Italy,  spilling my guts,  travel

Italy, Chapter 5: Wrapping-up Milan with a healthy dose of PTSD


I took a little while to finish up these posts on Italy  because I had to take some time off to take care of myself and my life. Losing your computer, your camera and your wits will do that to you. I came down with a UTI and one of those super stiff necks from hell. I think it was just stress. The good news is I am FINE now! I definitely think I am coming out from the other side of this crazy adventure stronger.

I don’t want to in any way want to say that this trip was a failure or something I wish didn’t happen.  I had a really great time in spite of two really horrible things that happened. It was an adventure of a lifetime and I can’t believe I can add Italy to my list of places I’ve explored. I will go back. I might not go back to Milan right away but I am not turned off Italy just because of what happened to us.

So where was I? Oh yes. Back in Milan.

We arrived from Florence at the same train station that we left to go to Varena.  We were super dreading going back to Milan because of what happened to us there the first night and then guess what? WE GOT ROBBED AGAIN! I’m not even kidding.

This time it happened in the train station. Christine and Teresa and I were filing out of the train, down those flat moving escalators when suddenly a bunch of girls without suitcases swarmed by us. I remember thinking it was odd that they had no suitcases and they hung out at the train station like it was cool or something. It was kind of like a mall with stores and cafes so I reasoned them away with that. Then one of the girls lifted up her scarf above her head like she was going to fly off with it like a sail. I thought, that was weird. Was it raining? Was she getting ready to go outside by putting a scarf on her head to protect her hair? Later I realized this was a distraction technique.

Then as I turned a corner my stupid suitcase (that has a wonky handle problem and won’t extend all the way, leaving me to pull it half bent over and completely uncomfortable) caught on the wall and I had to stop to right it. Christine and Teresa kept going on ahead of me toward a gate that was a bit crammed up with people. I was going to follow them but I decided to go to the other side of the gate where there were less people. As I was going I suddenly noticed ahead of me that Teresa’s backpack was completely unzipped and a woman’s hand was in it pulling things out.

I went into super hero mode and ran across the sidewalk, grabbed the theif’s wrist and yelled “HEY!” as loud as I could. It mass confusion. The woman started yelling back at me in Italian and all I can remember is trying to get Teresa out of the mob before more people attacked us. There were people everywhere and we just wanted to get away. We walked as fast as we could to the taxi line and jumped in the nearest taxi.

While we drove to our hotel Teresa went through her backpack to take inventory and see what was taken. Thankfully the thief only got toiletries and a sentimental bag that her daughter gave her. But we were so shaken. Literally shaking. We tried to calm ourselves and get to the hotel safely.

I thought sure we would just stay in our hotel and sequester ourselves from the evil that is Milan for the rest of the night but Christine thought better. She forced us to go out again for dinner and she was probably right. Even though it was what our instincts wanted, staying in would have been worse. We would have festered in our fear, sealing our memories of Milan forever with a bad taste.

It wasn’t the easiest dinner. We tried to keep things light and think about the good times but it was hard. Teresa broke down a few times. Christine and I tried to fake a good time by naming the strangers that walked by our table but it was a little bit of a challenge.

Do you know that game? I guess it would be called profiling but I like to think of it as an exercise in creative writing. You just pick a stranger, make up a name, an occupation and even a story line. It’s great fun and usually a great way to get laughs and pass the time when silences can be awkward.

Thankfully, the waiters at our restaurant were amazing. I’ll always remember Gioseppe so fondly. He wasn’t really our waiter but more of a guard who stood by our table and watched out for us. Or at least it seemed like that. We ate in the Galleria so our restaurant was open to the outside and maybe he was protecting us from more theives. Who knows. But we do know that he was super kind and he took a liking to Teresa. When she was crying he called her princess and brought her tissues. Then another waiter came and talked to her in Tagalog, her native language. I think they bonded over being the only Filipinos in Italy. It was very sweet.


Then we went back to the hotel and went to sleep early so we could wake up the crack of dawn and go home already. Teresa and I were never more ready to go home than that night. We were sad to leave Christine but we were officially stick-a-fork-in-us DONE with Italy.

