That time I went to Wuhan 🇨🇳

I hadn’t heard of Wuhan, in the Hubei province of central China, until my friend moved there for a year back in 2014. It’s not really on most tourist travellers itineraries that’s for sure and there isn’t really any reason why it would be, its a super frantic, fast growing city, that sits on the banks of the Yangtze and Han rivers. Of course it’s now a place that pretty much the whole world has heard of thanks to a certain virus, but back then, it was pretty unknown.

Within China, Wuhan is well known though as being the main educational hub of the whole country and has an astonishing 59 Universities and colleges based here as well as a being a major economic and technology zone. I have never seen a place with so much development, scaffolding and cranes high up in the sky, a sea of sky scrapers and tall apartment blocks stretching as far as the eye could see.

But first I had to get there, beginning my trip in Shanghai was a great starter to Chinese travel, as it’s a pretty international city, so they are used to foreigners and English is spoken a little, so this allowed me to settle into the culture slightly, without feeling totally overwhelmed. Although you can fly into Wuhan, I fancied overland travel as much as possible, for the environmental aspect of course, but also relaxing on a train and seeing the countryside go by is far more pleasurable than being stuck inside an airport.

China has an exceptional train network including modern bullet trains, so we boarded the fast train for our 4 hour journey west, it was comfy, fast and friendly, I would highly recommend travelling this way. Loaded up with podcasts and tv on our iPads, we ended up passing the time with a sweet young boy who ended up watching cartoons on my friends device, whilst my other neighbour kept trying to entice me to eat the spicy duck neck he had brought with him, a local delicacy I was told, it was a memorable journey for all kinds of reasons.

I booked all the train tickets before I left the UK, this was to ensure we got the exact days we needed, it was Spring Festival time, when literally millions of Chinese travel across the country back home to their families, so trains get booked up fast. I used China Highlights to book all our train trips and would use them again if I am lucky enough to return.

Once we arrived it was a short trip to the University campus where my friend was living and we spent the next few hours meeting up with her fellow students from all over the world, hearing about their adventures in China it was truly enlightening. We ate in a local noodle bar for dinner, a favourite with the local student population where it must have cost less than £1 for a main meal and drink and it was delicious! Then it was off out reliving my own student days from Salford, as we hit a local bar, worryingly called Wuhan Prison for some beers and my first attempt at a Chinese squat toilet, not that easy once you’ve had a couple of beers.

The next morning we grabbed breakfast at a local stall, for what was to become another one of those food dishes that I still think about today – Wuhan Hot Dry Noodles or ‘rè gān miàn’. Its a local speciality breakfast consisting of yellowy noodles, coated in a thick sauce with soy, garlic, chilli and sesame oil, oh boy it was amazing, it cost about 30p and was freshly cooked by the road side.

30E8E061-A710-45FA-9BD4-DB0711B1B717

Then my friend took me off to explore her ‘hood, we wandered the streets, explored the local shopping mall, spotted a bride and groom having their wedding photo shoot, and amused ourselves trying to deciper the information signs at the local park.

We made it to the banks of the Yangtze River & although it was pretty quiet along the promenade it seemed a popular place for families, I spotted bike rentals, craft stalls and if you fancied, you could rent a kite to fly. It’s Asia’s longest river and the 3rd longest in the world, so unsurprisingly there was quite a lot of ship traffic passing through and beyond the other side you could continue to see the forever growing Wuhan spread off into the distance.

For dinner than evening, it was time yet again to experience some of the best food I have ever eaten, the colourful, messy and utterly delicious, Soup Dumplings. These delicate ‘soup basket buns’ are filled with a clear soup, that you have to quickly slurp up before it bursts. I was lucky having my personal friend/guide, who having lived in Wuhan for a few months knew all the best spots, and we treated ourselves to a large bamboo dish of rainbow coloured parcels, full of spinach, carrot and red cabbage.

My final full day in Wuhan, started the same as the previous day, but this time we got our hot, dry noodles to go, complete with chopsticks and braved the Wuhan Metro system. Opened in 2004 with just 1 line in use, the metro has rapidly grown like the rest of the city to become the 6th busiest transport system in China, with 11 lines, 282 stations, and serving 1.22 billions passengers a year!

