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Assault is bad end to a great trip to Italy using Rick Steves' advice

We used Rick Steves' Italy travel guide and this website to plan our trip to Venice/Florence/Sienna/Assisi and Rome. we even followed the travel book's suggestion to tear out the sections for the places we would visit. That was a great idea but we missed having the rest of the book for the last minute additions. Hopefully we will have time to write about all the great things that came from the trip, but this section is about security, although I would not call it a "scam".

We were warned numerous times about pick pockets in Italy, especially Rome. So we were prepared for that but not what happened. We arrived in Rome for our last stop at the Termini station at 7:30pm. Our hotel, the Boscolo Exedra Roma, was only 3 short blocks so we walked pulling our one small roller bag each. Half a block from the Piazza della Repubblica which the hotel fronts, a man on a motorcycle cut onto the sidewalk in front of my wife (I was walking behind her), grabbed the strap on her purse and accelerated away. To prevent pickpockets, the strap was crossed over her chest and it was a sturdy purse so it did not come free. The result was that she was forcefully pulled to the rough pavement hitting head first. She suffered a concussion and numerous fractures in her face and left hand. She had to be transported to the trauma center for CT scans, a cast, bandaging, and extended observation. We did not lose any possessions, but we would gladly have given them up to avoid these consequences which are still lingering several weeks later.

After the incident, the police, the hotel staff, and the hospital were very helpful and solicitous. The policeman who stayed with me for several hours recommended to not carry a purse in Rome. In hindsight, it would be better to transport the purse in the suitcase.

Posted by
10892 posts

We've had some interesting situation as well and the best I can say is that you discover that most people, in most places around the world are caring and loving.

Posted by
1068 posts

Sorry to hear that. My cousin had that happen to her in Philadelphia (where I and my family originate!) and it was a mess. I am glad the injuries were not worse and thank you for reporting it here.

Posted by
1159 posts

I am so so sorry for what happened to your wife and you. That is the most awful thing to happen. I have been to Europe a number of times and to Rome several times and as a solo female traveler it is my concern for safety. I am happy to hear that the police, hotel staff and hospital were helpful and solicitous. That is very good to know that they did their jobs and were caring. I do hope that your wife will be ok and that she is recovering.

Posted by
7126 posts

That is so awful. I'm so sorry that happened to your wife. Thank you for the warning.

Posted by
5397 posts

Oh my. I am so sorry your wife was hurt like that and that you were both traumatized. What an awful thing to happen!!!! What is wrong with people these days?!!!

Posted by
977 posts

Unfortunately this type of 'hit and run bag snatch' on motor bikes/scooters has been happening in Rome for a long time. One of our travelling group back in 1995 was targeted the same way.

Posted by
11613 posts

So sorry this happened. It's something I remember as far back as the 1960s, infrequent occurrences but horrible to experience.

Posted by
95 posts

Hope your wife is recuperating and hope that this occurence will not hinder her from further travels.

You do not mention what month this happened, but I want to share a suggestion if travelling in cooler months. We were in Rome Feb 2014, and there was a RS travel alumni in the tour group. She carried a smaller (minimal type) purse and ALWAYS wore it inside her coat/jacket, so she looked like she did not have a purse at all. And her coat was black, so she did not stand out at all. Of all my RS tour travels, she is the only one who did this, and I thought it was a great idea, if weather was cooler and you wear a jacket/coat. It does not have to be a full length coat, even a longer jacket (maybe down to the thigh) as long as it can cover the small purse. And she wore the purse across her chest, too. She probably carried her transit tickets in her coat pocket (either inside or outside pocket), no water bottles, no umbrella, nothing in her hands. Very minimalist if you can travel like that. By the way, she was a solo traveler, so she did not have a partner to carry other stuff. Just a suggestion instead of not carrying a purse at all.

Posted by
3981 posts

Please don't let this horrible incident ruin the idea of travel for you. We are looking forward to your trip report.

I had heard that this was a big problem in Naples; didn't know it was going on in Rome, as well.

One more tip for purse carriers: I carry a small cross-body guide bag, but drape it so the bag itself is on the hip away from the street side, but on the front of my body. The only time I've ever had my pocket (well, my bag) picked, I was letting the bag bounce on my backside. I don't do that anymore. In crowded markets, I keep my hand on the top of the bag as well, sometimes with my fingers laced through the belt loops on the bag. (I realize, after reading your report, that this could result in broken or dislocated fingers. But so far, so good.)

Posted by
2070 posts

Thanks for posting. I had never thought of this and will keep it in mind on future trips. Of course, there is no way to remove all risks in a trip, but the more you know the better. As long as you don't become paranoid! I hope your wife heals completely. Such an unfortunate incident.

