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30 June 2020 - Day 80 – Valletta 2

Before hitting the sack last night, I reread the Malta Uncovered website, and I checked the weather. While being prepared, it promised to be a warm day, with a high of 35°C (93°F) and clear skies; I wanted to be inside for the heat of the day, if possible. I also learned (again?) that surface transportation in Valletta is poor. So my plan had to include walking, rather than riding from the Hamrun district.

Up a bit after 8, I had my shower in the men’s “locker room” for the “gym”, and returned to my room to dress. Shorts and t-shirt, lightest of shoes, hat and sunscreen: that was the order for the day. Breakfast was something of a mishmash: part British (Adrian is from Britain, and Malta had been a Crown Colony) and part Austro-German, probably because of the regular clientele. Tea or instant coffee from the kettle, or Keurig-like single cup brewed coffee for hot beverages; a waffle iron, boiled eggs, marmalade, toast, and sliced cold cuts rounded out the fare.

Sitting with four other guests, a husband-husband team from Leeds, and a wife-wife pair from Berlin, we all murmured a bit, as we all slowly woke up. The “girls” were off to Mdina for the day, while the “boys” planned on returning to the beach. They all gave me some pointers on what to see in #Valletta, and advised on just walking the 3+ kilometers. After bussing our dishes into the dishwasher, we split up, with suggestions to find a drink together about 6 this evening.

After cleaning my teeth, I applied my sunscreen base coat for the day and headed out. Valletta, at about 450 years of age, is the southernmost EU capital, and was one of the first “modern” urban planning successes. With right-angle street grids, mostly pedestrianized streets, and being a peninsula between two natural harbors, it was very hard to stay lost.

The morning weather was fine at 9 when I got underway, and St Joseph High Street was interestingly filled with a variety of retail shops as I headed east while on the busier, southern, shaded sidewalk. The street had a slight downhill slant for about the first 40%, at which point I needed to head to the north side so that I could get around an “interchange” of sorts, and begin going up the mound that made Valletta so defensible at Porte des Bombes


At the Lion Fountain, I crossed the divided roadway Triq Sant’Anna (St Anne Street) with the lion using a front paw to hold a shield, probably British. The next outside monument was to Dun Karm Psaila, the Maltese national poet, who was also a priest, writer and author of their national anthem.

Further along the rotary were eternal flames and the Monument tal-Gwerra, the War Memorial. A Futurist structure, it commemorates the war dead for both world wars.

After a slight directional shift to the northeast, I came to a rotary and the City Gate, where the central street ran down the backbone of the island to the east end.

The Gate, two large blocks of stone designed by Renzo Piano, is the fifth gate, meant as the sole land access to the city.

Deviating from my goal of the co-cathedral, I walked past the bombed-out ruins of the Royal Opera House,

now an open-air theater, to Our Lady of Victory Church. The first building in Valletta (1565) now has a baroque façade; restoration following World War II bombing which also destroyed the opera house continues. I liked the vault paintings in this small church.

Kon-Katidral ta' San Ġwann, or St John’s Co-Cathedral, is the Roman Catholic cathedral in the capital and is dedicated to St John the Baptist. Built starting in 1572 and, upon completion of the first build, it was the conventual church for the Order of St John (Hospitallers) until the order was expelled during the 2 years the French ruled the island.

It became a co-cathedral with the cathedral in Mdina in the 1820’s. The exterior façade is rather stolid and blocky, with a fortress-like feeling. Bell towers frame the entry, the southern of which has a clock and more evident bells. There is a single door under a porch supported by marble columns.

Inside is a complete about-face. I’d communicated with a woman I’d met while visiting the Catholic cathedral in Ayr, Scotland about this cathedral, which included a photo of the interior. The embellishments ordered by the Grand Master when the church was nearly at its century mark, “to rival the churches of Rome,” have resulted in an extremely ornate interior in high baroque style. Made of native limestone, the gilded carvings were all done in situ, and the paintings on the columns employ the trompe l’oeil effect. The floor is completely filled with tombstones of the Knights of St John, while the crypt houses the tombs of former Grand Masters.

The nine chapels are similarly overly and richly decorated. Eight are dedicated to the divisions (langues) of the Order and contain funerary monuments for past Grand Masters, with the last being for the Eucharist. One of Malta’s most famous and popular tourist attractions, I found that I would jump back and forth to these side chapels based on how many other visitors were in the room at the time. Fortunately, the audio guide allowed me to jump around within the tour.

After taking a brief break, I did spend about a half hour in the church’s museum where there are some wonderful paintings. No photography there, however.

Probably nine or ten blocks away to the north is the Anglican pro-cathedral. The Pro-Cathedral and Collegiate Church of Saint Paul is the third of three cathedrals of the Anglican Diocese of Europe, the others being the chief cathedral in Gibraltar and the second pro-cathedral in Brussels. This was my “hat trick”, as I’ve visited the other two.

Built in the nineteenth century at the behest of the Dowager Queen Adelaide to provide a formal place of worship for Anglicans on Malta, the organ was given by the Cathedral in Chester; originally a one-manual instrument, tradition has it that Handel played on it while preparing for the premier of the Messiah. It was nice to see the Star-Spangled Banner included in the military banners honored around the nave.

Across the street (away from the north port) is the Carmelite church, the Sanctuary Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Its presence is hard to ignore, as its dome dominates the skyline. In Maltese, Bażilika Santwarju tal-Madonna tal-Karmnu, was initially built around 1570, redesigned in 1852 and heavily damaged in World War II. Rebuilt in the sixties and seventies, the oval dome reaches a height of 42m, to compete with the Anglican pro-cathedral’s spire.

