Daily Excursions

Trip Start Mar 16, 2004
Trip End Jun 13, 2004

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Flag of Malta  ,
Sunday, March 28, 2004

East of The Island
Malta is a fairly small island, well actually group of islands. I was going to base myself in the Hibernian Hostel and explore a different part of Malta each day before moving onto Gozo, the second largest island, for a day or two. So I was up early on Saturday morning to make the most of the day.

I had picked up a brochure for the Malta experience and decide d it would be a good place to start. The Malta experience is a 45 minute film about Malta's amazing history. It's shown every hour in a very stylish little cinema within the old city. When it started with shots of a thunder storm and a deep voice booming "In the beginning..." I thought it would all be very silly. But not so. The show is a collection of still images very expertly woven together and supported by a good narrative. The perfect lazy way to cover 5000+ years of history. For the archeologists among you, Malta has stone temples that predate Stonehenge by 1000 years, survived two horrendous sieges and now looks forward to a bright future.

It seems to have been a part of every empire going, some more beneficial to the island than others. Of course the main shaping power of the history we see is the famous Knights of Malta, who didn't really want Malta in the first place when the Spanish king offered it to them, even though they were a fleet of refugees avoiding the Turks. Reluctantly they took it and after narrowly surviving a Turkish invasion attempt set about building serious fortifications. You can see from the height and thickness of the walls these people were pretty worried about their safety. They make Derry's Walls look insignificant by comparison. I was so impressed by the story that I bought a little book about Malta's history and more weight is the last thing I need.

My head swimming with history I set out to explore the eastern side of the island. The cities seemed to go on for ever. It would be easy to believe that there is no countryside in Malta, but I eventually found it. I passed by Fort Rinella and into a countryside of small fields and stone walls. When I got to St Thomas Bay I followed a little rough track around the headland. This is where i saw dozens of little cage traps for wild birds. Each was mounted on a pole about 1.5m high. The cages sat on a stone platform and everyone contained a finch.The birds were hoping around the cages madly trying to find the exit. Wild birds in a cage half the size of a shoe box seems all wrong to me.

As i was taking a few photos a girl came up and asked if I knew why they liked to trap so many birds. I was able to reply honestly I have no idea. I thought at first she was a local , but she was a Canadian on shore leave from an oil supply vessel.She had a couple of weeks leave and was taking a break in Malta. We walked around the coast into Marsaxlokk and had a good oul chat on the way. It was late afternoon by now so I took my leave and headed the 6km back to Silema by the direct route. I hadn't brought any lights with me.

I spent the evening watching the second half of the England v France rugby match before going to Simon's bar for more of the music.

South Of The Island
On Sunday I explored the south of the island. On my map the dark grey represents the conurbation around Valletta and the light grey the "highlands" (200m) of the limestone plateau around Dingli. I headed straight for it by the main roads. Even though it was Sundaz morning what little traffic there was contained its fair share of crazy drivers. I don't understand why people on a relatively small island drive so fast when the longest journey must be 30 minutes or so. They are also quite inconsiderate, insisting in rushing out of a junction in front of me even though the road behind me is clear, or cutting across in front of me to turn left.

Anyway I was looking forward to exploring the limestone area. I cycle through Zebbug and soon reach Siggiewi. You barely leave on town here before entering the next. I skirted around the town and found the track up to Lafarla Cross which marks the edge of the limestone plateau. An old woman walking her dog came over to talk to me when see saw me checking my map. She told me it was a rough path and she was right. A little rocky lane between stone walls led up the steep hillside to the cross and the Church of the Annunciation.

On a clear day you can probably see most of the island. Today Siggiewi, about 2km away disappeared into the mist as I reached the top. Bad luck there. The mist was swirling past me like smoke. I could have been at 2000m not 200m! There was a steady stream of locals o the cross, about twenty metres high made of stone and tethered to the ground with numerous cables. One man explained to be that locals walk up here as a kind of pilgrimage on Good Friday. As i left I found a low leafless bush at the gable of the church. It bore massive 2 inch wooden thorns, no doubt some Good Friday significance.

I continued on the road past Dingli Cliffs, could see nothing and tried to find some of the famous cart ruts. The Clapham Common Cart ruts were nearby. I found them ok and can only presume its called clapham Common because there are so many of them criss crossing.
Being an exposed limestone plateau, the landscape was naturally very similar to the Burren. Lots of red campion around, one of the few plants I can recognise. A Sardinian Warbler sings from a bush as I pass deep quarries where most of Valleta probably came from.

I didn't bother going to Rabat and Mdina, the old capital, as they are on a ridge and half hidden by mist. On the way into Hamrun at the edge of the conurbation I cycled past the Wignacourt Aqueduct. I never seen one before so stopped to take a look. Amazing that its still standing after all this time. it even had a sign pointing to the water works attached to it.

The party at Simon's pub had moved into the street where a large Cisk marquee had been erected. I drifted in just before dusk, great now that the clocks have gone forward. There was a nice crowd milling around and I found a free seat and table outside the door. Soon got chatting to Steph the rep. Worked for an agency selling tours and liked to hear what people thought of Malta. Him and the rest of his friends were good fun. During the conversation I discovered that Malta is looking forward to the EU, although small businesses are really worried that the competition will destroy them, bird hunting is actually illegal and that political corruption still exists in Malta.

As they got up to leave Steph wrote out a list of the major sites for me in Gozo and Mata and gave me a copy of their tourist magazine. I checked out the disco area near Sliema, but I must be getting old, I preferred to have on in the Scotsman Bar and back to Simons.
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