Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Italy - Bologna and San Gimignano

Dedicated to Granny, hoping that her knee operation went well, and a speedy recovery will follow.

This is an overdue post, as it has been surprisingly hard to find internet sources over the last few days. My handwritten diary has been receiving the full brunt of my adventures, now in increasingly tiny letters, so I'll just recap a few notes here.

I left Siena for San Gimignano with two girls I met along the way, a Queenslander and a Californian. They kept popping back into my life for the rest of the day. SG is a picturesque (a word that really starts losing its meaning after a few days in Tuscany) medieval village known worldwide for its towers. They aren't actually that pretty as individual structures, but the atmosphere they generate as you approach the town is very much the stuff of fairytales. The panoramic views from the top of the highest one are spectacular, but unfortuantely the lower floors have been dedicated to the art museum where they confiscate all cameras on entry, so I have no photos.

Follow the above link for more info - I need to tell you about Bologna!

This has been a damp experience, as it has simply not stopped raining since I arrived two days ago. Fortunately, this may be the world's best city for outdoor exploration on rainy days. The historic centre is characterised by beautiful porticos (pedestrian streets along roads covered by overhanging buildings supported by arches) which mean you can walk 40km without getting wet. That's the Guinness Book of Records statistic, which the guides will happily plug. These are the result of increased demand for accomodation within the medieval walls, caused by the influx of wealthy students from all over Europe. Bologna hosts the oldest University in Europe, the longest ongoing poor-student culture, and invented Spaghetti Bolognese (Tartaglia Ragu, I think it is called here. Parlo non Italiano.). Ever wondered why it's such a classic student food?

That being said, I'm actually having trouble finding it here. Sunday nights seem pretty dead here, so I'll try again tonight.

The whole city seems to be built in shades of terracotta, grey, red, and warm orange tones, very autumnal. I like it very, very much. The major church here - not technically the cathedral - Saint Petronio's Basilica, would have been the largest in Christendom had the Pope not intervened in the mid-16th century. (He couldn't stand the idea of being larger than his own in the Vatican. Size matters to Catholics). Construction was cut immediately and the facade is perpetually half-complete, and you can see the zig-zagged brickwork where they had to cap off the unfinished walls. Inside there's a very controversial fresco of Dante's Divine Comedy (he was one of Bologna's best and brightest graduates), which apparently was the target of threats from Al-Qaeda.

The hostel is another HI factory, but the best of it's type I've stayed in.

On to Ferrara tommorrow, then Venice. The sojourn back to Rome seems to be mapping itself out on recommendations from other travellers.


  • At Tuesday, November 08, 2005 7:26:00 am, Anonymous Sarah said…

    Hey Sam, I have just spotted your blog entry on my brother's blog (Tim & Meraiah) in Iraq. What a tenuous link - I met you once, throuigh your mother during an all night quilting session at your place, and my mother is friends with your grandmother, and the next thing I know, there you are on my brothers blog. What a tiny world! Now it seems I have another blog to keep up with. I will check in on your travels. Blog on dude!


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