Published: August 8th 2007May 26th 2007
Our first Maltese Sunrise
Taken out our balcony window at about 5:30am
So there we were in Gozo, an island off Malta- one of our favourite places so far on this trip! Malta is fantastic and Gozo is just as good, if not better.
We had quite a pleasant flight (about 3 hours) to Malta from England with a very funny Captain who came out and introduced himself and his wicked sense of humour, and got lots of giggles out of everyone (people over 60 seem to find dry humour a lot funnier than the average....or was it because they were all British?), then we proceeded to have a few more wines and chat to the Canadian-Australian with Maltese heritage (who is a non-uniformed member of Vic Police) who seemed to not like flying but very much liked Jonnie Walker! We had lots of interesting conversations with our fellow passenger, including politics, as one does a few thousand feet in the air after a few drinks. We kept our professions to ourselves....
Anyway, we got to our hotel at around 9pm and I have to make public mention of my dismal effort of dropping our room key down the elevator shaft (because Leigh said I have to make public note of
Our first Maltese Sunrise
Taken out our balcony window at about 5:30am
my shame) which I will accept all due credit for as only I could manage to drop the hotel's second-last key to our room down a space about 2cm wide by pure carelessness (okay, and a few wines on the plane). Big bonus was that we had one of few rooms on the front of the building with a balcony overlooking the Meditterranean!! We saw the most amazing sunrise the following morning, woken up by the bright orange light filing in through the gap in the curtain....before 6am. Worth it! Got a few fab pics.
Our first proper day in Malta was spent organising activities and then stumbling onto an afternoon cruise around Malta's two biggest harbours which include 6 'creeks' which aren't what we consider to be creeks, but more inlets (including a MASSIVE shipping yard and dry-docks where we saw a huge ship being built as well as the run-about (!) owned by Russia's richest man, one of the richest men in the world who owns Chelsea FC, being maintained) then having lunch on the water in Valetta, Malta's capital, (we mis-ordered and ended up eating more mussells than we care to remember.....but they were VERY tasty).
We took a cruise around Malta's biggest harbour (around Valetta, the capital). Lots of ruins! Mostly bombed over the years by invaders.
The cruise was amazing- with a fantastic commentry of Malta's history etc and seeing everything from the water was a really great idea. It was a blue-sky-sun day with not a knot of breeze and the perfect introduction to Malta. PLUS we later learned that we had won dinner for two at Malta's new and only SPA RESORT by filling out a survey and popping it into the entry box for the comp. Bonus!
Tuesday, we had a full day booked in on 'Fernandes II' which is a dual-mast timber yacht (old school)...unfortunately we woke up to the wind screaming across the bay and some very sadly overcast sky...but the clouds left by the time we boarded and we just battled through the wind for the day....needless to say, it was still brilliant!
We sailed up the NE side of Malta to Camino, the little blob just to the North where we swam and snorkelled in the Blue Lagoon for a few hours. The water temperature was what some would call INVIGORATING but we braved it on principle because 1) it was the Blue Lagoon and 2) when would we get the opportunity to swim in the
Forts around the old city
After our dip, we jumped on a speed boat tour to the Camino Caves (and got drenched) which were pretty spectacular in their own right. We even saw the Fort and caves that 'the Count of Monte Christo' was filmed at. The water around Camino was a brilliant sky blue that we had never seen before. Dazzling!
Great fun, great lunch and then we set sail for St Paul's Island, a tiny island back towards Malta, which had a nice, calm cove for swimming. Another dip into the (freezing) Med and we were back on the top of the deck, beer in Leigh's hand, wine in mind....and it was sun-baking central....cruised back along the NE coast of Malta, ducked back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and jumped on the bus to the ferry terminal to come to Gozo. We JUST made the ferry- we had to bolt down the pier with poor Leigh carrying both of our big packs and me with the 2 smaller bags, and the second we got on the ferry (through the back of the ship where the cars drive on), the ramps went up and we were off. Just about
There used to be a bridge that linked the breakwater to the fort...until it was bombed!
Indiana Jones'd it.
We got to Gozo ferry terminal about 7:30pm and saw a bus with lots of people and asked if it was the bus to Gozo's capital, Victoria (which we needed to get to for another bus to Xlendi, where we were staying). 'The last bus has already gone' was what we were received with. Bother. We looked at each other, not too sure what to do, but then a nice man told us it was we could get on their private bus, and the driver would drop us off in Victoria. 'Thank you so much'.
It was mostly old people on the bus....and then a man at the front, started chanting in Malti into the microphone...and then the busload chanted back...and then he did it again...and they chanted back again.....all signing crucifxes on their foreheads, hearts and shoulders and kissing rosary beads...okay, not so out of the usual....I mouthed to Leigh 'I think we were on a religious group's bus.' Then the singing started. Wowsers. I'm not talking hymns, this was something different.
We couldn't look at each other for fear of cracking up (because as awful as it sounds, it was
un-nervingly funny and weird, perhaps because it was in another language and it wasn't something we were used to- all due respect to people and their religious beliefs and practices)....and then we went past the signs for Victoria, where we were meant to be dropped....And we weren't following the arrows.
