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Under the Tuscan rain--with burglars!

Prior to our month-long trip to Paris, Tuscany (mostly), and Amsterdam, I received very helpful guidance from Rick’s Steve’s travel consultants. Upon arriving in Paris, we learned that the Seine was rising, and checked on our reservations through Get your Guide for a Seine cruise and a twilight guided tour of the Eiffel Tower. Cars had begun falling into the river and art was being removed from the Louvre by that time, so no cruise, and I was fortunate enough to locate the manager of the cruise company and with his name and information, obtain a refund from Get Your Guide. No such luck for the Tower tour, as we could not find the person we were supposed to meet in a remote location to obtain our voucher. Lesson learned: Make online reservations only through the site itself, not a separate booking agent.

In trying to depart blustery, rainy Paris, we could not make an online train reservation to Milan. After a taxi ride to Gare du Nord, we discovered that there was a train strike, so we were fortunately able to reserve an Easyjet flight to Milan.

Milan was rainy, but in between showers we took the Hop-on/Hop-off bus, walked a good bit, and enjoyed many beautiful, historic sights—Milan is underrated and highly recommended. We then took a train to the airport and picked up a car for the rest of our journey.

After a delightful tour around Lake Como, we stopped in Lugano, Switzerland and Paradise, a true Oasis worth the stop. Switzerland requires the purchase of a 40 Euro road pass “good for the entire year”—not a bargain for a short stop.

We then went on to Parma and Bologna (the cheese, the prosciutto!), and on to Tuscany.

We had rented three adjacent apartments in an Agriturismo in Incisa, Valdarno, about 16 kilometers south of Florence—a bit dated, and the owners and managers were most helpful and we settled in. We hardly used the pool, due to the incessant rain and chill during the first week. On the fifth night I woke up at 6 AM to a message from my daughter in law in the next apartment: “Don’t go out—someone in a black neoprene outfit and mask broke our lock and is fleeing from the area!” We discovered that all three on our front door locks had been broken, the screen to our bedroom was torn, 400 Euro was missing from my wallet which was inches from the bed, a precious ring was gone, and our friend in the third apartment had 700 Euro taken from his wallet.

It turns out that the message had been sent at 1 AM, and numerous people told us that bands of thieves from Eastern Europe watched travelers come and go, and enter bedrooms in the middle of the night and spray a sleeping agent in the room. After reviewing the night’s events, all of us from the three apartments put the pieces together and the local police came out, and we all felt that we could no longer be safe even in remote location with no security lights, alarms, gates, or windows. So we left for a nearby town where we had friends who owned a centrally-located family hotel. Lesson learned: Be certain that there is adequate security wherever you find lodging, no matter how bucolic or comfortable the setting.

Our friends who have run a family hotel and restaurant since 1906 in Impruneta, 10k south of Florence, were more than accommodating. We had stayed there twice before, and they immediately said, “Yes, come on over, we have three rooms waiting for you.” They not only helped us settle in, park our cars, but gave us great discounts, assistance in traveling throughout Chianti, space for our own items in the kitchen refrigerator, and personal service every evening in the terrace restaurant overlooking the region.

In all the places I’ve stayed in Europe, Impruneta is the best for the hotel/restaurant, family atmosphere, bus service to the central Florence train station every 30 minutes, and easy access to the A1 Autostrada and the Tuscan hill towns as well as to the rest of Europe.

Posted by
11613 posts

Parts of this trip report - the robbery - sound very familiar. Perhaps I am just having a deja vu moment.

Posted by
1568 posts

My thoughts exactly! This is the first post he or she has made on the forum, too. It was strange reading.

Posted by
2040 posts

These two stories seem so similar, and also in style. Both the only times these posters appear here. Both crimes with far-fetched M.O.'s. I wonder if there is any way we can find the police reports for verification...and why they thieves did not also take the phone.

Posted by
715 posts

......and what could possibly be the point of some random posting of what seems to be made up report. Exactly what does someone get out of this? Creative writing skills? They have it in for Italy and they are trying to discourage would be travelers? I just dont get it. I wish i had time to post things on travel boards, oh wait....

Posted by
1568 posts

Should it be reported? I am not as frequent a poster as others on the forum, what do you think?

Posted by
23550 posts

it was the wetsuit that got me. Neoprene = wetsuit, right?

Posted by
7173 posts

Yes, I read this a long time ago on Tripadvisor...

