BEING SCOTTISH I obviously cannot get enough of freedom, so a visit to one of the worlds oldest and smallest republics was on the cards for my holidays.
With a wedding to attend in Italy I packed my kilt and planned a round about route to get there that included San Marino. If I'm serious about getting around every country in the world I have to do the wee ones as well as the big ones. San Marino has no airport. It has no port either. There is no train goes to San Marino. It's perched atop a hill that dominates the area. To get there you get to Rimini and take a bus. The bus is cheap, regular and takes an hour going through mainly attractive countryside.
Rimini is a party town full of Italians on holiday. It has a massive, long beach covered in tightly packed sunbeds often a few hundred metres from the sea. It feels a bit like Blackpool, except warm and everyone on the beach seems to actually have a deep, dark brown tan.
But Rimini was just a staging post for an assault on San Marino, with it's three guard towers on an impregnable hilltop. A self-proclaimed bastion of freedom and liberty. What was it like?
Too damn busy during the day, and oto damn quiet at night.
It's a beautiful old town set across three square miles. Three "towers" being very much in evidence, two of which are small castles, fun to look around and with the stunning views that come, well, everywhere in the city/country/state?
The big tower is maybe the size of say Craigmillar Castle (by far Edinburgh's finest castle), the second tower much smaller. Do not do as I did and get sandwiched between a busload of Japanese pensioners in front of me and a busload of Italian teenagers behind me as you poke around the old armouries, prisons and battlements.
There is a very old and very small parliament/government building - I very much approve of a) it's beauty, historical and architectural significance whilst we are stuck with that carbuncle down by the palace and b) it's size. No chance of being over-governed from such a small assembly, no chance of underworked politicians coming up with the petty, oppressive laws that our underemployed legislators seem so keen to impose on us.
The old churches were okay if old churches are your thing, but if they are you would be much better served in Rome or Florence. All pretty tame pictures of Madonna and child, with a smattering of random cardinals lulling you into a false sense of security before a startling, gory, graphic picture of St.Agatha having her breasts sliced off.
The San Marino museum is full of pretty standard fare, old coins, pottery and papal medals. The curiosity museum full of exhibits like a waxworks of the world's fattest-ever lady, the torture museum describing things like the racking and flogging of prostitutes into the early 1800s and apparently vampires are no idle curiosity in San Marino - they merit a whole museum to themselves!
I spent the night in Hotel Titano in the centre of the old town, a lovely hotel and a remarkably cheap short notice bed and breakfast deal from an online booking site. It's a noisy place to stay, church bells peeling out all the time, street performers drawing noisy crowds outside.
There's no shortage of shopping if that's your thing. Tourist tat, tax-free luxury goods and weapons. Want the knife of Rambo or Leonidas? They've got it. How about a gun, crossbow or catapult? No bother, they'll hook you up. Night vision googles, hockey mask and camouflage gear to complement your weapons of choice? Now you look the part... I guess all this freedom they talk about doesn't come free.
There's all manner of folks dressed up and role playing in period costume, as well as ceremonial guards outside the parliament wearing a uniform of maroon and green. Maybe if Wallace Mercer had got his way we would all be sporting maroon and green... The ladies in period costume cooking traditional food in traditional ways is all well and good I'm sure, but there were old men with massive crossbows constantly giving shooting displays, and super shots they were. But gutted they would only let me pose for a photo, steadfastly and wisely refusing my pleading to be allowed a shot.
It's busy, bustling, lively and then something strange happens. The day trippers go home. Suddenly it's dead quiet. The restaurants that are so busy at lunchtime are suddenly empty. Of course you can have the best seat in the house, it might have 50 or 60 tables, but only two or three will be used at night. I'm not complaining, I'm just glad I brought a good book with me. Sitting high up in hills watching the sunset over spectacular countryside whilst drinking really good, cheap locally produced wine is a real pleasure, even if I would have liked to find a party!
Is it the best Italy has to offer? No, not on any level. Is it worth a day trip? Yes, if you're nearby. Is it worth an overnight? Sure, if you've got a good book with you. San Marino. It's alright.