This time last week, I was standing at the top of the Duomo in Florence, Italy.
I am normally a big time planner. Planning things is half the fun, as far as I'm concerned. Upcoming vacations usually trigger a need to read every guide book ever published about my destination city. It's tempting to make a schedule of all the stuff I want to do, especially in situations where there is a lot of stuff and a little time.
I've done fairly well in recent years at not giving in to that impulse. I did read guide books about Florence, and I had a small list of things I wanted to do. Climbing il Duomo wasn't on it - I thought it was a silly, touristy thing to do. I will also admit that I may have considered whether I would be able to climb that far without my lungs suing for divorce.
It is definitely a long climb, no two ways about it. You go up and up, and then the stairs change, becoming a tight spiral. You think "oh, making good progress!". Then you climb up and up and up, and you get to a gallery that runs around the inside of the dome, over the main church. Both times I was there at the end of the day, and the church was empty except for a handful of people who were there for the evening service, in progress as we crept around the dome. The ceiling is painted, but there's no way to take in the artwork, because your brain is used to slightly more oxygen than it has at that moment, you're trying to keep moving along a very narrow pathway, and the usher is shushing people so loudly he can probably be heard in Chicago.
Then you climb and climb and climb and climb, and the stairs get narrower and less regular, and even the graffiti dwindles to nothing. I didn't really start to seriously question whether I wanted to keep going until the first time we met people trying to move in the opposite direction. Until you hit the inner gallery, the stairs are separate. Afterwards, people need to squeeze by, which definitely adds to the excitement of the trip.
The last two flights of stairs are something else. They're steep, they're narrow, there isn't a handrail for the last one... if there had been many more flights, I might have chickened out. But suddenly, you're clambering up the last few stairs, and you emerge onto the cupola. The air is fantastic up there, and the light was incredibly beautiful. I was there just before sunset, and the light has this romantic quality that's hard to describe. We went full circle around the dome, looking out at castles on hilltops and narrow roadways in the city, and at green hills and trees and red tile roofs. It was heartbreakingly beautiful, and one of the most memorable moments of the trip.
Climbing the dome wasn't on my list of things to do. I wouldn't have gone, really, except that my husband asked about it, and there was no line. The opportunity presented itself. I think it's my reward for allowing spontaneity.