We hit local markets, practicing my none existent haggling skills to try and get some hair curlers, then shopped till we dropped in a mall, before getting our nails done. All the while, stopping to say hello to any cats or dogs that crossed our path, of which there were many.

That evening after styling my hair with my new appliance from the market, it was time for another student night out, this time to a KYV or Karaoke Bar.  We rented a booth for the evening, ordered drinks and snacks including spicy deep fried lotus root and spent the evening singing American rock songs out of tune. It was great to have a few days just living regular Wuhan life, with no particular agenda, as the next morning we had a plane to catch, and a chocked itinerary ahead of us.

EATS – The main speciality in Wuhan is the hot dried noodles, and they are incredible, best served piping hot at a road side stall. The soup dumplings also cannot be missed, I wouldn’t have a clue where to go now in Wuhan, I do remember visiting a food hall in a shopping mall for some though. It was a slightly easier experience than having to navigate a menu in a completely unfamiliar language often found in the local restaurants, I guess it must have catered for the large number of international students in the area with part of it’s menu translated into English.

COFFEE AND CAKE – No cake discoveries as yet on this trip, there were too many noodles and dumpling dishes to try. That said, I did discover sweet cheese tea, it sounds an acquired taste and it was, but I loved it. It’s usually a green or black tea, made with or without milk, and served with a topping of salt covered cream cheese, oh boy it was good!

TOP TIP – Find a local to take you to the best spots and hidden areas of interest, or like me have a friend move there for a year! It’s a busy, expanding, working city, and although it does have a rich history, it’s not an obvious tourist destination, so you will need to come prepared in order to get the best from your trip if you want to get around.

ALWAYS BE POLITE – ‘Nǐ hǎo’ – Hello

Tea, dumplings & a marriage market. Adventures in Shanghai 🇨🇳

When my friend Polly messaged me to say she was moving to China to study for a year and would I like to visit, I started researching flights possibly before she even bought her own.

We planned to meet up during China’s New Year Spring Festival in 2014, when my friend would have 2 weeks off, along with the rest of the Chinese population. We arranged to meet in Shanghai, then travel by train and plane across a few cities, finishing up in Beijing for New Years Eve.

But first things first, I had to get a visa and luckily for me, I was living in Salford at the time, so it was a short tram ride to the Manchester Chinese Visa Service where after a nervous wait, clutching all my evidence, I was issued with my visa.

93973F5F-0E7C-4309-83F8-91681EEB14EA

I landed in Shanghai at a ridiculously early hour, after travelling via Dubai, and was greeted by my friend who had landed an hour earlier than me from Wuhan (yes that Wuhan) where she was living.

After dumping our bags at Shanghai Blue Mountain Hostel we headed straight to the waterfront, known as The Bund.

5DFDA6D6-9FD5-4C69-8B85-A1073BD442F9_1_201_a

The Bund is a one mile stretch of land alongside the Huangpu River, full of historical houses all in varying styles of architecture, showcasing just how important and influential Shanghai’s old waterfront used to be. You can spot Gothic, Renaissance, and Art Deco buildings all along here, with important trading houses and banks from all across the globe making the Bund their home. This established Shanghai as a major financial hub in Asia from as early as the 1860’s. Impressive buildings we spotted included the Customs house which has it’s own version of Big Ben, the HSBC building with its mosaic interior ceiling, and the red bricked Russian Consulate, although a lot of the buildings are now high end shops and hotels its still makes for a fascinating wander.

Although the majority of the old buildings are no longer being used for their original purpose, Shanghai is just as important as ever as a major business and financial hub. Directly across the river from the historical centre is an incredible feast of skyscrapers all jostling for position in the new financial district, particularly the Oriental Pearl Tower with its two colourful spheres and we knew we had to make a visit there later in the day.

Time for something more peaceful, we made our way over to the old town and to the beautiful Yu Gardens. Built in the Ming Dynasty in 1559, I really felt like I had been transported back in time, with the beautiful Huxinting Teahouse, sitting on stilts in the middle of the lake. We spent a good chunk of time, ignoring our impending jet lag to explore the gardens, with each turn and crossing of the little bridges taking us to new discoveries like the koi ponds, the Jade Rock, colourful pavilions and ceremonial halls.

