Tag Archives: Gozo

Game Of Thrones – Film Locations

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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…

Roman Bridge at Cordoba

This is Þingvellir National Park one of several locations used for filming in the photogenic country of Iceland…

Iceland Landscape

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.

Azure Window Gozo Malta

Also on Malta they used the medieval walled city of Mdina

Mdina Malta

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!

The Dark Hedges Northern Ireland

Malta, More Street Images

Malta Church DoorMalta Statue MelliehaMellieha Door 02

Malta, Street Images

Street Art Mellieha MaltaRestaurant street Art Mellieha MaltaMalta Mellieha StatueMellieha Door 01

Malta, Cathedrals and Churches

Xewkija Gozo Parish Church

Every village in Malta and Gozo has a church the size of a cathedral and all have a story of how it was paid for and built by the residents of the village.  These are always grand structures standing in the most prominent place in the village with glorious views in all directions.

Victoria Gozo MaltaMosta Malta

According to tradition a church in Malta always has two clock faces and these are set to different times.  Legend says that this is to confuse the Devil about service times!

 

Malta, Fishing Boats

Malta Boats Luzzu

In the port of Mgarr on Gozo  in the shelter of the harbour walls the iconic multi-coloured fishing boats of Malta, called Luzzu were swaying idly in the limpid water of the harbour.

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Bristow Ceramics Malta BoatLuzzu Boat Malta

Malta, Bus Trip on Gozo and Problems with Queues

Victoria Gozo Malta

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.

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. Kim was devastated – the daily market was cancelled!

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 23rd April every year than we do!  We English do tend to ignore Saint George and take him a bit too much for granted.

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.

I am not against restoration and improvement but to be honest I think it looked better the way that it was when I last visited Gozo in 1997.

Victoria Cathedral Gozo

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 before rejoining the tour bus for the remainder of the trip.

First we went to the fishing village of  Xlendi where we only stayed a short while until the next bus arrived 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 Ferry (2)

Ferry and Bus queues in Malta and Gozo

Now there was a problem.  There was a massive queue waiting to go through ticket control and I really didn’t relish the thought of waiting in line, so I did the French thing and jumped the queue.  With some style, even if I say so myself.  I went into the terminal via the exit and joined the line near the front, cutting out at least three quarters of the queue.

If challenged my plan was simple, I would give an arrogant Gallic shrug, say something like “Bonjour Monsieur, Allez Oop, Vive Jeanne d’Arc, Vive Charles de Gaulle, Merci Beaucoup”  and give a contemptuous sneer as I asserted a natural French divine right to barge in.  Anyway, as it happened no one bothered and we slipped through unchallenged to the boat.

The ferry was rather crowded so it occurred to us that there might well be another problem queuing problem for the bus when we arrived back in Malta so we devised a plan to get to the exit first and make a dash for the bus stop.

Malta Bus Chaos

Everything went brilliantly to plan until we got to the stop and there were no buses.  It didn’t matter that we were first there because soon after the French arrived and they had no intention at all or forming an orderly line.  Eventually a bus turned up and the crowd surged forward until it resembled one of those Catalan fiesta human pyramids.

Catalonia Steeple of People

My subtle, sneaking around the side approach had no chance of working here and there was no way that we wanted to walk back to the hotel so we reverted to Kim’s more direct approach of just punching our way to the front of the queue which I have to say worked perfectly.

The bus driver was a miserable specimen and although I pressed the bell for our stop we couldn’t push our way to the front of the bus in time so he just didn’t stop.  I took this up with him and he was adamant that I hadn’t pressed the bell.  I told him that he had an attitude problem and that he should seek treatment for his anger and for some reason this made him even more unsociable and it was only with some reluctance that he pulled up at the next stop and let us off the vehicle.

Kim went back to the hotel and I went to the shop for some essential supplies and then we spent an hour or so on the balcony enjoying the view over the bay before we made our way to what was already our favourite restaurant.

Going to Gozo was a brilliant success.  Kim was beginning to like Malta and she was starting to agree with me!

Luzo Fishing Boat Gozo Malta

Malta, Ferry to Gozo and a Tourist Bus Ride

Gozo Postcard

“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.

Mgarr 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…

Malta_Map (1)

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.

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 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.

Azure Window Gozo Malta

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.

Gozo Countryside

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.

Malta, Religion

Valletta Malta

Malta is the most religious country in Europe.

In a survey in 2010 95% of the population 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 I imagine the response would have been 100% religious.

There have been four Papal visits to Malta the last in April 2010 to celebrate the 19,50th anniversary of the shipwreck of St Paul on the island.  His ship ran aground in St Paul’s Bay (obviously) and I am 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 rock for twenty minutes or so until rescued.

Later that week 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.

Mosta Cathedral 2St Paul's Grotto Malta

Malta, Tony Oki Koki ‘Mr Crazy’ Banis

The weather had been gloriously hot ever since our arrival so we had agreed that a boat ride to Comino would be a nice way of avoiding the heat for one day and we booked up for a sea journey with Captain Morgan’s cruises which operated out of Sliema on the opposite side of the bay to the capital Valletta.

