Monday, October 27, 2014
We carried on further up the coast to the new fish market at Port Vendres. What a lovely selection of fish. We bought some unfiltered extra virgin olive oil, sole for dinner, some Coquilles St. Jacques and some haddock cooked in a pastry. On the way into the port we had passed three French naval vessels. Outside the fish market we noticed a tug head off in the direction of the largest vessel, Thetis, which was preparing to leave port. We patiently waited on one of the wharfs and were rewarded when Thetis sailed by slowly picking up speed. Thetis is used for mine warfare experimentation, to command minesweepers, lay mines, support clearance divers or guide a convoy in coastal areas. It was quite an imposing ship. The two smaller vessels, both mine support ships remained in port as we left. Port Vendres is always an interesting place to visit.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Early in the afternoon we set off for lunch. On the way we passed Corfe Castle, a fortification standing above the village of the same name on the Isle of Purbeck in the English county of Dorset. Built by William the Conqueror, the castle dates back to the 11th century. In its first phase it was one of the earliest castles in England to be built using stone when the majority were built with earth and timber. The castle has a chequered history and was eventually demolished in 1645. Today it is owned by the National Trust.
By this time we had to start heading back to Bournemouth. We had a quick stop at Tesco, which is like a Carrefour and generally to be avoided. We did get some Battenburg cake but it was quite sweet. It was time for an early dinner so we stopped at a pub, which couldn't seat six of us because those tables were reserved. They didn't seem to think they could put tables together either even though te place was empty at the time. They didn't have espresso, since their machine wasn't working and hadn't worked for five days, all related in a very whiny tone. They couldn't make tea because they didn't have a kettle or I suppose a pan. At this we decided to leave. It was a bit Pythonesque. Who knows what would have happened if we had tried to order food? I did notice that there were no TripAdvisor stickers evident anywhere. So much for service!
Back in the car we found a much nicer place on the other side of the airport. Their espresso machine worked and they were happy to serve us. I think the highlight of the trip was when Patricia, who won't mind me telling you is 92, asked for the batter I had carefully taken off my fish. She loves batter and seemed to relish every bit of it. I might add that she is no stranger to salt, sugar and cream in large quantities. Good genes go far.
We had a lovely two days in Dorset. We said our good byes and once again boarded our Ryanair flight for home.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Of course our Ryanair flight arrived early. We were picked up by Martin and John and whisked away to our accommodations for the night, Thatched Cottage Hotel in Three Legged Cross. After our reunion with Patricia and meeting Jacqui we sat outside in the sun for a short while before lunch. There was so much to eat, lovely salad, ham, Melton Mowbray pie and beautiful boiled fingerling potatoes.
Since six of us weren't going to fit in the car we all jumped in the camper van with two neighbourhood labradors that were visiting for the afternoon. We arrived at the ruins of Knowlton Abbey, which sits inside a henge, now a huge circle of grass. In other words the abbey was built in a pre-Christian place. Our friends' village of Gussage St. Michael is dedicated to the Archangel who will balance the souls in the scales of justice on the Day of Judgement or so the story is told. None of this bothered any of us, especially the dogs, who had a lovely romp. Gussage St. Michael is a lovely sprawling little village with much ancient history. Driving in the area we spotted a Neolithic settlement and an old Roman road.
It was time for us to settle into our accommodation. The thatched cottage was set in a huge park-like garden complete with a pond. When I asked the owner if the heron ever ate the fish, she told us the fish were too big. She was right, they were huge carp-type fish. In fact one raised its head out of the water and had a good look at us like a whale spy hopping. It was a little disconcerting. Later in the evening we had dinner at a quaint nearby pub. I was still full from lunch and only managed a bowl of soup.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
We walked past the Barraca Gardens and down streets and through a tunnel carved out of the rock 150 feet under the Gardens to the Lascaris War Rooms, one of Malta’s best kept secrets from World War Two. The War Rooms consist of a network of underground tunnels and chambers that housed Britain’s War HQ in Malta from where the defence of the island against Axis aggression was waged and all offensive operations in the Mediterranean were directed.
This ultra secret complex housed an operations room for each of the fighting services which included the hugely important RAF Sector Fighter Control Room from where all air and sea operations were observed and controlled. This was supported by a Filter Room through which all radar traffic was channelled and sifted and an Anti-aircraft Gun Operations Room from where artillery fire against air attack was coordinated. A Combined Operations room, for all three services, served for joint operations, within a heavily guarded facility which accommodated the encryption machines used to receive and send secret communications. Being so deep underground the whole complex was mechanically ventilated – one of the original features that still works.
In July 1943, the War Rooms were used by General Eisenhower and his Supreme Commanders Admiral Cunningham, Field Marshal Montgomery and Air Marshal Tedder as their advance Allied HQ for Operation Husky – the Invasion of Sicily. An excellent black and white movie of film footage from the war was shown as part of the visit.
