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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Inspiring Italy and The Grand Tour

We've been on the road in Northern Italy for a couple of weeks doing guidebook research and we're both utterly exhausted and yet completely stimulated. How can we not be inspired in a country like Italy where we're surrounded with such history and culture, art and architecture? Wherever we drive, it's not long before we come across a Medieval tower, a Renaissance palazzo, or a Gothic church. Poppies and ruins may have moved the 19th century travellers, but for me it's lakeside geraniums and leaning towers. As I write, the bells are ringing in the 12th century tower of a church I can see out our window. It's easy to understand why The Grand Tour-ists treated the country as their finishing school. There's no better place to be stirred by the beauty of the surroundings and be motivated to learn. And that was what The Grand Tour was about after all - just take a look at this wonderful Getty exhibition on The Grand Tour. While the term may be hip once again (and perhaps we played some tiny part in that when we started writing our travel blog Grantourismo two years ago for Charles and Marie?), these days it seems to be thrown about and attached to any extended sojourn or backpacking trip without any real understanding of what it means. The New York Times' Frugal Traveller, Matt Gross, claims his current 12 week jaunt across Europe is some kind of reimagining of the classic Grand Tour, and as interesting as Matt's posts can be, his main concern seems to be staying within his €100 budget each day. His trip's link to The Grand Tour is tenuous and he seems to be coming away from his experiences of destinations having learned little more than how to hitchhike or find the best budget eatery or pensione. The Grand Tour was about so much more. It was about being inspired by history, beauty, art and literature, but most of all it was about learning, about becoming cultured, civilized, cosmopolitan, about getting to know the world.

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