Sunday, July 24, 2011

Repubblica Di San Marino Part Two

So there I was all breathless and ready to climb tower number two which looks to all effects like tower number three, seen here, at the top of the Republic of San Marino.

I had to pause in the bottom room waiting for a Dutch tourist to lower his child through the trap door. No concessions are made here for pantywaist tourists.

However not many people made the effort to climb to the top so I had time to arrange a self portrait at the top of the first flight of stairs. Kilroy wuz here.

Up three more flights of heavy wooden stairs and I was at the top peering out through port hole-like windows at the city below.

That was the courtyard at the base of the tower.

The watchtower itself was touched up in the 1950's according to the literature but the was mention of a guard tower here in 1253. It makes the Conch Republic seem rather fresh and new, considering Key West was founded in 1828...

The views with the incoming storm were tremendous.

Soon enough we had spent our three Euros well enough we were ready to leave the tower and amble down the hill to look for refreshment.

We found a terrace perched on the hillside as everything must be on this narrow strip of rock and we ordered beer.

It turns out the Republic has it's own micro-brewery in Serravalle where they turn out a lager, a white beer which we had, a red ale and a strong ale which would be too hoppy for us weaklings.

Titanbrau is named for Monte Titano on which we sat, the symbol of the Republic and the German suffix gives it authenticity as Italians, and Sammarinesi apparently, believe only Germans know how to brew beer.

We took the funicular back to the car and drove out e back road round the mountain toward Urbino in the Marche Region.

The only street or road sign I saw in San Marino that was any different from those in Italy was this one, which I thought denoted a tight turn rather louder than the black and white chevrons used in Italy.

In about fifteen minutes we said goodbye to the ancient land of liberty simply by passing under this arch and we were back in the land of bumpy roads and good food.

The other thing you notice immediately in Italy is how much land there is and how open it all is. With 30,000 people and a living to earn San Marino seems forced to make as much use as possible of every square inch. Italy looks wide open south of San Marino:

For all that Italy is an overcrowded peninsula of 60 million, there is still lots of open space. From this perspective it is possible to see how impossible it would have been to take an alert San Marino by storm.

We had miles to drive across a darkening landscape to Terni three or more hours away across winding country roads.

Our next stop intended as a brief break was in Urbino, a city of such great beauty it is hard to recommend San Marino as a beauty stop by comparison.

Unless like us, you enjoy the quirks of human history as represented by the micro states of Europe.

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July TwentyFourth #3

Stock Island Sunset by GarytheTourist. I am on vacation and will be back at the end of the month.

Repubblica Di San Marino Part One

San Marino is a small Italian speaking town on top of a noticeably stark hill called Monte Titano, within sight of the Adriatic Sea.

This is however what claims to be the smallest and oldest continuous democracy in the world, a hundred and twenty square kilometers of freedom in the midst of Italian oppression. I exaggerate but in the past when the Republic was surrounded by the Papal States San Marino was a haven of freedom for rebels and the oppressed trying to flee. Garibaldi took refuge here after the fall of the brief Roman Republic in 1849, eventually escaping to the coast and getting a boat.

San Marino's historic lack of access to the sea may be what saved it from being overrun and absorbed by one of it's larger neighbors during it's tumultuous history since 301 AD when as legend has it the village was founded by Saint Marinus. Nowadays it's a member of the micro states club of Europe and recognized by the United Nations but it is not part of the European Union though it uses the Euro and it's citizens speak Italian.

The license plates on it's cars do not conform to European standards,

And one can drive in and out of the Republic without stopping to show documents as there is a customs union with Italy. The main approach road from Rimini the largest nearby city on the coast, is an ugly four lane. This may be a land of freedom but it's not a land of beauty.

Even though San Marino hails itself as the ancient bastion of liberty this is not where Tea Party adherents or Ayn Rand nutters want to hold their get togethers as San Marino is very much a paternal government-run democracy and where social democracy rules. With 30,000 citizens it has a history of providing government run jobs in all sectors of the economy. Indeed 6,000 citizens work r the government here, a huge proportion of the total citizenry in a country you can cross by car in twenty minutes.

The entrance to the world's smallest republic is a simple sign over the road (rather ugly really!) which reads: Welcome to the ancient land of freedom.

And the ugly four lane highway continues up the hill in a series of turns and roundabouts through modern ugly buildings...

...looking like nothing quite so much as a shabby industrial suburb. Nothing ancient or historic here!

The state police are called Gendarmes and they do traffic stops and carry machine guns like police anywhere. Municipal cops wear fetching green shirts and maroon pants.

This guy we met four years ago operating a gift shop at the base of the funicular that provides a quick ride to the old town at the top of the Monte Titano. We chatted some more about the crisis and the government debt in San Marino. He said the Americans put a spoke in the San Marino economy when they asked the G8 governments which include Italy to crack down on offshore banking. That has cut income for San Marino a haven for Italian tax evasion.

Compared to forty years ago when San Marino's economy was pathetic things are relatively good now, he said but weakening.

The new town spread out at the base of the mountain, a modern little town like any in Italy as seen from the funicular car- and all too rapid five minute ride up the rock face.

