When visiting a new city, one of the first things I like to do is climb up to a vantage point that helps me get my bearings on the streets below. In Europe, one of the best places to go is to the top of the bell tower in a cathedral, which are often centrally located and open to the public.
On our first full day in Freiburg, Germany, where my sister and her husband live, we took the 209 spiral stairs to the top of the Minster Cathedral. This mixed Romanesque and Gothic Cathedral, started around 1200 and finished in 1330, is one of the oldest surviving churches in Europe. It was purposely spared the bombing raids of World War II, which leveled large sections of Freiburg.
From the Minster’s bell tower, we had a great view of the city. Freiburg has an extensive no-cars-allowed pedestrian zone in the center. The clear, cold Dreisam River runs through the middle of town and sparkling canals divert water from the main river throughout the city. To the east lies the Black Forest, to the south, Switzerland and to the west, France.
Europe isn’t the only place to climb bell towers for a view. When I was in Ecuador, I scaled the Basilica in Quito. The Basilica is a full size replica of Paris’ Notre Dame, rendered entirely in concrete. The climb to the top was harrowing, involving rickety ladders and narrow planks over sheer drops, but the view was worth it: