Monthly Archives: June 2014

7 Italian Street Scams and How to Avoid Them


Buonosera, my dears! There are dozens upon dozens of scams out there in the wild blue yonder, but these are the most common ones that I’ve encountered in Italy, in escalating order of aggression.

  • Of course they’re real

This applies to anyone selling bags/sunglasses/designer perfume. I didn’t think I needed to include this one (because duh) but then I heard a story from a Kiwi about a friend of hers who payed €10 a bottle for “Chanel No. 5” and I thought I might as well throw it in. These guys are pretty chill and they’ll very rarely chase you down. They prefer to let you come to them, unless you’re cops. Then they run. Ever notice how all of their products are attached to cardboard folders or laid out on bags and blankets? Yeah, that’s so they can scoop everything up and run like hell when the cops show up because it’s illegal to sell those fakes. A whole line of them ran past me today in front of Il Duomo. While we’re on the subject, don’t waste your money on the prints of paintings that they sell. Every city has legitimate artists with quality work (especially Florence) and they deserve your patronage. Do take your time with these as well; I’ve seen scams where the “artist” swears the piece is a hand-painted original, only to come across the exact same paintings in a different piazza. A good clue is if the artist has an easel and a paint set, and he’s actually painting new pieces. Watch for a while and see if everything matches up.

  • The Ciaobella (AKA the Walkers)

These are the men and women carrying jewelry, small statues, and roses. They’re more engaging than their bag and perfume cousins, and typically very friendly. Hence the name “Ciaobella,” because if you’re a girl this will be the first thing out of their mouths. Usually a polite “No grazie” is all it takes to send them away, but sometimes you do have to say it twice.

  • Speak English?

Every city of significant size has a homeless population, some of whom spend the day begging. Florence is no exception, and over the course of a month I’ve noticed that most of them have their specific territories, including in the normal sections of the city. There’s a whole different group that works the tourist areas. They’re typically female and fit the racist idea of a “gypsy,” but whether they’re actually Romani, I have no idea. They dress like a bad stereotype: white skirts, long braids, colorful scarves around their hair. They haunt the main piazzas with plastic cups and pictures of their children, and they’re a bit more pushy. If any of them come up to you and ask if you speak English, the answer is no. And don’t respond in French, Italian, or German either; I met one of these women in Germany, and I made the mistake of saying that I did speak English. She handed me a card with her sob story in all four languages. Just babble something unintelligible and run.

  • The Great Train Robbery

Oh, you thought public transportation was safe? Nope. This one isn’t as common, but it’s there, especially on the regional trains, which they can basically ride all day long with a validated ticket. Some beg in the traditional sense, but most prefer to set pieces of paper in the empty seats explaining that they have six kids at home who are starving because they were laid off/their house caught fire/there was a stampede of crazed raccoons that devoured their crops. They’ll leave them there for about twenty minutes, then come back and collect them. All you have to do is ignore them and they will usually let it go, but one or two persistent women have shaken a handful of coins at me as encouragement. Don’t throw the slips of paper away, because they will get pissed off and go over you to dig them out of the trash.

  • It’s a present

Like the “Ciaobella,” this applies to the people selling jewelry, statues, and roses. If you say no, these people will actually hand you their product and say, “It’s a gift.” I’m dead serious, they will tell you that it’s a gift because it’s their birthday, or because you’re beautiful (that’s my favorite), and if you make the mistake of saying thank you and walking away they’ll follow you and say, “Oh, but my friend, today is my birthday and I am very hungry.” Boom. The rose guys in Rome are particularly aggressive with this one: they’ll follow you and demand €5 for the rose they just told you was a gift. The best advice I have is to flat out refuse to take anything they have. Don’t play around, don’t act coy. I don’t care if you are Giselle Bundchen or Dita Von Teese; that shit will never ever be a gift.

  • The Ticketmaster

Oddly enough, this is the one that I find the most annoying. In almost every Italian train station you’ll find Fast Ticket machines, which are completely automated. They have several language settings, including English, but there are “gypsies” (once again, not sure if they’re actually Romani) who will plant themselves at the machines and try to either guide you through the process or flat out do it for you, and then expect payment for their services. I’ve also seen it done at tram and metro stations, and customers will stand in line for other machines rather than walk up and deal with the women. Be aware of the scam, but don’t be afraid of it. They’re not supposed to be there, and if you want to use the machine you have every right to do so without their interference. Be firm, even if they try to push the buttons. If you waver and let them do it for you, they will expect payment and will hound you until you give them coins.

