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.

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.

Sicily and Malta.1 – Intro

 

 

We returned from a holiday in Sicily and Malta on October 22.

It had started on October 8, dreadfully stress-loaded, with  a 2.5 hour Toronto delay on the tarmac in Air Canada 890, followed by an Air Canada “welcomer” in Rome October 9 who commanded us to “Run!” to our replacement flight – an impossible and dangerous marathon pre-destined to fail epically. We “ran” for 25 minutes…

Though we were both almost 74, no motorized transportation was offered. In fact, when requested, it was denied. We missed that replacement flight and, at one point, my wife and I were so breathless that I was worried that one of us would have a serious medical incident at FCO.

We went to about 4 disinterested, misinformed Alitalia desks/gates until we finally found a veteran Alitalia  supervisor who knew exactly how to solve our problem in about 10 minutes. He and his super efficient staff got us and our bags on Flight 1741 to Catania that left at 3 PM, 2.5  hours after our original Alitalia flight 1711 had been scheduled to depart.

Our destination was Siracusa, that ancient, sacred place that was once more important than Corinth or Athens. We easily found the Interbus kiosk at Catania Airport  that sold tickets to Siracusa for €5.70 pp and arrived at Maison Ortigia in the dark. Emanuele was waiting for us and for a few other patrons of his B&B who had also been delayed in their travels.

The beauty of what we experienced in these two ancient, war-torn lands more than made up for the stress we went through on October 8th and 9th in getting there.

Catania to Siracusa
Route from Catania to the island, Ortigia (ancient Siracusa) is a 63 km bus trip.

 

Vienna, Our Final Two Days

Yes, Sadly, Goodbye Vienna

 

The two main museums we saw were the Belvedere Palace (Upper) on May 18 and the Kunsthistoriches Museum of Art on May 19. I went to the Belvedere on my own on May 18. Anita had suffered a pretty bad sprain on the 17th that affected her mobility. She had recovered well enough by May 19 for us to visit the Kunsthistoriches Art Museum in Maria-Theresien Platz, the Secession Museum, have lunch in the Haschmarkt, shop and take in the romantic ballet, La Sylphide, at the Staatsoper (the famous Vienna State Opera House). We had a fabulous last day and night in Vienna!

First let me introduce a map I put together showing everywhere we visited or used in Vienna during our 8 days there:  May 3, 4 and 15-20.

Where we went in Vienna in 2015 - Courtesy of Google Maps
Where we went in Vienna in 2015 – Courtesy of Google Maps

May 18 – Belvedere Palace and other Activity

The Belvedere Palace was built by Prince Eugene of Savoy, who got very rich because the Habsburgs appreciated the wonderful job he did in repeatedly successfully fighting the Ottomans, French, Italians, Spanish, Saxons and Russians spanning six different decades. Eugene, unrivaled before or since in Austria, was rejected by the French for not looking like a general (too short and ugly). A genius in both military and diplomatic strategy, Prinz Eugen served three Austrian Emperors, Leopold I, Josef I and Charles VI, between 1683 and the 1730’s. Eugene loved architecture with a passion and was deeply involved in the design of the Schloss Belvedere. He died in 1736, frail, aged 72. Continue reading “Vienna, Our Final Two Days”