Tag Archives: Malta

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 from the Eastern Mediterranean established a 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'”

An alternative version is that the eyes of the boat which generally look down will guide the men to the best fishing waters.

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

Entrance Tickets, Malta and the Mellieha WW2 Shelters

mellieha-shelters-malta

In Spring 2015 we spent a few days on the island of Malta.  This was a bit of an experiment on my part because I wanted to see if Kim liked it there as much as I do.  It is sometimes said that you either love Malta or you hate it, it is like Marmite, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence.  As it turned out Kim loved it and eighteen months later we returned to the same place this time with grandchildren.

This was to be a family holiday, sightseeing would not be a priority but there were one or two things that we wanted to do all the same.  One of them was to go to the village of Mellieha and visit the Second-World-War air-raid shelters which were closed the last time that we had visited.

Mellieha Shelters Malta

As it was a hot day and the children preferred to stay at the hotel swimming pool so we spared them the ordeal of the walk.  It was a steep climb to the village with a long sweeping road and baking tarmac that looped around in teasing bends and we were glad when we reached the top and the huge Parish Church because although this was October it was still very hot.

Everyone was keen to tell us that Malta was suffering a drought and there had been no real rain for eighteen months or so.  We sympathised with them of course but secretly hoped that the drought and the hot weather would last just a few more days!

Every village in Malta and Gozo has a church the size of a medieval cathedral and all have a story of how it was paid for and built by the residents of the village and Mellieha is no exception.  It is indeed a grand structure standing in the most prominent place in the village with glorious views in all directions.

This time we were pleased to find that the shelter was open for business so purchased our good value tickets at only €2.40 and went through the entrance and immediately underground.

These shelters were cut into the rock all over Mellieha and the rest of Malta during the war because the island has the unenviable record for being the most bombed place in all of Europe.  To be specific and before someone picks me up on this point,  I am talking about the longest sustained bombing campaign and not the most destructive.

Valletta Malta Bombed

This was because of its strategic importance to both the Allies and the Axis powers.  The capital of Valletta and its important harbour was of high strategic value, for the British to protect their Mediterranean fleet and a much valued prize for Germany as an important place to support the supply chain to the overstretched army in North Africa.

In two years from June 1940 the Luftwaffe flew three-thousand bombing raids over Malta, nine thousand buildings were destroyed and seventeen-thousand more severely damaged.  In March and April 1942, more explosives were dropped on the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta – smaller than the Isle of Wight – than on the whole of Britain during the first year of the Blitz.

People needed somewhere safe to shelter and two-thousand miners and stonemasons were recruited to build public shelters and began to tunnel into the limestone rock of the island.

The shelter at Mellieha was one of them and it took us into a labyrinth of passages nearly half a mile long with a decent amount of displays and reconstructions to tell the story of the shelters and the daily life of the people who like Hobbits, had no option but to use them.  Most people sheltered in the crowded communal tunnels but some were fortunate to have their own private rooms and there was a confessional shelter and a two room maternity wing.

By June 1941 the digging workforce had increased to over five-thousand and nearly five-hundred public rock shelters had been finished and another four-hundred were in progress.  In all they could house over two-hundred thousand Maltese civilians which was just about enough but also thoroughly uncomfortable.

Mellieha air raid shelter

By February 1942, with raids often continuous throughout the night, shelters became congested with chairs and bedding brought in for comfort and rest.  The four square feet per head originally allowed was reduced to two and was hopelessly insufficient.  Anticipating a night of raids, people began to rush to shelters straight after dinner every evening.  Spaces were often over-subscribed and crowded. Conditions were said to be dirty, cramped and noisy but at least provided safety from the raids above.

It reminded me of when I was a boy of about ten and I had a friend called Dave (Daddy) Elson who had dug an underground camp in his back garden – we used to go to his camp and sit in it by candle-light and wonder why?

On the way out we spotted a sign which said…”Life during the enemy blitz is not an experience we wish to relive, hence the Mellieha World War II shelters stand as a testimony to those who endured the adversity of war until victory was won.”  – I think that just about says it all!

