Saturday, April 01, 2000

TR San Marino

Italy- San Marino - Italy
3/29 –4/1/00

I had decided to book this trip on a spur-of-the moment whim a few weeks back. I realized that I would have a marathon-free weekend after Turin and did not want to sit around idly. So I figured that I could (should) explore one of those small countries on my European list. It is unlikely that I would ever want to fly all the way from the US just to visit one so what better time than now? I narrowed the list down to Andorra or San Marino and chose the latter since I figured the weather would be better there. If I hadn’t already purchased my tickets for Turin I would have just continued on from there last week by train. Now I had to fly to Bologna, rent a car and drive 135 km to San Marino. But it was a very pleasant drive since the highway passed through several vineyards and orchards and the blossoms were in full bloom.

San Marino is a small country in the heart of Italy about 22 km from the seaside resort of Rimini (10 km as the crow flies from the Adriatic Sea). It is shaped like an irregular quadrilateral with a total area of 60 sq. km. It is a very hilly country dominated by Mount Titano – 750 m high and in the center of the country. On the southwestern side of the mountain stands the town of San Marino, the capital of the Republic. Scattered in the hilly countryside surrounding Mount Titano are eight townships called Castles. The total population is only 23,000. The main highway approaching from Rimini has a large arched gateway but no border guards or custom agents. Other border crossings only have a road sign indicating that you are leaving one country and entering the other. The main road climbs from about 100-foot elevation at the border to the top of Mount Titano over 10 km (6 miles). It is a narrow two-lane road that twists and turns. I watched many cyclists tackling it during my three days there and it did not look like fun. No, I did not attempt to run it!

San Marino claims it is the oldest and smallest independent state/country in the world. Oldest maybe since it was established in 3 AD. But they conveniently omitted Vatican City and Gibraltar from their comparison list? I read in one of the tourist brochures that San Marino is hosting the ‘Games of Europe’s Small States’ in 2001. The participants are Andorra, Cyprus, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta and Monaco. See what I mean?
I think that I finally understand European politics. For thousands of years European countries have ignored or altered history and facts to suit their own selfish purposes and inflated egos! The main reason that there has never been (nor will be) a unified Europe is not the differences in languages or culture – it is because it is impossible to fit all the BIG egos in each small country into even one large country! ----- And I don’t even get paid for all this research and analysis!

But I do get to enjoy the research and San Marino is a pleasant country to visit. It reminds me of a combination of Gibraltar and Toledo, the medieval walled city south of Madrid. Mount Titano is similar to the Rock. The east side facing the Adriatic Sea has sheer and spectacular cliffs and what makes it even more spectacular are the three castles or defensive towers built on the edge of the cliffs at the three highest points. The First Tower or Guaita was built in the 10th century with a defensive wall around it on the west slope. The Second Tower or Cesta was built in the 13th century with a second defensive wall to expand the town. The Third Tower or Montale was built later (year unknown). As stated before, these towers were built on the highest peaks of the cliffs and were never taken in battle throughout their history. There is a man-made path called the ‘Passo delle Streghe’ or ‘Witches Pass’ along the very top of the cliffs that connects the three towers. Talk about some magnificent views and scenery! But one wrong step and you fall about 500 feet –straight down!
The towers were defended mainly by ‘Balestrieri’ or crossbowmen that were renowned for their courage and accuracy. There is still a regiment of sixty balestrieri in the San Marino military that compete throughout the region and the world in archery. And you can buy a crossbow almost anywhere- the price goes as high as $1000 depending on size and accuracy.

The old walled city is interesting but not as old or as spectacular as Toledo. There are several good cafes and restaurants and of course a million souvenir shops. It was one of the few places in the country that I could speak English. Other than the shopkeepers I was on another of those 3-day language immersion courses –in Italian! Even though the hotel had satellite TV, there were no English stations and I could not buy an English newspaper anywhere in the country. Just as well since I have now discovered that the stock market was not doing well and that would have just upset me.

