MALTA - February 2nd, 2011We arrived two hours earlier than the original itinerary. So after yoga on the ship, I scooted to my stateroom to get dressed for the day. About 9am I disembarked and headed towards the port town of Valletta. I walked up the hills and into a tunnel that eventually led to a parking garage. I caught a lift (elevator) to the main part of the city, passed through the driving circle where the city busses converge, then went into the business district to find breakfast. After walking through the streets in the rain, I happened upon the St. John's Co-Cathedral...I wasn’t in the mood to do a tour, so I popped into the Museum Cafe down the block. Since everything on the menu had meat, I opted for the apple pie and a cup of cappuccino. There, I chatted with a retired lawyer from London. He’d been in Malta for 8 years now and was doing social work. He informed me that the cafe we were in used to be part of the Palace stables - made sense to me. I said goodbye to the gentleman, paid my check, and exited the cafe. I still had two hours until my scheduled tour, so I explored a bit more and found the Underground Castille where an Anne Frank exhibit was taking place. Since I was “the voice” of Anne Frank in a high school play - I couldn’t pass it up. Once I finished seeing everything, I felt the need to start back towards the port. I weaved through the wondrous streets that form sort-of switchbacks down the hills...I could imagine living here with ease!!!
The rain stopped and the sun came out. I removed a layer and grabbed some water before meeting up with my tour. There were only 16 people on the “Prehistoric Temples & Views” excursion, so we got a comfortable mini-bus; once again, the tour guide and driver were quite nice.
A few local facts for you...Malta is an island situated between Sicily, Italy and Africa. The island was a British Naval base since WWI and they eventually left in 1979. It’s 317 square kilometers and the population is 400,000 on the entire island. You may have heard of the Maltese falcon or cross or wine...? The language of Malta is primarily Maltese and English, but many also speak Italian. Maltese resembles Lebanese and is somatic, which means it’s based in Arabic. English is spoken by 99.9% of the locals since tourism provides 25% of their economy (GDP). Up to eight cruise lines may be accommodated at once, although there is rarely more than two. There is one University, one International Airport, and one microchip factory. Malta’s government is democratic where the officials are elected every 5 years. It’s also a welfare state and education, along with medical care is provided for it’s citizens. The Island is predominately Roman Catholic while there are 370 places of worship scattered across the island, which include one mosque, two Jewish synagogues, and 3 Anglo churches. It’s 16 degrees Celsius today (perfect), but in July and August it will usually get up to 45. Rain is actually quite rare with an average of 500 mm per year, primarily acquired in January, February, and March.
A typical, two bedroom apartment with an ocean view would cost about 200,000 Euro. And home loans run about 4-6% interest. Minimum wage is about 150 Euro per week. The Northern side of the island will be more expensive since there are sandy beaches, and hotels. The island is self-sustaining - they grow everything themselves, the streets seem comfortable to drive on, and the transportation system is about to get a renovation. The main things they import is purified water to drink and fuel. But only natural resource on the island is stone.
I felt like I was right at home here because of the limestone and cactus! =)
My tour consisted of the temple of Tarxien, the Blue Grotto, the temple of Hagar Qim, the underground caves of Ghar Dalam, and a visit to the fishing village of Marsaxlokk. I loved every stop, but the village had such a comforting, maybe even romantic feel to it. I guess it could have been that I saw an older couple sitting on the docks holding hands, or the multi-colored painted boats, or the local markets that lines the boardwalk....simply, a lovely place.
The temples I saw were interesting and primitive. They were discovered by accident in the 1800‘s. One probably dates back prior to Stonehenge, the other is estimated to have been built around 2800 BC. Some of the boulders used to built these places weigh 10-15 tons each. And since there is no lava, obsidian, or flint found naturally on the island to make tools, they must have brought them in to carve and cut. The temples were 7-10 km high and they had roofs! Present day, they are covered with a dome/tent to protect them from harsh elements and winds.
The Blue Grotto is gorgeous! All we were able to see was the entrance to the cave that goes in approximately 50 meters inside. The waters were to choppy to take boat tours in, so many people missed out. It was a treat for me just to see those crystal blue waters because the stop wasn’t indicated on the tour sheet, so I was happy! From there, the Island of Filfla can be seen. It used to be target practice by the British Navy, but now serves as a Bird Sanctuary.
That about sums it up, as much as I can write for now....
Last night, ELEMENTS was incredible and impressive for a cruise ship show. It reminded me of Las Vegas (without the nudity). There was acrobatics, magic, fire, dance, etc - great combination that WOW’d everyone.
Today has been the least enjoyable of my trip, although it was fun to watch the towel-folding demo and seeing all my new friends for the last time. Unfortunately, I have to pack and vacation time is coming to a close. It hasn’t been a smooth ride today, and seems to get worse. The decks are closed because the winds are so strong and my SeaBands are back on. The crew is even feeling some seasickness, so I’m not “alone.”
But, I have three more days on land in Barcelona and I’m glad about that, no doubt!
TTFN and I love You!
P.S. I'll upload the rest of my pictures as soon as I get settled at the hostel tomorrow afternoon.