San Marino: the best castle in Europe
18 December 1999

We joked that the first thing we did when we got to Italy was to leave the country! We got up early in Firenze and caught a train to Montevarchi - actually we were on the train when it was supposed to leave, but it didn't move until 20 minutes later. Strangely, during that entire time, people still kept getting on!! We later found that none of this was unusal for Italy.

We were met by Elaine, my first cousin from Mississippi. This is someone who i have known all my life, not a new found relative. She lives in Tuscany now! She drove us to Lora Caffino, the town where she lives, where we had a quick coffee at the resturant belonging to a friend of hers. This town is on the bed of the lake that Hanibal drained when he was approaching Rome! Then she drove us to a tiny village where a piece of the Roman Road still exists! We saw a gorgous church from at least 1000 years ago and Elaine showed us a house she dreams of buying.

We took a very very scenic route, via the seven bridges road - a road that passes seven roman bridges. We stopped in one glorious little village with tight alleys and stairways all surrounding the old Roman bridge! And it was nice having Elaine drive us through the hills. Of course the rolling hills of Tuscany are nothing like what i am used to - they are dry and treeless with low vegitation and lots of cultivated olive trees and grapes.

The drive was wonderful, albiet long, but we finally reached San Marino. San Marino is one of the smallest countries in the world -- It is actually just a small city, with the old town on the top of a mountain - but for some reason, which i have not yet learned, it did not join the rest of the region when Italy was untied in 1861. I have always been facinated by it because of it's size and political status and location on a mountain top. It is also, of course, very touristy!

As we approached the mountain, we discussed where the actual border was, it seemed that the area, the suburbs, spread around the base of the mountain were actually part of the Republic of San Marino. Finally we started to drive up the hill, a long winding drive up to the old stone town. We parked and wandered around - it was not deserted, but there surely were not many people. Saturday afternoons are a pretty quiet time throughout Italy. The town seemed very clean and new, even the historic old buildings seemed fresh!

The buildings are all on top of each other! They are crammed up as tightly against each other as they can be and only tiny alleys sometimes cut through. Stairways are VERY important in this little mountain town. Many buildings and plazas have stunning views of the surrounding countryside, and when you look down from your vantage point, you realize you are standing right on top of another building -- the sidewalk or plaza or building you are in is built on a roof!! The entire town had speakers with christmas carols piped in! It was weird and after an hour or so it got very annoying!

Finally we made it to the top, just a couple of minutes before sunset. There are actually three peaks, each with a defensive tower on them, but the one surrounding the city is the grandest. I had been looking for a good castle experince the whole time we were in Europe and i thought this was the best one i had seen. VERY dramatic! We stood in the court in front of the castle (it was closed) and watched the sunset over Tuscany. Wow.

The people of San Marino seemed very very proud! We did buy a few postcards and stamps. One of the things that this tourist mecca is known for is stamps - i guess stamp collectors really like them. So all the stores sold stamps and coins and guns. I don't know why, but they were everywhere. The stamps we bought were for actual use -- we mailed postcards.

I also managed to buy some chocolate before we set out again to eat dinner with Elaine's companion in Lora Lora Caffino. We didn't realize how long the drive had been going out, and even on the Autostrada it took a long time - but we had a very nice meal at the same resturant we had had coffee at in the morning and we got to know Gussipi as we ate. Then he drove us, typically Italian, VERY FAST in a VERY flashy car, back to Firenze to the hostel (3 minutes before closing) and pronounced it 'very nice' when he had finished inspecting the Villa! We felt a bit of pride, as if by complimenting the place we were spending 3 nights, we were some how validated. We thought that was silly, but later learned it was just typically Italian.

It was a very nice day, it was great to see Elaine, the drive was beautiful and i really liked the little town/country of San Marino!

© Copyright Mark Canizaro 2000

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