Malta - January 23 to 30
Malta was a quick side trip after we had spent time in the UK for Kristine's birthday. Kris had been to Malta many years ago, but I had never been there before.
We stayed across the harbor from the main town, Valletta at an Aparthotel in Silema.
We were on a high floor, so the view from our balcony was impressive.
View from our hotel window
The next day, we took a bus into Valletta. The main entrance to the town has recently been renovated and the main shopping area has been pedestrianized. It's a mix of new and old buildings.
The Triton Fountain
Main shopping street, Valletta
At the center of Valletta is St John's Co-Cathedral. It is dedicated to St. John and was built between 1572 and 1577. It's called a Co-Cathedral because the role of "Archbishop's seat" is shared with another Cathedral, in this case the Cathedral of St. Paul in Mdina. It's rather plain on the outside but spectacular on the inside.
Eight of the nine side chapels are dedicated to the eight saints of the Order of St. John.
It's very impressive but a bit overwhelming ! All that gold leaf !
Next day, we took the local bus to the north of the island and took the ferry across to the small island of Gozo.
It's only a short trip - about 30 minutes - so there's just time to grab a coffee. We booked a "hop-on - hop-off bus" on the ferry and the bus was waiting when we arrived at the port of Mgarr.
The port of Mgarr, Gozo.
We took the bus into the main town, Victoria, where we climbed up to the Citadel (or Cittadella) which was constructed as a castle in the Middle Ages. It also contains a cathedral, the Cathedral of the Assumption, built between 1697 and 1711.
Outside the Visitors Centre
The walls of the Citadel
The Cathedral of the Assumption.
A courtyard within the Citadel
We walked back into Victoria for lunch and then continued on our bus tour to Dwejra, a small town on the coast.
We didn't get off the bus as it wasn't a particularly warm day and we only had limited time.
Our last stop were the Ggantija Temples, which is a megalithic temple complex, older than the pyramids and are estimated to be over 5,500 years old.
Although early excavations damaged or destroyed parts of the site, these remains have been compared in importance to Stonehenge and are now a World Heritage Site.
Near the Ggantija site was a reconstructed windmill. As we had some time before the bus was due, we took a quick look around.
Next day, we visited the underground Lascaris War Rooms which were built during World War II and were used by Montgomery and Eisenhower to plan and execute the invasion of Sicily. They were named for the nearby Lascaris Gun Battery, which was itself named for a Grand-master named Lascaris who built the gardens in which the gun battery was located.
The War Rooms were also used in the defense of Malta, which was under attack by German and Italian aircraft from Sicily.
The concentric rings on the chart show distances from Valletta. When the island was under attack, radar was used to plot the incoming aircraft and as they passed each ring, different levels of warning and defense would have been triggered.
After the war, the War Rooms were used first by the British Navy and then by NATO. They were taken out of service in 1977 and have been open to the public as a museum since 1992.
Our final highlight was an all day tour of locations used for the filming of the first series of "Game of Thrones". The first stop was the Presidential Palace, which was used as the location for the Kings Landing Gardens.
Next stop was St Dominic's Convent in Rabat, which is not normally open to the public.
The convent gained great notoriety because because the statue of The Virgin Mary was observed to be "crying" tears of blood, which was a regarded as a miracle.
The gardens and especially this fountain, were used extensively in "Game of Thrones".
We moved onto Mdina, which is a very interesting town in it's own right.
The main gate to Mdina
The walls of Mdina
We then took a long drive over some very bumpy roads to get to the Mtahleb Cliffs, which was the filming location of the Dothraki Camp and the funeral pyre of Karl Drogo.
It was here that Daenaerys emerged with her newly hatched baby dragons.
Daenaerys and her baby dragons (folded into her arm). Definitely a highlight of the first season.
Our last stop and a bit of an anticlimax, was the set used for the filming of "Popeye" which is now open as a tourist attraction.
The "Popeye Village" set from the 1980 film with Robin Williams
We had one more day relaxing in Valletta before flying home to the US via Gatwick.