On the day of the cruise we took one of the island’s iconic yellow, orange and white buses that once operated across the island and drove the twenty kilometres or so to the embarkation point and joined the other passengers on the red and white cruise boat and selected a chair on the open top deck and looked out at the boats going backwards and forwards into Valletta harbour with its tiers of honey coloured churches and houses while we waited for departure time.

Valletta Malta Grand Harbour

Eventually the boat cast off and sailed out of Sliema and began the two and half hour journey along the coast towards our destination.  It has to be said that after only a short while this became a bit tedious because to be honest the coastline of Malta is not the most picturesque in the Mediterranean.

There are no dramatic mountains, no green forests, not really very many beaches, just kilometre after kilometre of monotonous pepper grey sandstone shoreline, the occasional township and the odd fishing boat.  After we had passed by the unremarkable resorts of St Julian’s and St Andrew’s  and then St Paul’s Bay we began to realise that this was just about all there was to see and this was going to be a long trip.

Jonathan was so bored that he feigned sea sickness just for something to do.

After about an hour and a half however there was a bit of activity when a white speedboat caught up with Captain Morgan and began to put on a show of slalom turns and nautical acrobatics all the while churning the sea into dramatic white foam and spray.  The driver was a middle aged man with a deep suntan, inappropriately tight Speedo swimming trunks and a tousled mop of unruly curly hair, he had a microphone and was shouting and waving to the passengers on our boat.

This it turned out was Tony Oki Koki ‘Mr Crazy’ Banus, a living legend in Malta who runs an independent and entertaining speed boat service for tourists.

After a while he sped off and we settled down again to the rhythmic chug of Captain Morgan’s more sedate engine, more boring coastline including a lump or rock where St Paul was supposed to have landed in 60 AD and then a quite unremarkable buffet lunch before we arrived and dropped anchor in the Blue Lagoon at Comino.

Comino is a chunk of barren rock half way between Malta and Gozo and with nothing to do especially except wander along the dusty paths we sat on the rocks like seagulls and took an occasional dip in the clear waters of the lagoon and watched the Malta to Gozo ferry pass regularly by and fretted about the two and half hour return journey.

As the time to leave began to approach there was a sudden roar of an engine, the tranquillity of the bay was shattered and Crazy Tony returned in his speedboat.  As we were queuing to get back on the boat he came alongside and reminded us just how boring the journey was and for a reasonable price offered us a faster return journey and a bit of fun.  We didn’t have to think about this for very long and we handed over the money and clambered into the boat and were thankful that the Captain Morgan experience was over.

Banana Boat Malta

When he had filled the boat he uttered his catch phrase ‘Hoki Koki’ opened the throttle and we were away.  We didn’t leave the Blue Lagoon straight away however as first he took us into some caves that surround the bay and played a well rehearsed trick of supposedly catching a bat and releasing it amongst the squealing passengers.

Once Captain Morgan was under way and making its sedate return journey he caught it up and over the microphone taunted the passengers who had rejected his exciting return alternative.  Jonathan’s sea sickness had completely disappeared by now and he forgot all about it when Crazy invited him to the front of the boat and into the driver’s seat and he took us out to sea at full speed.  Crazy was in his element and he cracked jokes and performed tricks and we were soaked with the spray and thoroughly entertained.

And then things began to go wrong!  About half way back the sea became much rougher and the waves much higher and then the roar of the engine began to fade to a whimper and there were alarming spluttering and coughing noises as it was clearly struggling to keep going.  We knew there was trouble because Crazy went quiet for the first time and I think his suntan faded a couple of shades as well.

Finally the engine stopped altogether and we were stranded about half a kilometre out to sea without power.  Crazy made radio contact with someone on shore but was unable to restart the engine and eventually we had to row to the chunk of rock where St Paul had landed two thousand years before and wait to be rescued.

We left the boat while Crazy continued to work on the uncooperative engine and clambered over the black rocks that were now being pounded by an increasingly rough sea.  Things didn’t look good and we worried about how long we might be stranded.

After fifteen minutes or so and before assistance arrived Crazy was finally successful in coaxing the engine back into life and we were invited back on board.  It still didn’t sound completely healthy however and when Crazy offered the option of being dropped off in St George’s rather than go all the way back to Sliema we didn’t need to be asked twice.  The boat spluttered and limped back to the nearby town and were glad to reach dry land where we left the boat and wished good luck to those who had chosen to complete the ride.

It was a bit scary at the time but now that we were safe we had to agree that it had been a lot of fun and there was still no sight of Captain Morgan so we went for a drink and then caught the bus back to Mellieha Bay.

I have Googled ‘Crazy’ and I am pleased to report that he is still working and there is a Facebook fans site which describes him as:

‘If anyone in the past 35 years has been blessed with the Oki Koki experience then I am sure you will be humbled by this dedication to the charismatic legend known around the island as Mr Crazy the ultimate tour guide of the Blue Lagoon. After 35 years the founder of tours in the area has not lost his charm with the tourists and if anyone should be given an award for being the face of Malta it has to be HIM.’

