Italy Part III - Rome and Vatican City, Encounters with Pickpocket Syndicates


Before I left for Italy, Samantha told me, "Rome is not the safest place. You must be careful. Don't go out at night. Becareful of those with darker skin." I think she was referring to the Gypsies. Throughout our stay in Italy, we noticed quite a number of gypsies women begging on the train or train station with their toddlers for some. My financial advisor told me one of his friend got pick-pocketed when a "tourist" approached him with a map to ask for directions.

I also watched some Youtube videos about pickpocket syndicates and how they work. They usually strike in crowded places such as train and bus. Whoa, it is elaborate. Usually, there is one who distract the victim, another who will pick, the pickpocket wil pass the steal to a runner. Therefore, the pickpocket would not be caught with the steal. Kids are sometimes part of it because they are small enough to squeeze through the crowd and have small hands to do the job at the oblivion of the victims.

I was warned. Now, I know I have to act paranoid in crowds.

From the main train station, Roma Termini, we had to take a metro and another bus to get to the camp site. While waiting for the bus, I noticed this buff, tan, handsome man with tattoos. He has striking green eyes that can mesmerise any women.

He was chewing gum, acting all cool. I could not stop looking at him somehow, he was really good looking. I realised that he was screening people around him. As a group of English-speaking youngster walked by, he lifted his chin as if signalling to another person. That group of youngster had been walking to and fro the bus stop as if hesitant to board the bus. OK... I do not think this guy was simply there to wait for a bus.

The buses in Rome have 3 doors - the front and rear doors are for boarding, the middle door is for alighting. We boarded the bus via the rear door. I felt a lot of pushing and went to the front door. Handsome tan buff man followed me to the front.

Yusra, still at the back door, waved to me and shouted, "Eh, board together." I returned to the back door. Handsome tan buff man followed me again. Suspicion confirmed. Handsome tan buff man was targeting me. Yes, he was an eye-candy but no, I did not want to be stalked for the wrong reason.

We were squeezed despite the centre and front of the bus being very empty with seats. I wrapped my hands around my bags. I recalled from a video how they skillfully slit open the bottom of the bag using a knife, and the valuables dropped into their hands.

I looked around me, there was the bunch of youngster on the seats, Yusra and Khidir still standing at the door steps, this tan lady with stylish sunglasses, a scruffy dark-skinned man with his young daughter around 4 years of age, handsome buff tan man and a potbellied white man in front of me.

Nadia managed to get into the centre of the bus and beckoned me to get out. Obstructing me was the potbellied white man, so I said to him, "Mi scusi, permesso." "Excuse, let me pass."

He shrugged as if he did not understand. Fine! As I was squeezing through him, I could feel that he was deliberately trying to resist, not allowing me to pass. It now became obvious that he was one of them. Dark skin, tan skin, white skin, irregardless of colour, anybody could be a pickpocket.

Yusra and Khidir were still at the back. A commotion stirred at the back.

"F**k you," screamed a girl from the group.

The scruffy man with his young daughter shouted back, "F**k you too."

"Nice try. To think that you bring your daughter with you. Shame on you."

The scruffy man carried his daughter and quickly alighted the bus. The rest of the syndicate were already nowhere to be seen.

"You must be very careful. There are many pickpockets," an elderly man sitting before me advised.

Yusra and Khidir's backpack zip had been cut and damaged, fortunately nothing was stolen. Nadia appeared to be shaken by this incident and wanted to change to a hostel closer to the city centre. I was not too keen on that. Now that we know there are pickpockets, we have to be more vigilant and insistent in our next ride. Moving to the city centre so we do not have to take pickpocket-ridden bus does not mean that city centre itself is any safer. I like the camp site, Plus Camping Roma, it has a pool, laundry facility, shops and is near to the Vatican City.

At this point, the differences in being travellers among us started to surface.

Yusra, being the mediator, went to check on cancelling the booking and changing to a hostel near the city centre. The receptionist herself lived in the city centre and felt that city centre is less safe than the camp site. In light of the metro strike the next day, I relented to changing a hostel near the city centre. We quickly searched for a hostel and made the booking at Buzziro's Guesthouse.

