Time slips by and I fall further and further behind. For those reading regularly, I apologize for the lack of updates, only in that I regret how some of the detail may be lost. Beyond that, I suppose it would be foolish to allow recording the experience to interfere with experiencing it. That said, from the beautiful town of Nafplion, Greece here goes!
I arrived at Rimini with Megan and Kate late in the afternoon after a long day of travel. We quickly found our way to a hostel about a 5 minute walk from the beach and checked in. The hostel itself was quiet, not unlike the town itself. I would later learn that it was finals time for the students staying in the hostel and that the large group of Italian hippies that were more visible in the common areas with their telltale pachouli scent (which I hate btw) were there for an economic conference. The hostel itself was excellent. Clean, with free internet, a kitchen and common room it also had bikes you could check out and a small bar area. We settled in and made a quiet nite of it using our time as an opportunity to relax and recover from Florence.
Time has molded together a bit, so I’m going to go ahead and outline major occurances in Rimini, then discuss my two day trips. The first of which was a delightful dinner Kate, Megan and I cooked. During our first day on the town spent wandering and exploring we discovered the large outdoor market where I picked up 2 pounds of odd rock lobster-shrimp…things. They, for all intents and purposes looked like 3-4 inch giant sea fleas. 1kg cost 3 Euro and the opportunity to try something bizzare and new was too stong to resist. In addition to my sea fleas I also got a few pork chops and a Kiki fruit…an odd thing that looks like a mix between a plum and a tomato and tastes like a delicious mango…of sorts. Equipped with my bizzare foodstuffs I made my way back to the hostel and began cooking. Before long I had a huge pot of boiled sea lice (who knows what they actually are) which ended up being a bit of a dissapointment. Though delicious, the odd things did not produce a shrimp like bite of meat as I had expected, but instead ended up being more on par with crab meat in texture and lobster fat (from the top of the carapace…the soft fatty part) in flavor. Despite being less filling than expected, and producing more spiky carapace than actual meat, their flavor was excellent. The bizzare Kaza, kiwa, ka…I forget the name…fruit was less dissapointing and equally delicious. A weird sandy pulp it was wonderful. Not unlike peeling a mango, it was juicy and flavorful. All washed down with a glass or two of local wine and the pork chops which I cooked up in a frying pan with a littlle salt. The meal was a welcome alternative to the endless kabob diet I’d been on.
The city of Rimini itself was fairly bland. Mostly modern, it had a nice inner city that felt as though it dated from the mid 1800s. The castle was large and moderately well preserved, while the docks were teaming with activity. The beach was a fine hard sand ideal for making sand castles but otherwise unremarkable. What really made the town for me, however, was the company. In addition to the time spent with Megan and Kate (who both left before I did) I also met three of the students studying in Rimini. The three – Ana (Portugal), Jaana (Finland) and Pascal (Sweden) took me under their wing of sorts and invited me out with them. In general, chatting with them around the hostel, as well as our various evening outings, was a delight. As an interesting footnote of sorts, most of the people I have met and interact with as I travel in the hostels are native English speakers. Predominantly Australians and Canadians with the odd British Islander, New Zealander, American or South African. In large part this stems from the language barrier, but it also is tied, i think, to who is traveling and where they are staying. I had a number of delightful conversations with each of the three, especially with Jaana. I found we had somewhat similar life experiences in the form of youthful travel and an eagerness and willingness to discuss random things and musings. It constantly amazes me how proficient people from the Scandanavian countries are in English. It often seems as though it’s their first language, instead of their 3rd or 4th.
One of the days I spent in Rimini I dedicated to exploring San Marino – the oldest republic in the world. About an hour or so from Rimini, San Marino is a small, landlocked republic that has a population of about 26,000. The Republic/city sits on a steep mountain that jutts out of the countryside like a pillar. The city would be impressive as a hilltop town alone, but is made all that more incredible by it’s 3 tower-castles. These castles sit along the top ridge of the mountain and overlook the surrounding countryside below. Each castle has been well maintained and or restored and look straight out of a fairytale as they stand vigilantly perched at the cliffside. The town itself is a pristine thing, consisting of steep streets that zig-zag back and forth up the mountainside. Made of the same beautiful sandy-colored stone the city’s walls are ever present, as are it’s major buildings and monuments. It, perhaps more than any other city I’ve seen, feels like a medieval stronghold. As a small Republic, the city gets most of its revenue from tourist shops or its vineyards. To that end, nearly every shop in the city is selling an odd mixture of things…Some have guns, others swords, yet others porcelain plates. The selection is odd and vaguely suprising.
