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1 July 2020 - Day 81 – Victoria, Gozo

With a full day planned (so much for winding down), I was up at 8, had a quick breakfast as the sole person in the dining room, and was off the 4 blocks to the Kanun Hamrun bus stop. At a quarter to nine, the #42 bus pulled up, and I was onboard for almost an hour before getting off at the #Ċirkewwa Ferry Terminal. With 20 minutes before the ferry departure, I hustled into the office and got a roundtrip ticket, and headed to the waiting area.

From the terminal, a large crowd began walking to the ship, ascending from the car deck to the passenger and cafeteria area. It took us 30 minutes to cross the Gozo Channel into #Mġarr Harbor, passing by the island of Comino. I’d prepurchased an all-day tour bus pass for on-and-off sightseeing, so I converted my paper voucher for a plastic-coated pass on a lanyard. Several buses with open-topped upper levels were waiting, with many of my fellow tourists heading for the green or blue but mine was red. Summer is high tourist season, and it seems everyone wants to tour #Gozo, so there are a number of service vendors.

The route is about two and a half hours, and the buses leave on a 45-minute cycle, with 14-15 stops. While the ferry runs frequently, the buses end their days at the harbor dropping folks off at 17:40, so this analytical brain determined I could get off 6 times max. With two churches on my must-see list, I’d have to juggle where I’d make those other stops. Of course, the island itself is only 8.7 by 4.5 miles, and taxis do exist.

So on the red bus loop, the first stop is Xewkija, 10 minutes from the port. There’s a church there with a huge dome, but I wanted to keep my options open, so I got a photo of the Knisja Arċipretali San Gwann Battista (Rotunda St John Baptist Church) from the bus stop. I think most everyone aboard made a similar decision.

The next stop was the capital city of Gozo, #Victoria, sometimes also known as Rabat. While I knew we’d be back, I was going to get off there. The bus dropped us in midtown, and we all had to tromp up long steps to get to the Citadel on the hilltop, where the cathedral is also located.

Google calls it Il-Katidral ta' Għawdex while Gcatholic uses Katidral Santa Marija Assunta, another Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary. Rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake, it was elevated to cathedral status in 1864 for the newly formed diocese of Gozo. The interior is a very bright hot pink, with painted vaults that includes a dome painted on a flat surface using trompe l’oeil. I liked the organ loft over the entry door.

Only a brief visit, I was out making the Cittadella Walkway loop, as this citadel affords breathtaking views of Gozo. There are spectacular views down into the green countryside, as well as of the golden stone of the center city. After another quarter hour, I was hoofing it back down the stairs and heading to the corner where the next bus through would pick me up.

I did find a tourist shop with a hat pin just down the street, just as the bus pulled in and started letting folks off.

Back on the bus, our next stop was a run out to Gharb where I got off for my second church: the Santwarju Bażilika tal-Madonna ta' Pinu.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’Pinu is the location of a series of miracles, triggered originally by an order of demolition. Renovations in the 1920’s have made this shrine a pilgrimage point. A large, airy church in light golden white, I was glad to have visited, but had a wait for the next bus.

It arrived and boarded a handful of us. There was what I consider the obligatory stop at the Ta’Dbiegi craft village in Kerċem, which lasted a bit longer than the announced 10 minutes.

Once we got underway, we headed to the western coast to the location of a natural wonder which had collapsed in 2017: the Azure Window.

Now primarily a diving location, the parking loop where the bus stopped was full of cars and jeeps for those heading to the water.

Coming around the parking lot loop, we turned back east for a kilometer or so before taking the road to Xlendi on the southern coast. As we passed near the actual village of Kerċem, the ruins of the British aqueduct were out in the fields.

In Xlendi, there are a lot of caves and cliffs, but this village has had a bit of urbanization, as there are high rise dwellings with nice views in the harbor. I decided to get off and find lunch. Passing several restaurants, I stopped at Il-Kċina Ghawdxija and just had a bowl of the traditional fish soup, which was superb.

