I woke up early in Antibes, France. Really early. 4:30am. Because I had a flight to Malta leaving at 7am! Got my things together, gave Molly the ferret a kiss goodbye, and headed out the door to my Uber. Now, Uber is not my first choice. In fact, I had already purchased the return bus ticket to the airport. But I didn’t realize when I did that that it doesn’t start running until 6:30. The train starts up at 5:10, but there’s a long walk to the airport from the train terminal, and I really had no interest in trying to navigate that with my pack in the dark. So Uber it was. And Uber at a 2.4x rate, at that. Kill me now. We will never discuss what that fucking Uber cost me, but let’s just say that it was as much as my flight to Malta…I’m not kidding.
Got to the airport and breezed through security, and got to my Easy Jet gate. Had an entire exit row to myself, so I could lay down and try to sleep on the 2 hour flight. Apparently there aren’t a lot of people in Nice terribly excited about flying to Catania, Sicily at 7am on a Monday morning…
Landed in Catania, and settled in for the long haul. A 7, yes 7 hour layover. I considered leaving the airport and exploring the city, but by the time I would have had to deal with finding a place to store my luggage (no way I was carrying it around with me), get to the city, figure out what to do, get back, get my luggage, get through security…I decided it just wasn’t worth it. So I got a piece of pizza (when in Italy!), sat on the floor, and tried to entertain myself on my phone for 7….long….hours….
Finally, it was time to board Ryan Air to Malta! And if Malta in and of itself wasn’t exciting enough…BRIAN WAS IN THE AIR ON HIS WAY TO BARCELONA TO CONNECT TO A FLIGHT TO MALTA AND MEET ME THERE!!!! YAY!!! #internationallove We have both decided that 5 weeks is a ridiculous amount of time not to see each other, and from now on, he’s going to come and visit me every 3 weeks on my long trips instead of just one time in the middle. 🙂 He wuvs me. 😍 Short hour long flight and landed.
Again, didn’t feel like dealing with a damn bus, especially when I wasn’t even sure exactly which bus stop was closest to the airbnb, so paid a cab 27 euro. At least I didn’t have to negotiate- you go to the little taxi desk, tell them the destination, and they tell you how much and assign you a cab. Nice. But seriously, I should have been given a 50 euro refund… The guy had no clue where we were going. None. He weaved in and out of narrow winding streets for what seemed like forever. After I realized he was lost, I asked him if he wanted to call my AirBNB host. Nope. Ok…so we drove around some more. I was texting the host, asking him questions about cross streets or landmarks or anything. The driver had no clue what any of them were. Finally, I convinced him to call the host. He did. Wow! I didn’t realize Maltese was such an aggressive sounding language! Interesting! We drove and drove some more. The cab driver rolled down his window and asked some other driver something in Maltese. We made U turns. We turned into dead ends and had to back up. I was getting urpy in the backseat and if this Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from hell didn’t end soon, the driver was going to be lost AND have a mess to deal with (the sign that said 50 euro cleaning fee was really the only thing keeping me from puking)…I finally convinced him to call the host again. After they hung up, the driver said the host was coming to get us. Jesus! What crazy off the beaten path, remote, rural place had I booked? Oh, just one on a freaking busy main street of a bay… The host was PISSED at the driver (Maltese apparently isn’t an aggressive language unless one of the parties is calling the other stupid…). The driver was PISSED. I was just happy to be out of that damn cab! The host showed me to the private apartment Brian and I would be calling home for the next few days. It was perfect, and the view of St. Paul’s Bay from the balcony was spectacular!
So I got in about 5 hours before Brian. After that crazy ass cab ride, I figured Brian would need moral and navigational support getting here, so I decided to meet him at the airport. Plus, I just wanted to see him sooner! ☺ No way in hell did I want to take another cab back to the airport- both for my sanity’s sake and my pocketbook’s. So I looked up the bus schedule online, and saw that the direct X1 bus would leave from just on the other side of the bay (super short walk) and take about an hour to get to the airport- arriving at the exact time Brian would. 3 euros. ❤ing it!! Headed down there with a bit of time to spare. Walked into the convenience store just to see if they by chance had Dr. Pepper. SCORE!!
I stood by the bus stop, sipping my Dr. Pepper like the boss lady traveler I am, counting down the minutes until my man arrived! Saw the X1 bus coming, pulled my 3 euros out of my pocket where they had been stashed separately for efficiency, walked up to the curb….and watched the driver literally look me straight in the eye and keep going. MOTHER FUCKER!!!!!!! Now what?! I looked at my phone. It was almost 8:40. Brian lands at 9:40, except I knew he was a little late leaving Barcelona. There were no other buses that would get me there before 10:30 though, and I had to make a connection (which is not something I was interested in doing in the dark when I had no clue where I was). So here we fucking go, cab #3 of the day. I came back to the house and called the cab guy the owner had recommended in his welcome guide. That guy said he couldn’t do it. FUCK! So I jumped online and searched for an alternative. There is no uber in Malta. Found something called Ecabs that I could book online. Rate was 24 euros and they said they’d be here in 10 minutes….we’d see… Sure enough, I got a text that they were arriving, went downstairs, and there was the guy! Super nice car, and as a bonus, he actually knew how to find his way to the airport on his first try!! Highly recommended.
