Malta: The Tiny Island Nation You’ve Never Heard Of

11malta

Location: Malta

Today we made port at the sixth country of our trip: Malta. Malta is a tiny nation made up of 3 islands south of Italy in the middle of the Mediterranean. It spent most of its history being conquered by various empires, before eventually achieving independence from Britain in 1964. It joined the EU in 2004. It is best known for its offshore banking, online gambling, and ship registry. Celebrity Cruises flags all of their ships (except the eXpedition of Ecuador) in Malta. More seasoned travelers know it for its scenic landscape and quiet villages. Nearly every structure in the country is made from limestone mined from the island.

This morning we and our cruise companions left the ship to go on a private tour of the island. Our tour guide, Godfrey, was once a lecturer at the local university and was a wellspring of information about the country.  We started with a tour of the capitol city Valletta. This town is based around a natural deepwater port. It was founded by the crusader Knights of St John. The town was originally laid out in a grid (an oddity in Europe) and is surrounded by very thick and steep walls designed to keep the Turks out.  Godfrey briskly walked around the city pointing out monuments, the Parliament, Prime Minister’s office, and stock exchange. We also saw the Barrakka Gardens at the top of the city walls overlooking the harbour and the castle used to defend the city during the last Ottoman siege.

Barrakka Gardens
Barrakka Gardens

 

Later we walked down commerce street and toured the inside of St John’s Co-Cathedral and Museum. The cathedral was ornately decorated. But each section of the cathedral was decorated by knights from different countries. Godfrey explained the differences between them. Before leaving Valletta, Ryan and Leigh stopped by the public bathrooms. They described the automated restrooms as the most interesting places they’ve ever conducted business.

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Our next stop took us out of town to see the Blue Grotto caves and cliff formations. These limestone formations are one of the larger tourist draws of the country. We stopped by a viewing point at the top of the cliffs nearby and we able to get some nice photos.

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Next we visited the Hagar Qim Temple and Museum. These ruins predate the pyramids and are the oldest free-standing stone structures ever discovered. They appear to be an ancient temple dedicated to a fertility goddess built around 3500 BCE. Whomever built them have long since disappeared. The ruins were forgotten until rediscovered in the 1800’s. The museum also premiered its 4D immersive movie about the temple and its history today. We were amongst the first visitors to actually see it. The movie was animated in 3D, and featured wind, rain, and scent effects. It was a pleasant surprise for us. Godfrey walked us through the museum pointing out theorized construction techniques, astronomical connections (equinox and solstice orientations), and other symbolism. Then he walked us around the ruins of one of the temples and explained the various rooms.

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We had lunch in the small fishing town of Marsaxlokk. We ate alongside the harbor at a restaurant called Pisces. We unintentionally had a grand feast of fresh seafood. It was all excellent.

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After lunch we visited another crusader city further inland called Mdina. This city has never been taken due to its massive defensive walls. Inside we found tight streets, lined with churches, palaces and stores.

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All too soon we had to return to the ship. We arrived not long before the ship had to leave for its next destination. The journey out of the harbour made for some great pictures.

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In the evening we saw the ventriloquist Gareth Oliver. He had a different take on how to do ventriloquist comedy without the use of dummies. He claim to fame is losing to Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent five years ago.  It was not what we expected, but it was entertaining.

This is the southernmost point of our trip and the last new country. Beginning tomorrow, the rest of our trip is entirely in Italy.

Tomorrow we visit Catania, Sicily. We will tour Mt. Etna and the nearby village of Taromina.

Total Steps: 14,255

Total time Rachel got out of a hot tub without injury: 11/11

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