Happy Birthday Mama--From Malta to Venice with the Family Day 3--Gozo, Comino and one Badass Burger

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June 12th 2016
Published: June 14th 2016
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After getting our feet sucked clean by fish and the like last night, Liz and José went to see about getting the group to Gozo and Comino, the other two main islands in the Maltese archipelago. They texted us: Breakfast at 8:30, on the bus at 9:15. Great! We had breakfast at the buffet—the amount of food was amazing! White bread and wheat bread and pumpernickel and raisin bread and brioche and croissants and ham and salami and cheese and butter and honey and eggs and bacon and on and on and on. Malta is known for its honey and I had honey in my tea—it was delicious. I am going to scout some of that out to take home before we leave.

Mark went down to the hotel beach club to get a couple of towels since swimming was part of the itinerary. When he got back to the room, his key was demagnetized. He went down the the desk (which is 12 floors and and long corridor away) and they remagnetized his key. Didn’t work. Back down 12 floors and a long corridor and they gave him a new key. Worked. He brushed his teeth, I came in and did the same and just as he was putting his shirt on and preparing to leave, Julie Facetimes me. “This is not just us, there are a bunch of people on this bus and we’re making them late.” Ooops! I thought it was a van just picking us up.
We hurried downstairs and got on the bus to applause and were pulling out when Brian came out of the door. STOP! Brian got on the bus and HE got applause. I said, “I’m clapping because now we were not the latest!”

The bus took us through the Maltese countryside, stopping at a few hotels to pick up passengers. We got to the dock and Liz showed the man her receipt. He hemmed and hawed and finally said to go get on this large ferry behind us. So we did. It was a large ship which carried cars and all. It pulled away just as Mom literally stepped foot on the boat (yay Mom!) and we were off. Our tickets included all you can drink so Liz went to ask someone about that. The man at the information booth said ask in the café. The line in the café was very long so we said never mind and went and found seats outside. Skate and I went into the shop and bought a couple of bottles of water each (€.80) and sat on the rear deck and enjoyed the sunshine and sea air. The trip to Gozo was only about 20 minutes so in very little time we were off the ferry and at the port in Gozo, the second largest island in the Maltese archipelago.

Liz went and found our guide who said something about noon (it was now just after 11) and we were a little confused. Why can’t we get on a bus until noon? Finally, they sent us to a green hop-on-hop-off tour bus and we all boarded and climbed up to the second floor. Earbuds in place, we listened to the history of Gozo and Malta, how it was first settled by people from Sicily and then the Greeks had their turn and then the Arabs. It is Arabs and then the French and finally the British until it became independent in the early1970s. Although small, it is a very strategic group of islands, basically providing naval and air base sites to defend opening between the western and eastern Mediterranean. Those conquerors, always thinking! Although it was bombed hard during WWII, it was never conquered. Yay Malta! One of the interesting things about the narrative was the number of times that fate sort of pointed the way. There was a man who was in charge of finding a place to build a church. He was traveling with his donkey. At one point the donkey refused to move any further and the man figured must be God’s will that the church be built on that site. Another story was one of a woman who was in church and heard a voice that said, “You will not be back here for a year.” She left, got sick, was out for a year and when she next stepped into the church, she felt at peace and said, “Ah! God must want me to start a convent.” So she did. I think in the course of the 2 ½ hour tape we heard at least 5 stories like that.

The countryside is very brown, with scrubby brush, lots of cactus and a few palm trees that look suspiciously transplanted. There are also what we could call in North Carolina the Loblolly Pines (they are at least kissin’ cousins.) And the limestone is EVERYWHERE!! Limestone buildings and walls and roads and roofs. I think we saw 9 roofs that were made of wood plank. There were a lot of small rectangular fields surrounded by limestone stacked-rock walls with nothing planted in them. It sort of seemed like they built the walls and ran out of steam. Of course, those walls could have been there for centuries. The big crops on Gozo are potatoes and tomatoes and we did finally see some tomato plants. Most farms look quite small, family kind of things.

