures and said Euro. Threw in four coins and out came two tickets. We thanked her and walked on. In Greece as we approached the ticket machine, saw a 10, 12 year old kid standing next to it. I knew what he want. I held up two finger. He quickly punch the buttons, a electronic sign displayed a number, threw the coins in, and out popped the tickets. He stood there with his palm and I put Euro coin in, and he said thank you in good English. And we walked on. Not everybody is out to rip you off.
I know it so easy to read all of these postings and assume that nothing good is going to happen if someone looks at you. I once offered to help an older woman to put a bag on the overhead rake and reached for her bag. She swing around so fast to put her body between me and her bag I decided she wasn't that old. Have no idea if she was an Am tourist or not but she wasn't going to let this old gray hair anywhere near her bag. So I sat down and let her struggle.
I'd like to add to Frank's reassurances regarding the safety of travelling in Italy. Don't cancel your trip as you'd be missing out on visiting a wonderful country (not to mention some great food and many significant historic sites).
"These people are highly educated, seasoned travelers so I hope you understand that I was taken aback by this."
The people you were speaking with may have been "highly educated, seasoned travelers", but I have to wonder how "seasoned" they are with travelling specifically in Italy. The bottom line is that no one can guarantee that you won't be victimized in some way during your time in Italy, but in all likelihood you'll have a wonderful and memorable trip. The same risks of petty theft exist in Paris, Prague and other cities in Europe. I've spoken with many young women who don't have your travel experience, and they don't have second thoughts about travelling solo all around Europe (including Italy). Take reasonable precautions but don't be overly concerned.
I'm 60+ and routinely travel both solo and with groups at times, and so far have not had any significant problems anywhere in Italy (north, south or Sicily).
If these comments are not sufficient to allay your fears of travelling solo in Italy, you could always sign up for one of the RS Italy tours. You'll gain travel skills and experience on the tour, and at the conclusion I'm sure you'll be more than comfortable travelling solo in Italy.
Lisa, read the Kindness of Strangers thread. You and I have exchanged numerous PMs about these issues. Many people on this board have given you reassurance and advice. Now it is your choice to go or not. If you go and decide to leave when your confidence wanes, you have that option.
I know this is lifesteem's thread, but I will address @lisa
With all due respect, the first thing you really must do is stop listening to or reading about all the negativity regarding Italy. I understand your concern(s), but you are worrying yourself sick and will not enjoy one of the most beautiful countries in the World. "Everyone" will have an opinion about this or that in the World. With that, comes the good and the bad. Weed out the bad. Please. And the media is notorious for their illustrious "reporting."
As an example, if travelers fretted over every single thing in the news or from what Uncle Joe told them, no one would ever travel. Have Faith - in yourself and what your beliefs are; not specifying a religion or anything. But, you get my point. Maybe watch RS' Italian vids, listen to his interviews with Alfio and Tommasso.
In discussing your travel plans with anyone - family, friend, "a stranger on the street," if they cannot wish you Buon Viaggio without sprinkling it with all the "bad" things they hear about Italy or Sicily, just excuse yourself and move on. People may mean well, but some do not know what they are talking about and do not know when to "zip it" - only because they "heard something from their postman whose second cousin went to Italy and had this or that happen."
As discussed often, since you are traveling solo, try to rethink what you are carrying with you. Many of us "have learned the hard way" so to speak, and it is especially prudent since you are traveling solo. You really do not want to weigh yourself down, get yourself tired and/or distracted with the "very heavy carry on."
Of course, you are free to choose, but I do believe you will do a disservice to yourself and to your travel if you cancel or cross off Italy on your itinerary. You are allowing people to wane on your self confidence; aiding to second-guess yourself.
You have stated more than once, you are a seasoned traveler but have not traveled in over a decade or so. Some things probably have changed since you traveled Internationally, sure, but in most cases, for the better. Being in your "50's" is not old. Do not sell yourself short or compare yourself to anyone else. Walk with a confidence, even if you do get a bit lost.
As many have suggested, if that happens, go into a hotel or a cafe to ask for some direction. I realize you gave your reasons, in another thread, for your carrying so many electronics, but, so many can be distracting and worrisome too. You can research what you want in your hotel room or in the hotel lounge, but keep it simple. If you are still unsure about the direction, because GPS or whatever site is not always correct, ask the hotel or B&B owner (wherever you are staying) to confirm your destination. When someone tells me directions or whatever, I look them in the eye when they speak to me, and I repeat back what they said so I have an understanding and, if possible, I write down some "bullets" to guide me too. That is a general rule, not just for Foreign travel. Jot down little notes in a pocket-sized notebook - like "a landmark near to where you want to go." You can easily eye scan your little paper notebook on the side of the piazza compared to pulling out an Ipad or electronic Notebook or whatever. I am not saying electronics are a bad thing. Secure your valuables, use common sense, but do not be too paranoid, it can have a reverse effect.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to think positive. Go out and about during the day and return to your hotel before darkness sets in if you feel that uncomfortable. In Italy and Sicily, there is a lot of "hustle bustle" from 7pm and on. But, if you do not want to do that, then enjoy Italy in the daylight as much as you can. When you return to your room or wherever you are staying, use the later evening hours to research your next day's plans in Italy.
