Bologna, Rimini, San Marino and Ancona, Italy 2017

Bologna  28-31 May 2017

We left Nova Levante with Rob and Yvette driving us down to Bolzano to catch a Flixbus to Bologna. The trip was up to the standard we have come to expect from this company and we even find it more convenient than the train. The trip took us through Trento and Modena, strangely by-passing Verona. The bus terminal is in central Bologna not far from the rail station.

As we got organized and loaded our packs ready for the walk to our accommodation, we began to realize just how warm it was. At 32°C, the temperature was a bit warmer than we had been used to up in the mountains and by the time we reached our accommodation we were feeling it.

We stayed at the “We Bologna”, a student hostel that caters for the large university population in Bologna. At around 45€ a night it has to be some of the best value around. We have a large comfortable room with great facilities, access to a well equipped kitchen and laundry and free fast Wifi Internet. We get stared at a bit by the youngsters but then we watch them too. The only real down side is that it is a bit of a walk to the central city, not too hard but the heat can sap ones energy.

The most obvious thing about Bologna is that it is very grubby. After the almost sterile cleanliness of Nova Levante and even Bolzano, this place reeks of “dirt”. Graffiti seems to be the scourge of Italy but it is worse here than any place we have seen. The sidewalks are dotted with all manner of droppings and every crack in the pavement is home to a weed. There are rubbish bins everywhere and although they are well utilized, they are really dirty things to look at. Sorry Bologna, your city is dirty.

It is also extremely noisy, mostly caused by the large number of diesel buses on the narrow streets. There is no subway or tram system. There is an electric trolley bus system running throughout the city but in our three days we would not have seen more than five electric buses. At times it was impossible to have a conversation on the street so bad was the noise.

Now I have had my rant, I can say how incredibly interesting the city is. It is generally much older than other Italian cities, with much of it dating back past the Renaissance to the 11th and 12th Centuries. It also looks very different because there is a lack of marble around the place. The nearest marble deposits are well away from Bologna and so the predominant material is clay brick with terracotta adornments. Many of the grander buildings were have a very rough brick finish, it being the intention to clad them in marble when money and circumstance permitted. It never did, it seems, with buildings well over the five hundred years old mark still sitting awaiting the final finish. This creates a very medieval effect indeed.

Another interesting feature is the use of colonaded buildings. Almost every building older than World War II has a magnificent colonnade on its frontage, making for cool and comfortable walking along the streets. They all stem from a time long past when one or other of the Popes decreed that all buildings must have a portico. Originally, they were commonly built of wood, and a few of these still remain, some nearly 1000 years old. Indeed, Bologna has the World’s longest colonnade, Il Santuario di San Luca with 666 arches creating a covered walkway.

We took a cycle tour of the city with “Bike in Bo”. There was only us and a couple of women from Sicily (although one was an American living and working in Sicily). We cycled through the busy cobbled streets and found it very easy going. There are no hills in the city centre and the traffic is not manic, as it is in some Italian cities. We found the cars and buses to be very considerate, no doubt picking us as foreign fools and worthy of a wide berth. From the English speaking guide we learnt much about the history of Bologna and were surprised at just how important it was as a hub of science and learning during the Renaissance. The city holds many secrets, including the amazing series of canals, once the lifeblood of commerce but now mostly hidden beneath the roads and parks of modern Bologna. What is still evident is the city’s love of towers. There were over 100 towers back in the 13th Century, truly amazing structures built out of clay brick with only a small foundation of stone. Just why they have stood up all these years is a mystery, especially since the area is earthquake prone, the last serious and deadly one being in 2012. Around twenty large towers remain dotted around the central old town. One even leans more than the famous Tower of Pisa. It has a 5 degree lean and it is a little worrying to stand under it.

Around Bologna on a bike tour

We toured the old Jewish Ghetto, the University quarter and the former palace of the Pope and the Italian monarchy. A cycle tour is really great way to get an overview of any city and there is always a little bit of history and local knowledge thrown in by the guide.

Bologna is a dream city for lovers of culture and history. For anyone thinking of coming here, I would suggest avoiding the summer, because we found the heat in the crowded airless streets a bit oppressive even at the end of May.

Rimini 31 May – 3 June

A train was to take us from Bologna to Rimini, a seaside city on Italy’s Adriatic coast. We have done this trip before, travelling through from Venice to Ancona in 2012 and last time Trenitalia stuffed us around at Bologna by changing platforms at the last minute. Well they did it again, but this time the train was just pulling out as we got to the new Platform 6, all after spending an hour and a half waiting on Platform 3 (as advertised). That meant another hour’s wait for the next train.

