Malta, The Boats Have Eyes

luzzo-eyes-2

Maltese fishing boats are called Luzzus and are are brightly painted in shades of yellow, red, green and blue and the bow is normally pointed with a pair of eyes.

The most popularly accepted legend is that the eyes date back to Phoenician times, from around two thousand two hundred years ago, when those great seafarers and traders established a Central Mediterranean trading-post on Malta. The eye is believed to protect the fishermen from any harm when they’re at sea. On either side of the prow will be the carved and painted eye of Osiris, the Phoenician god of protection against evil – an example of ancient myth in modern times.

In his book, ‘Voices of the Old Sea’, Norman Lewis recounts how the Guardia Civil in Spain took a dim view of the eye of Osiris…

He (the policeman) called over another fisherman. ‘What purpose do you imagine those eyes on the boat serve?’.

‘We regard them as a sign against evil’

‘The evil eye, as you call it, doesn’t exist’ the captain said, ‘Paint them out'”

Eyes like this were once common on fishing boats in Greece but the practice has all but died out there.  Eighty years ago fishing boats in Mediterranean Spain and the Algarve in Portugal also used the symbol of the eye but, apart from Malta, the only place to be sure of finding them now are on traditional boats called Jabega in the port of Malaga, which was also once a Phoenician trading city.

Malta Luzzo Eyes

Black Forest, Cable Car Ride to the Top of the World

Schauinslandbahn Black Forest Cable Car

Overnight the rain turned to snow and there was a little dusting on the roofs of the houses next to the hotel and on the road outside but the sky was still grey and overcast so we decided to take a drive to the city of Freiburg about fifty kilometres.  We could have taken the direct route on the autobahn but we decided instead to take a scenic route through the forest.

The chosen route took us first through the village of Ortenberg which was an ordinary sort of place except for a large castle standing in a dominant position on a hill with a good view overlooking this part of the Rhine Valley.  It looked in good condition and we found out later that it is now a youth hostel.

Soon we arrived in Gengenbach which is a small town on the western edge of the Black Forest.  Gengenbach is well known for its traditional Fasnacht where the residents of the town closely follow tradition by wearing costumes and carved wooden masks and clapping with a Ratsche which is a wooden rattle like those we used to take to football matches before they became a health and safety hazard.

We parked the car and tried to make sense of the parking fee information, bought more time than we really needed (forty-eight hours) and then walked into the Altsadt which was gaily decorated with bunting and flags for the festival.  In the main square Gengenbach has a traditional town hall which is claimed to be the World’s biggest advent calendar because the twenty-four windows of the eighteenth century town hall represent the twenty-four windows of the calendar.

Gengenbach Germany

Just behind the main street there was a warren of tiny crooked streets surrounded on all sides by the most picturesque half timbered buildings and it was almost possible to imagine that we had wandered into a secret fairy tale village of uneven cobbled streets, colourful houses and cottages and might at any moment bump into Little Red Riding Hood but hopefully not the Wolf!

After leaving Gengenbach we followed the road as far as Haslachand then towards Elzach and Freiburg.  The road started to climb quickly and it began to snow just as we passed a road sign that seemed to suggest that it might be advisable to have snow chains ready for the tyres.  We didn’t have any but we carried on anyway.  As the snow became heavier we could understand why but it wasn’t getting too deep and the winter tyres seemed to be coping well enough again but just to be sure we kept to the main road and didn’t head off any ambitious scenic detours today.

And we really didn’t need to because this was a very attractive route anyway and we passed through the towns of Waldkirch, Denzlingen and Gundelfingen and eventually approached the outskirts of Freiburg where there was a series of road works and detours.  We drove straight through the city with a plan to come back later and continued south towards the one of the highest parts of the Black Forest, the Schauinsland, and once outside the city we started to climb once more.

Schauinslandbahn Germany Black Forest

Schauinsland literally translates as ‘look into the country’ and we now set off on a twelve kilometre climb to the top through a series of sharp twists and turns through hair pin bends and narrow gorges and as we climbed the temperature dropped to minus six, it started to snow, the windscreen froze solid and the road turned into a treacherous river of slush.

At one thousand, two hundred and ninety-five metres we reached the top and living in Lincolnshire that is about one thousand, three hundred metres higher than we are normally used to.  The top of the mountain was a place of winter pastimes and people were skiing down the slopes, children were sledging and families were walking together through the thick snow.  There were good views but the weather was getting worse and the snow even heavier and we were apprehensive about the drive back down so we didn’t stay too long.

