Day 97 April 10 (Valleta, Malta - Day 2? - and much more)

Up about 8 for breakfast and a meet with my tablemates (well all but Daryl and Carol who had tours booked and didn't know we were planning our own - we thought we had invited them but apparently we didn't or they forgot). Daphne had been here before and she and Anita planned a list of places we should go visit so we just needed to get wheels. Not so fast smart guy(s)! There were five of us and the cabs here only accommodate four passengers. The guy who was in charge of cab assignment - very organized including set rates here - said we could fit five in a cab. His secret was that four of us could sit in the back seat. Yeah, right! We were mulling our options when he suggested he might be able to hook us up with a Jeep that would be big enough. I was skeptical but what the heck, we could look. He made a phone call and we negotiated a price (€130 for 6 hours). We were off to check out the vehicle and driver/guide. Think small pickup truck but in the bed were two seats (one on each side so you sat facing each other). Because of the arrangement we could sit two on each side with careful leg placement. Daphne, our fifth tourist rode shotgun. There was a canvas roof over the truck bed for shade and rain protection if needed. We agreed this would do.

At about 9:30 AM off we went. Our guide was Alfred. He spoke English very well and was quite knowledgeable about his country and its history. He was an artist too so he and Daphne had a strong connection. We started out along the coast and travelled basically NW until we ran out of island (if it matters the town there was called Cirkewwa). We stopped along the way at some major old things and also for photo ops for great scenery.

This is truly a beautiful country. I can't remember the names of all the places we went by or through but there were two important towers, the red one and the oldest one. These were part of a chain of towers built by the Knights who lived here to defend the island from invaders. The island was apparently a way station and then a hospital (run by monks) for pilgrims from western Europe to the Holy Land. When some of the crusaders committed attrocities there were predictable retalliations. Eventually the Catholic Order of Knights of St. John was established on the island as a military unit. Hence the towers. The famous Maltese Cross possesses 8 points. There are two at the tip of each of the four branches. These symbolize the eight aspirations of the Knights, live in truth, maintain faith, repent sins, give proof of humility, love justice, be merciful, be sincere and wholehearted, and endure persecution. Nice sentiments. It is a shame they and all the world don't live by a code like that enough of the time isn't it? Anyway, you and I now know more than we probably need to about the Maltese Cross. The Knights ruled Malta from their inception (sometime in the 1400's I believe) until 1798 when Napolean forced them to surrender.

We headed south along the west coast from Cirkewwa and stopped at several places again. My favorite, although not really worthy of the wonderful history of this place, was Popeye Village. This is where Robin Williams filmed Popeye. They left the set behind and the country has preserved it and added to it to create a children's amusement park area. Why not? I didn't get to see Hobbit Town in New Zealand so this will have to do until I can get back there. We didn't actually go in, just stopped to take pictures.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the most fun part for me. We were a bit cramped in the back so I asked Alfred if he would get a ticket if I sat on the tailgate/spare tire and hung onto the roof supports. He said that was fine so I did for most of the day when we were driving. It allowed me to have a full view to video or snap photos and it gave the others more room. Win, win right? I know, I think I'm a teenager again sometimes but it was a blast! We drove down some back roads at times which had stone walls so close on both sides that I swear I could have touched both at the same time if I had tried. One of those areas where you have to back up if someone comes the other way. Yee ha! The only time I got back into the truck was when we were really hurrying to get to our last stop before it closed. I'm crazy but not stupid. I understand from Daphne that Alfred ran at least two stoplights and I'm sure he was doing 60 mph or better at times. If I hadn't ducked into the seating area I would likely have been hanged by my hat trying to blow off. I had the string under my chin to keep from losing it and at that speed.... Not a pretty picture I'm sure. Sorry.

Anyway, we proceeded to the town known as Rabat and to a restaurant for lunch. We had Brajolie for lunch (all but Jack who had chicken). Brajolie is a spiced ground meat wrapped in a slice of some other meat and covered with a dark sauce which could be called gravy. I don't ask too many questions anymore about unfamiliar food. I've had so many new experiences with food that I just taste it and if it tastes good I eat it. That saves a lot of anxiety. This was pretty good. It came with familiar veggies and potatoes and was more than enough. We had a nice veggie soup as an appetizer and ice cream for dessert. I had a Maltese beer called
Cisk. Not bad. Not quite dark enough for me but tasty nevertheless. All of this cost each of us about €9 (about $14).

We went to the old town in Mdina (nearby) after lunch. This thing goes back 2500 years! Not as old as the pyramids but not much is. Lots of pictures and Daphne spent about 20 minutes sketching. She does this everywhere we go when she can. Then we took Mr. Toad's Wild Ride back to Valleta. OK, just joking. This was the stretch where Alfred drove as fast as he thought we could stand. We were all pretty calm so that is why I had to duck down. Along the way we passed some old aquaducts. Perhaps there were other sights along the way but we went by so fast...the aquaducts were paralleling the road so they were visible long enough to be noticed and even announced by Alfred. The guy is good! I have his email and phone if any of you plan a trip to Malta and want a great guide.

The object of our hurry was St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valleta. This is the only mistake I know that Alfred made. He thought it would close at 3 PM. When we got there we discovered it was open 'til 4:30 PM. Summer hours! So we needn't have hurried but even that was fun. Another great adventure. The reason for the strong desire to get there before it closed was that there are two Caravaggio paintings in the Cathedral. Daphne more than anyone wanted to see them. When she lived here before she had somehow not been aware of their presence. The church is really beautiful. Built in the 1500's. Lots of gold and fancy stuff. The floor, like some in Europe, has large marble slabs which are actually burial markers. Those buried here were the knights and perhaps a few other important people.

All in all it was a great day. We travelled around almost half the island and hit most of the more important historical sites. Not bad for about six hours. I collected money from everyone to pay Alfred. We gave him a good tip. This guy actually told us at the beginning that if we weren't completely satisfied we wouldn't need to pay him anything! Not only that, I realized I had not put my Euros in my wallet (took them out on the way to Split and put Split money, Konas I believe, in. When we couldn't land in Croatia I exchanged my Konas for US dollars and forgot to get my Euros out of my safe). I told Alfred that if my friends didn't have enough extra Euros to cover my part I could run into the ship and get them and he said not to worry. I could mail them to him! This guy is truly an artist. Who else wouldn't care about getting his money right away?

We returned in time for supper (we actually took an extra hour and a half but Alfred didn't seem to mind and never even hinted that we should pay him more - quite different from India and a few other countries). After supper the show was an amazing act with two juggling comedians. The act was called On the Edge. The guys were Bert and Howie. They said to look them up on U-tube or on their website (I think it was Sorry, if I didn't get it all. I just went to where DVDs are usually sold by our acts and these guys apparently are selling theirs. They have one and I'm still pursuing that (they gave copies out to a couple of "volunteers" during the show. These guys were hysterical. I gave them a standing ovation. I think I was the only one but their juggling was amazing. I don't know if I've seen a better juggling act. And remember they did this on a moving ship.

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