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Some more of my boat journeys recorded in the journal:

Corfu-1984 Georges Boat

Motorboat Ride from Kalami to Corfu Town

Motorboat Ride from Kalami to Corfu Town

The Bay of Bodrum in Turkey

Rowing Boat on Lake Bled in Slovenia

A Boat Ride with Dolphins in Croatia

A Boat Ride with Dolphins in Wales

Gondola Ride in Venice

Captain Ben’s Boat in Anti Paros

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Malta – Ferry to Gozo and Trouble with a Taxi

Gozo Postcard

The four star Mellieha Bay hotel is situated at the northern end of the tiny thirty kilometre long island so this meant that it was convenient for the port of Ċirkewwa which provides a regular ferry crossing service to the neighbouring island of Gozo just five kilometres away via the Gozo Ferry Line Service.

The white ferry boats with blue and yellow livery run almost continuously during the peak summer months so after we got off the bus at a bleak functional strip of baking tarmac there wasn’t too long to wait for the first ferry to arrive and we joined the pushing impatient crowd to get on board and find a seat on the top deck in the hot morning sun and as soon as it was fully loaded it cast off and began the thirty minute crossing to Gozo.

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.  We were to return here later in the week but for now we just watched it slip by on the starboard side of the boat as the throaty diesel engines kept a steady course for Gozo and the ferry cut a foamy path through the water.  On the top of the island we could make out the previous fortress of St Mary’s Tower that was built by the Knights of St John to protect the Malta to Gozo crossing from pirates and attack and which was more recently used in the 2002 film, The Count of Monte Cristo to represent the prison Château d’If.

There had hardly been time to settle down in our seats on board when the ferry began to approach the port of Mgarr and began to manoeuvre into position ready for disembarkation.  Mgarr was thankfully a lot more attractive than Ċirkewwa and in the shelter of the walls the iconic multi-coloured fishing boats of Malta, called Luzzu were swaying idly in the limpid water of the harbour.

Mgarr 1991

There was now an undignified rush to get off the ferry which was entirely similar to the lack of organization that accompanies a Greek ferry arrival in port and we were squeezed down the steps and jostled through the bow doors and into the car park where buses were waiting and taxi drivers were pestering for business.  We wanted to go to the capital Victoria but the bus looked crowded and so, because I knew it wasn’t very far, I foolishly allowed myself to be talked into a taxi by a persuasive cabbie.

It was immediately obvious that a short ride to Victoria was the last thing he wanted and he was looking for a much more profitable fare.  He lied that the capital was mostly closed today so we would be disappointed and he suggested an escorted island tour instead.  He was probably the brother of the Karrozzin driver in Mdina and had been tipped off that I was a bit of a pushover.  He ignored our repeated instructions and set off instead on his preferred itinerary and towards the east coast village of Xaghra where he promised windmills and Megalithic temples.

The last thing my teenage children wanted were windmills and Megalithic temples but once there he made the mistake of stopping and letting us out for a closer inspection and it was now that we took our opportunity to be rid of him and we told him that we no longer required his services, paid, what I am certain was an inflated fare, and the with a collective sigh of relief looked for a bus stop.

It didn’t take long for a grey and red bus (grey and red to distinguish Gozo buses from the Orange of Malta) with the sun glinting off of its immaculate chrome bumpers to come along and we climbed on board past the heavily decorated drivers seat which he shared with pictures of his favourite Saints and swinging rosary beads hanging from the window blinds, paid our fare and with unspoken relief found some vacant seats.

Jonathan in particular liked these buses but he had a preference for the older ones with a manual gear shift that required body-builder muscles to be able to select a gear and on one occasion he insisted that we reject a bus that he considered far too modern (it was clearly from the 1960s) and he made us wait a while longer at the bus stop until the growling engine of a 1950s version pulled up which he then declared suitable.

Victoria Cathedral Gozo

It didn’t take very long to get to Victoria which of course wasn’t closed, there was a lively street market and all the adjacent shops and restaurants were busy and open for business.  Victoria is an odd name that stands out amongst the villages and towns in Arabic sounding Maltese.  The reason for it is that in 1897 the British renamed the town to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee but some die-hard islanders continue to resent this and still call it by its old name of Rabat and Rabat, I think, sounds a lot more appropriate.

The centre of Victoria turned out to be rather too busy for me but the quiet backstreets were shady and quiet and we wandered around the maze of alleyways until we re-emerged back in the centre, visited the cathedral and walked the walls and ramparts of the old Citadel with its fortifications and old cannons and explored tiny side-streets until it was time to make our way back to the bus station and return to the ferry port at Mgarr for a late afternoon ferry back to Malta.

We enjoyed Gozo, it was different to Malta, quieter, greener and a bit slower and when I go back to the islands, as I am certain I will,  this will be a place that will definitely be on my ‘must return to’ list.

Victoria Gozo Clock Tower