31.01.2013 - 31.01.2013 15 °C
Abby has gone from bad to worse, and now seems to have an ear infection alongside the sore throat and head cold that she has been nursing. As she was too sick to go out, Dad stayed behind to act as caretaker, and Mom and I spent the day in Valletta.
We're currently staying in Sliema, a town just across the harbour from Malta's capital city, Valletta. We took a small ferry over, careful to avoid the many harbour "cruise" ships and the people that so assertively advertised them. Once we'd arrived, we were approached again with offers of a ride, this time by a guy with a horse and carriage. Twice. He circled back and tried to convince us a second time. As he finally rode away, we noticed a sign that said "no horse cabs" not ten metres from us.
Our first stop was St. John's Co-Cathedral, a church with an unassuming exterior that is filled with ornate Baroque style decorations. The intricate gilded designs and impressive paintings totally cover the walls and ceiling of the large cathedral. The floor is a masterpiece of inlaid marble, marking the tombs of notable soldiers. The level of detail is nearly unfathomable, and definitely overwhelming. The arced ceiling is home to several paintings that tell the story of St. John the Baptist. At the front, there is the main altar, with silver candelabras and a golden depiction of the Holy Spirit, flanked by two pipe organs. There's also a massive thurible (incense holder) hanging from the ceiling. I could go on and on about the church, but there is simply too much history and detail to summarise in a simple blog post. You can browse the official website here. Some of the other rooms making up the cathedral played host to various artefacts, such as a couple Caravaggio's most famous paintings. The Beheading of John the Baptist is quite the provoking piece. There was a room dedicated to tapestries, which my mom and I both feel are underappreciated, considering the amount of work and time it takes to produce them. There was a vestry as well, full of papal robes and ceremonial wear, as well as a chair constructed for Pope John Paul II when he visited Malta. We suspect it hasn't been used since.
After our tour, we strolled around the town for a bit, window shopping and looking for a restaurant for lunch. There were an unbelievable amount of jewelry stores lining the streets. Sometimes there'd be three or four in a row. I ended up buying a pretty silver necklace with a Maltese cross pendant, which seems to me like the perfect souvenir. We had pasta in a small, warmly lit restaurant, and got some bruschetta on the house from our earnest waiter. The only issue with this place was the washrooms, which are not only lacking in the toilet paper department, but also include a full-length mirror facing the toilet. Awkward, to say the least.
Next, we visited the Barrakka Gardens. There was supposedly an upper and lower gardens, but we could only find the upper. It was a very pretty place, especially so because of the bright sunny sky above it. There was a large fountain in the centre of the park, and an aqueduct-like wall surrounding it. The view was a pleasant one, the city of Valletta surrounded by sea and sky. I wanted to bring a picnic there. One day is simply not enough to do the island of Malta justice.
We took a spin on the Barrakka lift, as it had been recommended on a few of the websites we'd seen. Maybe, we thought, it would even take us to the elusive lower gardens. It was nothing too exciting, just a large outdoor elevator than went slightly faster than your average hotel lift. But we make the most of it. Anything can be fun when you set your mind to it. When we reached the end of the thrill ride, we found that we weren't really anywhere, just standing in a small space surrounded by walls. So we headed back up again. It was even more exhilarating the second time.
We headed back the way we had come, pausing to take a couple more pictures of Winston Churchill's bust and a tabby cat snoozing in a flowerbed. Then we walked toward our final destination: Malta 5D. Earlier, when we were planning our day, we found two different "audio visual spectacles" (movies, in case you were wondering) that were located in Valletta, each a brief documentary discussing Malta's history, architecture, and culture. The first one, The Malta Experience, seemed to be your average outdated educational film, not unlike one you might watch in Social Studies. The second, Malta 5D, promised "incredible 3D images" and exclaimed that "you are not just a spectator!". Yeah, it seemed cheesy, but why not try it out? It'd be an experience, whatever the outcome. We watched it alongside a group of French exchange students, with a leader that the film's host seem to know well. Then we were treated to sprays of water, the smell of baking bread, and regular tilts and jolts from our chairs. The twenty minute movie took us through the history of Malta's two sieges, toured a few of Malta and Gozo's most famous sites, and took us flying through the air so that we could see the three islands in all their glory. I enjoyed it, though perhaps not in the same way I enjoyed the cathedral or the gardens. It was interesting to see places and sights that I'd already bore witness to, and observe them in a new light. Also, the battle scenes become a whole lot more attention-grabbing when you're thrown back every time a cannon fires or a bomb drops.
On the way back, we got gelato (are you even a little surprised?), and argued about how to get back to the harbour. In the end, we were both wrong, and ended up stumbling across the Siege Bell Memorial, built in 1992 to honour the 7000 people who lost their lives in the Siege of Malta during World War II. It also turned out to be where the lower Barrakka Gardens were, though there wasn't a tree or shrub in sight. We could see the telltale arches of the upper gardens just above us. We'd really gotten turned around. Nevertheless, it was not an unpleasant detour, and I had some fun scaling the tower both inside and out.
We did end up finding the harbour, and caught the third-to-last ferry back to Sliema, tired but happy. Dad and I went out for a quick grocery shop, buying bread, a few cup-a-noodles and some traditional Maltese baked goods. The noodles were rather unique, as the instructions on the package included gems like "store in a cool dry place (hint: try the cupboard)". The desserts we got were called prinjolata and qaghaq tal-ghasel (if you can't pronounce that last one, it also goes by the name treacle ring or Maltese honey ring). The former tasted very Dutch, like a marzipan fruitcake. It was much better than traditional fruitcake, in my opinion. The second had a wafery crust and a rich and chewy spice cake interior. I'd like to try them again, but I haven't seen them outside of Malta. Then it was early to bed. To our horror, we would be waking up at 2:30am the next morning so as to catch our five o'clock flight. There was no way it was going to be the least bit pleasant. At least we had Greece to look forward to.