One Night in Florence and a Hard Man's Humbled...
First, let me clarify that there is always drama when larger groups travel, but it’s usually mundane stuff like we missed our train and had to buy new tickets because someone didn’t get out of bed and took too long in the shower (oh wait, that DID happen). But the Florence drama was actually kind of scary. I’m not going to lie about that. The first day in Florence was fine, though I thought I was coming down with a cold, so I wasn’t feeling so well. We had booked a three-bedroom flat that was centrally located (really in the HEART of the city). Once there, we picked out bedrooms, then left the flat and wandered the town.
Sidenote: to get to the flat, you had to unlock the downstairs door and then walk up three or four flights of stairs, which was really fun with all the luggage. As Lorenzo (the guy who met us and let us into the flat) began to unlock the door, Christine noted an X scratched into the wood and jokingly said, “What’s this? X marks the spot? Is that so the robbers know where to find us?” I do not know his response, but I do remember that Lorenzo’s parting words were to remind us to lock the doors and windows securely when leaving.
After dinner that night, Christine, Jenny, Natalie, and Lana all wanted to go out and check out the nightlife. All I wanted to do was sleep (it was after 11), so I left them about a block from our flat and walked home (though I found out later that Christine followed me to make sure I was safe). As the first night had been a late one, our second day in Florence was filled with meandering and shopping. We were popping in and out of our centrally located flat, and in the afternoon (from 3-6ish) we toured a cathedral, and then Jenny, Natalie, and I hung out in a café while Christine and Lana climbed the cathedral’s tower. So it had been a relaxing day. We returned to the flat to rest before dinner. Everyone entered their respective bedrooms. As I entered mine, I saw that my shorts were neatly laid out on the bed, which was odd because I hadn’t unpacked my shorts. And then I noticed that my backpack had been dumped on the bed as well, which was again odd because I hadn’t left my backpack on the bed. I said, “You guys, someone’s been here.”
And then the panic ensued. First, we weren’t sure if the gypsies? were still there (they were not there). Second, with the exception of Lana (who was very concerned about some Luis Vuitton wallets that she’d purchased in Paris), everyone freaked out about their passports. Fortunately, none of them had been taken. In the end, it looked like Jenny and Natalie were hit the hardest. They lost a lot of clothes, they lost the Luis Vuitton wallets that had also been purchased in Paris, Natalie lost an iPod (though mine was on my bed), they lost their FAKE gold jewelry, and Jenny lost her handy-wipes and some heating pads she’d brought for her back (she was maddest about that, and I don’t blame her). Christine realized very quickly that her tennis shoes had been stolen, and I eventually realized (meaning after the police had left) that my leather gloves had been stolen from my jacket pockets (though Jenny thought it would be really funny if I found them at home. Alas, that was not the case). That said, none of my clothes were stolen because apparently gypsies don’t like the Gap.
Regardless, as one could surmise, X did indeed mark the spot.
Jenny called the landlady, Silvia?, who immediately called the police and came over so she could translate. Lorenzo was also called to come over. Natalie was highly suspicious of Lorenzo and planned to smell him when he entered the flat. (Oh wait, I should probably first tell you that the room I shared with Christine smelled like men’s cologne. That’s why Natalie wanted to smell him. She later said Lorenzo was clean.) Two very nice police officers, who were from the “good” police force not the “bad” police force (we met those guys later), came over and took inventory. They looked at the front door and noticed some scratches around the handle. Lorenzo said the scratches were old. They also noted the X, and Lorenzo gave the same response.
One might ask how the gypsies broke in. We told the police we thought it was through the patio door because two people had gone out on the patio earlier that day to put on sunscreen, and they didn’t lock the door upon reentering. Oh, did I mention there was a ladder (from construction?) right next to the patio? All I can say is that I never personally touched that door. Though we do not speak Italian, “stupid” sounds the same in many languages. The police thought we were stupid for being so careless, and we took ownership for that mistake. In short, we were told that it was unlikely we’d get anything back, this was clearly a crime of opportunity, it was unlikely that they would return, and whoever did this would not come into the flat while we’re home because it would immediately become a greater crime. We believed them, which is why we continued to stay in the flat.