To be honest, apart from a visit to the war time air raid shelter there isn’t a great deal more to see in Mellieha.  Even though it has been included in the EU list of ‘European Destinations of Excellence’ it isn’t really a tourist attraction and it is all the better for that, so after a while exploring the streets and the tiny working harbour we made our way back down to the holiday bay and selected a bar for a beer and a snack of a Maltese platter and a reflection on life under ground and what life might have been like during the siege.

Mellieha Malta Sunset

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Other Cave Stories:

Drogarati Cave and Blue Lagoon, Kephalonia

Blue Lagoon, Capri

Cueva El Guerro, Castilla y Leon, Spain

Altamira Caves Santillana del Mar

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Postcard Maps of 2016

Morocco Postcard Map

January…

I really need to be careful about making bold statements because upon returning from Morocco in December 2011 I said that I would never go again.  This is what I said…

“I enjoyed the experience of Fez, the Riad was excellent, the food was good, the sightseeing was unexpected and we were treated with courtesy and respect by everyone associated with the Riad but I have seen Morocco now and I think it may be some time before I return to North Africa as we resume our travels through Europe.”

Well, now I have to eat my words because our first overseas trip in 2016 was to Essouria on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.  Why did I go back on my statement – return flights for less than £40 each are just too good to resist and nothing beats getting on a plane with temperatures hovering around zero and then getting off again three hours later into 20°, blue sky, sunshine and swaying palm trees.

April…

We like to visit Spain at least once a year but somehow managed to miss a trip in 2015 so after a two-year wait we were happy to be going back, this time to Andalucía in the far south, the second largest and most populous of all of the Regions.

After picking up the rental car we headed immediately to the Autopista del Sol,an ugly, charmless toll road which conveniently by-passes the congested coast road and moves traffic from east to west with brutal efficiency.  It reminded me of what Laurie Lee had to say about it: “The road to Malaga followed a beautiful but exhausted shore, seemingly forgotten by the world.  I remember the names, San Pedro, Estepona, Marbella and Fuengirola.  They were salt-fish villages, thin ribbed, sea hating, cursing their place in the sun.  At that time one could have bought the whole coast for a shilling.  Not Emperors could buy it now.”

June…

We travelled to Ireland in 2014 and went to the west coast and a year later we went to Northern Ireland and stayed in Belfast.  Despite Ireland’s reputation for Atlantic storms, dreary weather and lots of rain we enjoyed blue skies  on both occasions.  So good was the weather that Kim thinks it is permanently sunny in the Emerald Isle so we arranged to go again this year and this time chose the city of Cork, the county of West Cork and the south coast of the country as our destination.

north wales

Also in June…

I last stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again.  I have consistently maintained that I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, there is no fun in it whatsoever.

I am pleased to be able to report that modern caravans are much improved and imagine my shock then when I tell you that I was so impressed with our holiday caravan accommodation in Borth because it had all of the facilities of a modern home with running water, a bathroom, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen and after preparing and enjoying a full English breakfast I walked out with a spring in my step on a voyage of rediscovery.

August…

At school holiday time there is always the threat of an extended visit from the grandchildren which can be a stressful experience as they spend a week dismantling the house and trashing the garden.

This year I decided to rent a holiday cottage elsewhere and let them destroy someone else’s place instead.  I chose a cottage in the village of Thornton Stewart in North Yorkshire and drove there one busy Friday afternoon along the A1 – The Great North Road, which many people claim is the only good thing that comes out of London.

cyclades-postcard

September…

We had not visited the Cyclades Islands in Greece since 2011 and so we were interested to see what changes there might be in five years.

We no longer choose to fly to Athens because there is always the risk of industrial action on the buses or the metro or the ferries, or getting caught up in a demonstration in the city centre as we did in 2011, so this year we flew instead to Mykonos, a popular tourist destination in the centre of the island group.

south-wales-map

October…

South Wales isn’t new to me of course, I studied history at Cardiff University between 1972 to 1975, worked a summer season at Butlin’s Holiday Camp at Barry Island and I have visited several times since but on this occasion I was travelling with my good friend who hails from the Rhondda Valley and he had promised to show me some things that I might not otherwise have expected to see.  A privileged insider’s view as it were!

