Malta Experience and Valletta National Museums

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
National Museum of Fine Arts
Malta Experience

Flag of Malta  , Island of Malta,
Thursday, November 15, 2012

Some days I really hate this Wordpad -- even when I can find the redo command, it still doesn't work.  I lost my whole paragraph and have to retype it:   I moved hotels today.  After breakfast, I checked out of Hotel Osborne with the grumpy young woman.  When I asked about storing my bags, she handed me the key to the baggage room.  So I left my bags down there and returned the key to the desk and politely said thank you to her.  I vacillated about when to check in to the new hotel.  My plan was to watch the video - the Malta Experience.  I bought my Heritage Pass at the Archeology Museum but it only covers the Heritage sites, not the Malta Experience, but I did get the senior discount with the pass.  I thought the video might be worth it and I was glad I did it because it gave a great overview for us lazy types who can't be bothered to read up on Malta. 

The video mentioned that the language is different and has a lot of Arabic influence from the first 200 or so years of the Arabic conquest.  Malta changed hands quite a few times after the first neolithic settlers disappeared.  The archipelago was re-settled by Bronze Age peoples probably from Sicily, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Normans, Arabs, and the Knights of St John.  I wonder if I have missed any??  I was particularly interested in the Neolithic or Megalithic* (need to find out the difference) period because of my visits to those sites - both in Gozo yesterday and the ones to come tomorrow.

*The word "megalith" comes from the Ancient Greek "μέγας" (megas) meaning "great" and "λίθος" (lithos) meaning "stone." Megalith also denotes an item consisting of rock(s) hewn in definite shapes for special purposes.[1][2][3]
It has been used to describe buildings built by people from many parts
of the world living in many different periods. A variety of large stones
are seen as megaliths, with the most widely known megaliths not being sepulchral.[4] The construction of these structures took place mainly in the Neolithic (though earlier Mesolithic examples are known) and continued into the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age.[5]

When I returned from the Malta Experience, I felt a few sprinkles so I decidee to retrieve my bags and schlep over to the British Hotel sooner rather than later.  It was a longer schlep than I needed because I passed the church of St John when I should not have, so I had to retrace my steps.  Then I had to bump my bag down the set of steps to the British Hotel.  A nice young woman offered to help me but I declined.  Odd, but quite a few men passed by me and none of them offered to help.  I got my room - not as classy as the Hotel Osborne, but I do have an expansive view of the Grand Harbour.  I love my view and spend time gazing out at the the sights there.  Right now I have the window open to air out the room but I hear thunder so I may have to close it soon.  Before setting out again, I snacked on some food from yesterday and breakfast today.

My plan was to hit as many of the Heritage sites today as I could to make my purchase of the Heritage Pass cost-effective.  Unfortunately, I didn't realize how it worked earlier because I could have used it yesterday in Gozo and saved 7 euros.  Oh, well, best not to get too caught up in economies.  I checked the various times of openings, etc., and decided to go to the Museum of Fine Arts first and then the Archeology Museum because the latter was open until 7 (or 6:45 pm as I was later informed).  The art museum had some works by the artist who painted the major frescoes in the Co-cathedral of St John - Mattia Preti, who was influenced by Caravaggio.  The art museum gave a lot of info on the Caravaggio influence and his brief stay in Malta and his major work at the cathedral - the Beheading of St John.  Both the art museum and archeology museums are housed in former Knight palaces and have grand staircases, vaulted ceilings - some with frescoes.

It was around 3 pm when I finished up with the art museum and I was a bit hungry (or thirsty).  I was going to buy water at a gelateria and ended up with hazelnut and Traditional Maltese gelato instead.  The gelato was cold and it was cold outside since it was raining so it took me a long time to finish it. 

