So on my second weekend in Italy, I finally ventured outside of Bologna. Though even now a month later, I admit I haven’t done too much exploring in Bologna. There are lots of things to do in Bologna, but Bologna is well known for its central location on the extensive rail network. So you can take a train from Bologna just about anywhere in Italy.
On September 3, Gianna, Savannah and I took a train to Rimini. Naturally, I almost missed the train. But I got on the train just in time in the last car. I made my way almost all the way to the first car to find Gianna and Savannah. The ride to Rimini was relatively short. When you leave Bologna (in any direction) there are miles of farmland. That is why the region of Emilia-Romagna is so famed for its food. It is very picturesque. It appears almost endless out the window of the regional train.
The trains themselves are very old looking. There is usually graffiti all along the side, but not the kind of political graffiti we see on the walls of Bologna, more like tags. The regional trains are cheap but slow. And often the air conditioning doesn’t work. So you keep the window cracked open, and when you pass by another train coming in the opposite direction (very close, mind you), it is really loud and always catches me off guard. It’s scary if you’re right next to it as if it would crash into you. They also rarely check tickets on the regional trains. I always feel like such a sucker buying a train ticket. You have to validate your ticket when you get there, and to be quite honest, I still don’t really understand why. I think it’s supposed to be a time stamp so you only use the ticket once.
Rimini was only our first stop. We were actually going to San Marino, which is an hour=long bus ride away from Rimini. We used our Italian skills to buy bus tickets at the tourism office where the attendant spoke perfect English. The bus ride itself was along a very windy road to San Marino at the top of the mountain. So even though it wasn’t far per se, we had to cover a lot of ground and we had to drive really slow.
The Republic of San Marino is technically another country, so that was pretty cool. But otherwise I was a little underwhelmed. It is so small you could walk the whole thing. The main feature is three medieval castles atop three peaks. It is postcard pretty (a phrase they use in Italian too). You can enter the first two castles. We went into the first one, and I was a little disappointed. There is really nothing in the castles, they’re empty. There are some old stones used to make it, sure. But I was expecting some history in them. And the view from the castles are basically the same as from outside the castles, cause you’re still at the top of the hill. So we didn’t bother going in the second castle, though we did walk the path to it.
In the main part of town, we stumbled upon a procession of sorts, which I at first thought to be a changing of the guard (not that this tiny little country has much use for a military). But I knew what time the changing of the guard was and this was not that. We found out several hours later at the tourism office that it just happened to be Republic Day in San Marino. That is the 1716th anniversary of the oldest continuous Republic in the world. So what we saw a performance by the military band. They were all relatively old to be in the military, but appropriate to be in a brass band. They wear these silly blue outfits with these ridiculous hats that are way more decorated than a practical military outfit would be. We happened to stumble upon this show in front of the palace because we were trying to get through and were blocked, so we had to wait it out. Among the other activities for the day: two parades (we missed one and skipped the other), a lottery (I guess it’s like bingo in the square?), fireworks (too late for us), and an archery contest (which begins with a half hour prayer).
Some of the things in San Marino that we didn’t do: the museum of torture, and the vampire and werewolf museum. Are they known for vampires in San Marino? Who knows… There is also a museum of modern weapons. They actually have gun shops in San Marino. I figure Europeans buy them in San Marino and then take them out into the EU since there are no border checks. It is really quite American the number of gun shops we walked by.
So from what I understand the economy of San Marino is largely sustained on tourism. Specifically, sucker tourists like us that go to the tourism office to buy a stamp on our passports. Since San Marino cannot possible be a port of entry into the EU without access to the sea, an airport, or a train station, they otherwise have no opportunity to stamp passports. So you pay 5 euro for a stamp and a postage stamp in your passport. And then also people buy souvenirs. Gianna bought a magnet for her mom’s collection. There appears to be a shortage of euro in San Marino. They have a hard time giving you change, especially for small purchases like a magnet. It’s a little ridiculous.
By the way, we had one terrible lunch in San Marino. I had the worst pasta I’ve had in Italy. It was at least in a cool location overlooking the valley. You could even see the sea from the top of the hills.
So we got back to Rimini in the afternoon and spent a few hours at the beach. There is a small amusement park at the end of the beach. And a majestic enormous fountain with stone horses in it. The beach in Italy is different. There are umbrellas and chairs lined up all along the shore. They are organized in sections and different companies own different stretches of beach. You pay to rent a chair for the day and you get access to the beach. The Adriatic Sea is very comfortably warm. The water is very calm, the waves minimal. It is actually quite pleasant. I felt extremely overdressed at the beach what with the toddlers wearing nothing, and the other men favoring barely-there speedos. Such is Europe.
Rimini is apparently known as the “Miami of Italy” for its plethora of nightclubs, none of which we could find. The beach certainly was no Miami Beach. The clubs must’ve been near the beach, but we saw only one and it was empty. I learned later from Christina that Rimini is famous in Europe. That’s where all the young Germans and Russians go to party it up. We had dinner before leaving, and I had fish ravioli for the first time. It was surprisingly good. Ravioli with fish!