Black Forest Germany

We negotiated the snow and drove down the difficult road to the village of Horben and then decided to go back up again but by a different form of transport because from here it was possible to reach the summit on the Schauinslandbahn, which at just over three and half kilometres is the longest cable car ride in Germany.  The return ticket cost €11.50 but it was well worth it because as we climbed through an avenue of snow-covered conifers there were great views to the north-west all along the Rhine valley and into neighbouring France.

At the top once more it was snowing again and we emerged into a scene of pristine white snow, several centimetres deep, a crisp atmosphere that clawed at our fingers and toes and pure mountain air that filled our lungs and cleared our heads.  We walked for a while through trees weighed down heavily with snow, deep frozen and covered in frost and ice, along steep slippery paths where we had to watch our step as we walked all around the summit and then back to the cable car.

On the return cable car journey it was cold and draughty in the cabin but for compensation there were more magnificent views over the mountains and across to the city of Freiburg which was where we were going next.

Schauinslandbahn Black Forest Germany

Malta, Doors of Mellieha

Mellieha Door 02Mellieha Door 03Mellieha Door 01Malta Door and Balcony MelliehaMellieha Iron Balcony and Door

More Picture Posts of Malta…

 

Malta, Fishing Boats

Malta, Door Knobs and Knockers

Malta, Cathedrals and Churches

Malta, Balconies

Malta, Washing Lines

Travels in Spain – Off the Beaten Track (1)

If you are travelling to Spain and want to avoid the coast and the obvious tourist traps then let me make some suggestions…

Almagro in Castlla-La Mancha

almagro

“We are in the Spanish south.  The castanets click from coast to coast, the cicada hum through the night, the air is heavy with jasmine and orange blossom… the girls have black eyes and undulating carriages.”  –  Jan Morris,  ‘Spain’

Almagro is an old town that was once much more important than it is today, two hundred and fifty years ago it was for a short time the provincial capital of La Mancha (1750-61) but religious decline set in during the reign of Charles III and it fared badly and suffered damage in the Napoleonic and the Carlist wars.  Eventually it was eclipsed by its neighbours, Ciudad Real and Bolaños de Calatrava and it became the quiet town that it is today on, not being unkind, a secondary, less important, tourist trail.

At a hundred metres long and forty metres wide the Plaza Major is one of the finest in all of Spain, flanked on both sides by arcades of cream Tuscan columns, weathered by the years, supporting overhead galleries all painted a uniform shade of botella verde and fully glazed in a central European style that makes this place truly unique in all of Spain.  These galleries were originally open and used as grandstands for public events, religious festivals and even bullfights that were held here until 1785, when they were finally banned by King Carlos III.

Antequera in Andalucia

“For almost the first time I felt I was really in Spain, in a country that I had longed my whole life to visit. In the quiet back streets of I seemed to catch a momentary glimpse, a sort of far-off rumour of the Spain that dwells in everyone’s imagination.”  –  George Orwell

Antequera has always been an important place due its geographical position as it falls on a natural crossroads east/west between Seville and Granada and north/south between Malaga and Cordoba and the Moors built their most impregnable castle at this place to protect their possessions in Iberia.

Plaza San Sebastian is at the very bottom of the city at a busy roundabout junction where every major road in the city seems to converge, a bubbling pink marble water fountain, a modern monument that marks the junction of two Roman roads, a proud church, several grand buildings and overshadowed by the looming presence of the Alcazaba, a steep cobble-stoned hill climb away.  The steps are steep but lead to the castle gate and inside is the Plaza de Santa Maria dominated by the biggest church in town.

Girona in Catalonia

Girona Catalonia Spain

“I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than most countries.  How easy it is to make friends in Spain!” – George Orwell

This is a fine place – better than Barcelona!  The old town is packed onto a hillside alongside the river, which is spanned by a series of bridges that lead to the shopping area. One bridge leads to  Carrer de la Força, which, it’s hard to believe was once part of the Via Augusta, the road that led across Spain from Rome, and from the tenth to the end of the fifteenth century was the main street of one of Europe’s most important Jewish quarters.

The visitor will climb all the time but make frequent and sometimes pointless diversions into side streets and blind alleys, up steep steps and along difficult cobbled passageways, always grateful for shade in this labyrinth of enchanting lanes.

