Thursday, February 21, 2019

Up and Down God's Hills

Dave and I spent yesterday entirely in Valletta, exploring its steep, sloping streets. We're going to have some serious leg muscles by the time we go home.

Malta is very Catholic. There's religious imagery everywhere -- various saints and the virgin overlook many street corners, and there are often religious plaques and icons next to the front doors of houses.

We found this business on the main drag, devoted entirely to individually tailored little white suits for first communion. (It looks like they only do boys. I guess girls go elsewhere.)

In fact, Valletta's cathedral, known officially as the Co-Cathedral of St. John (apparently there's also another, older cathedral in the town of Mdina, hence the "Co-") is one of the city's must-see destinations. So we went.

It's just a modest little thing. Not very ornate at all.


It's actually probably one of the most beautiful churches I've ever seen. The floors are paved with colorful inlaid marble tombstones from the knights of St. John, an order dating from the time of the Crusades, who governed the island from the Middle Ages until the Napoleonic era. The walls are carved and gilded, the barrel vault ceiling is entirely painted with scenes from the life of John the Baptist, and there are two Caravaggio paintings and countless artworks by other lesser-known artists. An audio tour comes with the price of admission, but it was so detailed that I began skipping parts about halfway through. I think I'd still be there if I'd tried to listen to the whole thing.

Afterwards we walked to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, which offer an amazing view of the city walls and the harbor.

We made our way back into town (keep in mind nothing is very far away in this city) and found lunch -- more pasta, which was amazing, with butter and sage and burrata cheese. Then we wandered down to Fort St. Elmo, one of Valletta's many military fortifications. The city has an extensive military history dating from the "Great Siege" when the Turks invaded in the 1500s right up to World War II, and there's even a museum dedicated to it, but Dave and I didn't go. A little of that goes a long way in my book.

Instead we wandered through the little fishing village on the Grand Harbor. There were cats galore, hovering around doorways and washing themselves atop walls in the sun.

Then we found the Lower Barrakka Gardens, and more views of the waterfront and the city's War Memorial, which we visited.

Finally, we made our way back to the hotel, passing lots of fabulous shopfronts and old signs along the way.

I am obsessed with all the old signs.

Last night we went for a wonderful seafood dinner on the waterfront. We had a course of spaghetti carbonara, made tableside in a giant bowl carved out of a wheel of parmesan cheese, followed by a fresh red snapper baked in salt. (Dave and I split the fish.) I felt like I'd eaten two entrees, and basically I had, but that didn't stop me from having tiramisu and strong Italian-style coffee. Which of course kept me awake until about 2 a.m., but that doesn't mean it wasn't worth it.

Oh, and speaking of coffee:

I got this when I ordered coffee at a cafe yesterday afternoon. It was obviously a stirring implement, but why the big hole?! Well, I did some research, and it turns out it's called an Espoon (I'm not sure whether that's pronounced like "e-mail" or "esteemed") and it's supposed to stir the coffee without breaking the foam seal on the top. How it's better than the simple balsa wood stick you get at Starbucks I'm not sure, but I imagine there's definitely a theory behind it. And it does look so elegant.

Today the plan is to go to Mdina, provided we can figure out the buses!


David said...

Great description and fabulous photos! Thank you!

crafty cat corner said...

Lovely post, lovely place. I would have loved to see the Caravaggio paintings he is one of my favourite painters.

Vivian Swift said...

This is a splendid tour. Thank you. I remember the cats of Malta better than the cathedral, probably because I have never visited the cathedral (I do not do churches). I don't recall all those cool, weathered shop signs, but you have a great eye for them. I don't drink coffee, so I did not experience the spoon (the tea there is good, up to British standards, though). It's like we went to two different countries, and I like your Malta very much.

Joanne said...

Thank you for the impressive tour. I want to visit Malta. It's great to hear about the history of the place. I love the "Everybody Library" sign, those Caravaggio paintings sound intriguing, and the sea is SO SO SO blue. You are a great observer.

Ms. Moon said...

It's almost like you are in Portugal and Spain and France AND Italy, all at once. What an amazing little place and I love how all of the influences come together in all of that charm.
The Espoon is awesome. I wonder who came up with that.
I had seen that church in the tiny Lonely Planets film I watched about Malta. It is a little over the top, isn't it?
Goodness. I've just gone back through your pictures. There seems to be a little bit of Greece in there too.
I don't know which I want to visit more. "Everybody's Library" or "Splendid Lounge."
I surely would have loved to try that snapper. What do you get for breakfast? (Yes. I am obsessed with food.)

Sharon said...

Those shop signs are amazing. It's like they've been there for 50 years and not one has ever changed them. Your views of the city are fabulous too and I agree about that church. Very, very ornate. It sounds like there was some great artwork inside. The food sounds amazing.

Red said...

This is very different scene compared to what we are used to. It's hard to imagine living in such a dense area on such steep slopes.

robin andrea said...

What a grand place to visit. This is such a beautiful journey. I am so glad I get to vicariously take it with you.

Colette said...

Amazing. Have a great time.

Comox Valley and beyond said...

Wow those are some awesome photos thanks for taking us along on your journey.

Catalyst said...

I was wondering about all the pasta dinners until I looked at a map and saw the nearness to Italy. The buildings and the carvings and the statuary are amazing and you are giving us a fantastic tour. But I, like another commenter from yesterday I believe, would still like to see some photos of the food!

ellen abbott said...

I saw some really ornate churches and chapels in Portugal. grotesquely so in a way. all to the glory of god when that money should rightly have been spent on the poor and needy according to the teachings of Jesus. at least the artisans and craftsmen got some work out of it. I'm surprised by all the signage in English.

Jomo said...

Continue to enjoy Malta it looks and sounds like you are both having a great time together x

Stillwaterrunsdeep said...

I’m so happy that you are in Malta taking photos and sharing with us! My husband was there on business and never had the chance to take any photos. And I love the old signage too, a fun part of the history of the places, and as an artist I enjoy the fonts and colors. Enjoy your trip!

jenny_o said...

Good grief, those streets are steep! What pleasant views of the city.

No photos of the cats? Olga will be so disappointed! And by Olga, I might mean *me* :)

Fresca said...

Oh, that espoon! Love it!
If that were the coffee spoon T.S. Eliot writes about in Prufrock, it would be a great symbol of futility:
"I have measured out my life with coffee spoons ..."

(This line had been discussed on a friend's blog recently, and it's thought Eliot meant the teeny demitasse spoons for stirring espresso--smaller than teaspoons--but measuring one's life with an espoon would be even better--or, rather, worse!)

Everybody's Library is now my favorite bookstore name ever. Thanks for sharing your great photos!

Fresca said...

P.S. Looking up the espoon, looks like it's from "espresso" + "spoon",
so probably pronounced like that blend?