When in Italy… walk like an Italian and enjoy the gelato

Several times in the past few weeks I’ve mentioned how much I love hiking and traveling. It’s time to show not tell. I’m re-posting this account of our last trip to Italy, which I posted  soon after I started blogging when I had so few readers I know none of you have read it…

Even though we ate multi-course meals and gelato (oh my the gelato…) every day for three weeks, we didn’t gain weight, because we walked everywhere, and in Italian hill towns walking includes stairs like these…

Saluzzo- stairs to the upper level

in the village of Saluzzo: climb these stairs to get to the next street

A few of the walks which were challenging.

1. To get to the top of the Duomo, in Milan meant a climb of about two hundred steps winding round and round a very narrow tower. I was dizzy, nauseous, and tired when I got to the top, but it was worth it.

On the roof of the Duomo in Milan

 I have no idea how this woman climbed all those stairs in these shoes…

Or how she felt safe walking around on the open roof in such high heels

I loved my new walking shoes. They were perfect.

I can report honestly that with all the walking we did over the three weeks, I didn’t get blisters, or any kind of foot problem. My feet said thank you, even after a day spent walking on the uneven cobblestone streets.


2. San Gimignano

“a walled medieval hill town in Tuscany, famous for its towers, was a thriving stop on the pilgrims route to Rome until 1348 when the plague killed off about 2/3 of the population.”

My friend Annette and I decided to climb the almost two hundred stairs of the Civic Museum tower (the highest in San Gimignano).

Tower in San Gimignano

Though I walked all the way to the top, I don’t know whether I’d be able to do it again. The steps at the lower floors were ordinary, worn stone stairs, but a recent renovation added a ‘modern‘ [hah!], see-through fire-escape style stair in the tower,  plus the last flight was up a ladder attached to the wall!

If you have a fear of heights, don’t even think of trying it – Annette turned back after a couple of flights.  I decided to face my fear, and climbed all the way to the top.

It was well worth the climb as the view was fantastic

San Gimignano from the tower

Going up wasn’t too bad, but coming down was so scary, my legs wobbled with each step, because if I looked down, I could see through the gaps between the steel steps all the way down to the bottom.  I was so terrified I didn’t even think of using my camera.

view from the tower in San Gimignano

I got to the bottom by literally hanging onto the railing, taking each step slowly-and-carefully-one-at-a-time,  not looking where I placed my feet, and ignoring the kids running down past me even though I knew must’ve looked very funny.



3. The walk to our room in Vernazza, one of the Cinque Terre villages:

Private cars are not allowed in any of the old village streets in the Cinque Terre.

In Vernazza we had to park at the top of the hill, and lug our bags, coats, and picnic lunch about a kilometer to the town’s main square opposite the train station where we met the woman renting us a room.

She spoke no English, we understood by her gestures that we were to pick up our stuff and follow her.

First there was this flight of twenty stairs which wound round at the top…

Then we walked along this “street” …

Street in Vernazza

to another flight of twenty steep stone stairs, which led to an even narrower passage than the one pictured at the left (you can’t be claustrophobic in these towns), up thirty steep stairs, until the final eight small steps which branched off to the front door of the house.

Once inside, there were another seventeen narrow stairs up to our room.

View of Vernazza from our room.

It was, as I’m sure you’ll agree, well worth it.

to be continued…

About dearrosie

We think we need so much, when all we really need is time to breathe. Come walk with me, put one foot in front of the other, and get to know yourself. Please click the link to my blog - below - and leave me a comment. I love visitors.
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43 Responses to When in Italy… walk like an Italian and enjoy the gelato

  1. magsx2 says:

    Wow, it all looks so fabulous, a lot of steep climbs, but the views you get when you reach your destination it was definitely worth it all.
    I have to agree with you on the shoes that lady decided to wear, very inappropriate for that sort of thing.

    How exciting to be going down those small “lane” ways, an explorers delight I think. The view from your room is to die for, I love it.
    Fantastic photos, they do help explain more about the areas, loved the post. 😀

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Mags,
      It makes my heart sing to know you enjoyed my post and my photos so much. I thank you.

      I can’t imagine how anyone could do much walking on cobblestone streets in heels that high. But I couldn’t have imagined someone walking on the roof of the Duomo in them either….and I was proved wrong there.

      The view from our room was so beautiful we spent far too long sitting on the little verandah listening, watching and smelling.

  2. What I find so fascinating is that in small towns like this, the old residents STILL climb those stairs. They make it to town every day to buy their bread and eggs and walk home. It’s probably why they are old – they keep on moving. It seems to be only in America that people give way to walkers and canes. Great photos Rosie. Especially the patina of wear on the stairs, centuries of people traipsing up and down.

    • dearrosie says:

      EOS I didn’t mention that the woman renting the room to us was in her late 70’s- possibly even 80’s – and she ran up the stairs ahead of us, waited patiently at each intersection without showing any sign of fatigue, while we -much younger than her – huffed and puffed our way up.

      We didn’t see any overweight people – if you live in those homes you keep fit and healthy from running up and down the stairs.

