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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 24 Jun 2014

Location: Rome, Italy

MapRome is a city brimming with highlights, places to see, sights to admire, sensations to experience. Our four days have hardly scratched the surface. But there was one that we had left until the very last day. We headed south from our hotel to the area known as Ancient Rome, an incredibly concentrated region of 2,000 year old ruins with three famous icons – the Palatine, the Forum and the Colosseum. We paid 12 Euro each for a ticket to all three, and spent a fascinating day walking the streets of the Rome of two thousand years ago. Granted, the buildings were in ruins, but it wasn’t hard to imagine life as it was back then. The Palatine is on top of a hill and was where the wealthy Romans lived, including the Emperor, looking down on the ordinary citizens going about their business below in the Forum. What structures remained were simply amazing, with columns, steps, marble facades, cobblestone streets. The most amazing was the Colosseum, not only for the ruins still intact but the stories behind the purpose of its construction. While the floor is no longer there, this enables you to see the maze of underground rooms where wild animals would be caged and brought to the arena by a complex system of winches. Our equivalent of the MCG or Docklands in Melbourne.

And so we complete four hectic days in Rome, and yet there is so much more to see. Indeed, two weeks in Italy is hardly adequate to see it all, but we’ve given it a dam good try. My impressions of this fantastic country, as we pack our bags for a 5:45am taxi to the airport tomorrow morning …
• The Italians who have charmed us along the way – the Bangla Deshi restaurateur in Venice, with his free lemoncellos; our tourguides Maria and her Dad Rafaelle in Sorrento, and not forgetting our landlady, the lady in the bulk wine shop and the family who ran our favourite Sorrento restaurant; Giovanni in our favourite Rome restaurant near the Pantheon, Daniella (a guy) at our Rome hotel who was a musician and envied us living in Australia, and many more. Italians seem constantly happy, and it’s infectious.
• Italian buildings are either old, very old, or ancient (ie, 500 years, 1000 years, or 2000 years old). No building is over 6 stories high, so there are no skyscrapers. Even if there is something built in the past 50 years, it is more than likely sitting next to a wall constructed 2,000 years ago. These city landscapes really are a blend of ancient and recent.
• The Indian/Pakistani street merchants who were selling anything under the sun, and oh so annoying in the process, but the ones selling cold water bottles were most welcome at times.
• Speaking of water, throughout all Italian cities, we found water fountains dispensing running water. However, these were running constantly, and you could fill up your water bottle with fresh drinking water. In Australia, this would be considered criminal, as water is so precious to us. To see so many taps running constantly down the drain was so strange indeed.
• Italian traffic was as we had been told – chaotic, with no rules. Pedestrians crossing the road take their lives into their own hands. Commuting is predominately by scooter, which outnumbers cars two to one, and motorbikes ten to one. Ridden by young teenagers to little old ladies and businessmen in suits.
• The Italian economy must run on tourism, as foreigners seem to outnumber locals at this time of year. How easy is it to pick the Australian accent? We were told that crowds to the Vatican have tripled since the election of the new Pope, with Papa Francesca proving to be an economic goldmine for Vatican tourism.

We bid farewell to Italy with some wonderful memories, knowing that the county’s ancient heritage is in good hands (we saw many archaeologists working at Ancient Rome), and maybe we feel a little closer to our Australian-Italian friends, now that we’ve experienced where they’ve come from.

Canada ... here we come.