Malta Map Postcard

Also in October…

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.  I love it I went several times in the 1990s on family holidays and I returned for the first time since then in 2015.  I hoped that Kim would love it too and as it happened she liked the place so much that we returned for a second time in October 2016.

November…

My sister, Lindsay, more or less lives permanently in Spain now on the Costa Blanca so this provided a perfect opportunity to go and visit her and spend some time in a part of Spain that I haven’t visited for several years.  I have never considered it one of favourite parts of the country so I was interested to see what impression it would make this time!

Faces of 2015

Greek PriestGreece Street ArtVenice Carnival MaskCatalonia SpainGondoliers VeniceEcce HomoCastelsardo Sardinia Art Exhibition

 

Postcards of 2015

Warsaw

February 2015 – Warsaw

I had never really thought seriously about going to Warsaw before and I put this down to the fact that when I was younger I always associated it with two things.  Firstly, word association and the town of Walsall, which is a dreary unattractive, industrial town in the Black Country in the United Kingdom which is a place that few people would visit by choice.  Secondly the term Warsaw Pact, which was the name of the Soviet military alliance in Eastern Europe which during my early years seemed to be the sinister organisation responsible for plotting to wipe us of the face of the map in a messy nuclear strike.

Buses of Malta postcard

April 2015 – Malta

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!  A bargain not to be missed.

During the gloomy winter months I continued to try and convince Kim that she was going to really, really enjoy Malta but as the departure date grew closer I began to worry that she might not be so blown away with the place as I had been previously…

Giants Causeway Northern Ireland

June 2015 – Northern Ireland

It hasn’t always been free to visit.  In the 1800s, the Causeway was fenced off by landowners who saw its potential as a tourist attraction and so an easy way to make money but after a long drawn out case the High Court ruled that the public had an ‘ancient right of way’ to visit the Causeway and view the stones.

Now the National Trust wants to turn back the clock.  They haven’t exactly built a fence but they cleverly mislead visitors into paying the extortionate parking and visitor centre admission charge.

Here are my tips for avoiding the Giant National Trust Rip-Off:

Durham Postcard

August 2015 – Durham

For eight hundred years Durham was the most important city in Northern England with a castle and a cathedral built within the natural defensive position of a loop in the river Wear which gave protection on three sides and the city became the first line of defence against any invasions from Scotland and the North.

Abbotsford House Scotland

August 2015 – Scottish Borders

I was staying in the town of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders  which is so far south in Scotland that it is even nearer the equator than the town of Berwick-on-Tweed, the furthest town north in England but what a wonderfully scenic and historic part of the country.

Castell y Bere Wales

August 2015 – Wales

It was quite a difficult drive to the castle and there was a bit of moaning from my passengers and I began to worry that it might be a disappointment but we arrived eventually and made our way to the top of a rocky crag and the extensive ruins of the castle.  It had once belonged to Edward I but in 1294 it was captured by Welsh forces and burnt to the ground.  Edward never rebuilt it, maybe he hadn’t renewed his home insurance policy and he abandoned this once strategic position to concentrate instead on his new defensive ring of castles that he was busy building all along the coast.

Dinard, Brittany, France

September 2015 – Brittany, France

It has been called the Cannes of the north, apparently Joan Collins is a frequent visitor but we didn’t spot here tonight, Winston Churchill enjoyed holidaying on the River Rance and it is claimed that Alfred Hitchcock visited Dinard and based the house used in his most famous movie Psycho on a villa standing over the Plage de l’Écluse, there is even a statue of the man to endorse the claim.  Long before his adventures Lawrence of Arabia lived in Dinard as a small child and Picasso painted here in the 1920s, Claude Debussy is supposed to have had the idea for “La Mer” during a visit to Saint-Énogat in 1902 and Oscar Wilde also visited the place and mentions it in his De Profundis.

Valle de Luna Sardinia

October 2015 – Sardinia

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.

Postcard Maps of 2015

malta-mapWroclaw Poland PostcardNorthern Ireland Map PostcardScottish Bordersnorth walesBrittany Map PostcardSardinia Postcard Map

Brittany, St Malo

Dinard Brittany France

Our hotel had a perfect location right on the sea front and the price to be paid reflected that but sadly the breakfast didn’t match up.  Hard bread and selections that disappeared and weren’t replenished left us feeling mugged!  That’s the Hotel de Vallée by the way.