It was time to pay the piper. I had to get home, buy a new computer, figure out if my manual back-up worked (it did, mostly), put my work life back together and work my head off so I could pay off all those charges I put on my credit card while in Italy.  Italy was a big financial loss for me.

BUT I have a feeling it is going to be a win in the long run. I already feel smarter and stronger. I am a seasoned traveler now. I have been through hard things and come out the other side. I know what to do and what not to do when traveling in high crime areas. I’m not stupid anymore.

I also have a lot of experience under my belt now. I know what PTSD is. I have dreams now about being robbed which is something I never had dreams about before. It’s not horrible. It’s not heart-tightening nightmares. It’s more of a way my brain is processing what happened.

Little things scare me that never did before, a passing shadow, a sound in the middle of the night. I’ve woken up several times thinking someone was in my house robbing me and I live in a neighborhood where a thought like that never crossed my mind before. But it’s okay. I am happy and safe. I wake up and I am relieved that I am safe.


I am happy that I survived this. I’m proud of myself (especially the part where I grabbed the thief’s hand from Teresa’s backpack). I think I’m pretty tough.

Take that Italy! Take that. You can take my things but you can’t take me.

I think about the thieves a lot. What made them that desperate? Did they come from a long line of thieves and they don’t know any better? Is it their occupation? Why did they leave my passport, credit cards and driver’s license? Did they have compassion for me? Who were they and why did they do this? I’ll always wonder that.



  • Helena

    oh honey!! This is insane!!

    #1 My friend was visiting Milan and was robbed two Mondays ago…

    #2 I am planning on taking my kiddo and my niece (17) to Italy next summer!! I think we’ll avoid Milan

    So glad you made it through and can’t wait to see what other adventures you get into in the future….

  • gingermog

    Hi lovely I am so sorry you had such rotten bad luck! I do admire you though for grabbing the thief hand. That was brave as people can lash out, I can well imagine the commotion they caused. I was once on a crowded bus when a woman kicked off at a male passenger and got verbally abusive with him, saying dreadful stuff (he’d dared open a window and not asked her first) turned out it was a distraction technique while her friend was trying to rob people. Another lady made me aware they were trying to get into my bag. I got off as soon as poss. I’ve also had my bag robbed in a cafe in Soho. A crowd of people swarmed around me making a lot of noise and when they had gone so had my bag. You learn the hard way guess. No one is infallible though.

    I hate the fact that your experiences have given you PTSD. Your spidey signals are tingling right now, waking up with a strange guy in Air B&B place is an especially traumatic experience. Wish I could give you a hug .

    Like you I struggle with the reason why people choose to commit crimes against other people, what drives them. Is it their backgrounds? Did they have hard lives growing up etc? A police officer once told me the last time I was burgled (I’ve been burgled 3 times in London) told me not to waste my compassion, (unusually the thief was caught that very day was going to prison for stealing my old laptop which didn’t work too well, a crappy mobile phone etc) criminals wake up and they’d rather burgle a few houses which they see as easy pickings and sell the stolen items at a pub, way under the value mark than go out and get a job. Its a way of life for some people. They think differently. We could drive ourselves and trying to figure out why.

    Huge hugs

  • Sarah

    I hope your brain will soon be done with working through the unpleasant events of the trip and will let your dreams return to something more pleasant. Like planning a party in beautiful Varenna for example.

  • Susan H.

    Even an experienced traveler can be friend put her backpack over the back of her chair, and her coat OVER the backpack, and it was still lifted without her knowing. All you can do is be extra alert now that you know how they try to distract you. I had heard that Milan was known for petty theft, and I’m glad you didn’t lose your ID and credit cards.

  • BeachMama

    So sorry you had these experiences in Milan. There is no way to process the why’s and what if’s, you just need to carry on and eventually you won’t ask those questions anymore. PTSD is tough, some people live with it forever, some just a short time. I was robbed at gunpoint when I lived in Winnipeg in 1991. I experienced a lot of what you are experiencing now, but after a while the dreams lessened and the fear slowly left me. I am mostly ok now, but if I see a person in wool ski mask in the wintertime, I freeze up. You too will move past it as you replace those memories with new amazing ones!! xo

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