Along the way, we passed through a regional town that obviously had a large senior secondary school and hundreds of very loud hormone charged youngsters got on a shattered the tranquility in a big way. I recognized all the old tricks of youth, such as teasing a girl horribly if you are actually keen on her so that her cutting relies actually represents a conversation. Then there is wet the boy with the water bottle or water bottle wrestling to show you are really into him. It was all there. We had two girls opposite and one was without doubt the World’s fastest talker. The other girl only managed five words in three stations. The talking girl simply didn’t stop, not once, machine gunning out beautiful tinkling Italian at a hell of a rate. It was really quite musical but someone needed to tell her to shut up.

Rimini is one of Europe’s most famous beach areas with a gorgeous 15km long white sand beach (rather than the more common pebble beaches). It has over 1000 hotels and is very much in the seaside resort mold. There is an old city centre, which boasts some beautiful Roman buildings, but the beach part is more like the south of Spain. Access to the beach is more difficult than in Australia, where we regard the public as having ownership. Here it appears that a beach can be privately owned or controlled, usually filled with deck chairs, umbrellas, waiters and swimming outfits far too small for their occupants. We enquired about hiring a lounge but at 25€ for a back row miles from the water we decided the public beach was more our thing. The one time we did head down to the beach for a swim, the tide was out and we ended up wading in the water like everyone else. The hotel pool proved better, and gave us the first real chance to swim in Europe.

Modern seaside Rimini

We stayed the Hotel Bahama (a good Italian name?) and it proved to be a real gem. Just one block from the beach, it had a lovely pool, comfortable room, very friendly staff and the breakfast cook was a pastry chef of amazing talent. The tablet was set with an endless variety of beautiful treats, flans, cakes, pastries, profiteroles and a tiramisu trifle type of thing. Logic and the figure dictates a look but don’t touch approach but good manners meant that we had to sample the wares.

Fortunately, the hotel has a large fleet of bikes that are free for guests to use so accessing the old town was easy. The streets of Rimini are mostly shaded with street trees and many have dedicated bike lanes. Best of all it is flat. We rode into town along the river, checking out the many boats moored as we went. The first stop was Tiberius’s Bridge, an absolutely stunning marble bridge with four arches spanning the river. Started by the Emperor Augustus in 27BC and completed by Tiberius, it is an incredible piece of work, built so well that it is still in use today.

Rimini or Ariminum was first colonized and built by the Romans in 268BC. Only a few complete structures remain intact, most notably the bridge and Augustus’s Arch, a beautiful marble arch at the opposite end of the city to the bridge. Decorations and marble columns recovered from ruined Roman buildings have been used over the years and incorporated into many buildings. There are also the ruins of an amphitheatre that once seated 12,000 people.

In the late 19th Century, the ruins of several Roman houses were found beneath the Municipal Gardens. These were carefully excavated and an excellent glass enclosure constructed over the whole site, giving some insight into the houses in the ancient city. The use of mosaics on the floors is stunning, with intricate designs and motifs being created out of thousands of tiny coloured pebbles. A few of the walls still bear some signs of the plaster murals that would have adorned the walls. We spent quite a while touring this most interesting exhibit, and later going through the nearby Museum of Religious Artifacts. It is incredible to see just how much beauty and artistic skill has been poured channeled through the church over the centuries. I get that the church had the money and the power to pay the artists of the medieval and renaissance periods and therefore dictated the subject matter and even the interpretations but I do wonder just how much insight into those past times we might now enjoy if the artists had been free to paint the subject matter of their choice.

Old Rimini with its strong Roman heritage

Rimini is comfortable, easy to get around and quite fascinating on a number of levels. I can see why it is a firm favourite with the summer holiday crowds and, equally, it is a terrific stopping point for tourists on the move.

San Marino  2nd June

The World’s firth smallest country has been on our radar ever since we were kids collecting stamps. They always had the prettiest stamps, with weird triangular shaped ones and beautiful images at a time when the rest of the World was content with heads of monarchs and dull public buildings. San Marino is a fully independent nation locked inside Italy, about 25kms inland of Rimini. It is a mountain nation, perched high on an incredible hilltop, surrounded by farm lands and a bit of urban sprawl.  It enjoys a very high rate of employment and has the distinction of being the only country in the World that has a car ownership ratio of more than one car per person.

We caught a bus from Rimini Station to San Marino for the day, riding our hotel bikes to the station. And that is where the good part ends!

The crowd waiting to get on the bus swelled at the last minute and there was quite a bit of pushing involved to get on and get a seat. It was Italian Independence Day  so the crowds were out in force. Somewhere in all the body to body contact, my wallet got lifted. I didn’t discover it until we got to San Marino. Damn! Even though I was the victim, I felt so stupid. We are normally very vigilant in crowds and I keep hands in pockets but it must have been the indignation about a mob trying to push in the bus line that let my guard down. I lost around 200€ and several credit cards, along with my Australian Driver’s Licence.

