The San Marino Situation
San Marino taunted me from the map each time my eyes scanned over Europe. I’d been to Italy at least five times and each visit I’d neglected to see her. I think back to 2005, long before I got the travel bug, when I was “stuck” in Italy for days, wanting to go home. Long story, but there was a girl and a fight involved. This was well before I’d taken on the challenge to see every country in the world. I’d waste those days staying inside Italy until my flight home. Not that I didn’t enjoy seeing places like Venice, Lake Garda and Genova…but had I known better, I would have absolutely made a run over to check off the micro-nation of San Marino.
Fast forward to 2020, and all of Western Europe completed, here’s this tiny little spec of a country, completely out of the way, that I must backtrack to and visit. I’m really not complaining about such “champagne problems” – it’s just now that I travel seriously, I really take pride in planning “smart,” and being super strategic when it comes to picking off clumps and regions of the world, efficiently. I get high off of meticulously planning and plotting a trip itinerary, doing my best to conserve time and money – that usually means honing in and attacking a group of countries that are pretty close together, so I can move on to the next “mass” of nations. It’s an acquired skill: like making sure to visit Timor Leste when you’re in Indonesia, popping over to Haiti when in the D.R., and so on. Knowing that all of Western Europe was in the “seen”/”done” box, except this minuscule patch of land less than 24 square miles in area…well it nagged at me.
To make it worse, after I’d found the most amazing award redemption using Alitalia miles to make it out to San Marino for a long weekend, along came Mr. Corona, and well, you know the rest. The entire LAX to FCO (Rome) route on the airline was discontinued and that made it even worse. Although, I couldn’t have entered Italy from the US anyway, even if the flight still existed. Americans were not allowed in Italy. I felt like I was never going to see San Marino.
But alas, I found a way into the EU and once you’re inside an area called the Schengen Zone, you’re free to move about. So let’s see San Marino…finally!
It would take some work to get there. The route was: Tallinn, Estonia > Riga, Latvia > Amsterdam, Netherlands > Bologna, Italy. Even though I was inside the theoretically border-free Schengen Zone, all bets were off with Corona, with some Schengen nations making up their own rules and often setting up internal borders, refusing entry to even some of their Schengen neighbors. I did get a little nervous when all Italy passengers at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport were routed through a special “checkpoint” in the airport, but thankfully it was just a health screening – I simply had to fill out a form and attest that I didn’t have any symptoms. Once I turned it in, I was given my boarding pass and set free. Whew.
My Bologna Has a First Name
I tried getting a flight into Rimini International, which is the commercial airport closest to San Marino (San Marino doesn’t have its own airport), but I think most flights in and out of Rimini were on pause – at least it appeared that way; I didn’t see any way to fly there. So I chose Bologna, which was the next closest – a little over 80 miles from San Marino. I’d pick up a car at the airport and drive myself there. That shouldn’t be too tough right? Italy? Highway? Rush hour? Oh boy.
The flight in was on time, wheels down just before 4:30. I was making great time until I got to the rental car counter. Only one guy was working the desk and I didn’t make it onto the road until close to 5:30. I really wanted to make it to San Marino before dark. The highway out of town was packed with rush hour traffic but it didn’t take long to break through and start really cruising. I turned up the radio and tried my best to enjoy the drive, only missing one turn on the way. Thank God for GPS, how the heck did we do it in the olden days?!
After I entered San Marino is when the windy roads and sharp curves began and I was losing light quickly! Luckily I made it in without scraping against any other cars nor driving off a cliff. By the time I ascended to the top of the hill that is San Marino I was exhausted. It was a full day of flying and over two hours of high-anxiety driving. I was so happy to finally be here. I’d waited so long. I felt a sense of accomplishment. I needed to eat.
I learned one thing quickly: San Marino was not a late-night party town…at least not on a Wednesday…during a pandemic. After I checked in to my hotel I bolted right back out the door to find some dinner, but noticed almost everything was shuttered. It wasn’t even 9PM. I walked a little bit longer and farther than I wanted to – I was tired. I descended pretty far down the hill via some twisting alleys and a few sets of stairs and realized that any stairs I walked down to for dinner, I’d have to walk back up to return to the hotel. But my trek finally put me in front of a couple restaurants that were open for business, so I wasted no time and grabbed a table at the very chic looking Giuletti, which seemed to be packed with locals – I was lucky to find an open table. You can imagine my disappointment when, my first night in Italy (San Marino is inside Italy), I ended up at a hamburger joint. I was too tired and hungry to go anywhere else. I’d be eating a cheeseburger tonight.
RAMBLIN’ TIP: Find a great hotel in San Marino HERE.
Goooooood Morning San Marino!
Besides the loud family with kids next door whose sound effects emanated through the bathroom vents as they used their hotel room as a disco, I managed a decent’s night sleep and was up and out the next morning to stomp around the town. I got the best exercise of the trip on this stop, because hardly any area of upper San Marino is flat. It’s either up or down, on steep hills, roads, ramps and stairs, really giving your legs and heart a work out.
Here come the photos!
The Best Part of Waking Up
I’d beat the locals and even other tourists in getting up and out this morning, but soon enough I’d see shop and restaurant doors opening up and a steady albeit small flow of tourists emptying out to explore the streets of San Marino. I paid a few Euros for a pass to see some museums and both stone towers and spent the next two hours exploring. I was blessed with blue skies!
After I finished touring the towers–which were on opposite peaks–and the museums within, I headed down to the tourist office to get my passport stamped. While not needed, how could I pass up a stamp from such a cool country? I was a little disappointed they charged 5 Euros for the stamp (How about, “Hey, here’s a free stamp as our thanks to visiting!), but the shiny, hologrammed seal that came with the stamp made it worth it. This was definitely one of the fanciest entries in my book.
I toyed with the idea of riding the funicular up and down, for good measure, but passed. Though I really liked San Marino and would have loved to stay longer, the impending drive back to Bologna was ahead and I wanted to get on the road early and see at least one new Italian coastal city on my way back. I was sad I only caught the very last of that glorious sunset the day before – San Marino is definitely worth staying two nights so you can take in both the complete sunrise and sunset in all of their glories – it’s majestic! So long, San Marino!This entry was posted in Europe