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Italy, Malta and the magnificent Dalmatian Coast

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Part 8 - Malta, Day 1

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Part 8 - Malta, Day 1
 

Malta was one of the ports which I had been particularly looking forward to. A few years before I had already been fascinated by Valletta’s impressive architecture. Just entering the port of Valletta in the morning is an experience worth getting up early. High walls and huge fortresses as far as the eye can see. As in Rhodes, it feels as if you are thrown back to medieval times.

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The city is surrounded by enormous bastions and strongholds. When the Ottomans laid siege to Malta in the 16th century and the knights, who ruled Malta at the time, were able to put the Turks to flight despite their military superiority, the question arose as to how to protect Valletta against a potential new attack. The Knights of the Order of Malta under their then Grand Master Jean de la Valette decided to build a modern fortified town. Named after him, this is how Valletta, which has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 1980, came into life.

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We were slightly surprised that she ship didn’t anchor at the town side of the harbor but in Boiler Wharf on the opposite side. But to enable guests to easily reach Valletta, the port authorities had arranged for a shuttle service with large ferry boats.

As last time, we wanted to explore Valletta and Malta with one of the HopOn-HopOff buses and made our way to one of the boats going the other side of the port. But to our positive surprise, one of the buses was already waiting for guests from the ship directly at the pier, so we didn’t need to transfer.

The tour went past the beautiful marina of Vittoriosa, through the interesting streets of Valletta and past the famous Mosta church.

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The Mosta church gained its fame on 9 April 1942, when a German aerial bomb crashed the dome during a service but didn’t detonate, which saved the lives of 300 worshipers. For this reason it is often thought of as a miracle.

Across some barren stretches of Malta’s land we carried on towards our first actual destination – the former capital Mdina. Mdina is often referred to as the „City of Silence” because there is no car traffic in this little town surrounded by fortress walls.

You enter the town through the narrow city gate near the bus stop.

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In the small alleys behind, it feels as if you are thrown back a few centuries into the Middle Ages.

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The various influences of the island’s changing rulers are still clearly visible on the buildings, spanning from Arab elements to Baroque decorations.

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Especially the Church of the Carmelite Order is an example of the so-called Maltese Baroque.

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The church was built by a French military architect around 1660 and is one of the most important churches in Maltese Baroque architecture. It was the first church in Malta to be built on an elliptical floor plan.

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From the city walls near Bastion Square at the end of the alley you have a magnificent view of the island all the way to Valletta.

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We took a break at a little restaurant and then wandered through other alleys back to the city gate.

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At St. Paul’s Cathedral, we noticed the unmistakable reminders of the British colonial period.

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After exploring the Mdina, we took the next bus which took us past different resorts at the northern side of the island. Bugibba, St. Julian’s Bay, Sliema etc. were places, whose big hotels could surely make a longer stay on the island very pleasant.

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Once in Valletta, we got off at the bus station and entered the city center through the city gate by the new parliamentary building. From there we followed the pedestrian zone all the way to the square in front of the library with its pretty cafés.

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Behind the square we turned right and passed through the city’s gorges of streets and alleys to get to the Lower Barrakka Gardens.

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Soon we reached the gardens, which were erected by French troops on the city wall around 1800. The little park offers a beautiful view of the entrance to the Grand Harbor.

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From the edge of the Lower Barrakka Gardens you have a beautiful view of the Siege Bell Memorial, commemorating the Maltese who died during the siege of the country in the 2nd Word War.

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We followed the city walls towards the Upper Barrakka Gardens and found many beautiful photo opportunities along the way.

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The Upper Barrakka Gardens are located at the highest point of the fortification and were built as recreational gardens by the Knights of the Maltese Order in 1660. From the terrace you have a nice view of the level below with the Saluting Battery, giving a gun salute every day at noon, of the “three cities” on the other side of the port, i. e. Cospicua, Vittoriosa and Senglea... and of our Constellation in Boiler Wharf.

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From the gardens we took the elevator all the way town to the harbor level some 58m (190 ft.) below. During the journey down past the walls you realize just how massive these bulwarks actually are.

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We took one of the shuttle boats to the Constellation, where we had a drink at the sunset bar before dinner. We went to Blu relatively early, as we wanted to go back ashore again later on.

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The nice thing about overnight stays is that you have time in the evening to spend at your destination. We didn’t want to go all the way back to Valletta but to one of the cafés in the Vittoriosa marina. At night, the little marina was just as pretty and the bars and cafés very inviting.

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On our way back along the promenade we passed a group of local elders, who had made themselves comfortable in the folding chairs they had brought to hold their evening chat. The mild temperatures and the beautiful evening mood were the ideal conditions for it.

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Back on board we noticed that Cruise Director Richard Spacey and some of the guest were dancing to disco music at the Barefoot Party by the pool. We just watched them for a moment and then preferred to head for our cozy bed.

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