No matter where we were in Europe, we never gave safety and security a second thought. Not late at night; not in unfamiliar neighborhoods. For the most part, we were in highly populated areas. Yet, Europe has a different vibe than US cities.
In general, this is a bit surprising, since we saw few police in most places. And, when we did see police, it was a little unsettling, since they typically were out in force and often heavily armed with large automatic weapons.
Years ago, Greg and Sue were welcomed to the Rome airport with military standing on the second floor of the terminal with automatic weapons. In Paris, they once saw a dozen armed commandos marching in formation through Charles DeGaulle airport. All of this after 9/11.
Some of the places in Italy where we saw heavily armed police seemed like odd buildings that we couldn’t figure out the interest. At the Nice, France, railroad station and around many of the most famous landmarks in Paris, we saw roving military patrols.
It’s funny. In Italy, there are all types of police, Carabinieri, local police, state police, Capitol Police, Finance Police, but again most in groups, sometimes smoking and often looking more social than anything. In addition to the Swiss Guard at the Vatican, there are even gendarmeries there, with the same type of hats worn by the French police.
In Perugia, Italy, we saw four policemen, each with large automatic weapons, standing guard outside a bank in the middle of the chocolate festival.
The only regular crime warnings were about pick pockets, and we were told to be especially careful of personal belongings in of all places St. Peter’s Basilica.
There is some friction between panhandlers and street vendors, many from Africa, and local restaurants. The only problem we saw (and were in the middle of), other than illegal street vendors occasionally being chased by police, was a fist fight that erupted between one such vendor and a waiter in Rome.
One other security difference. Although Europe is much closer to terrorism than the US, airport security generally seemed a bit more lax. Except at Heathrow, there are no scanning machines, and, even there, they are used sparingly. All other airports use only metal detectors, and it seemed that body searches were less frequent.