A couple of the villages were topped with impressive citadels looking out over the land and the sea. Really pretty.
We got back to the port and Liz found the next part of the trip which was a boat ride to Comino. The person she talked to said it would leave at 2:40. It was 1:45 at the time so we headed across the street to a little pizza place and all 11 of us sat down and ordered pizza and wine or beer. Pizza was €4.50 which is about $5. I figured it would be a small pizza, maybe lunch plate sized. Uh, no, more like platter sized. We could have easily ordered 3 pizzas for 5 people. Who knew? Matla is cheap is what I am finding. However, it took a while for all 9 pizzas one one sandwich to get out of the oven and our 2:40 departure time was rapidly approaching. Liz and José went to see if we could take a later boat. No problem. There’s another boat at 3:20. Perfect. Finish lunch. Mark and I ordered another half bottle of wine (also €4.50) and just as it arrived and we poured the first glass, Liz and José reappeared (I have to admit, I didn’t know they were missing) and said, “WE HAVE TO GO NOW!” pour the wine back in the bottle, pay the waiter, and hustle as fast as we can to the boat. The deckhand was fussing as we approached, “Hurry! Hurry!” My brother looks at my mom and said under his breath, “We are,” and then under his breath, “dickhead.” A truer expletive was never uttered. I mean really, here are a gaggle of people trying to help a 1-week-shy of 80-years-old woman and he’s fussing? He should have said, “What a heartwarming family site. We will wait.”

Finally the mystery began to unravel of why we seemed to be missing connections all day long. Liz said to a man on board, “We are supposed to have free drinks.” He looked at her ticket, disappeared and came back with red bracelets for each of us. Finally we got an explanation. We were supposed to leave our hotel at 9:15 and travel to the port. From there we were supposed to get on a small boat and travel to Gozo with all drinks included. We would then take a hop-on, hop-off tour of Gozo, and then return to the port and get on another small boat to Comino and stay there for an hour and a half and then go back to the main isle of Malta. Because we were late, the small boat left without us. We got on the free ferry (who knew nor cared anything about free drinks) and got to Gozo. We had clearly missed “our” bus but they let us take another one that would get us back in time to get the boat to Comino. Clearly, the Elgerts (and BRIAN, let’s not forget BRIAN!) screwed all of that up. Oh well. Live and learn.

The boat ride to Comino was pretty and we docked among a bunch of other excursion boats on what had to be the rickiest stacked stone on stone “dock” I had ever seen. Mom said, “If this were the United States, there would be yellow caution tape everywhere.” I said, “If this were the United States, this would have been closed down long ago. Not. Happening.”

Ever the adventurers, though, we got off of the boat and made our way down the bobbing up and down gang plank, up the rocky path and towards the beach. Mom said to a couple of young people heading towards us, “Does it get any better?” They said, “NO!” Uh oh. Maybe wrong question? The next people we saw, she said, “Is it worth it?” They said, “Absolutely!” So on we went. Mom pointed to a little rocky jetty and said, “Let’s go there.” I noticed there were no stairs, no sand, no easy way into the water. I said, “Uh, no. Let’s keep walking.” We did an over a hill and around a bend there was a little sandy beach with 200 deck chairs, 100 umbrellas and 500 people. Let’s go here. Michael and Skate were at the top of the stairway to the beach, having just come out of the water. Mom took off her capris and shirt and handed them over to Skate and proceeded down to the shore. The rest of us found a limestony outcropping to store our stuff (avoiding the €20 charge for using two chairs and an umbrella) and made our way down to the beach. The water was cold but clear as glass and very refreshing. We saw small silver fish but they did not appear I the least interested in our calluses. Mom, Mark, Steve, and I braved the cold and got in up to our necks. It really was beautiful.

