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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 21 Jun 2014

Location: Rome, Italy

MapOur day started in Sorrento, and finished in Rome. Only one hour by train (although that train was travelling at 300 kph), we arrived at Roma Termini to heat and crowds. Before catching a taxi to our hotel, I sought out a tourist hop-on, hop-off bus to get a 3-day ticket to help us get around. The guy told me that the bus may be hindered by crowds tomorrow afternoon, specifically 65,000 people would be attending a concert by the Rolling Stones in the south of the city at Circo Maximo. Allison was incredulous – if only we’d known, maybe we could’ve got tickets. Knowing the Stones, probably not.

Our hotel was in the middle of Rome, near the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, so after checking in, we wandered not far, to get a feel for the city. Our street was narrow, quiet, almost deserted. A block away, we came across a large open space, Piazza Navona, with fountains, restaurants and tourist shops, and thousands of tourists. Ah, so this is Rome, more non-Italians than locals. We soon left the Square and its bustling visitor trade, and went the block back to our hotel and had our first Roman meal at a sidewalk restaurant with hardly anyone around.

The next day we explored in earnest, courtesy of the hop-on, hop-off bus. On leaving our hotel, we turned the first corner to see a large round building at the end of the street. Walking around the front of this building made us stop and stare. Not two minutes walk from our hotel was the Pantheon, rivalling the Colosseum as Rome’s greatest building. Unlike the Colosseum, this extraordinary construction remains completely intact after 2000 years. We walked under its triangular entrance held up by 16 huge columns, each carved out of a single block of stone, and we entered a space that seemed to take us to somewhere else. As you enter, you are compelled to look up, and I watched people do the same thing we did, as they enter. Towering above us is the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built, and at the top is a round hole 8 metres across, an opening to the elements. Directly beneath are holes in the multi-coloured marble floor to take away rainwater. Roman ingenuity from twenty centuries ago is bewildering, particularly when you are still able to step inside and marvel as if it we constructed a year ago.

The bus circuit took two hours to take us around the city, at all the major sites except for the Colosseum and Roman Forum, thanks to Mick and Keith’s rock band playing that night. We saw tens of thousands of people at the Vatican, who had just heard the Pope’s Sunday morning address. As the bus approached the Roma Termini, we noticed a flurry of activity around a five-story hotel called Le Hotel Grande. A milling crowd, a dozen very shiny and very black limousines, and official looking men in suits with lanyards around their necks. Being suspicious of what might be the cause, we got off the bus and investigated. Judging by the t-shirts being worn by the throngs, and the logo on the suit’s lanyards, our suspicions were proved correct - this was where the Rolling Stones were staying before their Rome concert that night.

Although it was highly unlikely that we would catch a glimpse of the most famous rock band in the world, we hung around for an hour, just to soak up the atmosphere. Hilariously, whenever a resident of the hotel looked out of their window, the crowd assumed the presence rock idols and started yelling and calling. Of course, each time was a false alarm, although I’m sure that I saw the haggard face of Ron Wood appear at a top floor window for one second, not enough time for me to snap a photo.

At one point I was approached by a middle-aged man dressed in a pink shirt and trendy shorts. “You want a ticket for the concert tonight?” he asked me. Taken aback and gathering my thoughts, I enquired further. The spare ticket was his wife’s, who had decided to go to Madrid instead. He was asking 150 Euros, pledged that he was legitimate, and showed me a voucher from his hotel with the concert details. Allison and I discussed, and decided to turn it down. The guy did not have an actual ticket, and we’d have to get to the venue, and back again after the concert. The clincher was that Allison will see The Stones in Melbourne in November. We left after an hour outside the hotel, and the guy was still trying to hawk his ticket.