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Category Archives: Malta

Malta & Gozo

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Knight in Valletta

Malta is for sure a very interesting experience. We posted a web page on our website with a video clip and reference frames from the shoot we did in Malta and Gozo. In Malta we covered the most interesting sights, from the amazing UNESCO protected city of Valletta with its Palace of the Grand Master in its middle, to the winding alleys inhabited once by the knights in Colacchio, to the dungeon cells of the Inquisitor Palace in Vitoriosa, the ancient temples of Tarxien, Hypogeum, Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, the quietude of the Mdina and Rabat town in the middle of the island and the charming blues of the fishing town of Marsaxlokk.

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Dwejra, Gozo

We crossed with the ferry in Gozo and covered as much as we could do it in a day, from the beautiful Rambla Bay seen from Calypso Cave, to Marsalforn, Victoria with its fortified old town, the sea water eaten rocks of Dwejra, the fishing village of Xlendi.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2014 in Blog, Malta

 

Malta’s ancient temples

Tarxien Temples, Malta

Tarxien Temples, Malta

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.

Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Malta

Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Malta

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.

Marsaxlokk, Malta

Marsaxlokk, Malta

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”.

Mnajdra temples, Malta

Mnajdra temples, Malta

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.

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2014 in Blog, Malta

 

Gozo, Malta

Mgarr harbor, Gozo

Mgarr harbor, Gozo

Auguri! After 5 hours of sleep we got a head start for the New Year and at 8:00 am we got in the hotel lobby for a tour to the island of Gozo. To get to Gozo is an entire affair. A bus or minivan would pick you up from the hotel and drop you at the ferry in the northern part of Malta after about 35 minutes drive. The ferry to Gozo goes each 45 minutes for E4.65/RT and you are picked on the other side by an open double-decker tour bus audio-guided hop on-hop off. Very convenient, thou. Gozo is small but has an impressive collection of nature and historical sites. However the highlights are for sure the nature sites that are really charming especially in a holiday as today when many of the historical sites were closed.

Rambla Bay from Calypso Cave, Gozo

Rambla Bay from Calypso Cave, Gozo

The first stop was at Rambla Bay followed by Ggantija, the oldest megalithic constructions (4500-7000BC) in the island unfortunately  closed for the holiday and followed by the cave where Ulysses hanged out with Calypso, the nymph, for 7 years without getting a grief from Penelope who kept knitting that scarf. Imagine doing this for 7 years! For sure she established an entire manufacturing business while he had great fun on the beaches and caves with the nymphs. What a life! …The cave was closed being a little dangerous to visit but the view over Rambla Bay was spectacular. We stopped for only 10 minutes in Marsalforn the place where according to the legend St Paul landed in Gozo coming latter to Malta and living in the cave from the middle of the island. the place is way less religious inspiring than by the clubs and restaurants that pepper the newly developed resort.
Victoria, the main city of the island, was originally called Rabat being renamed as a tribute to the famous British Queen. In its middle is medieval citadel, looking menacing and maybe inexpugnable, with narrow alleys surrounded by honey colored buildings and fortification walls glowing in the mellow sun. The ramparts offer great views over the valley, a good look out for the canons that were defending the town. In its middle is a large church closed for the holiday. The buses in Gozo run every 45 minutes being timed with the ferry crossings, so the visits should be fit for such an interval that is fine for most of the sites on the island.
Gozo is green and not so built up as Malta. It is quaint and serene to walk through its fields that are separated by yellow rubble walls. The traffic in the island is slow and sparse a far cry for the busyness of Valletta.

Dwejra, Gozo

Dwejra, Gozo

From Victoria/Rabat we drove by a pilgrimage church Our lady of Ta’ Pinu, unfortunately closed, and we stopped to the amazing location of Dwejra where the sea eroded the shore limestone and created an amazing dantel ground with fish bones petrified in it looking like fossils that I rarely was able to see; rocks with chicken pox and a majestic natural arch going on top of the spectacular blue sea. This is one of the those places that humbles you to nothing in front of the nature. We climbed the rocks and the arch and admire the powerful surf that was changing the landscape under our eyes.
Without a proper explanation from the driver of what else is open on the way we ended up again in Victoria where we took a tour of the lower town and visited the church of  St George. The churches in Malta are all impressively ornate displaying in a way the wealth accumulated in time in the island. The architecture is classic baroque for most of them with the columns draped in red brocade and abundant golden motives.
The last stop of the day was in an ex-fishing village turned resort, Xlendi that had a spectacular gulf crammed between two hills now carpeted by hotels. The ferry ride and the bus in Malta brought us to Sliema where we found again a Maltese restaurant, De Goose, advertising Hungarian Goulash without serving it but with great fish soup and surprisingly sweet pasta….

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in Blog, Malta

 

Happy New Year from Valletta, Malta

Sliema Bay, Malta

Sliema Bay, Malta

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.

Valletta's fortifications, Malta

Valletta’s fortifications, Malta

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.

