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Malta

sunny 20 °C

Malta is an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. The two main inhabited Islands are Malta and Gozo.
17000 years ago Malta was connected to mainland Europe. Today it is fifty miles south of Sicily.
History includes Phoenician, Roman, Arab, French and British occupation.
We have been in perpetual autumn but
Malta has a sub tropical climate and is very green on November 17.

We flew with Wizz Air from Skopje, Macedonia.
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We had been in the Balkans for 35 days!

Malta has an extensive public transportation system.
We purchased seven day bus passes for twenty euros each - unlimited public transportation. Then we took the X1 bus from from The International Airport which is 5 km southwest of Valetta, to the ferry terminal.

They drive on the left side of the road.
Signs are in English, 'Slow Down' and 'Speed kills'
Since these are public buses and traffic in general seems congested the aisles are eventually packed with locals and tourists and we feel lucky to have seats!

The distance between the big island, Malta, and Gozo to the north, is 6 km. It takes 25 minutes on the ferry from Cirkewwa, Malta to Mgarr, Gozo. There is a ferry every 45 minutes. Round trip fare is five Euros.
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Gozo is the second largest island in the Maltese archipelago, five miles wide and ten miles long.

As soon as we got off the ferry we hopped on the bus to Xaghra and careened down the narrow, curving roads past rock fences, and honey coloured baroque buildings, with frequent glimpses of the coastline and the Mediterranean.
We got off at the Xaghra main square. The wind had really whipped up and it started to rain and then pour.
It is easier to walk on the road than the narrow sidewalk dragging a suitcase, but dangerous as there are many blind corners - long story short we eventually arrived at our bed and breakfast, we are the only guests and have the entire house and pool to ourselves!
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November 18 is a bright sunny day. Temperature around 20 C

Breakfast was pleasant - coffee, toast (I was thrilled), fruit. The owners live in the house next door and pop over to prepare breakfast and have a visit. They are British ex-pats, very pleasant, welcome to EllieBoos.

We took the bus to the capital city, Vittorija, and walked around the walled citadel. Spectacular. Not many tourists. Free to walk on the castle walls.
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A fortification at this site was in use from 1500 BC until 1868.
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The obelisk below commemorates the date in 1843 when water was channeled via the aqueduct to the Citadel
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Today the tap water in Malta is desalinated sea water.

Malta is the most picturesque country. Compact, surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, beautiful limestone buildings, numerous historical sites and an average annual temperature of 17 degrees C. with 3000 hours of sunshine.

We are using regular transit as a hop on and off bus. In the early afternoon we went to the pilgrimage site, Ta' Pinu. There has been a chapel at this spot since at least 1534.
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The current Romanesque style building of Maltese stone was completed in 1932.
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The interior is peaceful:
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There was a roadside food cart selling date filled pastries - Imqaret, traditional Maltese sweet - these are deep fried and calorie dense - we each had two!!

We changed buses in Vittorija, wending our way back 'home' to Xaghra.

We would have visited one of the most famous sights, the Azure Window, featured in millions of photographs and tourist brochures as well as in The Game of Thrones.
However, worse luck, the limestone arch is no more!! It collapsed during a bad storm in March of 2017!!!
Wow! A major tourist attraction, gone forever!

Diving is a significant tourist activity on Gozo and apparently the divers are loving the remains of the Azure Window now resting on the sea bed.
Our hosts saw the Azure Window on the night of the storm. The winds were so strong some waves were actually looping around the structure which was 92 feet tall. It was believed to be thousands of years old and was breathtaking in its beauty. Nothing remains above sea level, the entire structure collapsed.

The view from the pool deck at our rented house:
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This was a really beautiful home. Good value for 67 C per night breakfast included.

We are, quite by accident, staying in a town with a terrific tourist attraction.

The Megalithic Temples of Malta from 3600 BC: Ggantija - Belonging to the Giants

Ggantija is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - 5500 years old, possibly the oldest man-made religious structures in the world.

