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Seamus met two charming, well-dressed guys on the steps of the Duomo with credentials around their necks. Before the afternoon was over we were out €40, two hours of our lives, and being threatened with the mafia.

 

Climbing the Duomo was really the only thing on my list of things to do in Florence, because of course, I needed to take some award-winning photos that the other 837 tourists hadn’t managed to capture that morning.

But today…today I’m already worn down. It’s one of those suffocating days where crowds of people ramble through the streets and envelop you heedlessly as if you were a blood-smeared Michonne in a dire moment of the Walking Dead.

 

And so it happened…

1) The Hook – Two friendly, dapper guys who speak perfect English grab your attention. They’re all smiles and can’t resist throwing in a “my friend” because you guys are completely and totally friends now, right? Your bud, who has a “licensed tour guide” badge hanging from his neck and a NAME TAG for god’s sake, wants to take you on a private tour of the Duomo. He’s going to explain in extremely clear and detailed language about the artwork, the architecture and how and why it was built. Yay, learning!

 

2) The Bait For only €30 you not only get a charismatic guide (and pal), you skip all of the lines and entrance to the Duomo, the baptistery and the crypt, the dome and bell tower. Line-skipping?? Sounds like an early pizza lunch to me.

 

3) The Switch – Your homey will not actually be the one taking you on a tour. But don’t worry; a colleague, nay an expert, will guide you. But first, please sign up with the administrator. You know that intern-type that might easily make monetary mistakes? Yes, enter her. She charges you only €20 for the tour and you don’t say anything because she’s running the books and if she says it’s €20 instead of €30 why should you argue?

 

4) The Handoff – Amidst sign-up sheets flying and euros flitting between wallets and zippy pouches, without so much as a half-hearted request to be friends on Facebook your new BFFs and their admin girl are gone. There are 14 in the group, ready to meet Maria, the tour guide no one signed up for. She is whisper quiet, lacking in discernable personality and has an accent so thick you could toss pasta in it.

 

Before she can give you your audio receiver, which amplifies her voice once inside the cathedral, she must collect your driver’s license (WTF?). She explains that the receivers cost €75 each, and the company takes it out of her paycheck if she doesn’t return them, so this is insurance that we’ll give them back. In fact, today she is working for free since she already lost two last week. Janky green plastic receivers are handed out and I can’t imagine how this costs €75. It’s flimsier than a garage door opener without the benefit of opening my garage door. I’ve bought iPod Nanos that cost less. Who keeps these things and WHAT ARE THEY DOING WITH THEM?

 

Never mind. As Maria takes you into the cathedral, all hopes of learning fade into the tapestries as you realize you can neither hear nor understand 75% of what she is saying. The other 25% are a sad testament to the fact that she has a knack for dryly droning on about the most insubstantial details possible. Actual tears of boredom are real. People get their IDs back and leave.

Juliana Dever inside the Duomo - Florence, Italy

Longingly wishing to get up there and look out. Soon, my perch of unlimited sight distance, very soon.

5) The Dupe – The tour mercifully ends and Maria thanks the remaining eight members of the group for sticking it out and listening to her dull monologue. Or at least that’s what I heard in my head.

 

But now the reward! Climbing the Dome! Let the NatGeo-worthy picture taking ensue! Record-scratch, what? Maria has no idea what you are asking. Sorry.

 

You argue you paid for entry to four more monuments, including climbing the freaking dome. She goes into her “I’m really clueless” speech. Which is followed by her “can you please give me back my €75 receivers because already I’m working for free today?” plea.

 

6) The Double Cross – For most, this is where it ends. You give back your transmitters. You get your IDs. You feel a little stupid. You walk away.

 

But for us, this is where it gets good. Two French tourists do a sleight of hand. They palm their receivers as if to give them back. They get their IDs. They retract the receivers. “We’ll give these back when you give us our tickets to climb the dome.” Ka-zzzing!

 

Now that this scam isn’t going as planned, Maria suddenly remembers she has a mobile phone and knows how to use it to make actual phone calls. Her disappeared tour hawkers, despite being completely unavailable moments before are now on the scene and ready to talk business.

 

They ask how much you paid for the tour? You say €20. They counter that they told you all monuments were €30, why didn’t you pay that? They can’t give you tickets to everything if you don’t pay the full amount, so why didn’t you correct the confused admin girl when she was collecting your money?

 

Mathematical trickery aside, you continue to demand the promised tickets. Your French compatriots hold their receivers hostage. Turns out those guys that weren’t really your friends after all, can produce tickets, but you must wait 30 minutes while they walk back to the office and get them. The French insist on having the police sort it out. Maria asks god why she keeps losing receivers.