Posted by
11556 posts

Screens in Italy? That's a first for me, not that it couldn't happen, I guess. And full rubber suits? They would have fainted dead away from the heat.

Posted by
3 posts

Some of the responses to my report baffle me. I am a first time reporter to this blog, and love Rick's entire enterprise, and am enthralled with Italy; in fact, I am intending to apply for my Italian citizenship, based on my grandfather's home in Puglia. I have no acrimony toward anyone involved, except the burglars themselves.

The entire story reflects exactly what happened, and part of the burglars' actions confuse me as well. My intention has been to report a mixed, 30-day adventure, with perhaps a few helpful tips to future travelers.

Here are the rest of my comments that would not fit into the space:

From there we visited at least 18 local hill towns, including tiny Volpaia, one of our favorites. In the winery at Montepulciano we met the cellarmaster in Rick’s Hill Towns of Tuscany, who had never seen his photo in the book before, and he gave us big hugs and signed postcards for us. The new Antinori winery (also in the Napa Valley) is like a spaceship with a huge museum, and is well worth the trip to Badia.

We took the train to Venice for the day, and had a great time walking the tiny viales, and saw most of the Grand Canal by the Hop on/Hop off ferry (gondola rides are a ripoff, mostly run by major companies). We also took the train from Florence to Rome for the weekend, and stayed at the wonderful Hotel Italia, where Andrea accommodated us as previous guests and gave us a great discount. Another lesson learned: I booked tickets on Italo, without realizing there are two train lines (the other being TrenItalia), and boarded the latter train which departed at the same time as Italo. The conductor was not sympathetic, so we paid the on-board fare for new tickets to Rome. Driving later to La Spezia, we parked at the train station and took the local train to the Cinque Terre, stopping at Corniglia and Levanto. Do not attempt to drive directly to the hill towns there, as there is rarely any parking available.

On the way home we stopped in Amsterdam, which is not be missed. We stayed with our wonderful friends who took us on a tour of the canals and the wonderfully surprising streets and restaurants. The “coffee shops” (marijuana stores) are being downplayed by the Dutch as they don’t want them to be the most prominent sites. We were most fascinated by the proliferation of bikes (more bicycles than people) and the tawdriness of the Red Light District. My summation: Crass capitalism with human victims—no one looked happy there. A train trip to Delft showed us more Dutch history and culture in a quaint, quieter setting.

So channeling Rick, we truly believe that travel is always surprising, and well worth the effort. Rain, strikes, burglars, confusing train directions, second-party booking agents, and added fees at various points posed challenges, but flexibility of time, outlook, and humor are the ingredients to make travel cherished and memorable, and we’ll surely do it again soon.

Posted by
3 posts

I do have a copy of the police report, and photos of the broken locks and screens, but they did not locate the robbers to date, as far as I know. Thank you everyone for your comments, but I'm back to work and won't be replying to each one.

Posted by
11430 posts

It doesn't seem the RS travel service did you much service.. didn't they advice re booking train tickets and sightseeing tickets directly with supplier.. that's sort of travel 101..

PS .. I was in Paris june 2 to June 8th.. cars were not falling in the river inside Paris!! A bit of hyperbole perhaps..

Art was also NOT removed from the Louvre.. they simply as a precaution .. moved some exhibits that were in DEEP STORAGE vaults under the Louvre up into the main floors for a few days. The Louvre was never flooded nor likely to be.. just the lower vaults they worried about.

And sorry.. I don't think you were gassed.. but perhaps had sleeping drugs slipped in your food or drink.. you would have just assumed you were really tired after dinner and gone to bed.. to sleep as deep as possible. .and then robbed..

This post is a good lesson though.. use a hotel safe. and do not carry so much cash.. we limit it to about 3-400 max between two of us.. also I leave precious rings at home and just wear my wedding band.. and never take it off. It would really hurt to lose something with sentiment attached.
I can totally seeing moving into a hotel after that.. I would be too nervous to stay at that place.

Posted by
16769 posts

Are you saying that your rooms had no glass in the windows? I've only seen that at a few very cheap, warm-weather locations, one a camping cabin at Pompei and one each in Mexico and Turkey.

I'm also curious why you originally chose to stay at Incisa instead of 27 km away with your friends at Impruneta, since they had availability for at least part of your stay (maybe not all of it?).

