During my recent trip to Chiang Dao, “City of Stars,” I climbed 500 stairs every morning to reach a mountaintop Temple in a remote reach of Northern Thailand.
As I loped up the wide, meandering stairs lined with motivational messages on either side, I recalled a set of stairs in another remote part of the world that were a little less…encouraging.
These stairs required more of a clamber in a hot, late-summer sun in the Sicilian city of Taormina – just off the tip of Italy’s boot. And, since the objective at the top was the Airbnb in which we were staying, there wasn’t an option but to clamber multiple times a day.
The Airbnb listing gave fair warning: The house is accessible only by 200 “march-ons” and you must have good physic form and love nature to choose it.” I was traveling with my mom throughout Italy that summer of 2017, and we are both in good shape, so we dismissed the threat of the “march-ons,” and booked the home at the top of the cliff.
When we arrived, our host Graziella greeted us at the base of the stairs with her son Alessandro, who quickly took our bags. We protested, of course, “the bags are heavy, please don’t worry, we can carry them…” but Alessandro was insistent. He would carry the bags.
Halfway up the stairs, we understood why. We were literally starting to use our hands and Alessandro was showing the strain of lugging our bags straight up a cliff with (far more than) 200 “march-ons” carved into the side.
Once we got to the top, we laughed together with our hosts to salute the accomplishment, and my mom and I turned around to take in the view.
We had another guest joining us in that clifftop home in Sicily, my best friend, Marlena.
I quickly messaged Marlena that the stairs were no joke, and that my mom and I would meet her at the bus station so that she didn’t have to haul her bag up alone. However, Marlena was already on her way and without wifi, so she didn’t receive my warning.
Ever resourceful, Marlena hopped in a cab at the bus station (missing my mom and me posted up at the station café), and soon stood at the base of the stairs looking straight up.
She started on her way, but stopped at the last dwelling before the climb got real, asking a kindly gentleman sitting on his porch if she was going the right way.
After an amusing “conversation” that involved mostly pointing, the man understood and walked to meet her on the stairs. He turned dramatically, cupped his hands around his mouth and bellowed: ALESSANDRO! ALESSANDRO!
At which point, Marlena reports that she could see the form of a young man scaling the stairs to greet her. Just as he did a day earlier, Alessandro hoisted Marlena’s bag and led her to the top.
From our lookout high above Taormina, we caught up and relaxed. There was a day that my mom didn’t leave the house and, looking back at her waving form in the window, I couldn’t help but think she resembled Rapunzel trapped in a tower. But mostly, this was a crew of travel troopers.
They even did the climb in rainy weather for a day of soggy sightseeing.
And Marlena would often make my mom’s day by climbing down the stairs and into town to buy coffee, then making the climb back up before my mom could wake up without her morning caffeine fix.
As we lounged about on our balcony, garden and terrace far above the Sicilian coastline, each of us agreed that the view, the trip and the company were worth every single step.