Robbed in Rome

November 7, 2011 at 9:02 am 60 comments

I flew to Rome last Monday with a single black backpack containing everything essential for a week-long romp through Italy.

To be completely honest, I’d been having a bad week. It didn’t help that before Rome I was in Berlin, where dying leaves littered the ground and the clouds poured rain whenever I forgot my umbrella. For the first time this semester I wanted to go home. Even though I knew how lucky I was to be abroad, I continually battled stress and exhaustion. Italy felt like an escape, a chance to find myself again.

My friend J- and I arrived in Rome on Halloween night. We navigated the train station and a few tram stops later we arrived at our apartment, where J-‘s childhood friend A- had offered her couch. It was small, but centrally located, and in our excitement to explore Rome we dropped our backpacks down on the living room floor and rushed outside.

I fell for Rome in the hour we spent outside – how could I not? We wandered past ancient ruins in the middle of cobblestoned piazzas, leaping fountains, a blur of arches and columns. The night was so warm I wore a short sleeved t-shirt and a skirt. I had nothing with me. No passport, no wallet, no cell phone. For the first time in weeks I felt free.

We walked back, ready to fall into bed. The barred metal gate to the apartment building was ajar. Inside, the door to our apartment stood wide open. First, I saw my clothes on a pile on the floor, my journal tossed a couple feet away. In one hazy moment I realized my backpack was nowhere in sight, and without thought I opened my mouth and said, “I think we’ve been robbed.”

I sat on the couch and experienced my first real panic attack. J- had his arms around me as he tried to help me breathe again. A- ran from room to room. Laptops, cell phones, cameras, even expensive headphones and cologne – gone. I cried and cried as A- called the police and the seven people living in the apartment, whom I hadn’t even met yet. I’d been in Rome for three hours.

When the police arrived, we made lists of everything we lost. I sat on the steps outside with my torn piece of notebook paper and a pen, absolutely numb. The thieves had taken my backpack itself, leaving only my clothes and my journal. I lost my toiletries, souvenirs from Berlin, and worthless but sentimental things – a friendship bracelet from a dear friend, a bag from my dad, my favorite earrings.

My laptop was stolen. So was my Canon DSLR and 50mm lens. The moment I realized they were gone, I also knew I couldn’t afford to replace either. J- held my hand as I repeated, over and over, “I don’t know how to live without my camera.”

In the morning, J- and I ate a quick breakfast and left the apartment without a map or itinerary. We just wanted to wander. When we stepped outside and I saw Rome in the light for the first time, I exhaled all of the negative energy inside me and knew that everything would be okay. Being robbed was terrible, but in a superficial way, I’m glad it happened.

Honestly, things are just things. All I lost was money, and convenience. Nobody was hurt. We returned to the apartment so early last night, we’re lucky we didn’t run into the robbers, who I’m sure would have been armed. I can live without a laptop. And while it was painful to explore Italy without my camera, I used my iPod instead, and that’s where the photos in this post are from.

Most of all, the robbery provided an emotional outlet I’d needed. For weeks I’d been feeling miserable, but I supressed everything in an effort to appreciate the opportunity I’d been given. But the emotions I experienced during the robbery were so intense – fear, anger, depression, confusion, hurt – that I woke up cleansed the next morning. A blank slate. Ready to embrace Rome fully and whole-heartedly.

And we did. Rome is my favorite city of the five countries I’ve visited, and this trip – robbery included – has been my absolute favorite.

J- and I ate gelato twice a day. We walked through the forum in silence, absolutely spellbound. I stood beneath the Sistine Chapel, and I peered over the stretch of Rome from the St. Peter’s Dome. I sat beneath the Italian pine trees, soft and strong and older than I can imagine, and wrote in my travel journal, which I am so grateful to still have.

Whenever I snuck an olive off J-‘s pizza or borrowed his pen, he wrinkled his nose at me and said, “I’ve been robbed!”

Sometimes, you have to choose to laugh.

The next day we filed a police report with the seven other people who were robbed. As I sat in silence in the Roman police station, that familiar numbness seeping through my skull, I wondered, “Since when is this my life?”

J- and I decided to treat ourselves to a fantastic dinner. We wandered until we found a beautiful restaurant, with outdoor seating and twinkling Christmas lights. We were the only people there but the prices were affordable and the fragrant air beckoned us to sit down. I ordered a seafood spaghetti with mussels, clams, and cherry tomatoes; J- ordered gnocchi with arugula and cream sauce.

