So my the first day in Malta was a big success. I “finally” figured out my way around old town Valetta, and the hop on hop off bus trip to the north part of Malta was wonderful. For Day 2, I was planning to visit a little park on my way to take in the “Malta Experience, a 45 minute video history of Malta. I was then planning on walking across the old town back to the bus station to take the the second part of the hop on hop off bus tour to the southern part of the country.
It was a good thing my plans were not too strenuous as the night before I was kept awake for almost an hour with the kabooms of fireworks going off. Turns out today (September 21) is Independence Day in Malta and the Maltese apparently love their fireworks displays. Me … meh. I am not a fireworks person. Don’t care about them. Don’t find fireworks particularly enjoyable. So the sound of them going off for almost an hour was like nails on a chalkboard.
Anyway, in the morning I was awakened by the clip clop of horses hoofs on the cobblestones outside my window. Apparently there was to be an Independence Day parade. It would have been nice if the hotel had provided this info in advance.
I rushed through breakfast and made it down to Republic Street just as the last military band passed by. Oh well. I did see the preview earlier in the morning.
So with the parade ended, I walked around the baracades and down the street for my first stop of the day to Lower Barrakka
After the visit, I wandered down the hill and along the outer wall (again) to the theatre that features the Malta Experience. At checkin we were required to show proof of vaccine to enter. Everyone had their temperatures taken and we were given disposable head covers for the headphones attached to our seats. (The headphones afforded people of all nationalities to listen to the movie.)
Now I am not sure what I expected, but the film was really fantastic. It took the viewer through the history of the occupation of Malta starting with the Neolithic times (around 8,000 B.C.), which was followed by the Bronze Age. Then the island was conquered by a series of peoples, including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Arabs respectively. The Normans then got in on the action and reintroduced Christianity as opposed to the Muslim religion brought to Malta by the Arab.
The Normans were then followed by the Order of the Knights of St. John who brought with them Catholicism (hence all the churches). The Knights constructed the various walls and forts in and around Valleta in order to protect the country from continuing threats from the Ottamans and Suleman. In fact, the Knights withstood a myriad of attacks by the Ottomans thanks to the defenses that had been built over the decades, but ultimately fell to Napoleon and the French in 1798.
The Brits then took over after Napoleon died and the country remained a British colony until 1964 when the country gained independence. In the interim, little Malta was a battleground during WWI and WWII with 30,000 buildings either damaged or destroyed and blockades leaving thousands starving. All in all, it was a fascinating 45 minutes.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the bus trip. What a let down after the splendid trip the first day.
Perhaps it was because it was rather overcast and muggy and not the pretty day we had the day before. Or perhaps it was because the south coast featured a lot of “get off and visit sites” as opposed to the more scenic trip of the day before. However, I will be visiting most of the major points we passed next week, including the Hypogeum (Neolithic temples), the Hagar Kim and Mnajdra (pre-historic temples), and the Blue Lagoon so it made no sense to “hop off” for a visit now. And the quaint little fishing village of Marsaxlokk is also in my plans for Sunday for their big market day so I wanted to save that visit as well.
But, I don’t think that is really it. The views were just not as nice as the day before. Oh sure there were some nice harbor views, but we seemed to pass a lot of factories and rock quarries and for some reason we did two drive bys of the airport with the information repeated twice.
One site that we did pass that I found fascinating was the St. Lucian Tower, which was built by the Knights of St. John and used as a watchtower for centuries. Today, it is national aquaculture center and cannot be accessed. Pity, because I think it would be fun to wander around the old building.
The scenic highlights did improve somewhat as wound our way through the hills near the Blue Grotto with picturesque terrain and expansive views to the Mediterranean. However, the area was overrun with people and VERY touristy so I doubt I will spend much time there next week when I am on a tour of the area.
Near the end of the tour, we did a drive by of the three cities, Vittoriosa (originally named Birgu), Senglea and Cospicua, which are fortified cities directly across the Grand Harbour from Valletta. The cities are important because these are the original settlements for the Knights of St. John and today, the cities are being revitalized with renovated buildings, beautiful harbors and new investment. The cities are said to be quite beautiful, but for some reason the route took us through the backstreets as opposed to the main road. As a result, it was impossible to get a real sense for the cities. I decided I would take the ferry over to the three cities on Friday to do a little exploring and picture taking.
The last part of the trip was simply a drive along the freeway back to Silema and then a short hop to Valleta. Once back at the bus station in Valleta, I made may way up the hill in the stick air along the now familiar route past the throngs of tourists and street musicians to my hotel.
After cleaning up, I headed back to Republic St., and down a side street to a little restaurant that received rave reviews on TripAdvisor. In fact, I had tried to get in the night before, but they were booked solid so I made a reservation for Tuesday. And all I have to say is … more please.
The meal was absolutely fantastic. Wonderful wine, octopus braised with tomatoes, ravioli with mushrooms and truffle oil sauce, three of the best cannolis I have ever eaten followed by a shot of lemoncello. Thank you Il Ristorantino Italiano. It was simply superb. (And I’ll just leave these pictures here as a testament.)
Tomorrow I am off on an all day catamaran trip. The weather is supposed to be fabulous so cannot wait.