“Gozo remained an utterly private place and lucky the man who could find the key, turn the lock and vanish inside.” – Nicholas Monserrat
With a room that faced west we were woken early by a shaft of sunlight piercing the gaps in the curtains and finding its way into the room like a stiletto knife. We were on bed and breakfast board arrangements so as soon as we were ready we made our way to the busy dining room where we enjoyed a very acceptable buffet breakfast.
We were undecided about what to do today and we finally agreed that we would visit the neighbouring island of Gozo.
Malta Bus Issues…
Getting there should have been straight forward but this morning we had our first experience of the inefficient island 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.
We saw the first bus approach and we saw the first bus pass by without stopping – it was full and it turns out that this is one of the biggest complaints about the new Malta bus service with people stranded for hours at bus stops. A second bus came and went and then a third, it seemed as though everyone was going to Gozo this morning.
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, I lost the debate and so we set off at a brisk pace.
I still didn’t think that we would make it but Kim told me not to be so negative.
By ten past ten we were walking very quickly and by fifteen minutes past we were actually jogging. Luckily we found a path that was a short cut which reduced the distance a little but I still couldn’t see how we could possibly make it. At twenty five past we had about five hundred metres to go so we increased our jogging effort to Usain Bolt sprint speed and made it on board and collapsed, panting and sweat streaked on the sun deck with about a minute to spare. I couldn’t decide between going to the bar for a beer or trying to find the on board defibrillator.
Malta to Gozo Ferry…
Well, 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.
The crossing took us close to the third of the Maltese islands in the archipelago, the tiny islet of Comino which except for a couple of hotels is virtually uninhabited for most of the year and we just watched it slowly slip by on the starboard side of the boat as the throaty diesel engine kept a steady course for Gozo.
Gozo Hop on-Hop off tour…
For our day on Gozo we had booked one of those open topped hop on-hop off 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 to 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.
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 fourth or perhaps even 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 rural Gozo with a population of about three thousand, three hundred people. They didn’t have Christopher Wren to design it or Michelangelo to do the interior decoration – they built it themselves!
Gozo and the Game of Thrones…
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.
It was an interesting little stop and we clambered over the erosion scarred limestone rocks, shallow 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 want to get on the bus made our way in good time back to the stop*.
The French don’t like queueing…
We were there first but the number of people was beginning to increase, a lot of them were French and it was clear from the look in their eyes that they had no intention of forming an orderly line. Whatever people might think of the British, one thing they are good at is good manners in a queue and stoicism in taking their turn. Not so the French and as the bus arrived they surged forward and formed a unruly mob as everyone competed to be on the bus first.
The whole thing was rather like the first set scrum of a British Lions/New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Test Match, muscles bulging, eyes popping, sweat dripping, elbows flying and fingers gouging and this, let me tell you was only the women!
Kim was having none of this and she sharpened her elbows and held firm. As she reached the step onto the bus she put out both arms and clung like a limpet to the handrails on each side so that no one could pass. I watched her. She was like a hundred metre runner at the Olympic Games approaching the finishing line and glancing left and right, left and right just to make sure that no one crept up on her and overtook at the final moment.
So we got on board and stayed in our top deck seats until we reached the island capital of Victoria.
There is a rather sad postscript to this story because in a mighty storm on the morning of 7th March 2015 the stack and the arch were overcome by the wind and the surf and crashed into the sea. Sadly the Azure Window on Gozo is no more and presumably the sightseeing bus tour will have to rearrange its itinerary.