Got to the airport, and Brian was only delayed by like 15 minutes. I started looking around for the car rental people. They were recommended by the airbnb host (I read about 9 quadzillon horror stories about rental cars in Malta and wanted to make sure I didn’t get screwed!). Percius Car Hire was going to meet us there at the airport with a sign to turn over our car (169 euros for 4 days, including airport drop off fees and full insurance). But they weren’t there… We walked back through the “welcome line” at the arrival gate a couple of times. Then went outside to look. Came back and walked the line one more time and found the lady. She was super nice and it was really easy to deal with the paperwork. Had our keys in no time and were rolling out of the parking lot into the Maltese night….
Let me tell you something about my boyfriend, Brian. This man can drive on the left side of the road like he’s been doing it all his life. Actually, since I’ve been gone he got his DNA test back and found out he’s 73% English, so that probably explains it. The first time he did it, we were in Borneo. No problem. 2nd time, South Africa. No problem. Now I figured it was time for a challenge, so I booked a manual!! #cheapass So he’s coming off about 17 hours of traveling, driving in the dark (which we never do), and shifting with his left hand. Like. A. Champ. Damn, I love that man! With me navigating, we actually managed to find the airbnb again. Good thing, because we had a brand new country to explore tomorrow!!
Ok. So normally we are super prepared and have our trips planned out really well. This trip, I had 10 countries and 2.5 months to plan for- the vast majority of that solo, so the time that we had together kind of went on the back burner…I had to make sure all of my solo stuff was taken care of (it still isn’t, Switzerland, I’m looking at you). When I arrived yesterday, I did some quick research, pulled info from some of the links we had thrown into Malta tab on the massive Europe spreadsheet (that spreadsheet that normally lists each day’s detailed itinerary….) and started plotting out stuff on Google maps. After we woke up, I confirmed the stuff with Brian, we agreed that what we had was good, and we set out!
My cold that I had picked up in Ireland, that had gotten a bit better while I was in France, was now in full “kill me now” mode again. I blame yesterday’s travel day. Two flights with a serious sinus infection can’t be healthy…Poor Brian. He hadn’t seen me in a month and a half, and here I was, a whiny, snotty, coughing mess. 😷 Fun fact: My whine factor goes from yellow to red as soon as someone sympathetic is around…
First stop on our map, the Dingli Cliffs. We kind of wandered around a bit lost at first, trying to figure out “the” spot to see them. I guess there’s more than one, so we decided to pull into a little parking lot by a small church and walk around. Very nice views, and we could see the little island of Filfa. The church is Saint Mary Magdalen, and was built in the 1600s. If you look at the doors, you’ll see those two little black circles. Those are grids, and you can see inside through them. Except that there’s no light, so you can’t really see. Someone had smashed a bigger hole in one of the grids- literally just big enough for the camera lenses to go against. I snapped this picture and couldn’t BELIEVE that it came out!! I could barely see any of that stuff with my bare eye!! Oooo-weeeee-oooo!! In the parking lot was a woman selling a bunch of little snacks and things. We got some traditional carab nougat and this crunchy, nutty beehive nougat that I fell in love with! Can’t have a road trip without snacks!
Next stop, the Malta Falconry Centre. Falconry is an ancient art of Malta. In fact, the knights that settled here actually paid the king of Spain one falcon a year for use of the island! The Centre gives flying demonstrations at 11am during the summer (only 1, because it’s too hot to fly the birds very often), so we made sure we got there at 10:30. It was 8 euros each, and we had time to wander around and look at the birds before the demonstration. WOW! So many different kinds! The property was really well laid out with large aviaries. The thing I found really interesting were the tethered birds. The area was called a mew- a place where falcons used to be housed by nobles who could afford them. There were ropes going from inside the mew to a perch outside on the grass. The birds were tethered to the rope, and could fly back and forth between shade and sun.
It was now 11 and we walked over to the field. There we met the lady that owns the place, and you could immediately see her love and passion for the birds! First, we met Harry the barn owl. She’s had him for 10 years, and he goes home with her every night! He would snuggle up against her and she would pet and kiss him….so cute. We even got to hold him! Then we met Dexter and Beauty- Harris Hawks. We got to see just how fast these guys are at chasing rabbits, as one of the workers ran with a rabbit lure and the bird was on it in no time. They always trade a little piece of food for the lure, instead of just taking the lure away. It builds trust. Then, we got to meet more owls- one with the biggest glass marble eyes and softest feathers you’ve ever seen!!!!! You could get lost in those eyes!! And the other, one of the smallest owl species in the world. This really was a cool experience, the animals were well taken care of, and the owner is just so passionate about them!
