Wednesday 20th June, 2007
The bus ride to Gatwick was over almost before it had begun, and I raised myself wearily to my feet to disembark and head into the terminal building with Max. The nap had not done anything to refresh me, and in fact I felt worse than I had done previously. Still, Max was good company, and by the time we had reached the check-in desk I was feeling in good spirits again.
I had developed something of a crush on Max as soon as I had seen her queuing up to check-in for the flight to Belgrade. I had thought nothing much of it at the time, as I figured we would probably not even speak to each other and so I would be able to forget about her by the time the plane was airborne. Then she had ended up in the seat next to me, and we had talked the whole way there, and formed a pretty strong friendship by the time the plane landed.
And now here she was, going on a trip with me that was to take in five plane journeys in 8 days. We would know for sure if we had a friendship that could last by the end of the experience, although I confess I was hoping to have more than a friendship by the end of things. I wasn't going to try to force the issue though. The last I had heard, she had a boyfriend back in New Zealand, and while I had done my share of getting involved with people that were already in relationships in the past, I wasn't looking to do that now.
We went through the check-in process pretty painlessly, and I was pleased to see that Max, like me, had only brought a small bag with her. I had been plagued by visions of her turning up with enough luggage to require a team of porters to transport it from A to B, but fortunately she appeared to be in that small percentage of women that doesn't need to bring absolutely every item of clothing they own with them on holiday.
With the amount of travelling we were going to be doing, this was definitely a good thing.
Once through check-in and security, we went off to the bar, as after my night on the streets I was in need of a quick livener or two. Before too long had passed, our flight was called, and we made our way to the gate and boarded the plane in short order. Next stop; Rome.
Once we arrived in Rome we took a bus into the centre, and then made our way to the hostel that we were booked to stay in. I had stayed there once before, so had no problem finding it, and we both decided to take a quick shower before heading out to our main destination for the day, which was the Olympic Stadium.
Once we had freshened up somewhat, we enquired at the hostel reception as to the best way to get to the Olympic Stadium, and were informed that the main bus station was just a few streets away, and we would be able to get a bus from there. This information proved to be correct, and by lunch-time we had made it to the stadium. Now all we had to do was find out where to pick up the tickets that I had reserved a few days earlier!
The tickets in question were for a gig, although it was more like an all day festival than a gig really. Already we could hear the first band on stage, and we knew we were in for a long and loud day. It took us nearly an hour of wandering around before we managed to find the correct place to get our tickets, and once they were safely in our possession we made our way inside to the gig.
There were eight bands playing in total, and most of them we didn't care about at all. The only ones of interest were Motorhead, who Max was interested in seeing as she had never seen them play before, and the headline act, which was the band that had brought us together in the first place;
I wasn't too bothered about Motorhead personally, having already seen them a couple of times. I could recall from the Belgrade gig that Max liked to be right at the front of the stage for gigs though, and asked her if she wanted me to bully my way through the crowd and organize a spot for her, but she told me that for this gig she would be happy to stand at the back where she could watch the show properly.
We had never really talked about it, but I know it had been tough for her in Belgrade. That crowd had been the worst I had ever seen in all my years of going to gigs, at least double the capacity that the venue could safely hold, and I knew that the barriers at the front of the crowd had almost collapsed on several occasions, and over a hundred people had been dragged from the crowd on the verge of collapse.
The security that day had been totally inadequate for a gig of that size, and had I not stepped in and started to order people around, I am certain there would have been quite a few deaths that day, possibly including Max. So I could understand why she would prefer to hang back and watch the show from a distance. She had served her time in the front row, and been lucky to walk away at the end.
So we found a spot where we had a clear view of the stage but were out of the way of any random idiots who might wish to start a mosh pit at the back of the crowd, and I went in search of refreshments. It was well over 30 degrees by now, and what with having had no sleep and the long walk around to try and find our tickets, I was feeling exhausted. I was hoping that a few beers might liven me up a little, but they had the opposite effect.