The next day we headed to Cinque Terre. It was my most favorite day of the trip in terms of the location, the weather, the food. Amazing. Before we left, we did take the precaution to pack up all our luggage and store it in the laundry room, which we locked. We also checked to make sure everything was secure before heading out. It was a 2.5-ish hour train ride to and from Cinque Terre. We spent the day hiking from one city to the next, did some souvenir shopping, and then took the 2.5 train ride home. We got back to the flat at around 9 p.m. We walked inside. Everything was where we’d left it. Took the luggage out of the closet, and Jenny and I stayed in the flat while Christine, Lana, and Natalie went and picked up some dinner. As Christine opened the door to leave, she did notice that what should have been a locked door (she’d checked upon entering) had swung open too easily. So she made sure to secure the deadbolt as they left. They got back with the food around 10 p.m. Upon entering with the food, Natalie made sure to secure the deadbolt, and someone checked the patio door AGAIN to make sure it was still locked. All was well. We sat down and began our meal in an area of the flat that does not have a direct sightline to either door (or at least not for me).
Ten minutes into our meal, we heard what sounded like someone opening the front door (or someone aggressively attempting to open the front door). Natalie’s head popped up (she had the best view). We all thought someone had gotten inside. And then we heard the patio door handle shaking as someone tried to enter from the patio. This was the EXACT opposite of what the police had told us. Especially as it was nighttime and all our lights were on, it would have been very clear that we WERE home. Yet these people were attempting a home invasion from multiple entry points. At that point, Natalie just started yelling at them to get the F--- out of our house. Several other people started yelling as well. The patio door handle rattled a couple more times and then stopped. Christine grabbed a water glass (as a weapon?) and ran toward the patio. I ran after her (in my slippers) because I figured someone should follow her. Fortunately, we had learned to be diligent, and no one had made it inside. We called Silvia again, who was horrified to discover the thieves had returned, and she called the police, who refused to come out because no crime had been committed.
So now what to do? It was 10:30 at night. There was no way we could sleep there as it seemed fairly likely that these guys would try again, so we talked about going to a hotel. But we didn’t know where these people were. We had to get down 4 flights of stairs with our luggage. It would be so easy for them to catch us there. After some debate and input from several husbands, a plan was hatched. Natalie called the police and said we’d had a break-in. Christine booked the hotel, and Jenny called some cabs. We got the police to escort us downstairs (though they figured out that was our real reason for calling them) as the first cab driver arrived. He waited with us for the second cab driver. The police refused to stay even though Natalie did a fabulous job of acting hysterical. In the end, we got to the hotel safely and were all checked in by 12:30. Of course, no one slept that night. About 10 minutes after Christine and I tried to go to sleep, I asked her if she wanted a Xanax. Fortunately, we were leaving for Venice the next day. We couldn’t get out of Florence fast enough.
There is much debate about who these people were in relation to the items they actually took and the fact that they came back a second time while we were home. A friend who lives in England and deals with student travelers has ruled out the gypsies just because gypsies usually smell dirty and do not spend their money on cologne. But they did steal Jenny’s handy-wipes. There were several iPads and a computer that were NOT taken. We don’t know if just the apartment was marked or if these people were watching us. We don’t know if they attempted the second break in so they could get our money and credit cards, or if they did it because they had SEEN our passports and knew we were all female. Regardless, we were lucky that everything lost could be easily replaced. It could have been worse. I had gone home by myself the first night. There were times when only two of us were there. Leaving Florence for Venice was great, but I don’t think anyone really felt better until we left Italy altogether.
Author’s Note: All names have been changed for this piece except for Lorenzo and Silvia. They don’t deserve any anonymity.