Actually, a completely new country to Sally and me (and Zelda and Matteo) – Malta. Malta is a tiny little country just south of Sicily. The country is only 122 square miles, and the total population is around 450,000. Sitting in the strait only 60 miles from Sicily and 150 miles from Tunisia and Libya, it has been an important trading and military post since forever. All the old timers were there: the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Moors, the Normans. And finally, the British in the early 19th century until its independence in 1964.
As has been our practice, we booked a private guide. Vince met us at the dock as promised at 9:30 and we started our tour of this mini country.
As you might guess from the stats above, the entire country is developed with very little open space. The roads are pretty crummy and we bounced in the van all day despite going slowly. As the two official languages are English and Malta, we had no problem understanding Vince’s British English. Our first stop was a harbor town, which had an unbelievably colorful marina of fishing boats along with an open air market. I could have photographed the boats for hours, but that wouldn’t have been fair to the rest of our party, or consistent with our plan to get a view of the entire island. As for the market, if you’ve seen one open-air market, you’ve seen them all.
Interestingly, while there is a lot of shipping and fishing in evidence, it is not the driver of the economy anymore – now it’s tourism.
From there we drove to see the Blue Grotto, some caves eaten into the rocky shore by wave action. Sadly (1), the seas were a bit rough and the boats weren’t running. But we admired a nice arch in the water.
We made another stop to look at some cliffs, but then proceeded to Mdina (2), the former capital of Malta. It’s an inland city, up on a hill (of course). Today it seems to be mostly tourists, with large parking lots outside of the old walls. Nonetheless, it was a very nice place to visit and walk around.
We had Vince drop us off back in Valletta, which is the current capital. We saw the Prime Minister rush out of his office and hop into a car to go to lunch somewhere, so we thanked Vince and went off to find some lunch.
After lunch we went back to the ship and relaxed until our fancy dinner in the French restaurant, La Dame. The evening’s entertainment was from the same violinist that we saw earlier, playing the same electric violin with the same three piece backup band. The songs were different, but it was essentially the same show.
(1) I’m not so sure we would have enjoyed a ride in the ocean in a tiny boat.
(2) “Mdina” is pronounced “Imdina” in Maltese, and we even saw it spelled that way.
(3) Despite periodic references to the Maltese Falcon around the island, the film had nothing to do with Malta. Humphrey Bogart played a San Francisco detective looking for a statue.