Wrapping up our vacation. 10/10, 10/11, 10/12/2021

The last three days of our vacation we were a day at sea that we spent mostly organizing getting packed and eating and drinking, a day visiting Malta’s island of Gozo, and a day getting home.

Malta actually consists of five main islands. Two of the islands are completely uninhabited, a third has a population of two, the main island is Malta, and the island of Gozo has thirty thousand inhabitants.

We traveled down many of the tidy streets of Xaghra where our guide pointed out that the Gozans are so tidy that they hang their garbage up in bags out of animals’ reach and it is collected every day. She made a very big deal out of the garbage.

Tidy street on the island of Gozo with stone balconies

Our main touring site is the Neolithic Ggantija Temple ruins. These are the earliest of the Megalithic Temples of Malta and are older than the pyramids or Stonehenge. They date from 3600 BC which makes them over 5500 years old and they are the second oldest man made religious structures on earth.

It seems to be a ceremonial site in a fertility rite. There are numerous figures and statutes that have been found on the site and are displayed the nearby museum.

The Ggantija Temples museum
Round stones used as ball-bearings to move the enormous slabs of stone.
Artifact from the site
A family of figurines
More artifacts

After viewing the museum we walk outside and over to the temple site. The stone structures are massive and are built with  apses and altars.

The Temple comples
Our guide explaining the use of the Temples
More of the stones for rolling at the base of the walls
Room of niches

After our trip to the Temples we go by bus to a scenic overlook spot.

We travel to a scenic spot
Picture of Mary at the scenic spot
John looking scenic

The island of Gozo is a big chunk of limestone sticking out of the Mediterranean Sea.  It is reminiscent of the white cliffs of Dover except gold in color. There are no natural harbors just sheer limestone walls so they built a breakwater and carved outa little harbor for the ferries and pleasure boats.

Harbor down below
Our ship at anchor off the coast of Gozo

Later that night we go to the goodbye party where we get lots of tasty treats and champagne.

John at last night party

On October 12 it is time to leave the ship for the airport in Malta. However since our flight is not until 1:30 PM and we have to be off the boat by 8 AM, we get another scenic tour of Malta. We have seen a lot of Malta and we really did not need two and a half hours on a bus before nine hours to Newark, a layover, and then six hours to SFO.

John doing his last beer pose at the lounge at Malta airport

Our first flight is great except for our landing spot. Newark Airport is horrible and the workers there are unpleasant and unhelpful. We will try to avoid Newark in the future. Our flight to SFO is the most turbulent that I have been on in a long time. Everyone including the flight attendants have to stay strapped in for about three hours. But the best flights are those that land safely and we do.

It was a great trip with lots of interesting things to see. It was well organized and very safe from a COVID point of view. We were tested daily, tracked, and masked when needed. The staff members on the ship were fabulous, always helpful, friendly, and charming. I would definitely take another cruise with Viking if I could figure out where to go!

Is there anything we have missed on Malta? 10/3/21

In an effort to see everything possible there is to see on the island of Malta at least three times, we are signed up for two excursions today. On the first one, Malta’s Capitals, Old and New, we head into Valletta to do the city walk again followed by a trip to Mdina, the old capital. Our transportation is by our favorite bus line, Kop TaCo, obviously also the place where the police hang out in Malta instead of Dunkin’. Or, if you don’t elect me there will be a Kop TaCo bus on every corner. John and I like to amuse ourselves.

Our Kop TaCo bus

Mostly we see the same stuff as we did at the beginning of the first cruise but our guide gives us an interesting explanation of the Maltese language which has evolved through various conquests to contain Arabic, French, English, and Italian. It is a Semitic language basically but written in the Latin alphabet with some extra letters and diacritical marks.

Since Malta has been under siege quite a few times in its long history, our guide points out the silos for grain and cisterns for water that are underneath the pavement. In fact there is a whole system of underground “streets” where the Maltese hid during the bombings of WWII. Malta was the most bombed place in the war because of its strategic location, a great natural harbor, and the fact that the British had their fleet there.

The lumps in the pavement are the lids to the silos underneath. These are no longer in use but were used until 1962.
Map of Valletta. The city is totally surrounded with the exception of one gate with large fortified walls built by the Knights of Malta
John by the harbor overlook
Mary in a similar position telling John to say something funny to make her laugh
Fossils in the limestone paving blocks

Now we head off to the old capital, Mdina. It was mostly destroyed by the earthquake of 1693 and then rebuilt. It is home to only 280 people.

When we finish with this tour we decide to cancel the afternoon tour which would have been a walk around historic Valletta. We feel pretty expert on all things Valletta by now.

