Monday, October 6, 2008

Mediterranean Cruise Day 7: Valletta, Malta

I awaken yesterday quite early. It was the wee hours-still before dawn and our ship was sailing in dark waters that were smooth as glass and strangely quiet. It was hard to tell what speed we were sailing, but I sensed it was very slow. As the morning light emerged, a silhouette of a land mass appeared. It was entirely different from other places we had seen on this journey, but I couldn't see why, I just sensed it. I wondered what the day would bring. Suddenly, there was just enough light to reveal enough of the dramatic and imposing coastline emerging in the distance. I imagined the sound of a hundred trumpets blaring, announcing the place where we reached, the main island of Malta. I stepped out onto our balcony staring in amazement and wonder. Having never been to Malta I did not know what to expect- certainly not such beauty before we had even reached land. Malta’s Grand Harbour is said to be one of the most beautiful in the world; it was certainly living up to that reputation. As we sailed further into Grand Harbour, the first visual impression was that everything on the island seemed to be the same color- a soft, light sandstone tan. I reconciled these colors with the imposing stone structures along the coast, which appeared to look like a fortress.

Malta has been ruled by many foreign peoples, with evidence of civilization for nearly 7,000 years. He Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Germans, French, Spaniards and British all conquered these Maltese islands. Malta achieved its independence back in 1964 after reaching an agreement with the British Government to transition into a self-governed nation. In 1972 Malta emerged as a new independent nation, but remains a member of the British Commonwealth today.

I had been looking forward to seeing Malta for many years. A million years ago when I worked for Macy’s in New York, a colleague of mine called Nancy was particularly proud of here Maltese heritage. She spoke glowingly of her parent’s “homeland”, showing me fabulous photos of her sumptuous vacations to this beautiful Mediterranean jewel. I was reminded of her when we set foot on land-I saw a building with the name “Galea Insurance”, which was Nancy’s surname. I smiled to myself as her face was conjured up in my mind’s eye. Yes, this was Malta I thought.

We started our day visiting a glass-blowing shop, where an old man was working with globs of glass and fire to make all sorts of shapes and treasures. It was interesting, but I decided that since we are going to Venice next week, I would save my interest in glass works until then. We made our way to a place called Mdina (which can be pronounced Medina, but most say it phonetically, without the “e’). The ancient city of Mdina was stunningly beautiful, with origins back to the peak of the Roman Empire. This walled city proved to be a very sturdy fortress over the centuries and has remained largely in tact. Within the walls of the ancient city, just 300 people live today, it is carefully preserved and kept extremely clean. It had the sense of being on a movie set because it was so immaculate.
A brief stop at the Tarxien temple ruins was quite interesting, but to be honest I got a bit bored after seeing the piles of stones, even if they were 5,000 years old!

After enjoying a typical Maltese lunch at a local restaurant, we went to the capital, Valetta by way of City Gate. This part of Malta is a combination of old and new, with a great deal of historic architecture throughout. We were fortunate to visit the Presidential Palace, where we had special access to several rooms not usually open. It was truly an impressive site. We spent just one brief, but long day in Malta, and I found it to be quite captivating. I had the sense that there was a great deal more here, waiting in Malta- for another journey yet to come.
Views of Valetta from The Great Harbor

A Visit to the Glass Making Shop

Views of Mdina

above: I saw these all over the sides of buildings in Mdina.

The Amazing Ruins of the Tarxien Temple

Other views of Valetta:

above: the park above the Great Harbour

above: Horse drawn carriages gave a certain charm to the city

above: the Presidential Palace ceilings were incredible. above right: the Presidential dining room

above: the floors of the Presidential Palace had these marble in-laid floors with various shields of Malta.

above: the Red and Green Rooms, which were quite elegant.

above: the old Parliament Hall

above: this statue of Queen Victoria is a reminder of days when Malta was part of the British Empire

above: Malta has lots of ferral cats all over the place. This one was relaxing in the flowers in the shade.
above: as we left Malta, I realized what an incredible day it had been.

above: Jose, the best bartender in the Princess fleet, pours me another delicous martini. Above right is one I had last night- a Lemon Merangue Martini.
-Signore Ricardo Rockhill


Anonymous said...

Those pretty round Plaques were proabaly made by Della Robbia (Sp?). The friut and signature blue and white colors are my cue...

That martini looked delish!

I worked for Macy's too! Back in the mid-1980s, when they had a midwest division. But that a long time ago!

Mags said...

It's been fascinating reading your posts and wonderful seeing the photos! Such beautiful architecture and land...thanks, as always, for sharing with us.

kenju said...

It looks like a fascinating place, and the views are terrific!~!

karma lennon said...

Everything's so so beautiful!!! :) I was intrigued by the glass blowing in Venice-it's amazing what they can do.

lime said...

malta is not a place i have ever thought much about but it really looks interesting. how cool that you have something of a personal connection through your friend.

Olivia said...

I agree with Lois re the Della Robbia family trademark roundels.

I'd love to go to Malta one day. One of my friends, whose father is an ambassador, was sent to Catholic school in Malta. She had many stories to tell about the rigorous discipline there.

One day, a few years ago in London, I went for a walk in the park while wrangling in my mind over two possible relationships, neither of which I wanted to pursue. An old man sitting on a bench called to me and practically read my mind to me. He was full of amazing advice and perceptions. Turns out he was from Malta. We had a nice chat.

And finally, in high school I was in class with a nice boy called Oliver whose family was from Malta. Interestingly, the surname Camargo also reminds me of the Camargue region of France.


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