Category Archives: Beaches

Travels in Italy, A Walk Around San Marino

San Marino View

The bus left more or less on time and drove inland away from Rimini and towards the three peaks of Mount Titano part of the Appenine Mountain Range and each with a fortress built on the very top.

We watched for the state border but with no passport controls we passed through and barely noticed and then the bus began to climb and the road weaved this way and that in extravagant hairpin bends and loops and the engine and the gearbox began to groan and complain.

It was quite a climb because at 1076 feet above sea level and about half way to the top of the mountain the city of San Marino is the sixth highest capital in Europe after Andorra la Vella (3356), Madrid (2188), Bern (1778), Sarajevo (1699) and Vaduz (1403); it is also the fifth highest city in the Italian peninsular.

As it happens I have been to Vaduz, in 2007 on a visit to Liechtenstein and it was probably one of the worst cities that I have been to in Europe, drab and featureless it is on my list of recommended places to avoid and I hoped that San Marino wouldn’t be a similar disappointment.

Eventually the bus wheezed to a halt in a coach park and immediately there were grand sweeping views across the mountains towards the plains and eventually the Adriatic Sea to the east.  It was breath-taking and wonderful.

San Marino Traffic Control

But we were at the bottom of the city and now there was a long walk to the very top, another fifteen hundred feet or so above us and this involved negotiating an awful lot of steps so we set off and entered the city and into a world of mazy streets and secret alleyways that all offered alternative routes to the top.

My immediate impression was that this was a very well maintained city, spotlessly clean with immaculate flower borders and neatly trimmed lawns, quite unlike anything that we had seen so far.  It was a Disney EPCOT World Showcase sort of place where the emphasis was firmly on entertaining the tourists.

It reminded me of Carcassonne, Rocamador and Mont St Michel in France where there is an obvious disconnection with the real world, passing into a place such as this is like temporarily leaving the real world and the route to the top took us past rows and rows of well-stocked tourist shops, restaurants and duty free boutiques.  Thankfully not like Vaduz at all.

San Marino Garibaldi

Inevitably we passed through Piazza Garibaldi and found the statue that I was looking for to add to my collection of photographs and I stopped for a while to reflect on it.  In almost every city and town in Italy there is a statue of Garibaldi to commemorate the Unification of Italy into one single State but here in San Marino there is a statue of Garibaldi to commemorate not being included in that unification.

After Garibaldi we passed through the Palazzo Pubblico, the town hall of the city with the entrance protected by three members of the Fortress Guard Corps in their bottle green jackets and scarlet trousers and although I know very little about fashion I thought this to be a rather odd combination of colours and then the Basilica of the Saint designed and built, starting in 1826, by Antonio Serra, an architect from Bologna.

San Marino Army Guard

Despite these worthy distractions it didn’t take long to reach the top, well, we didn’t actually reach the top as we declined the visit to the battlements because there was an entrance fee involved so returned instead more or less the way that we had come and found a bar for a late lunch time drink.

We wondered if we should stay a while longer but that would only mean walking the same circuit again so at mid-afternoon we made our way back to the coach park and after another frantic tussle to board the bus returned directly to Rimini and walked back to our hotel along the sea-front which was continuing to be dismantled.

They seemed to be in a rush to complete the job but someone told us that a storm was forecast for the next day and they urgently needed to get things stored safely away.  We ignored the news about the storm and went to the same place for evening meal, we didn’t want to spoil our holiday.  Nine and a half miles walked today.

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Travels in Italy, The Independent Micro-State of San Marino

San Marino Tower

Thirty years ago or so I had an aspiration to visit all of the countries in Europe.  In 1990 this was not such an ambitious target as it is now because there were a lot less countries before the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Today there are fifty countries in all and as European boundaries keeps changing and new countries are being created I am sorry to say that the moving target has eluded me.

The last time that I visited a new country was in 2010 when I travelled to Montenegro in the Balkans.  In 2013 I nearly made it to Andorra but it was such a long and arduous drive through the Pyrenees that I gave up at just about the half way point and turned back to Catalonia.  Catalonia might be an independent country itself one day and I have been there already.

Now I am not nearly so ambitious and there are some countries that I realise that I really have no need to visit, Albania springs to mind, so I am sticking to the obvious places in Europe simply because there is so much that I haven’t yet seen of Spain or France or Germany or of course Italy.