Eventually everyone will arrive in the square in front of Santa Maria Cathedral whose Baroque façade conceals an austere Gothic interior that was built around a previous Romanesque church, of which the cloisters and a single tower remain.  After the climb find the energy to climb the steps from the square to the Cathedral and go inside to visit the interior of the building and see the World’s widest Gothic nave and the second widest overall after St. Peter’s in Rome

Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha

Plaza Mayor Siguenza Spain

“…Sigüenza, ninety miles from Madrid, remains a quiet spot in an empty landscape.  It sits among narrow valleys celebrated by Camilo José Celar in his ‘Journey to the Acarria’”  –  Christopher Howse – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Sigüenza has always occupied an important strategic geographical position in a narrow valley on the main road and railway line between Madrid and Aragon and Catalonia.  This is not a surprise, the Romans, the Moors and the Catholic Monarchs of the Reconquista had all previously fortified this place.

For a small town the cathedral is an immense building and one of the most important late Romanesque buildings in Spain which was built to symbolise the power of Bishop Don Bernardo who began construction in the twelfth century.  It has three naves and a main chapel with an ambulatory and a dome and around the outer walls are a series of commemorative chapels which reads like a who’s who of the local campaigns of the Reconquista.

Inside is the jewel of the Cathedral, the Chapel of St. Catherine which houses the sepulchre of Martín Vázquez de Arce where in what is regarded as one of the finest examples of Spanish funerary art is his alabaster statue decorated with the cross of Santiago as he lies serenely on his side while casually reading a giant book. The authors of the Spanish Generation of 1898 (a group of patriotic artists and philosophers) drew national attention to the statue by naming him ‘el doncel de Sigüenza’ – the boy of Sigüenza.

Siguenza Spain

In the Plaza Major café tables are arranged in the shadow of the South Tower which reaches high into the blue sky and has small-fortress like windows at regular intervals and the description fortress-like is rather appropriate because they bear the marks of shell damage inflicted on the building in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

Besalu Catalonia Spain

Entrance Tickets, The Red Tower at Mellieha, Malta

red-tower-mellieha-malta

The Red Tower, or to give it its proper name St Agatha’s Tower, is a large imposing watchtower in Mellieħa,  the sixth and most important of a coastal defence system of fortifications and small castles built by the Knights of St John during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

St. Agatha’s Tower turns out to be the last large bastioned tower to be built in Malta to provide early warning of attack and to alert the defence of the city of Valletta.

Knights of St John

The city of Valletta was built by the Knights of St John who were granted the island in 1530, seven years after being expelled from Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks.  Trouble with Turks however continued to follow the Knights and in 1565 the Ottomans laid siege to their new home on Malta with the intention of establishing a base from where they could conveniently advance into Europe.

But as in Rhodes and at Bodrum the Knights proved a tough nut to crack and the Great Siege of Malta which lasted from May until September ended with the defeat and retreat of the Turkish army.

The rest of Europe was so grateful for this stoic resistance that it began to provide funding for the Grand Master of the Order, Jean Parisot de Valette, to plan and construct a new fortified city that was to be called Valletta in his honour.  Although it was designed principally as a fortress city with great battlements and armed bastions the architects also found time and paid attention to good design and within the walls they built a Baroque style city with churches, palaces and fine mansions, laid down gardens and designed grand plazas at the intersections of the grid pattern of the streets.  It was certainly worth protecting.

Mellieha Malta Red Tower

Saint Agatha’s Tower was built between November 1647 and April 1649 and consists of a square castle with four corner towers.  Cannon ports in the turrets gave interlocking fields of fire commanding the base of the walls and the gateway, with other large artillery ports in the faces of the main tower.

The tower is situated in a commanding position on the crest of Marfa Ridge at the north west end of Malta, overlooking the natural harbour and potential enemy landing site of Mellieħa Bay, with clear views over to Comino and Gozo, and also eastward to the line of watchtowers along the north shore of Malta that linked it with the Knights headquarters in Valletta. It was the primary stronghold in the west of Malta, and was manned by a garrison of thirty men, with ammunition and supplies to withstand a siege of forty days.

It continued to have a military purpose throughout the British period, and was manned during both World Wars. From the British period it continued its military function being used as a radar station by the Armed Forces of Malta.

The Red Tower Mellieha Malta

Although the children would have preferred to stay at the hotel and spend all day in the swimming pool I thought it was important for them to get out a little and learn something about Malta.  The girls weren’t too keen and Patsy (the clever one) feigned a stomach ache to get out of it, Molly (not so clever) didn’t think fast enough to find an excuse but William is rather fond of forts and castles so luckily he was enthusiastic about the visit.  Molly was dragged along complaining.

It was just a short walk but it was all uphill so, in the heat, it did become rather a drag by the time we reached the steep flight of steps which took us to the entrance.

