ADVICE from the EXPERTS…
…On how to avoid hassles and tourist traps
Safety in Rome
Maybe it’s because of all the priests and nuns, or maybe it’s because of all the police everywhere, but the fact remains: Rome is a very safe city, safer than New York, San Francisco, Paris, or London. While it is almost unheard of for a tourist to encounter any sort of violent crime, there are plenty of petty crimes and annoyances to be aware of during your visit. Once you know what to expect, you should avoid any unpleasant moments.
Contrary to what many guidebooks say, there are no bad parts of town. The Termini area is certainly not the most attractive part of Rome, but its reputation as dangerous is undeserved. There are some interesting types milling around, and some unsavoury smells wafting up from the sidewalks, but no one’s going to attack you. Seventy-five percent of the population in the Termini area are tourists just like you. Just ignore the weird people.
Walking around anywhere in the city centre at night is no problem whatsoever. (And since the night buses run once an hour and taxis can be difficult to flag down, walking is often your only option.) When it’s really late though, do be careful of cars going extra fast and not stopping at red lights.
In a culture that loves women, that worships and adores the female body, foreign women in Italy may find that they draw unwanted attention and compliments – during the day or in the evening – but should not feel threatened by this. If the relentless drone of “ciao bella” has worn your nerves thin, the best advice is to completely ignore the admirer. Wearing sunglasses also helps. Don’t try to use your Italian swear words – it just makes it worse. If you really feel you need to swear, use your native language – it’s much more empowering.
Pickpocketing can be a problem in certain heavily-touristed parts of Rome, and on crowded buses and subway trains. The non-violent but very annoying pickpockets usually work in groups of two to three women and smaller children. They hold out newspapers, pieces of cardboard, fabric, and babies to distract their potential targets, and while you’re looking at what they’ve thrust in front of your face, their hands are working at warp speed trying to find a way into your pockets and bags. Before you know what they’re up to, they’ve got $200 and your Visa. While these pickpockets are very good at what they do, they only prey on people who don’t know what to expect. As a rule, carry all money and credit cards in a secure bag in front of your body or under your arm, not on your back and definitely not loose in a pocket.
A major annoyance in places like Piazza Navona and the Spanish Steps are the string bracelet guys, the most successful scam artists in the city. The scenario: you’re walking around, enjoying the atmosphere, and a young man will come up to you and start tying a string bracelet on your finger. In about 7 seconds the colorful string bracelet is finished and somehow tied around around your wrist, and you’ll be asked to pay for it. You didn’t ask for the bracelet, so don’t pay for it. Simple as that. Unfortunately, these young men get very rude and insulting when you refuse to pay them, so most tourists end up shelling out anywhere from one to twenty euros just to get rid of the guy. The best defence? Don’t let them tie the bracelet on your finger in the first place.
Another scam we’ve heard about repeatedly over the years involves someone in a car stopping to ask you directions. You, the tourist, aren’t much help, but maybe you can indicate to him the general direction of the Colosseum. The lost motorist then shows you his gratitude by offering to sell you a “designer leather jacket” (that he just happens to have stockpiled in every size in the backseat of the car) at “half the normal price.” This absurd scam has worked over and over again (perhaps because it’s so absurd), and many tourists have ended up paying hundreds of dollars for fake designer coats that they didn’t even want in the first place.
Yet another scam that has worked over and over involves young, male tourists being “befriended” by a “local” in a busy tourist area; and somehow being talked into going to some kind of sleazy club, drinking a lot of alcohol, tipping exotic dancers, and then being hit with a ¤600 bill (¤500 of which is supposedly a bottle of fine champagne you just drank).
We hate to admit it, but many Roman taxi drivers can’t resist the temptation to fleece foreigners for a few extra euros. We have heard countless stories of tourists who were charged ¤200 for a ride from the airport, or ¤20 to go two blocks in the centre of town. The best advice we can give you is this: make sure your taxi is licensed and metered, and always go with the metered fare, never an arranged price. Daytime trips within the centre of Rome can cost anywhere from ¤5-¤20 anything higher than that is probably dishonest.
Dazed and confused new arrivals at the airports and train stations are the favorite prey of the less-than-scrupulous Roman tassista. (Illegal hacks will approach you inside the terminals; keep walking.) Outside on the curb you’ll find the official taxi stands. Official taxis will have the seal of Rome and the letters “SPQR” on their front doors. When you get in the cab, make sure the meter is turned on, and try to act like an experienced Roman taxi rider.
If you have a dispute over the fare, take down the driver’s name and license number (written on a metal plaque on the inside of the rear door of the cab), and call his taxi company; the phone number will be on the outside of the driver’s door.
Taxis are nearly impossible hail on the street; you’ll need to call one of the radio dispatch centres (06 3570, 06 4994, 06 4157, 06 6645, 06 88177) or find a taxi stand (in the centro storico: Largo Argentina, Pantheon, Corso Rinascimento-Piazza Navona, Piazza di Spagna, Largo Goldoni, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Venezia, Colosseum. In Trastevere: Piazza GG Belli. In the Vatican area: Piazza Pio XII, Piazza Risorgimento). Once you’ve found the taxi stand, assert your place in line.
TOURIST TRAP RESTAURANTS
If you want to avoid the tourist trap restaurants, do not eat on any of the major piazzas. Instead, stick to the side streets. Then again, there are plenty of tourist traps on the side streets, too. As a general rule, you should skip the restaurants where the waiters are overly cheerful and solicitous, where the menu is available in more than five languages or, worse yet, where the menu has photographs of all the different dishes.
CROSSING THE STREET
This skill is essential for the tourist; without it, you’ll never get to the sights you want to see. And trust us, it’s not as dangerous as it looks. Really, there’s a technique to it that works all over the city.
Rule #1: Cross the street only where there are pedestrian stripes (crosswalks).
Rule #2: Don’t expect traffic to slow for you while you stand at the side of the road, looking hopeful. You’ll be there for hours, and the Vespas will just keep whizzing by, puzzled at why you haven’t made your move.
Rule #3: Wait for a small break in traffic, show no fear, and just start walking. (Don’t dart deer-like across the street; that upsets the Romans.) As if by the same divine intervention that allowed Moses to part the waters, cars and buses will apply their brakes, scooters will smoothly manoeuvre around you, and you will be alive when you reach the other side. You can also try holding up your hand authoritatively – not pleadingly – to approaching motorists. Whatever you do, don’t stop in the middle of the road once you’ve started crossing. Pedestrian hesitation mid-stream confuses Roman drivers.