Older than Stonehenge, Older than the pyramids of Egypt, Really remarkable.
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Legend has it that a giantess who only ate broad beans and honey had a half human child.
With the child hanging from her shoulder she got to work and built the temples in about 24 hours.
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The wheel had not yet been discovered and no metal tools were in use in Malta. It is speculated that small spherical stones were used to transport the gigantic rocks. Some of the megaliths weigh over 50 tons!!!
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The temples sit on a plateau facing south east and were possibly used in a ceremonial fertility rite in what is believed to have been a matriarchy.

The temples were a tourist destination even in the seventeenth century:
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Artists' renderings of this visit by British tourists in 1648 and other drawings from the seventeenth and eighteenth century have been useful to archaeologists. Over the years various items were taken and the sight deteriorated until the government bought the land from a private owner in 1933 and major research and preservation efforts commenced.
Although there is now a guard on sight when the museum is open and there is no access to the temples other than by paid admission, acts of vandalism (such as engraving names on the ancient rocks) still occur.

Millions of dollars of EU money has recently been spent to restore and preserve the temples and to build an information centre.

We visited Ggantija on November 19.

Below: the oldest, free standing, stone structure in the world:

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Constructed in large part from coralline limestone which has persevered for thousands of years, the purpose and actual method of assembly of the unique megaliths of Gozo remain a mystery.

I like the folklore version: the temples were built by a vegetarian giant as she breastfed her half human child.

Admission tickets are purchased inside the information centre and a tour of the Xaghra windmill just down the street is included.
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Ta' Kola Windmill was built during the Knights of St John period in the eighteenth century and was used to grind flour. At that time 75% of the average Gozitan's diet was bread. Bread is still a staple in Gozo.
Maltese cuisine has been influenced by both Britain and Italy.
Pastizzi, the most popular savoury snack food, are flaky pastry pockets stuffed with either ricotta or mushy peas. They are cheap, readily available and kind of satisfying.
The national dish is fenek (rabbit).

In the afternoon we took the bus to Ramla Bay.

Calypso's Cave from Homer's Odyssey is on a cliff overlooking Ramla Bay:
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Access to the cave is now restricted for safety reasons and we did not climb there. It was quite windy and only a few men were in the water - body surfing the waves.

Gozo's best beach, Ramla Bay, reddish sand leads to the Mediterranean Sea:
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Jeff eventually went into the water and enjoyed half an hour of body surfing, the water is warm, about 18 degrees C.

Ramla il-Hamra: one of the finest sand beaches on the Mediterranean:
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The statue of the Virgin Mary, built to commemorate a shipwreck, has been on Ramla Beach since 1881:

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Prickly Pears grow all over the island. The prickly pear fruit is edible and is made into jams and liqueurs.
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While we were waiting for our bus back to Xaghra I took a picture of this lizard, it was really small, about the size of my pinky finger, a nice example of camouflage in the environment. It is one of the few lizards ? I have seen, although they are quite common here. I am not a fan of reptiles so do my best to avoid them.
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The Maltese Wall Lizard:
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When I heard Wall at first I was thinking of interior house walls, yuk, lizards crawling up walls, yuk. However they are more apt to be found on the Maltese Rubble Walls which are outside, fencing fields or holding back terraced land. You see them everywhere, a significant characteristic of the Maltese landscape:

The rocks are not held together by mortar and it takes considerable skill to build a long standing dry -stone wall.
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Malta, the big island, is 16 miles long and 9 miles wide (about half the size of the city of Calgary).

We took the ferry from the smaller island, Gozo, to Malta on November 20.

We are staying in a huge, new two bedroom apartment at St Paul's Bay. Price is 27 Euros per night.

On 21 November we took the bus to the capital city, Valetta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has been named Europe's 'Capital of Culture' for 2018.

Malta’s national dish is rabbit (which we did not have):
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The English speaking population is a legacy of British colonization.

Low costs and year round warm weather make Malta an ex-pat haven.

The Knights of St John of Jerusalem, one of the world's oldest Catholic religious orders, arrived in Malta in 1530.
The Knights had been ejected first from Jerusalem and then Rhodes by the Ottomans.
In the Great Siege of Malta the Knights defeated the Ottomans over the course of a three month battle in 1565.