I have read your other posts and want to jump on the bandwagon of everyone who is trying to reassure you here. People are much more likely to post long complaints than they are to post about a trip with no problems. Use common sense but theft is not a given when traveling to Italy. The people who are "warning" you...have they actually travelled solo to Italy before? My guess is that they have not. They know of a friend's cousin's neighbor who heard about something bad happening once in Italy. This website is full of people who travel solo to Italy who have been telling you not to worry. But like Frank said- you need to be able to manage your bags on your own. So if they are too heavy for you to pull on a train, repack. And if someone offers you help (and you don't need it) say no. If you do need it, have a couple extra euros handy to give them easily.
Any railway personnel will wear a uniform. Some stations have official porters who charge per bag. Others will also assist you for a price. Because a large train station can be crowded and confusing, be especially careful about pulling out your wallet there. A coin purse (you'll probably have a number of 1- and 2-euro coins) or wallet with just a few small bills can help you pay for necessities in the station.
We traveled from Naples to Rome on the train. We were approached by a man wearing a shop coat. We thought he worked for the train station. He asked to see our tickets, which we did, and left us. The announcements that were spoken over the loud speakers were in Italian. The man came back and grabbed out bags and ran to the train car. We ran after him. NOW were knew he was just trying to make a buck. My husband offered him 10 euros; he wanted more. We gave him 15 euros. At the time, it was scary.......
now we laugh about it. Yes, travel is an adventure and I LOVE it !!!
To REALLY get a feel for the trains in Rome: Go to roninrome.com This is by FAR the best, most inclusive website on any city I've ever seen. He has photos of the ticket kiosks, in full color along with detailed info on how to use them!
Things have changed in Europe since your last trip! Like you, I've given up a lot of daily pleasures and luxuries to afford to travel. My kitchen is badly in need of an update, LOL! The biggest change is the Shengen/EU situation. The borders are being crossed by EU members, some less desirable than others.
To the solo traveler asking about train announcements--there actually were some, in English, on our Trentitalia trains a couple of weeks ago. They also had a video screen occassionally showing scheduled stops. In both Venice and Florence our trains and gates were posted early, were correct, & were on time. This was a big difference from just 4 years ago when we had inconsistent train service while in Italy. The trains were cleaner than I'd ever seen them as well. There are only a few steps as you get on board but they are fairly steep & narrow.
You may find it helpful to watch THIS short video on how to use trains in Italy. It doesn't cover all the situations you were asking about, but it will give you some idea on how to use the Freccia high speed trains. Note that the premium trains have compulsory reservations which are specific to a train, date and departure time, and you can ONLY use the train listed on your ticket. If you're caught without valid reservations for the train you're riding on, you'll face hefty fines which will be collected on the spot!
With the Regionale trains (which don't have reservations or assigned seating), it's essential to validate your tickets prior to boarding the train on the day of travel. Failure to do so will most likely again result in hefty fines. Note that the tickets have a "shelf life" once validated, so can't be used all day.
Most trains in Italy have luggage racks at the end of each car for larger luggage items. It's NOT a good idea to place your bag there and then wander off to the dining car, as the bag may "disappear" while you're wining & dining. I've witnessed that in other countries, so this can happen anywhere. Smaller luggage items can go on the rack above your seat (a good reason to pack light, since you'll have to lift it up there) or on the floor beside you if the car is lightly loaded. Watch your luggage when on trains!
Most trains have a food cart, which goes through every car selling sandwiches, coffee and other small snacks. If I'll be on a longer trip, I always buy something from one of the many food vendors in the station, and take it on the train (the food is usually good quality). About the only thing I'll buy on the train is the over priced coffee which is not especially good (tastes like "instant" coffee which I despise).
Another reason to pack light is that if you have train changes, you'll likely have to go down stairs into a tunnel (sottopassagio) and then along a corridor and up more stairs to change platforms (there are rarely elevators). I've noticed recently that the validation machines are often in the tunnels now rather than on the platforms, so something to keep in mind.
Regarding finding the train number before you board, the newer Freccia trains often have a digital display in one of the side windows near the door. You can also check the electronic departure board which will show both the train number and the track / platform (binario) it will be departing from. Note that in some cases they don't post the information until about 20 minutes before departure. Don't completely trust the times or track information shown on the large paper charts in each station as especially in Italy, details can change on short notice. If in doubt, ask one of the conductors, who will usually be standing on the platform beside the train.