Travel scams in Florence, Italy at the Duomo

Why do you tease me, vantage point of amazing photos? Just let me climb you.

A fifth person, the “manager” shows up to help sort out the confusion that you, the consumer, have created. And by sort out I mean use a lot of gestures and threaten that if the receivers are not returned, she will send the mafia after you. This is not the sort of side job I envision the mafia picking up, but I guess times are tough.

 

Sensing futility, or at least the need for a burrata crostini, we begin to back out of the argument which now involves two hawkers, two French tourists, one mafia-adjacent manager, a confused administrator and an anguished tour guide down by two transmitters. Again.

 

7) The Resignation – We slip away and head to the Central Market for Pinot Grigio and sympathy. I feel defeated because I should know better. I’m an experienced traveler and a cynic. Yet, I still fell victim to the travel scams in Florence. This isn’t my first passport stamp. It was an off day and I wanted to trust those guys, but that won’t happen again. I hope this helps you, too.

 

Because the truth is that if you are willing to walk about 100 feet over to the ticket office on the left side of the Duomo you can get a ticket for all five monuments for €10. No line skipping, no sleep-inducing guided tour, and no drama.

 

  •  Do
  •  Speak

Get your own tickets to climb the Duomo for €10.

hello/good day  =  buon giorno (bwohn jor-noh)

goodbye  =  arrivederci (ah-ree-veh-dehr-chee)

please =  per favore (pehr fah-voh-ray)

thank you  =  grazie (graht-see-ay)

cheers!  =  chin chin! (cheen cheen)

one  =  uno (oo-noh)

two  =  due (doo-ay)

three  =  tre (tray)

Have you ever been scammed while traveling?

 

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Travel Scams | Travel Stories | Florence Italy | Travel Italy

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About the Author

Hi. I’m Juliana Dever and according to science I have some sort of "exploration" gene. Embracing this compulsion, I spend a lot of time hurtling around the planet in metal tubes experiencing other cultures and writing humorous essays about it. Enjoy.

36 Comments

  1. Shena / July 5, 2015 at 1:37 pm /Reply

    Sorry you got duped…
    But just think. You now have a great story to tell the grand-puppies and grand-goats. 😀

  2. Dot / July 5, 2015 at 2:00 pm /Reply

    Not good.Hate being duped. Leaves a bad taste in your mouth and a resentment for a city that is very beautiful.

  3. Kristi / July 5, 2015 at 2:34 pm /Reply

    A friend was almost the victim of a fake diamond ring scam. Luckily, she figured it out. Was the duomo baptistery uncovered and viewable? In February, it was covered in a shrowd that showed a picture of the post-renovation look.

    • Juliana Dever / July 15, 2015 at 2:31 pm /Reply

      Ahh yes, I’ve had the old “you dropped this gold ring” scam tried on me. I laughed at them and kept walking. But it’s a good reminder of some of the other ones out there.

  4. Teresa / July 5, 2015 at 4:01 pm /Reply

    I have a very similar story from Venice and the Murano glass factory tour/island/ scam. We were abandoned by the scammer after our refusal to pay more…and then had to pay even more to get a boat ride back. In my defense, I was in my 20’s.

    • Juliana Dever / July 15, 2015 at 2:32 pm /Reply

      Defense accepted. Plus, I think so much of it really does stem from wanting to trust other people. You can’t fault that. It’s just know when not to.

  5. Brittany C Johnson / July 5, 2015 at 4:09 pm /Reply

    Through my travels, I may have taken the risk to trust strangers, but thankfully they were genuine. I was hoping to visit Italy soon, thanks for the tip! I’m sure it was glorious!

    • Juliana Dever / July 15, 2015 at 2:33 pm /Reply

      That’s the tough part. Sometimes something wonderful happens when you take that leap and trust a stranger. Just watch out for those guys if you head to Florence.

  6. Missy / July 5, 2015 at 4:13 pm /Reply

    Hate that this happened to you and Seamus, but I’m sorry, it is hysterical! The way you tell things cracks me up!

    • Juliana Dever / July 15, 2015 at 2:34 pm /Reply

      Thanks Missy. I’m gonna get something good out of this, dammit – even if it’s a good story. Glad you enjoyed it.

