Trip Report: Rome and Naples
September, 2017

16 days in Italy - Rome and Naples

CURSED HOUSEKEYS

I'm back! It seems a bit remarkable frankly, given the number of significant screw-ups.

The first one was mine: On leaving, at San Francisco airport security, I forgot that I had my housekeys deep in my pocket. So, when the people-scanner beeped at me, I was instructed to go back to the start of the security line to get a tray (they did not have any trays or the usual bowls for change near the people-scanner). Consequently, my pocket contents actually ended up spread out in 3 trays with other customers in between. You can well imagine I was distracted when I finally got through the scanner, and I failed to pick up my housekeys. I realized this 20 minutes later at the boarding gate ... and I've got to tell you it felt like a miracle when I went back to carefully survey the scanner area — and found them!

I had a second problem upon my return. Leaving Rome via Lufthansa (which I learned means "air union"), I was surprised to find that I couldn't hand carry my 3 bottles of Limoncello (a Sorrento specialty) because of the limit on liquids. In my stupidity, I thought of them as bottles, not liquids! I hastily repacked them in my daypack and checked it (thank god no fee for a second checked bag). I traveled with a plastic grocery bag as my carry-on luggage! Connecting in Frankfurt, one of my 2 checked bags was delayed 24 hours. It was my main bag (not the one with the Limoncello) — the one carrying my housekeys!

If I hadn't had a backup housekey available, I'm not sure where I would have slept that night.

Actually, I had a great vacation, and learned some good lessons.

THE ATM TRAP

The other major problem I had in Italy was that my ATM card mysteriously stopped working after my first try. Despite the 3% currency conversion fee (plus $5 'out of network' fee), I had planned to use it as my main source of spending money (as I have previously in other countries). I used it successfully upon my initial arrival in the Rome airport to get 350 euros. I had notified Bank of America in advance that I would be traveling in Italy. Nevertheless, when I tried later in Naples to withdraw US$534 (I have learned that my limit is $700 anywhere), the withdrawal was refused and it triggered a 'fraud protection hold'. I was unable to get any more ATM cash anywhere in Italy.

It may be that BofA considers Napoli a high risk city. After climbing the ladder in the Fraud Protection Dept by phone at BofA, I seem to have learned that their (Naples/Italy/overseas?) policy is "use it once then call us." Their policy seems to assume that one still has email access while traveling (I did receive a bunch of email 'fraud alerts' — once I got home).

So, "for my protection," a 'fraud protection hold' was placed on my card simply because I used it again, in Naples. I didn't know this, of course. As my cash dwindled, I wandered Naples looking for a machine that would work, with no success.

Interestingly, there are obvious crossed wires here: My intent in informing them of my travel to Italy was to loosen their security monitoring; but they did just the opposite!

Fortunately, I travel with several credit cards (spread across my person and my luggage) and $500 in $20 bills, so I had alternative forms of money. I was not actually inconvenienced, just pissed off!

I WAS CHEATED!

Visiting Italy, home of the mafia, the topic of crime was thrust on me. Fortunately, not big time or violent crime, just cheating the tourist.

NAPLES:

  • First, on the train to Naples, I sat with a young Indian couple immersed in an intense series of phone calls. Gradually she opened up and spoke to me about how someone had helped put their luggage (several wheeled cases) up on the rack above our seating when they boarded. At one point, a case was maneuvered to block the view of their black backpack (cash inside) — which they discovered was missing just as the train pulled out of Rome station.
  • Next was the taxi from Napoli Centrale train station to my hotel. At the taxi lineup, as I got in, the driver said "fixed price: 25 euros." Later, I learned the usual fare was about 12 euros, for what turned out to be a short ride.
  • After visiting Herculaneum, walking back to the train station along the main drag of the town called Ercolano, I bought a gelato. There was no posted menu, so (instead of trying to ask the price) I proffered a 5 euro bill. I received a 1 euro coin in change — only later to see by the receipt that the price was 3 euros. The server had palmed a 1 euro coin!
  • I had only large bills (and no coins) to pay for dinner one night, and the waiter wouldn't give me change when I gave him a bill for the tip. He spoke English, but when I asked, he just shrugged. I let him keep my 5 euro bill. (Tipping is not part of Italian culture — except nowadays within tourist areas!)

IN THE PAST

When I look back at mishaps in my prior travels, maybe Naples wasn't so bad:

  • In 2014, when I visited Cuzco (my ill-fated attempt to see Machu Picchu), I bought airfare to Lima from a streetside travel agent. I learned later that I was charged a 50% commission.
  • In 1997, when I first visited Rome, I paid for a Metro ticket with a bill. I was given coin as change and left. Later I realized I was due some paper bills as well — I got the small change but not the big change. I went back and accosted the agent in the booth, to no avail. I learned later this cheat is called giving 'slow change.'
  • In 1985, when I visited Puerto Vallarta with college buddies, I bought a bathroom kit from a shop. I thought the shop-keeper was so nice to offer to package my purchase for travel. He took the soap dish, toothbrush holder, and pottery jar into the back and emerged with everything nicely paper-wrapped. When I got back to the states, I found that the soap dish was missing.

Tourists are easy marks. Learn from my mistakes!

Happy travels,
Kendall

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