After making Brian turn all of his pockets inside out to check for birds, we headed to the next stop. Literally, we were on streets so narrow that we had to fold in the mirrors on our tiny rental car, and seriously thought we were on someone’s driveway instead of a street!! I don’t know what the heck you would do if a car was coming the other way. Thankfully, we didn’t have to find out! Here are a few things you need to know about Malta:
1. There are rocks EVERYWHERE. Random walls made of stacked rocks, the buildings are made of rocks. Seriously, it’s 50 shades of beige around here!! The joke was: Hi Malta, what do you do for a living? I stack rocks! What do you do for fun? Stack rocks! How do you unwind and relax? Stack rocks! We were pretty convinced that the island used to be about 10 feet higher above sea level until all of the rocks were extracted and stacked!
2. When you see rocks- in walls or making up buildings, you honestly have no idea if they are 50 years old or 5000 years old! Everything just has this “ancient” look and feel to it!
3. Every road in Malta leads to exactly where you want to go. Miss a turn? No problem! The road you’re on will eventually wind its way back in the right direction! Plus, I don’t think we ever took the same route to/from the airbnb to go anywhere!! We decided that the roads were laid out using a few bags of cooked spaghetti and a can of spaghetti-o’s. They flopped it out on to a surface, and the spaghetti created the roads and the o’s the roundabouts! Actually, it’s a really good system! 🙂
Yes, this is a road.
Next stop, ancient temples!! There were two on our list that were right next to each other in the same complex- Hagar Qim and Mnajdra. First, you watched a 4-d movie. I hate that shit. I don’t want a headache from 3-d images, and I don’t need to be sprinkled on when it’s raining on screen. It was just music, with English subtitles. Not too shabby overall. The museum was REALLY well done. It showed how they most likely moved the huge stone slabs- some of which weigh over 50 TONS!!!- by using rounded spheres to pull them along on. There were models showing the temple complexes as a whole so you could get a better idea of them. And a very iconic figure of a rather “rotund” person that was found here, and copies of which are in every souvenir shop in Malta! Actually, most of the statuary found here is of those fat little figures. Kinda cool! I’m assuming those weren’t the people doing the heavy lifting of building the temples…
Before we go outside to look at the temples, let’s learn a bit about them! These are among the oldest free standing stone buildings IN THE WORLD, and are the oldest buildings period in Europe! Egyptian pyramids?? Newbies!! The Maltese temples date back over…wait for it…wait for it…5500 years ago!!!! Crazy!! They used to just be seen as a few random huge stones sticking up out of the ground. Those turned out to be the tops of the largest stones, and when the site was excavated, the temples were found. These people left no written records, we know little about them. They disappeared around 2500BC…
The first complex we came to was Hagar Qim. Both sites are covered with tents to protect them from the elements. The outside of the temples are built with a type of limestone that is very strong and resistant to the elements, but the inside is a softer limestone that is easily carved, but also easily eroded over time. Imagining these people moving these rocks, positioning them, carving them, carving HOLES into them for doors and designs…it was mind boggling.
After Hagar Qim, it was a long downhill walk to Mnajdra. Another thing you should know about Malta- there is basically no shade anywhere. There are very few trees. It’s kinda desert/scrubby. Again, the temples here were just amazing. There were places where they had tried to fix cracks with cement, before they realized that cement ate away the limestone. 🙁 Live and learn, I guess… On the way back, we opted for the 1 euro each golf cart ride up the hill. Ancient man can build temples with his bare hands. We can’t walk 500 meters uphill in the sun. 🙄
As we were making 100 turns down roads and following signs on our way to the temples, I kept seeing a sign for Blue Grotto. It wasn’t on our list, we didn’t remember seeing it in our research, so I mapped it, it was really close by (spoiler alert: Malta is small. EVERYTHING is close by!), so we decided to pop in and check it out. There was a boat ramp down to kind of an inlet in the rocks were colorful boats were docked, people were swimming- it was just beautiful! And, there were signs for boat rides. Brian went down and checked it out (I was not willing to pay more than 20 euros for a boat ride). Verdict? 8 euros!! Woo-hoo!! But first, food. We choose a little restaurant overlooking the water. And we had a little entertainment with our dining!! Watch until the end!
After lunch, we walked down for our 25 minute boat ride. I wasn’t expecting too much. Um, I was WRONG! Holy crap this was the best boat ride ever!! We glided through calm, amazingly blue waters of every shade, against sheer rock cliffs that were dotted with gorgeous sea caves- some of them big enough for us to go into. I was snapping pictures left and right, my battery died, so I had to use my phone. I was MES-MER-IZED!! These pics in no way do this place justice! I loved every second of this and would totally have paid 20 euros! What a fun, and unexpected twist to the day. This is why you’ve got to be open to go with the flow and not a slave to a schedule!!
Last scheduled stop for the day was the old capital of Malta, Mdina (pronounced em (like the letter M)-deena). It was founded in the 8th century….BCE!!! Holy crap! About 2800 years ago!! By the Phoenicians. Insanity… The Romans took it over around 200 BCE, then some Byzantines, then some Muslims…basically everyone had a go at it! An earthquake pretty much destroyed it in the late 1600s, but true to its nature, it was rebuilt yet again in the 1700s. It’s gorgeous. I mean freaking knock your socks off, in a time machine back a thousand years or more, gorgeous. It was our favorite city in Malta.
