The rain started in the night but in the morning the clouds dispersed and the sun came out. However the forecast was for showers all day so we postponed a trip to Gozo that we bought a day before. The trip came with an included boat tour of the harbor, a must-see when you visit Valletta. Clouds gathered again and a downpour flooded the streets of Sliema, water pouring down in rivers gathering in puddles on the main roads. But after 30 minutes the sun came out and we boarded the boat for the harbor tour. It is fascinating to sail for 90 minutes surrounded by forts and yellow fortified walls that were attacked for centuries by various armies, each piece of this land having such a detailed history sensibly connected with large interests in other parts of the globe. Valletta’s two harbors with their multiple nooks were for millenniums coveted by all who passed by here. Its set of peninsulas made it ideal to host a fleet making it hard to be penetrated. The British who came here in 1798 held its fleet in the Mediterranean in Valletta till 1979, 15 years after Malta got its independence.
The demise of the knights came from Napoleon forces in their march over Europe in 1798. In spite of the obvious, the last Grand Master, a German diplomat, thought that diplomacy can solve more than guns and took this approach toward the French instead of heavy military defense. But the French were not impressed and walked in Malta dismantling the knights’ order and expelling the knights from the island. Two months latter the population revolted and this brought the Brits on the ground who wanted to reinstate the knights’ rule a choice rejected by Malta’s people. In the end, considering the geopolitical game the Brits stayed as reluctant occupiers of the island and their heritage and influence can be easily seen today. The harbor tour was fascinating reiterating all these stories and many more while sailing under clear skies in warm weather under the honey walls of the citadels.
The weather looked to hold so we boarded a local bus and went all the way to the Northern part of the island to Buggiba, St Paul Bay and Mistra beach, walking thorough fields separated by rubble walls made out of the honey colored stones. In Mistra the sky darkened and we got a little drenched on the way back till a bus showed up to rescue us and bring us back to Sliema.
We took some time to rest before the New Year and surprisingly got a black out in the building while writing the blog that chased us out on the streets earlier than planned. Valletta was ready for the party, the usually empty capital being flooded by young people ready to party. Boys in suits and girls in mini skirts all looking so similar and way too young, were going to and fro on the Republika Street.One of things that strikes you here is the absence of people in the night. The cities are empty, way emptier now in winter than summer but almost devoid of people. so, to see so many people that congregated in the main square is probably the best for the entire year. The flood of people was ceaseless, all going one way to the main stage. Meanwhile many others, dressed way more classy were going to various parties in town, in restaurants and bars or special locations. The Valletta square is a small medieval square located in front of the palace, way smaller than any other from Italy. And it became packed in no time. We stopped for cakes and coffee at Cafe Cordina, a place that boast the fact that dates since 1837, celebrating 175 years of existence. Quite of a ride if you talk American time but it was nothing when you read a plate stuck on the front stating that the building was purchased by the knights in 1700s to be used as treasury. Everything is relative….At midnight the countdown was done by the people with no TV but only with a band on stage, dynamic projection of the front of the Grand Master Palace and champagnes and wines were opened and everybody was celebrating under fireworks. The rain stopped already for a while and everybody enjoyed the beginning of a hopefully prosperous New Year. We congratulated ourselves and went for the night buses (E5/night or day+night on New Year’s Eve) and returned quickly to the hotel because we had a tour booked at 8:00 AM.
Happy New Year from Valletta!