If there is a way to get high while we’re travelling, The Fairlie Entourage is there. And often, that ‘way’ involves a lot of stairs. Soooo many stairs… As a consequence, I like to think of travel as the ultimate stairmaster workout. And I’m going to share some of my workout secrets.
So, what have we climbed in our ultimate stairmaster workout?
Duomo di Firenze, Florence, ItalyMuseumflorence.com
Who could resist the opportunity to climb to the top of the dome of the Duomo in Florence? Especially when you are rewarded with views over the beautiful city to the further reaches of Tuscany.
Santa Maria del Fiore was built in the 15th Century and is one of the largest churches in the world. The bit we climbed was Brunelleschi’s Dome, which is the octagonal dome over the church and was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, and erected between 1418 and 1463. The dome has a diameter of 45.5 metres and actually consists of two interconnected shells, which are clearly visible as you climb up through them. At the very top, you exit to a terrace where you experience 360 degree views over the city.
There are 463 steps to climb and no lifts (elevators).
Pre Rup Temple, Angkor, CambodiaAPSARA website for details.
Pre Rup is one of the smaller temples in the large Angkor Complex near Siem Reap. It takes about half an hour by tuk-tuk (much less by car or mini-bus) to get there from a hotel in Siem Reap, and the 12 metre high top terrace of Pre Rup is one of the favoured spots for watching sunset.
Pre Rup was built in 961 AD as a temple to the Hindu deity Shiva. It consists of five towers which sit on a roughly pyramid-shaped base. Originally, it would have been covered with plaster, but that is all long gone, revealing the bare bricks underneath.
The steps at Pre Rup are not for the faint-hearted. It is practically like climbing a ladder. There’s no such thing as non-slip surfaces and safety rails – stringent occupational health and safety standards are yet to reach that part of Cambodia. At times, the riser of each step is close to 30cms, making ascent a feat of fitness, and descent an act of madness.
I really wouldn’t recommend it in wet weather.
Duomo di Milano, Milan, Italy
The Duomo website contains details to plan your visit
Milan’s Gothic Duomo is a breath-taking confection of pinkish marble. It was commissioned in 1386, but took centuries to construct, and was finally completed in 1812. The interior is marvellous, but the truly awe-inspiring experience is to walk on the roof, where you can get a close-up look at some of the spires and statues.
The entrance to the roof terrace is actually on the outside of the Cathedral, and there is the option of an elevator as well as the stairs. I think, from memory, it was around 250 steps to the level the elevator reaches, and then another 80 or so up to the actual roof. Once you’re up on the roof, you can wander about freely. On a clear day, you can see right across the city to the snow-peaked Alps.
We went old-school and took the stairs. The stairwell was tight and twisting, and at the elevator landing level, there were some walkways along the edge of the roof. It was all quite safe, with metal mesh surrounding the walkways, but the surfaces are a bit uneven, so you really don’t want to attempt it in stilettos.
I believe they’ve even held concerts on the roof.
Statue of Liberty, New York, United States of America
See the National Park Service website for all ticket booking details.
Since it was presented to the American people by the French in 1886, the Statue of Liberty has become not only an iconic sight for any visitor to New York City, but also a symbol of freedom for people throughout the world.
For a while, following 9/11, visitors were unable to climb right up to the crown. However, that is now possible again. What is tricky though, is getting the tickets to do so. There is a new reservation system, which is quite different to how it operated prior to 2001. The National Park Service website (see the link above) explains the process.
The upshot is that crown passes are quite limited, and if you don’t realise that, and don’t book your day and time tickets early enough, you won’t be able to get crown access tickets. And we didn’t – either time we’ve visited. We did get pedestal passes both times though (the pedestal is the walkway around the base of the lady herself.
Access to the pedestal is via 250 steps. There is an elevator for part of the way, but there are still short staircases involved if you take that option (we didn’t). Once on the pedestal, there is an observation walkway right around the base of the statue that allows you to take some great photos looking back to the NYC skyline, or to Staten Island, or New Jersey.
For those lucky enough to secure crown tickets, it is 354 steps from the entrance to the crown platform.
Positano, on Italy’s stunning Amalfi coast seems to defy gravity. The homes, hotels, restaurants, shops and other buildings cling to the steep slopes, stacked one above the other. The Santa Maria Assunta church that you can see in the middle of the photo above, has a flight of steep stone steps leading right up to the front door. I imagined brides with long dresses and high heels struggling a bit with that one…but perhaps the residents of Positano are bred like mountain goats and take such rugged landscapes in their stride?
On the warm September day that we visited Positano, we found the traversing of the sloped streets and inter-linking stairs to be a hot and humid experience and we were very glad to eventually descend and find a beach where we had our first ever swim in the Mediterranean Sea.
This is not a town for the vertiginous.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Bridge Climb Sydney website
Like the Statue of Liberty is to NYC, so the Harbour Bridge is to Sydney. It is an instantly recognisable iconic landmark, and together with the Opera House, one of the two most photographed features of Sydney. Traffic and trains go over it, ferrys and boats sail under it. Pedestrians walk across it. And since 1998, you’ve been able to climb it via Bridge Climb. It’s been a popular activity – over 3 million local and international visitors have chosen to do so.