Julie was guarding our stuff and I got out after a bit to relieve her but she said now that she was dry, she didn’t want to get wet again. Brian, Katie, Liz and José had taken a powerboat trip and they got to the lagoon later than the rest of us. While Mark, Mom, and I dried off, the young people went into the water. Julie and Steve stayed with them (these are their kids, after all) and Mom, Mark and I started making our way back to the boat. Mom was a little chagrined because she had left all of her clothes with Skate and was going to have to walk back to the boat in her bathing suit but, much to our surprise, Michael and Skate were still at the top of the beach path. Mom got dressed, asked if anyone wanted ice cream to which we all said no, much to her disappointment I think since she had wanted ice cream for at least a day and a half, and we started back to the boat. I am so thankful Michael and Mark were there to help her. We really made it with no incident. When we got back on board, Mark ordered a red wine, I ordered a white wine and other people ordered wine and beer. All of the cups were about the same size, maybe 6 ounces, which is a generous pour of wine but not so generous with beer. When Brian got back on board, he started heading to the bar and ordering a beer and each time he would, he’d get Mark a red wine. I had 1 wine and they ran out of white (Julie said, “We drank them out of white! Sweet!” Clearly, our job here is done) and I poured a glass from our lunchtime-escape bottle and then made the wise decision to stop for a while. Brian, however, kept bringing Mark red wine and by the time we docked, he had decided that dinner beverages were going to be soft drinks.

When we got off of the boat, the line for the bus taking everyone back to their hotels was incredibly long and Liz (who has now been elevated to the Southern Standard of “bless her heart”) found someone and asked how to get back to the hotel. He pointed to a long line and she said, “We’ll never fit!” He said, “Cross the street. Take that bus.” At that point I said to Sara Katherine, “Get the feeling this is a fly-by-night operation?” She said, “Ya think?” But good news—we actually did end up back at the Intercontinental, in one piece and ready to continue the night.

We had a few precious minutes to ourselves and the muster call was back down in the lobby at 8:10. Met up with the crew. Put Mom and Jack in a taxi and the rest of us walked the 15 minutes stroll to Badass Burgers. Badass Burgers (Jack said we should pronounce it Bad-as with the emphasis on the first syllable), a small, fun, trendy burger joint located on the second floor of an old building. Most of the restaurant is really terrace but they have covered it with canvas tarps to make a most intimate and lovely gathering space. The burgers these folks serve are HUGE. Mark ordered the minis which is six slider type burgers with different toppings. I ordered the Meat Dippers which were basically their signature ground beef wrapped in a puff-pastry type dough and cooked. I got an order of onion rings and Mark ordered sweet potato fries. Food was quite good and the setting on the terrace was lovely. Liz and José did good!

Liz told the waitress that it was Mom’s birthday and they brought her a piece of chocolate pie with a candle on top and we all started singing Happy Birthday to You. The whole restaurant joined in and then cheered raucously when the song was complete. Mom was so touched that so many people sang Happy Birthday to her that she got up and went to visit the table that was right behind us. Of course they asked how old she was and of course she said how old do you think and of course they said 70 and course she thrilled in saying 80. She told this group that she hoped they would be as happy at 80 as she was tonight. A bit later, a man from that table came over to our table and, with literally tears streaming down his cheeks, he sputtered that what she had said meant so much to him and that he hopes, as well, that he’s as happy at 80 as she is. What a blessing. This is the blessing of the woman I have been privileged to call Mom.

After dinner and haggling about the check (Jack picked up. Thanks Jack!) we headed back to the hotel. I was wicked tired so opted to travel with Mom and Jack in the taxi. I had my steps so what did it matter? After we got back to the hotel, we Facetimed Andrew for his birthday (27 years old—what? I’m the mother of a 27-year-ole?) and as different groups of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents wandered into the lobby, we handed the phone off to them so they could wish the birthday boy a happy day. Super fun.

I was exhausted and soon after headed to bed. Tomorrow we get on The Ship. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. Tomorrow does. Good night!


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