The Order of St John of Jerusalem established Valetta as the capital following their victory. They ruled Malta until 1798 when Napoleon invaded. The French only lasted for two years and then the British took over until 1964.

Today a memorial to a slain Maltese journalist is set up outside the Co-Cathedral of St John.
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Daphne Caruana Galizia was investigating a multi-million euro fuel-smuggling ring with links to Libya, Malta, and organized crime in Sicily.
She also reported on the Panama Papers and local involvement in money laundering. Her blog, Running Commentary, exposed the corruption of Maltese politicians.
She was killed by a car bomb on October 16.

She had received death threats in the past but refused police protection in recent years because she didn’t trust them.
Ms Galicia had a long list of potential suspects in her crosshairs, some in the highest reaches of government.
Her last blog entry, posted at 2:35 pm on Oct 16, 2018cryptically stated, 'There are crooks everywhere you look. The situation is desperate.'
By 3 pm she was dead, strewn around a field only minutes from her home.

Footnote: In April 2018 a group of journalists from around the world launched The Daphne Project to shed light on this very murky case.

Malta has been a member of the European Union since 2004.

The British poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived in Malta in 1804. He was trying to cure his opium addiction at the time.
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The Co-Cathedral of St John was completed in 1578. The symbol of the Order is the the Maltese Cross:
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The largest painting Caravaggio ever made and the only one he signed hangs in the Oratory of St John's Co-Cathedral.
It depicts John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Knights of St John, moments after his beheading.
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Caravaggio was accepted and later rejected as a member of the Order in the same room where two of his paintings are displayed.

Carravaggio's St Jerome Writing hangs opposite the Beheading of John the Baptist in the Oratory:
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The tombs of important Knights are under the ornate inlaid marble floor:
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The Co-Cathedral of St John was originally an austere house of worship. It was revamped in the seventeenth century and was tarted up to the kaleidoscope of baroque ornamentation we see today:
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Admission to the Co Cathedral is ten euros. Unfortunately the museum is closed for renovation. The money from entrance fees defrays the cost of upkeep - an audio guide is included.
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After we toured the opulent cathedral we walked a few blocks to another historic church:
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In the year 60 AD St Paul was shipwrecked on Malta. His accompanying physician, Luke (St Luke the Evangilist), recorded the event in Acts 27.
(We are staying in St Paul's Bay, near where the shipwreck allegedly occurred).
St Paul stayed in Malta for three months and was, by all accounts, treated warmly by the Maltese. Paul apparently succeded in converting the governor who became the first Christian in Malta. These were harsh times and Paul's luck ran out a few years later when he was beheaded in Rome by order of Emperor Nero, the same Nero who is rumored to have played the fiddle in 64 AD while Rome burned. Nero blamed the Christians for the fire and shortly after Paul was decapitated and Peter crucified.

The Church of St Paul's Shipwreck was built in 1570 and is one of the oldest churches in Valetta and the only church dedicated to St Paul's shipwreck.

The dimly lit church is almost empty and charges no admission.

In a roped off glass case within St Paul’s Shipwreck Church is a section of the marble pedestal used when St Paul was beheaded:
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Strangely enough, St Paul's wrist bone is on display.
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Relic of St Paul:
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The lighting gives the whole experience an eerie quality.

Spooky baby reminds me of Chucky: (I know that sounds terrible, but this church just gave me that vibe). I did pay money to light a candle just in case):

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The Collegiate Church of St Paul's Shipwreck is worth a visit.
It could be under renovation it was really too dark to tell and we only heard a single workman - and I briefly glimpsed his upper torso when he stood up for a minute - otherwise he was stooped or maybe kneeling inside a kind of wood framed enclosure. When he stood up he was holding a three foot tall wood cross, I am serious. I was right beside him, heading over to the Holy Water, and he startled me.
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Then he bent back down, I dipped my fingers in the water, took a picture and left the main part of the church.
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You can see the workman's head, just beside the statue's shoulder:

Near the exit an arrow points, 'To the Crypt.'

These stairs lead down to the crypt, spooky:
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Right across from the stairwell solid silver altar decorations are displayed behind glass:
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The chandeliers in bags add another element of creepiness to the experience:
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Paul stayed in Malta for about three months. He lived in a cave near Rabat. St Paul's Grotto.

