04 April 2011

Accidental Border Crossing

Right there in the background is San Marino. We were driving along the autostrada shown running down the center, waiting for the Ferrari Museum to open, when we looked up and noticed this hillside filled with air crafts. Little did we know that crossing the street meant crossing the border and that the Museo dell' Aviazione was technically in Italy. The two other cars in the parking lot had Italian license plates, but we chose to ignore them. When we received our tickets, we couldn't help but notice the address staring us right in the face: Rimini, Italy. At that point, though, we couldn't turn back.
Nor did we want to. Our sore, sunburnt calves couldn't really handle any big hikes, so wandering around this space was pretty much the perfect amount of exertion/sun exposure. It was easy to imagine the helicopters, planes and fighter jets in flight, set up on hills as they were with the sky as their backdrops. We were the only ones there and after the friendly, grey-haired man sold us our discounted tickets, he went right back to detailing the wing of an airplane (with an Italian flag - sigh).
He was very keen on telling us that we could go into the "Dakota" which we discovered was a DC-3 aircraft owned first by the US Navy and then by Clark Gable. It was one of the very first planes designed for sleeping comfort, specifically for transcontinental night flights. According to flight records, Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Marilyn Monroe, John F Kennedy and "Bob" Kennedy all sat in these very seats. (Gossipy historians have gotta wonder if the last three were at the same time). It smelled like stale polyester and mildew and was decorated like the Partridge Family bus. So, basically, it was awesome.
A few of the planes had walkways set up close enough to peer into the flight deck, but the Dakota's was the only one we could get a good, clear picture of sans glass reflection. It's always amazing to see just how many buttons and switches and levers there are and how tiny the space one has to maneuver around in is. This was only 'sector 1' of the museum and we still had so much to see - so, we didn't linger too long.
It struck us as odd that so many of the aircrafts had targets painted on their wings. Doesn't that seem like you're just asking for trouble? The collection included helicopters, fighter jets, engines, propellers and missiles. I thought it was very fitting, in this part of the world, that there were five Fiats. Yes, they were tiny.
I really wanted to be specific about what these are, where and when they are from, but we've somehow managed to take pictures of the handful of pieces not covered on the museum's website. I should really start taking notes. A number of planes weren't exhibition ready yet. In fact, there was an entire section roped off from visitors. We were told "no problem" to just walk right through, though. We loved how the wing of this jet was being supported by a pile of wooden crates and it was wedged under a protective roof like this.
There were information posts in Italian, German, French and English. Surprisingly, no Russian, even thought about half of the vehicles on display were Soviet-made. If this museum had been in San Marino, I bet that wouldn't have been the case. Russian tourism seems to be so prevalent that we actually saw souvenir shop signs in cyrrillic. (And I know that, because I could read it!) There's nothing like seeing a Soviet fighter jet, a nuclear bomber or one of Saddam Hussein's old tanks sitting in a bed of pretty white and purple wild flowers.
The 50+ aircrafts on display actually make this the largest aviation park in Italy and one of the most important in Europe. A year ago, this collection was given official museum status, which has helped them in their continuing effort to obtain more and more gems. If we're lucky, it will grow so much that they'll just have to expand their 100,000 square meter terrain about half a kilometer to the west - - right into San Marino.

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