I wanted to break these posts down because the last two days of my holiday were arguably the busiest. Realising we were running out of time to see the things we wanted to see on the islands, we decided to make a plan. But the plan never went, um, according to plan.
Day 5 – the Pickup that Never Arrived
Sunday we rose early to get the bus for our booked trip to Marsaxlokk (pronounced Marsa-shlock). This is where Malta’s biggest market takes place every Sunday. Our bus was due to pick us up at 8:45 prompt. Buses came and went, but not ours. We and a woman travelling with her mother waited and waited and waited. Then she phoned the TUI head office in the UK who contacted the travel company.
The trip had already arrived at Marsaxlokk (we never found out until the next day). What happened? Why hadn’t they picked us up? Well, the person in charge of the tour collected the wrong list – the one for the following week and missed out four hotel pickups. We had planned to go to the capital Valletta the following day but decided to move this trip forward. To the capital it was, then.
There was much about Valletta that felt familiar and much that was not. The image above is the grand entrance way to the city on the peninsula. During my last trip in 2011, there was a lot of building work in this area and a makeshift bus station. But this stunning tree-lined open area felt like a fanfare for one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
The open square with people milling about, the only feature a fountain makes the imposing historic city walls all the more impressive when viewed on the approach. This has been done to make the city as open and as inviting as possible for people heading into the sometimes narrow streets on the peninsula, and it works. Talking of which…
Valletta is the new capital, built by the Knights of St John to replace Mdina which we visited a few days previously. The natural defensive point of the peninsula overlooking the Grand Harbour protected by four imposing forts would make any attacker brave – or stupid – to try to attack it, as the Ottomans discovered to their dismay. As would the Axis Powers in the 20th century. History is replete with people making the same mistakes, are they not?
The city is as imposing as it is grand, the centre of a great tradition of high medieval architecture, celebrating the power, majesty and wealth of The Knights of St John. Not that the city’s history is limited to the Knights. Malta eventually fell to Napoleon Bonaparte for a few years before the British Empire arrived which it held until the 1950s when the military withdrew and Malta became fully independent. It remains a member of the Commonwealth.
The islands were vital to the effort in Second World War, withstanding bombardment and siege sustained in the earliest years of the war, losing some important structures. Yet Valletta stood and for its efforts, Malta was granted The George Cross. Here is a view of the Grand Harbour. Fort St Angelo is in the centre.
Valletta is home to four forts and two cathedrals – one Anglican built to a similar design as London’s St Paul’s Cathedral in the centre near the Palace of the Grandmasters, (also named St Paul’s) and a Catholic cathedral on the west side. Go visit, Valletta is stunning.
Day 6 – Gozo
Original plans thrown to the wind, we tossed up between Gozo and The Blue Grotto on the south coast which we were supposed to have seen the day before as part of our trip that never was. We opted for The Blue Grotto as neither of us had been there before. After getting to the bus station and realising there was no bus to the Blue Grotto from this station (but the next station in Bugibba a mile away in 29C heat), we noticed that a bus to Cirkewwa – the town for the Gozo port was due to leave in five minutes. A rapid change of mind and we were heading for the second largest island.
The port had expanded since our last trip with more regular ferries. Hardly surprising, every ferry crossing every 30 minutes was full with cars with plenty of foot passengers making the crossing too. It seems a constant stream of people heading in each direction.
Crossing to Gozo, there is a third island – population 3 (that’s right, just 3 people) and one church, and site of the Blue Lagoon, a popular swimming spot. It was also once home to a leper colony. The hospital still stands.
Gozo is just to the northwest of the main island. It’s home to another stone age temple, a medieval citadel, lots of farms and countryside. Crossing from the mainland port of Cirkewwa to the Gozoan port of Mgarr takes about 35 minutes.
Despite being a short distance from mainland Malta, something about Gozo feels different. There is more moisture in the air and more greenery. It is less built up but roads in the smaller villages are narrower, meaning gridlock can happen quickly. Most of the traffic congregates around the administrative centre Victoria. Built on a hillside, it has an imposing medieval citadel overlooking the countryside. The Knights wanted to create a similar imposing defensive harbour here but money and time ran out. The citadel is well worth a visit.
We took a City Tour bus rather than decide to make our own way around. Time was limited as our holiday rep wanted to meet with us to explain what happened with the failed Marsaxlokk trip and refund us the 50 euros. We went to Victoria, stopped for lunch at a restaurant that sucked up more time than we’d hoped (and made some annoyed comments about the hour it took to receive our pizzas) and toured the citadel.
The slowness of the restaurant meant we had to cut out a portion of our Gozo visit but we would at least take in the most interesting bits before returning to Mgarr to cross back to Cirkewwa and returning to the hotel to pack and have one last dinner. An early pickup meant we couldn’t stay up reminiscing about our holiday.
Overall this was a wonderful holiday. Pleasant yet poignant to visit Malta (this was where my ex-wife and I had our last ever holiday) and to create some new memories of a great holiday destination. This wasn’t a first trip for either of us and I doubt it will be the last.
Thank you Malta, see you again.
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