Tuesday, 24 June 2008

San Marino - seeing is believing

Some things, and some places, you just have to see for yourself - no description, photograph or anecdote can properly illustrate them for you.

We nearly didn't make it to San Marino. Even before we left the campsite we almost abandoned going there - it was out of our way, a complicated route and, with the temperature at 30 degrees already (it was only 8.30am) neither of us fancied a long drive. Then, as we stopped for the second on the steep, winding B road over the Appenines to let Sheena cool down, we again nearly abandoned our plan. But we persevered, crawling up the forested slopes to stop our van from over heating, before finally emerging the other side. Peak top fortresses after cliff-top castle hoved into view, each one making us think that we were near our goal, before we finally saw it. Approach from the mountains it wasn't so clear to us how high up San Marino was; later, looking back at it from the coast you could see its cliffs and castles towering over the Romagna plain. Up we crawled to the old quarter, high up on this isolated mountain, the views getting ever more spectacular. From the courtyard below the castle the views all around - over the flat plains and the sea to the east, back across undulating hillsides to the east - were amazing; I'd imagine they would be even better from the castle turrets, but we didn't venture in. (Somebody had forgotten to buy a parking ticket - doh!)

The old town had a quaint charm to it, with orange-shirted policemen and green-uniformed guards, but the tacky tourist shops and gunsmiths prevented it being picturesque. Instead they made me wonder about San Marino's past - if, to survive in today's world, this tiny and ancient Republic of 26,000 people most prostitute its views and uniqueness to over 3 million tourists, what kind of Devil's bargains must this Christian refuge have made in the past to ensure 1600 years of independence as the world's smallest republic?

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