For our last full day in Malta we had committed to trekking to the island of Gozo, one of Malta’s two sister islands, along with Comino. Gozo is more than a third the size of Malta, but it has less than one-tenth of its population and is seen as the more laid-back, green, relaxing island one can escape to. To get there we first had to take a bus to the northwest corner of the island, Ċirkewwa, where a 20-minute ferry would take us to the Gozitan port city of Mġarr. Given that we were on island time, this took maybe an hour and a half, but luckily the ferry was leaving soon after we arrived, so we didn’t have to wait too long. The ride was short but scenic, and we couldn’t have asked for a better day – beautiful blue skies, highs approaching 70, and white, puffy clouds.
Once we got to Mġarr we were attacked by cabbies wanting to take us to the capital, but the €2.60 all-day bus fare was much more enticing. Well, this trip that should have taken some 20 minutes turned closer to an hour, as Maltese traffic is abysmal. Narrow
streets that seem to be one-way are actually two, so it’s a constant game of “who’s going first?” Finally by maybe noon we were in the capital of Victoria, named for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 (and previously known as Rabat).
Victoria is situated on a hill, with the citadel of Il-Kastell as its crown. It’s not unlike Mdina in that there’s the fortified ancient city center, then the surrounding area where the actual inhabitants reside. Walking from the bus terminus, we first passed through Pjazza Indipendenza, Victoria’s main square with its daily market. The market had some nice lace items (Malta is known for it lace), but overall it was the tourist nonsense adorned with the ubiquitious Maltese cross. The only item I’ve been tempted to buy is the neon t-shirt saying “I went to Malta, BITCH”. Passing through the market we ascended the steps to the citadel, but not before running into EC’s new director of West Coast Operations, David, who had been one of the judges on our Take Off Panel – ‘tis a small island!
The first sight in the citadel is the Cathedral of the Assumption,
which was built between 1697 and 1711 to replace a church that had been destroyed by an earthquake. Unfortunately the church was in scaffolding, and we didn’t feel like paying an entrance fee, so that was about it for the cathedral. We then walked up along St. Michael’s Bastion and St. John’s Demi-Bastion, where an excellent panorama of the island can be seen. There are also fortifications built after the Great Siege, since Malta was somewhat paranoid of more attacks from the Turks for quite some time. Until 1637 (the Siege was in 1565), all Gozitans were bound by law to spend the night within the city’s walls.
Seeing as it was about 1, we were ready to eat a little something. Ta’ Rikardu was recommended by Lonely Planet, so we decided to give it a go and were not disappointed. For some €14 we had two glasses of Gozitan wine produced by Ta’Rikardu itself and a platter for two of locally grown fresh tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, capers, olives, homemade cheese, and a giant basket of fresh bread. This was excellent – I picked up a bottle of the wine we had to enjoy back in Boston
Heading back outside the citadel walls, we visited the Basilica of St. George, Rabat’s (Victoria’s) original parish church from 1678. The highlight of the basilica is the altarpiece of Saint George and the Dragon, which is a beautiful structure with 4 pillars of what seemed to be marble. The old town, known as Il-Borgo, surrounds the basilica, and is a maze of narrow alleys and passageways. Each doorstep seems to be adorned by its own small homage to a Saint, or in most cases to Saint George. Once we’d had out fill of wandering we headed back to the bus terminus to head to our next point of interest, Dwejra, which features the most spectacular scenery of the island.
It was going to take too long for the direct bus to come, so we took one to San Lawrenz and then walked some 15 minutes down to the coast. The highlight of Dwejra is the “Azure Window”, a massive natural arch in the sea cliffs. If you watch Game of Thrones
, Daenarys’ Dothraki wedding in episode one takes place right here, with the Azure Window as the backdrop. Also in this area
is the “Inland Sea”, a cliff-bound lagoon connected to the pristine blue water by a narrow tunnel that serves as a fishermen’s haven. There are supposedly cheap boat tours of around 30 minutes with local fisherman, but unfortunately there were none to be found. We had a fairly extensive photo shoot here and basically hate every single picture thanks to how fat we’ve become on these islands, but the pictures will be posted nonetheless.
By the time we were finished it was around 4:30pm. We had hoped to head to the coastal touristy town for dinner, but we’d have to head back into Victoria, wait for another bus out, and given how slow things run here who knows when we’d have made it back to Malta. Plus, we weren’t particularly hungry. And so began our long journey back to St. Julian’s on the mainland, lasting until almost 8pm. One bus, two bus, ferry (bus), three bus…Back at the hotel, we had to check into a new room since we’d opted to save money and share our last night (accommodation had been covered up to this point), but I had made dinner plans with a Central Office colleague,
so once we dropped off our stuff it was back into St. Julian’s one last time.
My colleague Tim, who had moved to Malta with his family to do sales and marketing for the university program I manage admissions for, picked a nice place in Spinola Bay. I had calamari stuffed with pine nuts, anchovies, mint and a few other things - delicious. Washed down with a bottle of Sicilian red it was a wonderful way to finish off the evening. Tim was kind enough to pick up the tab, adding to the wonderfulness. Back at the George we finished up our packing, had one last taste of Cisk out on the balcony, and called it a night before our 5:15am pickup for the airport.
And so my Maltese adventure came to an end…8 more months and I’ll be back for Take Off part two!
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