Temples, Tombs and Marsaxlokk

Trip Start Oct 11, 2012
Trip End Nov 19, 2012

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Where I stayed
British Hotel Valletta
Read my review - 4/5 stars
What I did
Changing of the Guard - President's Palace

Flag of Malta  , Island of Malta,
Friday, November 16, 2012

Oh, stupidity....

Let's see...today has been a busy day.  I got up late - past 8 am - which was somewhat of a problem because I had so much I wanted to do, but the pressure was sort of off because my Hypogeum ticket admission wasn't until 1 pm which made it a little hard to plan around.  As I was walking to the bus station, I heard some marching music.  In the back of my mind, I did remember some event scheduled for november 16.  When I got to the President's Palace and was handed a program, I realized it was the changing of the guard.  I took advantage of the occasion to take loads of photos and even some videos (to capture the sound of course).  I squeezed into a space in front vacated by someone and I must have been feeling guilty because I let some people squeeze me out.  One lady was very polite and would have ceded the space to me.  I was ready to let a shorter man beside me have the space, but he said I should have it to take photos.  I kind of let it go and got squeezed out but I thought these people were extremely nice and polite.  After the program ended, I followed the band out toward the bus station and then looked for my bus.

I managed to get on the right bus without too much difficulty, even checking with the driver to make sure he stopped at the Tarxien Temples.  I was watching the stops carefully and assuming that lots of tourists would get off.  My mistake.  I then noticed that the stop had changed.  I went to the driver to ask only to find out that he called called the stop (probably for me) but I hadn't really heard it.  I got off ready to walk back.  A nice older lady offered to give me directions.  She was very sweet and told me where to go and said that Maltese people are very good and would help me find the way.   As I was working my way along and trying to follow the signs, a man in a car motioned to me to follow another street to the temples.  I am not sure how he knew that is where I wanted to go, but his directions helped.  The lady was right:  Maltese people are vey good and would help me find the way.

The excavations for the temples are right in the middle of the city - or suburbs of Valletta - I can't really tell where Valletta begins or ends.  Builders were digging and hit the stones so that was how the temple was found.  Now, as in all these Maltese sites, there is work going on.  With the walkways and supports, it is sometimes hard to imagine the original structure.  I don't know if it helps or hurts - some of the dolmens also have concrete caps.  They have since discovered that the method they hoped would protect the stones is hurting them.  I am grateful for all the work they are doing to preserve the site even if it loses some charm.  In this area, you can see the circles of the buildings, many large dolmens, some doorways, some holes made in the stones, and some decorations.  I think most of the originals have been removed and replicas put in their places.  The altarpiece with antelope carvings used to be here.  The large seated female figure (without a head) was found here. 

Here is where I start groaning again because the photos that I took yesterday and today with my Nikon don't exist so my pics of the earth mother figures are non-existent as well as a lot of other phantom photos.  I should have realized something was wrong when it appeared that the netbook card was now in the Lumix and a smaller card was in the Netbook.  I still don't know when I screwed things up, but because I was tired after being on the internet yesterday, I didn't attempt to upload the Nikon photos, hence I spent today taking no photos either.  And both days, I took a lot of non-existent photos - the cathedral ones I do miss as well as all the rainy pavement pics and the Tarxien Temples photos as well as the beautifully painted boats in Marsaxlokk.  Oh, well - now there are fewer photos to have to process!

Back to the touristing.  After I had walked all over the site and seen exhibits A-F - the different circles of stone representing the different temples, I got directions over to the Hypogeum.  The attendant said he liked my camera (as I was taking phantom photos of some stones behind his desk) because he had one just like it.  (If I had known about the phantom photos, I might not have agreed with him about how great this camera was.)  On my way, I stopped at a pasteria and bought a typical Maltese stuffed cheese pastry.  The other common filling is peas.  This one tasted like ricotta and was a very nice addition to the cookies and banana chips I had leftover from breakfast.  Breakfast here at the British Hotel is not at all like the Osborne but it was adequate.

