I am fairly certain that in 1997 there was a direct bus service from Mellieha to Mdina but this is not so today so we had to compete for space on a bus to Buggiba and then wait for a transfer to our destination.
In 1997 the bus dropped us off at the main gate where there was a flotilla of horse drawn carriages called Karrozzins with pushy drivers waiting to ambush people as they stepped into the terminus and I am not sure how this happened but almost immediately we were sitting in the carriage and taking an unnecessary tour of the city and my wallet was a few Maltese Pounds lighter. Unnecessary because it is only a small place and it is much nicer to investigate it on foot anyway which is what we did as soon as the trip was over.
Twenty years later in 2017 after a couple of tedious waits and changes and a long and circuitous route we eventually arrived and the first thing that struck me was that in twenty years there has been a lot of restoration in Mdina. The once crumbling walls have been repaired and the untidy concrete streets of hasty post war repairs have all been repaved. I preferred it the old way because it seems to me that the Maltese have managed to transform this wonderful place into a sort of Disney World EPCOT interpretation.
Most of the guide books recommend a visit to Fontanella Tea Rooms for a cake and a coffee stop so we found it and made our way to the first floor terrace. We did this twenty years ago but now we were not surprised to find that this place had also had a very extensive makeover.
I am never very keen on wasting money on things like horse and trap rides but Molly caught me in a weak moment and having convinced myself that a 10% reduction on an advertised rate was a bargain I was persuaded to agree to reprise a ride in a Karrozzin and we had an enjoyable twenty minute clip-clop ride through the ancient city.
Mdina is quite small and we soon found ourselves going down the same streets as just an hour or so ago so we headed for the main gate exit and returned to the bus stop. It was ten to three and the bus was scheduled for five past. Ten past came and went, twenty past, half past, I found an inspector who suggested that it might be stuck in traffic (bus inspector’s first excuse every time I expect) and then when one did turn up it turned its destination light off and replaced it with ‘not in service’.
Malta now has a seriously bad bus service so we broke a golden holiday rule and took an expensive taxi ride to Mosta. Don’t ask me how much it was because I will surely start to weep!
The next stop was at Mosta, for no better reason than to visit the Cathedral which was built in the nineteenth century and has a dome that is among the largest in the World – in fact (and you do have to be careful about these sort of facts of course) it is the third largest in Europe and the ninth largest in the World. You can believe that or believe it not but the most remarkable thing about the Mosta Dome is the miracle of the unexploded bomb.
During the Second-World-War it is claimed that Malta was the most heavily bombed place in the World and on April 9th 1942, during an afternoon air-raid, a Luftwaffe bomb pierced the dome (two others bounced off) and fell among a congregation of more than three hundred people attending early evening mass. It did not explode. Apparently it rolled down the aisle and into the street outside so it was a good job that the doors were open!
I suspect that that part of the story may not be completely accurate and has been embellished and corrupted by the passing of time but this is the way they like to tell it. I am sceptical if only for the reason that with a bomb crashing through the roof I imagine that there would have been quite a lot of panic and congestion in the aisle as people rushed for the door. There would have been a mad dash and a tangle of bodies that would make modern day bus stop queues look like a Royal Garden Party and the bomb would be most unlikely to get through.
One version of this event states that when a bomb disposal squad opened the device it was found to be filled with sand instead of explosives and contained a note saying “greetings from Plzeň” from the workers at Škoda Works in the German-occupied Czechoslovakia who had allegedly sabotaged its production.
A nice story but not necessarily true.
Anyway, not much has changed except that the statue outside used to be sandstone and is now graphite and the statue’s halo used to be graphite and now it is sandstone.