Yesterday, I had plans for going diving today. But due to allergies I mentioned before I thought it best not to go as I wasn’t sure I would be able to equalize with my blocked nose. From all I saw of the possible dive sites around all of the islands it is a must do, so if you are around definitely search out the right dive center for you!
So what to do now that I wasn’t diving?
I decided that I needed to go back to Mdina to see it in the daytime.
On my way out of Valletta I was surprised to see that overnight they had dressed the streets with the red and gold banners I had seen days before in Floriana. There was also a line of school children holding plastic cups running the length of the main street ( probably close to a kilometre). I was sort of confused by this and then when I saw them passing water from cup to cup down the line I was more than a little intrigued. I asked a teacher. He told me that today was the 100 year anniversary of celebrating the aqueduct that took water from Mdina to Valletta and that the children passing the water were a representation of that aqueduct. He was really excited to tell me, pretty cool I thought. I did see the aqueduct on my bus ride in here, there are huge parts of it left to run through towns and the people have just adjusted to live around it’s beautiful arches.
Now I am in Mdina and it is a lot busier in the daytime. The sun is shining but it is also blowing a gale and big white clouds are rushing across the sky chasing their shadows on the ground. I have found a beautiful cafe that sits high on the walls of the city with views out across the whole island and down to the sea. In various towns around us huge silver domes of churches stick up high above the houses and reflect brightly in the sunlight.
The city itself is full of historical museums, galleries and interactive ‘experiences’ but I am happy to walk around and soak up the sun coming down between the high walls. Today I noticed that the old moat has been turned into a structured but lovely garden to stroll around and I saw many people using it.
I came back to Valletta for some R&R and shopping but headed out later for a drink before dinner with my new book. I wish I could remember the name of the place I stopped at but it was on the main street and served a most delicious aperol spritz. I sat facing the street and got lost in Virginia Woolfe’s ‘A room of ones own’ until the sun started setting.
As the sun went down I made my way to the walls and to a previously undiscovered garden that was peaceful and calming at that time of the evening. From there I made my way to another restaurant – Rampila- I had been looking forward to. When you enter Valletta, you to so via a sort of drawbridge, from the drawbridge a small restaurant is visible, set in to the walls of the city. It’s setting made me interested to give it a go.
It was beautiful, the place, the food, the couple next to me whom I started talking to. Everything was perfect. If you are ever in Valletta this place is a must do! And for when the weather isn’t as clement, their indoor seating was just as atmospheric and unusual. Best meal I had for the week!
Another perfect ending.
My last day in Malta began at the airport car rental desks. For 74 euros I had hired a teeny tiny car with all the insurance they could give me for 24 hours. I was super confident as I believe that having driven in Italian traffic, no where else in Europe could phase me. I wasn’t expecting to sit inside, put the key in the ignition and then have my heart jump as I realised that I was sitting on the wrong side of the car. The Australian side. (how had I not noticed after all these days that they were driving on the other side of the road?) My very first thought was ‘I can’t drive on this side of the road!’ and my second was ‘of course you can you idiot, you may just have to concentrate a little more’. Strange that acclimatisation has worked so well on me that I am surprised by what should be my natural side of the road.
I was of course fine, and after a few minutes found that I did not have to worry at every intersection, it comes back naturally.
I was driving up to Gozo, the most northerly of Malta’s 3 islands and the one I had been told was the real gem of the 3. They weren’t wrong.
Getting up to the ferry took only half an hour as opposed to over an hour on the bus and the ferry ride across was just 25 minutes and 15 euro return for a car. Once I was on Gozo the signage was pretty clear to my first destination Ramla Bay.
The whole island is about 10 by 5 kilometers so nowhere takes long to get to and just a few minutes later I pulled into the biggest stretch of sand I had seen yet. I believe that Malta does have it’s share of sandy beaches its just that I hadn’t seen them yet.
Before beach time though I had to visit the nearby attraction of Calypso’s Cave. At school we studied the Odyssey and even acted it out on stage as a class, twice! I love that I have already been to some of the sights in the story (mostly in Greece) and this was another cool one to add to the list. From the beach there was a clearly visible platform above some cliffs but I didn’t take the regular way up, instead I traipsed up the hill, pushing through flowers and passing through ruins until I came to the road where I realised you were supposed to enter from. Oh well.