  • Lay it on me

This one is similar to “It’s a present” but at a whole new level. This particular scam was played on me in Milan. A gentleman in the piazza near the cathedral asked where I was from (as a general note, if you get this question, either ignore it or answer it and KEEP WALKING), and offered me a bracelet from Senegal. I said no and tried to leave, and he actually laid the bracelet on my arm. When I stopped and tried to give it back to him, he took it out of my hand and tied it around my wrist before I could stop him. I gave him a few coins from my pocket (though he tried to ask for €10, yeah, not frickin’ likely) and walked away, only to be stopped by another Senegalais man. He tried the exact same trick, down to the letter, and I had to stick my fingers between the bracelet and my skin and force it off my hand. If anyone tries this with you, either be ready to wrestle it off your wrist or just let it fall. If they get mad, too damn bad.

Obviously, this list is nowhere near comprehensive. Scams vary between countries and even cities, but these are the ones that I’ve witnessed across Italy. I had to learn a hard lesson when I came out here: if I was too shy, I was going to get scammed. Unfortunately a couple of these got me, but I can guarantee that it won’t happen again. The best tip is to use a firm but polite “no,” and don’t be afraid to escalate. In the horse world we say that you ask, then you tell, then you demand. The same principle works here.

Know of a few nasty ones that didn’t make the list? Let me know in the comments!

Pasta kisses,




Oh frabjous day!


As many of you know, I’ve been trying to find some work on the side to supplement my income with no luck. The Florence Academy of Art pays models by the hour (nakedness is optional, you pervs) and that’s been helping, but I was hoping for something a bit more substantial. Then I met Jazzie, a former resident of this apartment, and she told me about an artist who was looking for an American girl to watch his gallery. I went to see Masri the very next day, and he offered me the job on the spot! This man is seriously amazing, you guys:

Anyway, this is a fantastic opportunity and I’m thrilled! I’ll have plenty of down time at the gallery (which doubles as a studio) to write or paint, all while being surrounded by his stunning artwork. Best of all, I’ll have an income for a while. This whole situation is a perfect example of why you sometimes need to sit back and let life do its thing. I was worried about making my money last so that I could stay longer, and as my mother can tell you I voiced those worries more than once! But she reminded me that no matter what, I was living in Florence. No matter what, I had accomplished this dream (with a lot of help) and I was seeing it through to the end. In the middle of one of these worry sessions wherein I laid out all my options for the next few months and tried to pick the most practical one, this opportunity with Masri literally walked through the door.

The moral, my loves? Life is freakin’ hilarious.

Pasta Kisses,


Cinque Terre


Apparently I’m awful at this whole blogging thing, since I’ve gone nearly three weeks without a new post. If my previous attempts at journaling are any indication, this won’t be the first time I disappear off the face of the Interwebs. In my defense, I’ve been working like crazy on the new book and I’ve written nearly 180 NeoOffice pages in the past two weeks, so first the fantastic news: the first draft of Burning Dusk is done! I swore to myself that I wouldn’t open the document at all today, and so far I’ve been successful at keeping that promise. It still needs a lot of work, but the bones of the story have been laid out and that’s a great feeling, even if there are a few extra fingers and potentially no right foot. I’ll set it to rights soon, never fear.

But I digress; this is primarily a post about my day trip to Cinque Terre. Long story short, those towns are absolutely amazing, but they very nearly murdered me in the most beautiful way possible.

     Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands,” is a stretch of the coast with five towns all connected by paths: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. There are some paths that go up into the hills and pass through other towns, but the coastal path is the most direct route, so that’s the one I decided to take. The plan was to walk all the way from the northernmost town to the bottom one over the course of two days.
     I started in Monterosso. It seems to be mostly a beach town, and that water was ridiculously blue. Like, tropical blue. I went wandering for a bit and then found the beginning of the coastal path, which snaked around the cliffside. It looked easy, and I thought the entire thing would be like that. “No problem,” I thought, “I can walk like that all day.” It took about a quarter of a mile before the “coastal path” left the coast, never to be seen again. We totally went up into the hills, and it was insane. So many stairs. So, so many stairs. In a lot of places, even when it was a straight path, it was only about two feet across with nothing between you and the drop down the hillside. Don’t get me wrong, it was totally worth it for the views, but I will never be doing it again. By the time I got to the top and started to generally go downhill, I was the kind of exhausted that makes you nauseous and lightheaded even with frequent breaks and plenty of water. And lightheaded is one thing you can’t be, because the path is so narrow and rocky that if you’re not focused on your feet, there’s a real good chance that you’ll trip. If you’re in relatively good shape, then to you it’s probably just a brisk climb. To heavier individuals like myself, it’s thinly veiled heat exhaustion. Don’t underestimate the coastal path, because it can be brutal.
     Now that my very long disclaimer is out of the way, I can say that the hike itself was gorgeous as long as you’re not afraid of heights. The views of the coast and the ocean are stunning, and the path takes you up through hillside vineyards and past little streams. As an aside, it is my sincere belief that the Italian people can grow anything. Turn them loose in the Sahara and give it five years, and they’ll be exporting world-class wines. They certainly succeeded in turning the ragged hillsides into lush gardens. In fact, it is so beautiful up there that the official name of the coastal path is Via dell’ Amore. Because nothing says “love” like dragging your insensible partner down from those ridiculous stairs.
     Okay, okay. Now I’m done ragging on the coastal path.
     The sight of Vernazza, the second city, was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It’s considered the most charming of the cities by a lot of tourists, but I’ll admit that my love for it had everything to do with resting. That being said, it is an absolutely gorgeous town. I picked my way down to it with three goals in mind: more water, a bathroom, and a place to lie down. Thanks to chance I turned down a random street and found a cave built into the hillside. My curiosity was buzzing, but my legs were very nearly about to rebel, so I stretched out beside the entrance and lay down for about half an hour, honestly not giving a flying fart what I looked like. When my head wasn’t pounding quite so much, I went through the cave and found that it led to a secret beach! It was gorgeous, and I wished that I had brought my swimsuit. Instead I took my shoes off and stood in the cold water for a long time, just soaking it up. This beach in particular is rocks, so it’s a little more painful than sand, but so worth the experience. My mother would be very proud of me for not taking a rock from said beach, even though I really wanted to. Instead I took a piece of sea glass, which is an improvement, right?
     I explored Vernazza for a bit, and then took the train to Corniglia because there was no way in hell I was getting back on that path—I mean, because the path was closed and that was the only reason I didn’t take it all the way. Seriously though, the only part of the coastal path that is currently open is the stretch between Monterosso and Vernazza because the cliffside is unstable. Oh, and be prepared to pay to use the path. Ironically, it cost €7.50 for the privilege of sweating on the hillsides and only about €1.10 to take the train between the towns. Yes, Life, you’re hilarious. Anyway, I didn’t see much of Corniglia because when I got there and saw that you had to climb a lot of stairs to reach the town, I promptly turned around and put my happy little ass right back on the train to Manarola. Sorry not sorry.
     Manarola might have been my favorite town. It was gorgeous, with this great little harbor where you could swim, and part of the coastal path ran beside it so I got a great view as I ate takeaway pizza. Going up to Hostel 5 Terre was interesting because it was pretty high up, but thankfully it was an incline with no steps so I mostly survived. At the top was a church and a beautiful courtyard, and you could see the ocean easily. The sound of rushing water followed me all the way up, and when I looked down into a basement level I realized that there must be a bunch of sea caves running underneath the town, because I could see cascading water. When I reached the hostel, the wonderful girl at the front desk pointed me in the direction of the lift, and I almost hugged her, but that would probably have freaked her out just a bit. The dorm rooms were comfy and cheap, though the church bells were a bit loud.
     The next morning I got up and took one more train to Riomaggiore. It might be the steepest of the towns, but the path I took happened to lead me to their main church, and when I walked along that road I had some stunning views of the town and the hills behind it. It’s sad to admit, but this adventure has made me mistrustful. Several times that morning I saw people climbing up staircases, and my first thought was always, “Is whatever’s up there worth the effort?” I know my mother has waited two decades for this to happen, but a good part of my climbing curiosity has been dispensed with. Anyway, Riomaggiore is split into two halves bisected by a cliff, so I followed the higher path around and descended into the second half, which wasn’t quite as dramatic. Riomaggiore probably had my favorite views out of all the towns.
     In summary: Cinque Terre is a must-see. Apparently in high summer (July and August) it’s so packed that you can hardly move, so if you find yourself easily irritated by crowds or heat and you don’t intend to commit homicide on your vacation, you might want to give these months a pass. This is why I’ve recommended that my mother either visit me in the next two weeks, or wait until September.
Pasta kisses!