Up on the Roof

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is find a rooftop and climb up to it.  A cliff or a high wall will do as well.  This predilection first showed itself in Curacao, in the 70’s, when I discovered a cliff with a sheer drop into the Atlantic Ocean.  My father nearly had a heart attack as I leaned over the edge to take a look.

When I went to Europe in the 90’s I discovered the time-honored tradition of climbing up to church roofs.  The first one I scaled was the Duomo in Milan.  This was the pre-digital age, so the photographic proof is somewhere in a storage unit parked near Philadelphia.  But here’s someone else’s photo to show you why I loved it up there.

See the tiny person in the upper left corner of the photo?

My father came along to chaperone, and the kids wouldn’t be left behind either, so we all scampered up the narrow winding staircase to reach the heights.  No guardrails, no warning signs, just common sense to keep visitors from falling off.  Hopefully.

One of my favorite high spots is Chateau Beynac in the Dordogne region in France.  The entire castle is perched high up on a clifftop, the better to defend it from approaching enemies.  One of the lookout towers comes with a warning sign regarding the high winds. Roughly translated, it says, “Parents should hold children firmly by the hand, as there is mortal danger of them blowing off.” You’ve been warned, people.

Chateau Beynac, overlooking the Dordogne River in France.

On our honeymoon, we took at trip to Greece and sailed to several Greek islands.  On Rhodes, we climbed up the 200 steps to the top of the Acropolis, to admire the breathtaking views.  I sat on top of the outside wall to relax and soak up the spectacular sights.  He shrieked and grabbed my arm, terrified that I was going to fall over the edge. It was at that point I learned something new about my husband – he is very uncomfortable with heights.

St. Paul’s Bay, bordering the island of Rhodes.  I took this photo while sitting on the wall high above the water.

As Craig and I have traveled, we’ve made it something of a specialty to squeeze through narrow passages and up steep stairways in order to enjoy some spectacular views.  A church roof in Peru was an unexpected climb.  Our elderly tour guide headed up the stairs; what else could we do but follow?

Peru roof
Church roof in a small village in the Colca Canyon, Peru. You can see by Craig’s stance that he is not very happy to be up there!

There are two wonderful high spots in Venice, right next to each other in Piazza San Marco.  One is the church itself – you can go up to the upper logia, out onto a balcony, and join the four horses in looking out over the piazza.  The other is the Campanile de San Marco, just a short distance away.  While the overlook spot of the Basilica is maybe three or four stories high, the Campanile is a whopping 323 feet tall! There are no stairs, only an elevator, so it feels like cheating a bit.  Until you’re at the top, and the massive bells begin to ring. It is a sound that vibrates your brain and ruptures your eardrums. A whole different kind of bodily abuse.

St Mark roof
Standing on the overlook of the cathedral with the bronze horses, looking down at the piazza.
St Mark campanile
Taken from the top of the campanile, the bell tower, looking toward St. Mark’s Basilica.
St. Mark tables
Another view from the bell tower, overlooking Piazza San Marco.

In Sao Miguel, the Azores, earlier this year, we climbed our first city hall. The last flight of stairs a very tight spiral, and the passage was so small that Craig ended up climbing sideways.

Azores roof
Now that’s a spiral staircase!
clock tower duo
The top of city hall, facing the clock tower.

Here in Ecuador, we toured the Convento de San Diego, led by an energetic little woman, probably 15 years our senior, who delivered the entire lecture in Spanish. The artwork was so spectacular we didn’t really need to understand her words – her passion for the place communicated itself despite the language barrier.  Toward the end of the tour she beckoned us to follow her up a small dark stairway, which we were thrilled to see opened onto the convent roof.  Another small hole for Craig to shimmy through, and we were gazing out at the city of Quito.

convento Criag
People were smaller a few centuries ago!
convento view
Looking out over the city of Quito.

Just a couple of days before we ended our month long visit to Quenca, we remembered the cathedral offered an opportunity for a nice view of town.  In this case, it cost us a dollar admission to tackle the 150 steps. In case you’re wondering, my fitness tracker counted that as 10 floors.

Cuenca stairs
This was the nicest flight of stairs we ever climber: wide, even, and with windows every so often. Could be because it was built in the 1960’s.


Cuenca roof 2
Cuencanos take their rooftop viewing seriously, and have installed bleachers to provide better vantage points.
Cuenca roof
From the terrace atop the Nuevo Catedral, one can see the city of Cuenca as well as the surrounding mountains.

Next week we’re on to Antigua, Guatemala.  I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for highest roof in town.

Best Trip Evah

gypsy shoesMy grandmother said that the women in our family were born with gypsy shoes, meaning that we all love to travel. It’s absolutely true, and I appreciate her recognition of and encouragement of the impulse that compels my mother, my aunts, and my cousins to join me in wandering the world.

