Malta is a very small group of rocky islands in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. About 100 miles from Sicily and about 250 miles from Africa. It has been a strategic possession of every warlike nation in the area. Around 1500 AD the Knight's of St John under the protection of England made it their castle-like headquarters. They were very much into medicine and had the best hospital in Europe in the middle ages, hence the Maltese cross that is used by a lot of ambulance services. It was English until very recently when it became an independent country, except for a very short sojourn under Napoleon.
The currency is the Maltese Lira. One of these is worth about $3 so hotels are around 15 Lira. Sounds like America in the 1950s. We had exchanged a few dollars in London so we had enough for the airport taxi - the rest would probably be put on our Master Card.
We arrived on Monday at 4 am. We had left our house in San Antonio at 9 am Saturday, minus a 7 hour time difference, and had had no sleep. We were tired.
The taxi driver from the airport to the hotel must have been in a hurry to get back to his game of cards. He topped 80 mph once through the streets and was doing 50 mph as he squeezed through a gate in the medieval walls that was designed for a narrow, horse-drawn cart. The road surfaces have a very high gloss because the heat melts the tar and the tires polish them, it looks like traction would be impossible if it ever rained. But we got there and immediate fell asleep until noon.
We stayed in the Medieval town of Valetta. This is a big piece of rock shaped like a whale, maybe a quarter mile across and three quarters of a mile long surrounded by the "Grand Harbour" and connected to the rest of Malta by an isthmus at the tail. The perimeter is a cliff topped by a battlement so the whole thing looks like a huge castle. There is a road around the base of the cliff and on top many of the streets going across the width are steps for pedestrians to climb up one side and down the other. The streets down the length are one car wide except for the street on the crest which is a wide pedestrian boulevard with old buildings and cafes.
Our hotel had walls about three feet thick and an elevator that was about three feet square - not enough room for three cases and two people. It had a fabulous view across the harbour and we had booked a corner view room. No air conditioning, of course, and it was in the nineties but there was a cool breeze off the water so we slept with the windows open.
Mistake! At 8am Monday there was a series of enormous explosions. After we scraped ourselves off the ceiling we found they were coming from a castle just across the harbour. Maybe we were under attack? The next few hours we slept and we were wakened, we slept and we were wakened. We later found out that it was a festival day and the noise was fireworks. Big explosions are cheaper than pretty fireworks and are more impressive during daylight hours so that's what we got all day.
|The view straight out of our window. This is the castle we thought was shelling our hotel at 8am|
|The next frame to the right...|
|... and to the left. This is the entrance to the harbour|
|Looking back toward the island there are houses down to the water's edge|
|The view from our other window looked across the roofs...|
|... and along one of the streets|
|If you have very sharp eyes you can see this is called the "Maltese Falcon". Very original|
|This is a view from the other side of the island looking back toward the town.|
After we dragged ourselves out of bed Peter walked to the ferry terminal to ensure we had tickets to Sicily for the next day. Walking around the bottom of the walls sure is impressive. All the buildings are made of stone and they all looked like huge government offices but built two centuries ago.
Then it was time to explore. Naturally, all the attractions such as "Malta under Siege" and "World War II in Malta" and St. Elmo's Castle Museum were just closing, but just wandering around the town was fascinating. We ended up on the pedestrian boulevard for a beer. Peter's father had spent four years of the war in Malta, but we had no knowledge of where.
|St. Elmo's Fort is the main fort at the seaward end of the island. St. Elmo is the patron saint of sailors and the electrostatic discharges on the masts of ships are called St. Elmo's Fire. No, no relation to any Sesame Street characters.|
|On the main street is a government building with an ancient, famous clock. It is entered through this gateway.|
|Here's the clock and...|
|...detail of the mechanisms|
Finally, we ate dinner. Malta at night has a lot of illumination and we wandered up above the tail of the whale where there were some pretty gardens and a spectacular view back over the island. We discovered a little cafe that served pizza - the first of many pizzas - down in a dungeon cut out of the rock. Good food, good surroundings, good company, and finally good sleep again.
3 am the next morning we were up and off on the next leg of the journey. This sounds like a very punishing time, but the ferry only goes once a day and on Tuesday it leaves at 5 am. Given our jet-lagged state we couldn't really distinguish the difference between 3 am and noon, so we schlepped downstairs, got a taxi and we were off.
Going out of the harbour gave us a different view on Malta and we discovered that out hotel "Grand Harbour Hotel" had put its large sign around two sides of the building. The side we saw last was labelled "our Hotel". Very appropriate.
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