Last day in St. Julian and Sliema.

Saturday the 9th of March and my penultimate day i.e. last full potential sightseeing day on Malta before flying home on the Sunday and so what to do? Go and visit one more of the many sites I still had not managed to visit. Maybe make a flying visit to Gozo which I still had not reached despite best intentions but they do say the road to Hell is paved with them. Six years after the event I rely on looking at my daily images to piece together my day but in this case the honest truth of the matter is that I have no idea according to them as my first image is timed at 2253!

Dick's Bar, San Giljan, Malta.
RIP Dick’s Bar – gone but never forgotten.

I do not remember now but I have no doubt the day did not start too early due to the amount of red wine consumed the previous evening (see the entry before this for full details) which always has a shocking effect on my head, much as I love it. I obviously did not go anywhere of note but I do have a distinct memory of taking my leave from the sadly now closed Dick’s Bar in San Giljan where I had spent so many happy evenings and whiled away some of the stormiest days when sightseeing just wasn’t an option. I really did love this place, still run by the second and third generations of the original Dick’s family and easily the best bar of the many I visited on the island. A history begun in the 1930’s is now lost and Malta is very much the poorer for it.

I must have spent a good long time in there and I remember the warmth of the sendoff I was given (including several free local drinks) which was much appreciated. There were the usual assurances that I would return soon and come and see them but unfortunately that does not seem likely now unless I can make local enquiries to see if they have opened up elsewhere in which case I shall make a beeline for the new establishment.

I mentioned above that I did not take any images this day as there are only so many angles you can photograph a cosy little bar from and so, without apology, I am recycling some images I have used earlier in this series.

One other thing of note is that it was election day there on the island, an event which had been hotly debated the whole time I had been there. The Maltese are a very politically minded people with the turnout in this contest a staggering 93% which is a figure unheard of at home in the UK. Basically the Nationalist Party, whose colours are black and white and who had been in power for some years were going head to head with the Labour Party who march under a red and white banner. A few independents and tiny parties made up the numbers. It was the Nationalist Party whose rally I had inadvertently stumbled upon a few days before and which I described in a previous post in this series.

It appeared, if the polls were to be believed (which they are not always – witness the Brexit referendum in my country for a fine example) Labour had a commanding lead with the final poll before the election giving them a 12% lead. On polling day there were a few vehicles driving about with flags flying out the windows and some more broadcasting messages through tannoys but it was nothing compared to what happened the next day as you shall see if you read the final instalment of this group of entries which follows this.

Le Malte restaurant, Sliema, Mlta.
Le Malte taken the next morning.

Again, I fancied a bite to eat and again I had left it pretty late in that it was nearly 11 when I got back to Sliema and headed to the Le Malte restaurant adjacent to my apartment for my final Maltese meal. I had previously earmarked it as the menu looked good and not likely to break the bank completely. I was not too worried about the hour as it was a Saturday night and even off-season Mediterranean countries tend to eat much later than we do in the UK so I was fairly confident it would be open and thankfully it was although not too busy at that hour.

Le Malte is a thin, long restaurant which is not that big even with the terrace area to the front. The decor is a bit quirky with mostly old-fashioned Maltese artefacts juxtaposed with a rather large plasma screen “painting”on the wall which I found slightly incongruous. Very odd but very cosy. Apologies for the quality of the images but even though it was nearly empty I am still loath to use flash when people are eating. Hopefully they give an idea of what Le Malte is about.

A quick perusal of the menu suggested to me soup du jour and then something rather special. I have mentioned in a couple of previous posts that I had fallen quite in love with ravjul (ravioli) and if you are looking at the images you are probably thinking, “Oh no, he is not at spinach and ricotta again, is he”? Indeed no, I was not. How does ravjul stuffed with prawn and lobster served with a lobster sauce sound to you? It sounded extremely good to me and that is what I ordered.

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After the previous evening’s excess and the fact that I was flying the next day you would have thought I would have learned my lesson but there is no fool like and old fool and I am certainly that so I asked the waiter to recommend a Maltese red. Yes, I know it should traditionally be white with fish and seafood but I believe that old chestnut is going out of style somewhat these days and I do much prefer red to white. Without hesitation he recommended Carissimi which was indeed a very decent drop to my Philistine palate and again it was only whilst researching this piece that I found out a little about the winemaker.

Carissimi is one of the brands produced by the Emmanuel Delicata vineyard which is the oldest on the island although it was only founded in 1907 so there is none of the heritage of, say, France, Spain or Portugal. If I had been asked before visiting Malta I would have said that I did not think the very rocky ground and relatively poor soil would have been conducive to viniculture but apparently it is if given enough attention. Not only do they produce wine and import various types of alcohol but they are also responsible for having saved two varieties of indigenous Maltese grape, namely Gellewza and Girgentina, from extinction so fair play to them for that.

The meal was rather special and I have since found out that even on Saturday Le Malte closes at 2330 and I know I was there a lot later than that but, as in previous late night restaurant visits, I was not rushed at all and took my leisure with the bottle of wine. I genuinely would have been quicker if I had known the closing time but I didn’t and there were still one or two others sitting about and obviously in no rush to go anywhere. After paying the bill which was remarkably easy on the pocket it was a journey of literally about 25 yards from table to bed and a setting of the alarm for my journey home on the morrow and so to sleep.

N.B. The image above was obviously taken the next morning and the restaurant was close but at least it was daylight so you can see it should you wish to seek it out and I suggest you do although reservations are probably a good idea in season.

In the next and final post in this series I head back to UK so if you want to know about that and my closing thoughts about my month on Malta then stay tuned and spread the word.

Fort Rinella and a very Big Gun.

Armstrong 100 ton gun, Fort Rinella, Malta.
Look at the size of this monstrosity – 100 tons to be precise

The morning of the 8th of March came around with decent weather which was a blessing and I realised I only had a couple of days left with plenty left still to see so the decision was what. I had been impressed with the way the Wirt Artna organisation had gone about their business at the other sites run by them which I had visited namely the Lascaris War Rooms  and the Malta at War Museum in Birgu, both of which are fully reported in earlier posts in this sequence so I decided to head to Fort RinellaFort Rinella in Kalkara.

As always I let the morning rush hour subside and got the bus into Valetta where I changed to a #3 which deposited me close to the entrance. Although I did not know it at the time there is a free bus which runs Monday – Saturday departing 1220 from the Saluting Battery and 1245 from the Malta at War Museum in Birgu / Vittoriosa so if you are pushed for time you could easily do at least two attractions in the one day. The bus is only one way and you have to come back by public transport.

Approaching the Fort from the road it is not really impressive for a number of reasons. Firstly, military engineering in the late 1870’s tended towards low profile buildings which made them less vulnerable to artillery and ever deeper ditches were excavated to repel infantry. To assist in the latter task caponiers were built protruding at right angles from the wall where the defending troops could pour enfilading fire on the attackers from the relative safety of the thick stone walls of the caponier. All the caponiers were linked by underground tunnels to the main courtyard so the defenders were never exposed to enemy fire and they were well ventilated to save the troops from the choking effects of the powder smoke from their own weapons. The second reason is that the Fort was not designed to house a lot of men as it was merely a gun battery concentrating on the sea of which more in a moment, and only required the detachment of gunners and a relatively small guard of infantry. Whilst everyone nowadays calls it Fort Rinella it was never actually designated as such.

So why the need for the hefty seaward defence? Whilst the UK had the most powerful navy in the world defending trade routes with her Empire, the Meditteranean was of vital importance to safeguard shipping heading to or from the new Suez Canal which cut the journey to India considerably and also took the perilous trip round Africa and the Cape out of the equation. The French and Italians were building up their seapower and it was feared they may make a move on the British colonies of either Gibraltar or Malta or both which would have been a disaster and so twin batteries were built in either location to house one each of the monstrous gun you can see in the image at the top of the page.

This beast of a weapon is an Armstrong 450 mm. Rifled Muzzle Loading (RML) gun and it weighs in at 100 tons. Yes, you read that correctly, 100 Imperial tons. I really should have got an image with someone standing beside it to give a sense of scale. Believe me, it is a behemoth of a weapon. To put it in context for those of us that still use “old money” the calibre is the best part of 18″ across and it could fire the 2,000 lb. shell up to 7,000 yards which, again for those of us still thinking as we were taught, is the best part of four miles. It took a black powder charge of 450 lbs. to perform such a feat.

The gun at Rinella was one of a matched pair with the Cambridge Battery at Tigne Point on the other side of the Grand Harbour. It is now long gone and the only other 100 ton gun still in existence is at Napier of Magdala Battery in Gibraltar which was one of another matched pair. If this sounds like fearsome firepower, which indeed it is, then consider this. One of the reasons the British were worried about Italian expansion was that in 1873 they launched the battleships Duilio and Dandolo which, in addition to 22 inch steel armour each had not one but four of these monstrous weapons on board. I shall talk more about the gun later but let me tell you about what happened when I arrived.

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I was greeted by a re-enactor in the costume as a gunner of that time and he pointed us to a selection of swords on a table and a couple of rooms set up as a tableaux of the guardhouse etc. We were told to try out the swords as long as we did not skewer each other and to wander about as we pleased until he called us for a demonstration of a small field gun.

As mentioned above, the Fort is not very big so there was no danger of anyone getting lost and I had a bit of a wander about with a few images captured, some of which you can see above. I realise it is less that a century and a half old but it is in a very good state of repair and wandering around alone it was easy to imagine being a British soldier here in the late 19th century.