I arrived in the city with Kate (Megan had moved on to Rome) and together we explored the city, winding our way through its ancient streets and looking out over it’s impressive walls. Eventually, with our faces bent so far forward they almost scraped the ground we climbed up to the largest of the three castles. There we paid the small fee and quickly lost ourselves on the castle’s parapets. It was not only in pristine shape, it also had the aura of a castle, which I’ve found many of the other ruins and castles I’ve seen have lost. Eagerly exploring the castle we wound around the wall staring alternately down on the city below us and then at the sheer drop of the cliff sitting below the castle wall on the other side. Once exploring the walls thoroughly we made our way inside the main tower where, after scaling a few steps, we reached what at first appeared to be a dead end with a small ladder to one side. Closer inspection of the ladder revealed that it led up into the tower. The steep wooden steps climbed the 15 or so feet to the ceiling where they stopped at a square cut & slightly slanted hole in the stone roof. Putting my marginal distaste for heights aside, I climbed the stairs and tried to pull myself up the steel rungs set in the stone tunnel only to find that it was too narrow for both my backpack and I both to fit through. Eager to explore the highest reaches of the tower, i left my pack with Kate who elected to stay below and tried again. Squeezing my way up into the small area and up the 5 rungs I found myself in another large room. Turning around, the hole I had come through was actually a trap door. Funny as it is, it reminded me of the bit in the Lord of the Rings where Bilbo finds himself a prisoner in the top of a tower, accessible only by trap door in the floor after being wounded in the Spider’s cave. I looked around, before making my way out onto the walkway that snaked around the tower. From there I wormed my way back down and we continued to explore the castle before making our way to the second slightly smaller one located a bit along the cliff face.
The second castle was equally impressive and, as I had done in the 1st, I quickly made my way up several sets off odd stairs to the topmost part of the tower some 4 stories above the castles ground floor. There I was again amazed by the view and the feeling that time was standing still and that I was living in a dream. After waving down at Kate, being buffeted by the wind, and staring down from an incredible height, I found my way back down and together we explored the castle’s small museum. It had old arms and weapons from San Marino’s armory. One of the things that stands out in my memory is a set of breastplates which each showed various signs of battle use. One had a number of deep- set dents where bullets fired from ancient flintlocks had embeded themselves in the breastplate. Another sported a silver dollar sized hole where a grenade had blown away a piece of the armor. It’s an odd thing to see armor from that period that has obviously been used in battle. So often, what is on display was never used, or created for display or parade.
In addition to the museum there was also a small chapel belltower and walkway that left one feeling as though they were floating above the cliff face. We paused and watched the sun set while munching hungrily on a few loafs of stale bread and sipping some waterwe had in our packs. From there we made our way back down through the city and eventually ended up at the bus stop. The next bus wasn’t for an hour. Eager to rest our feet and itching for a hot chocolate we picked a small cafe-store near the station and headed inside.
As it turned out the workers and what we took to be a few friends were sitting around at the bar smoking weed. There was no mistaking it, the smell was overpowering. In a surprised flurry of activity they tried to play it off as if nothing was going on and set to serving us. All the while, blatantly stoned. The whole thing had a comical air to it. We had our hot chocolate, sampled an odd liquour that is apparently made in San Marino (that tasted like an even thicker, syrupier Baileys Irish Cream), picked up two cheap bottles of San Marino wine, then caught our bus back to Rimini.
A few days later I caught the train to Ravenna, which for a brief period had been the capitol of the Roman Empire during its decline. As a former capitol I expected it to show a heavy Roman influence. Unfortunatly, the only thing impressive about the city was the famous mosaics. Apparently hailed as some of the best preserved Byzantine mosaics in the world they were incredibly impressive. After exploring the main churches and several of their smaller offshoots I did a final wander around the city before heading back to the train and returning to Rimini.
After my stay in Rimini I caught a train and dashed across the boot to Rome. There I arrived, found my way to my hostel and waited impatiently for Lander to arrive. Luckily, we both were able to make it to the appointed area around the time we had set and met up without any difficulties. We got settled and checked in, then set to mixing with the other travelers that were relaxing in the hostel’s bar. As it turned out, I ended up bumping into Dax – one of the Australians I had met in Florence and ironically enough one of the ones I wrote about previously while describing the passed out Aussy and various antics – Dax was the one that had decided to give the fire extinguisher a go.
