First stop – Valletta, the Maltese capital city. At the time of our visit, Malta had not yet moved to the Euro and the Maltese Lira was worth approximately four Australian Dollars. Suddenly we could buy things with loose change, such as the ferry ride across the harbour from Sliema (slee-ma if you were wondering) to Valletta, which only set us back forty cents.
Valletta is beautiful. A fortified city built by the Knights of St John, Valletta was extensively bombed in World War II and the city is now a world heritage site. The dome of the Carmelite church dominates the Valletta skyline, the dome was added when the church was rebuilt after World War II and is just a touch higher than the nearby spire of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral. In Valletta you are surrounded by amazing architecture. The streets are set out in an easy to navigate grid and horse drawn carriages trot everywhere, the horses seemingly unfazed by the traffic. The day was already hot, so Nato and I headed for the cool interior of St John’s Co-Cathedral.
High heels and bare shoulders are not allowed in the Co-Cathedral, so I had to buy a pair of slippers (for the bargain price of twenty-five cents) and was given a piece of cloth to cover my shoulders. The Co-Cathedral is Baroque style, so I inflicted my Baroque pun on Nato.
“You know what they say about Baroque; if it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it.”
Nato gave me a look and moved away. I shuffled off after him in my slippers.
The Co-Cathedral is huge and we spent a couple of hours strolling through taking it all in. Not a single square centimetre of the cathedral is unadorned; carved stone, amazing frescoes, intricate tapestries and gold, gold, gold. Some of the paintings on display were magnificent in size and realism, like a photograph – except for the angels hovering in the top corners. Two Caravaggio paintings are on display in St John’s Co-Cathedral, painted during a year when he was appointed ‘a knight of magistrals obedience’, basically the official painter of the Knights of St John. There might have been more paintings, but Caravagio was imprisoned for wounding a high ranking knight in a fight and imprisoned at Fort St Angelo. He didn’t like that much and escaped after only two months, for which he was booted out of the Order. I’d have thought escaping was a good skill for a knight to have, but apparently the Grand Masters disagreed.
It was time for another Maltese delicacy, the pastizzi (there’s those double z’s I mentioned earlier). Pastizzi are a small diamond shaped snack, crispy layers of filo style pastry containing a filling of ricotta cheese, or peas – very tasty and very morish. We decided to get the bus back to Sliema so we followed the crowds to Valletta bus terminal. The name really doesn’t do justice to this massive roundabout circling the majestic Triton Fountain. The roundabout is organised chaos; people dart across the road and cars and horse-drawn carriages merge with the buses. The buses, which range from the older curvy classics to the newer boxier models, all have the same lemon meringue pie colour scheme; egg-yolk yellow bodies with a gleaming white roof, golden brown and pie plate silver trim. We boarded one of the buses, which had rosary beads and pictures of Virgin Mary tucked into the sun visor, and had another hair-raising ride, hurtling through the streets of Malta.
For dinner, Nato went for more traditional Maltese cuisine, rabbit stew. He really enjoyed it, and it was quite a sight seeing him nibbling the meat of the little rabbit ribcage. We danced the night away in a salsa bar called Fuego (naturally) in Paceville, the party district. Nato was very disappointed that the Imqaret stall had packed up and gone home when we arrived back at the hotel in the early hours of the morning.