ITALY – SAN MARINO – ITALY, 5th – 9th May 2017
Before I continue with the story of my solo tour of Italy and San Marino, I’d like to just apologise that our blog has fallen a little behind, and reveal to you that we have recently discovered a means by which we can deliver live updates to you. It is a new social networking system called Twitter, and we’ve cleverly manipulated the system so that when we type something it comes up automatically on the right side of the differentpartsofeverywhere homepage. Go ahead, check it out, we’re probably doing something right now.
But back to the past, and I was waking up in Italy and pulling on a pair of brand new blue shoes, courtesy of the kindness of strangers in Lidl car parks. I really hoped they were magic shoes, because I wanted to cycle to San Marino now, and standing in my way were lots of mountains, including three passes that topped out at about 1,000 metres each. Given how much I had struggled on the hills south of Bologna I was naturally a little apprehensive about this task, and I hoped my brand new magic shoes would help me out, even if they weren’t actually magic. Or brand new.
I made an early start and found the first pass surprisingly easy. It was on a very quiet road that was a pleasure to cycle on. I put on my radio and listened to a mix of classic pop songs and had a gay old time of it. Before I knew it I was at the top and then whizzing down the other side. I descended to a town in a valley with a library that I’d planned to stop at for the free wifi, but I arrived to find that the library was closed, so I decided I might as well just carry on and do the second pass. This was a longer and tougher climb, but I had my classic pop, and I found a little stream to wash away the sweat of another hot afternoon. Eventually I conquered this climb too, arriving triumphantly at the summit. Down, down, down I went from the forested hills and into another small town where I headed straight for the library. It was closed. ‘Ah, sod it,’ I thought, ‘I’ll just do the third pass too then.’
The third pass was the most difficult of course, but I had magic shoes, and so I did it, before I made my way down to camp near a river. In the morning I woke with tired muscles, but made my way along to another town where I knew there was a library that would be open. Success! I’d made it. The previous day I’d cycled 104 kilometres over three mountains, something which surprised even me, and now I had my reward. I walked into the library, ready to relax with some wifi. “Sorry,” the library man said, “we don’t have wifi here.”
It didn’t matter. I didn’t really need wifi. Ahead of me was country number 53, San Marino, also known as the Republic of San Marino, also known as The Most Serene Republic of San Marino, and I was eager to go and check it out. I was actually following a bike path near the river when the Most Serene Republic appeared ahead of me. San Marino, you see, is built almost entirely upon a steep mountain, and it rose up before me like a giant serene mountain republic.
I arrived at the border and took a little while getting my country sign photo right, because Dea wasn’t with me, and for a while I was taking photos with ‘5E’ on my chest. Once I got my three the right way around I got a pretty good selfie, then I took my first excited pedal strokes in San Marino. Almost immediately it began to rain quite hard, and I decided I didn’t like San Marino, and I almost turned around. But San Marino looked much wealthier than Italy, with freshly painted, well-maintained buildings, and it had a covered walkway where I could hide from the rain. By the time the rain stopped I decided I’d better carry on and have a look around this curious little republic.
The one thing to know about San Marino is that it is very, very, very not flat. I climbed up on very steep roads, with the idea to cycle up to visit the capital of San Marino, which is also called San Marino, and which is inconveniently situated at the very peak of the mountain. Along the way I had to pause several times to catch my breath, and on one such occasion a San Marinoian stopped his car to ask if I needed help with anything, which I thought rather nice, as it was not something anyone in Italy had done. I told him that I was fine, but in some ways this was a lie, because I was not fine, and after a while I could cycle uphill no more. This was actually not so much to do with my tired legs, but in fact because San Marino is a densely populated little mountain republic, and the road was busy and dangerous. So I locked my bike up and proceeded on foot, finding a nice walking path up the rest of the mountain, that led me up to San Marino.
I liked San Marino a lot. It’s an old town of course, with three forts that proudly stand guard along the ridge of the mountain, and the old town hidden away behind. The views from just about everywhere where staggering, absolutely amazing. Italy surrounds San Marino on all sides, with the flat plains to the north a welcome sight for me, while to the east it was possible to see all the way out into the Adriatic sea.
The only thing I didn’t like so much about San Marino was that in amongst all of the gift shops catering to the tourists who come here and provide 50% of the country’s GDP there were a great many shops selling guns and swords. I had heard that San Marino was the gun capital of Europe, and I had even been shocked by the sound of gunfire (presumably from a shooting range) as I cycled up the hill. Now I saw guns for sale everywhere, as well as souvenir shops with great big swords and huge knives in the windows. I suppose a tiny republic must defend itself somehow, but the whole thing made me feel a little uneasy, and I decided that if San Marino were a person then I would have to consider it to be a psychopath. How else do you explain the name? “Oh, nice to meet you, I’m San Marino, and I’m most serene. Most serene indeed.” Yeah, sure, ‘most serene’ San Marino, with your massive stockpile of weapons.
Having survived San Marino I returned to Italy and headed further east to the seaside town of Rimini. This first introduction to the Adriatic was a little disappointing. Rimini was well set up as a resort town, and, although I followed the coast for twenty kilometres, I saw nothing but hotels and restaurants and shops selling beach balls. Even getting to the beach was a little difficult, and when I did I saw that it was covered in little toadstool-style tables. There were literally thousands of them in rows all over the beach, presumably for people to sit by and have a beer, but it completely spoiled the beach, which was perhaps why there was nobody there.
I left the coast and headed north-west, grateful to be back on the Italian plains that would lead me back to Bologna. I took small roads as much as I could, enjoying the sunshine and the easy cycling as my solo tour neared its end. Only in the evenings I cycled up into the hills to find places to camp, for every inch of the plains was farmed. On my last night I camped practically overlooking Bologna and I saw wild boars close up. They had been a feature of the Italian hills, and this was not the first time I had stumbled upon them as I looked for somewhere to camp. But they were more scared of me than me of them, and they scurried away grunting as fast as they could.
The next morning I cycled back into Bologna, a town of surprisingly good cycle paths, which I could follow all the way back to the bus station. I arrived to see that Dea was already sitting and waiting to meet me. Happy to be reunited, we sat for a while and told our stories of the previous seventeen days as the hustle and bustle of a big city went on around us. I’d had some adventures, for sure, but there was no doubt about it – it just wasn’t the same without Dea beside me. So it was time for us to get up and move on, and continue our trip, together.
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