12 April 03 - Valletta
Valletta - 12 April 2003
A short trip indeed, but still enough material for a trip report!
I arrived in Valletta, the capital, on Thursday morning at 4:45 AM after taking the 3 1/2 hour flight from London. Although I slept pretty much the whole way, it wasn't enough. When I arrived at the airport, I went through customs (they thought I forgot my luggage, but I told them that all I had was the small red backpack on my back) and found an ATM from which I withdrew LM 90. (I Maltese Lira is approximately $2.50.)
I found a place for some food while waiting for the first bus of the morning to arrive and started (!) to plan my vacation. I decided to immediately go to the small island of Gozo, a beach hangout about two and a half hours by bus-ferry-bus from Valletta.
I got there and went to see Ggantija temple. Malta's neolithic temples are the oldest known man-made structures in the world. This one was a megalithic temple build in around 3600 BCE. It was not in a very good state (but I wouldn't be either after 5600 years!), but it was impressive to feel the history there.
Then I went to Calypso's cave, where Odyseyus was spellbound for years by the sirens' call. Heeding that cautionary example, I stayed about 90 minutes. The nearby burnt-orange beaches made a stunning contrast to the azure Mediterranean. I then walked on to the resort town of Marsalforn and found a cheap guesthouse for LM 6 per night. I was determined to stay up late, but had some ravioli and a beer and fell asleep early.
Waking up the next morning at 7am, I went on a big walking tour around Gozo. I visited a lighthouse, a huge basilica (the heavily Roman Catholic Maltese islands have more than one church per square kilometer!), several towns and an enchanting wave cut rock formation called the Azure Window. I stopped for lunch of a nice home made pizza and some fine Maltese wine and lazily continued to Gozo's capital, Rabat, where I visited a huge citadel used to defend against Ottoman invasions in the 1500's. That night, I was lulled to sleep (?) by the Good Friday drinking & revelry that went on until four in the morning.
The next day, I returned to Malta, the main island. Back in Valletta, I found a cheap dive for LM 5 and met Collin, an American from New Orleans now Washington DC, who wound up being my traveling companion for most of the rest of the trip. Collin and I swapped stories over dinner, trying the local specialty: fenkata, or stewed rabbit. (It was Easter, after all!) I went to a few museums and wandered around the fort-city of Valletta. It's beautiful here, with all the history of the Knights of St. John, who were given Malta as a present for defeating the Turks.
On Sunday, I went to the wonderful neolithic temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, which were huge monolithic structures where early religious rites and sacrifices took place. The main temple is a big attraction for New Agers and hippies, because it's aligned with the sun on the mornings on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Then I went to an old fort town Mdina and ran into Collin again! We walked through the narrow streets and decided to go for a drink. The place we wandered into turned out to be the local Socialist Workers Union Hall. They looked at us a bit funny when we walked in, but as soon as we had beers in our hands, we seemed to blend right in! Later that night, we returned to Valletta in time to see a procession with a marching band fronted by eight strong young men carring a statue of Jesus that must have weighed hundreds of pounds.
Today, I visited St. John's Co-Cathedral, built by the knights and subsequently incredibly sumptuously decorated. I took a little side trip to Victorioso, a nearby fort town that hold an enormous dry dock facility and soaked up some of the warm Mediterranean sun. A lovely end to a wonderful vacation.