From the platform, I couldn’t see any caves. From far below the platform, I couldn’t see any caves. There was some strange sort of scaffolding stuff between some rocks that I couldn’t see very well, maybe that was the caves? I really don’t know. I didn’t feel disappointed though because despite the lack of cave I could see very well that this is easily a place that Odysseus could have landed on, been enchanted, figuratively and literally, by and stayed for 7 years. It is just a glorious stretch of coast. The flowers (I will keep going on about the flowers) were everywhere and in all colours. The land rolled gently up from the sandy beach to lush foothills and eventually these ‘caves’. The place was throbbing with the hum of bees (honey nearby!) birds were everywhere (fresh game meat!) and I could see fig trees coming in to ripeness (fresh figs anyone?) Throw in one gorgeous nymph (calypso) and who wouldn’t stay?! I certainly did.
Down at the beach I dashed across the hot sand with a grin, I haven’t had hot sand burning my feet in forever! Passing by a statue to someone who I can only assume is the patron saint of topless sun bakers I found a perfect spot for an hour. I did try to get in the water again, but I really had to force myself to put my shoulders under and then it was straight out to warm up.
Once I was sufficiently burnt I moved on reluctantly to my next destination. Following the coast I passed by towns and beaches and salt pans until I reached my destination of Wied il-Għasri.
Again on the walk down to it the flowers were astounding, daisies of every sort, poppies, tiny wild iris and just so many others more that I don’t know the name of. So I lay down in them for a bit. Duh.
When I did actually make it to Wied il-Għasri itself I was impressed. I hadn’t been sure of what I would find but I don’t think I was expecting this. The cliff edge of this part of the island has at some point millennia ago, split. The narrow valley created by this fissure has steep steps leading down to a stony beach only a few meters across that blends into yet another remarkably blue patch of sea. The cliffs around have caves at sea level so dark that you can’t tell how deep they are and from the beach the valley curves out to its opening so that it is impossible to see out to the horizon.
I sat on huge smooth beige stones that were warm in the heat of the day and watched as scuba divers made their way in to the little cove and took their time adapting to the water. I also got in here, forcing myself to complete just a little bit of dog paddle because I felt that to swim in this place was something special and necessary.
I left as another group arrived, the gorgeous little gorge was best enjoyed alone.
What I thought would be my final stop was the big attraction of the island- the azure window. A huge rock formation creates an arch out in to the sea and the area around it is largely low and flat and ideal for walking and the taking of photographs. It is a beautiful phenomenon there is no denying that but it is also visited by coachloads of aging tourists who stream out, take a photo and grab an ice cream or souvenir and leave. I prefer my nature a little bit wilder and private.
I had found navigating so easy up until this point. My phone with maps had died hours ago and so I was just going off signs and a very basic map that I had (see- it had place names but no roads) but I hadn’t got lost once. Now that it was time to make my way back to the ferry (one of the biggest things on the island) there were no signs to be seen. In my meandering from village to village keeping my eyes peeled I stumbled upon another little delight. I had stopped in the town of Xlendi because it looked cute. Down at the harbour you could barely see the open sea because of the arms of the harbour which circled like a pair of loving arms around the town. A small jetty ran up the middle of the harbour and I sat at the end of that contemplating for a while.
As I sat, I noticed stairs that ran up and over the the harbour arms and I made my way towards them. Up I went, through hard grey stone, and over and then unexpectedly, the stairs dove inside the rock for just a moment before opening at sea level in a small cave that opened on to the open sea. The base of this cave was for the most part a large rock pool. As I stayed still and watched, the rock pool came alive. First I saw crabs, tens and tens of them in all different colours and shapes. There were fish, small and stripped or spotted and then all of a sudden an eel slid in to my view. It stayed for a long time searching up and down the rock face for a hole to hide in without success. It was so close to the surface that at times it would poke its head above the water right under my nose. The sun was setting and the world was peaceful around me. It was magical. I had managed to forget my camera in the car but sometimes it is best to be in the moment completely rather than processing it through a lens.
I continued to get horrifically lost on the island before finding my way back to the ferry and thank goodness it was well signed back to Valletta and that parking was obvious once I got there. It was a full day and definitely one of the best I had there.