In my own travels, oddly, I have been to the northernmost spot in Africa, and the southernmost, but I haven’t spent any time at all visiting the rest of the gigantic African continent. In our extended journey this year, we plan to head for Cape Town, and then work our way north to Madagascar and Ethiopia on the east coast.  Tanzania is located right between these two destinations – excellent.

You see, part of our plan includes the goal of winning a contest.  Yes, this piece that is masquerading as a blog entry is also a contest entry, which I am hoping will get me a trip to Tanzania.  And not just any trip, but a luxury safari adventure with Yellow Zebra Safaris.  Go check out the Yellow Zebra Travel site. You can read the terrific story of how they got their name, and you can drool over the fabulous trips.  In fact, follow this link to the safari in Tanzania, so that if I win, you can plan to come with Craig and me! https://yellowzebrasafaris.com/us/tanzania/

My travel partner Craig and I take great delight in planning our trips, spending hours discussing destinations, and researching options for flights, lodging, and activities.  We decided upon Morocco a couple of years ago for sentimental reasons – at the start of our romance, when we pledged to one another that we would travel the world together, I gave Craig a photo book on Morocco.  The seed was planted that day, and now it was time for the promise to be fulfilled.

Arriving in Morocco felt like being transported to another plane of existence. Nothing was familiar; the people, the smell in the air, the language – I was completely off balance. It was wonderful.

He made them all himself.
A cheerful Berber shepherd.

Clearly, I could prattle on at great length about Morocco. Here are just a few of the exploits in which we participated, that made this trip so phenomenal.

Rode a camel.  Do you know how tall a camel is? Once you climb on his back, and he stands up, you are very far from the ground. Plus, you don’t have reins. Either your camel handler leads the way, or the camel does.

See how long these camels’ legs are?!

Slept in a tent, under seven blankets, in the Sahara Desert.  No explanation needed, as long as you understand how cold a desert is in January.

Got mugged by a henna hustler.  By the time I got my hand back from Fatima, I had a very cool design trailing up my arm. She wanted $40 for the un-asked for art.  I gave her two; she gave me an evil look and disappeared.

Slept in a cave.  Hotel, that is.  All the rooms were dug into the side of a hill. No windows, but we were snug as a bug. In the Todra Gorge area, the views are spectacular. Look for décor items made from Jurassic era fossils.

Nearly slept in a car in a snowstorm in the Atlas Mountains. Perhaps a miscalculation on the part of our guide, we ended up high in the mountains when it started to snow.  The plow didn’t create a path wide enough for the large vehicles headed in both directions, so there we sat. Thank goodness for well prepared local travelers with shovels.

Saw snake handlers in Marrakesh, in Jemma el Fina Square.  Mostly from the safe distance of a rooftop café, because although it’s fascinating, who wants to walk around with cobras?

Slept in a kasbah, underneath a stork’s nest. When we went to bed in the ancient structure, the nest was empty.  By the time we awoke the next morning, the storks had returned to Aït Benhaddou. (Fun fact: storks communicate by clacking their beaks together.)

A stork’s nest is a large, messy pile of sticks.

Had a huge riad all to ourselves. “You are the king and queen, and this is your palace,” our host said as he welcomed us. The royal treatment in a breath-taking restored mansion.

Met the last comb-maker in Fez. When he dies or retires, the souk will no longer be named after his profession.

The combmaker was very pleased that we brought him the NY Times article published about him a few years ago.  He remembered the interview, but he never knew if it was printed.

Stood out as the only foreigners in Essaouira.  This small seaside community is not a big tourist draw, at least in January, but it is captivating in its own right. Ladies, remember to cover your heads – it will make life easier.

Fishing boats in the harbor.

Sat for hours in the rooftop café called Aladdin, staring at the Blue City.  Chefchaouen pulled us in with its stunning paint job – no one is quite sure why everyone favors cobalt blue, although there are various theories. It really doesn’t matter, though. The sense of serenity the color imparts is reason enough.

The beautiful blue of Chefchouen.

Bought a pair of handmade shoes, in bright yellow leather with pointy toes. The shoemaker just happened to be working on a large order of said yellow shoes, for the cabinet ministers’ traditional outfits.  And he just happened to have a pair in my size.  What else could I do but buy them? It was fate.

The shoemaker uses two needles at a time for his shoes, that he sells for $20.

There is so much to say about this enthralling country. So many wonderful sights, so many lovely people. But don’t take my word for it – you need to go yourself and encounter the character and spirit of The Daughter of the Desert.  It’s a big wonderful world out there, and life is too short to stay in one place.  Pack a bag, get those gypsy shoes on, and get going!

gypsy shoes mine
My gypsy shoes.