We went into St. Paul’s Cathedral next. Again, a huge history with this place. It was the site of the Roman governor’s palace when Paul (yeah, that one from the New Testament) shipwrecked here. Apparently he healed a lot of people, and Malta converted to Christianity. A cathedral was built here in the 1200s, remodeled and modified throughout the centuries, and basically destroyed in that earthquake in the late 1600s. It was rebuilt in the early 1700s into the masterpiece it is today. From the outside, it’s just this huge, unassuming tan rock building. But inside….almost enough to make a heathen convert! 😋
A ticket to the church also bought you a ticket into the museum. Lots of ornate, gaudy, expensive ass church crap that should have been used to feed the poor….but I digress. There were a few cool things as well. Like this reliquary for some saint’s creepy skull. And some original documents like this one from back in 1420 (I can’t keep track of a to do list for more than an hour, and someone kept this for 600 years?!). And an awesome collection of ancient coins!! I found one a Greek one with an octopus that about 2400 years old!!!!! Honestly, I originally didn’t want to go into the museum. I just went because it was included in the price. But after I got past all of the church’s gross display of wealth, there was really some pretty fascinating history there!
We then walked to the last thing I wanted to see- St. Paul’s Catacombs. Got there at 4:25. Last entry was at 4:30- WHEW!! But the woman refused to let us in. We pointed out the sign. She informed us that we needed 2 hours. Ok…. I was kinda disappointed, but we stopped for ice cream so I forgot about it (lie- I held a grudge, but we won’t get into that). Drove back to the bnb and both decided we were thoroughly enjoying Malta!
Last night when we got back, we started piecing together today’s adventures. We knew we wanted to go to the capital, Valleta, and had a walking tour booked there for 5. We also wanted to go to the Hypogeum. Other than that, no plans. Brian found a place called the Ghar Dalam cave that had the remains of prehistoric animals in it. That sounded super cool, so we added it to the list, and decided to head down there first. Pulled into the parking lot and walked down to the little museum. 5 euros each to get in. Honestly, I had zero idea what to expect here (one of the joys of not really putting any research into something!). We went into a little museum. Now, I’ve been in all kinds of museums- super huge ones, like the Louvre, super fancy video based ones like Epic in Dublin. But this is really MY kind of museum!! It’s literally the type of museum I remember from when I was a kid, circa 1979. Simple presentation, highly informative in a few words- think a couple of steps up from a science fair type of presentation! I’m teaching Earth Science next semester, and this museum was literally a WEALTH of information!! That 5 euro investment will be returned 1000 fold… I took pictures of every single sign! Let me just give you the basics, because even just the basics are fascinating! So during the last Ice Age, all kinds of weird animals lived in Europe that don’t now. Many of those animals were forced further and further south by the advancing glaciation (cold temps). Because so much water was freezing, sea levels dropped, creating a land bridge between mainland Italy, Sicily, and Malta. Animals could then get from the mainland to Malta, where there was no ice age because it was too far south.
Now here’s where it gets crazy….what kinds of animals?? Oh, how about ELEPHANTS AND HIPPOS!! 🐘😲 Eventually, water levels rose again, trapping the animals on the island. And as we should know from places such as Australia and the Galapagos, evolution gets a little cray-cray when populations are isolated. And in this case, something happened that I had never heard about before. Nanism. It’s basically evolutionary dwarfism in response to a population having limited resources (an island as small as Malta couldn’t possibly sustain huge grazing animals like elephants for very long- so if you’re smaller, you need less food = better chance of survival), a lack of predators (you don’t need to be as big if nothing is really bothering you), and interbreeding (because no new animals are entering the gene pool, making mutations more abundant- survival of the fittest in action!!). Check out these size comparisons!!! It totally blew my mind!! I will admit, I was totally science/history teacher GEEKING OUT in this place. I can’t imagine anyone who has ever come here was ever that engrossed!! 🤓
The other half of the museum was an exhibit of about a gazillion fossils that have been extracted from the cave. Amazing!! Just look at all those hippo teeth! And there were even more display cases with them!
Now it was time to head into the cave. This is where I took off my biology teacher hat and put on my earth science one! The cave is an excellent example of the deposits of different sedimentary layers (stratification). There are 6 main layers in the cave. By calculating the age of the fossils found in each layer, we can calculate the age of the layers themselves. For example, there is one layer that has all of the hippo bones (called the hippopotamus layer). It’s the 2nd deepest layer. Below it is a clay layer where no fossils are found. Above the hippo layer is a layer of pebbles. Then the deer layer (where, shockingly enough, lots of ancient deer fossils are found!). Then a layer of calcium. And finally, on top, a layer where the remains of domestic animals and humans (bones and pottery) are found. FASCINATING!! This cave is really worth the trip if you are into this kind of thing. It was one of my favorite things in Malta (this and Blue Grotto from yesterday- the two completely unexpected, unplanned things- go figure!)
