25 November 2013

Moms' Getaway in Malta

My friend Farrah and I made a moms' getaway to Malta two weekends ago - and let me tell you, it was quite the adventure! I've been waiting to get this post up, but I'm really excited to share this because Malta really is a wonderful place to visit.

The adventure started with our RyanAir flight from Eindhoven that didn't actually happen. The weather was so foggy that the plane we were supposed to board couldn't land and was diverted to another airport in Germany. The whole flight was bussed to Germany (entirely along back roads) and flew out from there. Unfortunately, we lost half a day in Malta because of the delays, so we really packed a lot into the time that we did have during our stay.

Our official tour of the country started with the Island of Gozo, the second largest of the Maltese islands. We intended to take the ferry from Malta to Gozo, and were told that the best way to get to the ferry was a bus. As it turned out, it was the free day to take the ferry (including cars) and the traffic backup was terrible. After a bus ride that took at least twice as long as it should have, we actually got off the bus and walked about a mile to get to the ferry.

Part of our walk from the bus to the ferry included this
very rocky path down a hill. And so the adventure began.

And that ferry was packed - people really took advantage of saving the 5 euros for the round trip ticket. It was a little crazy. But thankfully, the ferry ride itself was uneventful and the beautiful sunny day gave us plenty of opptorunities to take pictures.

The Gozo ferry, a view of the harbour of Gozo, boats in the harbour

We decided to use the hop-on-hop-off tourist buses to get around the island since they stop at all the major sites. The roads of Gozo are mostly old and skinny, so there are only a few places that the buses can drive, but they do make it to the places people want to see. First on our list had been Calypso's cave, where Calypso is supposed to have held Odysseus as her prisoner guest that couldn't leave for 7 years (see Homer's The Odyssey), but we didn't realize the bus didn't automatically stop at each location (confusing since there are no call buttons for the stops, either - just walking around while grabbing onto seats/people for support until the driver notices), so we missed this stop. But since we did figure out the system, we were about to visit the two other sites on our list: the Ta' Pinu Basilica and the Azure Window and Fungus Rock.

The countryside of Gozo, taken from the hop-on-hop-off bus.

The Ta' Pinu Basilica has an interesting reputation as a miracle church. The first recorded miracle occurred in 1585 when the original chapel on the site was slated for demolition. When the first workman swung his tool to begin he broke his arm, and this was taken as a sign from God that the chapel should be preserved. However, the miracle that really solidified the church's reputation happened in 1883 when Karmela Grima heard a woman's voice tell her to visit the church while she was walking past. The voice told her that she should go in because she would soon be unable to attend for another year. After going in and reciting her prayers, Karmela Grima went home and fell ill, unable to leave her bed for the next year. Since then, many people make a sort of pilgrimage to the church to pray for miracles. As the years have passed, grateful recipients of the miracles send evidence of their answered prayers. There are rooms off of the sacristy filled with pictures, newspaper clippings, casts and other medical devices, baby clothes, and more to testify to the blessings people received after praying in the church. The show of people's faith is humbling and inspiring.

Left: The Chapel of Our Lady, Top to Bottom: The sacristy, evidence of miracles from thankful recipients, the Basilica as viewed from the outside.

Our final Gozo stop was the Azure Window and Fungus Rock, two amazing natural formations created by the erosion of the island's limestone. The Azure Window is especially beautiful - the rock gives a view of the clear blue ocean and the sky, and another section of the island - we visited toward sunset and the sun made the rock glow. You can also climb on top of the formation, and get a further view of the surrounding natural beauty, and if you look closely at the rock you're standing on, you can see succulents growing and bits of fossils sticking out of the limestone. The Azure Window is expected to erode completely in the next few years (a sizable piece already fell off in 2012), and I am grateful to have seen it myself.

The Azure Window

Top: Succulents growing on top of the Azure Window, Fossil in the limestone
Middle: View from on top of the Azure Window
Bottom: Porous limestone, Pools in the limestone

Fungus Rock

On our way back to the ferry, we encountered more traffic, and again jumped off the bus and walked about a mile to get to the ferry, which was again packed to capacity. At least there was a beautiful full moon over the water that was nice to look at.

The full moon, and the Gozo ferry in the opposite direction.

The Gozo ferry takes about half an hour to cross from Cirkewwa on Malta to Mgarr on Gozo. The #41 or #42 buses from the main bus terminal in Valletta bring you directly to the ferry dock at Cirkewwa. On the island, we used the Sightseeing Gozo Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus which was very easy (just make sure to pay attention to the company's timetables).

On Monday, we spent the day exploring the capital city of Valletta, starting with a harbour tour of Valletta (included in our tickets for the Gozo Hop-On-Hop-Off bus). Malta has a rich and fascinating history; because of it's prime location in the Medditeranean it has been fought over throughout the centuries. The Valletta harbour tour shows you the prime major points of the harbours and provides rather extensive historical background.

Valletta viewed from the harbour. The Dome of the Carmelite Church is a prominent part of the skyline.

