Mdina, Rabat and Valetta

Trip Start Feb 21, 2007
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Trip End Ongoing


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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Made it to Malta!  yesssss!!!!!!!!!  I tell you what it'll be hard to leave here.  Everything is ridiculously closer in real life than on the maps, so it is very easy to get around to see different things...My friend Martha's been driving me around showing me different things.  Best part is we're staying in her parents summer flat basically on the water front. If it was any closer, we'd be wet.  It is fantastic.  There are these salt bins, I dont know what they're really called, but they collect sea water, and eventually dry and you can get for real salt there.  Doesn't get much better than that, eh?

Mdina is an old fortified city, and the old capital of Malta, if I remember right.  It's realy cool to walk around, and has of course a main cathedral and museum.  It's cool to see the differences in architecture between Malta and Sicily, even the rest of Italy as well.  There is definitely more of an Arab influence here than in Sicily, and it's obvious in everything from architecture to food (naturally, get to that in a minute), to language and culture.  Here we stopped for a traditional pastizzi filled with ricotta or mushy peas, and tea, which is poured condensed form, hot water is added and then milk.  YUM.  It's at this locals hangout though, where all the old guys in the neighborhood hang out and presumably shoot the shit Maltese style.  It reminds me of going into a pub before lunch in Ireland, and finding the one or two seemingly permanent residents at the bar, cap and pipe and drink in hand of course.  In this case though, it's really good tea.  We then went to Rabat which has some inredibly ancient catacombes (no hanging dressed up bodies here thank goodness!), and a creepy audio guide lady who claims to basically be a dead person showing you around her 'hood.  WHAT.  but it was still cool.  Then of course we stopped to try traditional Lenten bread, made w/o extra sugar (just a ton of honey or something instead) because people genearlly give up sweets for Lent.  Also tried these little fig and date bars, seasoned with things like cinnamon and lemon.  sooooo goooood.

I also explored Valletta, the current capital of Malta.  To get there you ride on these seriously vintage yellow buses with tails from the 50s or 60s maybe on some of them, and bright green hard cushioned benches inside.  The driver leaves the door open, so to pay you have to have change ready or sit down so you dont go flying out.  Then the bus crashes down the street, potholes and all.  It's an experience, I tell you.  A not-even-passing-for-lukewarm cross bun later, inside Valletta's walls (also a fortified city) are ruins of an old opera house, various gardens, a WWII museum, St. Elmo's fort, a museum on the Knights of St. John (he's a big deal here), the church of St. Paul's shipwreck (he supposedly landed here in 60 AD and started the conversion of christianity here), and archeology museum.  The main church is St. John's co-cathedral, which includes a museum and oratory, hosting two of Carvaggio's last works in Malta.  One is "the Beheading of St. John the Baptist" and the other is "St. Jerome".  For all my general disinterest in this kind of art, these are fantastic paintings.  The Beheading was specifically created for the room it still occupies and after thanks to contributors like the tourists, is now on display again after restoration (unlike other paintings covered with a curtain till the general populace pays up. nice).

The archeology museum was the best though.  Not only do they have some of the most ancient prehistoric artefacts possibly in the world, they had a special exhibit on China's Terracotta Soldiers.  Holy crap.  It was awesome.  Not even a terribly huge exhibit, and one was definitely a copy, but still.  How the hell they got these magnificent pieces of history out of communist China I'll never know.  But it is simply simply incredible.  I could've stayed the whole day just staring if they weren't closing and I didn't have to catch a bus. ahh well....  as for the prehistoric statuettes, they include the Venus of Malta, found in some of the oldest standing temples in the world (located in Malta - more on that in next entry).  Now these statuettes so far are all female, some you could take for fertility symbols, but more likely they are some sort of goddess icon.  They are generally all sqat and fat, and I have to say after my extended stay in Italy, I feel no different.
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