Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Malta, April 11-16

When Cathy Jo’s family lived in Tripoli in the late 1960’s, Malta, then part of the British Commonwealth, was the place they went to “unwind”; enjoy a bit of Western Civilization and speak English with the locals. It was also home to Cathy Jo’s orthodontist. She’d not been back since then. It seemed like a good time for a visit.
Our Air Malta flight left Paris just after 10:30 and landed at Malta’s International Airport (the only one) a little after 1 pm. Our Airbnb hosts picked us up at the airport and after a brief tour of the area, dropped us off at our apartment in Bormla a little later.

We approach Malta’s southeast coast, the Marsaxlokk Bay.

Malta, due to it’s strategic position in the Mediterranean 50 miles south of Sicily and close to Tunisia, has been occupied and fought over for centuries. The Carthaginians, Phoenicians, Romans, Sicilians, Aragonese, Normans, and the Arabs all ruled the place. The Knights of St. John, who had been evicted from Rhodes by the Ottomans governed the island from 1530 (surviving a brutal siege by the Ottoman Empire in 1565) until Napoleon kicked them out in 1789. The French were in turn ousted just two years later by the British, who governed the island until it’s complete independence in 1979. The Republic of Malta joined the European Union in 2004.

The population of approximately 500,000 speaks English and Maltese, a Semitic language called Siculo-Arabic by linguists. It’s a curious mixture of Arabic, Italian and who knows what else with an alphabet of 30 letters.

Our apartment was in the “Three Cities,” across the Grand Harbor from the capital city, Valletta. We were staying in Cospicua (also Bormla; the towns all have two names); the other being Senglea (L-Isla) and Vittoriosa (Birgu). The apartment was a typically vertical one recently renovated with only the 400 year old stone walls of the original construction. The first floor was the kitchen, eating area and a small bathroom. Up a steep flight of stairs was the bedroom with another small bathroom and shower. Up another, although shorter, set of stairs was the rooftop patio. The whole apartment was very “cozy” but fine for our 5 day stay.

Thursday we were still dealing with jet lag so we just wandered around Cospicua. We were just a short walk from the waterfront and the marina.

Friday we took the short ferry ride over to Valetta, walking about the very old town and visiting St John’s Co-Cathedral, a magnificent structure built by the Knights of St. John, the Knights of Malta. Built between 1573 and 1578 and the interior remade in the 17th century in the Maltese Baroque style. There’s a lot of gilt.

The nave from the balcony.
Each of the side chapels is dedicated to
Knights from a different country.

More information about the cathedral, including a “fly around the interior” is here

The view of the Three Cities and the eastern Valetta waterfront from the Upper Barrakka Gardens

Saturday we took a long (traffic in Malta is terrible!) bus ride to Mdina, an Arabic walled city. First fortified by the Phoenicians in 1000 BC then later improved by the Romans we mostly spent the time just wandering through the narrow streets and alleys. We had intended to view the frescoes in St. Agatha’s catacombs but discovered on our arrival that they were closed Saturday afternoons so we visited the larger St. Paul’s Catacombs instead.

We also made note of the heritage of one of the Democratic candidates for president. He must still have relatives here.

Sunday was another bus ride (this time it was pretty early so the traffic wasn’t so bad) to the southeastern part of the island. The tourist information people publish several walks and we were interested in one that followed the coast from Marsaskala to the fishing village of Marsaxlokk. (That’s the coastline in the picture from the plane.) Sunday is market day, apparently a big tourist thing in Marsaxlokk, and we wanted to check it out. The weather had been mostly sunny but pretty windy. On that side of the island we were mostly protected from the breeze and it was a beautiful day for a hike.

Springtime flowers in bloom.

After a couple of hours tromping through the country side we got to the Marsaxlokk to find busloads of visitors and locals and a huge market. Luckily, this is what the locals prepare for and, other than having to shoulder through the crowds, we had a great time. Also a very good seafood lunch at one of the many outdoor waterside cafes.

Monday was more walking about Birgu, including a very informative visit to Fort St. Angelo, which had been the Mediterranean headquarters of the British navy but has been turned into a museum.

Fort St. Angelo from the Valletta waterfront.

Tuesday was a short day in Malta. Really short. The only flight from Malta to Paris left at 6:30 am so we had a 4:30 am cab ride to the airport. We thought we’d be the only one’s there but there must be alot of early flights as the small airport was very busy.
We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport about 9:30 and picked up a rental car for the drive to Briare. After navigating the terrible traffic around Paris we finally arrived at Oldtimer, ready for this years canal adventure.

We enjoyed our stay in Malta. It is very small and there are alot of tourists. And this was early April. When the weather is hot and sunny in the summer and there is more use for it’s beaches it must be like Venice. Luckily, with a little planning, there are quieter places to get away from the crowds. We found the locals friendly and helpful and transportation not a problem, although as a former British colony, they do drive on the wrong side of the road! 
There’s much we didn’t see and we could imagine coming back when the weather is warmer but if we did we’d probably stay on the other island, Gozo. It’s more rural and supposedly quieter.

On to France!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Departure, April 9-11

This year we decided to treat ourselves to a little luxury. For the past few years we’ve flown internationally on Air France. They have premium economy seats with a little more room (really nice for the 10 or 11 hour flight) and somewhat better food. Cathy Jo discovered that with the purchase of just a few more miles, we could upgrade our flight to France to business class. Lie flat seats! After a couple of hours on the phone with customer service, it was accomplished. This year we would fly direct Los Angeles-Paris on a massive Airbus 380.

Our flight left at 3 pm but we wanted to take advantage of another business class perk, the lounge. We arrived at the airport just about noon and wandered in just in time for lunch.

Cathy Jo entering the Inner Sanctum.

After a nice buffet lunch complete with complimentary wine, it was off to the gate, just in time for boarding through the “preferred” line, of course.

The 380 has two levels and we were on the second level just over the wing. After settling into our seats we enjoyed our welcome glass of champagne. Along with the usual entertainment fare, the seatback screen featured views from three different exterior cameras, one on the top of the tail.

Waiting for push back.
We boarded through a jetway at the rear of the plane.

Right on time, we left the gate and were soon soaring eastward. 

Then the meal service began. Cloth table coverings. Real silverware. Wine and a digestif. We need to work on earning more miles!

Cathy Jo’s “quick” meal. Mine included the main course, lamb chops.

Seats fully reclined and stretched out, we got a little sleep before landing in Paris at 10:30 Wednesday morning. We were planning a trip to Malta before we went to Oldtimer but the only flight from Paris to the island in the Mediterranean left just about the time we landed. We spent a quiet afternoon at an airport hotel with a brief walk around the village and an evening meal at a local restaurant. We boarded the Air Malta flight Thursday morning for the trip to Valetta.
By 2 pm we were picked up by our AirBNB hosts for a trip to our apartment for the next 5 days, “Margerita in Cospicua”.