The whole place had been decorated too for the New Year, full of vibrant red ribbons and lanterns, with the star of the show, a large golden horse in the centre of the courtyard, as this trip was back in 2014 and it was about to become the year of the horse!

Next door is the City of God Temple, which has been standing even longer than its neighbour the teahouse. Now a Taoist centre, it has been providing a place for peace and prayer since 1403.  It felt a welcoming place as we explored the grounds, breathing in the woody smell of burning incense and as we rang the prayer bells, it felt like there was no better way to start our Chinese adventure.

It’s pretty chaotic once you leave the confines of the temple and gardens, the immediate area is full of shops, stalls and markets, and the place was awash with even more bright red, as locals stocked up ahead of the new year celebrations just over a week away. We grabbed some incredibly sweet toffee covered strawberries squashed onto a long stick and headed back to our hostel for a rest.

The evening brought with it one of the main challenges we faced, as we travelled across the country independently –  food. Luckily my friend Polly spoke pretty good Mandarin and was able to decipher most menus, as some of the English translations didn’t really inspire much hope. When the first place we looked at for dinner served ‘deep fried smelly bean curd’, I thought I may struggle to adapt to the diet, but then we discovered fried dumplings and I was in heaven, in fact I ended up having some of my most favourite dishes ever on this trip, that I still rave about today.

That evening we jumped on metro line 2, over to Lujiazui and the new financial district, where we took the elevator a quarter of a mile up to the observation deck of the Oriental Pearl Tower. The views from up high were unreal as we rather unnervingly realised we were higher up than most of the surrounding skyscrapers, all of whom were lit up and glowing in the night sky. As well as a revolving restaurant, shopping centre and an indoor roller coaster (no thanks!), we got our adrenalin rush from standing on the transparent 1.5 metre glass walkway. The views down below made a little queasy if I’m honest, especially when Polly starting jumping up and down on the glass – eeek, after a while though, I plucked up the courage and managed to pose for a quick picture before returning to the slightly less scary wooden platform.

As we headed back down to the lower ground, I think the adrenalin rush faded and jet lag arrived with full force and it was back to the hostel to collapse in a heap and rest for the night.

The next morning we started off with a street food breakfast as we explored the famous Nanjing Road, a pedestrianised street, full of both designer shops and local traditional stores selling tea, jade, herbs and more. It was here that we almost got scammed by a seeming innocent young women, who stopped us in the street and after a brief introduction and announced she would love to take us to a local tea house. But Polly was wise to her within a few minutes, and unbeknownst to the women, had also been living in China for about 4 months at this point so was already well versed in popular tourist swindles. Like the true Brits we were, we kindly thanked the women for her invitation and intention to scam us out of our entire holiday budget and headed off in the opposite direction.

Walking south, we arrived at People’s Park, this huge park and popular tourist attraction has 8 gates, a tea house, a theatre, dance house and museum of contemporary art. There were locals playing chess on stone benches and yes just like in the movies, people practicing Tai Chi.

One thing I wasn’t expecting in the park was to stumble into a Marriage Market, I had quite clearly missed reading that chapter in my guidebook, but apparently it occurs every Saturday and has done since 2004. Standing around both parents and grandparents show off pictures and a brief written profile or biography of their single child in the hopes they get a match. Tinder it ain’t, and if I’m honest the whole thing felt weird and clinical, but it’s not my culture and so not for me to judge, it was just another one of those unique experiences that I will remember forever on this trip to the Middle Kingdom.

That second evening a bunch of us from the hostel headed off to a popular dim sum restaurant, and between maybe the 10 of us, managed to order a good portion of traditional dishes from the menu. With Shanghai’s location close to the East China Sea, seafood is commonly served with such delights as sliced eel and hairy crab to be found, but also chicken and pork meatballs heavily feature too. If like me you don’t eat meat or fish, you still had lots of choice with steamed noodle dishes, spring rolls, fried dumplings and soups all offering veggie options. I did try a little piece of the famous 100 year old egg dish, which is basically a black egg sat on a plate, though I had to quickly wash it down with a Tsingtao beer, never to be tried again.

