I’ve always liked climbing up to the top of tall buildings in Europe. It’s probably because I like stone circular staircases so much. St Paul’s in London, Notre Dame in Paris, St Peter’s in Rome, the Duomo in Florence. Typically I enter a doorway off to one side of the cavernous central space, and ascend the various claustrophobic staircases until I emerge at the top and take in the breathtaking view of the ancient city. The large domes are particularly interesting because the final ascents are sandwiched in between the inner and outer shells of the dome.
So when we arrived in Croatia, naturally I wanted to ascend the first belfry tower I encountered: Saint Duje’s Church, inside the Roman-era “Diocletian’s Palace” in Split. I paid my 10 kuna (about $2) and I headed up the staircase. Halfway up, however, I realized what I had gotten myself into: instead of a safe, windowless stone staircase, I was on metal stairs attached to the sides of the tower on one side. The other side was a sheer drop to the bottom of the shaft. It may seem contradictory that I both enjoy climbing towers and have a pronounced fear of heights, but there you are. It took every ounce of “when am I coming back to Croatia? Carpe diem!” that I could muster to steadfastly ignore theÂ chasm beside me and concentrate only on climbing the stairs.
So two days later, in the delightful walled town of Trogir, what I did do? Why, I climbed another bell tower, this one with an even rustier and more rickety staircase than the first. My friend and fellow musician Mary Lea was a big help getting me to the top. The last few steps were as steep as a ladder, and involved stuffing myself through a hole about two feet square.
Two belfries were enough for me! Later in the trip, however, I did take a walk along the magnificent city walls in Dubrovnik, which were stunning and not at all acrophobic.