      Traipsing through the old cities on the centuries old cobblestones and worn stairs I honestly feel the ghosts of the people who’ve walked there before me…

  3. The theme of your trip was definitely “stairs”. Were you ever at the Spanish steps in Rome? Such beautiful and interesting ups and downs though. How interesting you were allowed to stand on the roof of the Duomo! In Spain the southern streets are very narrow to shade the buildings next to them it gets so hot…over 110. Does it get hot in Italy? Gorgeous scenery and I love how you framed that tower through the archway. A memorable trip for sure.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Georgette,
      We didn’t go south to Rome on that trip but we’ve been there (though some years ago).
      Standing on the roof of the Duomo is a very important part of the experience of visiting the Cathedral. You can see the construction of the building and of course the view of the city.

      We were in Italy in October, and the temps were perfectly pleasant. I believe it gets very hot in the summer.

      That’s very interesting to learn that the buildings in Spain shade their neighbors. I imagine the same rule applies in other hot countries in Europe.

  4. Oh what amazing vistas! I love the idea of eating as much as one wants and walking enough to never worry about gaining weight. 🙂 Your pictures remind me a little of the movie *Enchanted April.* The characters had to climb many steps to get to the cottage they rented. Italy sounds like such an enchanting place to enjoy being alive…

    We climbed a fire tower near the top of a mountain in the woods of Vermont once with our kids and another family. The open stairs were disconcerting, to say the least. We just kept telling ourselves, “Don’t look down.” The view was definitely worth it, but coming down it was not so easy to not look down!

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Barbara,
      We ate three course meals with pasta and bread and desert every day plus at least one gelato each afternoon…. (smacking lips at the memory)… I must write about some of the meals. The Italians know how to eat.

      I love the way you describe Italy. It is “an enchanting place to enjoy being alive…”

      I’m glad to know that someone else understands the sheer terror of coming down those fire stairs. Did your kids run up and down without a problem and laugh at you for being nervous?

      • Barbara Rodgers says:

        As I recall, no one, younger or older, was running up or down those stairs. It was a pretty somber descent, everyone quietly focusing on their own steps or getting a grip on their own particular fears…

  5. shoreacres says:

    I have a friend who works in an emergency care clinic. She says we wouldn’t believe the number of women who show up for evaluation or treatment because they’ve “fallen off their shoes”.

    I’m such a fan of doorways, windows, stairs and narrow streets – Italy would be perfect for me! Since there’s probably less than a zero chance of my getting there, I need to find some places nearer at hand that can provide such delights – away from our flat, flat coastal plain.

    At least now there’s decent gelato available in the grocery and certain shops – that’s another little bit of Italy worth pursuing!

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Linda,
      I’m sure your friend in the ER clinic could write a book on silly shoes eh?

      Perhaps you could win a ticket to Italy. During the pledge drive at our local NPR station they give away air tickets to various exotic destinations.

      So many old buildings have been pulled down “in the name of progress”, but Mr F was in Philadelphia recently and from his photos I can tell you there are some charming old streets and Italian delis waiting to be explored.

      When the Italian gelato chain “GROM” opened a branch in Malibu I drove 80 miles to buy an ice cream. It was well worth the trip – I wrote a post on it. (They also have a branch in NYC.)

  6. Arindam says:

    Here is the link to that blog, which contains details of that weekly photo challenge- http://dailypost.wordpress.com/

  7. souldipper says:

    Rosie, of course you didn’t gain weight! MON DIEU! What a trip. A friend invited me to consider sharing his ancestral home just south of Milan in April or May. If the trip is on, I will remember to walk everywhere! But…no…no heights like you described. Yike!

    • dearrosie says:

      You were invited to consider sharing your friend’s ancestral home just south of Milan in April or May? MON DIEU Amy why are you are hesitating? Just GO! And buy yourself good walking shoes.

  8. Wow.. you are adventurous, Rosie. Loved this glimpse into Italy.
    Is that Mr. F in one of the pictures? If it’s not impolite to ask, at what age was this.. the fire escape, the ladder et al is making me wonder.

    ( P.S. – Gosh, you seem very inspired lately.. 3 posts in a week! )

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi AIT,
      I’m really glad to share Italy with you.
      – Yes that’s Mr F climbing the stairs.
      – We went to Italy two years ago. Is that what you wanted to know? I don’t think you wanted to know the age of the building?
      – I wrote the extra post on Wislawa Szymborska because she’d passed away. Is that three this week?

      • Actually, I was asking your’s.. with all the climbing you did. My mom (in her 60’s) mostly stays in the car when there’s too much climbing to do.

      • dearrosie says:

        AIT tell your Mum to get out of the car and come walk with us middle-aged women.

        Barbara Hannah Grufferman who wrote the book “The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More ” (the essential handbook to being a healthy and strong woman over 50), recently ran the New York City marathon aged 55.

      • She is very set in her ways by now, but thanks Rosie. I hope the 3 in a week part didn’t come off in a wrong way. This is your blog and you should be able to do with it, exactly what you want. Thanks again for the link to the book.

