January 4 at 9 AM in our back yard.
We were picked up at the Radisson Blu Hotel at 9:30 AM. Marlene drove us to Rabat. With us also were the ‘patriarch,” Frank, and Francesca, Marlene’s daughter. Our friend, Canadian Friar Ed, had introduced us to Frank on the phone before we left Canada. They showed us great kindness and had a treasure chest of knowledge to share.
The first place we visited was St. Paul’s Collegiate Church in Rabat known as the “Knight’s Church.” The Knights Hospitaller settled in Malta in 1530 after being driven from Rhodes by Süleyman the Magnificent in 1522. The Knights’ symbol is an 8-pointed cross, the symbolism of which, some say, is that the points represent the eight European langues of the Hospitallers: Auvergne, Provence, France, Aragon, Castille&Portugal, Italy, Germany, and the British Isles. Looks a bit like a stretch to me, but it makes it pretty clear that Arabic was not one of their original tongues…
Valletta, the “new” Maltese capital, was named after Jean Parisot de la Vallette, who fought bravely in Rhodes against the Ottomans and, as Grand Master, successfully defended Malta against them during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. De la Valette laid the first stone of Valletta in 1566, but did not live to see it finished.
Some photos from St. Paul’s in Rabat:
Then we exited the main Knights’ Church and visited St. Paul’s Grotto in an adjacent underground area where St. Paul stayed while successfully converting Publius, the Romans’ chief person on Malta, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Catacombs are a major part of this neighbourhood. There is also a large section that houses a museum to the Knights of Malta. Our hosts took us there. It contains portraits, statues and furniture related to the Knights.
We were treated to a delicious lunch by our gracious hosts, after which they showed us Mdina.
Our wonderful hosts returned us faithfully to our Pembroke Radisson Blu shortly before 5 PM, and then we “#14ed” into Valletta for supper and a little shopping, returning home after an early tropical sunset.
On Sunday we planned to visit the Blue Grotto and Marsaxlokk on a tour bus that Anne set up for us on Friday. That will be my last post on our Sicily and Malta 2018 tour.
Sicily was fabulous (see posts 1 to 6) and we were looking forward to Malta because we had Maltese people there who would show us Rabat and Mdina. Our long-time friend and pastor, a Franciscan friar whom I had worked very closely with liturgically and musically at a local Brampton Ontario parish beginning in 1976, has Maltese roots. Relatives of his would pick us up at our hotel on Saturday morning, October 20 and show us their town of Rabat, where the Grotto of St. Paul is located and next to Mdina, the main ancient Arabic city on Malta.
And a cousin of mine, Mary, and her friend, Cathy, were by coincidence in Malta. They were going to arrive a few hours after us and were staying closeby in Valletta at the Grand Harbour Hotel. Our hotel, the Radisson Blu in Pembroke, less than 3 km from Valletta as the gull flies, was nevertheless 30 to 40 minutes by public bus northwest of Valletta – since it stopped often and followed the squiggly, attractive coast.
Malta has an excellent public transit system around the island and, as the next photos will show, public transit is well patronized. We used the #14 bus more than once every day.
We were part of a Group of Seven who added Malta to Insight Vacations’ Sicily tour. We each did our own things in Malta. Our loose “Group” was picked up at the airport by someone named Anne who explained what Insight, our tour company, had available for us in the way of optional activities and processed us in a nice big area at the Radisson Blu after our airport bus dropped us off. She showed us where to take the #14 bus. Pembroke was near the start of the #14’s route into Valletta, so getting a seat was never a problem.
We visited the amazing, opulent, St. John’s Co-Cathedral first. It boasts two Caravaggios and a ceiling that took the magnificent Italian, Mattia Preti, six years to complete. Caravaggio, by then a fugitive, was befriended by the Knights of St. John who were/are wealthy and powerful. I hunt down Caravaggio paintings wherever I go. I’m fascinated by his crazy life and his chiaroscuro style. He was one of the first artists who painted people who looked like you and me. “Caravaggio,” whose actual name was Michelangelo Merisi, signed only one of his many paintings, The Beheading of John the Baptist, ca. 1608. His other work in St. John’s is St. Jerome Writing.
Malta, tiny yet complex, has been the recipient of much interference for hundreds of years. Its history of sacrifice and resilience is the stuff of legend. Here are a few highlights:
In the 8th C. many Phoenicians arrived in Malta, displaced perhaps by rivalries in the Eastern Mediterranean following the birth of Islam. Those folks founded the beautiful city of Mdina. the Maltese language is closely related to Arabic. English is the other official language of Malta.