We all filed out to a large open area to the front of the Fort where the field piece you can see in the images was set up, complete with the re-enactors in their appointed positions. One of them explained everything as the gun crew went through the fairly complicated drill of loading the piece although obviously there was no projectile loaded, merely the bag of black powder. At this point the “narrator” informed us that for a fee (€15 if memory serves) that any of us could actually fire the gun. An American chap promptly volunteered and was duly togged out in uniform and briefed on what he had to do. You can see him briefly in the video attached below which I shall explain later. Without a projectile the piece did not recoil at all although it would have leapt back fairly violently if it had been loaded on the principle of “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. It was an impressive bang all the same.

We were then escorted back inside and asked to wait for a while whilst the next demonstration was set up. Basically I think there were about seven or eight re-enactors in total and they did everything so they had to get back inside and prepare. In the meanwhile we were invited to use the “cafe” which was basic enough serving tea, coffee, soft drinks and a selection of light snacks. I didn’t bother and had another look round the immediate environs of the guardhouse until we were invited to take our seats for the next portion of the demonstrations which was of 19th century drill. Some of the manoeuvres I recognised from my time in the Forces and some were noticeably different. The five men were not exactly parade ground standard but I suppose they were playing the part of gunners and not the Brigade of Guards so it was possibly accurate enough. I hope I do not malign the Royal Artillery of that period and in fairness to the re-enactors I spoke to one of them after who told me that they did not have one day of military experience between them so fair play. Again, judge for yourself on the attached video.

After the drill, there was a display of a matchlock musket and a repeating rifle of the Martini Henry type although I am not sure if this was actually one of those. A trained infantryman could get off 12 rounds a minute with one of these as opposed to the three achieved with muzzle loading muskets in the Napoleonic wars not sixty years previously. It amazes and slightly depresses me the ingenuity that goes into creating ever more efficient ways of slaughtering other human beings but that is the way of the world and yes, when I was carrying weapons I naturally wanted the most efficient kit I could get, it is only natural.

Again, the main re-enactor offered the audience the chance to fire this weapon for so much per round, I cannot remember how much. It may sound as if the whole thing was a high-pressure sales pitch but it really wasn’t and I do not begrudge Wart Artna the money they make at all. I have spoken warmly about them in previous posts here and I think they do a superb job of the sites they administer without any Government support. Again, of you plan to do a lot of sightseeing, their combined ticket for all the sites is recommended.

After a few of the visitors had winced, flinched and squealed their way through a few rounds (which in itself was as much fun as the “professional” demonstration) it was time for the main event, the “Big Gun”. I did not bother with the rifle firing as I have done more than enough of that in my life and did not wish to exacerbate the high frequency hearing loss that I suffer from in both ears as a result.

Off we all trooped then to the Armstrong 100 ton RML that is the raison d’etre for the establishment. It was built by the Elswick Ordnance Company based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne which was a division of Armstrong’s which in turn merged with Whitworth to form Armstrong Whitworth and produced armaments, ships, locomotives and motor cars amongst other things. They built two ice-breaking train ferries to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway across Lake Baikal as well as the first polar icebreaker. Nearer to home they built the working parts for the world famous Tower Bridge and a hydraulic mains system in Limehouse Basin. Both of these sites are within 30 minutes walk of my home. A fascinating company but back to the gun.

Only 15 were ever made so that is eight for the Italian warships and four for the batteries on Malta and Gibraltar that I have mentioned but I cannot for the life of me find out where the other three went! It is interesting that the Italian Navy went with four on each of two warships when the Royal Navy had already rejected it as being too heavy and too costly for seaborne use.

All the figures relating to the gun are staggering. Each one required a crew of 35 to man with 18 doing nothing but handling the ammunition. This comprised three types of shell; Armour piercing (AP) which could penetrate 21 inches of steel at 2,000 yards, High Explosive (HE) which had a payload of 78 lbs. and Shrapnel (named after Henry Shrapnel the British Army officer who invented it) which delivered 920 four ounce “bullets”. After test firing, the shrapnel was not replaced as it was deemed ineffective. I don’t know about that but I know I would not have liked to have been standing where one hit. Forget the 21st century, this truly was a weapon of mass-destruction.

Given the dimensions of the weapon, it obviously could not be laid by hand and everything was effected by a self-contained hydraulic unit in the Fort. Armstrong obviously had the capability to do this as evidenced by the Limehouse Basin project as mentioned above. These hydraulics also helped reduce the recoil which I have also spoken of above but even then it was still getting on for six feet. Without the hydraulics it would probably have blown back through the front wall of the Fort!

Ammunition dump, Fort Rinella, Malta.
Look at the size of those shells!

When we had all had a good look and wonder at the sheer size of the piece we were shown downstairs to the “engine room” where the weapon was loaded from. With such a vast amount of powder lying around, every precaution was taken to avoid an accidental detonation which would have blown half the island to Kingdom come and the crews had to wear special cotton uniforms and cotton overshoes to avoid the chance of a spark. Everything here was done mechanically as it would have taken about half a dozen men to lift one of the huge shells you can see in the image. When we had had our fill of looking round, taking images and having our questions fully answered by the very knowledgeable guide we were shown to a small auditorium for a film presentation.

Cinema, Fort Rinella, Malta.
Cinema, Fort Rinella, Malta.

I was expecting something about the Fort but it turned out to be a presentation bout World War Two. It was very interesting though and I could watch this type of documentary all day.

Out of the cinema and that was that. With a final reminder to visit the gift shop we were back out in what was a reasonable late afternoon, just gone 1630. Before I leave Fort Rinella here I should do one final thing. I have mentioned a video a couple of times above and it probably requires a bit of explanation. I have noted many times that I am a complete technophobe and I genuinely have difficulty with anything of that nature. This piece is being written in September 2019 and posted retrospectively as it is the only way I can keep things in order.

A couple of days ago I spent literally a complete afternoon finding, downloading and then learning how to use (I hope) a video editing suite. I chose Video Pad by NCH Software more or less at random and primarily because it was free and when it loaded I thought I was looking at a control computer in NASA, I was perplexed to say the least. For various reasons I have a lot of time on my hands at the moment which is just as well as it took me literally hours to get to grips with just the basics. I cobbled together the few clips I had taken at Rinella into some sort of montage. There are no fancy crossfades or subtitles or musical soundtrack but I shall try for those in due course when I have a bit more experience. Anyway, if you want to have a look at my debut effort then here it is. As always, any and all tips on the subject would be much appreciated.

Most of the visitors had come by car and a few others walked back to the bus stop but I didn’t fancy heading straight back the way I had come and so I decided to walk back a bit as I knew I could always regain the main road easily enough and jump on the bus. As always I had no map or GPS but I do have a reasonably good inbuilt compass and so I set out parallel to the main road to see what ordinary life was like in these parts. I was hoping perhaps for a bar for my first beer of the day or maybe a Church or graveyard or something else but I was to be disappointed. There were residential buildings and one or two small shops but nothing I could describe as the “centre” if Il-Kalkara. In the interests of researching this piece I have checked it out on a mapping system and it seems I was right with the only thing I would have liked to have seen but missed was the Naval graveyard but in fairness to myself it was away from the direction I was heading.

I wandered back as far as Birgu and decided against going there for a drink as I fancied heading back to Sliema / San Giljan. In the event, the latter won out and after a couple of beers in the wonderful and now sadly demised Dick’s Bar I decided I really should see some of the other watering holes in the town and there is certainly no shortage as it is regarded as “party central” for the island. It is so popular that buses run from all over the island all night at the weekend for revellers to congregate here. That is not my thing and wasn’t even when I was young enough that it might have been considered an option, it never appealed to me. I had walked past a few places with what passes for dance music pounding at volumes that were ridiculous even outside and must have been an otologist’s nightmare. Again, I cite my hearing loss as well as my desire to keep whatever small musical credibility I may have intact!

I chanced upon a place called Green Shutters which seemed pleasant and was playing music that was discernible as such and so I ambled in and ordered a beer. There were only a couple of other guys in there and I dd not want to crowd them at the small bar which is where I normally sit and so I took a table and just relaxed. I did make a couple of extended trips outside for the purposes of smoking but they turned into people watching exercises instead. There were not that many people to be seen it must be said and they mostly appeared to be locals at this time of year although I am told the whole town is manic in the high season.

As is my way I had only had a very light breakfast and I fancied another Maltese offering for my evening repast which is my main (often only) meal of the day and so I headed back to Sliema where I was reminded that, to quote the Scottish “national” poet Robert Burns, “the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley (go oft astray)”. The fly in this case was the Ta Bajri Wine Bar which was literally next door to my apartment and I should mention in passing that adjacent on the other side was Le Malte restaurant which features elsewhere in these pages. Talk about a good location and I actually worked it out that my little apartment probably shared a wall with the restaurant kitchen. It being off-season I had passed it a few times when it had not been open and I am not really much of a wine drinker at the best of times but I thought I would pop in on the principle that it was rude not to and they were bound to serve beer anyway.

Ta Bajri wine bar, Sliema, Malta.
A picture taken in daylight later on.

I went into what was a lovely and pretty old-fashioned bar. I do not know what a traditional Maltese bar actually looks like but I suspect this must be pretty close. The venue was near enough empty with only about three other people in there and so I perched myself at the bar and ordered a beer which led me immediately into a conversation with the very friendly barman. It transpired that he was the younger half of a Father and son outfit who ran the place (the Father appeared much later on) and the wine bar was merely a showcase for the vineyard they ran a few miles away.

