If someone told me I could use their Malta apartment for six months, I'd be all over it. There is a lot to see and do on the island (and the neighboring islands of Gozo and Comino, let alone on Sicily, which is only a 90-minute ferry ride away.) Unfortunately, I only had a day on Malta, but I made the most of it.
If you ever arrive in Malta by cruise ship, chances are that it'll be at sunrise. Get your tail out of bed. It's worth it! I watched the sun rise over the island of Comino, then kicked back with a cup of coffee on my verandah to watch the limestone walls of Valletta drift by as we made our way into port. Isn't it gorgeous?
The DH and I were the first people off the ship once it docked (yippee!) I haggled for a cab with a rather scary-looking sailor type, but once we settled on a rate--and I was wondering what I'd gotten us into--he turned us over to another cabbie, a fantastic guy who was happy to answer all our questions about the island and its history. At our request, he took us across the island to Malta's famous Blue Grotto. This was the big reason we wanted to be first off the ship--we wanted to be the first to the Blue Grotto in the morning, so we could see it before it was full of tourists. When it's early on a Monday morning, as it was when we arrived, the boat dock looks like this:
Just a few old guys swimming in the ocean, or fishing from rock outcroppings. Quiet and serene.
We took the first boat out, so we had the grotto all to ourselves. I would've loved to have anchored here for the day. The water, especially in the caves, was so clean and blue you could see all the way to the bottom, and the rock formations were astounding:
The weather was perfect, and it was warm enough that you didn't even need a jacket. Pure bliss.
After we returned to the dock--just as the first tourist bus was arriving--we found our cabbie (he was watching for us) and made our way back to the city of Valletta. Along the way, the cabbie told us about the festivals taking place in various towns, about his family, and about Malta's school system. It sounds boring, but it was unbelievably interesting. (We loved our cabbie!)
We spent the rest of the day strolling through the city of Valletta. First, we visited St. John's Co-Cathedral. Check out the ceiling here--it gives the Sistine Chapel a run for its money:
We wandered through the shopping area for awhile. The main streets were full of people by this time, so eventually we grabbed a spot to sit for lunch and did some first-rate people watching:
I left my husband at the lunch table so I could sneak in a bit of shopping. I snagged a great pair of silver filigree earrings in one of the shops on this street. I try not to shop too much when I travel, since I prefer to keep my packing to a minimum, but this is one of those times I wished I'd bought more. LOVE the new earrings.
After lunch, we made our way to the main traffic circle in town to hop on a bus bound for the city of Paola. I'd done some research on Malta several months before we visited, and decided I absolutely had to visit the Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum, a prehistoric underground temple/necropolis. I'd reserved tickets online about two months before our trip (they only allow ten people an hour inside to help preserve the site), and was thrilled to be able to visit. I couldn't take any photos inside--you leave your cameras with security at the door--but you can find some great ones at Heritage Malta website. Here's my lone photo, of the outside door:
It's in the middle of a city block--the Hypogeum was discovered accidentally during construction in Paola in the late nineteenth century--so you'd never suspect from the outside what lies underneath. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Malta, I highly recommend stopping here. You can make your reservations at the Heritage Malta site (which has a lot of info on all of Malta's historic sites and museums.) Just give yourself plenty of time to get there. Our bus driver had no idea where it was, and dropped us off at the wrong stop. Turned out fine, since it gave us the chance to see a bit of Paola tourists never see.
Not far from the Hypogeum, we noticed a beautiful cathedral, so we popped in here, too. We were the only non-Maltese anywhere around:
After touring the Hypogeum, we hopped the bus back to Valletta. The bus in Malta is an experience in itself. The Maltese pride themselves on their antique busses. This is the one we took back to Valletta (and no, there is no air conditioning, but if you put the window down, you'll be fine!)
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking through Valletta's botanical gardens, enjoying the shade and taking in the views across the city and harbor.
Finally, we made the long hike downhill to the harbor and our cruise ship. Perfect, perfect day. I'd go back to Malta in a heartbeat--friendly people, lots to do, great scenery, and an amazing history make this one of my favorite spots in Europe.
Next up: Tunisia!