I went to Malta last month, here are some post preview pictures…
I went to Malta last month, here are some post preview pictures…
Malta is the most religious country in Europe…
…it has more religious public holidays than any other in Europe and 10th February is especially important because this is the The Feast of St Paul’s Shipwreck which was bad luck for Paul but good fortune for Malta because it brought Paul to the island in the year 60AD and he then went promptly about converting the island to Christianity.
Saint Paul is the Patron Saint of Malta.
In a survey in 2010 95% of the population of Malta said that they were practising Catholics. Nearby Italy (where the Pope lives) only registered 74%. The least religious countries are all in the north where over 80% of respondents in Estonia, Norway, Denmark and Sweden all said that religion isn’t important!
Interestingly this survey didn’t seem to include the Vatican State where there is a population of only about five hundred official citizens and three-quarters of these are clergy so I imagine the response would surely have been no less than 100%
There have been four Papal visits to Malta, the last in April 2010 to celebrate the 1,950th anniversary of the shipwreck of St Paul on the island. His ship ran aground in St Paul’s Bay (obviously) and I give you my word that I am honestly not making this up but in 1997 I too suffered the same fate. Taking a speed boat ride with Tony Oki Koki ‘Mr Crazy’ Banis the boat broke down and we were stranded on the very same rock in a storm for twenty minutes or so until thankfully rescued.
Last year I visited the town of Rabat to visit his grotto next to his church where he is supposed to have spent his time on Malta in hiding from the Roman soldiers who were searching for him – rather like Saddam Hussein, two thousand years later hiding from the American troops – also in a cave.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
“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…
This is Gozo…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We went to Warsaw in February, it was cold, very cold. I liked it a lot but not as much I have to say as the other Polish cities that we have visited of Krakow and Wroclaw. Warsaw was good but it doesn’t have the historical swagger or confidence of Krakow or the quirky charm of the more manageable Wroclaw because Warsaw is a modern European capital with the raw edge and the buzz of a major city. Whilst I might consider returning to Krakow and Wroclaw, once in Warsaw I think is probably enough.
I have been to Malta before. I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following year. Both times I stayed at the Mellieha Bay hotel in the north of the island. These were family holidays with two teenage children, beaches, swimming pools, banana boat death rides and Popeye Village.
I liked it so much that I have always wanted to go back. I have repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I am certain she would like it as much as I did. Late last year the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay for just £200 for four nights and five full days! I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence and luckily at the end of the visit Kim was inclined to agree with me.
In 2014 we visited Southern Ireland, Eire, The Republic and had such a wonderful time that we planned an immediate return to the Island for the following year. Not to the South though on this occasion however but to that part of Ireland that still remains part of the United Kingdom – Northern Ireland or Ulster.
Not so long ago most people would no more of thought about visiting Northern Ireland than North Korea, it wouldn’t have crossed their minds to go to Ulster any more than go to Uganda and Belfast would be in a travellers wish list that included Beirut and Baghdad. Now things are changing and Northern Ireland is reinventing itself as a tourist destination.
We enjoyed it there, the City of Belfast, the Titanic Exhibition, a drive along the scenic Antrim Coast, the Giant’s Causeway and a final night in Londonderry – a place to return to if ever there was one.
After a Summer spent in England we travelled in August to neighbouring Scotland. I am sure that I have been to the castle before, I visited Edinburgh in 1972 and 1984 but I couldn’t remember it at all. This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience. This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience.
I liked Edinburgh, it was a wee bit expensive but when I have forgotten the details of this visit I am certain to go back again one day.
Earlier in the year I had made plans to go on holiday with my daughter and grandchildren and my son and we had chosen a holiday cottage near Boulogne in Northern France. I like it there. As the Summer approached there were more and more delays crossing the channel as a consequence of striking French ferry workers and large numbers of migrants attempting to cross from France to the UK. I love my grandchildren very much but the prospect of being stuck in a traffic jam for up to twenty-four hours with them was just to awful to contemplate so when the critical moment came to make the final payment I cancelled and transferred the holiday to a cottage in mid Wales.
I enjoyed Lake Bala and Wales, it was a simple holiday, the sort that I remember from my own childhood and from taking my own children away when they were young. I am convinced that youngsters don’t need water parks and amusement arcades when there is a wide open beach and the sea, the countryside, a stream to fish in a thrilling steam engine ride.
Kim enjoyed it so much that she has decided that we are going to live there!
But we were not to be denied a visit to Northern France because in August I spotted some reasonably priced return air fares at only £49 each to the Brittany resort of Dinard. We snapped them up almost without thinking and then invited our friends Sue and Christine to join us and they immediately agreed.
I liked Brittany, I liked it a lot mostly because I have always resisted having a bucket list because I couldn’t get one big enough but I am thankful to fellow bloggers Victor (Victor Travel Blog) and Wilbur(Wilbur’s Travels) for reminding me that if I did have one then Mont St Michel would be somewhere near the top.
Kim enjoyed it so much that she immediately abandoned her Wales plans and has decided that we are going to live there!
Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia with Easyjet it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily) with our occasional travelling companions Mike and Margaret.
Our flight was to the city of Olbia in the North-East of the island so we planned an itinerary that would take us along the length of the north coast and then to the city of Alghero on the west coast and finally a return journey to Olbia across the northern countryside.
This was our final journey of 2015 and now we begin to make our plans for 2016.
Happy Travels Everyone!
Did you have a good year or have any big plans for 2016?
I have never been a fan of ‘Game Of Thrones’, I didn’t get past episode 1, series 1 but more and more I get the feeling that I know a great deal about it because there are so many places that I have been that have by coincidence been used as filming locations for the programme.
I took all of these photographs completely oblivious to this fact and without a glimmer of interest in the series. The picture above is the Alcazar de Sevilla which for GOT became the Water Palaces of Dorne.
There are a lot of Roman bridges in Spain, they could have used those in Merida or Salamanca but they chose this one in Córdoba in Andalusia…
This is Þingvellir National Park, one of several locations used for filming in the photogenic country of Iceland…
A lot of the filming for the early series was done on location on the tiny Mediterranean country of Malta, this is the Azure Window on the island of Gozo, it also appeared in films such as Clash of the Titans and The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as the television mini-series The Odyssey.
Also on Malta they used the medieval walled city of Mdina…
After exhausting the filming location opportunities on Malta the filming moved a few miles east to the Balkan country of Croatia. This is the Krka National Park or for GOT The Landscapes of The West…
Dubrovnik featured prominently as The Red Keep and the site of the Battle of Blackwater…
And the Roman Palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian was a certainty to be used…
Next time I go travelling I will pay more attention to more possible GOT film location sitings.
Has anyone else come across these or other GOT locations? Send me your pictures and I will see if I can make a post!