Oh, I had forgotten my morning drama.  First, a huge ship went past my hotel room window and backed up; it seemed near the shore.  Maybe it was a cruise ship - I should try to get down there to see what it is like.  When I went to breakfast, a man came in and got some coffee and helped me pour my orange juice - I couldn't figure out where the button was.  Then he had a conversation with another man about changes to a flight.  The new itinerary was Istanbul to Addis to Djibouti.  His woman contact hadn't told him about the changes or something.  He said she was insane.  Then a third man came and they discussed the price of a visa to Djibouti.  If you don't specify how long, they charge you $90.  You have to specify the shorter time to get the $60 visa.  With all these countries, I was wondering where these men were from.  For me to understand this much, they must have spoken English, but I know I heard some other language - which I had assumed was Malti.  The men did definitely seem to have accents when they spoke English.  I immediately assumed they must be spies of some sort.  Or maybe smugglers - something definitely shady.

So I got to the Hypogeum twenty minutes before my admission time.  I worked on my postcards but now I can't find the stamps I bought.  I have one more place to look before I give up on them.  The Hypogeum is another archeological site discovered by builders.  Someone was putting in a cistern to collect rain water and they dug through into the Hypogeum.  It is an incredible underground mausoleum of sorts.  It has temple style rooms dug into the limestone with primitive tools - bone, antelope horn and stone.  The ceilings to the temple rooms give some indication of what the ceilings of the outdoor temples must have been like.  Rooms were added as more and more bodies (or skeletons) were brought in - 7000 estimated over a 1500 year period around 4000 BC.  There are openings into rooms - maybe 2 feet above the floor - and it is speculated that there was that much human remains on the floor.  Only one skeleton was found intact and they think the bones were moved around to make room for more bodies. 

The underground temples are similar to the above-ground ones so it is believed that rituals were performed here.  A sleeping woman figure was found in one of the rooms (and can now be seen in the archeology museum in Valletta).  There is one large central room that is called the Holy of Holies since it appears to be most special.  Another parallel with Ethiopia: the innermost of the three areas of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is called the holy of holies.  I had forgotten - the Malta Experience mentioned something about Christianity officially coming to Malta in the 300's and Ethiopia became Christian in 330 A.D.  So the Hypogeum certainly has its mystique intact.  They limit tourists to preserve the site and they also don't allow photographs or videos.  At least I didn't lose any photos here.  I was quite impressed especially when I looked at the ceilings and how they are carved.

From here, I had toyed with the idea of trying to get to two more neolithic temple sites this afternoon since it was only 2 pm, but when I asked the Hypogeum attendant, he suggested I would be better off going tomorrow morning.  So I set off on the bus for the fishing village of Marsaxlokk.  It took awhile to get there and I was beginning to think I may have taken the wrong bus, but when I asked the woman sitting next to me, she said yes, it was going to Marsaxlokk and she was going there too.  So when my stop was coming up, she alerted me and accompanied me down the street to show me where to go.  As we walked, we chatted in English.  She asked me where I was from and when I told her it was cold in New York, she said she was from Georgia and she missed the cold and the snow.  Now that would not be what I would miss about Schenectady.  She told me she wanted to go back someday because she missed the green, the trees, the fresh fruits and vegetables of her homeland.  She said much or most of the food in Malta comes from elsewhere - Italy or Canada (fish).  I had been wondering because I have seen all the restaurant signs for local fish or seafood and fresh fish.  I had prawns again today - I probably will not again here.  Maybe it is because they are prawns and not shrimp but I have had a strange feeling about them - wondering how their texture got that way - so mealy - maybe frozen and thawed and refrozen??

So I got a bit ahead of myself.  I walked around the harbor taking more phantom photos of the beautifully painted boats with their eyes of Osiris on their prows.  I walked past a number of restaurants.  When I got to the end of the pier area restaurants, a woman told me they were all done for the day - it wasn't even 5 pm yet.  Now I was afraid so when I asked at the next place with the 7 euro set menu and the waitress said they were open, I sat right down.  Maybe I should have tried one of the more expensive places farther down the harbor.  Actually though my Maltese salad was fine - no olives though.  It had a lot of the hard sheep cheese and no fresh stuff.  No sun-dried tomatoes but some sort of tomato bruchetta and it had a funny sausage cut in slices that I wasn't expecting either.  The prawns came with a little salad garnish and french fries that were quite nice.  The wine was fine too - all in all, quite acceptable....except for the shrimp=prawns.

I got the bus back into Valletta by 6 pm, took a lot of photos of the neptune fountain and the buses in the dark.  I walked slowly through the city to my hotel and stopped in a few souvenir shops but didn't buy anything ....mostly checking availability and prices.  Then, of course, I tried to upload all my photos only to discover .... my stupidity.  Now I will go downstairs and try the internet for awhile but can't stay up too late because I do want to get up early tomorrow.

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