Posted by
963 posts

OMG I am so sorry this happened to you!! I have read over and over "the pickpockets are not violent, they just want your wallet, don't feel threatened". I guess another precaution we can take is to walk behind another person when approaching an intersection. But I found that in Rome often times the sidewalk is no different from the street and the designated walking areas make it so that you have to walk single file. When my husband and I walk he never wants me to walk behind him, always in front where he can see me and because I am the navigator with the GPS guiding our way and he is the "aware" one. I like the idea of carrying your purse under your jacket, I often do this is cold weather but this also makes a tangles mess when you need to take your purse off. My cross body purse is black, my tops are usually black so hopefully the fact that I have a purse is less obvious? Who knows. I hope your wife is feeling better and can get over the trauma of it all

Posted by
7633 posts

I also am so sorry this happened to you all. I appreciate your posting and also appreciate the other comments. I probably would not think of keeping my purse positioned away from the street side as I would just unconsciously have it cross body to the left side.

I did use an Eddie Bauer Travex cross body wallet this last Fall and it worked great. I was in UK and France and on days where it was rainy I just had it under my rain coat so I didn't get a purse wet. I initially bought it to wear on the plane under my cardigan on the overnight flight as I am a solo traveler. It's big enough for passport (if not in my money belt), iPhone6, credit/debit card, money, chapstick and Kleenex...all the essentials, lol!

Best wishes to your wife for continued healing.

Posted by
2089 posts

I'm so sorry this happened and hope your wife is improving. This just adds to my general paranoia as I travel solo and take precautions but it seems you can't predict every possible way thieves will try to get your stuff. I agree with Jane's post--I make a point to wear my cross-body on the side away from the street and usually rest my hand on it, especially in a crowd--not clutching, which is a dead giveaway, just resting.

Posted by
20598 posts

That was unfortunate. One of the negative comments on PacSafe bags has been the issue you described. And another good reason to only use money belts and not carry anything loose on your body. My wife finally drifted away from carrying a purse or any type of shoulder bag. But whenever I posted the idea of not wearing a purse, I get beat up by couple of other posters that pursues are absolutely critical for a female's well being.

A side issue that would be very useful to other readers is how the medical costs were handled? Questions are often posted about supplement insurance, medical costs in Europe, etc., so your actual experience with the emergency care system could be a great benefit to his board since few travelers, fortunately, have any real experience in this area.

Posted by
544 posts

Thanks for sharing this terrible experience. Like Frank, I'm also interested in how medical treatment was handled. Did you need to pay for services?

Posted by
2 posts

To respond to a few of the questions:
1. the incident occurred Nov 6, 2015
2. Medical costs - we were not charged anything! Of course, since they had our passports for ID, I guess they could still send us a bill. My guess is they won't. It seemed as if in general, there was tremendous concern for bad publicity and I don't think they charge citizens anything. I imagine that if you just go to the hospital because you get sick, there will be a different approach.
3. The purse -- my wife was not "clutching" it but had it strapped from her left hip to her right shoulder with her left hand resting on the purse. The purse is robust and waterproof and she had carried it to many countries. From our dress and pulling bags (with spotters in the train station), we could probably be easily identified as tourists. Some of the suggestions for putting your purse under your coat would also seem to work, but having the strap exposed will, I think, always leave you vulnerable to this type of incident, although rare. We saw many women carrying purses in Rome, so this type of incident cannot be that common.

Posted by
30932 posts

delgado,

Sorry to hear about the traumatic experience you had in Rome. Hopefully your wife is recovering well. It's been quite awhile since I've heard any incidents of the "Vespa bandits", but it's not surprising that they're still operating. Your post is a good reminder!

Posted by
5486 posts

Thank you for sharing. Wishing a speedy recovery for your wife.

I use to hear more about the Vespa purse snatching mentioned by Ken. Based on your experience it must be coming back.

In place of steel cabled reinforced straps, perhaps breakaway straps would be safer.

Posted by
285 posts

I frequently use the purse under coat "trick" mentioned above. As I usually travel to Europe in the fall months (less expensive and less crowded) I am usually always wearing at least a light jacket or a heavy cardigan sweater to stash my purse under.

Posted by
1038 posts

Edgar saying "break away straps" makes me think of the kind of lanyards for our ID badges the staff who worked in the emergency room were mandated to wear for our safety. sigh and this was in a relatively small community in Illinois. I share that just to remind us that there are a few violent folk everywhere

Posted by
4684 posts

I agree with the last few posts about the steel-cable purse straps that are, alas, frequently recommended on this board!

I have always assumed that breakaway ID lanyards were for protection from machinery, like gurneys, elevator doors, and MRI sliders. But I suppose they could be pulled on by a patient or agitated family member or intruder in a hospital.

That brings up the issue of whether neck pouches for passports are also a bad idea. I wouldn't want a breakaway device that is loose (they often are) to endanger my passport without even being assaulted.

Posted by
10892 posts

The lanyard mfgs, and mini-blind mfgs are avoiding lawsuits my making the cords breakaway. The hospitals risk manager is also probably requiring the same. Silly in most instances. My pouch has a steel cable, not that I think I need it, just that the pouch was the perfect size for how I use it.