After a couple of beers and some great chat, including the imminent election, he insisted that I try some of his produce “on the house”. Well, it would have been churlish not to. I am certainly no wine expert but to my ignoramus’ palate it was pretty good, a fairly full bodied red. Do not ask me what, if anything, it tasted like as I would not know a cabernet from a cabinet! It went down well enough though and it appeared I was drinking as much free wine as I was having beer put on my tab and so in the interests of good manners I ordered a large glass of his product which was going down increasingly easily and the conversation flowed as easily as the wine which made for a most convivial evening but was doing nothing for getting my empty belly filled. I knew, even as I was doing it, that it was going to lead to a big head in the morning but I was just enjoying myself far too much to slow up.

The whole scene was just so typically Maltese, very relaxed with excellent company in lovely surroundings that the time just flew by until I checked the time and decided I had better dash before all the restaurants closed up. A word of warning about the wonderful Ta Bajri though. Whilst researching this piece as I always do, I can find no online presence for the wine bar since 2016, including their own F***ook page and I suspect it has gone the way of Dick’s Bar and closed which is a shame.

La Cuccagna restaurant, Sliema, Malta
Another one taken in the cold light of day.

I took a very short walk, which was possibly more like a stumble and thankfully it was a Friday night as La Cuccagna was still open when I arrived. I had seen this place before and had determined to try it before I left the country and besides it must have been all of two hundred yards from home so it seemed a fairly safe bet I wouldn’t get lost although stranger things have happened. The drinking had knocked the edge of my appetite a bit and I didn’t want to delay them too long as there were only a handful of others there, all obviously coming to the end of their meals and so I went to my standby of ravjul (spinach and ricotta filled) which was easy for the kitchen to prepare and quick to eat. It was accompanied by a tasty garlic bread and a small carafe of the house red completed the affair.

I have to say that I was not pressured or rushed in any way and even asked if I wanted dessert or coffee with or without a liqueur even though the other diners were in the process of leaving but I thought I would do the decent thing and let them get shut up. There is one final thing to mention about La Cuccagna and that is their attitude to dietary requirements which I did not recall from my visit but again discovered whilst researching for this piece. They cater for no less than 14 allergens, have numerous vegetarian and vegan dishes, including vegan lactose free cheese and vegan pasta, they have gluten free pizza bases. As well as this they boast that 80% of their produce is locally sourced and changes seasonally thereby slashing food miles and their carbon footprint.

Add to this the fact that head chef Charlene worked in a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and it is not difficult to see why they have been going strong since 1992. As and when I ever return to Malta which I very much hope to do, I am earmarking this place for a big splurge of a dinner no matter where I may be staying on the island. It just works on every level.

Paying the bill it was the work of five minutes to get home and off to bed to sleep the sleep of the just, although it has always baffled me how I might possibly fit into that category. I suspect that a day in the fresh air, a bellyful of Maltese red wine and a tasty meal might have had more to do with it than my moral rectitude.

One more full day to go before my journey back to UK so stay tuned and spread the word.

Day trip to Birgu.

Town sign, Birgu, Malta.
Town sign, Birgu, Malta.

After the washout the day before I was really hoping for some better weather on the 7th March as I only had three full days left and there was still so much to do. Whilst there were various places in the mix, the weather looked pretty good and so I decided on Birgu as it combines two of my great loves which are military history and specifically the Crusading Knights.

Prior to 1530 the capital of Malta was Mdina but that all changed with the arrival of the Knights of St. John. After having been ousted from the Holy Land by the Muslim forces of the Ottoman Empire they retired with their tails between their legs to the island of Rhodes but they didn’t last that long and they were driven out of there as well. The Ottoman forces were slowly but surely driving the “infidels” back Westwards towards the lands from whence they had come. Seeking yet another refuge they were granted the island of Malta.

On a recce in 1526 the advance party of the Order reported Birgu as “a small defenceless town with old houses in poor condition” but that was not to last. Mdina occupies an inland position and so was of limited use to what was largely a maritime Order who were, depending on your point of view, nothing more than Vatican licensed pirates. They decided the strategic location of Birgu was ideal and set about fortifying it and making it the new capital. It was indeed a good location as it controlled access to the deep anchorage of what became the Grand Harbour.

The town was fortified in the 1530’s and again in the 1550s when it appeared inevitable the Turks would try to invade. As an additional defensive measure they built Fort St. Angelo which was constructed on a promontory to the seaward side of the town and was accessible only by a drawbridge which made it fairly well impregnable from land or sea.

The Knights had read the situation well as the Ottomans laid siege to Malta in 1565 and whilst many people may not have heard of this event, it is no exaggeration to say that it shaped the way Europe is today. The Christian West and Muslim East were locked in a bloody war and the Muslims were determined to move West and bring their religion with them. I have mentioned before many times the strategic importance of Malta and if they were successful in the capture of the island they would have effectively controlled the Mediterranean from where they could have raided further and further West.

In the event, Birgu held for three months, three weeks and three days of brutal and bloody fighting led by the inspirational Jean Parisot de Valette until the siege ground to a standstill. It was only with the arrival of the long-promised Italian reinforcements (the equally long-promised Spanish never showed) that the Ottomans were driven off and this effectively ended their ambitions of moving West.

After the siege the town was given the Italian name of Citta Vittoriosa which is Italian for Victorious City and both names are used fairly interchangeably to this day so do not get confused. Bravely as the ordinary people of Birgu had been during the siege, standing shoulder to shoulder with the knights, squires and professional foot soldiers of the Order on the barriers, it did not do them much good as de Valette almost immediately began building another town on the adjacent Mount Scebarras which now bears his name and was to become capital. This left Birgu somewhat in decline although it was a billet for the French during their brief occupation of the island before being dislodged by the British and their allies whereupon the British made it their naval HQ for the Mediterranean Fleet. They were to remain there until 1979.

During the Second World War, Birgu suffered very heavy bombing due to it’s proximity to the dockyard and the harbour and several historical buildings were destroyed including the first magisterial palace of the Order. Many other fine buildings did survive unscathed to a greater or lesser degree including the Auberge d’Angleterre which was the dwelling of the English branch of the Order until the Reformation of King Henry VIII led to their dissolution. Built in 1534 it now serves as a health centre which I suppose is at least somewhat in keeping with one of the original purposes of the Knights.

Horsedrawn bus, Birgu, Malta.
Horsedrawn bus, Birgu, Malta.

The buses do not appear to go right into Birgu as I think the roads would be too narrow and I was deposited at the edge of town and so off I went wandering again. I am sure the strange looking wagon you see in the above image was probably a local horse-drawn bus but it struck me that it would not have looked out of place in Santa Fe or San Antonio c. 1870. I did not try the cafe but it’s online presence shows it to be rather a flash establishment.

There are various gates into Birgu and I went through the impressive Gate of Provence which has obviously had a recent facelift and a sign indicating that yet again it was funded by the EU. The four sites to benefit from this largesse are Mdina, Birgu, Cittadella and Valetta. I have to say that it looked very well. The gate is watched over by St. Dominicus and, if you look closely you will see that his trusty canine companion appears to be carrying a newspaper, surely not as he died in 1221 having founded the Dominican Order which bears his name. What the dog is actually holding is a flaming torch and the story runs thus.

Statue of St. Dominicus, Birgu, Malta.
Statue of St. Dominicus, Birgu, Malta.

Dominicius’ parents were wealthy Spaniards but his Mother was apparently barren. She made a pilgrimage to an abbey in Silos which was named for an earlier St. Dominicus where she had a dream that a dog bearing a flaming brand in it’s mouth leapt from her womb which “seemed to set the earth on fire.” In a further twist the name of his order in Latin, the ecclesiastical language of the time is Dominicanus which is easily corrupted to Domini canis which translates as “Dog of the Lord”.

Whilst there is no suggestion Dominicius ever visited Malta his Order has a long association with the island and Pope Pius V, who was a Dominican himself, gave the Knights huge assistance in the building of Valetta after the siege.

Walking along I formed the impression that this was a very tidy little town which had had a lot of TLC lavished on it, not just at the gate. I also got a look over the harbour which seemed pretty full even at this time of year. I suppose it is so well protected from the elements they do not have to lay the craft up for winter and this is what makes it such a wonderful anchorage.

Malta at War Museum, Birgu.
Malta at War Museum, Birgu.

As always the plan was to have no plan so I took a totally random wander and the first place of note that caught eye was the Malta at War Museum, one of a number of similar venues all over the island. It is run by the excellent Witartna organisation who I have mentioned in previous entries in this series.

The main part of the Museum has a decent selection of artefacts although it is nowhere near as comprehensive as it’s sister establishment in Valetta.  There is a very good film produced by the Imperial War Museum in London with lots of footage of the bombing.

They are housed in a very smart building which I subsequently discovered had been extensively renovated only the year before with lots of footage of the bombing. I have included a selection of images here to give you a flavour.

The artefacts, however, were not the main attraction for me as that accolade was reserved for the “catacombs” built deep down underground. Unlike other places on Malta where ancient catacombs were utilised as air raid shelters, they literally started from scratch hereby digging under the 17th century counterguard which was serving as a police HQ during the war. I donned my hairnet and helmet and was very glad I did as I managed to crack my skull a number of times. The shelters were definitely not built with 6’5″ men in mind.

Down the steep steps you can see above I went into a fairly cool subterranean world which proved to be fascinating so please allow me to show you around a little.

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One of the first “rooms” I saw was the one you can see above which, believe it or not, is a maternity unit. I have no experience of such places but even to my untutored eye this looks fairly basic and it must have been a nightmare trying to deliver a baby with the entire building shaking, thick, choking dust swirling about and an electricity supply that may cut out at any second. In those days there was only one power station on the island and it was bombed repeatedly. I am guessing there must have been some medical presence there but it really is only a guess.