Fully stuffed on dumplings and beer we headed off on what became one of the more surreal nights out I have ever had, in a nightclub in the middle of a Shanghai shopping mall. On a hot tip from the hostel reception, we arrived all dressed up (as much as you can do when you are living out of a backpack) and were treated like A list celebs (or foreigners with money) as we stepped out of the elevator and escorted to our own private booth for the night, with table service, free snacks and lots of champagne. Slightly worried it was another scam, we were relieved to learn that no, this was all legit, and we danced and drank and snacked on skewered fruit till the early hours.

After making arrangements to meet up with some of our fellow hostellers later in the trip in Beijing, we got ready to travel onward. But not before we found a back street food stall and devoured a breakfast bowl of noodles to help remedy our hangover from the night before. Then it was off to the massive Shanghai train station to continue our journey across this magnificent country, I couldn’t wait to experience more.

EATS – Eating at little stalls and tiny cafes is going to be the cheapest and most likely the tastiest option, but if your language skills are limited to 2 phrases like me, then ordering something specific could become a challenge. I was lucky travelling with my friend who was able to order on my behalf. That said, restaurants in the heart of Shanghai do cater to foreigners with menus featuring photos of the most popular dishes and often with English translations, which although rarely translate into something you would recognise, are incredibly funny. Our big meal out though was at the Dim Dim Sun Hong Kong Style Cafe with free wifi and a massive selection of delicious dumplings.

COFFEE AND CAKE – Although I usually try and avoid the obvious coffee chains both at home and abroad, there is no mistaking China’s most popular coffee shop, and that’s Starbucks. For the first day or two I got my caffeine fix at either a Starbucks or a Costa (of which there are also plenty) because they had a diary free option and I wanted to gently adapt to the diet. But I got braver as the trip continued and was drinking CoCo Milk Tea by day three when I discovered they had a diary free creamer in their milk tea and I was smitten!

TOP TIP – Don’t presume pedestrians have the right of way, even if the traffic lights are on red! I almost got run over at least twice during my trip, heart stopping stuff, when you cross the road, you take your life in your hands.

ALWAYS BE POLITE –  Xièxiè – ‘Thank You’ – I really struggled with the correct pronunciation of this word, so I’d recommend you listen to it on youtube or a translation app, I kept saying ‘shayshay’, but often just got a blank stare in return, which my friend thought was hilarious, at least I tried . . 

Quick stop in Bologna 🇮🇹

The plan was to get to San Marino, the 5th smallest country in the world, and landlocked inside Italy. The closest Italian city is Rimini, but with no direct flights from where we live, mum and I decided to fly to Bologna instead, a further 68 miles up the coast.

Neither myself or mum had been to the World Heritage city of Bologna before, so we decided to stay for 1 night, before travelling south onward to San Marino.

We landed early morning, giving ourselves one and a bit days to explore the capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region, known as the Fat, Red, and the Learn’d City, because of it’s rich food, red roof tiles and is home to the oldest university in the western world.

After dumping our bags at our hotel, the centrally located and friendly Hotel II Canale, we set off to explore and almost immediately found ourselves walking underneath the famed porticos, that define this city. There is nowhere else on earth that has as many of these extravagant porches as Bologna, they were built to extend living spaces, in part because of the large number of students attending the university, as well as the increase in people that moved into Bologna from the surrounding countryside. They originally were made of wood, until 1568 when it was announced they were to all be rebuilt in stone and brick, therefore ensuring they are still standing strong today.

We wandered aimlessly through as many of the portico’s that we came across, but there are lots of guided tours available if you want to immerse yourself in the history further. Just make sure you don’t miss the longest one (Portico di San Luca), the tightest one (Portico Via Senza Nome) and the most painted one (Portico Via Zamboni).

Next we ventured inside the Bologna Cathedral,  this grande Baroque style building dedicated to Saint Peter was finished in the 17th century, and features some well preserved fresco’s, a cedar wood crucifix and ‘La Nonna’ an incredibly heavy bell atop the bell tower, which you can climb if you have the stamina (we didn’t“).