At that point I decided to go to St John's because it was open until 5 supposedly, but more like 4:30 in actuality.  I had just enough time to get through - although I had to whiz through the right hand aisle chapels in the cathedral after getting kicked out of the cathedral museum.  The cathedral is incredible!  It is rather plain on the outside but over-the-top Baroque on the interior.  There are huge paintings as altar pieces in the side chapels and the vaulted ceiling has 6 frescoes by Preti on the life and death of St John the Baptist.  St John the Baptist is the patron saint of the Maltese Knights and the Cathedral was built by the Grand Master of the order as the center of Valletta - the order's fortress city to defend Catholicism from the Ottoman Turks.  The walls are carved from soft limestone and then painted or covered in gold.   In the chapels there are mammoth tombs with their own statuary for famous knights and grand masters.  The interior just sparkles with gold.  The floor is composed of tombstones of marble:  inscriptions and designs depicting various symbols from life and death of the person buried there.  Some were covered by the rugs we had to walk on, but you could still see many of the stones laid out in rectangles.  As part of the 6 euro admission, you got an audio guide that was quite good although I couldn't always coordinate the map numbers with the right description.  This was another worthwhile attraction.

Back out into the rain, now I hurried to the Archeology Museum.  I didn't have as much time as I had thought and wondered if I could do justice to the collection in 2 hours.  The attendant wasn't too much help - "some do it in 5 min; some, in 5 hr."  The average was 1 hour so I thought I should be able to do it in 2 hr since I was only allowed one visit per pass.  That seemed unfair.  I should have tried Juliet's argument that I should be able to get in the next day if I didn't have time to finish the first day.  Oh, well, I managed to see it all in an hour.  The exhibit of the neolithic and Bronze Age periods was quite good and I enjoyed it.  I more or less skipped over the Phoenicians but did read about half of the signboards.  I loved the "Sleeping Woman" and other earth goddess figures and the models of the various temples and grave sites.  There was also an exhibit of a British artist and cartoonist: H.M. Bateman: The Man who … Loved Gozo.  Bateman (1887-1970) spent his last
years in Gozo.  He was widely known for his ‘The Man Who…’
cartoons.  He wanted to be known for a serious art work.  I enjoyed his small paintings of buildings, landscapes, seaside towns.  It was strange to see the old walls of the palace behind the blue panels of this exhibit.  There were places where you could take photos and places where you couldn't....I wasn't sure about this room, so I took a few.

After I left the Archeology Museum, I was really starting to feel hungry.  This has been a recurring problem here because I prefer to eat early so I can take care of my evening chores - computer-related tasks, and organizing for the next day's touristing, but lots of restaurants don't open until 7 pm.  I walked around - tried the Hotel Castille informal restaurant - the Cave - but nothing on their menu really appealed to me.  I went back to the Hotel Osborne neighborhood - the trendy restaurant Trabuxu put out a signboard but they didn't open until 7.  I found the Cocopazzo which would open at 6:30 - in 10 minutes.  I killed a little time and was on their doorstep at 6:30.  I ordered the grilled calamari and got 2 fat ovals of calamari.  They were pretty good but what I really loved were the accompanying green salad and the potatoes with fried red and green peppers - they were soooo goood - I could have had a whole meal of them alone!  Topped off with a glass of local white wine.  A tourist couple came in just as it started to pour (rain) and ordered the rabbit and something else.  Rabbit is one of the traditional Maltese dishes - that I haven't tried.  Don't think I will either.

After dinner, I walked across Valletta and down the stairs to the British Hotel - taking some photos of the rainy pavement.  Oh, I forgot while I was walking around looking for food, I saw huge numbers of young men and women dressed in suits and black dresses and high heels in front of the cathedral.  Funny, last night I saw lots of them as well and thought they were the high-powered young execs leaving work.  Maybe they were.  The ones tonight were graduates though, or so some policemen informed me when I asked what was going on.  They said that the graduates were having a mass said for them.  There was a lot of bell ringing and I made a little video of the bell sounds and zoomed around and took blurry night photos of the crowds on the cathedral steps.  So this has been quite an eventful, or perhaps more accurately, busy day!!

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