It’s been three weeks since we were victims of the tire slashing tourist scam in Milan, Italy. I originally wrote about what happened on the Rick Steves website, as a comment to a long thread on this topic with many non-believers out there that it could actually happen…so what follows is a variation on the original bit of writing. 

(If you are new to me, or this blog then please read my entry from a few months back about our Intermission Year, and why we are travelling through the UK & Europe with our two dogs.)

After two months in Pietrasanta, Italy (where Michael carved in a Studio), we planned on a four day visit to Milan then a stop in Lyon, France to visit friends before heading to Calais to swap out the lease vehicles (in the Renault lease program you can only have the car for max 5 months).

We were about 2kms out from our Airbnb near Parco Sempione when a scooter with 2 people lightly bumped our rear right side – not uncommon for scooters and bikes to drive close so we didn’t think much of it until the dashboard light was flashing ‘puncture’ and ‘stop’. The car didn’t feel any different to me (driving and my husband navigating) so I drove about another 600m and then we thought better to pull over and check all the tires. As we pulled over a guy approached us and pointed to the flat tire. We pulled off the main/busy street so as not to be in the way of traffic, onto a smaller street – lots of people and parked cars etc. I stopped the car across 3 parking spots with faded lines (I didn’t realize that at the time).

As my husband and I started to unload the back of multiple luggage, bags etc, (so he could get the spare tire), a guy with a helmet approached and told us about a garage nearby. He kept our attention for a good minute or two and was using hand signals to explain the nearest garage with his broken English as he knew our Italian wasn’t that great. Meanwhile, the second person grabbed my purse from the front seat – we didn’t see it happen, but it was obvious afterwards. I kick myself for not putting the shoulder strap on right away which I always do cause I am suspicious. But there were 3 delivery (? – they were in a truck) guys that also pulled up and were upset with me because of where I had parked. I think they must of been in on the scam too.

We are seasoned travellers and are usually very aware of the people around us – maybe even too suspicious at times. But we got flustered with the flat tire, thinking we’d be late for checkin and the 3 delivery guys yelling at us.

So this happened to us and we were very upset by it all. They got two Pet Passports (which are costly to replace in the EU), two Canadian Passports, a bunch of cash, my iPhone, all my ID and more. It happened on a late afternoon right before a four day holiday weekend with  most services closed until Monday morning. We spent that first night in Milan sitting at the Police Office for three hours filing a report (our very kind Airbnb hostess came with us to translate), then on the phone until the wee hours calling banks to cancel credit cards, getting information from our insurance company and speaking with Ottawa about what to do next.

We extended our stay in Milan from four days to nine, so we could deal with the Canadian Consulate, get a new tire and destress from all of it. We both had days without sleep when we kept reliving that afternoon and asking ourselves questions; ‘how could we have been so stupid?’, ‘why didn’t the dogs bark from the backseat?’, ‘why us?’, and ‘I can’t believe my Roots purse that has been with me for the last fifteen years of travel is now gone’.

This incident shook us up pretty bad and we went from shock to anger to being thankful. It could have been worse – upon some research, it’s a popular scam and many people go to the scammers ‘mechanic friend’ and get robbed at gunpoint, taking sometimes the car with everything in it. We are lucky they only got my purse.

Now that we’ve had more time to digest it all, I’ll leave you with my thoughts on what I’ve learned;

  1. I am thankful for my sister. She has spent so much time in Vancouver dealing with our insurance, our bank, couriering documents to us, going the the local Passport office to verify our birth certificates and so much more. Taking time out of her busy life to help us is well, humbling.
  2. I am thankful for our friends who offered to help – send couriers, receive couriers here in Europe, act as references with the Passport office and so much more.
  3. What happened won’t ruin our Intermission Year. We will be ready with the camera if anyone tries to ‘help us’, or if someones bumps our car they better smile for the camera.
  4. Michael and I tend to wallow in emotion for too long. We both come by in naturally and we’ve worked hard these last few weeks to keep everything in perspective and stay positive.
  5. I really didn’t like my Roots purse after all – I don’t miss it one little bit.