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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Monday, 23 Jun 2014

Location: Rome, Italy

MapThe next day we headed for the Vatican City, pre-armed with “skip-the-line” tickets to the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. Approaching the entrance at 9:30am, we walked past hundreds of people waiting in line, in the hot sun, and they would be waiting for many more hours. Once we’d joined our group, entered the museum, passed through security, and donned our earplugs for the commentary, we were set. As we came to the first corridor and exhibition room, we found ourselves being herded like sheep in a stock pen. Shoulder to shoulder, treading on the heels of the person in front, while our heels were being trodden on by the person behind. Every square inch of floorspace was taken up by people, and you had no choice but to shuffle along with the masses. Bad luck if you wanted to stop and admire a piece of artwork from 500 years ago, because the surging throng was relentless.

The Sistine Chapel was fantastic because of Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceilings and walls. You are drilled that you must be quiet, and not photographs. As I walked through the entrance , a guy was indignant when a guard’s hand came over the lens of his camera as he was taking a photograph. Some people just never listen. As I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the masses, a booming voice came over a public address system saying “Silence!”, seemingly breaking the very rule that the voice was trying to enforce. The Sistine Chapel was very strange indeed.

St Peter’s Basilica was everything it was touted to be – huge, symbolic, awe-inspiring, spectacular. Being so large, it was difficult to be swallowed up in the thousands of people, but with so much detail and history in every square inch of the place, it was impossible to take it all in for the 30 minutes we were there.

Afterwards, we hopped on the tourist bus for another circuit of the city, but this time including the portion that was denied to us yesterday because of the Rolling Stones concert at Circo Massimo. As we drove past the concert site from the night before, we watched as the crews were busily dismantling the stage. A large crane was being used to hoist lighting towers to ground level, and we could see the large expanse of ground that would’ve held 65,000 people the night before. The original oval shape of the stadium was still evident, where chariot races were held as early as 4th century BC. A strange connection – Roman entertainment aligned with modern rock music 2,000 years later. I wonder if Mick Jagger ever stopped to make the connection. And I wonder who drew the larger crowd on that Sunday – Papa Franceso in St Peter’s Square or the Rolling Stones in Circo Massimo.