Long before Thomas Cook made mass tourism to Italy possible in the 1860s there was the Grand Tour which, believe it or not, goes back a couple of centuries before that. Seen as a sort of educational finishing school for aristocrats, the Tour took in the Classical and Renaissance sights of Italy, finishing up in Naples and Pompeii.
Now, on a package tour, along comes David M. Addison accompanied by his wife, aka La Belle Dame Sans Merci, who thinks he could do with a bit of polishing up as they take in the cultural hotspots of Naples, Pompeii, Assisi, Florence, Pisa, Siena, Rome and the Vatican.
The sweep of this book takes the reader from Roman times to the Renaissance, from emperors to kings - including the artists and architects, the politicians and popes, the saints and sinners - all of whom exercised a major influence on their times. With an eye for the off-beat and the extraordinary, this is a personal account of what most impressed the author on his latter-day educational Tour.
Seamlessly interwoven with the Italy of the past, is the author's take on present-day Italy. In a humorous, self-deprecatory style, he describes life as he sees it, the curious incidents he witnesses, the interesting people he meets, including his travelling companions. He makes no secret of the scrapes he gets into which arise out of his own eccentricities, nor the occasions when he causes embarrassment of the most cringe-making kind to his long-suffering wife.
Much more serious however, was the time when, all alone, the author found himself accosted in the street by three menacing-looking men demanding his passport...