Europe in 1990…

Cold War Europe

… and Europe Today…

Political Map of Europe

So now we were in Italy, the first European country that I ever visited, in the city of Rimini on the Adriatic Riviera and only twenty miles or so away from the independent country of San Marino and it seemed rude not to visit so one sunny morning we walked from our hotel to the bus station and purchased our tickets.

San Marino is the fifth smallest country in the World (it is .0008% the size of Australia) and the third smallest in Europe, with only Vatican City and Monaco being tinier. It is also World’s smallest Republic.  I have been to the Vatican City but not to Monaco.

Nearly fifty years ago at University I studied the ‘Unification of Italy’, it was my specialist subject, but I don’t remember it ever occurring to me to wonder why San Marino is an independent State (perhaps that’s why I didn’t get a First) and not simply a part of greater Italy because Italy is one hundred and sixteen thousand square miles of territory and San Marino is only twenty-three (.02%).  Visiting the country made me belatedly curious.

One explanation offered is that during the wars of Italian unification Giuseppi Garibaldi (he keeps cropping up) in 1849 was on the run from Austrian, French, Spanish and Neapolitan troops and sought refuge for himself and his small army in San Marino where he was given welcome and refuge.  In recognition of this support Garibaldi accepted the wish of San Marino not to be incorporated into the new Italian state and in 1862 a friendship treaty guaranteed its continuing independence.

Garibaldi Coin

In 1944 neutral San Marino again offered refuge to over one hundred thousand refugees and Italian Jews displaced by the Allied advance and fierce fighting in Northern Italy at the battle of Rimini.

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting.

This didn’t take very long. Being so small it doesn’t even get a mention in the Human Development Index or the World Happiness Index although I imagine that if it was included that it would do rather well in both on account of its affluence and wealth.

Being landlocked it obviously has no Blue Flag Beaches.

San Marino has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest nine times and its best performance was to finish twenty-fourth in 2014.

None of this may be very impressive you may think but for a small country (a very small country) it does have UNESCO World Heritage status which is awarded for the entire country. According to UNESCO, “San Marino and Mount Titano are an exceptional testimony of the establishment of a representative democracy based on civic autonomy and self-governance, with a unique, uninterrupted continuity as the capital of an independent republic since the 13th century. San Marino is an exceptional testimony to a living cultural tradition that has persisted over the last seven hundred years.”

San Marino used to have a Formula 1 Grand Prix but it is no point looking for the circuit because that was in Imola in Italy because this was a way that the Italians managed to get themselves two race meetings every year when other countries only had one.

San Marino Bus Queue

Because this was Italy there was of course no queue at the bus-stop, just a disorderly crowd of people that was steadily getting larger and more excitable as we waited.  Eventually it arrived and my worst fears were realised when any semblance of order was completely abandoned and the crowd surged forward like a river breaking its banks into a flood.

Kim is much better in these crowd tsunami situations than I am and she soon left me well behind as she elbowed her way forward through the people as though she was in a rugby scrum and she was on the bus a good five minutes before I was able to squeeze myself through the door and flop exhausted into the seat beside her.

Eventually the vehicle was full and fit to burst at the seams and it pulled away from the bus stop and I began a journey to my thirty-first European country – as things stand only another nineteen to go.

San Marino Landscape

Travels in Italy, Bologna to Rimini

Rimini Postcard

I had bought with me to Italy high expectations of Bologna but I am sorry to say that on balance I was disappointed and was happy to leave.

After a final futile search for the lost credit card we made our final packing adjustments and closed the door on the apartment where we had lived for three days.  Odd that, that you can live in a place for three days or three years or three decades and then close the door and just leave.  All you leave behind are memories, or perhaps a misplaced credit card.

We walked to the railway station of course and found it curiously calm.  We purchased our tickets and with forty unexpected minutes to spare found a café in the sunshine for a coffee before returning to the station in good time for our train which rather unusually turned up just a few minutes late.

I didn’t look back as we left Bologna (the sixth most visited city in Italy) and just a few miles out of the city the scenery improved and happily became more picturesque.  To the south were the blue misty Apennine Mountains shrouded still in early morning fog and to the north the fertile plain of the Po Valley, in late September the rich colours of harvest and autumn, umber, terracotta and gold.  The train picked up speed and began to hum and predictably Kim fell asleep.

An hour so later we arrived in Rimini and stepped out of the railway station into streets bathed in a glorious golden glow of late morning sun, we ignored the line of taxis of course and set out to walk the mile or so to our hotel on the beach-front strip.