Next stop on the list, Hypogeum. We didn’t really know what it was, other than underground temples that were on UNESCO. The map took us into a city….huh? Temples in a city?? It literally showed them just on some city block. We saw the building with the sign on it. SO WEIRD! We drove around for a bit trying to find a spot to park, and finally did. Walked to the building, and….there was a sign….it said that all tickets were booked until August 29. Um, that’s like a month and a half way. And the entrance fee was 40 FUCKING EUROS EACH (that’s like $50)?? What the hell was down there? Jesus’ tomb, the aliens from area 51, and an amusement park??? Even if we could have gone in, I can’t imagine paying that kind of money. Apparently you have to book way in advance. Oh well, adios Hypogeum. I’ll google you. Cheaper.
Last stop, the capital city of Valleta. But it was going to be a long stop with- the rest of the day. We knew we wanted to be there for the firing of the cannons at noon, so we pulled in about 11:30 and parked outside the city gates. Made our way up to the rampart, and found a spot on the high wall, crammed in with a ton of people who all had the same idea! The view was AMAZING! Across the grand harbor, you could see the “Three Cities”…Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua- all medieval. At noon, a person came out and loaded the canon. So glad we saw it!
Next on our list were the war tunnels. Malta was an extremely integral part of WW2, because of their position in the Mediterranean next to Italy. And they were under British rule at the time. Spoiler alert: Italy was the enemy of Britain. We bought our ticket, and then realized we bought a ticket to the Lascaris War Rooms– not the tunnel. But by the time we realized it we had already climbed down a billion stairs and were not interested in climbing back up in the heat, so we decided to stay. Here’s where I have to say this fact- on a tour, the guide is EVERYTHING. Our guide, bless his heart, you could tell was knowledgeable about the place. But his delivery…oh my god. So monotone. And the tour didn’t “move” enough. We would spend literally 15 minutes in one room with a monotone lecture, then move to the next. It was not enjoyable. Brian was literally falling asleep. Like to the point I was nudging him because I thought he was going to fall over. (Remember, I make the poor guy hit the ground running- no time for jet lag!!) It’s really a shame, because the rooms themselves were quite interesting! They were kept hidden and secret so they wouldn’t be bombed- because did you know Malta was the most bombed place on EARTH during WW2??!! 💣😱 DAMN!! From these rooms, information would come in about bombers flying in, their positions would be tracked, and defensive measures would be ordered. It was all so low tech. I mean, my phone in my pocket is 1000 times more advanced than what they were using to fight an entire war! Craziness! Just how important was Malta? Well, Eisenhower and Churchill themselves were here…
Do you see the smile on this guy? Who could possibly resist that?? <3
Where Eisenhower would sit.
After the fourteen hour one hour tour was over (I wish we had just opted for the audio guide), we headed out on the streets. We had found a little Maltese restaurant online that had good reviews, so we went and made reservations for 7:30- right after our walking tour would end. The streets were all decorated for the patron saint’s day that was being celebrated. Had we been here for the weekend, we would have been able to see parades and fireworks!! And not just in Valleta. Every city in Malta has their own patron saint and this is festival week!
Then, we headed to the next stop on our list- the palace armory. This was more for Brian, because I know how much he loves weapons (such a boy!). You had to buy a combination ticket for the armory AND the palace, and I really didn’t want to go into the palace. But there was no choice. ☹ I went begrudgingly. They were out of audio guides (sigh). We’re walking through and it’s ok. I kept telling Brian how this was no Versailles (if you knew me, you would know the snotty attitude tone that came with that statement!), and how Louis XIV wouldn’t even keep his horses in here (sorry if you’re a fan of the Malta palace, but it really isn’t a palace!!!). Once you’ve seen Versailles, it’s hard to get impressed… Anyway, we get to kind of the end and there’s this big red room. It’s really dark inside, but I see a painting that catches my eye. I told Brian, “That looks like Louis XVI!” For those of you who don’t teach French history, are not staunch French royalists, and cannot recognize Henry IV, Louis XIV, and Louis XVI (my 3 favorite kings) in any setting, let me explain who Louis XVI is- he’s the last real king of France…the one who lost his head… In my eyes, that’s when French history ends (well, actually when that stanky Robespierre dies, but this is Malta, not France, so I’ll shut up). Anywho, I use the camera to zoom in on the sign under it. I can read the word Roi (French for King). I zoomed up to the face, and it WAS Louis XVI!!! WOW!! One of my kings!! Then, I looked at the painting next to it. It was really dark and really hard to see, but damn if it didn’t look like Louis XIV (my sun king who built Versailles). I zoomed in, and it WAS him!! Oh my god! I was so excited!! You don’t understand how ridiculous I get about my kings!! Had I not come in here, I would have missed them! And it was so funny that I had just been talking about them…
Of course, now I’m on cloud nine, practically skipping to the armory with Brian in tow, blathering on about the kings. Again, the armory is his thing, so I turned the camera over to him. 😊