At the top of the ride lies the shopping pedestrian zone. Air guns for sale, slightly cheaper tobacco and fake perfumes and tax free alcohol. Not exactly edifying. "San Marino?" Giovanni's wife said when we got home. "it's too fake for me. Why go there?" Well, if you don't need a frighteningly realistic air gun or cheap cigs, I suppose the only other thing to do is go climb a tower.

There are area museums here and the only one we visited was the ail, a small room in the tower where it was noted that over the centuries the Republic executed eight criminals before abolishing the death penalty permanently in March 1848 when revolution was sweeping the continent. The three towers that guarded the fields of San Marino were staffed every night by volunteers who went back to their fields during the day. As the story goes the peasants did their duty cheerfully as they were not working to the orders of any overbearing nobleman. It sounds rather appealing doesn't it?

The towers did not look quite so pretty back then, they were all touched up and made pretty in the 1950's which was a good thing as the towers are the symbol of San Marino.

Walking the tower was rather like finding oneself suddenly transported into Narnia or perhaps Harry Potter land. Towers and battlements and courtyards, oh my!

A government job and freedom too? Count me in!

I would be happy to pour boiling oil on the heads of Goldman Sachs executives storming the ramparts.

However I would like a well tested harness before getting to enthusiastic.

I did in the end manage to climb the tower and survive. In Part Two.

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July TwentyFourth #2

By GarytheTourist, filling in for moi, le Conchscooter while I am en vacances.

Parma and Modena

My wife wanted to see a lot more Italy this trip so when we set off from the Cinque Terre I made a plan to drive across the top of Italy through the Po Valley. The Po is one of then largest rivers in Italy, home to vast fields of grain and cronies and rice, Italy's breadbasket. It's climate is hot and sticky in summer and cold and damp and foggy in winter.

Parma is home to ham and cheese and frankly not much else. We stopped because one has to see for oneself and we found the main drag, walked it, looked in shop windows and admired the angry mass of no parking signs scattered everywhere, Key West style:

"Park anywhere on this street even with a handicapped sticker and you are fucked" but some wag added a little something to the tow away picture which made me smile.

Why not join the shared bicycle program if you haven't a bike of your own or are afraid of getting it stolen?

Well, that's Parma done. On our way to Modena, home of Balsamic vinegar we saw a dust spout in a parking lot:

I wondered if it was god telling us we had spent too little time in e City of Cheese, but when we parked the three hundred horsepower car in the lot outside the pedestrian zone and we started walking we saw his and all memory of dull Pama was forgotten.

The sun was out and Modena was glowing in orange and yellow like the sunflower capital of the Po Valley.

The arcades, more famous in Bologna, were in evidence here too, to provide shade in summer and protection from heavy cold winter rains.

We liked Modena real well as we wandered around. Madison Avenue is a miles away from here thank heavens, as nowhere did we see signs promoting this quiet city as the Balsamic Vinegar Capital of the world.

And we lost our souls when my wife the determined shopper spotted the covered market. Built in 1931 it was to replace the unsanitary medieval covered market. Mussolini did like his public works.

WalMart eat your heart out. They like their food fresh and local around here.

We inspected the fish as I never ate fish as a kid and I have no idea what fish names are in Italian (I don't know sailing terms either as I only started sailing in Santa Cruz). The lady asked of we wanted anything and when I said just looking she said typical I always draw the tourists which rather put me off taking hero tire or that of the dead octopus (pollipo) squished in the corner rathe dramatically.

But the cheeses I could not resist. Lucky my wife could because I'd have bought the lot.

This is my second favorite childhood dessert, fresh ricotta, sheep's milk curds pressed into a common or garden plastic basket to give it th distinctive ribbing apearance and eaten with heaps of sugar.

And then it was time for one more meal, and my wife came up with a doozy from Lonely Planet which she had previously downloaded to her Kindle. Trattoria Aldina is hidden away upstairs across from the covered market, we found the front door of the palazzo and tip toed in.

It was like being a member of a secret eating club and as the minutes passed the place filled and our quiet corner was suddenly surrounded by lunch time gourmets.

We tried as usual to taste the local stuff and Aldina doesn't have menus, just quick fire recitals and as my wife put it this didn't seem to be the place to split dishes and pick courses so we with the flow and it was one delicious ample flow. First local fizzy red wine, prosecco.

Then two past dishes, meat ravioli and local pasta, curled up around prosciutto and covered in a cream sauce.

Then roast veal and pork on one plate and roast lamb kebabs on the other with roast potatoes.

Then my favorite dessert of all, zuppa inglese, English soup, which is supposed to be the Italian rendition of trifle discovered in 19th century when British sailors, occupying Sicily during the Napoleonic wars introduced the pudding to Sicilian nobility.

Ten the bill, something under forty Euros and we staggered off back into the beauty of Modena.

Whose cathedral was undergoing renovation...

...but who delighted my wife with versions of what she hopes could be her next car.

Fiat paid off Chrysler's government loans six years early (eat your heart out Faux News) and the Italian press is full of the fact Fiat owns sixty percent of Chrysler with Big Plans. Me? I don't lust after the Fiat 500, I'm looking forward to Carmax getting a load of lightly used Alfa Romeos for me to pick over. Fat chance but a government employee can dream can't he?

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