Valetta Harbour, Malta
I’ll openly admit it – I underestimated Malta. From the start I had considered it the poor stepchild of our trip. I looked at the map before we started out and decided it was obvious – the reason why we were stopping there was to break up the trip home. After all what does Malta have? Aside from the fact that for some reason their Falcons are famous, and after 500 years they still haven’t forgiven Turkey for throwing their ancestors out, there doesn’t seem to be much.
This is why you take a cruise, you end up going places you weren’t interested in, then you wonder if you want to leave – Malta is beautiful.
I walked into it with half a camera battery, and a card that only had space for 60 photos, figuring that was more than enough. Almost before I had started I had to swap in a new card, and I nearly killed that battery.
The first thing we noticed was that walking into Malta is like stepping into a time machine. The buildings haven’t changed significantly since it was built, and the roads were definitely not designed with cars in mind. The second thing we noticed was that if you are going to live in Valetta (the capital) you had better be fit. It is a fort, built over a hill, and is so steep that everywhere you go you are climbing stairs. Climbing for blocks – they level out to cross a road then start all over again.
The sign identified these as St Paul’s Modern buildings … if this is modern, well you get the idea
Our plan for Malta was simple. We would tour St Paul’s co-cathedral, then just walk around the city. This differed from Paul and Karen – after Egypt we kept bumping into them, until he threatened to take out a restraining order – who said they didn’t work well self-guided and had gone on a ship’s excursion walking tour.
To say we were unprepared would be significantly understating the matter. For a map we were using the page the ship had given us with their summary the night before, and a small map in our guide book. Fortunately the area we were exploring was small enough that we didn’t need to worry. Valetta is simple – head to the top of the hill, then walk to the water. It only gets complicated if you end up on top of a wall with no way down; everywhere you look you can see this was concieved as a fortress.
Our main goal, the Co-Cathedral , was easy to find – right in the town square. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – we don’t know how to build a church in North Amerca (Quebec being a possible exception). Grandiose doesn’t even begin to describe this – every square inch of the interior was covered in artwork, a number painted by Caravaggio. Even the floor was a piece of art. The parts that weren’t actually painted were covered in gold leaf, and shaped. As you look around, there is too much to take in. You are surrounded by imagery and don’t know where to look.
Inside St. Paul’s Co-Cathedral
Even that doesn’t describe what it felt like. The entire co-cathedral (I just love saying that) was a classic example of Renaissance art, and the shading on the ceiling made the figures jump out at you. Ling made us walk under one just to be sure it was a painting, not a sculpture.
We took advantage of our lack of plan and took our time in the co-cathedral. We wandered around the hall, stood and admired the art, sat on a bench and just looked up. This was probably the first time since Barcelona that we got to soak our environment in.
We finally walked outside, and decided just to wander the city. So we spent the next hour walking down streets, through alleys, admiring the beauty and thinking how much it would be a pain to live here, for the same reasons it was so beautiful. We also noticed a recurring theme in the artwork – the people of Malta seem to have a persecution complex (I’m serious, they have never forgiven the Turks, and apparently even filmed the movie Midnight Express to “affect Turkey’s tourism”). At one point we walked past a ruined building, admiring the statue of a dog that was on one corner of the top, so high up. Then the statue moved. Turns out he was just surveying his land.
Now that we had a feel for the surroundings, we resumed the quest that was defining this trip – cheesecake. Ling explained to me that the problem was everybody had told her how wonderful European and Mediterranean deserts were, but she hadn’t found any really good, rich, deserts yet. Everything was just kind of sweet. So we needed to find a cafe where we could get a good desert. I opined that really sweet was a good desert, but she wasn’t buying it.
We wandered around, looking for a place where we could sit outside, and watch people wander by while enjoying uniquely European deserts. We finally settled in a cafe that was right in the middle of the town square. We sat down, looked at the menu, and asked the waiter what he recommended for a good, local desert. He suggested the profiteroles and a pie (the details of which, I must admit currently escapes my memory). We were sold – I ordered a latte and profiteroles, and Ling ordered tea and the pie.
A few minutes later he came back – they were out of Ling’s desert, which seemed very fitting for this trip. So we decided to stick with just the profiteroles. They were good, but I do believe Ling’s expectations for a truly outstanding European desert remain unfulfilled to this day.
So there we were, in Malta, sitting outside enjoying our desert. It definitely fit our idea of what a Mediterranean trip was supposed to be like, except for the fact that it was chilly enough that we were wearing sweaters (and shorts). As we were relaxing, watching the crowds of tourists walk by, Ling suddenly sat up, waved and shouted “Hi, Paul!” Sure enough, there they were in the tour group, crossing paths once again. He looked around, spied us, cracked up laughing, then he and Karen came over to say hi.
I pointed out that it had taken us an immense amount of effort to figure out where he was going to be, so we could pre-emptively stalk him by getting to the cafe in advance. They observed that we had seen more of the city than them, and they didn’t think their trip was going to end with desert.
We waved goodbye and they wandered off while we finished our snack. As it turned out that was the last time we saw them. I kept wondering if we would run into them again disembarking (half expected to) but we never did.
Once we had settled the bill, we noticed the afternoon was getting late, so it was time to wander back to the ship. We took the long way, down the main street, and around a bus loop full of the oldest buses I have seen in ages.
The day was over, we were happy to have seen Malta, but we also had to admit it. We had been away a long time, and it was time to go home. We missed home, and the people that come with it.
 The people of Valetta were apparently upset that the Cathedral was in the old capital, not the new capital. The old capital wouldn’t give up Cathedral status, so the Pope eventually designated co-cathedrals to keep everyone happy. This was news to me, I didn’t even know the Pope decided what was and wasn’t a Cathedral![/i]
Inside St. Paul’s Co-Cathedral – the shading and paintings are amazing