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