San Marino: History on a Hill 22/48

As one of the last city-states, San Marino sits atop a hill surrounded by Italy. The little city has quite a bit to offer given the limited space. It’s so magical that the entire thing is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a time capsule of Italy’s halcyon days.

San Marino 25/48

First of all, the trip to San Marino was a bit of a misadventure. We were feeling indulgent so opted for a longer but potentially more scenic route. Our trust in Google Maps died at about hour 2 when we weren’t even halfway there and the only real scenery we saw was the back of the car in front of us. The road we took was small and prone to jamming. At the beginning there was a brief view of Venice from across the water, which was stunning but did not make up for the grueling six hour trip.

Once we headed back to the highway, we got glimpses of a castle on a high hill, higher than the ones dotting most of the countryside between in central Italy. We foolishly assumed this was just another hill, just another Italian castle. In fact, this was our destination, Italy’s last true city-state, a holdover from a by-gone era, and the world’s longest continuously existing sovereign state still in existence (sorry, Japan and China). It was founded in 301 AD and has had basically the same government since. Dubious titles aside, San Marino is worth a little pop-over, at least for its preservation of historical significance.

As the annoying-to-draw crest shows, San Marino has three towers. The views from each are enough to appease the temper of an irritated driver or passenger. The most fun part is trying to decide whether the Adriatic in the distance to the east is a better view than the rolling hills of Tuscany to the west. The winner is you. Aside from wonderful views, the enclave offers many culinary delights, not unlike its surrounding neighbor.

San Marino is not too small to break into further districts and outside of the castle area it’s hilariously suburban. I love when Europeans are just as basic as they think Americans are.

Warding off Misanthropy in Rome

I wrote recently about my trip to the Vatican City which is nestled in the giant historical site that is Rome.  Millions of visitors flock every year to Italy’s iconic capital. With sites that span millennia, it’s impossible to see everything in the few short days. Here’s a short guide on how to maintain your sanity while dealing with huge crowds and lines.

Wisteria Rome

Continue reading Warding off Misanthropy in Rome

Spain 12/48

The Spanish know how to live life.  They know that every day is worth celebrating, whether it be your relationships, national holidays, or just being able to sit outside in the sun. My adventure in Spain included a little of all and a whole lot of red wine.

 

Sagrada Familia number

 

My first taste was in Girona, a small city north of Barcelona. I was planning on meeting my best friend Emily in Barcelona and had a few hours to myself to spare. I haven’t really done any solo traveling before, but I loved my first try. I loved being able to just meander Girona’s streets and marvel at its cathedral. The best part was having a perfectly lovely lunch of coffee and tostada. It’s the most delicious feeling to sit alone and enjoy a coffee in a new country under a flowering tree with petals in your hair knowing you will soon see one of your favorite people in the world.

Girona streets

After a serendipitous reunion in the Barcelona Sants station we headed to our hostel.  We both aren’t very accustomed to hostel living, but we eventually settled into our bunk beds and lockers. We took a stroll to the Born area. There we snacked on pintxos, a Basque style of eating that is a mix between a buffet and conveyor belt sushi. You can grab as many bites as you want and pay by the toothpick. We had a lot of catching up to do over our cava. Afterwards we went out with our hostel on a pub crawl (emphasis on crawl) hoping to get a taste of the famed Barça nightlife, but instead ended up at a gringo (Irish) bar. We were fine with this, though, being tired from travel and stumbled home to our hostel early by Spanish measures and obscenely late by American ones.

 

We weren't the only ones having fun.
We weren’t the only ones having fun.

 

We had no specific plans for our trip. Thankfully, Barcelona is the perfect place for wandering feet. Our hostel was near the Arc de Triomf and the Parc de la Ciutadella so we began our explorations there. Inside the park there were many families and couples enjoying the weekend sun. The park houses the parliament building of Catalonia as well as many churches, administrative buildings and even a zoo.

Placa de la Sagrada Familia

Because we had no real plans, we could really savor the city. We meandered through shops and stopped for food and wine whenever we pleased. We stumbled upon landmarks like the Cathedral of Barcelona serendipitously which filled the day with a sense of curious wonder and surprise.  We did get touristy for our last day in the city by visiting the Sagrada Familia and the beach. Though there were huge crowds, it was still enjoyable and relaxing as we settled into the laid-back Spanish lifestyle.

 

 

 

Emily Beach

 

Our next destination was Madrid which we reached via the fantastic Renfe Ave train.  The city was celebrating the national holiday Dos de Mayo which commemorates Madrid’s uprising against French forces (similar to Cinco de Mayo for Mexico). We visited the Mercado San Miguel where we admired all of the stunning culinary delights Spain has to offer. We also enjoyed a holiday parade through the Plaza del Sol. Afterwards we lounged the day away like locals- by day drinking in the fitting Plaza de Dos de Mayo.

After the capital we headed to Málaga in Andalusia, a region in southern Spain, and the birthplace of Picasso.  The seaside city has a strong art scene and a walkable old town area. It is popular with older tourists which was very apparent at the Picasso Museum there.

 

A photo speaks...
Sometimes you just have to let the photos speak for themselves.

 

The museum is actually pretty great and houses some great pieces donated by the artist’s family. The rest of the trip was a lot more vino tinto, wandering, and romantic meals. I have to thank Emily for making the whole trip amazing.  Thank you for putting up with my frequent suggestions to do crazy things (sorry about the oysters) and of course being my translator. For being willing to sip wine all day or walk for miles. I’m already planning our next adventure.

DSC06963 (2)

My next country is the United Kingdom to visit more amazing human beings.

 

 

Holy See (Vatican City) 11/48

The smallest country in the world is often known as the Vatican City, but it is no city, merely a tiny island in the ocean that is Rome. It makes up for its size by housing artwork by some of the great artistic giants of history- from individuals like Michelangelo to entire civilizations like the Egyptians. The huge throngs of tourists make it easy to forget that at its core this is a holy site housing the seat of arguably the most powerful religious leader in the world- the Pope.

Back view of St. Peter's

Continue reading Holy See (Vatican City) 11/48

Malta 10/48

The first people came in the Neolithic era. Next came the Phoenicians, the Romans, then the Byzantines. It was Arab, Norman, Spanish, French, and British, not to mention some of its less famous former rulers. A tiny island nation in the southern Mediterranean, Malta’s history contains a little bit of everything. In its independence it has nurtured its distinct culture on a wild, honey-colored rock surrounded by blue.

DSC05927 (2)

Continue reading Malta 10/48