Monday, September 14, 2009

Malta: Take One, Day One

Brian's time in Malta started in mid-June. At the time his stint there was only supposed to be for a week, maybe two. My sister happened to be in town and agreed to watch Marion so Betti and I joined Brian for a couple of days.

The first thing we noticed on the airplane was the language. Brian and I looked at each other, puzzled. What is that? English? No. Arabic? No. Italian? No. Ohhhh, it's Maltese! The Maltese language is a fascinating mix of the three languages, it keeps you guessing!

We arrived on a Sunday evening, put Betti to bed, then enjoyed the view from our hotel balcony.

The next day Brian had to work so Betti and I decided to take a tour of Gozo, one of the Maltese islands. Betti slept most of the trip, including our ferry ride over.

Our first stop was National Shrine and Basilica of the Blessed Virgin of Ta'Pinu, or just Ta'Pinu. Legend has it that a woman, I believe her name was Carmen, used to pray there every day. One day she wasn't feeling well and walked past the church towards her home, choosing not to pray because of her illness. She heard a voice calling to her, telling her to come inside the church to pray several times because it would be her last opportunity to. She looked around and eventually went into the church, where she determined Mary was speaking to her. She prayed and went home, eventually getting sicker and dying. She never got to pray in the church again.

At least that's what the tour driver said.

Malta is highly Catholic, second only to Vatican City. It shows in many ways.

Each town celebrates a feast during the summer for their patron saint. During this feast, the town is decorated and, usually, there are some fireworks. For the larger towns the feast includes a huge outdoor mass for the town's residents.

Next stop was the Gharb Folklore Museum. There were some interesting parts to the museum, but it was pretty small and entrance wasn't included. But it is in the middle of nowhere, what else are you going to do when the driver drops you off here?

A child's hearse. Gorgeous and depressing all at the same time.

Traditional dress.

Driving through the town you can see evidence of Malta's unique history. There is so much history on this little island it is impossible to summarize, but you can check it all out here. Essentially, Malta has been under the rule of many nations, including England, and the British influence is still noticeable. For example, I didn't expect to see this phone booth in Gharb.

Next stop was the Azure window. Gorgeous!

It's estimated that the window will only be there for a few more years as rock periodically falls off. Get there quickly if you want to see it!

Betti briefly woke up and wanted to eat. This is how I feed a newborn while traveling.

Next we stopped at some natural springs that just happened to be near some shops. Coincidence? I think not.

A shelter was near the springs; the sign shows the interesting mix between Arabic and English in the Maltese language.

This is the main spring. Locals still use it for washing- in the morning before the tourists come. See the statue at the top? It is a small statue of Mary; various religious figures are depicted in statues like these all over the island. Just more evidence of the strong Catholic faith of the Maltese people.

After lunch we stopped at the Ggantija Temples. These temples predate Stonehenge and are pretty large. But just my luck, they were being restored. Seems to be my luck lately. Still pretty impressive.

I managed to get a view of Ta'Pinu from the temples.

And then I stepped a few feet forward and took another picture.

Weird how much bigger the church looks, right? I thought so, but then again, I haven't taken a physics class with optics in, uh, way too long.

Next... Wow, I'm sounding like a broken record here. It was certainly a long day!

Anyway, our next and last stop was Victoria, the capital of Gozo.

Another statue. These really were pretty and have I mentioned everywhere?

The Cathedral within the Citadel.

Okay, this place blew me away. Never have I seen such an elaborate cathedral. Velvet drapes? Crystal chandeliers? Elaborate marble designs? Wow.

And then I spotted the flat screen TVs. Just a wee bit out of place, no?

Then again, Malta had this interesting mix of old and new everywhere. They use their cathedrals and other historic buildings, as opposed to leaving them for the tourists to see.

I walked around the Citadel after touring the Cathedral.

The Citadel provided some gorgeous views of Victoria.

Finally it was time to go home. After a long day, I was exhausted. It didn't help that I was lugging Betti around in the heat!

The pictures I didn't get but wished I had (crazy driver!):

- The sign advertising "Southern Fried Chicken". Southern where? I naturally thought American South. Honestly, I don't have a clue though. Shame I didn't get to try it.

- The JFK memorial. John F Kennedy never set foot in Malta, yet there is a memorial to him there. He made quite an impression apparently.

I really enjoyed my first day in Malta and was anxious to learn more about the country's history after my tour of Gozo. Day two would allow me to do just that.

To be continued!

*more pictures on flickr, here. warning: there are a ton!


ToadMama said...

Very cool pics! I looked at all of them. I love the way you take touristy shots (like the Maltese Falcon in 092) and artsy shots (like 118, one of my faves). Then there's touristy-artsy like 138... breathtaking. Thanks for sharing. I felt like I was there. Except my feet don't hurt like yours probably do.

mrsmac said...

Thanks ToadMama! And yea, I desperately need some new good walking shoes. My feet hurt pretty badly after all of the traveling this summer!