Sunday, February 4, 2007

Travel Smarts

Again, you may want to file this under common-sense, but we think it is worth saying all the same.

You may have read that petty thievery and bag-snatching are common in Italian cities. We have not experienced this and would stress that, in general, European cities have much less crime of all kinds than their US counterparts, especially violent crime, but we encourage guests to be cautious with their possessions.

As you would be when visiting any American city, don't put your wallet in your back pocket, keep your pockets zipped or buttoned-own when possible, and make sure your bag or purse are closed. Italian women typically wear their handbags over their shoulders instead of in their hands, making them harder to snatch. The easiest thing is to put your valuables in the hotel safe and then you don't have to worry about them.

Please note that wearing a fanny pack / bum-bag not only makes you look like a tourist and will attract unnecessary attention to the place you’re keeping your valuables, but they look stupid too. You wouldn't wear one in New York City, so we encourage you not to make yourself a target for thieves or the fashion police, and don't wear one in Italy.

Car Safety
Theft of, and from, cars is reasonably common in Italy. For many years, cars have been stolen to order, particularly rental cars, and then driven aboard ferries to the former Yugoslavia and Albania for re-sale. So make sure you always lock your car and take any valuables with you, because having to go all the way to Albania to buy your car back would be a drag.

The Wrong Side of the Tracks?
It's also worth noting that if, while wandering the streets of an Italian city, you find yourself in a neighborhood full of scruffy, old buildings covered in graffiti, don't panic, you might not necessarily have entered a "bad" area. Unlike US and UK cities where these kinds of things might indicate the area is run-down, it is slightly different in Italy.

As you probably know, graffiti is originally an Italian word used to describe the tags and other musings that cheeky rapscallions have been decorating buildings with in Italy for thousands of years. So, as you'll see, it is commonplace and just part of the charm of the place. Indeed, the age and style of architecture of the buildings is one of the principle reasons you're visiting.

That's not to say there aren't areas of Italian cities you might want to avoid, but that the age of the buildings and the amount of graffiti are not always the best indicators of salubriousness. In fact, the oldest areas of Rome and Florence are those in the center, and are also the safest and easiest to negotiate due to the huge amounts of foot traffic and activity at all hours of the day. The newer, quieter, and often uglier, concrete high rises of the suburbs are more likely to be places you want to miss.

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