Most people stayed in communal dormitory areas as shown and they certainly were not luxurious but in an attempt to increase shelter capacity people were encouraged to excavate their own cubicles. Professional miners were forbidden to do this as their specific talents were required for military purposes and the work was often undertaken by women and children. I would not know where to begin such an undertaking so who knows how they managed it? There were strict regulations about the cubicles which could not exceed certain dimensions, had to be a certain distance apart and priority for permission to excavate one was given to people living closest to the shelter.

I mentioned earlier the obvious difficulties of childbirth under such circumstances specifically regarding hygiene but apart from that specific circumstance, sanitation was a problem more generally as you can imagine and scabies, TB and dysentery were common despite the exhortations of the stencilled signs not to smoke spit or commit nuisance. Obviously all these ailments are highly contagious and must have spread like wildfire in the conditions.

By June 1941 there were 473 public rock shelters with a further 382 under construction, providing protection for 138,000 people and this information comes from the excellent attached website which I recommend. This portion of the Museum really brings home the appalling conditions the civilian population endured in the War and shows how very well deserved the award of the George Cross was.

Leaving the Museum it was time for more unscripted exploration and a few of the buildings I saw are shown above.

All this walking was making me thirsty and for no particular reason other than it was the first bar I encountered I parked myself outside the Cafe du Brazil for a nice al fresco cold beer. I didn’t actually go inside but their online presence shows a pleasant place and some very mouth-watering looking food.

The sun was beginning to go down and so I limited myself to the one beer as I wanted to go and take some images. Dusk is very much my favourite time of day and apart from the usual sunset images, of which I have literally thousands, I love snapping away in that particular light albeit that I am no expert. Malta is a great place to do this as the lightish stone from which many of the buildings reflect the changing hues beautifully, but only on the days it is not raining!

I do not know if I have mentioned it before but when I was on Malta it was the run up to a general election and it had been all over TV, posters, in the newspapers and everywhere else and polling day was a mere two days away so things were fairly much at fever pitch. It was being contested primarily between the National and Labour parties with one minority party and a few independents making up the numbers.

Triton Fountain at night, Valetta.
Triton Fountain at night, Valetta.

Having taken a few images in Birgu I caught the bus back to Valetta and was deposited at the central bus station which is directly opposite the Granaries, known locally as Il-Fosos which I have mentioned before. This is a large open space where they hold various concerts and arts events and also political rallies apparently because when I alighted the bus it was absolutely heaving with people, a large stage erected and, with this being Malta, numerous food stands along one side.

Before I went for a nosy round the rally I decided to try an image of the Triton fountain which was beautifully illuminated although I was not hopeful with a pretty basic compact camera and no tripod but surprisingly it came out quite well and I was very pleased with it.  See what you think.

 

I have never been to a political rally at home and doubt I ever will and generally I would not even consider it in a foreign country as you never know how volatile things may become. The crowd looked to be in good spirits, there was a minimal overt police presence and I though I would just stand on the edge of the crowd where I could beat a hasty retreat if required. My fears were unfounded as the atmosphere was friendly and I took a few images to which nobody seemed to take exception. There was a man just finishing up a speech to great acclaim including some frantic flag-waving as I arrived and when he finished a band took to the stage and started sound-checking. If you want to have a look what it was like, you can find it here. Ordinarily I might have stayed but I had one more thing to do before it got too late and so I went back to the bus station and got bus back to Sliema.

I had not eaten all day and I had been thinking that in all the time I had been on the island I had not had a “proper” Maltese meal although what that actually entails is a matter of some confusion to me. Certainly in these days of globalisation it is no surprise to find that burger bars are ubiquitous as are pizza outlets which brings me nicely to my next point. With it’s proximity to Italy there is a lot of crossover in cuisine and I noticed ravioli (ravjul in Maltese) is popular as are all sorts of pasta. About the only thing I could discover that was very traditionally Maltese was rabbit. The land on the island is not really conducive to raising livestock but rabbits, being what they are, tend to always be in plentiful supply. I like rabbit and so I thought I must try some before I went home.

 

I had seen a restaurant very near my apartment called Ta Kolina (the main images of the sign and exterior were taken the next day) and I had seen that they had a Maltese menu at €20 which is very reasonable by local standards. I got there after 2200 which explains the lack of people and asked for a carafe of the house red wine whilst I perused the menu. The wine was very pleasant and I opted for the local cheese salad followed by the rabbit in wine and a Maltese limoncello in lieu of a dessert as I am not much of a sweet eater really.

I am a turophile (big word for me) and in retrospect I am surprised that I had not bought some local “fermented curd” (cheese to you and me) previously. As I have explained earlier I had some basic cooking amenities in my apartment and the only thing I can think of is that I did not see any in the small supermarket I shopped in. I know for certain I did not see a cheesemongers the whole month I was there. After a complimentary dish of Maltese bread, olives and some sort of cous cous (I think) dip, the starter arrived and it was very pleasant. Next up was the main which certainly did not disappoint. It had obviously been cooked very low and slow and the meat was falling off the bone. It was served with carrots, green beans and what appeared to be proper hand cut chips. Finishing off the wine, the limoncello and a decent coffee it was a very replete Fergy that made the short trip back to bed.

I have only two full days left on Malta but it is an absolute beauty so stay tuned and spread the word.

Winter sun washout.

March weather in Malta!

If you look at the image which heads up this post then I really need say little more but I know you really would not expect that to happen and nor is it.

On waking at a reasonable hour one of the first things I did was my morning ritual of a weather check from my windowless room which involved covering my nakedness, sticking my head round the door and checking the postage stamp sized garden and the sky above. I would have settled fora day like the previous one i.e. not bright nor particularly warm but at least not raining but not a chance, it was foul and it was not to let up all day. I was now down to my last few days and still had much I wished to see but what can you do? It would just have been a chore to go anywhere and so it was going to be another day in the excellent Dick’s Bar in San Giljan which I have mentioned many times here before.

I showered, got well covered up against the elements and on going outside I was fortunate enough to encounter one of the very infrequent breaks in the storm that day so I decided to walk and I got a short way including taking the seascape image above at the sea swimming pool although it would have been a very hardy soul who risked a swim in those conditions. The break in the evil weather was not to last and soon enough I was seeking shelter before jumping on a bus to complete the journey.

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Understandably, given the hour of the day, the climatic conditions and the fact that it was a working day I had the place more or less to myself but was warmly greeted as always and I took into my first Cisk beer of the day. I had really developed a taste for it and it made me wonder yet again why people insist on paying over the odds for “imported” alleged premium brand beer when it is often made locally under licence anyway. I really do not see the point of spending time and money travelling to far-flung places just to eat and drink what I do at home, where is the fun in that?

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I had brought my netbook (remember them?) to catch up on my writing for Virtual Tourist but I allowed myself some time to browse the local English language newspapers. I believe there are others but the two pictured, the Times and the Malta Independent seem the most popular. I must admit that I love reading local English language papers on my travels as they often give you a very different slant on the news than you would get at home.

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The storm really did not let up all day, it was the worst weather I think I had in a pretty poor month with the possible exception of the night I had arrived which was an utter monsoon. The picture at the head of this piece was taken mid-morning and the one immediately above this paragraph in late afternoon and it continued until well into the night.

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I have just been bemoaning the drinking of imported beers and yet sometimes there is just no option. For such a well run bar as Dicks I was really surprised when they ran out of Cisk as the evening wore on. I must have had a thirst on me that day so I had to resort to Skol and, as is always the case, I have learned something. I remember Skol from my childhood as being very popular in the UK but you hardly see it now except in cans in supermarkets. I do not suppose I ever really thought about it much but I would have guessed it was possibly Scandanavian due purely to the name but it was in fact it was developed by a Scottish brewer in Burton-upon-Trent in England which is the major centre of beer production in the UK. Whilst this is no major surprise I was intrigued to find out that it is massively popular in Brazil of all places, coming second only to the local brew Brahma. It is amazing the things you find out whilst researching a blog page. Perhaps I shall sample some in Brazil if I ever get there which I really would like to do.

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Whilst I certainly do find out plenty of interesting things during my research I also find out things that sadden me and it would appear that Dick’s Bar closed in 2017 (I am actually writing this in 2019 and backdating it.  If this is true it is nothing short of a tragedy as this was easily the best bar I visited in Malta and I have many happy memories of it.

That is about it for this entry of what was a pretty uneventful day but this trip is not quite done yet so stay tuned and spread the word.

Another great day out.

The 6th of March came around and I cannot say it was exactly fair but at least it wasn’t raining and so another day out and about seemed called for. Somehow or another time had crept up on me and I realised that I had only a few days left on the island and still had much to see.

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The mighty egg banjo, saviour of many a hungry serviceman.

I couldn’t resist the image above of my breakfast which was a couple of “egg banjoes” , a staple of British Forces and something I am immensely fond of.  If you mention the term to anyone who was not involved with the Forces they will probably look at you blankly but, as you can see, it is nothing more mysterious than a fried egg sandwich. I remember many times coming in from jobs at some unholy hour in the middle of the night when the kitchen was shut but the cook would leave out a few dozen eggs, a few loaves and a large container of the fairly awful “spread” (margarine) favoured by the military.  A few minutes on the flat top cooker could produce a couple of dozen banjos and with the hot water urn always on the go we had hot tea or coffee to wash it down. Michelin starred haute cuisine it most certainly was not but I can tell you it was very welcome in the circumstances.