  7. Ali / July 5, 2015 at 5:07 pm /Reply

    We sort of got scammed at the Colosseum in Rome by an American student no less! An American girl came up to us and explained she was doing a study abroad and she could give us a tour. She also had a badge and a clipboard looking official. I think it cost us about $5 USD each and she gave us the impression that it would include inside the Colosseum. In the end, she just dragged us around the outside. It was informative but by the time she was done, the Colosseum had closed for entry and it was our last day. I learned then to only take tours from guides recommended by a friend or to buy official tours/guides from the site itself. Sorry you got taken in like that but applaud you for publicly sharing your story on being duped; it’s not easy to publicly say you got scammed especially when an experienced traveller. Love your blog and look forward to more.

    • Juliana Dever / July 15, 2015 at 2:40 pm /Reply

      It happens to everyone Ali, even travelers way more experienced than me. I think it’s important to share so that we all are clued in to the new and inventive scams out there. Thanks for sharing your story!

  8. Jenni / July 5, 2015 at 11:09 pm /Reply

    The ending of your tale is what makes it hit home the most… that for €10 you could have completed your aim for the day!

    Thank you for sharing!

  9. Anne / July 5, 2015 at 11:23 pm /Reply

    Happened to me too and my friends… in Kenya. No mafia involved though.
    Thank you for your great and fun stories and let’s not forget beautiful photos.

  10. Kari B / July 6, 2015 at 3:30 am /Reply

    So sorry this happened to you two. Sometimes I think we become so “savvy” that we forget we *can* be scammed. I will say this, though – when I was a teenager my family took a trip to Jamaica and were approached by a lively, witting man offering us a “personal tour” of several of the area’s best attractions. My parents were skeptical, but he assured us we didn’t need to pay him until after the tour and we could follow him in our rental car. That afternoon ended up being the best memory I have of our visit. I wish I remembered the man’s name – he was entertaining, informative and obviously loved his country. He was a delight.

    • Juliana Dever / July 15, 2015 at 2:42 pm /Reply

      Thanks for sharing Kari. See? This is the other side. I’m glad you came away with a great experience and a contribution to the local economy. Some of my best travel memories come from trusting strangers. So once in a while you get your time and money wasted. It’s all part of the experience and I have a great story to share.

  11. Stewart / July 6, 2015 at 4:21 am /Reply

    Just goes to show, you can’t con an honest man!

  12. Kristi / July 7, 2015 at 1:31 pm /Reply

    But this is SUCH a good story! Have you ever wondered why people who are smart enough to come up with scams such as these, don’t use their brains for good? And if they did, what a better place the world would be? I am also a fairly hardened cynic and several attempts have been made to scam me, usually via phone or e-mail. I’ve had fun with a few of them and now have a couple creative “scripts” at the ready to mess with their creepy little minds. That part has been quite fun — you know, act interested (not too hard since this is fun!) or a little nuts (that part’s easy!) and get them hooked. But the best part is knowing they hear police sirens in their sleep!

    Have a great ending to your adventure with Seamus — you two sound like a very fun couple!

    • Juliana Dever / July 15, 2015 at 2:45 pm /Reply

      Thanks Kristi – it’s really all part of the territory when you travel. Seamus has had quite a bit of fun at the expense of scam emailers. Thanks for checking out the blog!

  13. NemuriNeko / July 12, 2015 at 4:20 pm /Reply

    The ID as a ‘deposit’ doesn’t surprise me at all. Everything else is really shocking. Sorry you had to go through that, I hope you enjoyed your stay there anyway!

  14. Leigh / July 25, 2015 at 2:38 pm /Reply

    The worst experiences sometimes make the best stories, and you are a great storyteller! Sorry you got scammed, but I’m glad I found your blog 🙂

    • Juliana Dever / July 25, 2015 at 2:56 pm /Reply

      Thank you Leigh, I don’t really mind the scam in retrospect, and I’m glad that I could share the story with everyone. Thanks so much for reading!

  15. Jampierre / August 25, 2015 at 9:47 am /Reply

    I’m so glad you guys went to Venice and now you understand why it’s my foairvte city! Jason and I did the same thing you guys did. We took a water taxi to San Marco and spent the day wandering back to the Rialto bridge. I think part of what makes Venice so magical is letter yourselft get lost. We found small little bakeries and got treats, stumbled across a bridal party on their way to the church and just enjoyed the ebb and flow of traffic. As we got closer to Rialto the tourist traffic picked up and it wasn’t nearly as magical.

    • Juliana Dever / August 25, 2015 at 11:15 am /Reply

      Sounds like your time in Venice was magical – you did it right! You have to let Venice (not the tourists) sweep you away, and go down all of the little side streets. How fun is getting lost there?

  16. Eric Stoen | Travel Babbo / August 31, 2015 at 1:26 pm /Reply

    No wonder you don’t like Florence! Give it another chance though.

