Sunday, August 25, 2013

September 3, 301 Anniversary Seduces Others into Tourism

Thunder ripped through the silence accompanied by the plop-ping sounds of fat raindrops hitting our balcony. As the lightning illuminated the sky, thoughts that our trip to San Marino would be a wash, my spirits were as dampened as the patio chairs, but I rolled over and slept until the alarm went off.

By the end of breakfast, the sun was shining with such determination; everything was as dry as the day before without a hint of rain. Ron had mentioned that since the country and the capital are on a mountain, it may be cool. We both carted along jackets as insurance. Due to the lousy bus system, we had to leave our hotel early to catch our bus to San Marino, causing us a forty minute wait once as the station.

Once the bus arrived, the driver was a nasty SOB, screaming at Ron and I to wait our turn and the Lilliputian sized octogenarian Italians shoved us out of the way when we were first in line having been there before anyone. I was tempted to make a scene, but have concerns about being banned from the bus. Time was of the essence; waiting for the next bus was not an option. 

Bus rides lasting forty-five minutes are about my maximum duration, especially when the scenery is not all that much of anything. All this changes, though, when you get the first glimpse of the castle on the hill. The first siting is like something out of Harry Potter. As the mists clear, a tower appears. It is a magical experience.

Let me reiterate the reason for this trip or how it came to be. I had come across an article on the 10 smallest countries in Europe, which was fascinating, but also presented a challenge to visit them all. As luck would have it, San Marino was founded on September 3, 301. Ron and I are celebrating our twenty year anniversary on September 3, 2013. Combining a challenge with a celebration seemed like an ideal combination. 

Once the bus gets you to the capital city, you are on your own as it is uphill from there... There are hundreds of steps if you plan on really seeing most or all of the sites, but even the paths are large flat stones. Interestingly, there were a number of families with babies in strollers trying to negotiate the walkways without giving the child whiplash, but the real trial was getting these strollers up the dozens of stairs before reaching a landing to rest before the continued uphill battle. Most people were having difficulty just carrying themselves. Thankfully having been a regular at the gym and Ron being spry, we were like gazelles compared to the majority.

Our first encounter was the Museum of the Republic of San Marino, which had free entry today for permanent collection. This combined a mix of archeological finds, paintings, and sculptures. It is an intriguing mix and when you realize that San Marino is the oldest continuously uninterrupted country in the world it is mind boggling. In the temporary exhibit hall, they had a Chagall exhibit which would have cost non-seniors €10. Ron was admitted free, so I chose not to go. Incredibly, they were able to get over fifty of his sketches from private collectors from around the world to show here. It was a real treat to take in what I was able and Chagall is not that high on my priority list.

Following the suggested itinerary from the San Marino City Board of Tourism, we next walked to the crossbow quarry called Cava dei Balestrieri. Here they hold crossbow tournaments during holidays and festivals, the next being September 3rd. When not in use, it looks like a grand hole in the ground with the name of the space on the back mountain wall.

Continuing on we visited Regents Hall; tickets were €4.50 each, but included St. Francis Museum. As the name suggests the hall is their version of parliament. Two regents are elected from the entire group of representatives. I believe there are sixty in all. Regular representatives are elected for 5 year terms. The two regents serve for 6 month terms only. Installation ceremonies are held every April 1 and October 1. The country has been ruled continually according to the same constitution since the 1200s. The hall is basically the large meeting room for all of the representatives and the offices for the two regents, but it is palatially decorated.

The country founder was a man named Marino. He established the country with a small parcel of land and held to strong Catholic values. He was given more land by the reigning pope, so the country is 62 square meters in size. The Basilica de San Marino honors the country founder.

Challenging our fortitude was the hike to the 1st Tower – Guaita. Exercising does not end once you reach the tower, because the highlight is the view from the top; more steps to climb. Once you have reached the towers crown, you are rewarded with the jewel of a panoramic view of the country below. In some areas the mist is wafting slowly throwing its blanket over parcels of land, while other sections are waiting to be tucked in. There is a contrasting feeling of being in a magical land while still trying to conceive of the history that we are walking through. It is sensory overload at its best.

To reach the second tower, we had to cross Passo delle Streghe (Passage of the witches). This is a narrow passage known for its history of the place where those who were proclaimed to be witches were hanged. Finally, you reach the 2nd Tower where the Museum of Ancient Arms is displayed in the lobby. Admission for both towers is €4.50 each. Again, the view from this tower once you have done an incredible amount of climbing is breathtaking. I expected to see wizards flying through the air at any minute. Instead we found the justifiable proud people of San Marino and their rich history in spite of their country’s size.

Uphill, uphill, hundreds of steps, parent with strollers struggle out of familial love or lack of patience for the kid to grow up, but what in the name of fashion possesses women to wear the incredibly stupid shoes that they do risking their health in numerous ways? This just floors me to see some women tottering on dangerous shoes in the name of what exactly?

This area is filled with small cafés, but few full-fledged restaurants. We did encounter the Cesare Hotel Restaurante, where one would expect the meals to be overpriced, yet here they were reasonable. We each had a decent salad for €6 each and we shared a healthy dish of spaghetti for another €6 adding in a glass of wine for each.

The San Francisco Church and Museum took an excessive hunting and stair climbing before we found it. It is tucked away down a side street that is not clearly marked on the map.  Once we did find it, it contained an extensive collection of religious works of art, none that were terribly impressive. A temporary exhibit was about musical tones. The entire exhibit consisted of tones being played on various brass drums. Each drum played one tone only. The English translation was not sufficient to explain what this was intending.

Not wanting to waste any opportunity, we took the funicular ride for €4.50 round trip.  €4.50 seems to be a common theme when it comes to pricing events and admission, but until now, we received our money’s worth. This however was the exception to the rule. The ride lasted 1 minute and 30 seconds. I asked the attendant. The length is 60 meters. Due to the crowd in the gondola, there is not much opportunity for viewing and with the shortness of the ride, it passes you by rapidly. Once we were at the bottom, we walked around thinking we would see another district of the country. The bottom is another district, but apparently not as tourist minded as the capital. Here nothing was open, but it is Sunday and we were approaching the 6 o’clock hour. We turned around and went back up only to return to wait for our bus back to Rimini.

We were exhausted from the walking; regardless of the altitude, it was hot. The jackets we took for insurance were just another burden to cart around. Both of us wore sneakers rather than sandals, which were opportune considering the trails and terrain, but they were also hot. 

Getting a seat on the bus going home was as much of a struggle as coming. Twenty minutes into the journey, we pull over the side of the road and a woman walks down the aisle saying the bus in front of us was going to Rimini in one stop. Of course, this was only in Italian, so there was a mad rush. Thinking our bus was not going to Rimini after all, we rushed to the 2nd bus as well.

Once back, we sat and waited for our #2 bus to take us back to the hotel. It was suspicious that there were so few of us waiting, when someone came over to say the last bus left at 7:28. That was the end of service until tomorrow morning. Great! Taxi time.

Returning to the Blue Café in Rimini for dinner, I had Strozzapreti (priest strangler) pasta with ham and mushrooms. The sauce is similar to macaroni and cheese, but with some tomato and chunks of ham with sliced mushroom added.

This was a perfect anniversary celebration. I could write pages about San Marino, its incredible history and the wealth of treasures it has to share, but space and time are keeping me under control. Besides, I wrote this while on the train, my computer froze up and I lost everything. I just could not do it all again.

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