topics: peperoncino (food), Republic of San Marino, Emperor Trajan, history, percent grade; jump to dispatch

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Rider Notes: May 8, 1998

Food of the Day: peperoncino peppers

Lovers of spicy food rejoice! Salvation has been discovered in the land of Italy. Peperoncino peppers abound and are in wide use!

One of the smallest members of the pepper family, this little red devil packs one heck of a punch. Small enough to fit on the end of your finger click to view a photograph, 5 peperoncinos are enough to make a spaghetti sauce for 8 people perfectly spicy (according to Ethan and Anthony, fire breathers of long standing). click to view a photograph Used in tomato sauces for both pizzas (pizza diavola - devil pizzas) and pasta (usually in an arrabbiata - literally, a rabid, mad or angry - sauce), peperoncinos are also used to flavor sausage. This sausage is called "salami napoli" and can be quite spicy especially when compared to the "salami milano" its much tamer cousin from the north. They can also be used (with olive oil, garlic and parsley) when cooking fish and clams.

These peppers have worked their way into every corner of Italian cuisine and for this we give great thanks. Hallelujah for the peperoncino!

Person of the Day: Emperor Trajan

Our Person of the Day is the Roman Emperor Trajan (53 - 117 AD). Trajan was the emperor largely responsible for Ancona's revival, realizing the city's central maritime importance and developing it as both a commercial center and an imperial port; this earns him the historical spotlight in today's dispatch.

An army brat, Trajan was trained from his youth as a Roman soldier and participated in the campaigns of the emperors Titus and Domitian in Syria, Germany and Spain. He acquired such distinction as a general that he was elected consul in 91 AD and by 97 had been picked by Emperor Nerva to be his successor as the throne of the Roman Empire.

True to form, Trajan was in the field inspecting the Roman frontier in Germany when the title of emperor was bestowed upon him. In fact he spent very little time in Rome at any point of his reign. In 101 AD, Trajan set out on his first campaign against the Dacians in southeastern Europe (what is now Romania). It took 5 years, but eventually the territory was conquered and became the Roman province of Dacia. This victory was celebrated by 4 months (117 days!) of games in Rome, during which countless animals and 9,000 gladiators fought to the death in the Coliseum. A great column that can still be seen today (stay tuned for our Rome dispatch with groovy digital photos) was erected in Rome to commemorate this victory.

Back in Rome, city life proved to be too much for Trajan and within 2 years he headed off to the East to lead once again another campaign, this time against the Parthians. He eventually advanced all the way to the Persian Gulf, capturing Ctesipho, the Parthian capital on the Tigris River. But, at this point, overextended in an isolated area, Trajan was vulnerable to attack. The conquered peoples revolted and Trajan wisely decided to return to Italy. In ill health, he died en route and was succeeded by his nephew Hadrian.

Under Trajan, the Roman Empire expanded to its greatest size, stretching from modern-day Kuwait to England, from the Caspian Sea to Portugal and from North Africa to the Danube.

Trajan's reign was marked by more than just military campaigns, conquest and expansion. He carefully oversaw the government of Rome and devoted much of his attention to taking care of his soldiers and the children of poor freemen in Rome and other cities, thus continuing the program of governmental kindness started by Emperor Nerva.

Some of Trajan's legacy includes the restoration of the Appian Way (the revolutionary Roman road - begun in 312 BC - which ran from Rome to Brindisi), a new artificial harbor in Ostia (Rome's port city), the great amphitheater in Verona, and the construction of the forum of Trajan in Rome.

Place of the Day: San Marino

Today we visited a fantasyland the likes of which we have not ever seen before. Well actually, we have; Disney Land, Disney World, Six Flags Great America, Silver Dollar City, Kings Island and Coney Island all qualify. But most of these have the distinction of being larger than the Repubblica di San Marino, although not quite as dignified.

San Marino's origins are wrapped in various legends, the most popular of which involves a stonecutter, Marinus, from the an island on the Dalmatian Coast, who left his native land with a group of Christians anxious to escape persecution under the emperor Diocletian (check out our dispatches from Albania and Split, Croatia for more about Diocletian). According to legend, Marinus cured the son of a rich Roman and was given Monte Titano and the land that surrounds it as a reward.

During the period when the Roman Empire's power was on the decline, and the power of the Pope had not yet been fully established, the local population decided to form a free city state. Unlike many of the city-states that were formed during this turbulent period of Italy's history (all of which were eventually subsumed into the Republic of Italy), San Marino, which declared itself a republic in 301 AD, has the distinction of having enjoyed 1,700 years of revolution-free liberty... and still remains a distinct entity. In fact, San Marino has been part of the European Council since 1988 and part of the Union Nation since 1992.

For more on our visit to this odd tourist-trap never-never land, check out the Rider Notes.

Group Dispatch, May 8
photograph of Anthony

Our day started bright and early with roll call at 7:30. Well actually there was not a roll call (there are only four of us anyway), but we did all roll out of bed and pack our bags in anticipation of a new day's fun and adventure.

