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.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Italy - Still in Ravenna, waiting for Ferrara

Dedicated to climatic intervention in sports

I have about an hour to kill before catching the train to Ferrara, so I thought I'd give you some more colour on what's happening in Ravenna. Yesterday's post, in retrospect, was probably more focussed on that hassle of the train ticket than the really interesting stuff here.

Last night I found the Dante Aligheri HI hostel, and I was almost the only person there. It was set up to be perhaps the warmest and friendliest HI place I've yet seen, with pool tables, foosball, and nice couches, but it was SO empty! Very late that night, when I returned to my room, I found the only other occupant. He was an unattractive little round middle-aged man with a respiratory disorder who barked questions at me in heavily accented English. He was very proud to tell me about the exports of his native town, 4km south of Parma, but I couldn't understand much of it.

This morning I checked out three Byzantine-era churches reknowned for their mosaics. (overview link here). The first, Battistero Degli Ariani (the Arian Baptistry), was a simple octagonal brick structure externally, and without any adornment upon the internal walls. The roof, however, was a magnificent mosaic of the Baptism of Christ, encircled by the 12 Apostles. Each face was distinctive and full of expression, and the predominately gold, green and blue tesserae scintillated as only mosaic does.

The next, in the same complex as the Museum, was the Basilica of San Vitale, a massive octagonal church with enormous flying buttresses and many restorations and expansions over the centuries. Outstanding portraits of the Emperor Justinian and his bejewelled courtesan, Empress Theodora, plus biblical scenes familiar and obscure. (And Mum - I got heaps of mosaic and inlaid masonry patterns for you, immediately seeing their potential as patchwork sources.)

Nearby, right next to the Basilica, was the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Much smaller, but with seriously intense and glassy blues and whites across the ceiling. Here's a site by the Ravenna tourist board which gives you complete 3-dimensional panoramas of the major buildings here, starting with this Mausoleum.

In all the churches I've visited in Ravenna, (excepting the one set up as a multimedia Social History of Ravenna interactive installation, astonishingly like the National Museum of Australia, right down to the fonts and colour schemes), they've played CDs of male choirs or soloists singing in Latin. It's a beautiful effect, and I'm surprised it hasn't been used more widely across the churches I've seen across Italy and Greece. One even played the music out into the courtyard, following you as you left the building!

Now, I must be off to catch the train. Ravenna has really warmed on me. Perhaps it this is largely due to the excellent start to the day, with far more breakfast offered by the hostel than usual. Plus about six serves of hot drinks ranging from thick hot chocolate, milky hot chocolate, and four styles of coffee. Oh yeah, I'm pumped!


  • At Thursday, November 10, 2005 8:35:00 am, Anonymous Lee Moskwa said…

    Hi Sam

    Great to see you are having such a great time. I am sorry for not writing sooner but life has been busy.
    It sounds like you are in your element. I just showed mum your last posting and she is green with envy. She wants to go to Italy. You will have to show your photos when you return. Speaking of which, how far into your journey are you?

    Well, once again, I am wishing i was over travelling the world.

    Have fun and talk to you soon

  • At Thursday, November 10, 2005 1:16:00 pm, Anonymous Judith Wimborne said…

    Hello Sam,

    I feel i know something of your family through your grandmother and my daughter Sarah having been friendly with your mother. Isn't life full of co-incidences?

    I found your blogsite on my son Tim's blog and have been following your journey with great interest.

    We were in Italy about 30 years ago very briefly and saw only a minute fraction of treasures of Rome, Florence and Venice. You have whetted my appetite.

    I spoke with May this morning and am glad to report she seems to be doing well. I shall visit tomorrow. She's a grand lady.

    Enjoy your 'Grand Tour', I shall look forward to reading about it.


  • At Thursday, November 10, 2005 5:54:00 pm, Blogger Sardone/McRory Family said…

    Hi Sam,
    When you are back in Rome, give my mate Slim a call, he would like to meet you. He can also help you out with accommodation as he works for a couple of hostels. Either go to Hotel Sandy and ask for him or call him on this number ( it includes international prefixes, I am sure you can work it out)
    By the way, you know the old saying, When in Rome etc,
    What exactly do the Romans do?
    Cheers, stay safe,

  • At Thursday, November 10, 2005 6:43:00 pm, Blogger Ghost Particle said…

    Hi Sam, nice writing, I did not drop by for a long time. Have a safe trip in Italy.


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