Thursday, 8 December 2016

Malta Diaries 2016: The Last Outing,Marsaxlokk.

I'm squeezing in one last diary post before Christmas.

The last place we visited was a picturesque fishing village in the south east of Malta called Marsaxlokk.
I have no idea how to pronounce it, I just say it as it sounds.
Once again we took a bus to Valletta where we caught another bus. This is the way to see Malta.
When we arrived at our destination what struck us straightaway was how quiet it was, where had everyone gone? 


We had coffee and cake outside a cafe in the main square across from the church. 

They closed the church doors before we could have a look inside.
The church, Our Lady of Pompei dates back to 1890

Marsaxlokk is famous for the brightly painted fishing boats called Luzzus. If you look at photos online they look lovely but when we visited there didn't seem to be very many about.



I loved the bronze statues of a father returning from a fishing trip being met by his little boy who has a little toy fishing boat of his own. Also the cat looking for some fish to eat.


Look at the streets! No crowds! It was bliss for a while but empty restaurants and cafes are boring 
( I know! There's no pleasing me.) We did find a market where I managed to find gifts for my granddaughters  which were homemade so I was quite pleased.

I think these are really cute. The girls store their purses and play phones and a host of other things in the pockets for when they next come to stay.


My eyes were drawn to these colourful doors. I couldn't get the whole row in the photo but there are lots of photos on them online. I was curious as to when and why they were first painted. Did the residents get together and say," Let's make this a tourist attraction?" Do they repaint them every year? 
I asked myself these questions then I asked Google. It seems they are quayside apartments for the holiday rental market. So now I know.....tourist attraction! 
They even have a pull down screen to prevent the paint being damaged by the sun......clever! 




A not so well looked after old door and tiny window, but I love it! 


We caught the bus back to Valletta and spent some more time wandering around the capital,my favourite place in Malta.
When we returned to the bustling St Julians the streets were being decorated for another celebration, St Julian's Day. We would miss this by a few days which is such as shame as we would have had a great view from our balcony especially of the planned fireworks display. We did manage to see the local band practising as they marched past our front door.

I've enjoyed writing these diaries. I didn't realise we had seen so much of the country until I started writing. My advice to anyone who wants to visit would be, don't go in July or August,too hot and too busy. So goodbye Malta,next year my holiday diaries will be from Chania in Crete.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Malta Diaries 2016: The Mdina

Another popular tourist attraction is Mdina which is the ancient capital of Malta. Named The Silent City because of the lack of interest in it when Valetta became the capital. All the ministerial offices and the people who worked in them moved to the new capital and today only 250 people live there within its walls in a space of 0.9 sq km. 
The only cars allowed through he gates are of residents. 
We took a bus to the huge bus station at Valletta and another bus from there to Mdina. Traveling by bus in Malta is so easy. 
Once again like Valleta the Mdina was really busy when we visited. There was a lot of parked cars which spoiled taking photos. The streets were narrow as expected and when the noisy clip clip of the horse drawn carriages passed by ringing their bell you had to press yourself against the nearest wall to save being trampled. 


The fortified walls of Mdina


I did manage to take a photo of one of the streets without tourists.

At night the streets are lit with gas lamps and it's quieter. I would think it quite an eerie place to live but living surrounded by all that history would be amazing.
The Mdina has churches,cathedrals, museums and at least one nunnery. I think the largest cathedral is St Pauls. They were opened for visiting at different times but an entrance fee has to be paid for everything and it can get quite expensive. 
The nunnery of St Bennidict where twenty nuns still reside is a closed order where the nuns spend their days in prayer. The nuns never leave even when they die they are buried in the crypt.  The only men allowed in are the doctor and the decorator.  The doctor I can understand but a decorator? 
I think this is one of the Windows to the nunnery. I'm not sure if it's one that is not used now or the Benadictine one. 

If you love history then you'll adore Malta. My advice would be to read as much as you can before you go and don't go in the height of summer. 

Some more of the Mdina.

The stairs to nowhere.



I forgot to say there are lovely eating places here and here are views I took from one of the restaurants.

And my favourite ...old doors.

Many doors like this with a fish or whale.

Mdina is such an interesting place to visit. It's like time has stood still here. I still think without the cars it would be much better, and I'm not too keen on the horse and carts either. There are very few shops here , just a tourist information centre and a few souvenir shops.

