1. Evidence of Malta as a former British colony: Red mail boxes inserted into walls, or freestanding red pillars, with the initials "GR" (from the days of King George VI), red telephone boxes with "Soane's domes", huge and cheap bars of chocolate, good tea, chips with almost everything in almost every restaurant, English spoken widely albeit with a definite Maltese accent, right-hand drive vehicles, pubs with names like "The Salisbury Arms", hotels with names like "The Empire", and houses with nameplates like "Canada", "Kangaroo", and "The Oak"; cakes like bananatoffey, chocolate orange, and double chocolate (all of these we enjoyed with a welcome cup of tea after a good walk)
2. Crowded! Malta is the most densely populated member of the EU. And the corollary is that there isn't a lot of countryside. Walks in "rural" Malta were mainly on secondary roads and tracks.
3. The Maltese are friendly and cheerful and respond to our smiles and greetings, however on buses they're oblivious to other passengers, rarely giving up seats to people with greater needs or making room for baby strollers.
4. For 5000+ years the people of these islands have been tunnelling through the soft limestone and building structures underground (e.g. The Hypogeum). There is a network of tunnels underneath the city of Valletta started by the Knights of St. John in the 16th C. These tunnels were increased in the 20th C and used during wartime, including the Cold War. Until the mid 20th C and the advent of municipal water pipes, every house had to have at least one cistern to collect rain water. In fact it was during the construction of a cistern that the Hypogeum was discovered in the early 1900s. The Casa Rocca Piccolla that we visited yesterday used to have 3 cisterns...one was constructed 300+ years ago to collect drain water from the street to water the orange trees in the garden (considered a great luxury). This large cistern was drained and used as an air raid shelter for the neighbourhood in WW II. Over 100 people could fit in this space.
5. "Marsa" is a Maltese word meaning "harbour" and is a prefix for many town names (e.g. Marsaxlokk and Marsaskala). It is derived from the Phoenician and can be found in other countries as well, e.g. Marsala in Sicily and Marseille in France. The Maltese language, Malti, is an officially recognized language at the UN and EU even though it is only spoken in Malta, a population of about 400,000 (25,000 of these live on Gozo). There are at least 400,000 people around the world (Australia, Canada, USA, UK) claiming Maltese descent. Malti is a Semitic language, mainly Arabic with some Italian and English) and the script is similar to English with another 6 symbols for sounds unique to Malti. We heard Malti all around us with people switching with great ease into English.
6. Most doors had interesting doorknobs and knockers like these dolphins:
We found out during our tour of the co-cathedral of St. John that the dolphin was the symbol of the "Langue of Auvergne" one of the sections of the Knights of St John, former rulers of Malta.
7. Maltese cuisine: rabbit stewed or fried, fresh fish and seafood, fabulous bread (Ftira in particular--a round of crusty flatbread used for sandwiches--a sourdough made with high gluten flour), delicious Maltese wine especially the white wine made from the indigenous grape "girgentina", tasty and crunchy strawberries, sweet oranges and clementines, tender lettuce.
8. It may be nice and warm during the day, about 16 degrees C, but the houses are cold at night! A hot water bottle wrapped in my nightie was sure welcome! A few times I even went to bed wearing tights and socks as well.
For our last day in Malta, we opted to take a harbour cruise. Here are some photos from the water of the old fortifications (restored or in process--Valletta is getting ready to be the European City of Culture in 2018)
and shipbuilding industry--an oil tanker was coming in as we were going out,
and at a neighbouring berth, a Greenpeace vessel...
Followed up by a walk around the point...
And then a lazy lunch on the other side of Sliema at the cafe L'Aroma where we enjoyed another tasty sandwich of Ftira bread.
We then took the X2 bus to the airport...our last look at Maltese architecture and cityscape...
We're now in Pisa for 4 days enroute to Morocco. Have to brush off my Italian again! Had a little fun in a trattoria tonight ordering food...the waiter was very patient and graciously corrected and confirmed our order. He was so nice and patient we just might go back! And the food was good too--we just had bruschetta, salads, and local Tuscan wine. We're staying at Hotel Alessandro Della Spina, a former elegant mansion near the station. It has heating! And a heated towel rack!! What luxury!