As we wandered towards the unmistakable two towers of Bologna, we spotted an inviting cafe and went in for lunch and had the most delicious coffee, we had truly arrived.

Only one of the towers is opened to the public, and you needed to book in advance, so we had to skip that, plus at almost 500 steps to climb to reach the top, it wasn’t something either of us fancied straight after lunch. But, we had fun peering into more shop windows, watching chefs preparing pasta for the oncoming evening and explored more Porticos, finding a rare wooden one on Via Marsala.

After a peek inside the Basilica of San Domenico to view some of the artwork inside, including an early Michelangelo, on mum’s insistence we had to visit the university.

I admit, visiting a cities university isn’t top of my list when I’m on my travels, with the exception of that time I visited Princeton, but it is a must when visiting Bologna. The University of Bologna, or UNIBO is the oldest university in continuous use in the world, incredibly it is said to have opened its ancient doors in 1088, although didn’t grow large enough to technically become a bone-fide university until about 100 years later, regardless that still makes it 850 years old!

The highlight of any visit will be to see the beautiful and huge library, full of shiny wooden bookcases carefully labelled and organised into subjects such as zoology and astronomy, and any spare space of wall was covered with elaborate coats of arms of the previous instructors who have taught over the years.

Everywhere you turned there was something to investigate, another gem was the anatomical theatre, once used for medical lectures, its wooden walls adorned with famous physicians of the time, such as Hippocrates.

When we visited mum and I just turned up and were able to enter the buildings without a booking, but while researching for this blog post, it appears the situation may be currently different, possibly due to Covid, in that you had to book a slot or a guided tour prior to arrival. This is the link for the most up to date information should you fancy it.

One thing that you may not associate so much with Bologna is the canal system. Mainly hidden from view if you are just staying within the confines of the city centre, the Canal Navile provided an important job transporting goods too and from Bologna Port, from Medieval times up until the port was dismantled in 1934. But there is a place where you can spot this piece of history, and that is at Finestrella where you can open a small window situated on the Via Piella and look down on the Moline canal gently flowing beneath you. If you walk one block east to Via Giovanni Brugnoli, you get an even better view as you peer through the love-locked gate and see the canal continuing to flow, nestled between the striking orange buildings on its way to the Adriatic.

For dinner, we were spoilt for choice, each window invitingly advertising their speciality, of course in Bologna the most famous dish is ragù alla bolognese and I think that’s what mum had, but I went for a delicious veggie pasta dish and we shared a gluttonous dessert.

To work off some of the calories of our delicious dinner, we took another walk through more porticos, and soaked up the atmosphere around Piazza Maggiore, the square lit up all around the perimeter with musicians playing and cafe’s bustling.  Then it was a short walk across the Piazza Netunno to see the Fountain of Neptune all aglow and less crowded than earlier in the day, the statue casting a powerful shadow on the wall behind him.

1D8C8B4F-BEC1-4FC4-AC15-6B1A6B20578C

The next morning, we started our day with an espresso, it would have been rude not too, then we checked out of our hotel, took a last walk around the main square, and headed to the train station.

Along the way we passed a curious looking ruin, which turned out to be one of the original gates to the city, leaving me thinking there was definitely a lot more to explore here, as well as more pasta to eat, and as we boarded our train to Rimini, I made a mental note to return someday.

EATS – We were only in town to enjoy one evening meal and randomly picked Osteria della Orsa. But the town is famous for its stuffed pasta dishes such as Tortellini, its sausages, cheeses and hams as well as the renowned Ragu Bolognese, meaning you are overwhelmed with choice on where to eat. If we had more time, we would have explored some of the food markets, always a great way to eat well and on a budget.

COFFEE AND CAKE – Again, it was such a whistle stop tour, I didn’t have time to sample nowhere near as much as I wanted, but I had an incredible coffee and cake at Pappare  and they had lots of delicious plant based dishes too, I suspect I would have gone again if we’d had time. Speaking of next time, I’d love to visit Stefino in the Bolognina district to sample some of their vegan ice cream!

