So when I last left you in Florence, I was sleeping… needing to wake up at 7:30 AM to go get my rental and head down to Siena. I woke up disoriented again. The rooms at the Hotel Sempione feel like a cave. With curtains on the inside and shutters on the outside of the windows, no light gets in. With no clock and a dead phone, I had no way to tell what time it was, so I called the front desk.
Front Desk – Yes, sir?
Me – What time is it?
FD – 11:32
Me – What time is check out?
FD – It was 11
Me – Can I get a late check out?
FD – You have until noon
Awesome. It is gonna be a great day. I at least had time to take a real shower before packing everything up and grabbing a cab. I booked my rental through National Car, but they outsourced it to Enterprise, who actually outsourced it to Locauto. I do not recommend using National until they fix this. I was bullied into taking a car in a class below my reservation, they tried to take two credit cards, and they were not detailed in any explanation (I am now dealing with fraudulent damage claims and fees). I received a VW Golf for the week. Sweet. It is weird in Italy: everyone seems to drive either a wagon or a hatchback. Well, When In Rome, right?
Since I woke up late, I was unable to make it to Siena. I, instead, opted to drive straight to San Marino. There are 3 routes from Florence: One goes up to Bologna then down, the other down south to Arezzo then up… or the way I took…. Straight through the mountains. This was an excellent decision in my 1.2 L diesel VW Golf. As I chugged up the steep slopes and down the windy roads, I was confident in my decision. The scenery made the choice worth it honestly. I had planned on setting up a GoPro and recording the whole thing… But in my morning haste, I had forgotten.
I strongly recommend driving through the countryside if you get a chance. I would read up on traffic laws beforehand though. Things are very different in Europe. I enjoyed driving on the 2 lane roads through the back country of Italy. It offered some amazing views and experiences.
After talking through logistics of my trip with my father, I decided to switch from the Bed N Breakfast I had picked in the valley of San Marino to the nice hotel on the mountain itself. I Am very pleased with that decision. Grand Hotel San Marino was the best choice, I think. In addition to the spectacular views, they offered parking: a rare commodity on a driving-restricted mountain.
The room decor was dated, the internet was atrocious, and the power outlets were a proprietary joke. But the hotel still gets solid notes from me. The view was well worth it.
Also the proximity to the old city makes the value go up.
I headed in to get my passport stamped and see the sights. It was my luck that it happened to be some Gusto food festival in the palazzo. Local farmers brought produce. Restaurants gave food samples. Even a Sammarinese brewery showed up. Good times. I ate with an Italian couple who spoke no English. Somehow, we had some good times shared over a couple slices.
I quickly found that nearly every set of directions to anywhere in San Marino seems to include either “up the hill” or “up some steps.” But as I walked, I fell in love with this quaint little fairy tale. The clouds surround the whole village. It feels as if a dragon may swoop down at any moment and attack. There were a lot of tourists, but I did not feel suffocated or anything.
I visited a lovely little shop to pick up a knife for my father’s collection. In there I found Templar-style armour and weapons. I had a great broken conversation with the owner. I was enamored with this country already.
In the Piazza Liberta they were hosting a live performance of Parole Note. It is difficult to explain this performance, but it is like an audio/visual version of mixed media: poetry is read with background music and videos. They all interact. Without understanding any of the Italian words, I was able to feel the passion. It was outstanding.
While I waited for my table to be ready, I spoke with a local Sammarinese girl who was with her family. I had such a blast getting to know some of her history and culture.
Finally, my table on the Terrace was ready, so I went in to sit down. Once again I was asked, this time by an adjacent table, about whether I was eating alone. It gave me time to think. Yes, I am alone. I like it. Do I always want to be alone? No. Do I enjoy asking strangers to take pictures always? No. But I love the freedom my current life has. I travel when I want, where I want. Some day I might find an adventurous girl with similar desires and morals, and we can ride off into the sunset together. Until then, I will go places and meet people on my own journey.
After dinner, I spent some more time with the local, then found my way to pub for some more local beers. This country felt magical. I would recommend at least 24 hours to anyone visiting Italy. San Marino is the world’s oldest republics, and they are proud of that. It is a small, seemingly insignificant country, but The joy coming from this visit is hardly measurable.