Friday, February 22, 2019
Mdina, Coleridge and a Neolithic Woman
Yesterday morning Dave and I figured out the public buses -- it wasn't hard -- and took one to the town of Mdina, which is located on a hill in the center of Malta. It's an ancient city built on the site of Phoenician fortifications from 1,000 BC. The Arabs, who arrived in the 9th century after a period of Roman occupation, gave it its present name as well as its strong walls and deep dry moat.
On the bus we were seated near an evidently carsick boy who threw up into his baseball cap, prompting a lot of scrambling by his parents and other passengers for tissues. Poor kid! Mercifully the ride is pretty short.
Once in the town, Dave and I wandered the narrow streets lined with medieval buildings and had coffee at a rooftop terrace overlooking the countryside. This was the view, looking north toward St. Julian's:
All the guides say Mdina is a must-see, but I found it preternaturally clean and quiet and somewhat sterile. I didn't see any food stores or drug stores or any sign of everyday life -- all that seems to occur in the surrounding modern town of Rabat. Mdina was just tour groups and upscale souvenir shops and art galleries.
Of course there were plenty of houses, with the typical Catholic plaques beside the front doors, but was anyone living there? Or are they all Airbnbs?
Don't get me wrong -- it was pretty. It was just too darn quiet.
This tree amused me because I'm pretty sure it's a Brazilian pepper. In Florida, they're a scourge -- an invasive species and the subject of eradication efforts by the state. Maybe here they don't grow as wildly. Or maybe I'm wrong and it's just something that looks like a Brazilian pepper -- but I don't think so.
When we got back to Valletta I was so ready to soak up some urban grit. So I got off the bus early while Dave went back to the hotel and I strolled through some outlying neighborhoods, where I found lots of cool shops and stray cats.
I got a tuna sandwich at a little open-air cafe, and of course the minute I sat down the pigeons began coming around. I tried to feed a few of the sorriest-looking ones, but I've found that if you try to throw a crumb to a sorry-looking pigeon, a healthy pigeon barges in like a linebacker and seizes the food. (Which explains everything, right?) I did manage to get at least one crumb into all the sad-looking birds.
This very fierce guard dog was curled up in the sun on the floor of an appliance shop.
I walked through the city gate and back into central Valletta, where I had coffee in the square outside the National Library, beneath the gaze of Queen Victoria.
I listened to this busker, who was playing much of the Peter, Paul and Mary songbook. He's standing next to a plaque proclaiming that Samuel Taylor Coleridge worked in that building in the early 1800s. Apparently Coleridge lived here for a few years, becoming increasingly addicted to opium, after the British took control of Malta from Napoleon.
But if we're going to talk about history, let's go WAY back. After coffee I went to the archaeology museum. Malta is full of ancient temple complexes and other remarkable ruins, and since we aren't going to go to any of the sites on this trip, I wanted to at least see some of the artifacts found there. This statue of a sleeping woman is 5,000 years old! Just think -- it was already 3,000 years old when Jesus was preaching in Jerusalem. Doesn't it look like something by Fernando Botero?
Last night Dave and I went to dinner at a little bistro called Guze where we tried to eat light. I had a pot of mussels and Dave had rabbit, a Maltese specialty. Today we're headed back to London!