There are some good displays inside and some imaginative reconstructions but the best bit is the climb to the roof and the reward of sweeping views in all directions as far as Victoria on Gozo to the north and Valletta to the south and it was easy to understand why they chose this spot for the tower – no one was going to slip in unnoticed that’s for sure.

It didn’t take long to see all that there was to see and with the promise of an ice cream down at the beach after the stroll back there were a lot less complaints on the return walk.

The children celebrate the end of the walk and return to the swimming pool…

Celebrating Mellieha Malta

TV Westerns

Dale Robertson Wells Fargo

On page two of Dad’s Scrap Book is a newspaper cut out picture of TV Western actor Dale Roberston who was the star of the show Wells Fargo.

Dad like TV westerns, so naturally I did too.  One of my favourites was Bonanza. Bonanza was a wholesome, good always triumphs over bad, TV western but for me had some unanswered questions as well.

For a start this was a men only show where three grown up brothers lived on a Ranch with their Pa and never changed their clothes!

It’s absolutely true – they always wore the same outfits: Ben Cartwright: Sandy shirt, tawny leather vest, grey pants, cream-coloured hat, Adam Cartwright: Black Shirt, black trousers, black hat. Hoss Cartwright: White shirt, brown suede vest, brown trousers, large beige flat-brimmed, ten-gallon hat. Little Joe Cartwright: Beige, light grey shirt, green corduroy jacket, tan trousers, beige hat.

Ben Cartwright was the wise and intelligent father, the eldest son Adam was the smart one who had designed and built the Ponderosa Ranch, Hoss by contrast was hopelessly dim but as strong as an ox and the youngest son, Little Joe was a romantic with a fiery temper.  Because they didn’t have a woman about the ranch to do the chores the Chinese cook, Hop Sing, completed the household personnel and there must have been a cleaner somewhere because for a house shared by five men the ranch was always spotlessly clean.

Now, in 1950’s and 1960’s westerns the characters had manly names like Cheyenne Body, Rowdy Yates, Bronco Lane, Flint McCullough, some had only one name like Paladin in Have Gun Will Travel and some were so tough they didn’t have a name at all, like the Virginian. Inexplicably Hoss’ real name was Eric!  Who’s ever heard of a cowboy called Eric for goodness sake?

It was hardly surprising that Ben wasn’t married anymore because each of the sons had a different mother and they had all come to a premature end.   Adam’s mother was Elizabeth, who died in childbirth.  Hoss’ mother Inger was killed by Indians, and Little Joe’s mother, Marie, died after falling off her horse.

Poor old Little Joe inherited this misfortune from his father because there was always one thing that you could be sure of in Bonanza and that was that if he met a woman and fell in love the unfortunate actress had only got a one episode contract and was sure to die!

Another of my favourite westerns was the Lone Ranger and there are a couple of things have always intrigued me about Kemo Sabe as well:

Firstly, why was he called the Lone Ranger when he was never alone?  He was accompanied everywhere by his loyal Indian friend Tonto (real name Jay Silverheels).  Perhaps native Americans didn’t count in the 1950’s?

Secondly, the most baffling thing about the Lone Ranger was that he wasn’t the sort of guy you would miss easily in a crowd.  He wore a powder blue skintight costume  and a broad brimmed white Stetson, wore a black mask to conceal his face, had a deep baritone voice and rode in a black buckled saddle on a magnificent white stallion called Silver. Tonto’s horse was called Scout by-the-way.

It was surprising therefore that no one could ever recognise him!  Now I’d have thought that word would have got out about someone as characteristic as that.  Interestingly the only thing that gave him away usually came at the end of the show and when asked who he was by a cerebrally challenged lawman he would pass the inquirer a silver bullet and then the penny would finally drop.  “That was the Lone Ranger,” they would announce as the masked stranger and Tonto galloped off at an impossibly high-speed to the sound of Rossini’s William Tell overture.

Other favourite TV westerns of mine ( mostly from the Scrap Book, but not all) were:

Alias Smith & Jones

Bronco Lane

Cheyenne

  

Gunslinger

Gunsmoke

Have Gun will Travel

High Chaparral

Laramie

Lawman

Maverick

Overland Trail

Range Rider

Rawhide

  

Sugarfoot

The Dakotas

  

The Virginian

Wagon Train

  Robert Fuller Wagon Train  John McIntire

Wells Fargo

Has anyone got a favourite TV Western?

Entrance Tickets, Malta to Gozo Ferry

gozo-ferry

“Gozo remained an utterly private place and lucky the man who could find the key, turn the lock and vanish inside.” – Nicholas Monserrat

We had debated what to do today and we finally decided that we would visit the neighbouring island of Gozo.