By 5pm, I couldn't stay awake any longer, and so lay down in a corner and decided to have a nap, giving Max instructions to make sure I was awake by the time Iron Maiden came on stage!
It may seem strange, the idea that someone could sleep at a heavy metal concert, but for me it was easy. I always like to listen to music when I go to bed, and it is usually rock or metal, so the only thing I had to do really was cover my face to protect my eyes from the sun, and I was away in dreamland within a few minutes.
I slept for a couple of hours, and was aware of a group of guys who kept jumping over me, clearly racing around after each other for some reason known only to them. Every time I felt them approaching, I braced myself for one of them forgetting to jump and accidentally standing on me, but none of them were drunk enough to accidentally stamp on a behemoth like me, and so I was able to relax again each time they had passed.
When I awoke, it was about ten minutes before Motorhead came on stage. I apologized to Max for being such poor company, but she had been so engrossed in the music that she had barely even noticed that I was sleeping! When Motorhead came on stage, they played their usual set in their usual style, which I had found boring half an hour into the first time I saw them, and nothing had changed since.
Max was enthralled though, and thought that they were amazing, and so I decided not to cause an international incident by telling her how crap I thought they were. After all, I was into this girl in a big way, and if she wanted to think that Lemmy and co. were great live performers, then she was more than welcome to do so.
Once they had finished, we had the usual interminable wait between bands, before finally it was time for the main event, Iron Maiden.
There is something about Iron Maiden that sets them apart from other bands. Max and I had both been to a couple of other shows on this tour, and the thing with an Iron Maiden tour is that every night is exactly the same as the night before. They play the same songs, in the same order, with the same energy, and with Bruce Dickinson doing the same things at the same times in the same songs to get the crowd going.
And yet, unlike every other band I have ever seen doing the same thing over and over again, with Maiden, somehow it is completely different. You could literally go to 100 Iron Maiden shows, which in essence would be identical to one another, But you would have 100 completely different experiences, and it is this, I think, which sets them apart as a live band.
You may know exactly what you are going to get from them, but somehow they still manage to do it in a way that seems totally fresh every single time.
Sometimes it scares me how good they are live. The only possible explanation I can come up with for it is that at least a couple of the band members have sold their souls to the devil at some point.
Anyway, the gig finally ended at around 11pm, and it was time to head back into the centre of Rome, and so we exited the stadium and made our way to the bus stops across the road.
Only to find that there did not appear to be any buses going from the Olympic Stadium to the centre of Rome. We walked around for half an hour or so, looking for some sign that we might be in the right place to get a bus back into town, but to no avail. And then a bus arrived just as we were by one of the bus stops feeling confused, and I asked the driver if he was going to the centre. He replied that he was, and so we jumped aboard, relieved.
For around twenty minutes anyway. And then the bus stopped literally in the middle of nowhere, and the driver advised us that this was as far as he was going to go. We were stranded, with no idea of where we were. This was not looking good.
If there had been any passing traffic, we would have tried to flag down a taxi, but there was nothing. We had been dropped off in a lay-by somewhere on the outskirts of Rome, and that was all that we knew. Max and I spent the next half an hour or so trying to figure out a way to get back into town, but as we had no idea where we were, it was difficult to come up with options to get to where we wanted to be.
And then another bus appeared, and this one, the driver assured us most definitely, was going into the center of Rome for sure. With nothing to lose, we climbed aboard and crossed our fingers.
It took the driver nearly ten minutes to get to a main road, and when I started seeing signs for 'Centre' and saw that the bus was following them, I began to relax somewhat. Another twenty minutes later we were dropped in the centre somewhere, with the driver pointing at a bus stop across the road and telling us we could get to the main bus station from there.
Judging by the number of people stood at the stop, all wearing merchandise from the gig we had left an hour and a half previously, it appeared to be a reasonable place to wait, and a short time later we were rewarded with the arrival of a bus heading to the main station, which, it turned out, was actually just a few stops away.
By the time we got off the bus, we were exhausted, and so we made our way back to the hostel and went straight to bed.