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! 🙂
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!