IT'S LYNNY KANSAS
DON'T LET THE RUBY SLIPPERS,
OR THE DOROTHY INSPIRED NICKNAME
FOOL YOU., THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME,
BUT TRAVELING IS FUN.
The tiny Island of Malta, just 316 km2 (122 sq mi) sits in the Mediterranean sea, like an exclamation mark thrown from Sicily, which is itself an afterthought tossed from the toe of Italy. In fact Sicily is a mere two and a half hour ferry ride from this archipelago. For a tiny island, Malta has experienced much in the way of history, fought over many times resulting in differing cultures leaving their mark on the Island.
Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians and Spanish all conquered here. By far the biggest impact though must be The Knights of St. John who ruled from 1530 to 1798, and of course The British, from whom Malta gained Independence in 1964, and whose King, George V awarded the Island The George Cross in recognition of their amazing bravery whilst under siege during World War II. The Grand Harbour of Valetta, a large natural harbour, has many historic tales to tell and the area surrounding it is the most highly populated area on the island.
If you are looking for lush green sweeping vistas and beautiful landscapes, Malta may not be for you. Although beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder. The landscape is usually dry and arid with more stone walls and accompanying cacti than you can shake a stick at. There are rocky outcrops, cliffs, the odd green patch of grape vines and olive tree groves to break the fairly flat brown vistas. Contrast this though with amazing blue skies and azure blue waters that will provide jaw dropping backdrops to your photos, it's hard not to fall in love with Malta. If you are interested in ancient walled cities with quaint narrow streets, underground burial sights, beautiful churches and squares, tranquil fishing villages with colourful boats, a craft village, the odd secluded beach, a Grand Harbour and amazing capital City, then Malta is most definitely for you. The people are the friendliest too! Of course there are also lively towns with bars, great restaurants and nightlife as well. Something for everyone.
As you drive around the Island, there are many fishing villages, with their colorful boats standing out against the backdrop of blue sky and sea. Lots of opportunities to sit and sip a drink of choice, and watch the World go by. One of my favorites is Marsaxlokk.
Another "must do" is a trip to the Blue Grotto, quite close to Marsaxlokk. Take a small boat out for a 20 minute or so trip through the caves with their crystal clear waters.
Valetta, the Capital is of course another major attraction, with building after historical building which will stun you, many built by The Knights of St. John when Valetta was first laid out and constructed after the Great Siege of 1565. The eight different European regions or "langues" represented within the Knighthood, built "Auberges" or "houses", the most opulent and prominent one remaining is the The Auberge de Castille. Many more beautiful buildings and Cathedrals are surrounded by quaint streets with some fantastic shopping opportunities, as well as cafes and restaurants when you are ready for a break, flanked of course by the majestic Grand Harbour and the Barrakka Gardens with it's sweeping views of the Harbour. As we wondered around Valetta, we stumbled upon a small movie theatre on St. Lucia Street showing a fabulous short 35 minute movie called Valetta Living History. The movie gave great insight into the History of Valetta, definitely highly recommended.
Because Malta is such a small Island, it is not difficult at all to get around and see quite a lot in a relatively short space of time. We rented a car and really enjoyed driving ourselves round the Island. A GPS is quite handy, as some road signs are a little confusing, but the smallness means it's pretty easy to get back on track again if you do get lost. There is a pretty good public bus service, so technically you can get around by bus. There is also a Hop On, Hop Off Tourist Bus which goes to all the major spots too. We just like to drive and explore, and it did save a lot of time and frustration.
One of my favorite places to visit is the amazing Mosta Dome or Mosta Rotunda (Parish Church of the Assumption, dedicated to the Assumption of Mary). This beautiful Roman Catholic church boasts the third largest unsupported dome in the World. During the second World War, the dome and church were nearly destroyed when during an aerial attack, a bomb came through the dome in April 1942. The bomb reportedly pierced the roof, slid along the floor but did not explode, sparing the lives of the 300 people in the congregation at the time. The bomb was defused, a replica is now on show in the sacristy at the back of the church.
As far as beaches go, Paradise Bay and Golden Bay are just two you can head to.
As you drive around the Island, you will come across quite a few of the old stone coastal watch towers built by the Knights of St. John. The roads are lined with stone walls, and as you get a bit more off the beaten track, the roads can get quite bumpy, adding to the fun. If you head to Dingli Cliffs, you will also find the tiny Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene, a stark contrast in size to the mighty Mosta. This tiny chapel has no windows, but I managed to snap a photo of the interior by poking my camera lens through a round hole in the door. Amazing!!
On this trip to Malta, we elected to use our Hotel points and stayed at The Hilton, in St. Julians Bay. The Hilton is connected to the fairly new Portomaso Marina area of St. Julians, lots of restaurants within easy walk, and only 5 minutes further walk to the hub of Paceville/St. Julians with even more restaurants and bars to choose from. As much as we enjoyed the Hilton, if going again, we would seriously consider doing a self catering apartment rental in the Portomaso complex. Also a consideration would be to spend a couple of nights in a Hotel in Valetta as to take advantage of the Valetta night life without having to worry about driving or taxi fares which were quite high.
GOZO AND COMINO
Malta has two sister Islands, Gozo and Comino. Perhaps one regret of the trip is that we did not make time to take the short ferry ride over to Gozo at least. These two Islands, though smaller than Malta, have lots to offer, worth considering.
ST. PAULS BAY AND MY TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE
Perhaps the best experience of the whole Malta visit for me personally, was the trip down memory lane. You see, I visited Malta some 14 times as a child/young adult, on holidays with my parents. We first came to Malta in the late 1960's, the last time I was there was around 1975. My Dad worked for British Airways at Manchester Airport in the UK, so staff travel was a big perk back then, and one my Dad took full advantage of. We used to stay in St. Pauls Bay, at a place called The Farewell Bar. The bar had self catering flats above it which is where we stayed. The enterprise was run by a lovely Maltese family (9 siblings) whom we got to know really well. Three of the sisters Carrie, Rina and Doris were the ones we came to know best, as they ran the bar, the accompanying restaurant and also the flats. Over the years we lost touch, but I always wanted to go back because I had so many happy memories of holidays spent there. After a little bit of help from a blogger on Malta, I discovered that two elderly sisters were still living on the premises, although it was no longer a functioning bar. I went back to St. Pauls Bay, and had no problem finding the place we used to stay. Just as I was trying to pluck up courage to knock on the door, it opened, and two elderly ladies came out. I recognised them instantly as Rina and Doris. It was very special and emotional for me. Please click here to read a more detailed account which I have put together in a separate post.
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