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Phespirit goes to San Marino
San Marino     May 2007

Rome wasn't built in a day, but Vatican City can be explored in one. An hour and three-quarters was all Phespirit needed to explore the highlights of Vaduz in Liechtenstein. He allowed himself a long weekend for his visit to Luxembourg, and luxuriated in a week's worth of hiking around Andorra. He traversed the length and breadth of Monaco on a day trip from Nice, and this last trip in 2005 left him with just one tiny independent European state still to visit on the mainland: San Marino.

Having taken an early train from Cattolica to Rimini, Phespirit bought a €6.80 return coach ticket to San Marino from a ticket booth near the railway station. At a bus stop across the road he waited patiently for a Benedettini coach, which arrived promptly at 9:47am and had ample space for all would-be passengers in its clean, modern interior.

The coach was scheduled to arrive in San Marino city at 10:30am but Phespirit jumped off a few minutes earlier at Borgo Maggiore, the district situated just below the capital. Here he popped into Chiesa del Suffragio and Chiesa del Michelucci (the old and new churches) before buying a €2.80 Cableway ticket to complete his journey.

San Marino Republic may describe itself as "the oldest and the smallest independent state all over the world", but it also recognises its earning potential as a glorified mediæval mountaintop theme park. Over half the national gross domestic product comes from the tourist sector, and it is not hard to see why. The trappings of statehood are interwoven with fine old buildings in an environment that deliberately holds the 21st century at arm's length, and is quite literally elevated above the complexities of Italian society. The streets of the old city remain largely free from traffic as they twist, rise and narrow between grand stone edifices. Only the country's laws on taxation reveal an astute awareness of global opportunity.

The Basilica del Santo is the stone edifice that is nearest to the upper Cableway station, so Phespirit started his sightseeing there. By the time he caught the 5:00pm coach back to Rimini he had managed to see most of the sights that San Marino has to offer, with just a handful of minor museums omitted. The highlight is undoubtedly the three towers, if not for their history or architecture then indisputably for the phenomenal views of San Marino and across the plains below.

Phespirit speculates whether he would have been interested in San Marino if it had no independent status but was otherwise identical in every way. With Europe still being carved into ever smaller chunks according to political vagaries and occasional genocides, nationhood seems to be as much delusional as it is demographical. Still, as long as people stop killing each other, that's the most important thing. San Marino discovered the virtues of a peaceful independence many centuries ago, and Phespirit is glad he showed an interest.

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