Never mind, the sun was shining, the disappointment was soon left behind and we set off for a walk around a coastal path until we reached a boat trip booking office and we immediately changed our plans – we were on holiday and impromptu decisions are quite acceptable.  So rather than explore the town of Dinard we bought tickets for a fifteen minute boat taxi ride to the city of St Malo instead.

The water taxi negotiated a busy route to avoid the boats bobbing about on the water and the up market yachts streaking across the surface of the sea and brought us closer to the medieval walled city.  Christine wasn’t impressed, she thought it looked like a prison with its imposing grey granite walls rising directly out of the sea but we persuaded her to hold her final judgement and wait until we got inside.

St Malo Brittany

She was glad that she did because St Malo is an absolute gem.  In 1944 it was almost completely destroyed by American bombers and a British naval bombardment and by the time they had finished with it 80% was in ruins.  The French didn’t rush to restore it however and took twelve years from 1948 to 1960 to put the city back together again stone by stone, brick by brick.

And this is an important point – in France war damaged towns and cities were rebuilt in a traditional way with buildings that recreated the spirit of the old communities whereas in England our heritage was swept away by the town planners of the 1960s who approved the destruction of anything of value and replacement with concrete and ugliness which condemns English towns for the next couple of hundred years or so to all look the same whereas in France they have recaptured and preserved their individual identity.

In 2015 this seems to be a feature of our travel destinations – cities that have been bombed and destroyed.  In February we went to Warsaw in Poland, in April to Malta and to Londonderry in Northern Ireland in June all of which, have at some point been virtually destroyed.

We walked through the labyrinth of streets where shops and bars met at the pavement edge and walked straight through to the walls on the other side where restaurants lined the city walls, so many because it is estimated that St Malo has one of the highest concentrations of restaurants in all of Europe with most of them specialising in oysters from nearby Cancale.

Sea Defences St Malo Brittany France

Outside of the walls we walked to the sandy beaches and the rows and rows of timber trunks firmly planted in the sand to provide defence against Winter Atlantic storms that sweep in along this coast and frequently deluge the city under a barrage of high water.  Not today however because the sun was shining and if anything we had to frequently seek shelter of shade to get away from the blistering midday sun.

After walking for an hour or so we rested for a while at a bar in the sunshine and then walked some more just to make sure that we hadn’t missed anything.  First we arrived at the cathedral which was much like any other cathedral but had an interesting plaque outside commemorating a previous citizen of the city, a man called Jacques Cartier.  Now, this is a name that probably won’t mean a lot to most people unless they are Canadian because Jacques Cartier let me tell you is credited with being the explorer who first navigated inland from the North Atlantic Ocean and allegedly gave the country its name.  Lots of people had been to what we know as Canada before Cartier of course but none had ventured so far into the interior before him.

In 2004 the Canadian Broadcasting Company ran a competition to choose the greatest Canadian, when the votes were counted three of the top ten were Scots, Tommy Douglas, John MacDonald and Alexander Graham Bell but despite this achievement the Breton Jacques Cartier did not even make the final fifty.

St Malo was a genuine surprise, I had always thought of it as a ferry port where people arrived from Portsmouth and left the boat blinkered, looked for the green Toutes Directions sign and hammered south, perhaps they do, there weren’t many English tourists here today.

After the lunch stop we walked back to the walls and walked along the western bastions looking out over several island fortifications cut off by the high tide, one containing the tomb of François-René Chateaubriand, politician, diplomat, author and the man who it is popularly supposed that the steak dish is named after.

By late afternoon it was time to take the water taxi back to Dinard and by four o’clock we were back on the seaside promenade.  With the sun still beating down we walked to the beach with the lifeguard championship games and had a drink at the water’s edge before the girls went into town to the shops and to find somewhere for evening meal and I declined the opportunity to join them and had a second beer instead.

If you are from Canada who did you vote for in the ‘Greatest Canadians’ competition?  If you are not from Canada who would you have voted for?

Hotel de La Vallee Dinard Brittany