Cranes. Not the feathered type or the paper type, but the type that lift things. Warm weather always brings construction and in San Marino that involves a lot of cranes. It's a country built up the sides of a mountain, so it seems pretty logical- especially because a lot of the buildings they're working on are not only built on seriously steep hills, they are also surrounded by narrow streets that would never fit a construction truck.
We realized that there were so many cranes when we found ourselves saying, "Wow, that would be such a great picture if that crane wasn't there" multiple times per day. In fact, we toyed with the idea of publishing a post simply called "Great Pictures of Cranes Ruining Great Pictures." After a while, they just became part of the scenery for us. If you look at some of Merlin's favorite views, you can definitely spot a crane.
Double-Decker Tramezzini. Like aperitivo, this was a case of the Sammarinese taking something Italian a step further. A tramezzino is a sandwich traditionally made with an oversized piece of white bread (cut diagonally, de-crusted) and a simple filling. In San Marino, however, there were three pieces of bread (or 1 1/2, really) and two different sets of fillings. The combinations we ran into most often were tuna & artichoke + lettuce & tomato and mushroom & mayo + ham & cheese. I thought that it was pretty nice to be able to, essentially, have two tramezzini, but save eating a piece of bread. Merlin thought of it as having two tramezzini and getting one less piece of bread. We concluded that the Italian variety was better either way you (diagonally) cut it, because these were a bit of a mushy flavor overload.
San Marino Adventures is a pretty big deal here. It's the "biggest Adventure Park on the Adriatic Riviera," according to its promotional literature and you see signs for it posted along every major road in San Marino. We visited a few times, because the parking lot adjacent was a perfect home base for several hikes, and played with the idea of trying it out ourselves. In the end, we only watched as other people 'adventured' across ladders strung up high in trees and across zip lines. Laughing at people laughing at their loved ones who are not laughing at all as they try to untangle themselves from a net is pretty priceless.
Air Guns. We spent a lot of our two weeks in San Marino trying to figure out what the heck all the air guns were about. A set of google searches led nowhere. Are they legal here and not in Italy? Are there actual guns sold inside, too, that can't be advertised? Up in the Historic Center, the amount of military and arms-ccentric shops is baffling. We passed by seven of them just looking for postcards. Along with air rifles and air handguns, they sell camouflage duds, pocket knives, swords and the like.
Needless to say, we saw many a teenage boy and grown man carrying around sword-sized boxes. Initially, we figured it was some strange tourist thing - but then we saw Air Gun stores along the highway and in other parts of town devoid of tourist attractions. My theory is this: The three towers lend themselves perfectly to a sort of Medieval Times brand of tourism, which led to the Museum of Torture and the Museum of Modern Weaponry, as well as shops selling swords and shields. Over time, sword and shield shops evolved to include air guns and the tourism bureau pushed to get some sort of law in place making it easier and/or cheaper to buy those things in San Marino than in surrounding Italy. But that's just a theory.
Local Wine on Tap. Every bar and cafe had San Marino wine on tap. It was always the white, sparkling (frizzante) variety and shared the tap with either a German beer or Coca Cola. They like their wine on tap so much, that at most casual eateries, there's no way of ordering wine by the glass. You chose between 1/4, 1/2 or 1 litre, each of which would be placed on your table in a branded carafe like the one above. It's an excellent way of doing things, really. In San Marino, we drank tap wine and bottled water. (For the record: tap water is totally potable here, just -like most of Europe- not served in restaurants).
The Funivia runs from Borgo Maggiore to the Centro Storico, arguably the two most popular towns in San Marino. It seemed to be running constantly and the parking lot at the bottom was perpetually full. The fact that driving up and into the historic center is sort of difficult, parking is more expensive and access is quite limited adds to the funivia's popularity. There was a walking path up, as well - the Costa dell'Arnella Footpath - which Merlin and I preferred. We figured, the twenty minute climb was actually faster than waiting for the tram, yet we saw only three or four people (2 of whom were on mountain bikes) in our dozen or so trips up/down.
Looking down from the top, we could see why more people didn't take to the trail and why they all liked the funivia so much. Of course, you don't actually walk the 475 foot gradient straight up like the funivia, there are enough turns to make it pleasant. (It was still amazing, though, to see the mountain bikers coming up alongside us).
L'Agretti. On a few hikes, we ran into people poking around in the grass with a stick while carrying a handful of weeds. Then, we had lunch at a restaurant in Serravalle and were served a vegetable called agretto, which looked like steamed dark green grass and tasted like sweet spinach. The proprietor told us that they don't have agretto in America and that it grows "right in the sand." The next time we saw a hiker doing some casual weeding, we put two and two together. If you're ever in an Italian or Sammarinese supermarket and see a bundle of vegetable that looks like chives, but firmer and with a purplish bottom, I highly suggest you get some and cook it up.
Guard Dogs. Unfortunately, we learned how much the Sammarinese like these firsthand. Bark, bark, bark was basically the soundtrack to most of our walks anywhere close to a house. They were all very intent on protecting their owner's property. In fact, we didn't pass a single dog that didn't yelp and growl at us. Luckily, all of them were either fenced in or chained, which was comforting. Merlin thinks that the reason they were particularly aggressive was the fact that they were fenced in or chained. Chicken and egg.
Hello Kitty. I have seen the following Hello Kitty branded items since arriving in San Marino: necklace, keychain, purse, backpack, sweatshirt, sweatpants, car visor, sunglasses and more that I'm sure I've forgotten. Babies, little girls and grown women all really like the pink-bowed feline. I definitely saw a commercial advertising a Hello Kitty powdered sugar sifter - for decorating cakes.