TOP TIP – Bologna has a superb location in Northern Italy and coupled with a great train network, you can easily travel to Milan, Modena, Palma, Florence all within 90 mins. We took the train south to Rimini taking 1hr 25 mins and costing just under €10.

ALWAYS BE POLITE – Ciao – Hello, Per Favore – Please, Grazie – Thanks

 

 

The mountainous microstate of San Marino 🇸🇲

In February 2019, mum came along with me to tick off another microstate of Europe, this time the 5th smallest country in the world, and landlocked by Italy, the beautiful San Marino. Like the other European microstates, of which I have now visited all of them, it has no airport, it also doesn’t have a train station, so other than driving there yourself, your best option is to get the bus from the nearest I`talian city, which is Rimini.

After catching the train down from Bologna, it was a short walk outside Rimini train station to the easily marked bus stop on the opposite side of the street. You can buy a ticket on board the Bonelli Bus or at the kiosk by the bus stop, taking about 40-45 minutes till the bus reaches its final stop, which is right in the centre of this tiny country.

The first thing that struck me as we alighted from the bus was the most incredible mountainous views. The capital, also known as San Marino or locally known as Città, sits atop the ridge of Monte Titano and is the highest part of the country, so the views from up high were breathtaking. It’s part of the Apennines mountain range, which spreads across the horizon to the West, whilst on the Eastern side the land slowly descends towards the Adriatic Sea. I think for the first half an hour or so, once we had checked into our hotel, we just stood mesmerised by the dramatic landscape.

The perfect spot we found to admire our surroundings was over in Freedom Square, or the Piazza della Liberta, from here there are spectacular views west across to the mountains and the valley down below. It was also here where we stopped for a beer and some snacks in Osteria La Taverna one of the restaurants lining the square, tourist friendly and not the cheapest, but it was worth it for the views and to soak up the atmosphere of this curious little country, no regrets.

The square is guarded by the white marble Statua Della Liberta, draped in a flag and wearing a crown featuring the 3 towers that stand proud on the surrounding 3 peaks of Monte Titano. It is such an important symbol of the history of the country, that she is featured on their 2 cent coin.

Behind the statue of liberty is the Palazzo Pubblico, or town hall where all the official state ceremonies take place, as you would expect it’s smaller than your average for a ‘capital city’, but its still worth a visit. The exterior looks like a mini tower, with battlements, a clock face and the national flag, whilst inside you can explore various state rooms filled with coats of arms, busts of important figures, and a beautifully painted facade featuring Saint Marino, the Croatian stonemason who founded the country after making this mountain his home in 301AD.

38FCBDE5-3BE9-4052-81D1-36BB3CAECF7C

It was then time to explore down the narrow streets, climb up the city walls, peer over at some breathtaking panoramic spots and window shop in the unnerving amount of weapon stores, featuring guns, bows & arrows and samurai swords, the country has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the whole of Europe we later found out.

The entire city centre and Mount Titano is a UNESCO world heritage site for many reasons, all apparent as you wander around this unique place, including all the fortifications, stone walls, gates and towers. We were constantly getting distracted and diverted off the main alleyways and streets as we paused to investigate what was up a wall, inside a tower and behind a gate, leading to lots of fascinating discoveries and ever changing vistas.

With our feet starting to get a bit weary, we had one last port of call before heading for a rest, the tourist information centre. We already had a local map from our hotel, but this was for something even more important, a passport stamp! It’s the only place where you can get one, there are no border checks, or passport offices as you enter and exit the country and although the stamp itself is just a tourist stamp and nothing more, the San Marino authorities consider it to be official, I think it cost about €5 and I couldn’t think of a better souvenir to take home.

D5A29A37-9AEB-4ECA-9B4E-97984D0346DF

That evening, there was only one thing we fancied eating, and that was pizza`! We found Ristorante Cacciatori and dived into the pizza menu as well as sampling a local red wine too.

The next morning, revived with a delicious espresso, it was another cloudless blue sky that awaited us, rewarding us with more endless mountain views.