Posted by
208 posts

I am so sorry to hear this happened. That is a real eye-opener.

Please note, that nowhere did the OP say that the purse had a cable-reinforced strap. I believe that the seriousness of his wife's injuries would have occurred irrespective of the type of strap. It was more a function of the degree of force that was used.

Also, I think this kind of crime (vespa bandits) is something to be watchful for in regard to whether it is on the rise, or pretty rare. I would say that the vast majority of the purse-snatching and pick-pocketing occurs with the culprit on foot. I know that my friend had her cross-body purse strap cut behind her back in a crowd (Trevi Fountain), but her purse was in front, so she simply caught it, saving it.

My husband (in Rome) had a hand slip in and out of his front (wallet-less) pocket by a well-dressed woman who brusquely walked between us (passing us from our rear to ahead of us), while saying "excuse me, sir" as she slightly bumped us. This was on a street in the evening (after dinner) with NO crowds around.

I think that the odds are, the cable-reinforced straps will keep you out of more trouble than an "easy-break" style of strap. The best idea, though, is to have it completely concealed so it can't be accessed by anyone.

I hate that we have to spend so much energy concerning ourselves with these details. It's so unfortunate.

Posted by
62 posts

My wife and I just returned from Italy, including the RS Heart of Italy. While walking home from dinner in Rome about 10:30 pm, about to catch a bus at Largo Argentina, a very public and well lit square, a Vespa rode up on the sidewalk between us and a building and the passenger grabbed my wife's backpack. My wife held on and was dragged about 10 feet, rolling in the process. They did not get her backpack, but she did injure her shoulder.

We were immediately helped by locals. One off duty medical worker actually had a blood pressure cuff and heart rate monitor. They called an ambulance that very quickly took us to a nearby clinic. After an x-ray we were told she suffered a hairline fracture in her shoulder and that she needed to keep it immobilized for a couple of weeks. We were not charged one Euro-cent.

As far as safety, my wife did not carry a purse. Our passports, money, and credit cards were in a neck safe tightly jammed into my front pocket and was also tied to my belt (I don't like money belts). We were using small packable daypacks for our camera, water bottles, jackets, and souvenirs. She happened to have it on one shoulder at the time. We were in a well lit public area. We are always very situationally aware. After 21 trips abroad this is the first time something like this has happened.

The good news is that it could have been a lot worse. My wife did not suffer a head injury or a major broken bone and we continued to enjoy our vacation. Our RS guide and co-travelers were very helpful when we needed it. The only things I think I'd change in the future is to always have our backpack on both shoulders instead of one, and rethinking what was in our bag. My wife's phone was in the bag, and in retrospect, she didn't need it. Definitely don't put your documents in it. One local suggested it was our documents the thieves were after.

Posted by
10892 posts

Sorry to hear that Mike. Some of the old classic tourist locals have developed a sub culture that preys on tourists. But you were still much safer than being on the San Antonio River Walk.

Posted by
62 posts

James E. -- I do have to correct you on the San Antonio River Walk. It's one of the safest places to be in the world. And we just extended it upstream to our San Antonio Museum of Art and downstream to connect our 5 Spanish Missions. Anyone who thinks the Riverwalk is unsafe hasn't been there since they were a serviceman in the '60's.

Posted by
10892 posts

Europe is safer than the US. At least in Europe you don't have to worry about getting shot.

Posted by
813 posts

I don't worry about getting shot in the US. It is no more likely in most places I spend my time than in Europe. I feel very safe in Europe, but the idea that you are likely to get shot just walking around most places in the US is not accurate.

Posted by
4684 posts

Karen, your statement is fair. But we're talking about relative risks. There are states, like Colorado, where the number of gun deaths and the number of auto deaths are of similar magnitudes. The fact that most people believe their superb driving skills will save their lives inside their mighty SUV doesn't represent reality either. I should also admit that gun deaths is a figure that normally includes suicides. But, I know a family whose 13-year old son killed himself with a friend's parent's gun after they moved to Texas from Massachusetts. A gun death is a gun death.

Posted by
10892 posts

And Karen, since you are presumably enjoying your trip in Europe you are much less likely to use a gun to commit suacide while in Europe, making Europe substaintaly safer for you than being home in the US.

And now in the next post down KC will hit the nail right on the head. Absolutely correct!

Posted by
516 posts

Ultimately, the Europe vs U.S. safety argument would also depend on the individual and their place of residence and lifestyle/exposure. For someone in the States that is living on a rural farm somewhere, that never goes into the big cities, but travels a lot in large European cities, the situation would probably be reversed, their exposure to theft and other dangers is far greater while traveling than when they're at home.

Posted by
5397 posts

Scott -- Sorry that your wife (and you) experienced that kind of treatment. I'm glad that people were willing to help and that she is okay.

Posted by
10892 posts

Kim, thank you for the reminder that even in the worst circumstances humanity prevails. With such truth lies hope.