Concern from carabinieri

My wife and I booked a transatlantic cruise on Celebrity’s Galaxy, sailing from Galveston to Civitavecchia (for Rome) in May ’05. The crossing was uneventful, we found it even boring, during the five consecutive days at sea. Except for a complete breakdown in our dining arrangements and a final billing error, the food and service on board were very good, although not up to the standards we had experienced in two previous cruises aboard their sister ship Mercury.

One reason for booking this cruise was to return to Rome and once again visit the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel plus see sites we had missed on an earlier visit.

On our first day in Rome, we hurriedly decided to go out for lunch, and I let my guard down. Because my money belt strap had broken a few days earlier, I carried my wallet with me, taking the precaution of moving it from its customary place in my hip pocket to my left-front pocket. This didn’t deter the pickpocket one bit.

We boarded a city bus outside our hotel. At our stop, as we attempted to leave the bus through the rear exit, a group of teenagers rushed the doorway, surrounding and crowding both my wife and me. They even rendered my wife immobile by standing on her feet! At the same time, I was trying to indicate that we wanted to get out of the bus.

Then I felt it: an almost imperceptible touch and movement in my left-front pocket. An immediate check confirmed that the wallet was gone.

I started shouting, “Which one of you ___ stole my wallet?!” That got the attention of some of the other passengers, locals, who blocked the crowded doorway and prevented the thieves from getting off the bus. One gentleman confronted the group and even began to frisk those closest to him.

Another gentleman driving past noticed the commotion, asked what had happened and used his cell phone to call the police. He stayed until the police concluded their investigation.

Meanwhile, the bus driver had turned off the engine and was holding the remaining passengers on board. The carabinieri arrived very quickly and just as quickly started their investigation. They had me watch each passenger as he/she exited the bus, holding those whom I identified as possibly being the thieves. Five young Gypsies, four male and one female, were detained on the bus and questioned by the two responding officers.

These same two officers also conducted a thorough — but unsuccessful — search of the bus assisted by the driver, even looking outside and under the vehicle and breaking open a trash container near the back doors of the bus.

During all this activity, two more carabinieri cars arrived, making a total of six officers on the scene. One of the original policemen asked us if we would go to the central police station to file a report, to which we eagerly replied “Yes!”

The five suspects were loaded into two of the police cars and we were placed in the third, an Alfa Romeo squad car. Our little convoy roared rapidly across Rome — lights flashing, sirens blaring, speed limits totally ignored. My wife and I agreed that we couldn’t have purchased a travel experience like that ride across the city.

At headquarters, we were escorted into the lieutenant’s office, who apologized for not speaking English well enough. We assured him that we had no trouble understanding him. Later we realized that he wanted the statements we were to give to be as accurate as possible, as he called for an interpreter from their Consulate. In about half an hour, she arrived, ready to relay questions and responses.

It was at this point that we began to realize how absolutely kind and considerate these people were. The interpreter, for example, offered us cash out of her pocket, which she said we could repay when we got home. (Luckily, our passports and some other cash were in the hotel safe, and my wife carried a third credit card which the thieves didn’t get.)

The lieutenant and his officers kept us supplied with ice-cold bottled water. When they offered coffee, I asked if it was espresso (one of my weaknesses), and they brought me a fresh, hot cup. Further, the lieutenant insisted that we make telephone calls (at their expense) to cancel our stolen credit cards.

We found out that the suspects were Gypsies from Romania, that they had been thoroughly searched, that they would spend the night in jail and that they would appear before a judge the next morning. Our statements would be presented as evidence against them.

Before we left the station, the lieutenant provided us with typed, signed and officially stamped copies of our statements (in Italian, of course). We were then escorted from the building, placed in yet another police car and taken back to our hotel. This ride was considerably more peaceful than the first one.

At the hotel, our farewells and handshakes with the two officers who brought us back were warm and friendly. When we turned at the door, smiled and waved one last good-bye to them, the obvious looks of curiosity on the faces of bystanders at the hotel entrance were priceless.

We even made a friend of the hotel manager, who also showed great kindness and sympathy for our plight. The next day, she told us that she heard on the radio that morning that the police had rounded up a gang of Gypsies from Romania who had been conducting a kind of “school for thieves” just outside Rome. An interesting coincidence.

Looking back on the experience, we couldn’t have been treated better. Everyone involved in this entire unfortunate incident (except the thieves, of course) treated us with respect, dignity, courtesy, kindness and friendliness.

Roseville, CA