From Golf to the Lusitania?

While watching The Open Golf Tournament this morning the rich voice of the former Irish golfer, announcer Ewan Murray, reminded me of a visit Anita and I made to Cobh early in our 11-day Ireland and Northern Ireland tour in 2019.

While visiting this lovely seaport town, on Eire’s south coast, we chose to visit the marvelous Lusitania Memorial, where we opted to watch a small TV screen and listen for a few minutes to another deep, dubbed Irish voice representing Martin Mannion, a passenger on the ill-fated RMS Lusitania who survived. The ship had sailed from New York on May 1, 1915 carrying 1962 passengers and crew… and 173 tons of munitions.

Six days later the Lusitania was sunk by a U-boat torpedo 11 miles from the South coast of Ireland on May 7. Only 761 people surived. Over 60 per cent perished!

A post I read today showed that the newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic had mentioned the weapons prior to the sailing.

Here is that post about the Lusitania sinking… in which Winston Churchill’s name comes up… if you’re willing to scroll about 16 pages down…

Sicily and Malta.9

 

Blue Grotto - Qrendi 9:30 AM Sunday
A spectacular view of the wave-fashioned coast near the Blue Grotto at Qrendi, Malta

On Sunday, March 21, we took a small minibus on a guided visit to the south of the island of Malta. What looked like a long lineup and the diminuitive boats didn’t inspire enthusiasm, and we’ve seen other grottos, so we passed on this short trip. We shopped for souvenir tea towels, etc and my camera had brunch.

While I was waiting in a surprisingly nice gift shop the owner pointed up over my head to the official Flag of Malta . She said something I remember sort of like:

“You know we have this other flag. It was given to us by the British, having bombed the crap out of us during WW II!”

For more on the history of Malta that explains the above quote and the Arabic influence see the first post on Malta: Sicily and Malta.7

We then motored east to the lovely seaside port of Marsaxlokk, very busy and fascinating on a Sunday. We enjoyed the colour of the buildings and shopped at the large, pleasant market that stretched for quite a distance along the shore selling everything under the formidable Maltese sun.

At the Church of Our Lady of Pompeii a homily was being preached about Archbishop Oscar Romero of Salvador, canonized a week earlier. Being out of touch but remembering this martyred hero very well, my first thought was “Is Liberation Theology alive and well here in Malta?” Research done at home later dismissed that hopeful idea.

It seems to have required an Argentinian, Pope Francis, to finally beatify in 2015 and recently canonize Saint Oscar Romero, murdered by a right-wing death squad on March 24, 1980 while celebrating mass. Bombs outside the Cathedral in San Salvador also killed between 27 and 40 others and wounded over 200. (See above link.)

But back to our story… We sauntered back to a corner where our minibus would pick us up before noon, still enjoying the place and chatting at the corner with our fellow Sicily/Malta traveller, Shay.

Then our little group returned, past many dwellings not far from the airport that have been built to house refugees, safely to our hotel. For the last time, we took the #14 bus to Valletta, where we ate in an interesting restaurant. Our table was beside a Bullfighting poster from 1996.

We were transferred to the airport once again, one of the things that Insight Vacations includes in the price of its tours. Our route home was Valletta > Catania > Frankfurt > Toronto.

Taxiing before takeoff from Catania, Sicily’s Mungibeddu (Beautiful Mountain), and its godlike namesake nymph, Aetna, gave us a special farewell blessing:

Finally We See Etna!
We got our only decent view of the top of Mount Etna

Our time in Sicily and Malta was full of history, art, fun – and a little luck.

Sicily and Malta.8

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Approaching Rabat from Valletta, Mdina comes first into view.

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 and Malta.7

Malta, Day One: October 19, 2018

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We took off from Catania for Malta very early on Friday, October 19, 2018.

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.

Valletta Visits

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.

St. Canice’s Cathedral – Kilkenny, Ireland

13th C. St. Canice’s Cathedral: My camera’s view from its leaning tower.

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.

I’ve since learned that there are only three old towers like this in Ireland that can still be climbed. St. Candice’ tower really does lean,  according to a recorded spooky voice regularly reassuring me that it would probably hold climbers up for a good while yet…

 

 

 

 

Sicily and Malta.6 – Cefalu and Taormina

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.

Wednesday in Cefalu

 

Wednesday Afternoon in TAORMINA

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.

 

 

Sicily And Malta.5 – Erice & Trapani

October 16 was our third and last night in Palermo. The tour schedule took us for a morning in Erice, a mountainside town East of Palermo, and we spent the afternoon poking around Trapani, visiting an area that produces sea salt before the a visit to a farm that produced olives and made wine.

I’d have preferred to spend an actual afternoon on my/our own in Palermo and had figured out how to get to its fine Marionette Museum and what our tour did in Trapani was disappointing, especially when I realized that we would not return to Palermo before the museum closed.