I'm left wondering... What kind of people live within the city? Have the properties maybe been in their family for generations? Are they permitted to sell the houses ? What price would they sell for? What would it be like to live within a tourist attraction? I wish we had gone back at night to experience it in the dark with fewer tourists and gas lit streets.
If you google Mdina you will find ore information and much better photos than I could take with my iPad. I really must take my camera when I next go on holiday. I must find out how to work my camera first! 

Malta Diaries 2016 : Gozo

One of the trips I wanted to do in Malta was a boat trip to Gozo. We could have went on our own by a large ferry and then take a bus to the capital, Victoria but we decided on a smaller boat trip.
We caught a bus from St Julians to Bugibba. We had been here a few days before to book a seat on the boat. I felt this place was very commercialized and a bit like a very old British seaside resort. There is a sea life centre here which although we didn't go to see the sea life  we did sample it's lovely restaurant. 
Qawra which is next door to Bugibba looked a bit more upmarket. 

Back to the boat!  When I say small it wasn't like boats trip we had taken in Turkey where there are maybe fifteen people at the very most on board and mattresses are provided for sunbathing. Lunch is always provided on the Turkish trips and bathing in the sea is usually done at a quiet cove. 

This boat in Malta was big,filled with rows of wooded seats and filled with people. Food, filled rolls, chips and drinks could be bought onboard from a kiosk but it was a reasonable price and okay. 

The boat stopped at a blue lagoon and we had a swim but when other boats arrived the water became too crowded to be enjoyed. On we went to Gozo. We opted for the mini bus tour which would drop us off in Victoria and come back to collect us,stopping at Dwejra Bay where we were taken in a much smaller boat to see the azure window and other rock formations. I'm not a fan of very small canoe like boats filled with excited holiday makers but I survived and took these photos, between the heads of the excited holiday makers.
 
This is a natural rock formation of Maltese limestone created after  two limestone sea caves collapsed. 
The arch is 92 ft high but With sea erosion the window has become bigger over the years. One day it's beauty will be gone. The sea here is such a deep vibrant blue. I took these photos with an iPad and it loses some of the true colour. 

The bus we rode in and an American jeep I took a liking to.


This was the spot where we picked up the small boat to view the assure window.

Going into a cave.
The guide pointed out shapes in the rocks. For some you had to look very hard and use your imagination but I think this next photo speaks for itself and is a bit scary.

The driver dropped us off in the Capital of Gozo,Victoria. He ( kindly) stopped at the bottom of a steep hill and pointed to the top where there was a very interesting church to visit. Needless to say we didn't get to the top and the church but found the nearest cafe for a cold drink, and a look around the market. it was very,very hot.

I liked Victoria but there wasn't enough time to fully explore it. 
Everywhere we went in Malta towns were either preparing to celebrate a saint's day or had just finished their celebrations. Gozo was no exception and as we waited outside a police station for the bus to return I passed my time by watching the decorations being taken down. There must have been about ten or more men and women involved in this.

As we moved around Malta I wondered if these street decorations move from town to town or does each town have it's own? They are very large so I wonder where they're stored ? 



Monday, 24 October 2016

Malta Diaries 2016: The Capital, Valletta

Valletta, the capital of Malta was built in 1566 by the Knights of the Order of St John and named after it's grand master. It took 15 yrs to build and taking into consideration that there was no mechanical tools to help with the build it was no mean feat.
Valletta is a walled city and a fort containing magnificent churches and buildings. 
It is very busy as it is a a place where many people live and work and also has many, many visitors daily. Designer shops mix with shops selling souvenir tat and there's even a Marks and Spencer. It is now a world heritage city.
I loved this place so much we visited three times during our holiday.


You can't take your car through the city gates and all the cars here are owned by the people who live in the city. Of course shops and cafes have to have deliveries so there are many vans driving about too. 
To enjoy Valletta you have to put your blinkers on and ignore the crowds and parked cars and look up at the buildings and the architecture and think yourself back into another age. I would love to have been here in the evening when it is dark. It seems it's lovely,quiet and low key. You will find me repeating myself when I tell you in another post about the ancient capital of Malta know as The Silent City.


On our first visit we stopped for a drink at seats outside a cafe in a large square. We met the boldest pigeons we have ever seen landing on tables trying to steal food from plates. I'm so glad we were only having a drink. Another visit and we sat outside a cafe in a little side street. It was quiet and peaceful and I spotted a door up high with a cute little balcony. I wasn't the only one who photographed it.



On our first visit we watched a film about the history of Malta and went for a tour of the war museum which dated back to the 1500's. I won't bore you with it all but it's amazing how many different countries have occupied Malta at some time in history. Our guide told us that if The Knights Of St John hadn't defeated the Turkish she would be talking to us as a Muslin woman. It could easily gave gone either way.