That evening, I spoke with Francesco over the phone about the pickpocket incident. He told me that this is a common problem in big cities. There may be more in Naples.

We arrived at Buzziro before the check-in time with another couple. The staff was an Asian looking gentlemen. The rooms were not ready. I was trying to communicate with him in Italian if we could deposit our luggage and return later. I did not quite understand his response. My listening comprehension sucks!

"Parli cinese?""Do you speak Chinese?" I recalled reviews about the hostel saying that the owner is a Chinese who does not speak English.

"Si, si"

Phew, from communicating like a chicken and duck, we finally understood each other well. I helped to relay the message to the couple who were lost amidst our babbling. If I can just brush up my languages more, I can probably work in a hostel as I travel. The receptionists at Plus Camping Roma all wore a badge with different country flags to indicate the languages they speak. I want to be a polyglot!

As we were strolling around vicinity of the Buzziro which was also near the train station, we felt many eyes on us. We were followed by a man until we entered a store in the train station. While shopping at a road side stall, a bedraggled man stood some distance away from us, looking at us throughout. We threw occasional glance at him, eventually, he walked away. Our senses were constantly on heightened alert as we walked around.

Buzziro Guesthouse has an old narrow elevator that is slightly wider than my shoulder. You need to close the elevator door manually after you reach your floor, if not, the lift will be stuck at that level. I took the elevator down to the garden to take some photos of the flowers there. A lady came down and scolded me for not closing the elevator door.

"Please close the door, we live here, we need to use the lift. Please"

"I am sorry."

Buzziro's guesthouse are just few of the many apartments in the residential building. I guess it was not the first time she encountered ignorant guest like me. She sounded fed up.

Spanish Steps

Trevi Fountain - I threw a coin with my back facing the fountain wishing, Next time, I will be here with my Vespa.

We walked into random church.

The first McDonald in Italy opened in 1986, despite protest from Slow Food Movement. I am serious!
Not in Italy for Gucci Prada, I was there for Dainese.

Pants and jacket for S$700 after VAT refund. In Singapore it cost $1300 for the same stuff!
We visited the colosseum but I forgot my camera that day.

We also spotted two guys basking with their accordion in the Metro. It really made commuting much more enjoyable.

Plus Camping Roma
Via Aurelia, 831, 00163 Rome, Italy
Telephone: +39 06 662 3018

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Via Enrico Cialdini 13, 00185 Rome, Italy

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D-Store Roma
Via della Penna, 13/21
00186 Roma
Tel: +39 06 36003678
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 10.30am to 7.30pm
Nearest metro station: Flaminio del Piazza Popolo

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Vatican City

Besides Vatican City, do you know that within Italy, there is another landlocked independent country called San Marino?

The Vatican City
Can escape Singaporean's favourite pastime of queuing here.
Please don't wear shorts, and cover your shoulders or else you will be refused entry. You may end up buying a scarf to wrap around the waist like them.

The Swiss Guards

I can't help but be reminded of Beauxbatons from Harry Potty.


Italy Part I - Couchsurfing, Learning a Language, Milan, Venice
Italy Part II - Vespa Birthplace, Pisa, Siena, Florence
Italy Part IV - Pompeii, Herculaneum, Naples, Plastic bags as Decoy against Snatch Thieves
Italy V - Couchsurfing in Barile and the Remarriage Proposal
Italy Trip Aftermath


  1. Looks like a great trip! I have very fond memories of Rome myself, such a wonderful city! And the ice cream, oh, the ice cream;)

  2. These pictures are really funny looking. I am a regular visitor of your blog as my interest for Rome is very high. Because Rome is famous for globally influential art, architecture and culture. And places like Church Of San Luigi Dei Francesi, Basilica DI San Clemente, The Colosseum, Pantheon, St Peter In Chains, Sistine Chapel, Piazzas, Vatican Museums, Capitoline Museums, Borghese Gallery is bearing the Witness of its famous culture. Don't miss anyone from them. Better you choose a Rome city pass. They will provide you an experience guide with all transport ticket.. They are also cheaper and time saver. There are a lot of different options for you like Roma Pass, Omnia pass, Vatican Rome Card, Rome City Pass & National Roman Museums. Choose one from and start your journey. Good luck.


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