Think we’ve done everything in Valleta? Not by a long shot! We still had time before our walking tour, so we went to the St. John’s Co-Cathedral. Here, we were especially interested in seeing the Caravaggio paintings. Cuz we’re upper crust art lovers like that. Um, yeah, not really, but we did want to see the paintings. Like everything in Malta, from the outside, the cathedral was a bunch of tan stacks of rock blocks. Nothing really stood out. But inside- YOWZA!!!!!!! It looked like the freaking Baroque period- ALL of it- exploded and landed all over the floors, walls, and ceilings!!!!! It was built in the 1570s. No way are any of these pics even coming close to capturing this place… See those 8 arched rooms- 4 on each side? Those are chapels that represent each of the 8 leagues of Knights from the Order of St. John (we’ll learn about them later). Each league basically represented a major European country/region, and each chapel is dedicated to the patron saint of that league. The entire floor of this chapel consists of the decorated tombs of knights of the order. Just….WOW. Do NOT miss this place! I, of course, found the French chapels of the most interest. 🙂
Caravaggio’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist. Huge and GORGEOUS
It was now time for our free walking tour of Valleta! Which means history lesson time! We could tell immediately that the guide was going to be good- and he was! I didn’t take a lot of pictures, because we had already seen most of the things he showed us. Which was good, because I then I could focus on the history part! So here we go- 500 years of Malta in a few sentences…. So there was this order of knights called the Knights of St. John aka the Hospitallers. They were made up, as I mentioned earlier, of knights from all over Europe- 8 leagues specifically. Their job was to take care of pilgrims who went to the holy city of Jerusalem during the Crusades. Which was great while the Christians could go there. But when the Ottomans put up “No Jesus Freaks” signs all over Jerusalem, the knights had to pack up and head elsewhere. But where? Well, a few places. And it seemed like no where was a good permanent fit, because everywhere they ended up, the Ottomans (aka Muslims) would run them out. Finally, Charles V of Spain, who was the Holy Roman Emperor (and who I have great issues with because #france, but I digress….), gave the knights Malta. Well actually, as per Brian’s research and confirmed by our guide, they rented Malta from the king for the price of one falcon per year. So they get to Malta and were like, “Um, yeah. If real estate is location, location, location, we’re kinda screwed. This place is desolate, isn’t defensible unless we want to throw rocks, and we already constantly have Muslims trying to overtake us. They’ll be here in no time. It’s a nice place to visit, but we don’t want to live here.” Except they really had no other choice, so they just kind of hung out for a few years, biding their time until a better situation came along. Well, something came along, and it wasn’t a better situation. It was that pesky Ottoman Empire!! The Muslims were determined to get themselves into Europe to put up their “No Jesus Freaks” signs. And Malta would be an excellent base from which to invade mainland Europe. Thus began the Great Siege of Malta in the year 1565. I’m not going to go into the details- just the nitty gritty. Those knights, who had been run out of a few other places by these Ottomans already, were OVER. IT. The knights, and their army, with the people of Malta, numbered about 6,000. They ended up kicking ass and taking about 40,000 Muslim names!! Holy jihad, Batman!
After the practically miraculous job the knights did at defeating the Ottomans, Europe was damn impressed. They didn’t want those Muslims coming to the mainland! And the knights seemed to know how to stop them. Money started pouring in from all over Europe to help with the defenses of Malta- the first line against those pesky Ottomans! And with this money, the city of Valleta was built and fortified in 1566 (aka “stacking rocks”). Over the next couple of decades, it grew and grew and more people moved there. And the knights ruled Malta for over 250 years, until that sorry ass stink weasel Napoleon (ugh, I hate even having to type his nasty name), stomped on over with his tiny boots in 1798, and forced the knights to surrender. The Maltese people, much like me, freaking HATED Napoleon, so they invited Britain over to help them out. In typical British fashion, “help” meant “we’ll take your country when we’re done, thank you very much”, and Malta was under British rule until 1964, when it became independent.
After the tour, which we tipped quite nicely for because it was just that awesome, it was dinner time. Thank god, because we were famished. Went back to our restaurant, La Pira, and ordered an appetizer of some kind of bread covered in something that was DAMN TASTY. I ordered the stewed rabbit and Brian ordered the wild boar ravioli. Both were soooooo good!!
There’s that smile again #swoon
After dinner, we strolled through the city, hand in hand, down narrow cobblestone streets as night fell. It was just so lovely. The opera house that had been bombed into ruins during WW2, has been recently brought back to life. The ruins are still there, and now it’s more of an open air theater. I think it’s really cool! They were rehearsing for an upcoming show, so I took a peek. On the way out, the awesome merman fountain was all lit up. Perfect ending to such a lovely day!
Last full day in Malta! How can you be anything other than thrilled with the new day when you wake up to this view off your balcony??
Today we decided to go to Gozo Island and explore. We also wanted to be back by 6 so we’d have some time to do laundry and chill out a bit. You have to take a ferry over (20 euros round trip, payable upon return). We drove over to the dock and got in line. These ferries are really big! There are multiple levels for cars, which is cool. We parked and walked out to the decks to see the view. This water… I swear… It is SO clear! Even right here at a boat dock! Saw a school of fish, which always makes me happy.
