One of the things we will surely miss most when we come home are all of the flights of stairs we're encountering here. I've mentioned flights of stairs before with regard to some of the sight-seeing we've been doing, particularly in Paris. But Italy takes the prize for endless amounts of stairs in all the best places. Every hotel we've been to in Italy has had its entire operation located on at least the second floor, if not higher. (And in case you're not aware of the distinction, Europe doesn't number floors the way we do. Here, the second floor really means the third floor.) We're truly enjoying the free exercise we're getting - it's particularly good since we're dead tired after coming off of navigating train stations and the streets it takes to find these hotels, all the while dragging our luggage behind us. Initially, we thought that perhaps Milan was something of a fluke. Surely every hotel isn't located on the second (third) floor of a building. But Anna, intuitive thinker that she is, knew something was up in Venice. After climbing up and down countless small stairways with all of our luggage, and then needlessly climbing the Rialto Bridge twice (at least 20 small stairways combined), all she could say when we finally found our hotel and looked up at its entrance on the second floor was "I knew it. I just knew it." The devastatingly sad tone of her voice and the look of utter exhaustion was almost more than I could handle, and it was only the sight of our hostess at the top of the stairs that kept me from near hysterics.
Fortunately though, our endless stair-climbing isn't always in vain. In the Cinque Terre, after climbing a rather steep hill to check into our room, we were led back down the exact same hill to an apartment building that housed the room we'd be staying in. Squeezing through the extremely narrow door, we looked up at the steepest stairs we've ever seen. Your stepping leg has to be at nearly a 90°-angle in order to master the step properly. There were exactly forty-four such steps (Anna counted on the way back down), zig-zagging all the way up to the top of the building. Sadly, there were eight more steps we didn't take (I was ready to see if we could switch rooms), but all of that stair-climbing led to the best deal we've had yet. We ended up getting an apartment all to ourselves: a room for each of us, a living room with a kitchen table and a sofa, and a full bathroom. Not so bad climbing all of those stairs in slow season, I guess. . . Most of the time, no one bats an eye at all of the stairs (I'm assuming all of the other similar-looking buildings have the exact same set-up we've been seeing). But in the Cinque Terre (once again), your efforts are recognized and appreciated. On the hike between the second and third town (Manarola and Corniglia, for those who are interested), there is a set of stairs that takes you up a steep hill, switch-back style. You don't necessarily realize when you start that you'll be heading uphill for quite some time, so it doesn't occur to you to count the stairs until you're breathing hard, wondering how much longer you've got to go. But a pleasant surprise awaits you at the top. A large sign reads, "Congratulations, you've just climbed 382 steps. You're now in Corniglia, right in the middle of the Cinque Terre." (Yes, I took a picture of the sign; it was too good to pass up.) I wish I could say I was immediately refreshed by such recognition of my achievement, but I think the long rest at the bench placed strategically next to the sign did me more good.
Aside from all of our unexpected exercise, we're still enjoying our tour of Italy. We've now come to the first spontaneous part of our trip, though, and have tentativly decided that perhaps it's good that we planned the rest of our trip in such great detail after all. . . After arriving in Assisi on Thursday, we decided we liked it so much that we wanted to spend an extra couple of days there. We changed our Rome accomodations without difficulty and were promptly rewarded for our decision the next day with 25°F weather and strong, freezing winds that continued for an entire day and night. We also discovered (too late) that grocery stores in small towns don't exist to actually feed people; they often just take up space between religious gift shops and patisseries (pastry shops). The only open ones we made it to (posted times don't correspond to reality) had very little to offer if you need more than canned food or hunks of uncooked meat. Consequently, the only meal we could count on each day was breakfast at our hotel. Despite pangs of hunger, we did enjoy our time in Assisi. The basilica was gorgeous, and being underground in St. Francis' tomb was a moving experience. Needless to say, we're glad to be in Rome now, with all its big-city convenience. The train station in Rome apparently has a huge underground mall, full of all the shops you could need, so since we're staying in a place right next to it, I don't think we'll be having the same sorts of difficulties as in Assisi. And now, as if we haven't gotten enough of stairs, we're going to head over to the Spanish Steps. . .We'll make sure to count them all for you and report back in the next post.