Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day 3: A Day In Malta

For the record, I'm tapping this message out at (36.16146,14.78795) - which is about 25 miles off the coast of Malta. The sun is shining, the sea is a perfect blue, with the sunshine glinting off of it. The sky is cloudless from where I'm sitting.

When we woke up this morning, we had a surprising site - our porthole, which all yesterday was filled with endless blue, was now filled with the skyline of a clearly Mediterranean country. We were officially in Malta.

We had a quick breakfast, and fled the boat. Rather than using one of the cruise offered trips, we decided we'd wing it. There's only one small detail - we had no idea what to see in Malta. So, last Saturday night, while in Barcelona, we used the free WiFi to do our research. Along the way, we recorded various waypoints to use for reference.

Our plan was to first find the main bus station, and then find the Ghar Dalam cave. After that, we'd head back to the port city of Valletta, do some shopping, and leisurely get back on the boat.

Things went mostly to plan. Finding the main bus station was easy because we had both signs, as well as the latitude and longitude plugged into my Geko GPS. We even knew to ignore the taxi drivers who offered to take us to the main city center for a mere 10 Euro charge. Within 15 minutes, we were there, and aboard our bus. Oh, and bus fair was 0.47 Euro / each. What a deal.

Finding the cave turned out to be a bit trickier. We had only a vague idea where it was and the bus driver was of limited help. Finally, we figured out we were in the right town, and got off the bus. After asking around, we did indeed find our way to the cave - we had missed the stop on the bus, and earned ourselves a 15 minute walk to site. The sun was out, the streets of Malta beautiful, and the harbor gorgeous - so we hardly suffered.

The cave of Ghar Dalam was interesting as expected. They hard part of the cave closed off, but you still got a feel for what they found there. The museum that accompanies the site was almost as interesting as the cave itself. Somewhere I read that the museum is laid out in a classic Victorian style - much more interested in impressing you with the shear size of the collection, rather than, say, educating you. It's amazing how many hippo teeth they found - I was surely impressed.

After Ghar Dalam, we made our way to Tarxien Temples. Tarxien is a series of ancient temples that date around 3200BC. They are in remarkable shape, considering.

Finally, we made our way back to Valletta, and got in a bit of walking around in the central city area. Turns out, there's tons to see there too. After a bit of shopping, it was back to the boat - and with a whole 20 minutes to spare!

My overall impression with Malta is a positive one. One surprising aspect was that the ancient ruins aren't off in some distant country side, but located right in town. I asked the guide at the Ghar Dalam cave about two structures in the back of the museum and he explained that one was a WW II pillbox and the other a watch tower from the middle ages. Or at least that's what he thought. Could you imaging having a structure from hundreds of years ago, far older than the US, and not knowing any details about it? Yet, for the Maltese, buildings from the middle ages apparently aren't that exotic.

I could definitely see going back to Malta and taking in more of the country.

OK, I think I'm going to try to post this entry using the ship's WiFi. As I mentioned in my last post, photos are too taxing for the slow connection, so you'll have to make do with plain text for now. There are plenty of photos on the way. Today, Shira took charge of the camera and she gets all the credit for any photos you like of the Malta side of things.

Time to go find something to eat...it's been like an hour since my last meal...

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