Crossing paths with one of the other ferries. We’re on the same kind of ferry.
Entering the harbor at Gozo Island.
It was about a 30 minute trip across the channel. We had planned kind of a counter clockwise drive around the island to check out a few things, and planned to end the day with some swimming. First stop was Blue Hole. On the way, we drove thru the town of Victoria, which was all decorated for its feast day. Best decorations we’ve seen so far! Then, I saw signs for the Ta’ Dbiegi Crafts Village. We decided to follow them, and luckily it ended up being right on our route to Blue Hole. You never know what “crafts village” could mean. Normally, it’s “junky Chinese souvenir village”- which is something that makes me hurl. 😖 As soon as we pulled up though, I could tell it wasn’t that! Don’t get me wrong, there were a few hokey kinds of things. But the draw here was that there were several REAL studios, with craftspeople working their trade. Jewelry, leatherwork, weaving, candle making….and then the one that really caught our eye. Glass blowing. We went into the shop, and there were really some GORGEOUS pieces. We are not knick knack people (I called them “dust collectors”). And we only do souvenirs if we are “supporting local”, and they have some meaning for us. We don’t do junk. This stuff, was cool. And the best part? The studio was attached to the shop and you could watch them working!! Of course, I found a glass fish and immediately fell in love. Went into the studio, and they were making fish!! But the sign said no pictures. 😢 We went in and bought a fish for our “cabinet of travel curiosities” in our dining room, and I tentatively asked if I could take pictures. I mean, I had bought something- I wasn’t just an annoying looky-loo! The lady said yes, so I went out and told the man making fish that I had permission. Wow. So cool!!
As we pulled into the Blue Hole parking lot, we knew this was a super touristy thing! Lots of covered souvenir stalls and such. We walked down the path and got to the water. There was literally a large hole, and divers were coming in and out. Apparently it’s like 50 feet deep! People were swimming around in it, too. We walked around, took a few shots, and headed back out. Oh, and I did cave and buy a pair of sunglasses at a souvenir stand. My eyes were killing me- light colored rocks everywhere + sunshine = squinting = wrinkles = headache = nope.
The rocks were so strange- all pitted with little pools. See the defensive tower in the background? They’re all over the island
Next stop, the other side of the island to the salt pans. Other side of the island means like 6 miles. It’s not a big island… The salt pans actually turned out to be pretty cool! The Romans built the first ones. They’re large, shallow rectangular pans carved into the rock at the shore. The pans are filled with seawater. The water evaporates, leaving behind the salt that could then be collected. Cool! There was a lady with a cart selling salt, and we bought a bag for 2 euros. I love supporting that kind of thing!
We decided to walk around the area and explore a bit more. By the time we were done, it was 1230. I declared it to be lunch time, so we ordered a cheeseburger, a bacon and egg sandwich, fries, and two drinks from a little stand on the beach. 10 euros, so not bad at all! And pretty tasty to boot! Apparently I was so hungry that I forgot to snap a pic. That’s serious, people. 😑
Next stop, Calypso’s Cave- as in the cave Homer writes about in The Odyssey. We knew from research that the cave was no longer accessible, but the views of the red sand beach, Ramla l-Ħamra, were supposed to be nice. And they were! I wish we had spent more time here. I wish we had gone down to the beach…
Last major stop before swimming were the Ġgantija temples- the oldest of all the temples on Malta, about 5500 years old! On the way in, there were these MASSIVE bees with blue-black wings all over some yellow lantana. I took about 500 shots trying to get one in focus because they were fast as hell and only stayed on a flower for a few seconds. Here are the 2 that actually turned out. You’re welcome. (I’m desperate for wildlife shots…) Please comment praise and admiration for my mad photog skillz below, because I worked damn hard for those shots!! 😜 So…9 euros each to get into the temples. And honestly, they were just eh. The temples from day 2 were much nicer. We both said we could have easily skipped this.
Pear shaped peeps- rocking it since 3500 BC!
These are made out of COW TOE BONES!!!!!!!!!
Last stop of the day…. Finally time to take a dip in the Mediterranean! We had researched some boat trips last night, but were too late to book a scheduled trip. We did see that a lot of ferries went back and forth to a place called the Blue Lagoon on Comino Island, which was one of the main stops on the boat that we had wanted to book. So we decided to wing it. I noticed that there were a few ferry kiosks on the dock selling tickets. Perfect! I could smell a discount if I played my cards right. Which meant not looking too eager… As soon as we stepped on the dock, the first guy came up to us, asking if we were going to blue lagoon. Yes. Well, he had a boat leaving now. 10 euros each. I kept cool. “OK, let me take a brochure with the times. I want to check out the other companies…” I knew all of the companies charged the same rate from my online research. Sure enough, he said 15 euros for both of us if we’d go now. Sold. And while we were handing him our money, another couple walked up and paid 20. It’s about understanding the game and playing it. 😎 Fast, fun little boat ride over to Comino, which is kind of in between the main island and Gozo.
