You can tell when you cross from Austria to Italy on the train because all of a sudden every bit of arable land is filled with vineyards. I am not kidding.
My first stop in Italy was not a particularly conventional one, but rather the town of Urbino an hour’s drive from Rimini, down the Adriatic coast on the eastern side of the boot (anyone who doesn’t consider Italy a geographical boot is not paying attention). They’re nice places- Rimini is in the heart of the Italian Riviera, and Urbino is such a classic Rennisance town it has a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List- but my main reason to visit was to visit old family friends, Aniko and Massimo-
Aniko is my mother’s friend from back in college and Massimo is her Italian husband, who you will not see in pictures because he confiscated my camera in the name of being my personal paparazzi. Due to the decades-long connection Aniko belongs to that group of your family’s friends who would have no hesitation in scolding you when you were younger and fussing over you now that you’re older. And I must admit, after two months on the road having a house to come back to and people who take a personal interest in feeding you every ten seconds is quite nice.
In the above picture Aniko and I are standing on a lookout to the old town of Urbino. You know what the weirdest thing about it is though? I’ve been here before- when I was four years old my family did a grand tour of Italy, and while you can’t remember much of anything when you’re 4 it’s funny what comes back. Their house is instantly recognizable to me even if I have no active memory of it- a few other incidents like that, and I am touring Italy with a fascination for all the repressed memories that crop up. We’ll see what else I uncover along the way.
Until then, I have to say that all I remembered concretely about Urbino is how Aniko’s son Stefano was the first person I ever met who spoke neither English or Hungarian, thus trashing my childhood perception that I could somehow communicate with everyone I would meet. Stefano had a white desk in his room, which stressed me as much as a 4 year old can be stressed because my mom had warned me to not draw off the page, but of course I did. The desk is still there, though childhood marks are thankfully not.
But anyway, because there is more to Italy than what I remember from 20 years ago let us continue shall we?
Urbino is a city on a hill, and this is a view from the very bottom of it with the theatre in front. The interesting thing about it is how the insides of most buildings are surprisingly modern- there is a very good university here- but you can’t change the outside facades anymore by law. This makes the city overall incredibly lovely.
The main cathedral in Urbino, sitting on the main square. Classic doesn’t begin to describe this place- in fact, whenever you study Renaissance architecture you will inevitably study the main square of Urbino!
Raphael was born here too, by the way. In case the Renaissance-ness needed further merit.
One of my favorite things in Urbino, though, was the museum in the old Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace). The place is filled with one lovely painting after another (I confess I spent a lot of time gawking at how ugly the Virgin Marys are in European paintings- ugly daughters of patrons?), but my favorites were the woodworks. There was a room filled with nothing but these beautiful wood panels, each more lovely than the last.
Anyway, Urbino was Friday. Saturday morning Aniko taught me the important art of how to make delicious tiramisu while Massimo worked- there is an interesting quirk in Italian workplaces whereby you can work until 2pm each day provided you work on Saturdays as well, conceivably to help out those who have kids in school and accommodate siesta. Personally, I find this idea rather brilliant. Anyway, once the afternoon came around Massimo drove in the breakneck way known to anyone who’s ever seen an Italian behind the wheel (let’s just say Italians would be at home in Asia) until we reached Rimini-
Like any proper Italian town, Rimini is an old Roman colony with lots of historical remnants. So to start this is the 2,000 year old Arch of Augustus where the Flavian road begain- which obviously went to Rome, as all roads lead to it…
Another interesting thing about Italy I must mention- you know how you all spent the middle and high school language requirement taking useful things like French or Spanish? Well I did four years of Latin- would have done more as I enjoyed it but the teacher did not exactly make me feel welcome- so combined with that history minor it was pretty inevitable that I would come to Italy. After all, where would I find things like this?
This Latin writing is here to mark the spot where the very history of the world was written- the spot where, in 49 B.C., Julius Caesar made his famous speech to his soldiers after crossing the Rubicon saying alea iacta est, the die is cast, and proceeded to march on Rome. Needless to say, I was beside myself with excitement.
It is interesting to note that the famous Rubicon is and never was much of a river- it’s about 12km north of Rimini but was described as a stream even in Roman times. The exact location of the Rubicon was lost altogether for centuries actually, until some die-hard classicists reidentified it in the 1930s, so all it was ever good for was an arbitrary line after which you were not allowed to pass with your legions. Rimini was the closest big town in the area though, even then, so saying Caesar made his speech in the old forum makes a lot of sense. Plus hey, they have a statue, so clearly this is where it happened!
There are a few other old things around Rimini too. Like check out this bridge-
This is the Tiberius bridge, which dates to the first century A.D. As you can see in the background cars still drive over it, people still walk over it, like there’s nothing at all unusual about this. If this was practically anywhere else in the world you wouldn’t be able to go within 50 feet of it, but here in Italy everyone just shrugs and moves on with life.
And last but certainly not least, the obligatory stop for gelato which is a requirement in Italy. I don’t know if you noticed from the pictures but this past weekend in Italy was cold– they got weather they usually see around December in March, which is quite unprecedented- to the point where it snowed quite heavily at times. But whoever said that was an excuse to cut down on the gelato?