Over breakfast, Ethan, Padraic and Anthony all commented on how they were getting sick and tired of Italy. Fortunately, glancing at a map, we discovered that by taking a slight detour (up a mountain basically), we would be able to leave Italy for a short while before returning and biking on to Ancona. Now hold on there just a second, you say. We are in the middle of Italy, so how can could we possibly leave the country without an airplane, long train or hot air balloon ride? The answer is the never-never land of the Republic of San Marino (see the Place of the Day).

Corinne wisely decided to take the coastal road to Ancona (her interest in San Marino stopped at the mention of "climb a mountain") and so we bid her a fond "see you later" and headed inland. Then Anthony and Padraic also managed to loose Ethan somewhere in the center of town so they used this opportunity to stop at one of the biggest bike stores any of us has ever come across and stare at the flashy team jerseys and beautiful Italian bikes on sale. They were even tempted to trade in their trusty Wheeler steeds, but they realized that the Italian bikes were made for speed and would never withstand the horrors that we face with our bikes every day.

But back to our bike ride...

The distance from Rimini to San Marino is amazingly short (10 km / 6 miles) and within moments, San Marino was looming over the road ahead. click to view a photograph San Marino is basically built on a huge hill and the views of the country/city as we approached it were very impressive. La Rocca o Guaita and Cesta o Fratta (the two fortresses in San Marino) hung from dominating perches, masters of the countryside. click to view a photograph And, before we knew it, we were in this strange little land-locked country, thus fulfilling our main goal for the day: to leave Italy for just a moment.

We were a little concerned about how steep the road was going to be... especially after we met another biker who asked us where we were going. When we told him, he said, "Bruta, bruta la strada" ("la strada" means road, and "bruta"...well you can probably figure that one out). He then cackled with an evil-ish laugh, and thunder and lightening shook the mountain top. Padraic swore that the mysterious biker then spouted horns and spun up the next hill at a devilish pace, but Anthony can not verify that.

Actually, though, the climb up to San Marino was a nice. As nice as these climbs can be. Plus, since it was the first real hill we have seen since leaving Slovenia, it was a nice break. Except for the part where, for a brief stretch, the road approached a 14% grade... (see the Tech Fact of the Day). It was at this point that Anthony and Padraic found Ethan, battling the incline as he too pedaled his wheeled beast of burden up the steep slope to the walls of the city. click to view a photograph

While San Marino has been described as a "theme park" that subsists on the thousands of tourists that seems to cover every square inch of its 61 square kilometers (40 square miles) and who descend, in a sort of unrestrained rabid frenzy of consumerism, on the hundreds of tourist shops full of every kitschy gift imaginable, it can be a sort of pleasant place. Poised majestically on top of Monte Titano, San Marino offers incredible views out over the Italian countryside. click to view a photograph

Making our way to the Piazza de la Libertà, we recovered from our ascent click to view a photograph and took in the views of the Piazza and the Statue of Liberty. click to view a photograph

Undaunted by the crowds of tourists (all speaking in tongues strange and foreign) who threatened to push us off the cliff edge, we made our way to the Basilico del Santo click to view a photograph and finally up to the city walls and more incredible views. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

Deciding that we did not need any of the dozens of different kinds of liquor or hundreds of fake weapons - machine guns or toy cross bows or miniature catapults, etc. - and that we had soaked up enough of the stunning views click to view a photograph, we headed down hill back into Italy, stopping at an open grocery store to pick up the supplies for a veritable feast of ham sandwiches.

Then, back in Italy (and far away from the troublelessness of San Marino), reality struck. By the time we finished our lunch, it was approaching 2:30 in the afternoon and we had well over 100 kilometers (62 mi) to bike before reaching Ancona... While it is true that we are approaching superhuman strength, we must be frank and admit that we still have a ways to go. So we were a little concerned. Still we could not help but stop and look back on the odd little country perched on a hill that we had just left. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

Our time situation was not helped by Padraic's rear wheel that suddenly decided that it needed two new spokes. click to view a photograph After accommodating this need, we spent the rest of the day in a mindless sort of biking daze as kilometer after kilometer after kilometer rolled by. It was a beautiful ride with castles off in the distance for us to ponder. click to view a photograph Sure, the first 25 kilometers (16 mi) were a little brutal as we climbed hill after hill click to view a photograph, and grew concerned about ever making it. However, it soon flattened out and we managed somehow to spin our way into Ancona at least 10 minutes before complete darkness fell upon the land.

A few swift phone calls were made (one of which confirmed that Corinne had arrived safely) to our hosts for the evening. Anthony was horrified to learn that in the process of biking 164 kilometers (102 mi), he had managed to arrive late for dinner (this has NEVER happened before). Nonetheless he did meet everyone and join them all for the salad course before he showered and headed out to the nearest pizza and pasta joint (and then collapsed exhausted in bed). Meanwhile Ethan and Padraic, were met by one of their hosts who brought them back to a lovely ground floor apartment with a garden. Over a delightful dinner, Padraic, Ethan and their two hosts got acquainted and prepared for the day ahead in Ancona.

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