The Knights Hospitaller settled in Malta in 1530, where they met a people who spoke a form of Arabic. The Knights had been driven from their “home” on the island of Rhodes eight years earlier by the Ottoman Turks led by Süleyman the Magnificent.
In 1560 the Ottomans returned and destroyed the Spanish and allied Christian ships off Tunisia. Malta was ripe for the taking but the Turks didn’t come back to take over the Mediterranean until 1565. During the interim a much larger Spanish fleet had been prepared. The Ottomans captured St. Elmo, at the tip of Valletta, but did not take the island.
During WW II Malta was bombed by Hitler and Britain, being a key strategic port for allied navies to use in order to control the Mediterranean. Axis-controlled Sicily, a vital target for our allies, was nearby. Like the Sicilians, the Maltese ducked into the nearest catacombs and tunnels when the serious shit came down.
This and so many more events and experiences are described in an audio-visual presentation called The Malta Experience.
After viewing the amazing show there, we met Mary and Cathy at their hotel. The nearby Helen’s Kitchen, where we had enjoyed a delicious lunch, was closed for supper, but we found an acceptable place to eat and had a great time.
Friday’s last photo is of the Triton Fountain, recently restored. It is beautiful at night.
In July we visited Ireland, South and North, for a couple of weeks. I was determined to see this cathedral because of a line in an iconic song called Carrighfergus, performed here most beautifully by Cedric Smith and Loreena McKennitt. The line in context:
In Kilkenny it is reported: they’ve marble stones there, as black as ink
With gold and silver I would transport her, but I’ll sing no more now… ’til I get a drink
Our tour director placed her trust in me, as I had to get to the place and back (a medieval mile distant) in 80 minutes so as not to delay the bus’s departure after our lunch in Kilkenny. Erica wisely suggested that I take a taxi there to allow my camera and me time to climb the tower and photograph the interior. The walk down the town’s medieval mile got me back with 10 minutes to spare.
Early April is the time when those birding juices start flowing in “Our Woods.” I started keeping records in April, 1994.
The earliest date for the migrating Kinglets: March 31, 1998. On this date we saw both Golden- and Ruby-Crowned Kinglets.
Here’s a list of what we’ve seen so far in 2019:
March 23: We saw our first-ever Northern goshawk at our feeder. It may have been after birds that were feeding there. A few days later there was a Great Blue Heron on the Parr Lakes.
Robins and red-winged blackbirds have been here since late March.
April 7: We first noticed golden-crowned kinglets. As of April 13 we haven’t seen the ruby-crowned variety for certain.
A first-ever sighting of the canvasback duck. Four on the south end of Lower Parr Lake.
Several crows gathering noisily in Laurelcrest Park.
Bufflehead ducks on Lower and Upper Parr Lake in Laurelcrest Park. Only other time we have seen them was on April 14, 1995. They were diving for food, staying down for short (13 s to 45 s) times. As of April 13 the two are still here.
April 11: I spotted a brown creeper and cormorants and identified the call of a white-throated sparrow for the first time this year.
April 13: A first ever sighting of a Pied-billed Grebe diving for food on Upper Parr Lake. This bird stays under for well over a minute. This photo helped ID the bird from a distance. Taken with my Alpha A-6000 using a 200 mm zoom when 130 yards away.
On Wednesday, October 17 our tour left Palermo and headed for Taormina via the really cool town of Cefalu. Cefalu was superb fun to walk in and very picturesque.
We would have our last two sleeps in Sicily in Naxos, on the coast facing the Italian mainland below another hill town, Taormina, famous for its sunrises.
If you’re desperate for one of those famous sunrises that helped so many, including D.H. Lawrence, fall in love with this town, stay not at sea level where Insight put us, but rather in a high place. And do NOT be a slave to a timetable like we were.
We had one crack at a Taormina sunrise: Thursday morning. And it was overcast.
On Friday, way before the sun came up, seven of our tour group who had opted to add three nights in Malta to our holiday had left Naxos in a van headed for Catania airport to catch an early morning flight to Valletta, Malta’s lovely capital city.
It took longer than expected to get to Taormina and our visit was rushed. Pity, because Wednesday was our one chance to see it. Tomorrow, Thursday, would be a full day visiting Mount Etna – our last full day in Sicily. After visiting the Teatro Antico in Taormina and taking our group photo in front of the chiesa there was no time left to properly visit the town.
The group photo was amateurishly hurried, the photographer taking 3 quickies and didn’t see a pigeon that photobombed his “best” shot, which he printed for us. See if you can spot it… We stayed outside Taormina at sea level at the Hilton Giardini Naxos. Nice, but not up high.