 

 

With my vaguely nostalgic breakfast consumed, it was back on the bus to Valletta and after a walk round a few of the backstreets and a few images (pictured above) I found the National War Museum which is where I was heading for. Unusually, I had even formulated a vague plan for the day. As you can see from the images Valletta is a very contrasting city. Whilst vast amounts of EU cash are being thrown at prettying up the tourist areas you do not have to walk very far to see a very different scene of a city literally falling apart at the seams. It is a shame really.

Regarding the Museum, I shall let my original Virtual Tourist review stand here minus the obviously changed logistics which you can get an up to the version of on the website here.   As I have mentioned previously, this site of mine is as much a repository for all the hard work and content that was butchered by a criminal organisation which has been successfully challenged in courts of law in various countries as it is a contemporary account of travels now being undertaken. At least I have the pleasure of knowing this site tells the truth. Here is the review.

“First of all, let me clear up a little confusion here. There are several “experiences” in Valletta which mention the Second World War in their publicity but this tip refers to the official War Museum located in the old St. Elmo’s Fort and administered by Heritage Malta.

 

My love of military history is well-documented on other pages and so it was inevitable that I would visit the Museum whilst I was there and I am extremely glad I did.  Whilst not huge, it is a very interesting place, cleverly laid out in a building that is itself of great military interest.

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National War Museum, Valetta.

Initially built in 1552 it has withstood siege by the Ottoman Turks and was still in use in the Second World War as an artillery battery repulsing an attempted Italian seaborne invasion in 1941. As you walk through what must have been the old main gate towards the Museum, just have a look at the thickness of the walls and imagine what a formidable obstacle to attack it really is. You will also pass a stone plaque bearing the badge of the Cheshire Regiment showing the long association with the British who controlled the island for so many years.

When you get to the Museum proper you will be greeted by a friendly member of staff and pointed in the right direction. From there on, you are effectively on your own as I did not see any other employee present but do not worry, all you have to do is follow your feet. They have very helpfully painted a chronology on the floor, so just follow the years and you will be guided nicely through and miss nothing.

Interestingly, the first exhibits I encountered were from the First World War. I had a reasonable knowledge of Malta’s involvement in the Second World War, which is well-documented, but I had completely overlooked the part the island played in the first global conflict. Malta is very strategically placed in the Mediterranean which is what makes it so attractive to potential invaders. What interested me most and I suppose should have been obvious, was it’s function as a hospital base for the casualties of the appalling carnage in the Gallipoli campaign. This room is pretty small but well worth a good look round.

 

After this, you are then directed to the Second World War exhibits which are what I presume most visitors come here to see. Arguably the country’s finest hour and rewarded by one of only two “communal” British George Cross medals ever awarded, it is still very proudly remembered by the Maltese. Undoubtedly, there was a lot of source material on the island when the Museum was opened in 1975 following an earlier 1974 temporary exhibition, but it is fascinating nonetheless and very well presented.

I won’t go through all the exhibits for several reasons. Firstly, it would make this tip very long. Secondly, I just wanted to showcase some of the many photographs I took (non-flash photography is allowed throughout, I asked) and finally the attached website gives an excellent overview accompanied by professional photography which is infinitely better than my efforts. Please do take a look.

 

Having said all that, I will briefly mention a couple of items. Firstly, the actual George Cross as mentioned above, is on display along with the original citation letter from King George. It is difficult to over-estimate the importance of this medal in the Maltese psyche and to see the actual piece itself was a thrill. On a completely different scale but also dear to the hearts of local people is a Gloster Gladiator aeroplane officially designated N5520 but named Faith which was one of three in service on the island at the beginning of World War Two. Almost inevitably the others were named Hope and Charity. Despite being woefully unsuited to the combat of the time, they fought valiantly until Faith was bombed in her hangar in 1941 which blew her wings off. She was then ignominiously dumped in a quarry but was subsequently restored and now has pride of place in the centre of the Museum.

 

One final thing. You really should stop in the final room which showcases medals won by various Maltese people. Apart from the groups on display in the cases, you can pull out the drawers below to see many more groups which is fascinating”.

 

If I go to a museum or other place of interest, it is not unusual for me to take many dozens of images and so it was with the War Museum. I have picked a selection of them to display in this portion of the day’s journal.

 

Well, that was the planning for the day exhausted and so it was back to Fergy SOP’s (Standard Operational Procedures) and just start wandering fairly aimlessly as something always turns up and, sure enough, it did in the form of the Msida Bastion Garden of Rest. I am almost as big a fan of graveyards, to use that word in it’s widest sense, as I am of military history and so I paid the modest entry fee and was in there like a shot and what a little gem it turned out to be.

 

It is not overly large now although it was part of a larger cemetery where the first recorded interment was in 1806. Malta is a very Christian country, predominantly Roman Catholic although this burial area is unusual insomuch as it is Protestant and hence many of the memorials are to the British who ruled the island for such a long time. One notable exception is Mikiel Anton Vasselli, known as “Father of the Maltese language” who was a writer, philosopher and lexicographer who tried to rid the Maltese language of the Italian influence that had somewhat taken it over by the time of his birth in the late 19th century.

 

He was also a political activist and took on, in turn, the powerful Knights of St. John (albeit in their declining years), the French during their brief rule of the island and the British at the beginning of their reign. For his troubles he was imprisoned several times and exiled more than once. In 1820 he was allowed to return to Malta but by then he was a man broken by ill-health and he died nine years later. For reasons I have been unable to ascertain, although I suggest it was his opposition to the Knights, the Roman Catholic Church refused to bury him and so he ended up in the Bastion cemetery.

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On of the first memorials I noticed was to 12 men of the HMS Orlando (including a midshipman of the Portuguese Navy) who perished when their boat capsized in Tunis Bay. I was not surprised as Portugal remain Britain’s longest standing ally and it would not be out of place for a Portuguese “middy” to be amongst the ship’s complement. What intrigued me rather more was that the bodies were brought back from Tunis to Malta for interment. Could they not find a Christian burial site in that Muslim place or was it standard practice to return bodies to what was effectively British HQ in the Med for burial? I really do not know.

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Close by is another case of corpses being returned here for interment, in this case Cape Varlam in Corfu in 1903 when HMTB Orwell and HMS Pioneer managed to collide somehow.

 

Arguably the most impressive memorial here is the one you can see in the images above commemorating Joseph Nicolai Zammitt about whom I can find nothing bar that he was a physician and philosopher. Regrettably the lengthy inscription on the tablet is in Latin and I was never much use at that as Mr. Mulryne, my long-suffering Latin Master, will attest!

 

Apart from the interest of the site itself, the elevated position affords some great views over the harbour and the Saluting Battery which was a good thing as that was as close as I got to it. More of that in a moment but for now I shall revert to my old (edited) VT tip about the Battery and the Gardens.

 

“Being a military history fan, one of the things I had wanted to do on Malta was to visit the Saluting Battery in Valletta, the firing of which is the modern continuance of a centuries old tradition and would have appealed to me. Regrettably, I was not actually free in Valletta at midday any time I was there and had either misunderstood the signboard outside or it was erroneous, stating that it was possible to view the guns later in the afternoon (at 1700 hours). I cannot think I was alone in this idea as I saw a number of other travellers milling about apparently waiting for an opening that never happened. It is a shame I did not see the actual firing and something I intend to rectify next time I am on the island.

However, in the way of these things all was not lost and whilst I could not actually see the battery up close or being fired, the surrounding gardens provided a very interesting experience. The Upper and Lower Barracca Gardens provides not only a very pleasant and relaxing place to escape the hurly-burly of Valletta’s streets but also affords some wonderful views. I hope my photographic attempts do it justice. In addition to the very well-maintained open space, there really is a huge history here mostly defined by a number of quite poignant memorials to men long dead.

Whilst the gun salute attracts an admission fee you can wander round the rest of the site any time during daylight and for nothing which makes it a winner in my book!

I should add that the actual battery is run by the excellent and charitable Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna who do a great deal in preserving historical sites on the island and are worthy of support. You should try to go for the firing, I certainly intend to when I return having seen how well they carry it off at Fort Rinella elsewhere on the island.”

By now it was about teatime and so I jumped on the bus and headed back over to San Giljan for a few beers and a bite to eat before heading off to bed.

It had been another great day in a city and country I was by now entirely comfortable in and there is still a bit more to come so stay tuned and spread the word.

Fast forward a day or two.

Hello again and, as always a very brief word of explanation. This entry, should you have alighted on it by accident, is one of a series so I suggest you scroll back to the 13th February where the whole thing starts and it may all make a little sense but then again it may not!

If you have been reading through you will know that the last entry here in my Malta travelogue was back on the 26th February 2013 and this one is all the way forward to the 4th of March so I should clear that one up first. The weather, which had been so poor for so many days thus far just set in nasty and it would have been no pleasure to go anywhere so I had a few days of sitting in Dick’s Bar as usual, eating lovely home made food (pictured as always) trying to catch up on my internet writing with varying amounts of success and that was about it really.

OK, I could tell you about the day I bit the bullet and went to the laundrette but you are probably not interested. I have to say I have never seen a laundrette with a table football in it before but I was on my own in the place so even that was not a lot of good. Just a very quick practical tip if you do need to do laundry here, do not go to one of the several service establishments whatever you do. I had seen one and the price they quoted me for a small bag of laundry was eye-watering. Luckily, my mate in the bar steered me to the self-service place which was a fraction of the price and run by a charming woman so job done.

By the 4th it was still very cold but at least the rain had blown over so it was time to get my tourist head on again. I was very aware that I had not nearly done justice to Valletta and there was much to see so that was the plan for the day.