      • dearrosie says:

        Hi AIT,
        If your Mum has always acted like an old lady then you can leave her alone, but if she’s saying “I’m old now that I’m 60” you can tell her about women older than herself who are running marathons and doing 20 mile hikes. It’s empowering. She only has to do one thing – even if its just walking one mile – to feel stronger immediately. You can do it with her.

        You didn’t upset me with the “3 in one week” comment. I was glad to see you noticed, and I’m enjoying getting to know you. Please keep commenting.

      • Umm.. she does neither. Let’s just leave it at that.

  9. I love this post! I spent my junior year of college in Italy (haven’t been back – but we don’t discuss this, because I start to cry). Ah, the memories! But, I haven’t done any of these climbs – and I didn’t even know I was afraid of heights back then! I wish I could get over that fear, because I would love to do each and every one of these (without the heels!). Do you have a special brand of walking shoe that you like?

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi AA,
      I’m glad I could help bring back good memories, but I don’t want to be charged with bringing on the tears…You’re darn lucky you went to college in Italy. I wish I’d done something like that!

      If you are scared of heights don’t even attempt going up any of the towers. You can enjoy it vicariously through photos.

      The walking shoes I used in Italy and South Africa (we were there last year in February) are KEENS. I have a strange foot – wide at toes, narrow ankle and high instep – and KEENS are a perfect fit for me. It’s unfortunate that they’re now being made in China …

      • Thanks for the info about the KEENS brand of shoe. I’ll have to Google them. Finding a shoe that fits and is comfortable isn’t as easy as it seems – sometimes you have to search to China and back.

      • dearrosie says:

        I suggest you go to a place like REI because they’ll take back shoes you’ve worn – no questions asked – if they don’t fit.

  10. Arindam says:

    You must had a great trip. In those photographs, Italy looks so beautiful. Yes, climbing of those hundreds stairs worth it. view from the tower in San Gimignano is simply awesome. Thank you for sharing these beautiful memories with all of us.

  11. bronxboy55 says:

    Thanks for the tour, Rosie. It was both dizzying and breathtaking. But really, do you have to keep mentioning gelato?

  12. Val says:

    I don’t have a fear of heights, but do have a fear of stairs, believe it or not (or did – it’s better now, but I would do that sort of climb!) Brill pics, Rosie! 🙂

    • dearrosie says:

      Hello Val,
      Those stairs were so scary that I didn’t take the photo before, or after, which is a shame…

      It feels good to know that you liked my photos. Thank you.

  13. munchow says:

    After my first couple of trips to Italy, I didn’t really like it very much. But after a couple of more trips lately, I have come to enjoy this country so rich in culture and history very much. And I have always liked gelato. Nothing beats it. Fun to see your pictures from Cinque Terre. As a matter of fact right now I am working on a story from Cinque Terre. It’s for a travel magazine. Thanks for the reposting.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Otto,
      I’m so envious of the amount of traveling you’re able to do. You’re a darn lucky so-and-so!

      I can’t imagine anyone not liking Italy. Was it raining or did the gypsies steal your wallet? Just to walk on those cobblestone streets that are full of so much history is fantastic, and then to be able to eat their delicious food (and wine) is a huge bonus.

      I’m glad I could help you with your Cinque Terre article. I’d love to see it. Have you walked along the path that connects the five villages? That’s one of my top hikes of all time.

      • munchow says:

        It was just the Italian mentality I had a hard time coping with in my younger days. And, yes I did indeed walk between the five towns, isn’t that one of the main reasons to travel to Cinque Terre, besides the food, the wine, the people, the towns….

  14. When I think of Italy , I think of love, of romance, of people with enormous hospitality and affection, of delicious food and of breathtaking landscapes. Today, it get to see in actuality those thoughts and visions through your post. Beautiful, fun, inspiring. And the Gelato….always been a fan. My favorite is strawberry and coffee flavored. Happy Valentine’s Day and wishing you and your love ones all the joy in life. Thank you…

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Island Traveler
      Thank you for visiting and sharing your thoughts of Italy. It’s everything you mentioned.

      The Italian gelato chain GROM opened a branch in Malibu last year (I’ve blogged about it) and after our 5 mile hike this afternoon Mr F and I drove down Pacific Coast Highway for gelatos. I had hazelnut and coffee. Mr F had the flavor of the day (white chocolate with licorice and limone). oh man it was good. Almost like being in Italy. 🙂

  15. jane tims says:

    I love that first photo of the street-connecting stairway. Taking a photo of your foot on the cobblestones was genious. we hardly ever look down on tours! jane

    • dearrosie says:

      Hello Jane how nice to see you back here again. I’m glad you found this post, it’s one of my favorites.

      You couldn’t be overweight if you walked those stairs in the first photo every day.

      I always notice little details like shoes especially when walking on the cobblestone streets

  16. Ya know, Rosie, when I was reading the original post, I was thinking “I feel like I’ve read this before.” Ha ha – just saw our exchange of comments above. Well, it is worth reading several times! What a great trip.

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