Entrance to Mdina
Tourist horse drawn carriage with feather on horses head to ward off the evil eye.
We stop for a drink of Kinnie, the local soft drink. It tastes like coke flavored with bittersweet orange but is actually made from bitter oranges and extract of wormwood.
Attractive square
View out over Malta from the battlements in Mdina
Another view
Nice house with garden. Gardens in front of houses used to be outlawed because it would make the houses harder to defend
Most Maltese were constructed flush to the street with a large open area and external staircase in the middle
Mary in front of museum
John interviewing knight in armor

Here are pictures of our new cabin which is a lot like the old one but roomier and in the front of the ship.

View of the dining area
View of the living room area
The deck where John and I have fallen asleep twice
View of Malta from our deck

Finally we finish the evening with dinner at Manfredi’s where we have an eggplant parmesan first course and a Chilean sea bass entree. We finish the night in the Explorer Lounge for some more upbeat music from the guitarist. Everybody is singing along to the oldies (since most of the people are oldies as well.) We are not permitted to dance due to COVID protocols.

Eggplant parmesan first course
Chilean sea bass with butternut squash purée, asparagus, and a balsamic reduction

An older gentleman wanders into the Lounge and asks us, “Is this the Explorer’s Lounge?” I answer, “Yes, and we are the Explorers.” Sometimes it is just too difficult to pass up these opportunities.




A Taste of Malta. 10/2/21

Since we were able to move into our new cabin on Friday we are free to join a special excursion for people who are doing what is called a “butterfly cruise,” or two back to back cruises. The excursion is called “Taste of Malta.”

The first thing we do is take a short ride to Hagar Qim, a site with pre-historic megalithic structures that date back 6000 years. These stone temples are among the most ancient religious sites on earth and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a large stone structure dedicated to  the Goddess of Fertility dated from 3200 B.C.  Nearby are other temples. We walk through the site and our guide fills us in on what we are seeing.

The entrance to Hagar Qim (Sacred Stones) is a trilithon, two posts and a lintel
A surviving side wall which shows that the stones formed a corbelled arch to support the structure’s roof
In the interior there are small apses
View of one of the five islands of Malta, Filfal, through an opening in the stones
Altar area
Twenty ton stone
Rocky countryside

Next we go to Birzebbuga, a typical summer village.  We stop for lunch at a restaurant, Ferretti, in an old Knight of Malta fortress. We are really not expecting anything great but the food turns out to be really good. John and I want to eat all the flat breads but the other women at the table are moaning about how it is so much to eat and how they never eat anything, blah, blah, blah. So I feel like I have to keep my eating to a minimum. One woman is especially annoying and just talks a blue streak about herself. She and the third woman at our table are doing what I like to call the travel sweepstakes. She’s been here and they’ve been there and oh they have gone on so many cruises. John and I mostly keep quiet. I want to tell her to shut up but I control myself.

John having a beer at the restaurant. I have a beer also. The other women at our table have diet sodas.
Delicious flat breads
In a nod to our diets we both order the fish which is nicely cooked
Sides of vegetables. The Philistines at our table eat the French fries. No picture of the dessert because I was not interested in eating it.

Then we proceed to Marsaxlokk which is pronounced Marsa-schlock, an apt name. Marsa means harbor and I can only guess that schlock means useless souvenir trinkets. We walk along the harborfront and look at an array of small boats and run the gauntlet of souvenir booths selling their schlock. No doubt most of the stuff is made in China.

Small boats in the Marsa (harbor)
Mary avoiding the schlock

We get back to the ship around 3:30 PM and unwind for a bit before taking showers and heading down for Negroni sbagliato time. I think the word is out that we tip in addition to the standard tip that you have to pay up front. All the staff is bending over backward to help us out and make sure we are happy. Even the guitarist comes over and asks us to make a list of songs we would like him to play and how he is going to take the note that John wrote him about our appreciating his playing home to his wife to read. It is all a bit embarrassing.

We eat at Chef’s Table and have a repeat of Asian Panorama. I am not going to post any pictures with the exception of the superb dessert which I forgot to take a picture of last time. John asks our waiter if we can have the duck a little less well done and the answer is that it is pre-made. Then the manager comes over and the chef and the waitstaff to see how they can make us happier.  So now we are going back on Monday when the chef will make us a special duck.  I think everyone on the staff will feel happier once we have completed our two cruises.

Really delicious dessert – left to right green tea cheesecake, yuzu creme brulee, and chocolate banana spring roll

Touring Valletta, Malta. 9/23/21

Since we pretty much want to avoid people, we decide that we are going to have breakfast in our room or out on the balcony most days. The balcony on our cabin is pretty nice with a table and 4 chairs (for all our non-guests) and a chaise lounge big enough for two people.