I have to say that didn’t have high expectations of the Hotel Diplomat Palace on account of how cheap it was at only €40 a night bed and breakfast but the lobby was well-appointed and the reception desk was efficient and welcoming and we were allocated our room on the fifth floor. What a result that turned out to be as we had a top floor room with an uninterrupted sea view looking out over the beach and we congratulated ourselves on our very good fortune.

The beach was a surprise I have to say. Rimini is a popular holiday resort and hundreds of thousands of people visit every year and when they do the beach looks like this…

rimini

But when they go home and the sun-beds and umbrellas have gone then it looks like this…

Rimini Beach

In late September the holiday visitor season was over, everything on the beach was being dismantled and stored safely away until the following year and the view from our balcony provided a panoramic scene of ten miles of sandy beach stretching in both directions to the north and the south.

With the accommodation approved we returned to the streets to take a walk along the promenade and to assess suitable dining options for later.  We actually walked further than we originally intended until we reached the swanky marina and could walk no further north so we turned inland and continued to walk to the city centre along the Porto Canale through the fishing port area of Rimini.  From here approximately one hundred boats operate daily and although it was well into the afternoon there was still some busy trading activity taking place.

Rimini Fishing Wife and daughter

Eventually the Porto Canale came to a dead-end so this is where we agreed that we should find a route back to the hotel but we had unexpectedly found ourselves in the trendy district of Borgo San Giuliano, originally a poor fishermen’s settlement but now a charming neighbourhood of small cobbled streets, trendy piazzas, and colourful street murals. This is now one of the most picturesque places in the city and one of Rimini’s most popular areas, with narrow streets and squares, colourful small houses and many frescoes representing characters and locations of Federico Fellini’s films.

The neighbourhood is closely linked to the famous Rimini filmmaker who despite being born and raised on the opposite side of the city is said had a special affection for the Borgo.  In 1994, the Festa del Borgo was officially dedicated to him and many of the most striking murals lining the walls of the buildings depict scenes and characters from his films.

Rimini Borgo Street 2.jpg

The district was once a lot bigger but it a lot of it was demolished during the frenzy of the Fascist redevelopment period of the 1930s and it suffered more damage in World-War-Two.  On account of that it didn’t take a great deal of time to walk around and soon we were plotting a route home with only an inadequate tourist map to assist us.

After several interpretations we eventually arrived back at the coast somewhere close to the Rimini Grand Hotel, an elegant building of shining white stucco and Art Nouveau decoration.  This wasn’t where we were staying of course but I checked later and although it looks like a hotel for the travelling elite it was surprisingly inexpensive. Fellini liked the Grand Hotel and he kept a suite there permanently reserved for himself.

We made our way back to the much more modest Diplomat Palace, sat on the balcony for a while and then went to the beach and had a swim in the sea and collected some driftwood to take back home to reboot the boat building hobby.

Later we dined at a simple restaurant and declared ourselves satisfied that we had changed our plans and arrived a day early.  We liked Rimini.  We had walked seven miles today.

Rimini Grand Hotel.jpg

 

 

Armistice Day, Pictures from Northern France

 

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Close by to where we were staying in Vic-Sur-Aisne was a particular place that I was keen to visit so one morning after breakfast I set off alone towards Compiègne and to the Clairière de l’Armistice, a historic site where the armistice of 1918 brought the First-World-War to an end…

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Travels in Italy, A Walk around Lake Como

 

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Travels in Italy, Looking Back

Travels in Italy

Not surprisingly Italy is the country with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites; it has fifty-three, seven more than Spain which has the second most sites in Europe.  I have visited half of the sites in Spain but when I reviewed the Italy list I was disappointed to find that I have been to less than a quarter.

This time in Italy I was planning to add a few more, Milan (The Last Supper), Modena and Ferrara.

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Entrance Tickets, The Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

The road was quiet and there weren’t a great deal of traffic so I was shocked when we arrived there and found a car park that covered several hundred square metres and was completely full of cars, I couldn’t imagine where they had all come from, it was as though they had been beamed down from space.

The second shock was the admission fee which at €6 seemed excessive to me so at the pay booth we asked for four senior tickets at only €4 each and got away with it.  This was a massive shock to Kim who sulked for the next few minutes because she hadn’t been challenged and later that night she used a lot more miracle night cream than she normally does.

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Ireland Cliffs of Moher