This water is INSANE!!!!!!
As soon as we docked, I didn’t want to be here. I wasn’t sure how to tell Brian. You’re probably thinking, “WTF is wrong with you, woman?!”. Well, the dock was PACKED with people. Like sardines packed. Like could barely get off the boat because there were so many people. And the path to the beach was packed. And there were hawkers trying to rent you an umbrella or a chair. And souvenir stands. And people fucking EVERYWHERE. I mean, I didn’t see how we could even set our bags down with our cameras and stuff and swim- of course unless we rented a locker. We walked around the little bay area, and I finally broke down and told Brian I hated this place. He agreed. We turned right back around to see if we could pay for some other boat to take us somewhere, anywhere, else!! At the dock, there was a company that could take us to see the sea caves, and then drop us at another beach across from Blue Lagoon that had hardly any people on it (we could see it from where we were standing). I can’t remember how much it was (because I didn’t fucking care- get me the hell out of here!!), but I think like 15 euros each or something. First were the sea caves, and we had about 5 other people on the boat with us for that. They were cool- I enjoyed the Blue Grotto caves from a couple of days ago a lot more, but anything to get me off Sardine Beach Blue Lagoon.
Another boat met us and took the other people off our boat, and then we went and got dropped off on the other beach. We told the guy to pick us up in an hour (we aren’t lounge on the beach people, so we didn’t need a lot of time). We headed down the little path to choose a secluded spot. We found a little rock platform where no one was (everyone else had walked further down to the beach area). We clambered down the rocks to get to it. And that’s when it sunk in for me. I was expected to actually get into the water. I have a degree in marine biology. I know what’s in the water. I hate to get in the water. Plus, I’m not a strong swimmer. The water looked deep. Crystal clear, but deep. Fuuuuck. But my man likes to swim, and by god I was going to swim with him. Maybe. Probably. Yeah, I was. Oh, and did I mention I didn’t have a swimsuit? Fortunately, I only travel with ExOfficio Crossover Bras, and they look more like a bikini top than a bra, so no worries. So that and my shorts served the purpose. I sat on the rock platform. Other than something eating me and drowning, fear of cold water also keeps me on the sidelines. Brian, of course, was already in, and said it was warm. He’d say that as the Titanic was going down, so I didn’t put much faith in it. I put in a foot. OMG FREEZING!!!!!!!!! Note: Any water less than 85 degrees is freezing. I am not exaggerating. It took me a good 5 minutes to finally ease myself in. Cold water…conquered. Now I was scared of drowning. I told Brian to stay close and I was going to just doggy paddle because I’m best at that. And I actually was doing really good! We absolutely could not touch the bottom, even though we could see it. I’m guessing 12-15 feet at least. We’re cruising along, enjoying the solitude, when Brian gets an alarmed look on his face and blurts out that something just tagged him. He then immediately shut up, because he knows how freaked out I get in the water. In fact, the first thing I said after I got my entire body in was, “If something touches me, I’m going to panic and drown.” So I have no idea if he’s missing a leg or what the hell is going on, because he isn’t talking, he’s just swimming back, and I’m doggy paddling as fast as I can, and asking him what was it (asking is generous, more like frantically squeaking out the question multiple times). He finally says jellyfish. HOLY CRAP. We had seen swarms of two different types of jellys on the ferry ride over- brown and white. I had seen signs about jellys, and knew that box jellys (which can be DEADLY) were in the area, and here we were, secluded with no boat. Let’s just say that I’m about to have a nervous breakdown in 15 feet of water. He said he saw it, and it was a brown one. We had both been stung in Cuba a couple of years ago, and I was not looking for a repeat performance. We made it back to the rock platform, climbed out, and looked at his inner thigh, just under his short’s leg. It was red, but not terrible. We will carry vinegar with us from now on. We’re two out of two for getting stung in the ocean…
Zoom of Blue Lagoon across the water from us. You can see how packed it is at the beach area. Ridiculous.
After that debacle, we decided to head down to the sandy beach area and check it out. We walked around in the water a bit, but I was freaked out because I had seen sea urchins and was afraid of stepping on one. Never go into the ocean with a scaredy cat marine biologist…. Soon it was time to head back to meet our boat. It took us back to the crowded dock, where we had to wait on our return boat. We walked to the life guard shack to get a spray of vinegar for Brian’s leg, then headed back to the dock so we would be first in line for our return. Thank GOD the return actually showed up about 30 minutes early so we could get the hell out of there!
Bottom line, Blue Lagoon was a huge waste of time and money. I wish we had known, and just stayed at Ramla l-Ħamra by Calypso’s Cave. Not crowded and free. Or even the little beach by the salt pans. Took the ferry back to the main island, headed to the bnb, where we cooked a frozen pizza and did laundry. All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Malta! We both agreed it would have been best if we would have had 2 more days, because there’s a lot we didn’t get to explore. Maybe someday we’ll return. 🙂 But tomorrow is travel day, and we’re off to Rome!