Ah Rome, the Eternal City. Beautiful, scintillating, but watch your back…
Roma is full of incredible sights. Millennia-old temples, palaces, sporting complexes, works of art, and memorials – they can be found almost abandoned down the most inconspicuous alleys, or thronged by people at the focus of the city – they are all worth seeing. Because of this there are those trying to take advantage of our wonder. They prey on the distraction with finely-honed criminal skills. Well, sometimes. Sometimes they are less than subtle, more pathetic than Artful Dodger or Rolo Tomassi. When I visited Rome I witnessed three crimes in two days. So, here’s a little heads up, a gentle reminder if you will to keep your wits about you when backpacking through Rome because even though it is one of the most splendid places on Earth it is also teeming with crime. A moment’s thoughtlessness could cost you dear.
- I’ll start with the most innocuous of incidents. The victim didn’t even know it happened. It wasn’t a pickpocket incident, it was an assault by a pervert. We stood at the Trevi fountain admiring the sculpture and the crowds. The ripple of flash photography all focused in one direction and the happy smiling faces oblivious to what lurked behind them. A particularly pretty woman leaned on the railings and took picture after picture. A disheveled man with crazy hair, dirty ill-fitting clothes, and snaggleteeth flitted about her. His appearance made us notice him but it seemed that nobody else had. Suddenly he struck – a lighting movement and a flash photo up her skirt! The dirty bugger was here with only one thing on his mind. The moment he’d achieved his aim he looked up and saw both me and Kristina staring directly back at him. He walked away briskly as I tried to get a photo of him, failing in the process. We could see him on the other side of the square, peeping at us around a lamp post that almost concealed his skinny frame. Where were the police? Nowhere to be seen. Even if we had taken a photo of him there was nobody to report it to. The woman was oblivious that her privacy had been violated so massively so we were left hoping that he would be left with nothing more than a blurred and completely over-exposed image. But I reckon he got off on the action of taking the photo as much as the end result.
- The second incident was actually the first incident we witnessed in Rome, also at the Trevi Fountain. This time it was broad daylight and the area was bustling with people passing through rather than snapping the sights. The gelateria on the corner had a steady stream of people coming and going. A man paced about trying to sell handkerchiefs with Roman imagery printed on them. A woman tried to fish coins out of the fountain. Everything was serene and pretty. Well of course that had to change. Another flowery, blowy Roman lady walked past us up Via della Samperia when the handkerchief seller suddenly lunged at her and tried to grab her shopping bag out of her hand. It tore and spilled haberdashery supplies all over the floor. The gall of this man is unparalleled in my experience – he simply jogged up the road where he could still see her as she gathered her wool and needles into her arms, and then came back onto the square when she left. Again – no police anywhere at all. Unbelievable.
- The final crime was an attempted robbery on me! I was happily wandering along the walkway over the old forum ruins, photographing the decaying bricks below. We’d been into the Colosseum just before this and were still reveling in the glory of ancient Rome when we wandered out here. The forum isn’t the most awe-inspiring site in the city but it is very important. Was very important I mean. I proceeded slowly up the path and had already passed a couple of beggars when two gypsies stood and aggressively crowded into me. One tried to force her baby into my face to distract me whilst the teenage girl tried to rummage in my jean pockets. I was wearing a camera case on my belt so that was safe but their sneaky hands were trying to gain whatever else they could. I batted a hand away from my pocket and stepped away from the old woman, but they instantly gathered around me again and renewed the assault. This whirlwind iniquitous dance had been going on for less than 3 seconds when Kristina waded in to save me! She pushed the old woman HARD and startled her enough that the teenager withdrew as well. We rushed away up the path in shock. There were gypsies lurking throughout the area and we didn’t know we were safe for some time. I survived with all my possessions, all that I lost was my complacency and the sense of ease and relaxation I’d managed to build for myself. Again – NO POLICE ANYWHERE.
Despite Rome transforming into Gotham City in front of my very eyes I still loved my time there. It’s just too brilliant to be spoiled by aborted robberies and perverts. The city has a well-documented history of struggling against petty crime but I would suggest that a good place to start might be just moving the police to the most popular tourist spots. I’ve never been anywhere as obviously criminal as Rome, I’m not sure there can be many places so overtly dodgy, can there?