The larger stations will be busy and somewhat chaotic, so be sure to watch your luggage. Also note that many of the larger stations only have pay WC facilities so keep some small change at hand. It's the same in Switzerland and other countries, so not unique to Italy.
Finally, the "official" conductor / ticket agent will have a blue jacket and red tie, along with a brass name tag in all cases that I can recall. They will have some gear hanging off their belt, including an electronic ticket terminal and other paraphernalia. It's usually not too hard to spot the "official" person.
I forgot to mention that. Just to clarify, I've found that only the premium trains have food service.
*I am currently traveling in Italy solo for this part of my trip to celebrate my 70th birthday. I made the mistake of bringing way too much and ended up sending back about 10 pounds of unneeded clothing and a rather heavy hairdryer. In the first part of my trip my girlfriend's husband did the heavy lifting. I'm 5'3" and no weight lifter. I had both experiences, gracious male and female Italians who offered to lift a bag for me and a guy who helped with my bags when I was pretty tired as I boarded the train from Florence to Venice. I gave him 2 o 3€ with no ill will. In the States we tip a fellow $1 per bag to help us with our bag. It's expected. What's the difference? I always travel with awareness 360º. I also purchased a pacsafe product that makes me feel safe because there is a RFID Safe pocket for my passport and credit cards. No one can scan my passport or credit cards and steal my identity. It has wire in between the layers in the body of the bag and in the strap. I feel very safe knowing no one can slice through this bag. I don't worry about traveling by myself. I have not felt "alone." In fact, twice I have been greeted by 2 different Canadian couples I met along the way. Be aware of your surroundings, make friends along the way, and have a ball! There is such beauty every place you look, especially in the good will of Italians who appreciate your attempt to use their language. I have found they are most willing to help and provide direction. I have said many times... Buongiorno or buoa serra. Parla inglezi or dove e...even more than one times if my sense of their direction doesn't jive with my map.
Wow! People ask for money after helping with bags? Nobody ever asked me for money. I'm 68 and many times got caught in situations where I could Not manage my bags on Italy's trains. I never gave anybody money for helping. Nobody ever asked for money and I never thought of paying any of them and there have been a lot.
The guy at Vairano-Caianello who walked my 2 bags right across the tracks to the other platform.
The soldier on that train who took the bags off the train at Cassino, carried them up a thousand stairs to another track, and walked up and down the track line in weeds and gravel to find a guy willing to get my bags on and then off the train to Rome.
And that really young girl at Porto San Giorgio who grabbed my biggest and heaviest bag and carried it up a thousand steps, telling me to follow her with my smaller carryon bag, and to stop looking for a ramp 'cause there ain't No ramp.
And the Roman physician on the train to Ancona who got my bags up and down from the luggage shelf which is really quite high.
And the guy on the train from Napoli to Riardo who stored my bags on the train, and even got them off and stayed on the train.
And the guy on the train car steps in Ancona who reached down for my bags and then hauled me up like another piece of luggage.
OMG! How Blessed I was. I feel so bad now that I never offered money to any of them! Not a one hung around to collect. I am astounded at my good fortune, time after time. Im Not pushing my luck though, Im a one light bagger forever more. And thank you all of you for your great help, i would Not have made it without you.
We were helped with tickets by a guy in London and then he wanted money. Paid him. Never let that happen again.
I was helped in Belgium, but the woman didn't want anything. She had seen me struggling to go down stairs with big suitcase. Never took a big one after that! A 26".
Now I say no or ignore as if they don't exist.
New plan to offset travel expenses: stick paw out after helping people.
Would you get more for:
1- grabbing one end of stroller
2- shoulder-toting a kid up a long flight of stairs
Considering the thousands of dollars it costs to take a trip to Europe, is it really such a big deal if some poor bugger asks for a euro or two after assisting with your luggage? Poor people everywhere humble themselves to make a living.
Maybe the point of some comments is not so much not giving a couple Euro; it is that in their experiences, the 2 or 3 Euro seemed not enough for some who offered assistance. Some passengers reported heavy intimidation to give more.
I heard some where also that some of these helpers will help you to distract you while another person tries to get something else from you. So...I do not think it is being heartless to avoid these helpers.
Now I know why my offer of help to a woman traveling with a baby, stroller, and two large suitcases was rejected! And I wasn't planning to ask for any money either!
What is a "gypsy" train assistant? I have seen people offer to help with luggage but if they are not in uniform and don't say that they are employees, you can presume that they are self-employed people trying to make money by providing a service. Always ask anyone not in uniform if they are employees. If they hem and haw or won't answer, shoo them away and ask someone in uniform to help. They likely left you and looked for someone else needing help. The railway people know about them.