I am generally loath to suggest that a particular thing to do is a “must see” as that is such a subjective concept and people all have their own ideas about what interests them. I would, however, venture to suggest that the Co-Cathedral of St. John in central Valletta does fall into that category and is probably high on most visitors list of things to do anyway. I know all my Maltese acquaintances recommended it highly. I have mentioned elsewhere that I have no religious conviction myself but I do find places of worship (of whatever faith) fascinating on a number of different levels and this place certainly didn’t disappoint when I visited.

The building has a long and fascinating history, much of it bound up with the history of the Knights of St. John of Malta (as evidenced by the name) and I shall give you a brief precis here, although the attached website gives an excellent overview. The building was commissioned in 1572 by Grand Master Jean de la Cassiere, built to the design of Gerolamo Cassar, a Maltese architect and was completed in 1577. Cassar was predominantly a military architect and I think this is reflected in the slightly sober appearance of the exterior of the building. It is the interior that amazes, of which more later.

I will not waste your time with long out of date logistics which are all dealt with on the website above. When I visited the admission price included an audio tour and admission to the Oratory and Museum, both of which were very interesting. The audio guide was available in Maltese, English, Italian, French, German and Spanish, perhaps more languages have been added now.

Photography is non-flash only in the main building and forbidden in the Museum and Oratory, hence I have no images of that. Decent dress is required as you would expect in a place of worship and ladies should note that stilettoes and narrow heels are not permitted to prevent damage to the floor. For mobility impaired visitors, I quote from the website, “Access is provided to St John’s for wheelchair users and visitors with mobility issues, although access to some areas is restricted. For more information, please contact us”.  Despite the photographic restrictions and my fairly cheap and cheerful little compact camera I shall post a few collages of my better images here.

As you can see to this day, each of the “langues” of the Knights Order was represented by their own chapel on either side of the building with the more senior langues in places of honour nearest the altar. As the Knights came from all over Europe they were assigned to a “langue” with people from their own region or at least who spoke the same language, hence the name I suppose. It was the same with the living quarters.

I suspect there was a deal of “oneupmanship” going on between the langues as they seem to be trying to outdo each other in the magnificence of their respective chapels which really are quite stunning.

In the early 17th century and with the emergence of the Baroque artistic style, the famous Calabrian artist, Mattia Preti was commissioned to re-decorate the Co-cathedral which he duly did. Preti is a fascinating character with a colourful life story and is well worth a little research should you feel so inclined. He is much associated with Malta where he lived for much of his life and examples of his work are to be found in many places around the country.

The next major event was when the Knights meekly handed over the island to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798, effectively ending their dominance of Malta and, indeed, outside of their original lands. They were certainly forced back a very long way from the Holy Land which had been their raison d’etre. After a mere two years, the British arrived and removed the French with the building coming under the authority of the British Governor. Things remained fairly much the same until the Second World War with the British in control of Malta. Like so much else on the island, the Co-cathedral suffered extensive damage during the sustained aerial bombardment by the Axis powers of Italy and Germany. Fortunately, the damage was repaired after the War and the building is now restored to it’s considerable glory. It really is worth seeing.

I did spend a considerable amount of time in the Co-Cathedral and was well pleased that I did but I thought I had better go and see some other sights and so somewhat reluctantly dragged myself away in the direction of the rather grand main square where I took the obligatory couple of images including one which I believe is the main Courts of Justice building.

Somewhere along the line I had seen a sign for the Grandmaster’s Palace (aka State Rooms) and Palace Armoury and so with my fascination with all things military and the crusading knights in particular that seemed like a very good idea but as always it wasn’t quite that simple. Whilst bimbling about looking for the entrance I wandered into the charming courtyard you can see in the images and, you’ve guessed it, I learned something.

Bimbling, don’t you think that is a lovely word? I used to use it a lot but have neither used nor heard it used for many a long year. I do love the English language but enough of that and back to the courtyard. I suspect that with all this inanity there are those amongst you who would like to take me to a courtyard and stand me against a wall in front of a firing squad!

I knew that Queen Victoria was about as fertile as the Nile valley, spawning no less than nine children in a 17 year period. I suspect the Royal obstetrician was the busiest man in London, well either him or the Royal bed repairer! Having never been taught Victorian history at school where I was compelled to learn the French Revolution for “A” level and which I failed spectacularly due to a complete lack of interest, I knew very little of this brood. Obviously, I knew of the errant Prince of Wales but of the rest just about nothing.

A quick check shows that Prince Alfred was the second son and fourth child born on 6 August 1844. So there was now an “heir and a spare” as the expression is and so what to do with young Alfred? He expressed a desire to join the Royal Navy, a tradition that still exists in the Royal Family and at the tender age of 14 passed his entrance examination to be a midshipman, or “middy” in common naval parlance. I know that in this 21st century it sounds ridiculous that a boy of that age could go to sea when there was still the odd war kicking off here and there but that was what the priveleged did with their sons on the principle, I suppose, of “It’ll make a man of him”. Commissions in the Forces cost money in those days but that would not have been a problem, I feel.

 

He was posted to HMS Euralys and it was during a voyage of that vessel that he stepped ashore on Malta and hence the garden which, it has to be said, is beautifully maintained. If it seems incredible to us now the concept of a 14 year old boy commanding hardened sailors on a warship, how much more incredible is it that they would think of creating a courtyard to the same stripling youth just to commemorate a visit? Alfred must have had some sort of an affinity with Malta as his second daughter Princess Victoria Melita was born there on 25 November 1876, with her middle name being gven for the place of her birth. I actually think that is rather charming, Chelsea Clinton take note!

I had been walking about all day and my back was hurting a little so I sat for a few minutes in this calm and enjoyable spot. It is a great little place to take a rest from the rigours of a day sightseeing in the city and I hope the images give some sense of that.

Suitably rested, I set about my quest to find the entrance which actually was very simple had I not got sidetracked into the adolescent Prince’s private garden. As seems to be the way in Malta, it was a joint ticket for both sites (Palace and Armoury albeit in the same building) but that was fine as I wanted to see both anyway.

On a technical note here, I only found out late in my stay about the Malta Heritage Pass which gives access to nearly all the nationally owned sites on the island and, whilst it may look a little steep in price initially you will save considerably if you are like me and want to see most of the things on offer. It is good for several of the sites in Mdina and in Valletta where I had already been so it wasn’t really cost-effective to do it then but I would advise you to have a look at the website here. I believe it even covers several places on neighbouring Gozo should you wish to visit there.

With my ticket bought I took off into a most impressive building but it was clear almost immediately that there was a problem which the images above may give some idea of and that was the problem with maintainance, the place was literally falling apart at the seams. OK, only minor things like a broken tile here, some chipped woodwork there and a drop of pain required but the problem with buildings of this antiquity is that if minor cosmetic problems are appearing externally then you can only guess at what is happening to the plumbing, electrics, structure etc. etc. and the longer you leave them the more expensive it gets! Look at the rusted suit of armour, a competent armourer could clean that up in a day. I am glad to say that as I rewrite this in 2019 I believe the whole building is undergoing some refurbishment.

As I tend to do, I am going to become totally verbose here, I was completely alone so far off season here and I literally felt the hand of history upon my shoulder. I really did think that if I turned around too quickly that I would see some man wearing 16th century armour right behind me. I should stress that it was not spooky nor frightening, it was just that weight of history that I referred to earlier. As well as it’s function as a very fine Museum, I believe another part of the rather large building houses the official residence of the President.

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If the Palace was slightly disappointing due to it’s state of repair and lack of exhibits then the Palace Armoury was in stark contrast. Not only was it beautifully maintained and presented but the range and sheer quantity of weaponry on display was huge and more than enough to satisfy the military history buff in me. As you might expect, the vast majority of the exhibits date to the period when the Knights held sway on the island. Rather than going through a whole list of exhibits I shall let a series of image collages serve to give some sort of idea although I shall single out three which are linked by virtue of the fact they are the suits of armour of three of the Grand Masters of the island.

Looking left to right we have the backplate, breastplate and splint which belonged to Grand Master (1557 – 1568) Jean de Valette de Parisot, a man with whom I was becoming ever so slightly obsessed. I am still fascinated by him, particularly his heroic (I use the word advisedly) command of the defence of the island against the Islamic Ottoman forces during the famous Siege of 1565. As this armour has been dated to c. 1560 it is almost certain that his is the armour he would have worn during that historic period. I have described the Siege at length elsewhere in this series of blogs and do not intend to go into detail again here but it is no exaggeration to say that the repulse of the “Mohammedans” completely defined the course of Western European history to this day. I just stood and wondered at this genuinely important historical artefact.

The second set of armour belonged to Grand Master (1601 – 1622) who is also discussed at length elsewhere in this series. With the threat of Islamic invasion somewhat decreased by the time of his Grand Mastership he concentrated on the infrastructure of the island and much of what he created may still be seen today.

The third set is not 100% attributable to Grand Master (1595 -1601) Martino Garzes who I had not previously encountered. I have since discovered that there is very little written about him online and he seems somewhat of a “forgotten man” although it appears he laid the foundations, metaphorically if not physically, for several of the infrastructure projects for which his successor Wignacourt takes the credit.  As always my interest is piqued now and I am going to make it my business to find out more about him.  I’ll let you know what I discover.
The suit of armour is dated to c. 1560 and is of German design, possibly attributable to the famous armourer Wolf of Landshut.

As always I shall let a few of my better images serve in place of my inadequate prose and dot them about this portion of the entry.

In my usual fashion I had no plans at all for the day but I did spend possibly longer in there than I would have planned if I did travel that way and therein lies the joy of ad hoc rambling. I had spent a decent amount of time in one of the best collections of medieval military hardware I have ever seen.

