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!


  1. A lovely introduction to your summer blog. I've never been to Malta, but it's on my wishlist! We won't be cruising this year. The man who was going to fix the Hennie H's engine has let us down. Devastated is about the only word I can come up with to say how that feels. So I'll be following you even more intently than usual. Have a wonderful summer!

  2. That's really too bad about Hennie. Seems like in all the Netherlands there must be someone that can help.
    Since I know you're following along I'll try to be more contentious this year!

  3. All my favourite blogs are up and running now - you would also have received your first copy of ‘Fading Memories’. This year we’re going to try some changes so we can keep current. My father was stationed in Malta during the war - young and in the Navy, he managed to have a great time and spoke highly of the place.


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