Sometimes, fear can get the best of you, and here in Trogir, Croatia, I must confess that it did.
Whenever I explore a new city, I like getting high above it, and despite an aversion to heights, I’ve climbed some of Europe’s most iconic church towers: Notre Dame de Paris, Germany’s Ulm Cathedral and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. On a recent spring morning, however, I couldn’t muster up the courage to conquer the bell tower of the Saint Lawrence Cathedral, Trogir’s most famous monument.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have done my research in advance. One reader had dubbed the structure the ‘tower of terror’ and many Trip Advisor reviews warned the faint of heart of the unnerving climb. So, I prepared myself for the ascent, leaving anything at our apartment that might be a candidate for rappelling down the infamous stairwell’s cavern. My rings stayed at home, and so did my purse.
When we arrived at the 12th-century church, the sole tourists there, I asked the friendly attendant, Maria, if the climb was scary.
“Just the last flight of stairs,” she said. “I have to make the climb every day to be certain no one is up there at closing time.”
A sign posted to the door of the spiraled staircase didn’t do much to ease the nerves:
“You’re climbing on the bell tower on your own responsibility.” The preposition ‘on’ offered a new set of possibilities that I didn’t really want to consider.
The first flight of stairs was standard European cathedral fare: spirally, narrow, and with worn stairs that make you ponder whose feet have pounded them for centuries. Visions of the fictional bell-ringer Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame came to mind.
When we reached the first exterior platform, we were granted glimpses of the Cipiko Palace’s Venetian Gothic windows, the main square, and the magnificent carved details of the St.Lawrence Cathedral: its rose window, railing, and the elaborate tower we had yet to climb.
Knowing that the bell tower was closing in just 25 minutes – and wanting to protect our eardrums – we swiftly continued our ascent upward, advancing to the tower’s stairwell.
Instantly, I could feel my heart pounding when I saw the stairwell’s open nature. I had a hard time banishing belltower scenes from the Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo from my mind as I climbed to the second level, past open Gothic windows more than twelve feet tall.
And fear swiftly got the best of me when I saw the final stretch – a ladder-like, metal staircase precipitously bridging the divide between the stone staircase we’d just climbed, the tower’s open cavern, and the final level above. The metal staircase’s panels were also open. Gusts of wind rushed in, and I feared I’d slip on the significant amounts of pigeon poop amassed on the stairs.
It was just on the verge of noon, and we knew we had to act quickly since we didn’t want to be meters away from the choir of bells when they made their deafening toll on the hour. I handed Shawn my camera, wishing him a safe passage and a swift return.
In order to reach the top level, Shawn had to climb two legs of the open metal staircase, dodging a pigeon that suddenly flew along his path, then hoisting himself through a small opening in the floor.
As Shawn called down to me from above, with exclamations of how gorgeous the view was, and gentle encouragements for me to join him, I looked out from the second platform onto the cluster of red rooftops, Trogir’s town square, and the little people below. I set my sights upon the last leg of the climb, wondering if I could muster up the courage to go just a bit farther, using this as an exercise to overcome my fear of heights.
I finally decided to just be content with where I was, for I had a special view all to myself.
What fears have you or haven’t you overcome? Do you find it’s easier to tackle fears when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings? (When I was in Morocco, for example, I was able to muster up the courage to put a snake charmer’s snake around my neck, but back home, I’d be hesitant to even touch one in a cage!)
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.