When our English exchange student, Britannia was staying with us, all the school families that had English exchangees took them up to Sydney for a weekend. And one of the first things onto the weekend agenda was Bridge Climb. I have to confess that while Britannia, Queenie and The Poolboy did the climb, I did not. Someone had to remain on the ground to take the photos. See those teeny, tiny people way up near the flagpole in the photo above? That was them. At least, I think it was…I kind of lost track of them once they set off.
Anyway, all the kids and parents who did Bridge Climb, loved it. To climb you have to be over 10 years old and more than 1.2 metres in height. The standard climb takes about 3½ hours and you walk over 1.75km. There is an ‘express climb’ option, which is slightly shorter in time, but not much shorter in distance.
There’s quite an involved procedure for Bridge Climb, where safety is paramount. All the details are on the website. This is one I’ll certainly be lining up to do myself at some point.
The express climb is 1,002 steps compared to 1,332 for the regular climb.
Cape Schanck, Victoria, Australia
Visit the Parks Victoria website for all the details about Cape Schanck
The boardwalk at the stunningly beautiful Cape Schanck on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula is more of a stairmaster climb down, than a climb up. But I guess it’s all about where you start and where you finish: as what goes down…in this case to the shoreline…must eventually come back up.
There’s a heritage-listed lighthouse at Cape Schanck, which we visited first. That was just a few stairs relatively-speaking. Then we sought out the walk down to the beach. A wooden staircase and boardwalk descends to the beach and rock platform. Along the way, there are vantage points with views over the geological formations called Pulpit Rock and the Devils Desk which were created over millions of years.
Parts of the path have a gradient of 1 in 10, which makes it a rapid descent, and a long and tortuous uphill walk back to the carpark.
You would think.
However, Queenie and Brittania decided to run back up and were back at the car for ages before we joined them. Madness.
It pays to have your wits about you down on the rock platform. Occasionally, large waves wash across the rocks there.
Campanile di San Marco, Venice, Italy
The official website of the Basilica San Marco
Strictly speaking, Venice’s Campanile di San Marco, shouldn’t be included in this stairmaster workout – as since 1962, public access to the top of the 99 metre high bell-tower is via an elevator. However, the views from the top are simply stunning, so I couldn’t resist.
And besides, it comes with its own challenging features. When your hear that the original campanile collapsed suddenly on 14th July 1902, but was rebuilt exactly as it had been and reopened just ten years later, you do wonder whether they learned anything from the experience. (They did. The foundations were strengthened.)
The original tower was built in the 16th century (there had been an earlier version dating from the ninth century). In 1902, it just crumbled to the ground. The tower was simply too tall for its wooden foundations set into the mud. Fortunately when it fell, there were no fatalities other than the tower custodian’s cat.
Nowadays, the queue to ascend the Campanile builds quickly during the day in crowded Venice, however it also seems to move quite rapidly. At the top, you have spectacular views over Venice and the lagoon, which give you a fabulous map-like perspective on the city.
And, if you time your visit well (or badly, depending on your perspective) you can also catch the deafening experience of the five bells going off on the hour. (We did.)
Not really a stair climb, just a high experience.
Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas, Penang, Malaysia
See the Malaysian Government tourism website for details about Kek Lok Si
Kek Lok Si Temple complex is a large Buddhist temple complex which was established on He San (or Crane) Hill in Penang in the late 19th Century. Apparently at Chinese New Year it is spectacular, as the whole complex is decorated with thousands of lanterns.
At other times of year, the main attraction is the striking seven-storey Pagoda of Rama VI (Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas). It is said that the Pagoda contains 10,000 alabaster and bronze images of Buddha. I’ll take their word for it, as I didn’t count.
The climb to the top takes you through each of the seven stories, which are all quite different in style. The octagonal base of the pagoda is Chinese in design, while the middle layers reflect Thai architectural influences, and the crown is Burmese-inspired.
At the top, a viewing terrace offers great views over the rest of the temple complex, over Penang’s main city of Georgetown and across to the nearby 30 metre high bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.
Climbing stairs in the tropics is an extreme sport. Carry water.
Marble Mountains, Danang, Vietnam
About 6 kms outside the Vietnamese city of Danang is a cluster of ‘mountains’ known as The Marble Mountains. Over the years, these five rocky formations that are dotted with caves, have been a place of worship for Cham people, the site of Buddhist altars, and during the Vietnam War,a hideout for Viet Cong units.
The highest of these mountains is Thuy Son, which is 107 metres. Staircases lead up to the top on the southern side. There is also an elevator. Given the extreme humidity the day we visited with The Britannia Entourage, our party split into two groups. Some went on the stairs, some in the elevator. Then we proceeded to lose each other, wandered about up the top, visiting all the caves, grottos and pagodas and finally all met up.
While the humidity did appear to make the stair climb testing, the most challenging part of a visit to Marble Mountain is trying to avoid the marble showrooms and their eager salespeople. Every private car transfer or taxi seems to ‘conveniently’ drop you off right inside a marble showroom in Non Nuoc village, leaving you to make your own way to the base of the mountain.
After you’ve done the sauna-like stair climb, there are drink sellers at the top of Thuy Son.
What’s your favourite travel stairmaster experience?
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