The Inguide to Rome calls the Borghese gardens a “splendid park” and “one of the most beautiful parks in Rome”. True as that may be, our memories of it have been forever tainted by the scammers that prey on gullible tourists underneath its green boughs.
Now, we’re South Africans and pretty used to warding off unwanted attention from beggars, overenthusiastic salesmen and otherwise obnoxious shysters, but for some reason we allowed ourselves to be taken in by one of the many scammers working their trade in the Borghese gardens.
It had all started out so innocently. After a hectic morning of sightseeing, Gareth and I were heading back towards the city centre, footsore and tired. We were glad of the green respite the gardens provided. Rome is a busy, noisy city, but inside the gardens all was quiet and peaceful. People were strolling or cycling along under the shade of tall trees, children played on merry-go-rounds and fountains burbled contentedly, the centrepieces of large green pools.
We sat down on one of the benches with a view over the city and within seconds were accosted by a man trying to sell us flowers.
We politely declined.
We impolitely declined.
Frustrated, Gareth offered the man five Euros just so he would leave us alone. Suddenly we were his best friends. He pushed two sorry-looking roses into my hand – “for the lovely lady” – and tied a piece of string around my wrist. Then he pressed his thumb up against my forehead and offered me a blessing of some sort. He did the same to Gareth, also tying a piece of string around his wrist and blessing him on the forehead. Then he asked for another five Euros. Sighing, we obliged and, to our great relief, the man finally seemed satisfied and walked away smiling.
Disgusted with ourselves for caving in, we left the Borghese gardens behind and took refuge in the safe anonymity of the crowd gathered on the Spanish steps. A commotion drew our attention. Four men were being chased by the police, all scammers like the one that had harassed us. We don’t know if they were caught in the end, but at least we can take satisfaction in the knowledge that the authorities knew about them and were trying to stop them from scamming others as well.
Have you been scammed while travelling abroad? Tell us what happened in the comments below.
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For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.