Left: Watchtower on the Valletta wall
Top: Dome of the Carmalite Church; One of many buildings erected by the Knights of St. John.
Bottom: The hospital built by the Knights of St. John; The Maltese Cross - taken from the Knights of St. John

Fort St. Elmo, built 1488
Left: Hospital used by the British Navy
Middle Left: Siege Bell given to Malta by Great Britain after World War II; Colorful buildings along Cruise ship dock
Middle Right: Cruise Ship docked for repairs; Colorful Maltese boats; Maltese home with enclosed wooden balcony
Right: Harbour watchtower - the carved ears and eyes were to remind the watchman of his duties

One thing that we were disappointed to learn about Malta is that the buses that had been in use since the 1930s had all been retired. These unique buses were something that our pre-trip research kept turning up, but we wouldn't get to experience riding one. But we did get to step onto one, which has been re-purposed as a tourist trap gift shop.

One of the famous Maltese buses - now a tourist gift shop

After grabbing lunch and doing a bit of shopping, we headed back to downtown Valletta to visit the St. John's Co-Cathedral, a cathedral built in 1577 by the Knights of St. John during their control of the Maltese islands. The Cathedral is very plain on the outside, and had remained plain also on the inside until the Knights were inspired to take up the Baroque style on the interior. The carvings and paintings of the church's interior are fascinating - I can only describe it as an explosion of color that strikes you as soon as you walk in the doors. Entry is 6 euro for adults, and a free audio guide is available in several different languages that provides wonderful insights into the building, the individual chapels, as well as relics and other objects housed in the church.

After the Cathedral, we went to a nearby cafe to enjoy some wine and Maltese dishes. After finishing a bottle of wine, we heard what sounded like a marching band coming down the street, and looked up to see a giant chicken walking toward us. And by giant chicken, I mean a 12 foot tall chicken. Thinking that we needed photographic evidence to prove it wasn't just the wine, Farrah went to snap a couple of pictures. While I was watching by the table in amusement, a priest walking toward me looked at me and laughed, "Don't ask me what it is, I have no idea." "Father," I replied, I'm glad to hear you say that. My friend and I have been enjoying some wine here together, and we we're sure that it was real. But if you also see it and have just as good of a sense of humor about it, then I'm sure it's real." The priest (thankfully) laughed again and said, "Oh, yes, it is real. Bless you, child. Enjoy the rest of your vacation."

Yes, there was wine involved, but we really did see a giant chicken. A priest told me it was real.

We finished up our meal at the cafe and headed back to the hotel. We had an early flight back on Tuesday morning, so we got to bed early. For just two days, we managed to see a lot of Malta, but there is even more to do. If you have the opportunity, I recommend making a visit because it's a really enjoyable time. Who knows, maybe you'll also be lucky enough to see a giant chicken.


  1. Wow, this looks amazing! I've heard so many great things about Malta, now I really want to go. I would've been a little scared to walk across the azure window though!

  2. Thanks, Shannon - Malta is definitely a good thing to add to your list, and it can be done relatively inexpensively, too! The Azure Window is funny to me because in the US there would be fences and warning signs all over the place - and that wasn't the case at all. And I tried not thinking about the erosion =)

  3. Was that already 2 weekends ago?! Great photos- you captured everything so well. The boys love your shot of the giant chicken :)

  4. Oh, and I forgot to say, I kept thinking about your post about getting over the fear of flying while I was on the planes. It was VERY helpful!

  5. I know, can you believe it? It seems like so much has happened since then. I'm glad the boys like the chicken, I know I enjoyed it! =)

  6. Oh it's just so gorgeous. It's on the top of my list of places I want to go and I especially want to see Popeyes village. :-) I'm sad knowing that the Azure window may disappear before I get there! Oh the pressure! Pinning your post as it's so full of helpful and good info!

  7. Wow, it looks amazing!! The busses, the cliffs, so awesome. I've heard stories about Malta for years, but jeez, it seems like I really need to get over there already!

  8. Popeye's Village is a huge deal on Malta - I was really surprised. And apparently the Azure Window was where they filmed the Dothraki wedding for Game of Thrones and a bunch of scenes from different movies. I'm glad you like the post!

  9. The natural surroundings are really something, and the old homes are really cool looking too. You should go when it's cold in Sweden, I know I appreciated the warmer weather!

  10. Ooh, I have been waiting for this - and you did not disappoint! The descriptions and photographs are great!
    I have a friend from Malta and her family pictures were always so wonderful - like yours!

  11. The Azure Window is probably my favorite out of all the pics. I hope to visit it someday!

  12. Thanks, Molly, that's really sweet of you to say! It was a great trip, I'm glad the pictures can reflect some of that =)

  13. I think that was one of my favorite places we visited. It was such an amazing sight! And it helped that just before sunset was a good time for the lighting ;)

  14. It sucks that the trip got off to such a crappy start - blergh for the back roads.
    But wow, those photos (and your new collage skills) sure made up for it. A wonderful friend of mine lived there for a few years, damn shame I never went to visit her.
    And how cool is that old bus, even better it's still used in some way.

  15. Thanks! Farrah gets some of the credit for the collages - she recommended PicMonkey, and that was the easiest time I've ever had making collages. We were bummed that the buses weren't running anymore, but at least we saw one!


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