We both got a little nervous. Leigh looked at me and whispered something about a cult and never being seen again. Images of our faces on the news flashed through our heads, as we wondered how long it would be until anyone actually realised that we had disappeared. Long story short, everyone got off, and we learned that all buses and taxis on Gozo stop at 7pm...WHAT THE!!?? So the bus driver kindly (and maybe sneakily) said for a sum of money he would drive us to our village...Whew. A few steep hills later and we had made it. We stayed at a lovely guesthouse (San Anotnio Guesthouse- HIGHLY recommended) at the top of one of the hills in Xlendi and our room overlooked the Med and our swimming pool. The guesthouse was run by a family who were the typical Maltese friendly type who took special care of
The Maltese are possibly the friendlist nation of people we came across while we were travelling. And living in a place like that, what's not to be happy about!? Everyone was up for a chat, and everyone had relatives in Australia- mostly Melbourne and Sydney. It was nice to have our accents recognised straight away as Australian, which more often than not sparked a fondness for our country with so many.
We hired a car for one of the days we were in Gozo- not quite the Renault Clio with 7km that we had in Europe, but the 1990 Nissan Micra *just* got us around....even if the hills had to be done in first gear. Hehe. Trusty steed. We managed to get around to a heap of places on Gozo that day, it was great!
We headed to Xaghra to Calypso Cave which overlooks the red sands Ramla l-Ħamra (see pics). The beach toys were awesome- we never knew that canoodles could have sundecks and water slides! Calypso Cave is alleged to be the cave in Homer's "The Odyssey". Some are even convinced that Gozo is the Island of Ogygia and the cave to be
the one where the beautiful nymph Calypso kept Odysseus as a "prisoner of love" for seven years. We went down into the cave- great view, the cave wasn't anything exceptional but the myth behind it added some excitement.
We went to a temple that was already over 100 years old when the Pyramids were being built, "Ġgantija", ‘the Giant’s Tower’. It is believed to have been built in about 3500BC, pretty cool stuff. It is the oldest standing structure in the WORLD. We had a bit of enternainment on arrival- there was a snake in the ladies' (and of course I was BUSTING)......Leigh found it funny. The guy who ran the tourist booth called another guy who worked there but who was off duty to come down and do a bit of a Steve Irwin. The guy caught the snake and it was apparently non venomous but we weren't willing to take any chances and watched from a distance as this guy brought it out by the tail (Leroy was a bit closer and did the obligatory "jump back and lose his shoe" while the guy dropped the snake back in the corn crop over the wall. See the
We also visited the Victoria Cathedral and Citadel which was out of this world. The floors were marbel tomb-stones lined up alongside each other and (something that made me feel a bit uneasy about walking on these floors) there were people actually buried under them. Like the typical Baroque cathedrals, there was lots of gold, lots of commissioned paintings and lots of scenes painted on the roof. The Cathedral is made from Limestone (as are most things in Malta/Gozo!) and has fortified walls which look 360 degrees over Gozo. Apparently in Malta/Gozo there are approx 328 churches...and a population the size of Canberra.
We headed off to Ramla and Marsalforn (the biggest town/resort on the island) and checked out the salt pans which are still in use today! See pics. We then drove around the "The Grotto" which was the most brilliant blue we've ever seen and also a hot spot for scuba divers. Leroy tested the water temp and as you will see in the pic- it was a bit 'fresh' and we decided not to go in. We spent a few hours at Dwejra to see the Crocodile Rock (shaped like a croc head), Fungus
Fernandes II- Captained by an expat Aussie!
Rock, the Azure Window, more salt pans and a little summer village (completely empty). The wind was howling and the waves were furiously bashing against the cliffs, so although it was a little unpleasant weather-wise, it was a bit of a thrill being next the sea when it was so furious.
We found a fantastic restaurant, tucked in away from tourists, right in residential Gozo, near Mgarr Harbour...it was on a cliff-top and overlooked Camino and Malta. What a find! It had a bocci lane as soon as you entered, where a group of old Maltese men who looked like they were regulars, sipped the local brew (Cisk) and enjoyed a few afternoon games. It was our last day in Gozo and we'd heard of this restaurant and were stoked to actually stumble across it. We saw another couple from our guesthouse there also. Leroy had lasagne and I had a serve of a traditional Maltese dish which was like a macaroni past bake. We were both ravenous but my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw what 'main' size was! Hooley Dooley. I battled through.
We took a drive down to Mgarr Harbour and
Unfortunately the weather wasn't so flash when we visited the Blue Lagoon in Camino
did a recce to see where we needed to leave the car for the hire car company the next morning at the ferry terminal....it ended up almost being a scene from Mr Bean. Lets just say that when we walked away from the car, we prayed (mostly for the other cars down the hill) that despite the age and condition of the hire car, that the handbrake worked!
We jumped on the ferry the following morning and spent the last day and a half back in Malta. We cruised around Sliema and Sliema Harbour and on our last night, had dinner at the top of a hotel in Valetta overlooking the harbour- it was PERFECT! See pics.
Another very sad farwell to a country that will always have a special place in our hearts and minds.
There are more photos below