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.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Italy - Siena

Dedicated to Dad for that excellent bag of emails

Siena is a gorgeous medieval town. It consists of red bricks and terracotta ceilings, with cobblestoned, twisting and sloping narrow streets, only a few cars, plenty of churches and absolutely no overhead wires. Several hidden little alleys are spanned with archways, food places are located by scent much more easily than by signage, and the whole place seems prepared for much larger tourist crowds than it's currently got. The skyline is dominated by cathedral spires and towers, and whenever the view penetrates beyond a few metres of shops or residential roads, you can see lush green fields and orchards stretching out for ages beneath an almost excessively blue sky.

I might stay here an extra day, since I've only just managed 3/4 of the major sights today. The hostel is good and cheap too - only €13 a night, with a private room with sink and view, and fresh sheets. For those of you who wanted the other half of the dialogue... unfortunately he turned out to be a lovely little old Italian man who was hard of hearing. I guess this made it charming but I kinda wanted to tell another story of throttling difficult concierges. Still, I'm not complaining!

I've explored the central city area, within the massive walls, and the Campo (piazza) where the annual Paulio horserace is held. (A very exciting and hotly contested event I first saw on Global Village on SBS... The Italian Melbourne Cup). I climbed the high tower in the centre of the city, and looked over vast seas of fog that shifted suddenly, giving spasmodic glimpses of red buildings beneath the clouds. The cathedrals (or rather, the Duomo and other big churches) seemed disembodied from the earth and just floating over the sky.

The Duomo (THE Cathedral) was made to rival that of Florence, and maybe would have if the Black Death hadn't cut through Tuscany in the fourteenth century. It is a striking black and white building, all horizontal stripes, with a very impressive interior in a similar colour scheme. The floors are inlaid images in marble, black, red and white like pulp comics, and the Library space was simply magnificent. High frescoes of the life of the Sienese Pope, and fantastic illuminated manuscripts for choirs. They would have weighed as much as my backpack, each. Most of the day was really spent in the museums associated with the Duomo and surrounding area.

One place, a church laden with relics of Saint Catherine (including a skull covered in writing that guarded the entrance), was laid deep under a massive hospital complex. Finding it took me way down through a labyrinthine network of tunnels, narrow stairs and small chapels. It was so dark and atmospheric that I tried taking a photograph of the largest altar. I can almost swear there's something odd in the picture that I didn't see when I took the photo...

But ghost stories aside, I'm off to get something for dinner. Last night was suprisingly difficult to find somewhere to eat (Tuscan food may be great, but finding a place worth eating at is damn hard!), so it was just a fine pizza ataglio in a bustling local takeaway. Since the tourist season seems over here, the trattorias were virtually empty, and thus just too depressing to consider. I've got a list of good things to try now, so who knows what I'll find?

BTW "DOCG" Chianti is great!


  • At Friday, November 04, 2005 9:46:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    Tabi, DJ, Assad and I have returned from watching the Excorcism of Emily Rose (Assad was there spirtually). Assad with be Excorcised later, on the lawns- spasmodically wriggling his eyes rolling back, grunting, and behaving like a dog possessed....

    Enjoy italy Tabbi, DJ, Assad & L


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