The afternoon was wearing on and there would not have been time to visit another tourist site and do it justice so I called it a day and retired to a local bar which, as you can see from the image had a drinks menu some of which verged, as the name suggests, on the suicidal. My days of such lunacy are long behind me I am glad to say and so I contented myself with a couple of beers before heading back to Sliema and a quiet night before bed. It had been another great day and, weather notwithstanding, I was becoming increasingly pleased with my choice of Malta for my winter excursion.

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I hope you have enjoyed reading this half as much as I enjoyed being there and there is still plenty more to come so stay tuned and spread the word.

Back to Mdina.

Hello again and, as always a very brief word of explanation. This entry, should you have alighted on it by accident, is one of a series so I suggest you scroll back to the 13th February where the whole thing starts and it may all make a little sense but then again it may not!

 

After my last entry on the 22nd of the month, the 23rd yields me a mere three images and these saved images are my default position for starting to write. Two of these were of the plug of my computer and the third was of the fairly abysmal weather which had dogged me since my arrival. I may as well explain the plug images which were taken to illustrate a practical point on another travel site I used to write for. The 13 amp square pin “British” plug, which is not overly common worldwide is still used here but other variants of two pin plugs are also in use so here is a practical tip for you if you go to Malta (recommended), don’t forget your universal adaptor!

Straight then to the 24th and again a fairly meagre day of things to report. Another rubbish day on the weather front, indeed the only fronts that seemed to be crossing the country were cold, wet and with very closely packed isobars i.e. very windy. Seemed like another day in Dick’s Bar was called for and why not? For all the reasons I shall not bore you with again it was as good a plan as any and apart from the excellent meal shown (I know, I just keep posting images of lovely things with chips / fries but why not?) I was reading one of the local newspapers, which I love to do. Even in countries where I do not speak more than a tiny smattering of the language, I can generally associate images with text and usually manage to learn a bit of vocab. that way. It is the same with watching TV news with subtitles. However, I quickly collapsed in my desire to learn Maltese as English is so widely spoken, there was always a local English language paper available and I was having my usual peruse when I came upon a full page article (pictured) that actually made me chuckle vaguely audibly (no, I do not LOL!) which was a report from the restaurant critic about the pizza house which had just opened upstairs from Dick’s, a place called Margo’s and which rather arrogantly claimed to serve the best pizzas in the world. I have mentioned it before here. This is the place where you can spend €1800 (that is not a typo, that is one thousand eight hundred Euros) on a single pizza and they do not even take credit cards! To say that the critic was less than impressed would be an understatement along the lines of saying that Mother Theresa wasn’t a bad sort really. The critic ripped the place to pieces. I mean no disrespect whatsoever with the Mother Theresa comment lest anyone take offence, a few more like her in the world and we might all be a lot better off.

Apart from that, nothing else happened apart from me half freezing to death on the way home but I did just like that walk along the front with the lights over the harbour, even though I could have jumped a taxi or bus easily enough. I took to my bed hoping for finer weather on the morrow to allow me a bit more exploration.

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Winter sun? Sadly not.

That turned out to be something of a forlorn hope and the 25th came around pretty miserable although not actually raining which was a blessing. It was just saving that up to hit me with later as the image shows! I had a bit of a wander about, took a few random images and generally cursed the weather although it was not a huge issue, more of an inconvenience really. My images indicate there was another visit to my “tame” kebab shop just up the road from home where they were getting quite used to me and friendly but that should have been no surprise. These guys were not native Maltese (Turkish, I believe) but the island in general just seems to engender a fairly laid back sociable feel.

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Looks basic but this was gorgeous!

With a tummy full of a (very small as I eat like a bird) kebab, planxty was off to bed and by now just hoping for fairly light rain the next day never mind any sort of sunshine. Please don’t misunderstand, the fault was entirely mine for not checking. I had stupidly worked out in my head that anywhere this far South must be at least bright this time of year but a Maltese acquaintance told me I had picked exactly the worst time of the year to visit. Nice one, planxty! As it turned out, it really didn’t matter to any degree as I just indulged myself in my usual pastimes of seeing a few of the tourist sites as circumstances allowed, meeting a lot of lovely people and making a few friends. How bad can it be?

On now to the 26th and my daily morning check of the back garden in lieu of a weather report showed that things were looking up, as indeed I was to a lovely bright morning. I guessed it wasn’t going to be overly warm and so wrapped up well and determined to go back to Rabat / Mdina. If you have read my previous entries you will know that Mdina was the old fortified Crusader town and the surrounding area was known as Rabat. I had spent a lot of time in the latter and do not regret a second of it as it was fascinating but I knew there was still a lot more to see behind the walls. Out came my “go anywhere” buspass and two comfortable bus rides took me back to a place where I had a head start as I knew the geography a bit. I do like Maltese buses.

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Maltese buses really are the way to travel.

There I was back in Mdina on a reasonably pleasant if not terribly warm day which promised to produce some decent images and so what next? I shall include a few of the images here just to give you a general sense of the place and it really is no surprise that so many tourists come here. I have to say I would not fancy it on mid-August with almost 40 degree heat and teeming with tour parties but on this day it was a joy.

Particularly interesting amongst these images are a few I thought I might point out above. The first is the sign for the old Jewish Silk Market which is long gone and with the sign rendered in either Hebrew or Yiddish, I am afraid I do not know the difference. The second is the long since sealed door of the Greek bordello with the third showing the sign denoting where it was. I was interested to see some apparently recent Greek graffiti on the door, presumably put there by some young yobs on a drunken holiday who had lost their way to the nightclub. Why do people do this in such a beautiful place? I do not write this to make the entry a salacious piece by referring to a brothel but merely to indicate what a multi-national crossroads Malta was and indeed still is.
Wandering about in my usual totally random style, I came upon the Chapel of St. Agatha. Obviously, I knew the name (not as a Saint) which I associated with P.G Wodehouse novels etc., as in, “This is great–Aunt Agatha”. For me it was just a very old-fashioned name in my home country. Let’s have a look first and then I shall get into my inevitable research!


The first thing I needed to find out was who St. Agatha was. A quick look online and, frankly, it does not make for pleasant reading. Look it up for yourself if you wish. When you have, I then decided to look up the church named for her (she apparently died rather horribly in 251AD) and I found there had been a church built there about 1410 but was pretty well wiped out in the massive earthquake of 1693. Malta lies on a fault line and gets a lot of this horror. The church was rebuilt but let us go back a little and look at the events of 1551, a year I do not think I have mentioned yet.
I know I have spoken of the Grand Siege of 1656 before but in what may have been a “recce” mission for it, the Ottoman Turks and associated allies, laid siege to the island and specifically Mdina, then called Notabile (see my earlier post about the stunning former casino). It is alleged that some nun in a local convent had had a vision from St. Agatha telling her that if she got all the people, both military and civilian, to attend mass in the church and then parade around the town carrying their banners and religious relics then all would be well. They did so and the Turks went away. Personally, I can see a host of alternative military and logistical reasons why the besieging force may have disengaged but that is the tale that still holds currency here. Hence, amongst other reasons, although Agatha never visited Malta as far as I can see, having died at about age 20 or 21 in Sicily where she was born, she is now one of the patron saints of Malta.
The building itself is relatively small and consequently quite intimate. Despite it’s minor dimensions it was still decked out in full finery as you can see and I shall not bore you with my thinking on this again but it is definitely worth a visit if it is open (it keeps somewhat irregular hours).
I read that during the last war the chapel gave sanctuary as a home for two refugee families, presumably bombed out by the Germans and Italians and after the war the place fell into somewhat a state of disrepair. I am pleased to see that the building offered it’s original purpose as a place of succour to those in need in the dark days of Axis oppression and also that the Maltese people saw fit to restore it later when opportunity allowed. Somehow it was just yet another reminder of the indomitable spirit of these people in the face of apparently unbeatable aggression.
I did rather like it here and found the altar particularly pleasing although nowhere nearly as grand as others I saw on the island. If you want to check up on the logistics, here is an official website with all the details.

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No wonder it was a fortress.

Yet again, I was just wandering and took myself to the walls at the “back” of the town (i.e. furthest away from the main gate) as I had done on my first visit and the views are stunning over the local countryside and all the way to the sea. That really is worth doing.
Unusually for me,even though it was well past “beer o’clock”, I fancied a coffee and picked, as always completely at random, the Old Priory Cafe.

Honestly, I thought I had walked into another Museum by accident but I was really in a cafe slightly oddly decked out with a plasma TV (thankfully turned off), modern, minimalist furniture all sitting amongst some tremendous looking oil paintings although I am certainly no judge. Top all this off with a roof that would not have disgraced a Christian church anywhere in the world, and which I nearly got a crick in my neck looking at, and it was the most wonderful setting for a very decent coffee.


OK, so I was being vaguely civilised and had not just retreated to the first bar so what to see next? Well, if the relatively minor Chapel of St. Agatha had been so rewarding then surely the Cathedral had to be worth a look and so it was to prove. After a few more images of the utterly charming alleyways and little curios of Mdina as depicted above, off I went. It is not difficult to find as it can be seen from just about anywhere within the walls.


On a technical note, you cannot buy tickets to the Cathedral at the Cathedral but only at the Museum although that is no problem as it is only round the corner. In truth, in a town the size of Mdina everything is just round the corner from everything else. You cannot buy a ticket just for the Cathedral, it is a joint ticket for it and the Museum but it is worth doing. I will not bother you with out of date prices and opening times but the website here gives all the logistical details.

