Malta is an archipelago, however only the three largest islands; Malta Island or Malta where we had spent all our time so far, Gozo, and Comino are inhabited (good news – they are pronounced phonetically). Other smaller islands make up the archipelago but are uninhabited, such as Filfla which we saw from the Tarxien temples. After a few days exploring Malta we headed to Gozo for the day. Why is it called Gozo? Because when you fly to Malta you goes over it.
We boarded an enormous Gozo Channel Line ferry for the twenty-five minute trip to Gozo. The first thing I noticed when we arrived is that the Gozo buses don’t have the lemon meringue pie colour scheme of Malta’s buses. They have the same white roof, but a wide stripe of cherry red separates it from the mauve body. Our first stop was the Ggantija (yep that’s a double g, pronounced gee-gan-tee-ya) temples. You’d think we’d have temple fatigue by now, but we still found them interesting. They are the oldest of the Maltese temples, more than 5500 years old they predate the wheel. Also interesting is the graffiti, carved into the stone in copperplate hand are names with da tes from the nineteenth century. A more recent addition reads ‘WHAM’, does it refer to the band or is it an abbreviation of West Ham? I guess we’ll never know.
We were starting to see scenery which looked vaguely familiar, probably because we’d seen it in a movie. A stack of movies were filmed in Malta including The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, The Count of Monte Christo, Gladiator, Alexander and Troy. Our next stop was a popular filming spot, the Azure Window, a natural stone arch similar to London arch on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Nearby is the Inland sea, a saltwater lagoon connected to the Mediterranean Sea via another natural arch and tunnel. The water is beautiful, turquoise and crystal clear and we spotted a few divers exploring and possibly ticking it off the list of Jacques Cousteau’s top ten dives. We spotted the occasional colourful fishing boat, with the eye of Osiris painted on the prow, the Phoenician god of protection against evil. Also nearby is Fungus Rock, where those ever busy Knights of St John discovered the Malta Fungus, a repulsive smelling plant which they believed to have medicinal properties and used for dressing wound and treating dysentery. They so prized this fungus that they decreed the rock out of bounds, posted a permanent guard there, and gave the fungus as a gift to distinguished visitors to Malta. It was later found to have no medicinal properties whatsoever, sounds a bit like the acai berry.
We tried Lampuki, a local fish for lunch. It was in season and in a tomato and olive sauce – yum.
We spent the afternoon in the town of Rabat/Victoria (it goes by both names) which contains a Cittadella high over the town. The Citadella was fortified in 1500BC, but re-fortified by the Knights of St John around 1600, (did they ever sleep?) Within the walls is a beautiful cathedral, the flat ceiling has been skilfully painted to appear domed – well that’s what the guide said – it looked domed to me. Again, lots of gold and many elaborate chandeliers. The cathedral museum had a horse-drawn carriage used by the Cardinals; inside it was like a plush armchair with pockets sewn into the walls. The museum also exhibited a Cardinals travelling kit – silver plates, chalices and crucifixes in a custom made travel case. Just the thing for the Cardinal on the go.
On the way home our bus driver negotiated hairpin bends with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a mobile phone to his ear. I was relieved when we got caught behind a truck which, by the look of the fluffy tails, was carrying a load of caged rabbits.
“’Look Nato, rabbits going to the pet shop”
“More likely the butcher,” replied Nato. “Remember I had rabbit stew for dinner the other night?”
Just like that, my appetite was gone.