Mary out on the balcony with Mediterranean Sea in background
Double chaise lounge!
John having breakfast in the living room of our suite

Today we are going on a excursion in Valletta. We view many of the beautiful golden limestone (Globigerina limestone) buildings with their Maltese balconies and various fountains and monuments. The old buildings and the modern ones blend harmoniously due to the use of the limestone which is the only building material available on the five islands that make up Malta.

Christ with a pigeon on his head
Triton fountain constructed in 1955
Walls constructed to withstand the siege of the Ottomans in 1565
Gate to the city and Parliament building with honeycomb front
Pedestrian main street in Valletta. Apartments above the arcade on the left side are government subsidized for about €500 a year. Only caveat is no laundry can be hung out!
Building with fancy Maltese balconies
John on tour!
Statue of Jean de Valette for whom the city is named. He was instrumental in defending Malta against the Turks and was Grand Master of the Knight of Malta.
View from the Upper Barrakka Gardens with the Saluting Battery below and overlooking the harbor. One canon is shot off at noon each day.
Looking out towards the Mediterranean Sea
Our ship docked below the garden and battery area

While we have a restroom stop I busy myself taking a picture of a cat and myself. The Maltese have a comprehensive program for their feral cats neutering them so the city is not overrun with cats. A small cut in a cat’s ear indicates if the cat has been neutered.

Maltese cat
Mary selfie

Now we progress to St. John’s Co-Cathedral which is a high point on the excursion. Along with many other churches based on what sect of the Maltese Knights, the cathedral is plain on the outside and resplendent on the interior. This church contains two famous Caravaggio paintings, The Beheading of St. John and St. Jerome Translating the Hebrew Bible.

Outside of St. John’s Co-Cathedral
Fancy interior. There are side chapels dedicated to each of the eight Knights of Malta jurisdictions. It is why the Maltese cross has eight points.
Walls are covered with gold gilt sculpturing
The main event! Caravaggio’s Beheading of St. John. Note use of chiaroscuro and Caravaggio’s trademark use of red pigment.
In a side room we see Caravaggio’s much smaller St. Jerome Translating the Hebrew Bible. St. jerome’s attributes, the skull and his red hat hanging on the wall are present. We look for his usual lion companion but it is hard to make out what is in the background.

Leaving the church we do some more walking and end up at a building where we will hear a lecture about the Knights of Malta. Our small group is looking a bit bedraggled at this point since we have been on our feet for two hours and temperatures are in the 80s with fairly high humidity. So really the best part of the lecture is that we get to sit down in an air conditioned room. A Knight, Dane Munro, tells us all about what the organization does today which seems to be charitable work with a heavy overlay of Catholicism.

We return to the ship for a late lunch and I try to make some good choices but am thwarted by too many people lined up for salads and fish. We are not allowed to serve ourselves due to pandemic protocols and it really slows things down. I manage to get a salad plate but give up on the fish and opt for a plate of pasta where there is no line.

We return to our room and pass out for the next three hours. (Zzzzzz)

Dinner tonight is at Manfredi’s Italian restaurant. It is mostly very good although the first thing we order, branzino carpaccio, is not available. Apparently too many of the earlier dinners ate it all up.

Trip to Malta. 9/21-22/21

We started our trip today which will be a combination of two cruises, one centered around Greece and the other in the Adriatic. Our two flights went smoothly as we connected through Newark on the way to Malta.

Tasty breakfast on United from SFO to EWR

John was looking forward to some good German beer at the Lufthansa lounge during our layover but no alcohol was being served!

John in Newark with empty beer fridge and dry taps

Flying domestically during the pandemic is  pretty much like flying before except you have to wear a mask full time. Luckily both our flights contained no disgruntled passengers and mostly I just had sore ears.  There is a lot of paperwork to be done before traveling internationally and once we reached Malta we had to prove our vaccination status through an app that gives them permission to verify your status and a EU form so they know where you are going and a health declaration. On top of that Viking, the cruise line we are going on, has a rigorous set of protocols and daily testing. Since they have had zero infections since they started up operations again in July, it seems to be working well.

Malta view from our cabin’s balcony
Some Maltese housing along our bus ride to the ship

Tomorrow we start our touring in Malta. Today was mostly taken up with getting unpacked and napping. And of course eating! We had dinner at the Chef’s Table and enjoyed fine cuisine and wine pairings. Our sommelier was someone we had met on our Southeast Asian cruise two years ago and he remembered John! So that was fun.

Interior of Chef’s Table
Menu for the evening

Food pictures!

Everything was really delicious and the service was great! We are off to a great start!

John at dinner
Mary at Chef’s Table