In I went and it was just deja vu (have you heard that before?) as I was totally entranced by the place. My arguments against organised religion are well-rehearsed here and do not need repeating but I was literally looking round like some kind of rural bumpkin who had never been in a grand church before, it was magnificent. I was to find out some days later that it is a mere shadow of the Co-Cathedral in Valletta in terms of grandeur and yet here I was gawping at everything. Certainly, I have been in much larger, much more impressive Cathedrals than this but it was just that feeling again. I know that places like this were designed to cow people into subservience and giving money / tithes or whatever and I have to say they must have succeeded impressively. If it gets me this way, think what it must have done to an illiterate 17th century Maltese farmer brought up in fear of “eternal damnation”.


I have tried to analyse this for years and the best I can come up with is that it is not the religious aspect of the buildings that get me but rather the sense of history, which is a passion of mine. You cannot miss the history here as you literally walk on it wherever you go with the entire floor being constructed of the tombs of the “great and the good”, many of them Knights of the Hospittalers. Back again to another theme of mine about learning and I read only yesterday (albeit in a historical novel so I am unsure of the provenance) that the reason “important” people wanted to be buried in the place of worship and as close to the altar as their station and funds allowed was that there were usually relics of the Saints on or near the altar and on the day of judgement when the faithful will ascend to Heaven they will be somehow dragged upwards more swiftly on a holy “wind” as the Saints will be resurrected first. I shall leave you to make your own mind up about that one but it just reinforced to me about never ceasing to learn.


I shall, as always, let my pretty poor images stand in place of my totally inadequate words although I would draw your attention to a few of the images above and offer an observation, not my own I am sorry to say and we are always just a fraction away from a digression when I get going here so you might as well have another one but hopefully the above images will help to make sense of this.
In the sixth form at my school we had a Friday afternoon we all had to attend a “lecture”, normally from an outside and generally terribly boring speaker. We would do anything to get out of it but one particular Friday I couldn’t and our extremely affable Vice Principal, Mr. Fred Jeffrey(s?) took to the stage armed with an old fashioned slide projector. No “Death by Powerpoint” or laser pens in those days and off he went on an exploration of English architecture, backed mostly by his own monochrome images which probably dated to the 60’s or even earlier (this was ’77 or ’78). We all tried to sleep without being seen or dreamed about our potential exploits on the sporting field the next day or even our potentially “unsporting” exploits in the Botanic Inn pub that night with the young lady of our current affection.


At some point I happened to glance up at the rippled and not particularly good screen to see what appeared to me as the rather incongruous sight of a row of the upper storeys of quite wonderful buildings. Then he slid in the next frame to reveal street level and the standard British High Street look of the time, BHS, House of Fraser, the odd Wimpy bar and so on. He revealed the two images were taken from exactly the same spot at the same time and something just clicked in my bored, testosterone riddled brain. It was Oxford Street in London and with a few sad exceptions it is still much the case today over 40 years on.
No, I didn’t go walking about staring at skylines that afternoon (I had to get home and clean up for my evening out) but it is a concept I have held to ever since. I am not for one minute suggesting you walk about like these idiots taking selfies and walking into lamp-posts or over high cliffs or into the path of an oncoming bus but wherever you are, either indoors or outdoors, just stop somewhere safe and have a look up. You might just be surprised what you see. Dear old Fred was nearing retirement at the time of this story and if he is still alive, which I sincerely hope is the case, he must be a centenarian now or if not then damn near one. I know he had a wonderful career in education and instilling this small piece of knowledge into my unreceptive skull must rank fairly low in his list of achievements but I thank him for it nonetheless.
It has happened again, hasn’t it? What started off as what I thought was going to be a fairly short entry has turned into another complete rambling saga. In truth, I quite enjoy it as I generally sit up all night writing this stuff due to my somewhat obscure sleep patterns, if indeed there is any pattern, rhyme or reason to how and when I sleep. If it was a knitting pattern rather than a sleep pattern I would have by now cast on and knitted and purled myself towards a lovely baby cardigan that would suit an infant octopus as it would have so many arms in it! Perhaps my choice of website name is starting to make sense to you now so let’s get back to Malta which is what you are presumably here to read about.


With my head still full of the wonderful cathedral and vague notions of other things to see I headed back out into what was actually becoming a pretty passable day weatherwise. Again, there are a few more images above to give you an idea. I like to write chronologically when I can and do not cherrypick the “best” (a very relative term given my equipment and minimal skills) images for the top of the page. If the eagle-eyed amongst you spot that I have revisited the same alleyway, that is entirely plausible. I was completely lost, in the best possible way, and the back alleys of Mdina are fairly homogeneous and labyrinthine. How much would I love to use either of those words in a game of Scrabble! Less Scrabble friendly adjectives would have to include atmospheric, beautiful, historic and charming.
I would not suggest that you do such a thing but if you visit Mdina and do not enter a single building then your day would not have been a waste of time. Just to wander these tiny backstreets and wonder at the old names (Magazine Street for example, obviously where they kept the ordnance and not named for a glossy coffee-table publication), look at the little religious curios that seem to adorn every building and just drink in the centuries you would have had a wonderful day.
Of course, the great thing for the geographically challenged is that you cannot get lost! If you go too far away from the centre you come to what can only be described as a bloody huge wall (please excuse my vulgarity) with a totally suicidal drop down the other side so you know to go back. The cathedral is visible from just about anywhere and it is easy to find the gate from there. Mdina is really one of the great places to explore freely as the topography and architecture dictate that you can go anywhere you want and you will not go far wrong. It is a bit like Disneyland without Mickey and Minnie but you do not need a map and the best thing of all is that it is completely real, not dreamt up by some “imagineer” in Hollywood.


My next “port of call” was the Mdina Experience and the name should have told me everything as anything including the word “experience” in it’s promotion is usually rubbish although I know it is almost obligatory amongst marketeers these days. It describes itself as an “audio visual spectacular” although that possibly got lost in translation as spectacular it was not. I should have trusted my gut, as I usually do. It was, indeed, rubbish comprising of a series of tableaux with little or nothing in the way of actual artefacts. I cannot remember how much I paid and I refuse to endorse such a blatant ripoff by attaching a link here but please do yourself a favour and avoid this place like the horrible Plague of Malta of 1813.  Now, that is worth a bit of your time to read up on.  OK, I had been ripped off, I was not the first and I am sure not the last but it was not going to stop me on what was turning out to be another such brilliant and fascinating day so I just kept walking as is my way. The next “tourist trap” I came across was the “Medieval Times”. I really should have known better and I have not even the excuse of being drunk (maybe I should have been!). Another set of poorly rendered tableaux which the late Mme. Tussaud would probably have melted down for candles. Utter rubbish and again I exhort the reader to avoid this place and will not include details.
So, I had been gulled twice by shysters playing on the immense history of this walled town. Was I depressed by this? Yes. I was depressed by my own stupidity but how can you know? Was I depressed by my return visit to Mdina? Emphatically no. No visitor to Malta should miss this place, it is phenomenal and I have no idea how it must look now after all the work the EU funded. I reckon the old moat is a thing of beauty now (six years after I visited) and the town itself needed little in the way of beautifying but I am sure that has been done as well. It was a day very well spent and remains, after some years, one of my happiest “lunatic wandering” memories. Really this place is a gem set atop (literally) a crown in the Med. and you really should go if you can.

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Sunset in Mdina. How lovely.

The day was wearing on and I was just about “touristed out” and so a beer was inevitably called for but I thought that getting back to Valletta was probably a good idea even though I knew the buses ran late enough. I managed to get a couple of images of the outer walls of Mdina on the way out and back to the bus and I am a great fan of “shadow images” so I have included one of them here which I as quite pleased with. I love the outline of the trees so clearly marked in the setting sun. I am sure that with a proper DSLR camera, tripod and all the rest that I could have made a much better job but this is the trade-off. Would I have had a better day out in a town I had quite unashamedly fallen in love with for reasons as outlined above had I been carrying half a hundredweight of camera gear? I think not. Thankfully, I do not do photography for a living or I would have starved to death years ago but my trusty little compact, which is exactly the same size as my cigarette packet, still gets the job done.  At least I hope it gets the job done although perhaps I am deluding myself and, as always, I shall let my loyal little band of readers decide.

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I thought I deserved a beer.

Back to Valletta and a quick couple of beers before getting back home to Sliema and off to bed. What a great day yet again.
I was falling rather in love with Malta but then again that is a failing of mine if it can be seen to be a failing. I have had the great good fortune, not accorded to many, to have visited many countries, most of them amazing and perhaps it is a failing that I just seem to love everywhere I visit. I may have a simplistic or even childlike view of the world but I am fully aware of how lucky I have been. I have dear friends who have been to over 100 countries each but only one of them wants to do it as a “challenge” i.e. to visit every country recognised by the UN, which is generally regarded as the international standard.
For myself, I’ll just go where the road takes me and hopefully to as good a time as I have had thus far. I have obviously taken off on another digression here and I would offer this as an observation to younger readers (if, indeed there are any), and that is to travel as much as you can as young as you can. It is a very perverse state of affairs that the people that have the time and money to travel are old grey hairs like me and maybe do not have the physical abilities to do so as they once did. Don’t get me wrong, the “grey brigade” is the fastest growing sector of the travel industry (and has been for a few years now) and long may it continue but it just seems a little odd.
A while ago I was talking to a mate of mine with two grown up kids (both at Uni) and, in the course of conversation, he told me that he and the good lady were off to the Far East skiing. When I mentioned that it wasn’t really skiing country he smiled and said to me, “No SKIing” as in “Spending the Kids Inheritance” which I thought was brilliant. I have no kids so the argument is somewhat redundant in my case but you get the point.
Still more to come so in Malta so stay tuned and spread the word.