Blue Grotto amongst others.

Trip Start Sep 15, 2007
Trip End Oct 17, 2007

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Today, being a Saturday, was designated as time to spend with my Maltese family and once again they had a fantastic itinerary planned for me when they picked me up at 9am. I soon learned there were some special places in store for me today including the one place I longed to see the most since planning my trip to Malta, the famous Blue Grotto. But I will get to that in turn.

First stop was Mosta and the most important and famous church in Malta. The Church of Santa Maria, or more commonly the Mosta Dome. The famous dome stands 61 metres from the ground to its tip, is 39 metres in diameter, and is visible from most parts of Malta. Incredibly it is the 3rd largest unsupported dome in the world, behind the Pantheon and St Peter's Basilica in Rome, not bad company indeed for a country the size of Malta. I have to say that this church was extremely impressive and very beautiful. I was disappointed and a little put off by the garishness of St Paul's Shipwreck church in Valletta but the Mosta Dome certainly made up for it. As could be expected it totally dominates the town of Mosta and indeed the entire region of Central Malta.

Perhaps the clincher for the Mosta Dome and the incident that makes it so special to the Maltese people is when 3 bombs hit the dome in a 1942 German bombing raid. Two ricocheted off the dome and landed in the surrounding town square, the third crashed through the dome and rattled across the floor of the church whilst 300 local parishioners were seated waiting for mass. Not one of the 3 bombs detonated. From that day forward this incident is known as the Miracle of Mosta, and any Maltese worth his or her salt will be able to recount this story for you. From my earliest recollections I can remember my mother telling my brothers and I about the Mosta bombs, it is an amazing story. Personally if my town was in the middle of a WWII bombing raid I would be in a shelter under the ground as opposed to waiting in the local church for mass to start but hey, looks like the parishioners had nothing to worry about!

Something that added a bit of charm to my visit was the larger than life statues of various saints adorning the front of the church. Each one of them was donated by a Maltese family over the centuries and low and behold, the statue of Saint Andrew was donated by the Galea family. Even in my current reduced religious state I still had to take a second look at that one, I mean what are the odds? My cousin Lillian was getting pretty excited about the discovery however I did remind her that as much as I liked the idea I am pretty sure I am a good distance away from being a saint, no matter which way you look at it! She agreed a little too eagerly for my liking! :)

From Mosta we drove south west until we hit Dingli cliffs. Unlike the east side of the island where the coast meets the ocean at sea level the west side of Malta ends with a sheer cliff face in many parts. Dingli cliffs is one such place and the views from the top of the cliffs were breathtaking. This area was also the home to many of Malta's rural inhabitants and there was a quaint outdoor chapel built where a local woman claimed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary over a period of time. The chapel is actually used to conduct outdoor services for the local people.

Before leaving Australia if there was one place that was at the top of my "to visit list" it was the Blue Grotto. A series of natural caves that tunnel into the cliffs of Malta have become one of its most famous attractions and has to be seen to be believed. Never have I seen water more blue and clear and there is a local group that will take you through some of the caves in their Luzzu (small fishing boats). I have vague memories of taking this trip the last time I was here and was just bursting with excitement walking from the car to the water today. I loved every minute of the boat trip and also the swim afterwards. There was no way I was not going to swim in those waters, it is something I will cherish for a long time. It is difficult to do the Blue Grotto justice with my camera but I tried the best I could, you will have to come and visit it for yourself, trust me you will love it. Afterwards we all settled into a café overlooking the waters around the Grotto and had lunch. I was having a great day and really felt I was forging a terrific bond with my Maltese family, aunty Julie, uncle Leo and cousin Lillian. I feel totally at ease in their company and they have added so much to my journey so far.

Another part of Malta that I had only learned about recently were the megalithic temples and ruins, two of which were discovered in the southern part of the island. They are called Hagar Qim & Mnajdra and are the oldest free standing structures in the world, predating the Egyptian pyramids by 500 years. I had seen some of the stones and statues discovered from these dig sites in the archaeological museum in Valletta but I was very keen to see the dig sites themselves. It was amazing walking through the site and the temple that was older than I could really comprehend. I got a lot out of the visit and was amazed how well sections of the temple had been preserved after all this time.

Our final stop was a place called Ghar Lapsi. This was a mini inlet just south of the Blue Grotto and it was a little piece of paradise. The water was so clear it was impossible to tell how deep it was and there were numerous coloured corals and rocks beneath the surface. A constant flow of scuba divers turned up whilst we were there and I could see why, it would have been a fantastic place to dive. Once again I was in the water and enjoyed the swim so much. My previous outings with my relatives had been more historically based and involved a lot of sites in central Malta however today we were on the coast most of the day so I was able to get a few swims in which made it that much more enjoyable, especially considering how hot it was.

I was dropped off at my hotel at 4pm and I wandered down to a bar near where I am staying. The stars must have been in alignment for me today or something because Liverpool were about to start their premier league game against Wigan! I am normally at home in my lounge room alone at 2am watching premier league games trying my best to stay awake but here I was at 4 in the afternoon watching a game live! It was the best. There were a few English travellers there and some local football fanatics and I cheered my heart out when Liverpool scored, even getting a hug from an elderly Maltese chap next to me. It was the first time I have ever been able to watch a Premier League game live like that, I don't want to overstate its significance in my life but it was THE BEST THING EVER! :)

Following the game I was charged up, went for a run to St Julians and back, downloaded the day's photos to my laptop and was showered and ready when my relatives picked me up at 8:30 for dinner with my cousin Michael and his wife Josette. We drove to Vittoriosa and had dinner at a restaurant that was built in a bastion of the main castle there. It was a fantastic way to end an amazing day for me in Malta.
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