It has become overcast and there is some rain. The main streets are full of tourists but the side streets are empty. Valetta really is a fabulous walled city:

We stopped at a sidewalk cafe before heading 'home.' Our waiter was a young guy from Serbia. 'We love Serbia.' we tell him.
He wrote down his address and contact info and invited us to visit him - just east of the Bosnian border, in the mountains.
Well the Serbs were very friendly and here we met another one!!
He suggested we read a book by the only author from Serbia to ever win the Nobel Prize in literature. Ivo Andrić. The Bridge on the Drina.

Our two bedroom apartment in St Paul’s Bay is huge and modern with a great heating system and a washer and dryer. Very good value for 108 Euros for four nights!!

The walled city of Mdina was the capital of Malta from antiquity until medieval times. The Knights of St John of Jerusalem moved the capital to Birgu and then to Valetta.
Just outside the old city walls are the 'suburbs', the city of Rabat.

Palazzo Santa Sofia is believed to be the oldest surviving building. It was originally one story, the upper level was added in the twentieth century. The ground floor with the arched doorways dates to 1233.
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St Paul's Cathedral is set where the governor of Malta met with St Paul in AD 60. A church was built here in the 12th century but was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1693. The current building was completed in 1705 in the baroque style of the day:
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We had coffee at the Palazzo de Piro - a restored seventeenth century villa within the old city - I tried the National orange soft drink, Kinnie - verdict, ok but one was enough. It has a bittersweet orange flavour.

The old city gate has been featured on the Game of Thrones:
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Bougainvillea - thriving vine with an abundance of magenta blooms in late November:
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The Dingli Cliffs are the highest point on the Island of Malta, 250 metres above the sea.

These hikers are brave to walk near the side of the cliff:
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We took a series of buses back to St Paul's Bay. The seven day bus pass has been convenient - and worked out to be a bit cheaper than buying individual tickets.

We spent 23 November, our last full day in Malta, in the town of St Paul's Bay.
In 60 AD there was a Shipwreck here. Everyone survived.

A narrow lane, only a few blocks from our apartment, leads to St Paul's Bonfire Chapel on the waterfront.

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Built in the seventeenth century, the church is situated on the spot where the local people made a bonfire to warm the passengers and crew from St Paul's Shipwreck. The passengers, including Paul, were prisoners, and the crew was Roman.

Luke the Evangilist recorded the event in the Acts of the Apostles, 27 and 28:

'And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.
Now when they had escaped, they then found out the island was called Malta.

And the natives showed us unusual kindness; for they kindled a fire and made us all welcome.'
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Tap-Għażżenin, the rocky island on the horizon, is where the ship allegedly ran aground:
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In 1942 Malta was the most heavily bombed place on earth. The Siege of Malta included 154 consecutive days and nights of bombing, more than London experiences during the Blitz!!

When Italy surrendered in 1943, 76 ships from the Italian fleet were docked in St Paul's Bay.
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It was a pleasant, blue sky day on St Paul’s Promenade!!
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We walked the boardwalk looking for a good swimming spot - we were hoping for sand but settled for limestone. The beach looks like sand, but it is limestone.

Jeff was the only person swimming in the Bay. I sat on a limestone ledge soaking my feet in the Mediterranean:

20 degrees C, no wind, 23 November, 2017. A beautiful blue sky day.

Once a sleepy fishing village, St Paul's Bay is crowded with high rise apartments, densely populated, and swarming with tourists in the summer.

Malta has two official languages, Maltese and English. About 88 percent of the people are bilingual. A sizeable proportion also speak Italian.
Maltese is a Semitic Arabic language that has been heavily influenced by Italian and, to a lesser extent, English.
Half of their vocabulary is Italian and another twenty percent is English. It is written in Latin script.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 16:19 Archived in Malta Tagged beaches churches architecture diving unesco rabat knights medina baroque megalith prickly gozo caravaggio mdina pear xaghra valetta megaliths ggantija vittorija tap-għażżenin Comments (0)

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