I grossly underestimated the time it would take for me to cycle to San Marino in the morning, where Maria was expecting me. She had agreed to meet and show me around this tiny country, and I was late. I passed some hills nearby and thought “San Marino sure looks pretty underwhelming…”
It later dawned on me that this wasn’t San Marino, and it was just a town on the top of a hill. I still had 10km to go. I mostly blame the hills for slowing me down; I’d been cycling on the flat for about 700km or so and they had caught me a little off guard.
I stopped to have a break in a café, and connect to the wifi to announce my late-coming. This was when I learned that I was, in fact, already in San Marino. There was no sign to tell me I was in the country but I had found out through Google Maps. So I had actually visited a new country without even knowing it. One can only hope this is the way of the future—where the borders become as meaningless as possible.
Now I was worried about my coffee. Maybe it costs a fortune? But it didn’t. A coffee and croissant still came in at 2€, just like in Italy. There was absolutely nothing around that signified I was in a different country. The only thing I noticed was the number plates were different.
San Marino is the 5th smallest country in the world, and the only one with more cars than people. Though, as it turns out, there weren’t thousands of cars clogging the streets; everything was surprisingly normal, and Italian. The reason there are more cars than people in San Marino is because it’s a tax haven. If you live nearby and happen to be making a big purchase, such as a car, why not come here and pay thousands less for it? So in reality there are a lot of cars registered here but parked elsewhere.
That said, San Marino is hardly a place for the cyclist. I never saw any whilst I was there. It’s not that it’s unsafe to cycle here, it’s just that for a really tiny country, it has tons of hills.
Maria had tried to persuade me to take me in her car, and ditch my bike at her sister’s place, but I couldn’t. It’s been almost two years since I’ve been in a car, and I wasn’t going to break my rule yet. Maria was breaking all the rules of San Marino, however, as she later rolled down the hill on her electric bicycle to meet me. She said the battery can last up to 140km on the low setting. E-bikes are popular in this region, because of the combination of hills and wealth in the area. I’ve seen a couple of e-bike charging stations in cafés around.
We cycled up to her house together in the humid air. By the time we had conquered the hill we were both dripping with sweat—it seems that cycling the hills here is far more difficult than in the Alps, because the lack of altitude and therefore, cool air.
I was invited to lunch and I met Maria’s boyfriend, Ludovico, also from San Marino, and his kid. It was nice to be invited into their home and get some insight into this tiny place, and they thankfully never tired of me asking them questions.
There are a few schools here, a hospital and a 10-year-old university campus. They showed me Ludovico’s passport from San Marino—I wondered if it offers the same benefits as an Italian passport. San Marino is not in the EU, but does use the Euro, and they even gave me a San Marino Euro to add to my rather pointless collection of coins from various countries…the only souvenirs I have apart from photographs.
I later cycled with Ludovico to the City of San Marino, the main town and historical centre. We actually took the cable car to the top, as it’s pretty high and a steep climb. So yeah, I cheated a little bit.
From the top of the hill, where the City of San Marino lies, you can see the islands of Croatia. Not this day though, as the humidity created a white-wash sky.
The town is really small, and used to be the only part of San Marino before it expanded by purchasing the surrounding land. Interestingly, it was the first country to democratically elect a communist government, in 1945. There were a few tourists around, mainly Italian. To be honest, I had a nice time there, but I didn’t find it particularly interesting. The town has been completely rebuilt and very few historic buildings remain. The reason is unclear to me, but the fascist government of Italy in the 1930’s decided to “modernise” the city. And the British did bomb it in WW2 “by accident”. It’s built to a Gothic style, but it’s all a little fake, as a single visit to Glasgow Uni will reveal.
Nonetheless, the city is quite lively: there are musicians around and people eating and drinking at the tables on the streets. I got my picture taken with the guards, that change like a terrible version of Buckingham Palace.
I couldn’t stand with my bicycle next to him, because apparently I “could use photoshop to their detriment.”
Apparently, a few weeks before somebody had uploaded a picture on Facebook of the guard doing something inappropriate, hence the paranoia.
We had some nice coffee and crepes together at a square in the city and I bought a little coffee maker to take away with me.
It’s made in Italy. And like most things that are made in Italy, it’s expensive and doesn’t work that well. But it is lighter than my bike stand, which I still haven’t replaced.
In conclusion, San Marino: a tiny country that is basically Italy. I wouldn’t bother going unless you happened to be passing by like I was.
Ciao for now.