All the time that I was driving around the country I kept visualizing and wondering “Where could one run a marathon in this place”? I mean –there was not a flat piece of land or road anywhere in the entire country! The best choice would be the road from Rimini to San Marino but that was a 4-lane highway with no shoulders and too much traffic. So I drove over to the stadium in another Castle (township) where the ‘Games’ are to be held and managed to locate one of the sports administrators. Surprisingly she was an American from NYC. Her parents had moved back to San Marino when she was sixteen and she had stayed to raise her own family there. She confirmed what I had already discovered but did suggest that I check out a walking path in a local park near the border. It was flat, safe from traffic but only 1 km in length. That meant 42 ---FORTY-TWO loops to complete a marathon! That did not appeal to me. I desperately drove around the other Castles looking for a flat road that was longer. But it just didn’t exist!
But later that day as I was reading some tourist brochures I noted that one mentioned a nature trail in Faetano Castle. So I drove over to check it out. Hellaluah! There was a dirt trail running along a small creek that had a few small hills but most importantly it was about 4 km in length. And by jumping up on a side road, a 2-lane country road that crossed over into Italy, I was able to continue another 6.5 km into Italy before the road merged with a major highway. I had laid out a 10.5 km path with only a few minor hills! And that meant only FOUR loops! I’ve done that before.
The Maddog Marathon was on! The next morning I drove back, laid out some water bottles at 2-mile intervals and started the marathon in Faetano. It was without a doubt the most boring marathon I have ever run. Even though I was running easy since I wasn’t competing against runners or a clock I hurt much more than last week in Turin where I was racing very hard? But I finished in 3:59 and have marked San Marino off my list. And that also represented the fourth time in the past five months that I had run a marathon (or part of) in Italy!

After the run I went back to the old walled city to explore some more and have a good lunch and a few beers while looking out at the magnificent views from the top of Mount Titano. Two days is plenty of time to explore the whole country!
The next day I had a late flight out of Bologna but I decided to leave early so that I could drive into Rimini and up along the coast of the Adriatic Sea. But there were so many beach huts, amusement parks, cafes, etc along the beaches that I could hardly see the beaches or the Sea. So I cut back to the tollway and proceeded on to Bologna so that I could have some time to explore that city also.

Bologna is a very interesting city that dates back to the Etruscans during the 6th century BC. But it was not until the Romans established a Latin colony called ‘Bononia’ in 191 BC that the city started to flourish. It experienced many wars and finally became a Papal State in the 15th century. There is an ‘old town’ or historic region in the center of Bologna that dates back to the 10th century. There are several unique and interesting buildings and tourist attractions centered around Piazza Maggiore in the old town such as the Neptune Fountain. It was built in 1563 and represents the symbol of papal power: Neptune rules the seas just as the Pope dominates power over the land. At the foot of the God Neptune are four putti which represent the Ganges, the Nile, the Amazon and the Danube, that were the rivers of the continents known up to that time. Just off the square are the “Le Due Torri’ – ‘The Two Towers’ that are the symbol of Bologna. The Asinelli Tower was constructed in 1120. It is 97 meters high. The Garisenda Tower was constructed in the same period but construction was halted at 47 m because the ground was unstable and the tower started to lean. It leans more than the Tower of Pissa and is therefore under constant care and maintenance. There are several palaces and churches in the old town that date back to the 12th and 13th centuries.
The old town also has the porticos or porches built over the streets like Turin which came in handy since there was a light drizzle most of the morning. I stopped at a restaurant in old town for lunch and had –guess what? - Spaghetti Bolognese. I don’t know what secret ingredients they use but the spaghetti sauce was without a doubt the most delicious that I have ever tasted anywhere in the world!!! I wish that I had had another day to explore the city. But it was time to return to cold, cloudy and dreary England.

Fortunately my 5th and final visit to Italy in the past eight months had no bad incidents or events so I at least left Italy with pleasant memories and a wonderful taste of that delicious Bolognese sauce.

No comments: