Monday, November 20, 2017
Day 31, Valetta, Malta Day 1
Today is the first of two days we will spend in Malta. Malta is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean between the island of Sicily and Libya. Its location has always been a militarily strategic one and has at different times been controlled by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French and British. It gained its independence from Britain in 1964 and became of member of the European Union in 2004. Follow this link for a short history of the island.
The ship docked at 8:00, but we were up before 7:00 as we have a long tour planned for the day. The weather was sunny and clear as promised so we were anxious to get going.
Val thoroughly researches every port we visit long before we leave for our cruise and then discusses what she finds with me and we decide what we will do there together. In her research of Malta, the name Amy Pace kept popping up as the best guide, and she was highly recommended in all the reviews she read. Val contacted her back in May and because it was so early we were able to book her for a private, all day tour: we were very lucky as she is in much demand.
We told Amy we were photographers and wanted to do a photo tour and Val found another couple through the cruise critic roll call who wanted to join us so there would be four of us, Val and I, and Chris and Dennis. Chris and Dennis also happen to have a Neptune Suite so we met them at 8:00 in the Neptune Lounge and proceeded to the pier to meet Amy.
After a long walk to get out through the terminal, we met Amy and were set to go … we thought. The tour we had booked today was to tour a small island called Gozo that is part of Malta and only reachable by ferry. Amy had gotten our tour mixed up and thought we were going to tour the city of Valletta where we were docked. She quickly made a few phone calls and straightened things out and we were on our way.
|A map of Malta. You can see Valetta where we are docked to the right. We drove to the north end of the island to take the ferry to Gozo at the top. You can see the much smaller island of Comino just below Gozo.|
It is close to a one-hour drive from the port to the ferry dock and our driver must have thought he was driving in a Grand Prix as we had to hang on tight the whole way. As we drove across the island some dark clouds blew into our path and we actually got a few drops of rain, but the clouds blew through and our sunny day returned. We made it to the ferry terminal in plenty of time to catch the 9:30 ferry. The driver dropped us off and after a short wait we boarded the ferry; we would have another driver and vehicle in Gozo.
After boarding, Val, Dennis and I went up to the top open deck to take pictures while Chris decided to stay below where it is warmer and more comfortable; she is the one member of our group who is not a photographer. The ferry ride to Gozo is a short one of only about 35 minutes and we passed the much smaller island of Comino on our way. Comino is interesting as it has had at most, only of population of 40, but now there are only 3 on the island. Our guide told us they still work their farm and are almost self-sustaining, but she didn’t know how much longer they could continue as they are quite elderly. As we approached Gozo we could see the picturesque town of Ghanjsielem where we would dock.
|The ferry departs for Gozo.|
|This cathedral was visible from just about everywhere on the island.|
|The minibus in front of the red hop-on / hop-off bus was our ride for the day. Lots of room for four people.|
After docking, we got off the ferry and met our new driver and got a pleasant surprise – we had a 16-passenger minibus for the 4 of us; we certainly wouldn’t be cramped. As we drove out of town, Amy gave us some options of what we could do as our tour started.
|These were very old and used to get salt. The water was trapped in the diked areas and then when the water evaporated, they carried away the salt.|
I don't know the name of the village, but it was very picturesque and that's where we had our lunch. As we ate we had a great view of the small harbor and the waves crashing on the seawall. As usual, lunch was more of a dinner and was very good.
|This is where we had lunch.|
|Val, Dennis and Chris.|
Gozo is a wonderful place and the day went by all too quickly before we had to get back to catch the ferry back to the main island and back to the ship. The ferry was loading when we got there, but there were far fewer people than we came over with in the morning. When we got off the ferry, the same driver we had this morning was waiting for us and we had another thrilling ride on our return to Valetta and the ship. He was a good driver, but it was just a little too fast. One thing that added to our excitement was that since Malta had been a British colony, they drive on the left-hand side of the road as they do in Britain, so that was also a little unnerving.
We made it back to the ship by 5:30 after a wonderful day with Amy. She certainly lived up to her reputation and I would highly recommend her to anyone visiting Malta. I would also highly recommend visiting the island of Gozo as it is very beautiful as well as interesting and is well worth a visit.
When Val and I got back to the room, it was almost 6:00 and time to get ready for trivia and dinner (no casino since we are staying in Malta overnight), but we were tired after a long day so decided to skip trivia and just go to dinner. After dinner we relaxed for a while and then went to bed. Tomorrow we have another private tour, this time with only Val and I so we need to get our rest for that.