Sunday, October 28, 2012

Malta – October 21, 2012

Malta – October 21, 2012

Whenever a place has a Hop-on/Hop-off (HoHo) bus, it is usually better to take that bus rather than a ship tour or a taxi, and Malta had a Hop-on/Hop-off bus.  As I exited the ship, I saw the bus just outside the port area on the adjoining street.  However, the exit to the port area was through the Port Terminal building, which was a five minute walk.  So I walked five minutes to the Port Terminal and then five minutes back to the bus.  The HoHo bus had several routes, and I chose the route that covered the entire northern half of the island.  The ship was in Malta on a Sunday, and churches are closed on Sunday except for services, so the most important building in Malta was not available – the cathedral in Valletta; the only other place I wanted to see was the historic city of Mdina, the old capital of Malta.

As the bus began its route, I noticed that most of the buildings were three or four story buildings, with a bay window on the second floor.  It was odd to see long streets on which almost all of the buildings were the same, except that the bay windows were painted different colors.  It was very pretty.  The bus also passed a long viaduct, built in the middle ages to supply water to Valletta; Malta is very arid, and rainfall is insufficient to supply the island with water.  Part of the viaduct is still in operation; however, most of the water today is from six desalination plants. 

The historic town of Mdina is a walled town in the center of the island.  Today the town is a pretty tourist town, with its walls still intact, and its buildings still in good condition and in use.  The color of the buildings is “honey”-colored limestone, and many people believe that the name of Malta comes from the word “Melita” which means “honey”.  Few people live in Mdina and almost all of the streets are too narrow for cars.  Only one street is commercial, and it is a tourist street, filled with souvenir shops and other tourist attractions.  Mdina sits atop a hill, and its walls and massive red cathedral dome, which sits in the center of the town, can be seen from miles around.  The cathedral was closed, but I took photos of the outside.  At the end of the one street in Mdina, I took photos of the view of the surrounding area from the ramparts of the old town wall.

One building that was open was the former home of a wealthy citizen, the Palazzo Falson, the second oldest building in Mdina.  The house was purchased in 1927 by Captain Olof Gollcher, who was a researcher and artist and collector of objets d’art.  Fifteen rooms in the house contained his collections and his furniture, and it was interesting to visit.

After the stop in Mdina, the bus took a long route along the northern and northeastern part of the island, passing by a cathedral where a bomb was dropped in World War II, but did not explode, saving 300 people gathered inside the church.  The bus wound its way along the coast, passing numerous small bays, each one very highly developed with large modern hotels and high rise buildings, along with beautiful seaside streets filled with outdoor restaurants.  Each of the small bays was filled with yachts.  Tourism is a major part of the economy in Malta; Europeans visit Malta on vacations, and the island is developed to take care of them.  Malta is part of the European Union and a member of the British Commonwealth, and it is very prosperous. 

After the bus completed its route and made its way back to Valletta, I walked through the main street, which is a pedestrian street.  Almost all the stores were closed on Sunday, and the street was only sparsely populated with tourists.  Although it was pleasant to walk in the downtown area, it would have been more interesting if the stores had been open.  The main cathedral was also closed on Sunday.  After an hour, I walked back to the ship, a 45-minute walk. 

The ship was scheduled to leave Malta at 5:00 p.m., and all passengers were scheduled to be back on board no later than 4:30, leaving time for the ship to let go the lines and prepare to leave.  However, at 4:40, just as the gangway was being withdrawn, I noticed a man and woman outside the fence of the port, running toward the Port Terminal to return to the ship.  It was clear that they could not go all the way to the terminal building and then all the way back to the ship before departure.  Suddenly, they noticed a taxi, and they were able to get into the taxi, and the driver was able to enter the port area through a gate and deliver them to the gangway before it was withdrawn.  They almost missed the ship, and if they had, they would have had to fly to Corfu to return to the ship at the next port. 

I went upstairs to take photos as the ship sailed out of the harbor.  The sun was setting, and it was very pretty.

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