Today we'll be travelling to Gozo, which has got me feeling very curious. Ever since I first heard about this tiny island from Issy's family and relatives many years ago, I've had visions of people with two heads, and a place that's so quiet that someone sneezing would make front page news. My relatives have made the Gozitans, as I'm now told they are called, sound like a very poor man's Tasmanians. I hope that no one from Gozo reads this. I don't think they will. From what Issy's family and relatives have told me, people from Gozo can't read.
Louis and Lilly again pick us up, and we drive to the ferry terminal at the northern tip of Malta and then onto the ferry for the twenty minute crossing.
Our first stop is the church in the village of Xewkija. I had to look up this name after we got back to the hotel. I'm struggling to know how to pronounce it and most other place names I see on signs both here and back on the mainland. (I can't believe that I just referred to an island that's about 30 kilometres long as "the mainland".) I think
Xewkija is pronounced something like Sceuchia. Issy, Louis and Lilly try to get me to pronounce it and a whole lot of other Maltese place names, but I think your throat can only bend in the right direction to do this if you were born here. They all make fun of me.
The church is impressive. We tell the very friendly priest that we're from Australia. I then realise that he's the first Gozitan we have met. His second head's well hidden, and I begin to wonder if maybe he's really an immigrant from Malta. He says "God Bless Australia" and tells us that two of the chapels in the church were funded by donations from Gozitans in Melbourne and Sydney. I begin to wonder if maybe I've unknowingly met a Gozitan before back home. If so, I hope I didn't denigrate their homeland. The priest says we should take the lift up to the roof, and that we'll be able to see Australia from up there. The view is spectacular. I take the spiral staircase up to the top of the bell tower. There are lots of bells and some of them are very big. My timing is
bad. The bells start ringing and my head spends the next few minutes vibrating.
We drive on to the capital, Victoria, and stop for a coffee and the obligatory pastizzi. Louis takes me into the building next door which houses the Ministry of Gozo. He tells me that this used to be the hospital. It has about twenty rooms, and each one houses a department. These include the Health Department, the Engineering Department and the Passport Office. There's only one person in each Department. We pass a room indicating that it's the "Department of Staggers". I ask Louis what this is. He says he doesn't know. I wonder if maybe it‘s the Liquor Licensing Department.
We walk through the maze of narrow back streets to the main square. Louis tells us that there are two rival groups in Victoria, Saint George and Saint Maria, and they're fierce rivals in just about everything. Every house has a sign on it which identifies which of the two groups the family belongs to. Louis tells us that about ten years ago the people from Saint George ordered a very large and expensive bronze door for their church, as a way of
trying to outdo the Saint Marians. When it arrived they realised that they'd got the measurements wrong and it wouldn't fit. It seems that the Saint Marians still remind the Saint Georgians about their error at every opportunity.
I ask Louis again when he's going to become a professional tour guide. He knows at least as much about Malta as our professional guide knew about Santorini, and we paid him several hundred Euro for a few hours of his time.
Next stop is the famous and spectacular Azure Window rock arch near the town of San Lawrenz. Nearby is Fungus Rock, so named for its rare fungus which reputedly has strong medicinal properties. Louis says that it's strictly protected, and that if you try to take some of the fungus "they will shoot you". Yep, that sounds like strict protection. We board a small boat in the so-called Inland Sea and it takes us into a narrow tunnel through the cliffs and out into the open Mediterranean. The water colours are again stunning, and very similar to those at the Blue Grotto.
We drive back into Victoria and hike up to the ancient fort Citadel built on
the town's highest point. We're told that if anyone ever tried to invade, all the inhabitants would come up here to be protected. The walls are massive, and if I’d been an invader I think I would have taken one look at them and decided to go elsewhere.
It's very hot, so next stop is Ramla Bay where we swim. The beach is golden sand and the water is much warmer than it was in Santorini. It seems very easy to float which Louis tells us is because the Mediterranean is saltier than the oceans. There's a large religious statue on the beach right next to the lifeguards' tower. It looks a bit odd, but when we think about it some more it does somehow seem appropriate.
We dine right next to the water in the village of Marsalforn. We watch on as a boy catches a fish from the promenade right in front of us. I think that fish must be really stupid. The water's so clear and calm. Surely they can work out that someone standing there with a fishing rod, hooks and bait is trying to catch them.
Gozo's not at all what I'd
expected and I think that maybe Issy's family and relatives are actually a bit jealous of their Gozitan cousins. I'm sure this observation will now get me into more trouble. Maybe I'll be safer in Morocco. I'm not aware of us having any family connections there.
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