A visit to the island of Malta was also on our “Must Visit List” as Denise had spent a month there with her family when she was twelve and she was keen to see how much she recognized. In fact, Floreana and Valletta had not changed much at all but most of the old decorated buses with crucifixes hanging from the rear view mirrors were nowhere to be seen, only a few preserved as tourist attractions. The island’s history is long and varied. Held by the Arabs from 870 AD, it was given to the Knights of St. John in 1530 by the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles V. Napoleon captured it in 1798 but left in 1800 after British involvement. It was an important British naval base during World War II and British influence continued until independence in 1964. You can read more of Malta’s amazing history here: http://www.maltauncovered.com/malta-history/
The day dawned cool and cloudy and we watched as the island came into view. We took on the pilot and then approached the breakwater. The Queen Elizabeth maneuvered slowly into the port and made a compete 180 degree turn to her docking space. Valletta is a challenging port to enter with hard turns and minimal clearance. Fortunately, the winds were low. I grew up traveling by sea and later served briefly as a Midshipman. Put bluntly, the maneuverability of modern passenger ships, equipped with pods and thrusters is amazing. And it is generally all done without tugs.
Armed with our sweatshirts, we set off to Mdina, along with the rest of an organized tour. Mdina flourished under the Romans, and was held by the Saracens until the Normans took over in 1090.
We liked Mdina with its curved streets and small squares and escaped from the group for a short wander around.
The doors of the traditional houses were fascinating. Each door, with its individual lock and knocker, almost certainly led into a lovely and unseen courtyard. Some were in better shape than others but all were interesting.
We also came across a lovely little church with ornately painted ceilings and paintings.
It has been written that some church ceilings were intended to be literal representations of looking up to heaven – this church certainly reflected that image – the Virgin, the Christ, and the angels were looking right down on us.
We then returned to Valletta where we were shown the main street, the new outdoor theater and we visited St. John’s Co-Cathedral. The Cathedral was completed in 1577 and was dedicated to the patron saint of the Knights of Saint John and linked to the Cathedral in Mdina. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_John%27s_Co-Cathedral) The interior is incredibly ornate and there are many great works of art.
We then seized the opportunity to escape from the tour and set out to find lunch. We ate al fresco (and it was windy and chilly) in a small restaurant behind the Cathedral. Lunch was excellent, Denise’s swordfish was fresh and Fred’s ravioli with Maltese sausage was tasty.
We noted that the sun was finally breaking through so we decided it was time to head out. As always we did a little shopping and then we headed for the Lascaris War Rooms 40 meters underground.
We had heard that the War Rooms had recently been restored and opened to visitors and, naturally, Fred was keen to see them, having seen them in any number of WWII movies.
The War Rooms are located in a network of tunnels and chambers, which housed Britain’s War headquarters in Malta. Operations rooms for the Air Force; for Anti Aircraft Gun Operations, for Cyphers and Code Encryptions etc. can all be seen. The War Rooms were used by General Eisenhower and his team during the Allied advance on Sicily and they remained in use throughout the Cold War until 1977.
We received directions towards the port and set off through a Government ministry to the street. The offices were all open to a wide verandah through which we walked, which felt rather odd but no one seemed to mind! One advantage of Valletta is that ships dock very close to the city and no transportation is needed to return to our ship. We had planned to take the Barrakka Lift to carry us down the cliff but we emerged much further down than we had expected so we went for a cup of coffee and an ice cream instead in a little café beside the water.
We then returned to the ship on foot.