The parallels with the earlier report in this forum are clear. Since we have not had any similar reports from our readers who communicate with us through other media, I can't consider it a widespread trend.

Posted by
4354 posts

If I had sent my in-laws a message (text? phone?) at 1:00 am - stating that the person in black was "fleeing from the area!" - but over the following 5 hours never quite managed to make it to their room in person, leaving it to them to happen across the message at 6:00 am...all I can say is my Christmas morning would have been quite bleak at their house that year :-(

Posted by
2353 posts

I just wanna know one thing:

Did the robbers have chickens?

Posted by
23550 posts

So if everybody was knocked out by so called sleeping gas how did one of the apartments have somebody able to send text messages? And instead of that wouldn't the phone have called 112 for the police? And then after being robbed and sending a text or two and not calling the police until 6 after the OP woke up (alarm clock) (or maybe the burglars left behind a cock to crow - that's them chickens again) they waited 5 hours to not check on their neighbors? And if there was no outside lighting at 1 am how did they see the wetsuits? Wetsuits?

Was it their dog left on the barstool?

Posted by
2040 posts

And with apologies to"Laugh-In" -Is this another chicken joke?

Posted by
12099 posts

I don't see how they got the cash out of the wallets. I would never have 400 Euro in the wallet...120 Euro at most. The rest of the cash is dispersed That's why you disperse your cash. How did the thieves enter the bedrooms? By jimmying the lock of the apt room door? That could be possible. That's why you bring along a door stop for such contingencies. I don't use the renting an apt option or airbnb option at all. If this story were to happen to me, it would have to take place in a small hotel.

How long were the effects of the spray?

Posted by
653 posts

I am a frequent reader reader on this forum and have benefitted in many ways from others who share their knowledge here. But I am a bit disappointed in a few of the responses. While the OP doesn't sound like the most experienced traveler and admittedly made some unwise choices, I know I have also made what I can only call "dumb mistakes" from time to time. However, I guess the point of sharing those mistakes is to help another inexperienced traveler to avoid them. I would hate to open myself up and then be made fun of. Some of the questioning (like why they chose to stay in an apartment vs a hotel room) doesn't even seem to be relevant. Space might be a simple answer. And in response to the other thread: after many comments, it seemed the community consensus was that no, that OP was not lying about theft, either. I have been with a travel group when a iPhone was stolen - carelessness on the part of the owner, but it really happened and certainly didn't make the trip more fun.

Posted by
8906 posts

In the words of John Ford: "When you have to choose between the truth and the legend, choose the legend"

Posted by
308 posts

I think someone has been smoking too much or inhaled a sleeping agent. lol If this has been posted before and the report sounds fishy why is it still up?

Posted by
2353 posts

I think someone has been smoking too much or inhaled a sleeping agent. lol If this has been posted before and the report sounds fishy why is it still up?

I think because it is informative & fun! 😈

Posted by
6045 posts

And also because it's technically not breaking any of the guideline rules. I agree that it's somewhat humorous.

Posted by
12099 posts

yes, read it and believe it , all of it , or don't.

Posted by
20625 posts

There has been a urban myth reported frequently about sleep cars being gassed by "eastern Europeans" gangs that then rob the entire car. The big problem is no one knows of a gas that will instantly knock out everyone. Remember the Russian hostage situation in a theater a few years ago. The Russian tried to inject a sleeping gas to knock out the terrorists - big failure. It didn't work. Again, the story has a familiar ring. Reminds me when my students would take a previously submitted paper, change a few works, phrases, and try to submit it as new, original work. I am willing to admit the story could be true but the probability is very low. Give me a couple of footnotes and I could change my mind and the grade. Till then it is an F.

Posted by
16769 posts

Susanne, the earlier traveler's report, which Pam linked at the start of the thread, appeared to be corroborated by the hotel manager's replies on Trip Advisor, acknowledging the robbery.

Posted by
12099 posts

Re: students doctoring up a paper turned by someone else and then resubmitting it. Yes that did happen. But who are they trying to kid?

Posted by
30958 posts

I suspect there is some truth to this post. The OP has a copy of the police report and photos of the broken locks, so therefore it's likely that a robbery did occur. Whether there was a "gassing" involved or whether the suspects were wearing neoprene is probably more conjecture than fact.

Posted by
6045 posts

Zoe, most likely someone (either OP or responder) edited their post without noting that it was edited.