Just to be clear, this is the island of Gozo and not Gozer the Gozerain from the film ‘Ghostbusters

This is Gozer…

gozer

This is Gozo…

Gozo Postcard

Getting there should have been straight forward but this morning we had our first experience of the inefficient bus service.  There was a stop at the end of the hotel drive and we arrived there at about nine forty-five which should have given us plenty of time to reach the ferry port about two and a half miles away for the eleven o’clock crossing.

We saw the first bus approach and we saw the first bus pass by without stopping – it was full.  A second bus came and passed without stopping and then a third, it seemed as though everyone was going to Gozo this morning.

Malta Bus Chaos

By this time it was almost ten o’clock and Kim made the decision that we should walk.  I said that we wouldn’t make it in time, Kim said that she was confident that we would, I said we wouldn’t, she said we would and so we set off at a brisk pace.

Well, just in time, we made it and that took care of all of the breakfast calories and eventually we calmed down, cooled down and enjoyed a thirty minute ferry journey to our destination, passing as we went the third of the Maltese islands, Comino.

For our day on Gozo we had booked one of those open topped tourist buses.  I don’t usually like these because they seem to spend a lot of wasted time going to places that you don’t want to go but the man at the hotel reception had persuaded me that this was a good option because we could be sure of seeing all of the places of interest in one day which could not be guaranteed if relying on the privatised bus service.  We found the bus, made our way to the top deck and waited for it to fill up with passengers and leave.

Xewkija Gozo Parish Church

The first really noticeable thing about Gozo was how less busy the place was compared to Malta and we drove through villages and open fields on practically empty roads.  First we came to the village of Xewkija which was a modest place but has an enormous church with what is claimed to be the third largest unsupported church dome in the World.

To put that into some sort of perspective the largest is St Peter’s in Rome (fourth largest city in Western Europe) and the second largest is St Paul’s in London (population 7.5 million, give or take a thousand) Xewkija is a village in Gozo with a population of about three thousand, three hundred people.

Our plan was to stay on board the bus and complete the route to the very far side of the island at a place called Dwejra where there is a natural rock formation called the azure window which attracts people like bees to a honey pot mostly it seems on account of the fact that it was used as a location for the TV show ‘Game of Thrones’ although I cannot confirm this because I have never watched it.

Azure Window Gozo Malta

It was an interesting little stop and we clambered over the erosion scarred limestone rocks, rock pools where nothing lived and the salt pans which was the reason why.  It was very busy so we made our way back to the shabby little ring of tourist trap shops and bars, had a beer and then on account of the number of people who might be competing to get on the bus made our way in good time back to the stop ready to move on to Victoria.

Victoria is the capital of Gozo.  It used to be called Rabat but in 1887 the British renamed it to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.  I can’t help thinking that it is rather arrogant to go around changing place names in such a superior way.  A lot of people on Gozo still call the place Rabat – Good For Them!

The bus dropped us off and we made our way to the centre of the city, to St George’s Square and the Basilica of the same Saint.  As it was 23rd April there was a lot of bell ringing and celebration but the disappointment was that the square resembled a construction site as it was in the process of restoration and improvement.

Victoria Gozo Malta

We tend to think of St George as an English Saint but a lot of the rest of Europe has claimed him as well because St. George is also the Patron Saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Palestine, Portugal, and Russia and I wouldn’t mind betting that all of them will do an awful lot more to celebrate 23rdApril every year than we do!

We moved on from St George’s building site and made our way to the Citadel at the very top of the city which as the name suggests is a medieval fortress city in the most defensible position on the island.  This also turned out to be rather a disappointment because this was another construction site.  The Citadella is on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list and it looks as though the Gozians are putting in a bit of extra effort (courtesy of EU heritage funding) to give the application a boost.

saint-george

The time was passing quickly now and there was still more of the island to see so we returned to the bus station, stopping briefly to buy a Maltese cheese pie for lunch (very tasty by-the-way) before rejoining the tour bus for the remainder of the trip.

First we went to the fishing village of  Xlendi where due to the fact that I was confused by the schedule we forgot to get off and so we stayed on and went back to Victoria and then to the other side of the island to the holiday village of Marsalforn where we stopped for forty-five minutes and walked around the sandy beach and the pretty harbour.

Rejoining the bus we went next to the UNESCO site megalithic temples at Nadur and the directly back to the port to catch the six o’clock ferry back to Malta.  Twenty years ago the ferry used to arrive and drop passengers off directly on the quay side but now there is a posh (EU funded) ferry terminal with ticket desks, lounges and rules and regulations. I preferred it the old way.

Gozo Countryside