27.01.2013 - 27.01.2013 14 °C
It is still a little hard to get our heads around the fact that we are visiting the tenth smallest country (approximate in terms of land area) in the world let alone staying on its smaller and less populated island. Gozzo is little bit like the Saltspring Island of Malta. Everyone who lives on Malta likes to come here for a daytrip or for a weekend in the winter and then abandon it to the tourists in the summer. The people of Gozzo are much like Saltspring Islanders in terms of maintaining a separate identity from their larger island neighbour. It supposedly would be an insult to call a Gozzon, Maltese.
We are staying in Xlendi, one of the most popular little communities on the island. We are on the top floor of an old apartment building that has been renovated off and on for the past 25 years. We have an incredibly large patio that has a commanding view of the small harbour below and of the unoccupied rocky hill and cliff opposite. It is certainly the most beautiful vista of any place we have stayed so far.
As has been the common theme for our entire stay along the Mediterranean, we needed to work at getting our place warm and address some defects but that is what you face in the rental price bracket we choose . Fortunately we have a gas space heater that does wonders and by the morning every inch of our totally glass fronted apartment was warm and toasty. We awoke to brilliant sunshine. The bright light revealed what we had already noticed when we arrived; our deck and windows were covered in sand and dust from previous storms. The housekeeper for the place hadn’t done much to prepare for our visit (many dead light bulbs etc). It was difficult to enjoy the view through all the dirt on the windows and enjoy the spacious deck due to the dirt. Fortunately, a broom, bucket, mop and squeegee were handy. If we were staying for four days I wanted to enjoy the full visual beauty. I spent an hour or two sweeping, opening storm shutters and washing windows and cleaning deck furniture. The result although not perfect was a vast improvement and I truly felt I had a million dollar view I could thoroughly enjoy.
The kids decided to enjoy a well-deserved break and stay in their jammies for a good part of the day. Meanwhile, Muriel and I got out to explore. We walked down a number of flights of stairs to get to the inlet below our apartment and headed up the walkway and eventually the rocky hill on the opposite side of the harbour. In the summer the inlet is usually still and transparent and a magnet for swimming. Today is was a bit wavy but still beautiful. A rough walkway has been built to a small cave that has an outlet into the inlet that swimmers can use. After exploring this feature, we hiked up the hill taking advantage of shallow steps that have been hewn into the hill to help farmers access the ancient rocky pastures above. It looks like these enclosures may have housed sheep or goats for grazing over the centuries although we saw none of either. The view from the top was absolutely brilliant. Just around the corner are cliff faces of a 100 meters or more and a view of a small fortress below. Any hill that is not solid rock has been terraced for pasture or for growing vegetables. It really was something out of a postcard.
As beautiful as the natural beauty is the human architecture leaves much to be desired. The practical and cheap multi-storey rectangular box is the only style used for residential construction. A flat roof for drying laundry and for housing each apartments water supply completes each building. Everyone has a water reservoir on the roof to create water pressure for their dwelling. The only bit of decoration on the building may be any archway for the front balcony and wrought iron or cement railing and these were not even universal features. Nearly every building is golden sandstone and the doors a rustic pine. The notable exceptions to these rough buildings are the abundant churches with their red domes. The population of Malta is less than 400,000 people but there are 365 churches on the island and each is capable of holding a sizeable congregation. The churches ring their bells several times a day noting prayer times and services.
Next to the Xlendi harbour is a gelato stand. We took a second trip down to the waterfront with the kids to have some dessert. We are really enjoying the prices here. A generous scoop of gelato complete with cookie and sprinkles or nuts is only a Euro. We had hot chocolate and cappuccino for the four us the afternoon before right by the water for just over five Euros.
We spent the rest of day just enjoying the view from our seventh storey apartment and each other’s company. We are feeling like we have the town mostly to ourselves even though we are in one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It also has one of the highest per capita rates of car ownership in Europe-but that is a story for another day.
It is never a good idea to generalize about a people, because you usually get it wrong. However here are a few impressions we have had of the people so far. They are not easy to smile and seem to have fairly stand offish mannerisms, although Hannah has described it more accurately gruffly hospitalible. The language is a mix of Sicilian, Arabic and English which is unlike anything we have heard before. It is semetic language and is the only semetic language that uses a latin alphabet. Malta is definitely unique unto itself in terms of unique layout of its villages and roads and the amount of churches.
Zoom in on the map below to get up-to-date on our recent travels.