Lander and I quickly made several new friends as I caught up with Dax on our adventures since Florence, then we all set to making a good night of it. Before long we had a few games of beer pong going, had met a bunch of friendly girls and had some fun music playing. We partied well into the night before making a kebab run and turning in.
The next day we took a little time to relax and get moving, then set out to see St. Peters. Luckily our hostel was a 5 minute walk from the main train station which had a subway stop. After briefly staring at the map and scratching our heads, we pieced together where we needed to go, how the subway worked, and what our ticket would cost. From there we set off and before long found ourselves in front of the Vatican. The day itself was rather gloomy, a bit rainy but not horrible. It quickly brightened and by the evening was partially sunny.
We snapped a few shots of St. Peters and the square and then took one look at the line and decided to try our luck later in the day. As I’ve mentioned previously, I prefer to hit major tourist attractions after 3 o’clock as I’ve found that most of the crowds have exhausted themselves and returned to their hotel rooms. We walked fairly extensivly around the Vatican, exploring various hills, small alleys and other areas before finding our way to the Vatican museum…which to our suprise was closed. Frustrated to see that the line for St. Peters had grown, we set off south to explore a castle marked on the map in relatively close proximity. The castle turned out to be the castle built on Hadrian’s tomb. Heavily fortified it was a beautiful thing.
Overlooking the river and a beautifully decorated bridge the castle was an odd mixture of styles and it was obvious had served several different uses. Castel Sant Angelo had served as a main defensive work for the Vatican, a tomb, and a treasure repository over the years. The upper sections are accessible via a large ramp that winds through the central mountain-like center of the castle. In many ways it resembles a birthday cake with a ramp through the middle of it. From the castle the view was panoramic. Both of Rome in general and of the Vatican located a bit to the Northwest. We explored the frescoed rooms, the dark moldy hallways, and meandered along the battlements before checking our watches and deciding to go brave the Vatican line.
To our delight, the line had dwindled into a tiny thing and after a brief 5 minute wait to get through the metal detectors we were in. Wandering somewhat aimlessly we quickly found our way to the tombs located underneath St. Paul’s which were fascinating. They house both former Popes as well as assorted royalty from modern Judeo-Christian history. From there we found ourselves in St. Peter’s proper which was breathtaking. The color, size, proportion and general aura of the place is astounding. It’s something that must be experienced, in short, to fully capture its awe-inspiring might, power and massiveness. That humanity can build such things is truly a testament to our power when we set our minds to something…Especially when considering when and how it was built. The essence was made that much more fascinating by a mass which was being conducted in the back of the Cathedral. The musical chanting as it carried across the huge space and took advantage of it’s acoustics was brilliant.
After taking in the sights and with the sun setting we returned to the hostel for what ended up being a ridiculous evening. We decided to take the cheap route and picked up 3 bottles of local wine to split between the two of us. The total price for the 3 bottles..3 Euro. We returned to the Yellow’s bar, where we met up with some of the people from the night before and then recruited a number of others. Before long we were all jovially exchanging stories, playing beer pong, and generally having a fantastic night of it. Eager to mix and mingle, I’d recruited a number of people to join us and toward the latter half of the evening I wandered up from the basement and found 3 more girls sitting around quietly. After an entertaining entry, I kept them company for a bit before it surfaced that one had taken Salsa. Before long we were up and dancing in a small open place in the bar which was in the process of closing down. With the music off, we made our way down stairs into the basement. Before long we had a group of people dancing to music playing through a laptop. We pushed aside the beer pong tables which were no longer being used and then got everyone left standing dancing. Eventually 2 o’clock came around and they had to close the basement. We straggled out and as the girls went to bed in order to catch an early flight home, Lander and I made our way back to our room, ravenous. There we reclaimed a can of beans and odd stuffed breaded things we had picked up for a few cents along with the wine. Eager not to wake our roomates we inched back out into the hallway and settled down to eat – by now it was about 4 o’clock. As we sat munching on what turned out to be tiny weird beans and our odd breaded and chocolate-filled pastries two drunk Spanish girls came stumbling in.
We all introduced ourselves and eventually they decided to join us. One asked if she could try our beans, then with an odd look asked us why we were eating lentils out of a can. As it turned out, the small beans were in fact lentils. Somehow we had grabbed the wrong can and not noticed or thought to actually look at the pictures on the can during the course of the evening. Unabashed we continued our lentil meal as we chatted with the Spanish girls then turned in for the evening.
The next day we set off at 10 and saw an enormous chunk of the city, but for now I’ve gotta run!