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!