Erice & Trapani 2 copy

Tuesday October 16

Erice Morning:

We were warned that the walk up from the gate was steep and long, so I went on my own. Halfway up I realized that Anita could have done it. She spent her time near the gate but walked into Erice far enough to find a very nice Pinocchio marionette for our granddaughter. The long-nosed liar was a hit with her and the children of a friend of my daughter’s from her University of Toronto undergraduate days, who were at our place when Anita gave it to her. I had checked and adjusted the cords so that Pinocchio moved as he was supposed to.

Trapani Afternoon

 

Sicily and Malta.4 – Temples and Mosaics

Sunday October 14 – Valle Dei Templi

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Departing Ragusa on Sunday morning our first stop was at the Valle Dei Templi, site of seven temples on a huge 1300 hectare site on a ridge, not in a Valle, near the town of Agrigento.

After the seeing the Valle we bused to Palermo, where we dined with the whole group at our hotel.

Monday October 15 – Monreale Morning, Palermo Afternoon

Monreale and Palermo - Oct. 15 copy 3

After breakfast on Monday Roberto delivered us safely uphill to another cliffside place – Monreale. Its beautiful Duomo Di Monreale is world famous for its Norman architecture and the fact that is chock full of spectacular mosaics.

We climbed many stairs from the road to reach the square where the Duomo, dedicated in 1182 to the nativity of Mary.

Palermo Afternoon – The Cathedral and A Historic Palace

We visited Palermo Cathedral and killed time checking out graffiti until our 12:30 appointment at perhaps the #1 attraction in Palermo: Palazzo Conte Federico. The Count’s family can be traced back to Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, one of the truly great figures in history and King of Sicily at four years old in 1198. His descendant loves to race vintage sports cars and the Countess, who guided our group around, is an Austrian swimmer and musician.  She was a fascinating guide, explaining some Sicilian customs and superstitions such as the proper direction for a bed and warned us not to make the upward “corno” sign even by accident. This belief apparently predates Christianity.

Two more nights in Palermo left… Visiting Erice and Trapani on Tuesday and on Wednesday we will have a great visit of Cephalu and proceed to Taormina.

Sicily and Malta.3 – With The Tour Bus

October 13 – We Visit Siracusa with the Tour

The Greek theatre, Ear of Dionysius and the Apollo Temple area are shown here. The tour also explored the Piazza Duomo, with which we were very familiar. Our local expert was excellent in describing these sights.

 

 

 

Then we had a lunch break and left for Ragusa, about 2 hours away including a rest stop.

Siracusa to Ragusa Ibla
90.3 km on the Bus with Tour Director, Barbara, and our skillful, creative, safe driver, Roberto.

Ragusa-Ibla – The Old Town

Our local expert for Ragusa was again excellent in describing these sights. We visited the Old Town on Friday afternoon and slept in Ragusa.

Sicily and Malta.2 – Siracusa Wed. & Thu.

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Statue of Archimedes – Island of Ortigia, Siracusa

Why three nights in Siracusa? That island city’s key treasures and its historical importance in the ancient, storied, Greek world (larger than Athens and Corinth in its time).

We (well, mostly I…) like to arrive and have one or two days on our own before joining a guided tour. Siracusa was a perfect choice. We landed at Catania Airport on October 9 and needed to return there to begin the tour.  Siracusa was only a one hour bus ride direct from Catania Airport.

Maps

Wednesday, October 10

We walked a short distance to the Piazza Duomo, first visiting Santa Lucía alla Badia Church that has a huge painting of the Burial of Saint Lucy by Caravaggio, a painter whose wonderful chiaroscuro work I search for wherever I am.

After visiting St. Lucy’s Church we visited the Duomo itself, a cathedral built on the site of an ancient Greek temple, supported by the temples original columns and full of beautiful art .

We aborted our walk through the Ipogeo, an ancient tunnel that leads to the Fonte Aretusa, because of the smell of urine, we cleansed with gelati at Gelati Bianca in P. Duomo and finished leftover pizza from our late supper on Tuesday. Then we walked north along Via Roma and just off the island to see how we would get to the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum on Thursday. The two regular city bus lines weren’t working but we learned we could catch the Hop On Hop Off Bus at Hop 3 (Piazza Archimede), very near our BnB then get off at Hop 12 and the Museo tomorrow.

We ate at a very busy Osteria Mariano, where we enjoyed the atmosphere and the food was good. I enjoy cannelloni so I tucked into one for dessert.

Thursday, October 11

Friday, October 12

On Friday morning we explored Siracusa’s Forte Vigilena and the Papyrus Museum.

Then  we got on the Interbus, which goes to the airport, but getting off near the Catania train station, close to our hotel, instead. We were in good time to meet our tour director and a few of our fellow tourists before supper. I explored the centre of Catania very thoroughly – looking for a lens cover I’d lost. No decent photo shops to be found. Guess the Samsungs and iPhones have taken over…

We knew beforehand that Saturday we would return to Siracusa with our tour and this time visit its amazing Greek Theatre, the massive Ear of Dionsyius Cave and the bits left of the Temple of Apollo before continuing to the picturesque hilled town of Ragusa. All this the subjects of Sicily and Malta.3 – coming soon.