Grottos and Ancient Temples

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July 7th 2015
Published: May 21st 2017
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Louis picks us up from the hotel again. We're learning; this time we don't wait outside on the road, so buses and taxis don't stop for us and we don't manage to make any drivers angry.

We drive along the main road along the north coast. We pass a roundabout which is still being constructed. It looks a bit odd; the only road going in and out of it is the one we're on. Louis explains that while they were constructing the main road they found some ancient archaeological ruins right in the middle of where it was supposed to go. The solution was to build a roundabout, so that the the ruins will now be under the roundabout rather than the road. If that wasn't going to be costly enough, it was right at the foot of a hill, so they had to excavate and build a massive retaining wall to stop the rest of the hill falling in. I hope that lots of people visit these ruins to justify the effort, although that said I'm not quite sure how they're going to get there without getting run over.

First stop is the church in the village of Mosta, where we see a replica of a bomb which fell through the roof during a service in 1942. There were about 300 people here at the time, but the bomb just rolled across the floor without exploding and no one was injured. This is apparently a very famous story in Malta, and I think I remember Issy telling me about it previously. The church itself is very big and impressive as they all seem to be.

Next stop is the walled city of Mdina, which is on one of the highest points on the island. Louis tells us that it's known as the "silent city" because the only cars allowed in are those belonging to residents or people making deliveries. It was the capital of Malta before Valletta, so it‘s very old. The walls are about twenty metres high and ten metres thick, and are being progressively restored. Even the widest streets are only just wide enough for a car, and all the buildings look like they're straight out of the Middle Ages. Louis says the government has very strict controls in place to ensure that it remains well preserved. He says that it's easier to get permission to build a ten storey apartment block elsewhere on the island than to change the size of a window here. It‘s a photographer's paradise. This is slightly regrettable because the battery in my camera just died. I tell Issy that she now has the massive responsibility of being our party's only photographer. She assures me she can cope.

We drive on to the sheer Xaqqa Cliffs which overlook the sea on the south west side of the island. Louis points out the tiny Filfla Island just offshore. I ask him if anyone lives there. He says that the army used to use it for target practice. I take this to mean that the answer to my question is no.

Next stop are the Hagar Qim temples which overlook the sea just south of the cliffs. We meet up with Frans, who's married to Issy's cousin Nancy. He works here, so we get in for free. The temples were built in about 3600 BC and are thought to be just about the oldest surviving free standing temples on the planet. We watch a short 3D movie about the site. It has two separate temples about half a kilometre apart, and both are at least partly set up as calendars. One of them has been constructed so that at dawn on the longest day of the year the sun shines through a small hole in a rock in one part of the temple, and hits another rock on the opposite side. In the other temple the sun does something similar, but on each of the longest and shortest days of the year, and at the equinox. It feels like we’re on the set of an Indiana Jones movie. The second temple, which is called L-Imnajdra (the first one is just called Hagar Qim), is accessed via a steep, slippery path. Frans tells us that a British lady in a wheelchair visited recently on a day when it was pouring with rain. He says that she flew down the path at top speed and then pushed herself all the way back up again. We struggle to walk it. The brakes on wheelchairs must be good. Frans says he thinks the British are very tough, but I'm not so sure. There's a pre-delegation for CHOGM here with us. They decide that the hill's too much of a challenge despite none of them seeming to be wheelchair bound. I think it might be quite good to be part of a CHOGM pre-delegation. Their job seems to be to visit all the island's tourist destinations to make sure that they're all in good order before Tony Abbott and co turn up here later in the year.

We move on to the famed Blue Grotto. The deep and crystal clear water looks very inviting and is a ridiculously deep shade of blue. Unlike many others it seems we've made the mistake of not bringing our swimming gear. Our small boat arrives at the dock and we climb in. The water in the two smaller caves we're taken into first is again a deep shade of blue, and as we put our hands in it looks like they've turned blue as well. The main grotto is massive, with more stunning blue water and stalactites hanging down from the ceiling. Back on the dock we launch into an apparently traditional Maltese lunch of crusty bread, smothered in tomato paste and oil, and topped with olives. The locals seem to take this culinary feast for granted. I'd kill to be able to have it every day.

It's siesta time. The snooze was peaceful, but I awake to find that I'm in trouble. Issy's read yesterday's blog. She hits me, and tells me that I should have known that that was coming. As I write this I think that I'll now be in even more trouble. I didn't realise that blogging would be dangerous; two weeks ago I didn't even know what blogging was.

Louis and Lilly pick us up and we head to the village of Mgarr near the north end of the island. We arrive just in time to watch a spectacular sunset behind the white sandy beach. It's the first sandy beach we've seen since we arrived in Malta. We head back into the village to a traditional Maltese restaurant. I try to chose my usual favourites of octopus and chicken, but I'm told that these aren't traditional enough, and I'm pushed instead into ordering snails and horse meat. Everyone else orders rabbit. What am I doing? Snails are garden pests, and horses race in the Melbourne Cup, and I've just ordered them for dinner? I manage to eat a few of the snails, which you prise out of their shells with a toothpick, but I struggle badly with the horse meat. I'm really glad that someone's ordered chips that I can fill up on. I push the horse meat around the plate to try to make it look like I've eaten at least some of it, but I don't think my efforts have been particularly convincing. I think I may have just failed a basic Maltese test. I hope Issy's not too disappointed in me.

Louis drives us back to the Balzan club, where the feast pre-party is in full swing. Distant relatives and people who remembered Issy's parents appear from everywhere to meet her. I start to think that Malta must be one long feast party. It's only Tuesday, and the feast isn't really on until Sunday, yet it seems that this place will be party central every night between now and then. Louis tells me that each village has an annual feast, and nearly all of them are in the warmer months. I suspect there must be a lot more than twenty villages in Malta, so you could probably party every night for about six months if you really wanted to, and were prepared to move around a bit. I'm suddenly starting to feel very tired.

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8th July 2015

Excellent work dave, make sure you take your swimmers to the blue grotto
9th July 2015

the day we went to Hagar Qim was the hottest humid day EVER! we though we were going to die on the walk between the 2 ruins- don't know how we made it back up that path!
9th July 2015

oh and YUK- horse meat!!!- what were you thinking!
9th July 2015

Dave sounds like a wonderful start to your holiday. Horse meat is a culinary book end though and did you realise the snails have a thread (anticlockwise from memory)? Keep on writing!!

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