My wife and I encountered "assistants" in the Naples train station. He was a well dressed older man and had some kind of trenitalia logo on his knit vest. This was our first trip anywhere and of course we had overpacked. He took my wifes bag as soon as we stopped and took us through the station to the ticket counter for the Circumvesuvia. He ordered two tickets to Sorrento and put her very large bag on the next train. He then demanded 10 Euro. I paid. My wife had mixed feelings about this but if he werent there, we may have missed the next train and would have certainly been lost. Although on the way back through the station i declined "assistance". He was actually a lot of help.
Thank you, Derek, for a positive point of view on this. You and your wife were really helped by the man in the sweater and you paid him for his service. Where is the scam in this?
For me the bottom line is if you let people help you with honest or dishonest intentions.
But first if you want to help somebody who is poor or in trouble, and you know enough about the persons cirumstances where he lives in you can always help in some way or another at an equal basis, it’s totally free to do. If there is no doubt about integrity it’s a normal thing to do, so highly appreciated, doing a favore among fellow humans.
But in this case you can’t know it, you have to use your intuition to find out about the intentions. If there is some doubt about the “helpers” honesty just ignore them because they are the “friendly face” of a much bigger problem and that’s organized crime. So if you pay for that you do an investment in that and that’s a real bad investment, because it’s a huge social problem in many ways.
People like that are always on the outlook for vulnerable people, so they first help without permission and ask a fee afterwards, not directly a sign of an honest negotiation. You can ask help ofcourse if you agree a fee before the “service has delivered” and pay according what you agreed. Usual procedure on an equal basis most people do anywhere, anytime in the world. So why not in this case. Why not asking a fellow traveller to help, most will do and ask no money for it as it’s a gesture of politeness, gives more certainty.
To be more clear: Everybody can come in (financial) trouble and if help in some way or another really can solve the problem to bring somebody back on it’s feet again, that’s again really good. Again in this case you don’t really know it (give a few euro's to do the person a favour), there is to less information to know what is really going on. The only thing I can say is to be careful with this kind of “help” because of the above mentioned reason. It’s not to judge on somebodies social background, but to estimate his/her moral background and act accordingly.
A while ago James started a post about social responsability, I think this is a good example about social responsability, just be careful with who you deal with. If you get in a vulnerable situation rely on people you can trust and not who you are not real certain about, with possible risks (and become more vulnerable).
It’s also possible that the “helper” itself is a victim of organized crime, who is forced to do this kind of work. You can always decide to show interest, sometimes a little chat can be a welcome gesture, but you have to take time for that and possibly discover that behind the surface there is an honest nice person, but being in distress. To avoid a black&white opinion, every situation requires it’s own way to deal with and everybody is free to do how, but just don’t be naïve about it.
I'm stunned that anyone thinks 2 Euro is unreasonable for someone who helps with their bags. Anyone who has done the slightest homework about European train travel knows you have to manage your own luggage and that anyone offering to help you on board is not offering a free train service. Since these folks often pick your pocket, if they didn't this person got off lucky and shame on them for feeling they were ripped off to be expected to offer so little for this help. This is how many marginal people make a living.
The ones who aggressively grab the bags and demand huge tips are a real problem; some guy who hoists bags up steep train steps and stows them is well deserving of a couple Euros for the effort.
At the risk of not being PC, when you describe these young women as nicely dressed, what do you mean? Florence, and Milan each have a growing Roma population and it is easy to identify them because they have a distinct style of clothing. And, yes, they do beg and can be aggressive. But, wherever you travel, you have to be aware of theft, especially pickpocketing, and some of the pickpockets are very well dressed. I have visited Italy the last 3 years and have encountered these issues. I find a firm, "No" or "basta" (which means enough) will work. The train stations are especially risky because thieves are aware that people can be distracted as well as burdened by luggage. Whenever we are in the stations, we are particularly alert. In fact, on more than one occasion, when someone started walking too close to us as we got up, I just have looked right at them and said something. That has always worked-a thief is looking for someone who is distracted. As far as assistants, I have never seen any official luggage "helpers." As a rule, we pack as lightly as possible. I agree with many of the other comments; you are lucky you were not pickpocketed. And, after all. they did help with the luggage, and in America, you would tip for that service. But, overall, as many others have said, Italy is a beautiful, friendly country and most of the people are honest and helpful. Enjoy, and as you would wherever you travel, be aware.
just another way to get into your pockets "literally". My cousins were traveling in Rome and one of those people just so happened to "help" her board a train. Thats all it took to pickpocket her.
Anyhow, an amount not agreed to in advance is not a contract. I help a lot of people without expecting compensation. If they didn't say, "I'll help you with your bags for 2€, they were doing it "gratis", no compensation required.