Malta | Post date – December 2004
Malta is the smallest country in the Mediterranean, consisting of three islands located southwest off the southern coast of Italy. We traveled to Malta from Italy after our visit to Venice. Our travel was on another Grimaldi ferry, the same line on which we sailed from Valencia to Tunis, almost four months earlier. And ironically, on our way from Salerno, Italy, to Valetta. Malta, we had a six-hour stop in Tunisia, making it our fourth trip to the capital, Tunis, on our six-month adventure. Unfortunately, the package that Grandma Jones sent to us from Canada in late June still wasn't at the Tunis central post office … go figure!
Despite its size, Malta has had a significant place in Mediterranean history. Its location has made it a pivotal point in empire building and military battles. It has a strong Christian heritage, sown by the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, who were given the islands in 1530 by the Emperor of Spain for the annual rent of two Maltese falcons a year. They retained the islands until 1798 when Napoleon arrived. In 1800 the Maltese defeated the French with the help of the Brits and in 1814 Malta became a part of the British Empire. As a naval base for the British, Malta was devastated in World War II – in 1942 it experienced day and night bombing raids for five months, leaving 40,000 homes destroyed and the Maltese on the brink of starvation. Malta declared independence from the British in 1964 and established itself as a republic in 1974. More recently it joined the European Union in May. With its British heritage, English is one of Malta's two official languages. The other is Maltese – a bizarre language with Arabic construction and grammar, and French, English, Italian, Spanish and Sicilian components. It is also the only Semitic language that is written in the Latin alphabet … perhaps there were just a few too many influences on these islands over the past couple of thousand years!
We decided to spend our week in Malta on the northern island of Gozo, reputedly quieter than the island of Malta and with fewer tourists. Despite being ‘tourists' for five months, we really aren't fond of the breed! We found a two-bedroom apartment, overlooking the sea, in the village of Marsalforn for an extremely reasonable price, so we made that our home base for seven nights.
Marsalforn is ‘the' tourist destination on Gozo during the summer months, and practically rolls up its sidewalks in off-season. It is built around a cove and is surrounded by the golden limestone of the Maltese islands. Marsalforn is an eight-minute bus ride or four-kilometre walk from Victoria, the capital of Gozo. We made the trek into Victoria a few times to visit the internet café and to do some grocery shopping in a bit larger store than the tiny corner shop in Marsalforn.
Malta was our last ‘warm weather' stop on our trip – even in the Mediterranean, cool temperatures roll around in the winter months. Ben and Emma took their last dip in the sea at the Marsalforn beach. Most of our days there could be spent in shirtsleeves for at least some portion, and the water temperatures still ranged in the low 20s. Many of the locals were bundling up for winter, but the Ryans were exploiting every drop of sunshine.
We spent much of our time on Gozo simply enjoying the view and the very laid-back pace of life. Ben finished the second book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy; Sharon devoured a couple of "summer-reading" books found in the apartment; Bram caught up on news by reading current issues of Newsweek and the Economist cover to cover; and Emma finished up a Beverly Cleary novel. Ben mastered ‘ordered pairs' in his math studies and Emma finessed her mastery of cursive writing … yes, the end of home-schooling studies is in sight!! All in all, it was a good week of R & R, on an extremely amenable island in the southern Mediterranean – not bad, huh?