What fascinated me the most was the tour of the Knights hospital. The Knights Hospitallers were primary a nursing order (only men) . They began in Jerusalem in 1080 in a hospital ran by monks. They treated everyone no matter of creed or colour. During the many wars they travelled from country to country sometimes having to fight for the survival of that country. They moved to Malta in 1565 and signs that they were there can be seen all over the island. The eight point Malteese cross came from the cross wore on the knight's uniform and is also the sign we see on St John's Ambulances. 


The top photo was the longest hospital ward in Europe during the 16 th/17th century it held 297 beds.
Each bed had a canopy hanging from above it. Different coloured canopies depicted what illness the occupant was suffering from. Between each bed was a little alcove containing a toilet these were covered by ornate tapestries for privacy. There were drains under the toilets and even a ventilation system with went out into the gardens which were planted with orange and lemon trees to mask the smell.
People using this ward were usually rich and had to pay. The poorer patients were housed two floors down and entered through a tunnel probably so they didn't come in contact with the rich. The ward for them was similar but with three patients to each bed and three to each toilet. This is slightly better then the hospitals I have stayed in where four patients shared each toilet, but at least we had a bed to ourselves.
Salt,honey,and turpentine were used to disinfect wounds and because of the wars most wounds were amputations performed by saw or guillotine.
The long ward in the first photo was being renovated and beams were being replaced. It is now used as a conference centre and for weddings.The second photo is of a smaller ward where you can see the tapestries covering the alcoves where the toilets were. No women were allowed.


Views from the city.

And the streets


I love this photo of the washing on the line. Life goes on visitors or no visitors! 

 I saw this plaque on the wall of a building.

The poet lived here for two years although it only says one on the plaque. He worked as secretary to the governor but was really here to get his health back and withdraw from opium.

And last but not least.
If you can enlarge this last photo it's a letter from King George V1 awarding the George Cross to Malta after the Second World War. The cross is there also. 

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Malta Diaries : Finding Our Way Around.


We decided to explore. The easiest way of doing this is by bus for a few reasons. The driving is a bit mad and busy and there was no where nearby to park a hired car,so the bus it was. We purchased a weekly bus pass for €12 each, this gave us unlimited travel on all buses. The normal single fare is €1.50 but this ticket can be used again and again within a three hour time frame. This proved to be useful to us during our second week when we only had occasional bus trips as to go to most places we had to get the bus to the large bus station in Valetta and then get another one.
The buses are all single decker and air conditioned which was wonderful. They were also very busy and it was not always possible to sit down for the whole journey. 
I moaned about the hills in my last post but we could walk along the seafront which is flat into Sliema passing many restaurants along the way as well as a few swimming pools which were attached to restaurants or swimming clubs. For €12 euro you could use the pool and sun beds all day but it did get very busy in the afternoon and that's when I turned into Mrs Grumpy. Does no one teach their children that it's rude to jump in the pool front of someone when they're swimming? I despair! 
Here are some photos on the way to and in Sliema.


Back in St Julians again and one of the things I have noticed is there are cranes everywhere, I'm surrounded by them. Not the feathered kind I'm afraid but ugly steel industrial cranes. In fact if I stood at the seafront outside our apartment and turned 360 deg I can count about 12 cranes. Which goes to prove how much building work is still going on. Or perhaps they just can't be bothered removing them.

After spending many days gazing out from the balcony I spotted a little piece of history on the other side of the harbour. We were told that some of the restaurants here are in what used to be boathouses or boatyards and some have kept the original doors. I spotted what looks like the front of a mini castle right in the middle of modern buildings. I have enlarged the photo so you can see. The tall building on the left is an office block and the tallest in Malta.
Do you see it? Next to the white apartments . I wonder what it's like inside.

There is a piece of artwork at the corner of the harbour. It's an upside down LOVE sign. I didn't know the reason why it was upside down until I came home but they say you have to look at its reflection in the water and will see it the right way up. Now the sea isn't always calm and there are ripples and other boats tied up there and you can't always see the letters, but they say you can't always see love,it's always there but sometimes you can't spot it if the sea isn't calm enough. Altogether now...aweeee!!!!
The railings and bollards near the sign are covered in padlocks, put there by young lovers who then throw the key in the sea so that no one can't unlock the padlock and they'll always be in love....I know! You'll be in tears soon. Here are the photos!



I wonder if the owners of the padlocks are all still together.