November 18, 2004
Rome: Beware of Pickpockets
The guide books weren't kidding when they warned against being pickpocketed. Within hours of arriving in Rome, our bag was sliced open while we were jammed on a subway car. Luckily the bag was so packed with our hats, scarfs, gloves, etc, that nothing fell out except for the polarizer for our camera. Well, the bag is ruined as well, of course.
I've been riding subways almost all my life and all over the world and this was the first time that I've been pickpocketed.
Thinking back, I should have been more vigilent as earlier that same day I saw a man on the bus I was riding chasing after a thief who had just took his bag. On top of that, at the entrance to the subway station where my hotel was, there was a HUGE sign saying BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS. Serves me right to ignore warnings.
Not sure if it's just my imagination, but after that experience, when I was on the subway in Rome, a couple of times I felt people feeling around near my pockets, seemingly trying to see if they can take anything from me. Except for a few Asian countries (Tokyo and Seoul come to mind), you're almost always told to be mindful of your belongings; but I always sort of took it as kind of an obvious, useless advice. I didn't realize that for Rome, you literally have to clutch your stuff if you don't want it to be stolen within minutes.
I then went back to the guide book to read more carefully the section on dangers and it also said that there are scooter gangs that ride by and snatch your bags. So anytime I hear a scooter coming up behind me (and that's all the time), I instinctively hold on to my stuff a lot harder.
Or at least that was my experience anyway. Your mileage may vary.