During the 17th century, and up to the time of the French Revolution, it was fashionable among young Englishmen of means to embark on a Grand Tour of the continent for the purpose of intellectual enlightenment or, more likely, just to wallow in the fleshpots and taverns. One of the first to record his experiences was Thomas Coryate, who made the 5-month roundtrip from his Somerset home to Venice in 1608. His travelogue was subsequently published as "Coryats Crudities" in 1611. In the autumn and early winter of 2000, author Tim Moore retraced Coryate's route, and tells us all about it in THE GRAND TOUR.
Moore's outbound route takes him to Venice via Montreuil, Amiens, Paris, Fontainebleau, Nevers, Lyon, Chambéry, Mont Cenis, Turin, Milan, Cremona, and Padua. Homeward bound, Tim transits Garda, Bergamo, Como, Splügen Pass, Chur, Zurich, Basel, Strasbourg, Durlach, Heidelberg, Worms, Mainz, Frankfurt, Coblenz, Bonn, Cologne, Emmerich, Nijmegen, Dordrecht, and Zierikzee.
Any travel narrative is made invariably more entertaining if spiced with tales of hardship. Moore's is no exception, though his travails were largely self-imposed. Choosing to journey in shabby style, he purchased a clapped-out, 1980 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow for 4,750 pounds sterling, with a subsequent 2,186 in necessary repairs to make it roadworthy and presentable. By the end of his Grand Tour, after 3,142 miles, the Roller had reduced the author to pitiful whimpering. Frugal by nature, or the acquisition of wheels having reduced him to penury, or both, Moore spends most nights either sleeping in his car or in fleabag hotels that barely reach the level of "budget accommodations". Personal hygiene was often maintained by a dip in the local, public swimming pool. The tone of much of his adventure is well represented by his decision to emulate Coryate and walk the 50 kilometer Mainz-Frankfurt leg. Thus:
"The shoes were becoming an issue. I thought the idea was that they would mould themselves to the shape of my foot, but their plastic rigidity meant the process was being reversed. I'm not sure if it is possible to limp on both legs, but as it started to get dark ... I gave it my best shot." Later, in his hotel room:
"Peeling away my socks was more like removing a dressing ..."
Despite elements of Tim's adventure which perhaps make it more resemble Napoleon's retreat from Moscow or the Bataan Death March, his dryly-witty commentary makes THE GRAND TOUR eminently readable. And I'm ever delighted to encounter British slang: knackered (exhausted), bog (toilet), ponce (dandy, to strut), neck-down (drink). My chief complaint, which increasingly annoys me the more travel essays I read, is that there's no photo section. Perhaps publishers think the inclusion of such would render a book too pricey for the average reader.
A fitting conclusion is the Epilogue, which summarizes Coryate's life after his return. After struggling to get his book published in the face of ridicule from his social betters, he left England again in 1614, and became the first European since Alexander to walk the 3,300 miles from Jerusalem to India. Dying in 1617 at age forty, he's buried in an uninscribed, domed sarcophagus near Surat marked on East India Company charts, and still labeled on current maps, as "Tom Coryat's Tomb".