    • Juliana Dever / August 31, 2015 at 1:38 pm /Reply

      Ha! I was already annoyed with Florence when this happened. But I hear ya, and I know you love it. Maybe I’ll go back in less-touristed season.

  17. Krista / September 9, 2015 at 7:21 am /Reply

    A train ticket-checker tried to get more money out of a friend and me on an overnight train from Munich to Naples. We were woken up for a ticket & passport check around 3am (contacts out + lack of good sleep = dazed and confused), told in broken English that our tickets were incorrect and the difference had to be paid or we would be booted off. We tried talking to him in both English and German – he insisted he didn’t know more than a few words in each (despite the fact that his name badge stated he spoke both). I was frustrated and tried to just pay by credit card, but was told cash only (should have been a sign, but 3am and half-blind). We didn’t have any lira yet, so collected our things to get off at the next stop, perhaps to use the ATM, perhaps to talk to someone in the ticket office or just jump on the next train. We passed the guy on the way out of the train, asking again in both German and English why he needed more money when our tickets were CLEARLY from Munich to Napoli.

    He was about 5’5″.

    I’m just under 6′ and my friend’s 6’4″.

    As we loomed over him he said never mind… his mistake…. and suddenly understood everything we were saying and responded fluently. (Hey! Let’s try to scam the dumb American tourists!)

    Beware travelers – it’s not always random people… the officials can be crooked scammers as well!

    • Juliana Dever / September 9, 2015 at 10:41 am /Reply

      wow. Yep, unfortunately it is true. I’ve been scammed before in a taxi at 3am in Greece after I had just landed and was trying to get to my hotel. Sometimes it’s very difficult to know that you are being scammed, and it’s frustrating. It never changes how much I love travel because I know it can happen anywhere in the world, even at home. But you can keep a mental note of the types of scams you experience or hear about and try to stay as alert to them as possible. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Ashley / September 9, 2015 at 3:31 pm /Reply

    Yeahhh, this is fantastic. Not the situation obviously, but this article. I’m glad you found out about the 10Euro monument ticket! Did you ever get to climb the dome? I actually climbed the bell tower because I wanted the dome in my pictures. “Maria asks god why she keeps losing receivers.” SO funny! You’ve just earned yourself a new fan 😉

    Ashley

    • Juliana Dever / September 9, 2015 at 6:41 pm /Reply

      I NEVER got to climb that freaking dome, Ashley! Can you believe it after all that? I just swam in a sea of gorgonzola pasta and super Tuscans the rest of my time in Florence and called it a wash. It wasn’t the worst thing ever to happen, though during that tour it was agonizing. Afterwards I figured I had a good story out of it anyway. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  19. Kiara Gallop / September 10, 2015 at 3:44 am /Reply

    I love this story! I’m sure it was a frustrating, unpleasant, embarrassing and frustrating experience at the time (i have been scammed in similar ways myself) but you tell it so well I really felt like I was there with you 🙂

  20. Kiara Gallop / September 10, 2015 at 4:07 am /Reply

    The one time I didn’t proof read my comment and I’ve just realised I’ve written the same work twice! *face palm* 😉

  21. Janet / September 16, 2015 at 3:54 pm /Reply

    Working on Hollywood Blvd for 2 decades I’ve seen pretty much all the shenanigans that go on with these “tour” people. In Boston they tried to get my group of family “the target” to buy tickets to attractions there. I stepped in and said “no, well go inside to the info desk”. Thank you very much. Don’t think they were happy. Sorry you got duped, but you did get a good story out of is, so not all was lost!

    • Juliana Dever / September 16, 2015 at 5:30 pm /Reply

      Thank you Janet! Yes, I usually see these people coming a mile away, but I was a bit worn down that morning and was in a “fine, take me on a tour” kind of mood. But in the end, I had a story to share with everyone, which was worth the stupid €20. 😀

  22. KatrianaM / September 16, 2015 at 7:24 pm /Reply

    Wow,that sucks a lot. Think you will return and try again? Sorry.
    @ KatrianaM

  23. David from travelscams.org / August 7, 2017 at 8:35 am /Reply

    Great article, thanks for the tips! Being home to the most UNESCO world heritage sites globally, Italy is indeed a fascinating land to visit. However, there are a number of crooks targeting tourists in the country.

    Do be wary of the fashion guru asking for petrol money, gypsy groups, Rome gladiators, string/bracelet scam, pickpocketing, fake luxury products, rose scam, gold ring scam, unofficial tour guides, pigeon scam and many more!

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