After lunch, I had 10 minutes so I just walked the beachfront a bit, and then returned to the corner for the bus. The bus returned to Victoria, and I decided to get off again and explore a bit. The Villa Rundle Gardens “felt” like Florida, with the pines and palms and herbs.

A small amphitheater and a lot of public art (sculpture) gave delight walking around corners. Walking in the commercial neighborhood, I came to a rotary called St Francis Square with the Conventual Church of St Francis of Assisi down at the far end.

I had enough time for a quick visit to St George’s Basilica, set plunk in the middle of a town. Square. Its dome which I’d seen earlier is red and was a feature of this church.

Back to the pick-up point with minutes to spare, the next bus was the blue side, and was ready to take me north to Marsalforn. Formerly the most significant port for trade with Sicily, it has recently developed into a summer resort town of seasonal residents.

With three more stops after Marsalforn, I decided to take another walk-around. With really only one beach, the waterfront is mainly a boardwalk with umbrellas from the restaurants and cafés across the street. I walked up to check out the sand beach, and then came back and snagged a glass of white wine while watching the water.

The bus came through on time, and we proceeded to Ġgantija, where there are two well-preserved Neolithic temples at their Visitor Center.

The center was a 10-minue walk, and I decided this would be my last excursion from the bus. The temple ruins were another 10 minutes, so when I returned into town for the bus, I ws only able to view the outsides of the Ta’Kola Windmill.

Back on the bus, we headed towards Ramla with its beach, but we only got to an intersection about 200m from the free parking area for the beach, and stopped outside an olive oil producer.

Turning inland to Nadur, as we approached the rise the town is built on, I saw the Ta’Kenuna Tower, built as a radio tower by the British, and the parish church, with a sizeable dome.

We never got close to the tower, but we did pass by the church.

The bus continued back to the Mġarr ferry terminal.

It would be half an hour before the next ferry back to the Ċirkewwa, so I approached a taxi driver and asked him to take me to Xewkija and St John’s church, and wait to bring me back. We agreed on a price, and took off.

Ten minutes to Knisja Arċipretali San Gwann Battista, and as I got to the door, the church was closing. I was allowed one inside shot, and then took a few of the exterior. Back to the port, and I was among the last to board the ferry.

Another smooth crossing, I spent the time writing in my journal. The half hour past quickly, and soon we were docked. I let most of the folk rush off, and took my time descending to the pier level. Thanking the staff, I headed out to the bus stop. With more than half an hour to wait, I found some shade and sat and did some more writing in my journal. The bus ride was nearly an hour, stopping frequently once we came to Saint Paul’s Bay, but I was back in #Valletta at the guest house a bit after 8pm.

Fatigued, I just opted to get take out. Spizziko pizza bar was just around the corner, and Adrian gave his approval, pulled out a menu and made a couple of recommendations.

I ordered a Pistacchio, with tomatoes and garlic added. Adrian added a calzone for himself, and a six-pack of beer, per my request. Ten minutes later I walked up and collected our dinners, returning with delicious smelling food. We settled in the dining area, as Adrian was waiting on a late arrival, and chatted. I remembered to tell him that I had a taxi preordered for Friday, and he asked me to leave him the specifics in the morning to confirm. He was interested in my day on Gozo, and wanted my feedback on the bus service, particularly in high season. I asked about whether he knew of any private guides with cars on Gozo, and what the cost might have been – he was unsure, but thought it would be good to know for the future.

Only able to eat half my pie, Adrian wrapped it up, with me instructing him to feel free to finish it at his convenience. I went to my room and got my netbook and started working in the common room, as I needed better Internet. There were over 700 photos to download, and writing the blog has taken a bit longer than usual. (Checking the spelling of places and churches!) Tomorrow should be easier, with a bus trip to and from Mdina, the old capital and home of my last Maltese cathedral.

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