Valletta: Tuesday, 20th – Wednesday, 21st November 2018
Arriving quite late on Tuesday, we checked in to our hotel and were pleased to have been given another free upgrade to a room with a balcony and a stunning view across the harbour. We are assuming this is an unexpected perk of travelling out of season when there are vacant rooms.
The hotel was chosen for its history as it is said to be the longest established hotel in Valletta. When booking Robert read that various famous people had stayed here but at the time of writing we cannot find any confirmed celebrity guests to support this. The situation and the views are however excellent.
We were advised by a very helpful receptionist where we could go to find a bar and enjoyed an al fresco beer, whilst hearing that it was snowing at home.
This meteorological news encouraged Matilda to appreciate the winter sun break even more.
After breakfast on the restaurant balcony in the sunshine…
… we walked towards the main square and on to the bus garage to buy a day pass which is valid for 24 hours from the time you first use it.
Not only has Valletta been a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980 but it is also the European City of Culture for 2018 and this week was hosting the Medical Cannabis World Forum 2018. We think the various white statues around the city form part of the City of Culture celebrations and Matilda felt an affinity with the herd pictured below left.
The walk took us past the WWII memorial [above, right] where the bell tolls at midday for those who gave their lives during the siege of Malta (1940-1943) and St George’s Square and the Triton Fountain [below].
The three cities collectively describes the fortified cities of Birgu/Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua on separate peninsulae across the harbour from Valleta, which can be reached via a ferry which leaves every half hour.
There we visited the Malta at War museum, which includes some of the tunnels where people sheltered during the bombing raids in WWII.
Malta is steeped in history and we cannot hope to give this beautiful place a chronological context here which does justice to the role it played in the spread of Christianity and the Allied war effort. More background reading is needed, but we have gleaned some knowledge.
For over 200 years St John’s Co-Cathedral was the conventual church for the Order of the Knights of St John. Successive Grand Masters and Knights donated highly-prized works of art and consequently it houses some exemplary High Baroque art.
The Knights came from the most influential families from across Europe and were dedicated to protecting Christianity and Europe from invasion by the Ottoman Turks. Following the Great Siege by the Turks in 1565 the Knights resolved to turn Malta into a defensive fortress. The church they built (now the Co-Cathedral) was finished in 1577 and dedicated to the patron saint of their order: St John the Baptist.
The Knights of St John, also known as the Knights Hospitaller used administrative divisions based on the language of the Knights and there are chapels along both sides of the nave for each “langue” each with relevant and personalised ornate decoration.
The floor is an enchanting patchwork of decorative inlaid tombstones, which feature symbols and heraldic devices telling the individual stories of the Knights buried there.
We had planned to take another ferry across to Sliema and, having just missed one, we indulged in a waterside beer whilst waiting for the ferry to return. However, the high rise buildings we could see did not really compare to the historical beauty of the sandstone buildings glowing in the sunshine in Valletta and we decided to defer this trip to another visit.
Instead, Robert had identified The Pub where actor Oliver Reed was drinking the night he died in 1999 and we paid a visit to raise a glass to this famous beer-drinking hell-raiser. He died following a drinking session while he was in Malta filming Gladiator. On the evening of his death he had allegedly drunk eight pints of lager, twelve double rums and half a bottle of whiskey, won arm-wrestling contests against many members of the British Royal Navy crew from HMS Cumberland and insisted on paying for the entire round. My mate Ayd [www.t-shirt.uk.com] produces a T-shirt which immortalises Oliver’s heavy drinking habits, but I did not pack it.
As is customary, we also dropped in to one of three Hard Rock Cafes on the island. It is strange to walk on a balmy evening underneath the Christmas lights.
Walked: 8.6 miles [Wednesday]
Location: British Hotel, Valletta, Malta