I think I may have cried when our food came out. I wish so badly I had a camera to take a picture, because it was the most beautiful plate of pasta I’ve ever seen. J- moaned when he took his first bite, but I thought mine was even better. We split a bottle of chianti and then treated ourselves to dessert.

If that night, that conversation with J-, that astounding plate of spaghetti, doesn’t turn out to be the highlight of the semester, I don’t know what will be.

I’m back in the Netherlands now. Classes start again tomorrow. Life moves on.

I’m writing this in the computer lab, which is drafty and continuously buzzing. The internet is spotty and I am missing my laptop more than ever. When I head to Morocco for my next travel weekend, I’ll ache for my camera until my heart bruises.

But my life isn’t made rich by money, or by photographs. I have all the memories I need, and as long as there’s wifi, I’ll continue to share them with you.

Entry filed under: Travel. Tags: , , , , .

Edinburgh Gelato Withdrawals

60 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Amanda Mocci (@AmaMocci)  |  December 13, 2011 at 10:25 am

    I am so sorry to hear of the unfortunate events that happened to you while in Rome. I must say that your ability to move on and your words simply warmed my heart. I don’t wish these things on anyone, but if in the event ill things should happen, I will think of your moving and positive words. Good luck with everything!

  • 2. sam  |  December 30, 2011 at 1:51 am

    you are all shades of amazing, truly…what a brilliant piece of writing..i haven’t been back to your blog in quite awhile (new baby), and what a lovely read this was..i am so sorry to hear about your belongings..i am more moved by how you expressed yourself through your writing and the awesome pics you did capture via iphone..cheers and wow..just wow..

  • 3. The Hook  |  January 14, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    Evil isn’t country-specific, is it? Glad to hear you still managed to have fun!

  • 4. rastaphoto  |  January 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    I have been traveling for some 20 odd years. Every time i go I expect to be robbed and always plan how i will just give my things away. So far I have never had anything stolen from me but i still expect it every time i travel. in that way i hope it might be easier when it happens, though i doubt it.
    When it does happen i hope I can get over it like you did.
    Perfect love and good luck on the rest of your journeys

  • 5. baahnvoyage  |  January 14, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    I too was robbed within hours of arriving in Rome, and like you, I found a way to be glad in some way that it happened; I learned a lot from the experience.

    I’m sorry too that you, and everyone else who has had that moment of realization hit them, were robbed. The pics you posted though brought back some really beautiful memories.. I’m happy you had a back-up photo device.

    Cheers from Warsaw!

  • 6. theincurablelibertine  |  January 16, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    i’m so sorry to hear you were robbed – how horrible. it’s happened to me too on holidays and it hurts especially badly! it’s great how you reflected on it and decided to move on.

  • 7. ModernAlice  |  January 16, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    These are absolutely breathtaking architectural photos!!! I was in Rome a few summers ago and absolutely fell in love with the city. You truly captured the essence of Rome in these photos

  • 8. Daniel Sim  |  January 21, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    Hi Elissa,

    Sorry to hear about the unhappy episode. But must say, this is one of the best written blog I ever came across. More importantly, you are a very good photographer. I am not sure I would do if I were to lost my camera and I am pretty sure I will not be able to use a phone camera to take pictures like the way you have done. They were simply superb and it captures the essence of Rome so beautifully that I just want to fly there immediately.

    Thanks for writing I do hope you are able to replace the things that were gone – especially a digital SLR and the wonderful 50mm lens. :)


  • 9. Vicki  |  July 7, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    I am reading your blog because I just googled “getting robbed in Rome” because my daughter just called me & told me they robbed all their luggage in Rome, right out of their rented car. She is vacationing with her boyfriend & his family & were supposed to leave tomorrow BUT because they had their passports in their luggage, now they have to wait until the Embassy opens on Monday! You had an amazing perspective when you were robbed & I am sorry it happened to you too. I don’t think I would have such a mature response & I am almost 3X’s your age! I guess experience is everything & I hope all your other travels are safe.

  • 10. SABATOWKA  |  March 24, 2013 at 5:17 am

    caro mio le tue foto e tekst sobo veramente belle. Complimenti!


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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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