Jane B (knally) wrote,
Jane B

Walking in Malta

So, as my last update indicated, I'm back from a walking holiday in Malta, and here are some of the memorable things.

Lane on Gozo

It was windy! Which I wasn't expecting at all, but the pilot reporting 40 mph winds while the plane was shaking coming into land was a bit of a hint. Now that I'm back home, a bit of research shows that this was probably the scirocco, or 'xlokk' as it's known in Malta, the wind that comes up from the Sahara, and which can be particularly strong in March. It kept windy for nearly the whole week, although it was less for the last couple of days. It kept the temperatures cool which was helpful for the walking, but did make the coastal and hill walking a bit more exciting!

Malta is populous. I was surprised how built up it was - not just the tourist resorts but manufacturing areas as well, since it isn't the biggest of islands. And even knowing it has been an important port for centuries, the amount of shipping going into Valletta harbour was unexpected. Gozo is more rural and subsequently attractive.

The walks. We did four walks over the week, one along the coast, one on Gozo (again on the coast), one along the Victoria Lines and one taking in some of the Neolithic sites. The walks were quite short - nothing more than 6 miles I think, but they were quite difficult. Firstly, because of the wind, and secondly because the ground was very rocky. However, we had a few people in their seventies/eighties and one partically-sighted man, and since they all forged on regardless, we had to keep up :-) P, the partially-sighted man, was particularly inspiring since he navigated over rocks and scrambled up and down slopes with verbal guidance from the rest of the party, and a helping hand from the guides. We all got very adept at pointing out difficulties with the path, although we also managed to almost knock him out a couple of times by forgetting to mention overhanging trees!

Flowers. The best time of year to see any greenery in Malta is the Spring, and the flowers put on a great show, particularly a yellow one which has colonised everywhere and grows happily in the chinks of the rubble walls.

Neolithic Malta. Something I hadn't realised before was the wealth of Neolithic finds on the islands. We walked by the Cart Ruts which are parallel channels cut in the rock; probably something to do with travelling but no one really knows what. There are also some very complete temples from around 3000 BC which I saw at Hagar Qim and Mnajdra.

Mnajdra temple

They are currently having shelters erected over them to protect them from the weather, and some time in the future I'd be interested in perhaps going for a weekend and visiting them. I would also really love to visit the Hypogeum which is an underground complex limited to 80 visitors a day. I did visit the Museum of Archaeology in Valletta and saw many of the finds from the sites, including the exquisite Sleeping Lady, over 5000 years old.

Valletta. A World Heritage Site, you enter through the plain but impressive Victoria Gate and look down a straight street out into the sea. The city is on a grid pattern and surrounded by immense walls and bastions. It's built in the local attractive limestone and decorated with balconies on many buildings. I visited the Grand Master's Palace which was richly decorated. The best things there were the Gobelin tapestries, kept in a dim room which helps to preserve the brilliant colours. They're 300 years old and have scenes from the Americas and Asia with wonderful depictions of animals and birds. Also in Valletta was St John's Cathedral. Plain on the outside, it is baroque gone mad on the inside with anything that could be decorated, being decorated. A little de trop for me, but still worth a visit for the opportunity to see two of Caravaggio's paintings.

Mdina. One of the main tourist attractions, this is a spick-and-span medieval town which used to be the capital. We saw it on several of the walks because of its commanding position on a hill in the centre of the island, and then visited it on our last day. It was an excellent time of year to visit for taking photos, since it was possible to get images of the curved streets without any pedestrians.

Maltese buses. These are the embodiment of organised chaos! As I understand it, each driver owns his own bus, so it's kind of a franchise system, although I have no idea how they choose which route to work on. The buses are various ages and sizes, but use the same colours in their paint scheme, a cheery yellow and orange. Once you find a bus going where you want to go (only bus numbers on windscreen - no destination names) you join the polite scrum at the door, pay about 50p, and hope you get a seat, and then hope you don't hit anything en route - Maltese drivers are ruggedly individual!

Tags: travel

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