New Year in Valletta

New Year’s celebrations in from of Valletta’s Grand Master Palace

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!

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in Blog, Malta

 

Valletta-Birgu, Malta

Valletta

Valletta from the Upper Barracks gardens, Malta

I had to wake up at 6 am to get in line to buy last minute tickets for the Hypogeum. Only 20 tickets per day are sold and only for two entries 12 pm and 4 pm, 10 tickets each. The tickets can be purchased much cheaper on the Internet, well in advance but they were completely sold out now, sometimes with 4 weeks in advance. Only if I knew like many others who come here and have no clue of the situation. I will not get in too much detail about what Hypogeum is but for sure is the coolest stuff to visit in Malta being an elaborate underground structure built around at least 9000 years ago. So I jumped in the bus and at 7:15 am I was the first in line. Till 7:40 AM I had three more who joined me, one being Yvette, a Belgian mom of three who was in line the previous day and just missed it. I chat with her till 9 am about many including the dramatic changes that happen in the European work market, when the gates of Heaven opened and for E35 with no discounts I got a printed paper that stated that I paid for the ticket and I can show up at the gates of the ruins on the next business day that would be January 2. So, totally elated, I left  and started to explore Valletta, a city built completely by the knights under the Grand Master Jean Pariseau La Vallette regarded here dearly as a sort of a national hero. With more information on hands from the Tourist Office I left for a short visit of the Grand Master Palace that is still used as the main government building. The Armory is worth a visit even if you are not into this. I guess if the knights did not have the right armory nobody had it. The State Rooms were closed so we followed to the Casa de la Rocca owned by Marquis Nicolas de Piro interviewed in a recent article about Malta in the New York Times travel section, a great piece by Elisabeth Warren. The 16th century house is still inhabited by the family and is visited daily on an organized tour every hour. La Madame Marquis offers traditional Maltese cookies with hot wine in the middle of the tour and the Marquis is chatting occasionally with the guests. At 12 pm the gun battery is shooting a saluting canon from the Upper Barrack gardens, a place that used to be an exclusive pleasure ground of the knights that offers stupendous views over Valletta and the Three Cities.

Sleeping Lady

The sleeping Lady in the Archeological Museum

Malta is probably one of the most interesting destination for archeology, its artifacts and sites dating from times well before the known history of Sumer and Egypt. The best place to read and see some of these artifacts is the Archaeological Museum, a place that has many exquisite capitals and column heads dating from 4000-7500BC that display intricate details and a remarkable design. The museum covers all the main archeological sites with models, detailed explanations and photos from the first excavations all beside the ancient stone slabs with intricate details from the sites.

Valletta seen from Vittoriossa

Valletta seen from Vittoriossa

When the knights came in 1530 in Malta, Valletta did not exist. They settled in one of the finger peninsulas facing the place that will become Valletta, in Birgu one of what is called today “The Three Cities”. Their mission houses organized like the today multinational forces, as they did also in Rhodes, are located in Colacchio, a part of town of narrow winding alleys guarded by very tall buildings. Here the eight nations that formed the order had also its main headquarters in the Knights Hall, a large building with many entrances to be able to be supplied easy in case of fight. Out of the eight catholic nations that are symbolized by the eight corner star of the order only five exist today, many of the Iberian peninsula nations being incorporated in the modern Spain. The knights were soldier monks dedicated to the service of God. They evolved in this role from their original mission of Hospitalier Knights that were in charge of aiding and safe guarding the valuables of the pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem. The Inquisitor Palace was an original Court of Law converted in 1530. Out of the numerous inquisitors that ruled from this palace two became Popes and 22 cardinals, showing the great influence of Malta in the Catholic World. However if you visit the museum the way things are presented is way milder than were taught in history all over the world. It looks like the Inquisition got a bad press over times…. The knights’ influence can be better understood when you visit the Maritime Museum, maybe one of the best museums of its kind. The knights were corsairs, each ship being commanded by one of them. These “start-ups” were ventured by the yesterday investment medieval-capitalists who were looking for fortunes in the large loot that ships brought home. The spoils were taken of the Ottoman ships because the Church preached not to steal from Christians but never mentioned Infidels…The other cheek was not turned over as required. Popes convincing them to turn a blind eye to the Malta and its influence.  Eventually the Turks got pissed off that after they gave the knights safe passage, their force became so strong that they controlled the entire Mediterranean basin bringing fear to any who they encountered, the cries of “Viva Malta” being the worst to be heard by attacked ships. But Suleiman’s attack in 1565 with 30000 people against only 8000 knights failed and the knights consolidated their rule, The city from where they defended the island, Birgu was renamed Vittoriosa and it remained as such even today.

The Maritime Museum was probably the best resource we visited in Malta about the role of the knights and after a quite walk on the promenade overlooking Valletta we returned to the capital and had a great traditional Maltese dinner in King’s Tavern returning to Gzira before midnight happy that the forecasted rain day stayed only as clouded. Let’s see how it will go tomorrow…

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2013 in Blog, Malta