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For a real medical emergency, call 118. Ask passersby to call for you if you don't have a cell phone. In Italian, 118 is "cento diciotto", pronounced CHEN-toh dee-CHOH-toh. If you call out this number when there are people nearby, someone will surely make the call for you. This is not a generalized emergency number like 911 in the United States, so don't call it in case of a crime or a fire, unless someone is injured.
In Italian towns and cities with a sizeable tourist presence, there are
special emergency health clinics for tourists, with multilingual assistance. In Rome, the "Guardia Turistica"
is on Via
Morosini, 30, at the Nuova Regina Margherita Hospital in Trastevere.
It's easily reached from the Vatican or from Piazza Navona. If
you just need a doctor for a simple matter, or to get a prescription,
ask in a pharmacy. They will tell you whether it's better to go to the
Guardia Turistica or whether there is a private doctor nearby who can
help you.They may even be able to take care of the matter themselves.
Simple medicines like aspirin and cold remedies are sold only in pharmacies in Italy, and even in pharmacies, they are kept behind a counter. You have to ask the pharmacist if you want something like this. It helps if you write down the generic name of the medicine, as the brand name may vary from one country to another. If you have an empty container containing the name of the active ingredient, show that to the pharmacist. Antibiotics need a doctor's prescription. The price of things like aspirin is much higher in Italy than in many other countries. A little first aid kit, with bandaids, aspirin, and an antiseptic cleanser is always good to have on hand. You can often find travel sizes of these items.
Blisters are probably the biggest health problem you will encounter in Rome. Make sure you have comfortable walking shoes, with cushioned soles to protect your feet from ancient paving blocks. You should always have bandaids, and maybe cushions for tender spots, in your purse or backpack. In summer, you may also need sunscreen and a hat.
Beware that toilet seats are often missing from public toilets, especially in train stations, as are toilet tissue and paper towels. Museums and public places such as bars and restaurants usually have clean toilets. Bathrooms along the autostrada are usually clean and well equipped. You may want to carry a pocket package of seat covers, although many toilets have an automatic sanitizing mechanism. It's always a good idea to carry a pocket-sized pack of tissues for the occasions when there is no toilet paper.
Probably the biggest safety risk in Rome is the traffic. Be careful crossing streets. It's safer to cross with other people. Keep your eyes peeled for reckless scooters. Even if you cross in the zebra crossing zone, you will find that many Romans will not even slow down, although they will try to veer around you. If there is a pedestrian traffic light, you still need to look both ways to be sure it's safe to cross.
While Rome has no more crime than most large cities in Europe, and is safer than many, travelers need to be cautious about petty crimes. These precautions shouldn't cause you to panic any more than having insurance does. Pickpocketing is the most frequent crime perpetrated against tourists, as in other large cities in Europe. Be careful above all in tourist locations, in trains stations, and in any crowded place. Violence against tourists is extremely rare in Rome.
Tourists on crowded buses are particularly vulnerable. On buses and metros, it is safer to stand well away from the door if you can't find a seat; thieves may try to grab something near the door as the train or bus is approaching a stop, and then jump off at the stop. Bus lines 64 and 40, which connect the main train station (Stazione Termini) and the Vatican, are normally loaded to capacity, so they provide excellent opportunities for pickpockets to ply their craft. However, thousands of people ride these routes every day without problems, and any crowded bus or metro requires extra vigilance. The person bumping you may be distracting you so an accomplice can reach into your purse or pocket and remove your wallet, jewelry and other items without you noticing. A couple may be kissing passionately while an accomplice unloads the distracted onlookers. Someone may block the door on the metro, so that someone else can snatch something as you're trying to push past. They are very good at what they do, and you may not realize you've become the victim of a crime until you reach for your money hours later. If someone blocks you from getting off the metro, first back up instead of pushing, and say loudly, "Coming out", or "Please move out of the way". It's better to miss your stop than to lose your wallet, but usually you will still have time to get off even if you back up first and then exit when the way has been cleared.
One must also be careful of nomads and beggars, who have devised several distractions that lead to your being separated from your valuables. Sometimes, a baby or a large piece of cardboard is thrust toward you. In the seconds it takes you to brush either aside, you will be relieved of your pocketbook, camera, wallet, and other valuables. Try not to let anyone approach you too closely. If someone offers you something, or begins to get too close, say, very loudly, "No thanks, I don't want anything!" Say it loudly enough to attract attention, because thieves don't like attention.
Sometimes, in large cities around the world, someone throws something dirty or squirts mustard or ketchup on you, and then a sympathetic "bystander" offers to help you clean up. While you are distracted, another person snatches your bag or picks your pocket. Whenever you are the victim of such an attack, firmly refuse any help in a loud enough voice to attract attention. It doesn't matter if you speak Italian or not, just say, "No thanks, I'm fine."
Also be careful around the Colosseum and Forum area, as it is regularly worked by pickpocketing "gangs." Wear a money belt, keep your camera in hand, be aware of where people are around you, and don't expect every pickpocketer to look like a street urchin--they dress like tourists (complete with cameras), businessmen, ... you can never tell. Also don't think that by simply clutching your bag close to you, that you are safe--some people have had their purse sliced open at the bottom, and their wallet (and passport) spirited away before they noticed. One recommendation for the Colosseum area is that you go early in the morning, start with a walking tour of the Forum, then enter the Colosseum when it first opens, and immediately go back across the street to Palatine Hill. The crowds will be small and most pickpocketers will still getting ready for "work."