Our main aim for the day was to walk to the 3 peaks of Mount Titano and visit all 3 of the towers that are located atop them. But first, we stumbled upon St Quirinus’s Church along with the Capuchin Fathers Convent (Convento dei Frati Cappuccini), and although it has been modified over the years, there has been a Roman Catholic church on this spot since 1549. It’s worth a visit, although it has a simple interior, the walnut altarpiece is beautiful, along with the statue of Madonna of Lourdes, casting an ethereal look as she is surrounded by candles and blue light.

As we slowly meandered our way to Tower number 3, (we were working backwards to Tower 1) , we came across a rather harrowing statue of a screaming boy. On further inspection we learned it was erected in memory of those who died in the Beslam school massacre in Russia back in 2004, I’m not sure if there is a specific connection to San Marino, but it definitely brought a little sober reflection to our morning walk.

F8870B8C-6E91-44AF-BB31-8AEE50B02C4D

Montale is the third of the towers and stands on the smallest of the 3 peaks. It’s a 14th century tall, thin tower with its door 7 metres up from the ground as it used to be a prison. It’s the only tower that isn’t opened to the public, so we didn’t hang around too much, except to admire the view and then we continued to make our way along the foot path to tower number 2.

Tower 2 or Cesta is located on the tallest of the 3 peaks, this 13th century tower was built on the site of an old Roman fort and also houses the Saint Marinus museum, this tower you can investigate both inside and out and is well worth it.

Tower 1, the Guaita fortress is the most well known and oldest of the 3, built in the 11th century, you can also visit this one inside too, look out for the coat of arms in stone, the bell tower and a display of artillery from the 2nd world war.

Once we made it back down to lower ground, we ventured into the Basilica di San Marino, the main church of the country, dedicated of course to its founder Saint Marinus. The neo-classic style building with adjoining bell tower, has an impressive entrance of wide steps and eight columns across the front, whilst inside another 16 columns frame the interior along with a statue of Mary Magdalene.

Needing refreshment, we got a Piadina to take out and sat in the beautiful Giardino dei Liburni close to the national gallery, easily recognised by its unique sphere shaped fountain. Once we were replenished we spent a nice half hour exploring some of the many pieces of Italian art inside the gallery both classic and modern.

For the rest of the afternoon, we headed out of the ‘big city’ and to the country’s 2nd largest town, Borgo Maggiore. We were curious to explore another part of San Marino, that maybe the tour buses don’t get too, but also because the quickest and easiest way to get there is to take a cable car down the mountain, which is always a fun idea!

The upper station is situated close to the Basilica San Marino and the service runs every 15 minutes, costs vary, but start at €2.00 for a single journey with a Tutto San Marino Card. We had the card and bought a return for €3.50. The views from the car as you would expect down the mountain were outstanding.

Once at the bottom, we wandered around the streets, to catch a glimpse of the every day happenings of the local Sammarinese, of which they make up 4/5ths of the population, with the remainder being mainly and unsurprisingly Italian. How amazing I thought to be part of such a small population of only 33,000 living aside a mountain, surrounded on all sides by Italy, but still retain your own culture and identity. We just had time for a peek inside the Church of Saints Antimo and Marinus close to the lower cable car station, before heading back up the mountain before sunset.

For our final night in the country, we had a lovely meal with incredible views at Ristorante Spingarda followed by a local beer and a final evening walk round the streets and through the city gates, soaking up the views for one last time.

The next morning, we caught an early bus back down the mountain to the Italian coastal city of Rimini for the next part of our adventure . .

Eats – Not surprisingly San Marino cuisine is very similiar to Italian. We ate some delicious pasta and pizza at Osteria La Taverna, Ristorante Cacciatori and Ristorante Spingarda.

Drinks – Despite its small size, San Marino does produce its own beer, wine and spirits, all of which are served in the local restaurants. We sampled the beers Spingarda beera bionda and birrificio abusiv as well as the red wine, Rosso dei Castelli Sammarinesi. Delicious coffee too was to be found everywhere, we had one close to the Giardino dei Liburni at the Galleria Caffe.

Top Tip – We got our free TuttoSanMarino Card from our hotel, giving us lots of discounts around the city, including the reduced cable car fare.

Always be polite – Buongiorno – Good Morning, (Mille) grazie – Thank You Very Much, Arrivederci  – Good Bye