Probably the most notable features inside are the elaborate wall carvings, the red marble columns and the early seventeenth century painting of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. With narrow streets on all sides and multistory buildings all around, getting a decent exterior shot was difficult. Best efforts included here.

Continuing away from the pro-cathedral and basilica, I climbed the hill and viewed the buildings around St George’s Square. Onward, I came to the Is-Suq Tal-Belt, the food market.

Always something I enjoy wandering through, with three levels I was able to find a little something to eat and drink to tied me over, some of which I consumed when I got to my next destination, the Lower Barakka Gardens.

I sat in the shade and ate my lunch, and then looked over the wall into the Grand Harbour that I’d come into yesterday on the ferry.

Walking out of the park and down to the water, I came to the War Siege Memorial, which had a great lookout to the sea through the breakwaters into the harbor and along the cliffs into Valletta.

It was approaching 4, and the cannon would fire, so I headed on the St Barbara Bastion and Triq Il-Batterija along the waterfront towards the Saluting Battery. Timing was perfect.

St Barbara Bastion

Now I faced a cliff, which meant a climb, or so I thought. Looking for a route, Maps pointed out Barakka’s Lift, which would raise me from the Grand Harbour to the Upper Barakka Gardens and the St Peter and Paul Bastion.

For a euro, I made the 23 second trip up 58m and saved time and legs. I toured the Upper Barakka Gardens, enjoying another view out over the Grand Harbour, and then turned towards the Spazju Kreattiv, an entertainment and arts center in a refurbished 16th century fort. A very cool passageway, practically a tunnel, took me by the doorways to the entrances for an arthouse cinema, a performance auditorium and also an education facility focused on the arts.

Coming out by the Parliament buildings, I began walking towards the War Memorial I’d seen this morning. I found a bus stop with the indication for Hamrun. The number 53 bus took me 8 stops in as many minutes and dropped me 200m from the Guest House. I was back by 5.

When I sat down to start writing in my journal, I checked my email. Oops, I had booked a GuruWalk for this morning and completely forgotten about it. I had usually received a reminder email, but not this time. I sent back an apology, explaining that I missed it in my itinerary, but I also had not received a reminder. I got about half way through my day before the German women came in. We sat and talked in the common area for a bit, and then they went to freshen up. I probably got another paragraph done and the British men showed up, looking rather pink. They were going to get a shower and be back shortly. I kept plugging away at the journal, and all four walked back into the room about the same time.

Checking again with Adrian, we decided on the Paris Lounge. It turns out it is a gay bar, and this was its evening “on the circuit”. So there were about 20 folks there, men and women, and we had to squeeze past several bunches to get around to the end of the bar to order drinks. Gret and Dagmar had Heineken, while Rob and Joseph went for umbrella drinks – pina colada’s, I think. They had a few bottles of wine on ice, so I had a white, a trebbiano. No food or nibbles, so I knew this would only be about an hour for me. We chatted together for 15 or so minutes, and then the Brits saw a group they recognized from the beach. Gret spotted a solo guy, probably about 55, and asked him to join us. Turns out Jacques is from Toulouse on business, and was pleased to have people to speak with. It turned out that both Dagmar and Jack, as we started calling him, were both in the security software sector, so they had some discussions that were clear over my head. Gret, a peace officer, chuckled, as this happened to her all the time. We got to talking and I found out they were about to adopt an infant girl in about a month. They were in a community of lesbians where several were “professional moms” so after maternity leave, they had arrangements predetermined. This trip was their last play trip for a while.

After our second round, we 4 decided to get dinner, as we’d lost the Brits. We headed down the street, bypassing pizza places for now, and chanced upon Café Tivoli. With a grill, the Europeans were psyched.

Jacques got grilled pork chops, while the Berliners both got different cuts of steak. (I’m useless at identifying cuts of beef.) What appealed to me was a slightly battered chicken which was grilled. Go figure. Everyone was hungry, so when the food arrived, most of the conversation ceased. And the food disappeared.

When we’d finished, and had another round of beer, Jacques picked up the check despite much commotion from the other 3 of us, and invited us to have an after-dinner drink. As Wasp was nearby, I mentioned it, and we decided to visit. As we approached, an outside table cleared and no one was waiting, so we sat. Jacques suggested cognac, to which the “girls” got excited, so I went along. They had a Baron Otard VSOP, which pleased our Frenchman. Hank happened to be on, and brought out the 4 snifters, and an alcohol lamp in case we wanted it warmer. (It was 77°F!) Jack asked if they’d had Otard before, and the women said no, while I explained I’d visited the distillery in Cognac in 2013. This triggered some conversation with me about where I’d been in France, and, when I mentioned his home town of Toulouse, he asked what I felt about the rose city. Fortunately, Toulouse is one of my favorites, so all went well. The women then wanted to know about where I’d been in Germany, so I expounded briefly on my 2017 Danube ride, and how I’d gotten to the start point, and how I’d finished in Berlin. I definitely had more travel points, as none of the three had been to the States.

Jacques had to leave to prepare for tomorrow’s calls, and the women were heading out to a club. I was happy to just be heading back to the guest house, as I still had more journal, plus all the download and blogging stuff to do. The girls got the check from Hank, and I was able to convince them to allow me to leave the tip. We all parted feeling no pain.

Back at the guest house I had a response from GuruWalk apologizing for not sending a reminder. I got the evening added to the journal and then began the phone and camera downloads. Back to the room to start charging batteries, and I have been plowing away at today’s narrative. Tomorrow I’m heading west on an adventure, so I’ll be soon to bed after this gets posted.

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