How to protect yourself? Be vigilant in crowds and on escalators, buses, trams, subways. Don't stand in the middle of the sidewalk to read your map or guidebook or to take a picture. Women should carry purses on the side away from traffic, where they cannot be snatched by Vespa motorscooter drivers or passengers. Try not to look wealthy! It's safer to dress unobtrusively than to be very elegant. The Gucci bag attracts more than just admiring glances. Keep your credit cards and other valuables in the most difficult place to reach that you can possibily find: in a zipped inner pocket of a zipped purse; in a money belt or pouch under your clothing; in a Velcroed inside jacket pocket. Don't ever take money from your secure spot in public; carry your bus pass and a small amount of cash in a more accessible spot. If you need to replenish your ready cash supply, go into a bathroom or at least a quiet shop. If someone bumps you, don't reach for your secret stash. Someone may be watching for that move. Instead whirl around quickly and if you see something or someone suspicious, react loudly. Don't be afraid to make a fuss; pickpockets don't want attention. It doesn't matter what language you use. It is best not to make accusations, as you can't be sure what was going on. Just say something (loudly) like, "What do you want?" or "Why did you push me?", or "Please stand back!"
When eating at a sidewalk restaurant, never hang your purse or backpack from the back of the chair or leave it on an adjacent seat. If it's too large to hold in your lap, hang it over your knee, or put your backpack on the ground with one leg through the strap. (Just don't walk away without extricating yourself!) If you can't find an ideal solution, at least put your bag as far away from passing pedestrian traffic as possible. If there is a choice of tables, choose one that is far from the passing traffic.
Carry only one credit card and just enough cash for the day. Consider putting rubber bands around your money and credit cards, as it makes them a little stickier in the pocket. Never put anything valuable in a back pocket or a backpack. Use your backpack for guidebooks, water bottles and an extra sweater, but not a camera or wallet. Leave your passport and other valuables in the hotel safe, if there is one. However, you should always carry at least a photocopy of the main page of your passport, because in Italy, as in most of Europe, people are required to show ID on request. Women should carry their purses securely, typically over the shoulder, carried towards the front, and tucked under an arm, making it more difficult to open. The zipper opening should be where you can see it. All purses should have a secure fastener; open purses are very risky.
There are also "scammers" who may engage you in conversations, or ask for directions, or say they want to practice their English. Once they gain your confidence they may give you a "gift" of appreciation or offer some merchandise at a loss. Then you will be hit for "gas money" because their credit cards aren't being accepted or some such reason. They are preying on your courtesy and friendliness. Just say no and refuse the item. Of course, there are people who genuinely want to practice their English or who need directions, so don't jump to conclusions. You can avoid problems by not allowing the exchange to cross the boundaries of casual acquaintance.
Another scam, but much more common in countries that don't have free currency exchange rates, involves someone asking for directions, only to have two "police officers" flash phony badges (the badges might say "sheriff" on them -- in English)and accuse you of trying to exchange money with the third man. Actually, it's not a crime to exchange money privately in Italy. Insist loudly on calling the carabinieri (pronounced Car-ah-been-YAIR-ee) if anything like this happens. If you have a cell phone, pull it out and threaten to call them yourself.
Don't be taken in by the mock gladiators and centurions in front of the Coliseum. They are there for the tourists who want to take photos with them, but they may insist on being paid an outrageous price if they see you take a picture in their vicinity. Again, if you feel bullied, threaten to call the police.
Be careful of taxi prices. Fares within the city of Rome should never be more than 20 euros. Within the historic center, 7 to 15 euros is typical. Before entering a taxi, ask for an estimate of the fare, and if it's out of bounds, don't get in. There are meters on the official taxis. Make sure they are being used, and observe the fare from time to time. If a hotel or restaurant calls you a cab, or if you call yourself, the meter starts to run when the cab leaves the cab stand, so don't assume this is trick. Just make sure the amount on the meter when you get in is not outrageous. Some drivers pull a switch, claiming you gave them a five instead of a twenty, for example. Try to keep some small bills on hand for paying taxi drivers; it's a good way to avoid this problem altogether. If you only have a 20 or a 50, say the number as you give the bill to the driver. It's also better to get out of the taxi before paying so that you can be face to face with the driver when you pay. Most drivers are honest; there are drivers who will return money to you because you paid too much, and drivers who insist on reducing the fare because they made a wrong turn.However, fares haven't been raised since the price of gas skyrocketed, and lately a lot of new taxi licenses have been issued, so drivers are definitely feeling the pinch and the temptation is there.
Do not allow any of this to discourage you from visiting Rome. Criminals and the downtrodden might try to use illegal means to get money from you, but Rome is in general very safe, and recently the level of safety has increased. If you take the precautions above, you will probably have no problems at all. Romans are warm and generous people, and you will enjoy their hospitality and be made to feel welcome.