Our first stop after Ravenna was at Rimini, all of 28km, and allowed us to really take it easy, have a slow walk through town, and see some of the amazing sights. I should point out that Rimini has got some seriously old stuff, including the oldest remaining bridge and town entry arch in existence from the Roman Empire. The old town is appropriately compact and easy to navigate on foot. Again, it was amazing to wander past ongoing archaeological sites, such as the Surgeon’s Residence, preserved after the Hunnic sacking of Rimini in the 5th C by its own collapsed walls and roof. Our campsite was also only 15 minutes walk from the beach … and on the track of the Rimini Marathon held on Saturday – Absolute chaos getting out of the town, with Google making some odd decisions that underestimate the size of the van, compensating by over estimating its sense of my driving ability! On average, then, we’re OK.
Last two nights have been spent in a very relaxed (soporific horizontal) campsite, 10 horizontal meters from the sea, but 80 vertical meters down a somewhat irregular path (hmmm – that’s a very optimistic description). Had the opportunity to show the hundreds of Italian cyclists battling up 16% climbs that we were made of sterner stuff, bumping up our battery output on our e-bikes significantly in the process. To be honest, still couldn’t catch the majority who were on road bikes. Did watch one guy take his mountain bike up a path I’m not sure I could have walked. Having had years of cycling with crazy Italians I completed the day with ego still intact.
Today we are at Loreto. I had no idea this town existed, so excuse the complete ignorance as I relate the following. The Basilica here is the site of an annual 4 MILLION visitors. What for, you may ask? Well, housed in a marble encasement, which in turn forms the focus of the interior of the basilica itself (you picturing those Russian dolls that fit inside each other?), is an interesting structure. This is the home of Mary (yes, that Mary) transported from Palestine, via a few intermediary stops, including Croatia, arriving in Loreto as the last Crusaders were driven out of Palestine (1295). In order to prevent the holy site from being taken by victorious Muslim forces, four angels transported the house in a single night… Beyond my credulity, but the annual pilgrimage continues. Saint’s bones, relics, and brickwork remain an important source of income.
On a less cynical note, and understanding that all major faiths are masters of manipulation and propaganda, I would point out what a marvellous experience this was. You can literally feel the devotion of people as they enter the Basilica and pass through the brick house. The interior of the Basilica, of course, lends itself to this by keeping the nave fairly simple (apart from unbelievable mosaics that far exceed the colour and definition of most Medieval paintings) with the focus on the marble encasement and surrounding cupola. There was a service being held, accompanied by the chants and songs that brought home the incredible acoustics and attendant atmosphere that result in the trance-like state that seems to be the goal of all religious institutions – and not a few secular ones too (hello, Mao).
Tomorrow we hope to visit the local Aeronautical Museum – I’m a little worried that this may focus heavily on the 4 angels mentioned earlier, rather than Italy’s rich mechanical heritage (yes, Fiat produced a number of fighter planes – some were even better than the Fiat Panda – a car that should have been strangled at birth). Let’s see what the day brings. Tonight we are a camper stop just below the Basilica, overlooking the Adriatic. Perched on top of a hill (I almost resorted to prayer coming up some of the roads) gives us a glorious view of the Basilica, the plains below, and the Adriatic in the background – all in Spring’s delightful blue sky. How lucky can you get?