I don't want to do it. I don't want to do it and no-one can make me. I'm tired and it's cold and it's wet and my feet are cold and wet and I don't want to climb 290 steps to the top of a tower to look out over Florence. I can see it from down here perfectly fine! Of course, no-one listens to me and I'm dragged, shopping bags and all, to buy tickets and stow away breakables and start the long, steep climb to the top. The long, long, steep, steep climb. 290 steps passes slowly and in complete perpetuity, with each windy turn revealing another set of stairs to be climbed. Are we there yet? Is it the top yet? Can we go down yet? I don't want to do it. I'm on the verge of grumbling and moaning, but out of respect for a) my friends and b) Florence I keep quiet. We hit the halfway mark and we all start to collectively hyperventilate and wheeze. My ears start to pop and the air turns even more chilly. It's pretty cold up here. I start to wonder how on earth anyone did this in 19th century hoop skirts a la A Room With A View. I then start to wonder how anyone ever did this daily a la the 15th century. I start to wonder what in the world up this tower could possibly make this ordeal worthwhile.
And then we burst out the door, breathless and red-cheeked and bright eyed and all I could see were red roofs and green hills and blue skies and, quite unrelated to the 290 steps and the steep climb and the cold air my breath was taken completely away. It's been said before (by those much more eloquent than me) but climbing that high to see that much makes me realise that this is what God must feel like, this is a glimpse of the world through God's eyes. No wonder they built their towers so tall, no wonder they vaulted their Cathedrals to the sky, no wonder people braved that climb, still brave that climb, will brave that climb. How beautiful the world is - how beautiful Florence is! - laid out before you like the corners of a map, lit up by the pale afternoon light, made even more lovely by crisp air and cool breezes. When we got up there we were joined by others who had undertaken the 290 steps - tour groups, couples, singles - but soon enough everyone clambered back down into the staircase and we were left alone at the top. The guard playing with his cellphone paid us very little attention as we smiled and smiled and caught our breath. He must get bored of that view, we thought. I don't think I ever could.