In the morning of our last day in Malta, we boarded another hop on-hop off tour bus. We stopped briefly again Valleta to take in the the warm sunny weather in the capital one last time before we head back to New York, which we heard was harassed with biting winds and enough snow for a snow day in some school districts. We enjoyed the final serene stroll along the serene main walkway that was still lightly peppered with confetti, champagne bottle bits, and other New Years remains.
Later we reached Tarxien, where some temples accidentally discovered during the construction of a few houses at the beginning of the 20th century are situated. With the temples dating from 3500BC, the site was quite fascinating to visit. But we had no idea what was in store for us. The main reason why we were in the area was because at 12pm, we had a tour to Hypogeum. I wasn’t looking forward for this because I went on line at 7am on December 30 to buy tickets for this tour (believe me when I say there’s cutthroat competition for tickets); the effort to painfully depart from my warm bed at 6:15 and embark on a bumpy, cold bus for 30 minutes was worth it million times. We were all looking forward to this because Hypogeum isn’t in any way just another temple you visit and say “oh that was pretty neat”: it’s an entire experience that’s magnitude of incredibility and brilliance cannot be mentally recreated without having been there. Hypogeum was discovered at the beginning of the 20th century and dates from 3500-2500BC. It is a necropolis where over a span of 1000 years about 7000 people were buried underground in chambers carved into rock under the ground. At the height of Hypogeum‘s activity, corpses were being thrown in and then broken as they were pushed further into these small chambers by new corpses. The entire structure has a lot of rooms that were dug and chiseled so perfectly and efficiently that they looked like they were built with modern archeological equipment; out in open air, not underground; and from multiple slabs of stone, not from the enormous stretch of mass just below the surface. When you reach the sacred room you find yourself in a temple with doors opening in various other rooms. The doors places have regular pillars on top of which is the classical horizontal slab and on top having the roof with different levels of unneeded support. But these are not added as separate pieces like you would do over the ground but everything was carved in the one huge hill of underground rock like a majestic sculpture of humongous proportions. The air inside is circulated through vents that would create good conditions to preserve the ocher paintings on the ceiling. The audioguide has also a sensible sound track embedded with the explanations that was created by a Maltese music artist that creates an intriguing atmosphere augmented by the dimming lights timed with the visitors to conserve the colors and to protect from algae accumulation on the walls.
The entire experience gives a sense of awe like in no other place in the world all the 10 visitors being speechless and still immersed in the experiment at the exit after about 45 minutes. Unfortunately, but for understandable reasons, no photo or videos are allowed, all luggage being locked out at the entrance in the Hypogeum.
In the afternoon the buses started to run every hour, instead of every 30minutes that gave us time for a longer than needed lunch in Tarxien. The bus, passing through Victoriossa for a scenic shot at Senglea Point, brought us to Marsaxlokk a charming fishing village with a large harbor full of colored boats surrounded by restaurants serving fish advertised as “caught by our husbands”.
For the last stop we skipped Blue Grotto and we stopped at the impressive temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, megalithic constructions of huge slabs some of them of over 4 meters tall, well preserved and maintained, overlooking the sea where the sun was setting in dramatic clouds.
The return bus dropped us in Sliema where we found another great Maltese restaurant with rabbit, fish and great pasta and walked all the way to Gzira, a nice walk on the beautiful promenade by the sea. In the morning we had to pack in the dark because the hotel building had another blackout and had the taxi bringing us to the low key Malta International airport where we walked on the tarmac with all the other passengers to board the plane to Munich.
With its rich history and spectacular nature sites Malta was unexpected. You can visit the entire Malta and Gozo by regular bus with a weekly ticket of E12 but you may run the risk that the bus is full and does not stop at tourist rush hours if you have your hotel in the area Sliema-St Julien. You can purchase in the bus a night bus ticket combined with a day ticket for the New Year’s eve, all day and all night for E5/person.
Car rental is relatively inexpensive at E10-15/day if you feel comfortable to drive on the left side.
Most of the museums and archeological sites are covered by a family ticket for 2 adults and 2 kids for E75, a steal of a price if you stay more days and plan to cover a lot of ground. This ticket cuts the accumulated prices in less than half.
The Maltese cities are very quiet and few people are out in the evening. Especially in the winter if you stay out of the Valletta-St Julien area is hard to find a restaurant open. We found the “Three Cities” completely deserted in the evening. If you are looking for some night life you’ll find some in Valletta but the most in St Julien where the tourists are out for party.
we found people to be very nice and friendly and everywhere you go at any hour of the day or night the country feels extremely safe. People were very helpful and ready to point out things for you, even that sometimes the English spoken by few we found difficult to understand.