The bus had dropped us off about five layers of hill top city below the summit. We needed to deal with some banks and check balances before exploring further but to our dismay mobile reception was almost non existent. We could get voice but not data, at least with any consistency. We tried moving around a bit and finally found a spot that we could get by and so managed to transfer some money around before letting the banks know about the lost cards.

San Marino – not that we got to see much of it.

The town provides a convenient system for tourists to explore the town. A little shuttle train carries people to the top of the town for 3 then they walk back down, hopefully shopping and eating all the way. We were too worried about banks and cards to bother and so taking in all the sights went by the board. What we did see of San Marino looks wonderful and it is a must visit spot if you are in this part of Italy but for us it was a bad experience, made worse by the phone situation. With much work to do, we decided to catch the bus back to Rimini so we could sort everything out. Unfortunately, we ended up waiting for two hours at the bus stop because it turned out the bus was operating on normal hours, not the holiday timetable as we had been advised. Of course, it was not San Marino’s Independence Day, only Italy’s.

Back in Rimini, we had lunch and a beer and used the Internet. Then we crossed the road to where we had left the bikes, all chained up. At least they were still there, that is until I tried to get on. Mine had no seat! Damn! They had my wallet AND my bike seat. I had to ride all the way back to the hotel standing up. We dropped in to the local supermarket to grab a couple more beers for the evening. Damn! They were closed for Independence Day.

Ancona  3 June

Our last day in Rimini was really a half day, while we waited for it to be time to catch the train south to Ancona and then the ferry to Croatia. There are regular trains to Ancona but we held off until the afternoon to reduce the time we would have to hang around in Ancona. We borrowed bikes again (with two seats) and road north along the foreshore. Being Independence Day weekend, it was quite busy, although nothing like it will be in the height of summer. It is kilometer after kilometer of hotels, guest houses, pizzerias and small fun parks. The hire out lounges and umbrellas filled the beaches and there were lots of stalls selling beach wear at what appeared to be very good prices. We watched beach volley ball, beach tennis, bowls and bocce along with a few people whizzing down waterslides. The whole beach scene was like one of those complex cartoons that MAD Magazine used to do with fat people, skinny people, people walking their dogs and even some riding their bikes and watching everyone else have fun.

It was warm and I had a niggling calf strain so we took a rare taxi ride to the station. For once, the train left from the correct platform and we took off without an issue. The scenery for much of the hour and a half trip to Ancona was somewhat of a repeat of the morning, except the accommodation gradually became less of the hotel and more of the caravan park. Motor homes actually outnumber caravans here by about 5 to 1 and they really pack them in. The train rushed past the parks and beaches with only 50 metres or so to spare at around 160km/hr. There is one train every twenty minutes or so. It must be very relaxing.

Once in Ancona we had quite a few hours to kill before the ship sailed. The first task was to pick up our tickets so it meant a taxi to the ferry ticket office. Only sometime later did we discover that a free shuttle bus actually drops by the station and goes to the ferry ticket office then on to departure. The taxi driver turned out to be a woman, the first female taxi driver in Ancona and only on the job same. The ticket office was closed of course (they always are) and we sat down for yet another wait. Eventually, 4pm came and the office opened, we picked up our tickets and went out to wait for the shuttle bus to the departure area. Of course, the departure area was closed so we settled down to wait.

Christine was happy to wait but I was getting “waited out” and decided to leave her with all the bags and make the climb up the many stairs to explore parts of Ancona. The city is rich in Roman history, much of it centered around the time of Emperor Trajan. Trajan ruled around 100AD and oversaw the period of the empires greatest expansion. He was a visionary, conqueror and builder and left his legacy on Ancona in the form of many fine public buildings and a very impressive arch.

The Roman ruins obviously had some money spent on then some years ago with a few steel walkways constructed over the excavations around the Forum and some paths formed around the Amphitheatre but all that seems to have fallen into a state of neglect. It is hard to distinguish 2000 year old ruins from 15 year old ruins in some places. The whole city looks to be crumbling, which most European cities are, except here they don’t sweep up the rubble. I enjoyed the walk but felt sad that such beautiful history is not attracting the sort of financial assistance it needs to be adequately preserved.

Views of Ancona with our ship in dock.

Eventually, the immigration office opened and we did the passport thing, joining another Aussie couple from Melbourne to make the trek around to the ship, a large car carrying job. After wandering around the ship for a while, climbing numerous stairways and taking a few wrong turns, we found our cabin and finally dumped the backpacks, What a relief! The ship was not due to sail until 10pm and we managed to sit outside watching the lights of town until 9:30pm before deciding we would have to miss the departure and went down to bed, exhausted. There is nothing quite so tiring as a day spent waiting for things. We were happy to just wake up in Croatia.