Following the end of the war, the War Rooms became the Mediterranean Fleet HQ. In 1967 it was taken over by Nato to be used as a strategic Communication Centre for the interception of Soviet submarines in the Mediterranean. It remained in that role for the next ten years when it was finally closed down. The War Rooms played an active part in the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt during the Suez Crisis in 1956 and went into full alert for a number of days during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when a Soviet missile strike against Malta was expected.
Our Malta visit ended fittingly back in the coffee shop, where we had a ham and cheese panini on a lovely multigrain baguette. We said our goodbyes to the Maltese owner and her Sicilian server vowing that we would return to Valletta.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
In all we passed ten different creeks as well as the three cities, Senglea, Cospicua and Vittoriosa. There were many interesting buildings, docks and watercraft. One of the most interesting sights was the modern yachts that looked like something out of a James Bond movie. They oozed money and a few of them looked a little menacing painted grey with their helicopter pads on the back.
We thoroughly enjoyed the harbour tour. It was so lovely just to turn my face to the sun and feel the breeze that the boat was creating.
We made our return trip to Valletta once again on the passenger ferry. We checked out the roped off swimming area, where you dropped in the sea right off some rocks. It looked fine for a swim if we had time. Right beside it was a huge but greenish looking, saltwater pool.
All the sea air made us hungry so it was time to go back to the side streets of Valletta to find a good restaurant for lunch. We were successful and once again I had rabbit but this time it was cooked in juniper berries and red wine accompanied by roasted potatoes and a huge plate of broiled cabbage, peas and braised celery. This rabbit was a bit richer than the last one but it was melt-in-your mouth good. We finished with Italian Macedonia de Frutta or fresh fruit with squeezed lemon and sprinkled with a little sugar or tiny drop of honey. It sits in the fridge for a couple of hours before you eat it. Our espresso topped off a lovely meal.
After watching a beautiful sunset from the terrace, it was time to see a movie. This is always a bonus for us to sit in a real theatre and watch a movie and who can argue with a movie starring Colin Firth? This followed by a walk through the quiet streets of Valletta listening to the faint sound of jazz coming from one of the bars.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
The next morning after our morning espresso in a Sicilian coffee shop and bakery we were back on the bus this time going to Mdina, the silent city. Mdina is one of Europe's finest examples of an ancient walled city and extraordinary in its mix of medieval and baroque architecture. The walls were massive and it took us a few moments to find the gate, which has had several names over the centuries but is known today as "Citta Notibile," the noble city.
The history of Mdina goes back more than 4000 years. According to tradition it was here in 60 A.D. that the Apostle St. Paul is said to have lived after being shipwrecked on the Islands. My how he got around. Furthermore it is said that St. Paul resided inside the grotto know as Fuori le Mura, now known as St. Paul's Grotto in Rabat, just outside the walls of Mdina.
We visited a lovely shop filled with beautiful items of brightly coloured Malta glass, vases, glasses, ornaments and jewellery. It reminded me of visiting Murano. There were a few of these shops along the streets as well as little stores selling local Maltese products such as honey, olive oil and wine. There were several churches in Mdina. The one we peeked into was very ornate.
For many centuries, religious orders have established themselves within the precincts of Rabat, and Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians still flourish here in their spacious convents and monasteries, catering for the religious needs of parishioners in their churches.
We took the bus back to Valletta, where we joined the late afternoon throng. As I've mentioned, cruise ships are regular visitors to Valletta. Passengers disembark and quite literally flood through Valetta’s main gate and along the two main pedestrian areas. As the ships’ departure times approach, the city becomes quite enjoyable. In fact we watched, from our terrace, as that day’s ship left....just to make sure.
Not terribly hungry, we decided to visit a Neapolitan pizzeria for dinner. It was quite funny as we made a slight faux pas sitting outside the restaurant next door instead of where we wanted to be, which explained why there was no pizza on the menu. We politely explained and went next door to eat, inside I might add.
After our pizza, it was time to walk. This time we ended up in a nearby square where illuminated fountains danced at various heights. We watched as local went into the fountains and controlled the height of the spray with their hands. I tried and it was easier than it looked. At least I didn't get a soaking like some people. We ended up sitting on one of the benches listening to a jazz quartet playing at one of the restaurants, another lovely ending to a busy day.
Saturday, October 11, 2014
As we approached the north of the island, the landscape changed: hills with arid vegetation, rocks, olive trees and some fields that had been ploughed leaving huge furrows and mounds of clay. We passed through St. Paul's Bay. I don't think I have ever seen a bay so full of boats. Finally, we reached the ferry terminal.
On the approach to Ramla Bay we saw Odysseus' Cave, where legend has it he lived for seven years, seduced and enchanted by Calypso. Below the cave are the remains of a Roman Villa. Ramla Bay lies below a tabletop plateau, which could be seen for miles around.
We stopped at a crafts centre that was filled with the usual ‘crafty’ things but also food items. Since we hadn't eaten since breakfast and it was now mid afternoon we were more than happy to sample the olives, sun-dried tomatoes, pecorino cheese with black pepper and sun-dried fig chutney on crackers. All the food came from Gozo. We bought some crackers, cheese and the tasty chutney.
Our hope was to eat in the capital of Gozo, Victoria, so we hopped off the bus, but all we found were small bars. What to do? Finally, we found a take away restaurant with a Maltese specialty, pastizzi, flaky pastry filled with mushy green peas. Delicious.
Once back in our apartment, we sampled our crackers, cheese and sun-dried fig chutney while watching another cruise ship head out to sea.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
This museum is mostly about the important role Malta and its people played during World War II, but also includes exhibits dealing with Malta’s military role after 1800 under British rule, and items from the First World War and from the two years of French Occupation.
Badly mauled and nearly starved the Maltese and their British defenders remained defiant and their efforts played a critical role in thwarting German and Italian military strategy in the Mediterranean. Consequently, King George VI, wishing to “bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people” awarded the George Cross medal to the entire population of Malta.
In the museum’s main hall are displayed an Italian E-Boat, a Bofors anti-aircraft gun, the Willys Jeep ‘Husky’ that General Eisenhower used during his visit to Malta’, the Gloster Gladiator ‘Faith’, the George Cross, the Book of Remembrance, the illuminated Scroll presented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and wreckage of a Spitfire and a Messerschmitt Me-109 fighter aircraft recovered from the sea bed.
Photographic panels portrayed the harsh conditions that Malta and its people endured during the war, and the extensive damage inflicted. Also featured are numerous awards and decorations received by Maltese servicemen and civilians during World War II, the most important of course being the George Cross Medal mentioned earlier. Incidentally, this is the origin of the cross featured on the flag of Malta.
Monday, October 6, 2014
The Hypogeum was first opened to visitors in 1908 and since then has been visited by many thousands of people. Unfortunately, this has taken a toll on the delicate microclimate of the site affecting preservation, especially of the unique red ochre paintings. Consequently, the site was closed for conservation between 1990 and 2000 and visitors are now limited to 80 per day in groups of ten. So you need to order your tickets in advance, which luckily I had done.
Our bus took us through densely populated areas of largely unattractive shops and housing until we got to Paola. We had arrived early, so as not to miss our time slot, and so we had time to wander around. Being Sunday, most shops and bars were closed. Some men's clubs, that is small bars for men only, were open and quite busy.
It was fascinating seeing the Hypogeum but now it was back on the bus to Valletta. The bus service was quite frequent and for just over €6 we got a pass to ride on any bus for a week. What excellent value for money.
Once again it was extremely hot with temperatures approaching 38 degrees. We walked through one of the big main pedestrian streets stopping at a grocery store to stock up on food for our apartment. We saw very few grocery stores in Valletta. I'm not sure where the locals shopped.
By now it was lunchtime and we found a lovely little bistro down a narrow side street. Like many of the restaurants in Malta it had rabbit on the menu but this time it was rabbit stew cooked in white wine, rosemary and some other herbs. It was so tender and just fell off the bone. The local Maltese beer made a lovely accompaniment.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
We were invited to go upstairs to see Frank’s living area, which was filled with beautiful antique Maltese furniture made from Maltese hard woods, such as olive wood, and some of it inlaid with ebony. There are few trees today in Malta. He showed us a scimitar and a knife in an ornate sheath that was used in Jewish circumcision ceremonies. This knife was worn out in one particular spot. It does make you shiver a little. Finally, we ended up in our apartment with a lovely view over the chimney tops of Valletta and part of the busy harbour.
We returned to Valletta by bus, and found a lovely little Italian bistro, where we had salad and fabulous rabbit ravioli for dinner. A perfect ending to a very long day.
Saturday, October 4, 2014
The Cathedral contains seven rich chapels, each dedicated to the patron saint of a different ‘langue’ (or section) of the Knights. The Chapel of the Anglo-Bavarian Langue was formerly known as the Chapel of the Relic where the Knights used to keep relics they had acquired through the centuries. There were chapels for Provence, France, Italy, Germany, Auvergne and Aragon, and one chapel for Castile, Leon and Portugal. Each chapel seemed more ornate than the last. The painting depicting The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Caravaggio is the most famous work in the church.
By now the cathedral was becoming much busier with tourists from a cruise ship. It was time to acquaint ourselves with our room.