Here are a selection of my journals, observations written whilst travelling.
Also a Lonely Planet.com Pathfinder
See more here:
Specialist Teacher for schools in and around Newham, London, UK.
Working on a novel for reluctant readers aimed at 10 to 13 year olds and a crossover novel for Young Adults.
Three short stories published in the Tresco Times and Creative Week, 2001, 2002, 2006.
I spent some time thinking the other day about the travellers among us who take to the road and just keep on going.Off they go with their very few personal essentials rolled carefully into their trusted bag. Swapping material wealth for spiritual health, they keep going, never looking back.
When I mentioned to friends that I was going travelling alone for a week, they were a little surprised and asked whether I was mad (not quite); whether I was afraid to go alone (nope), or would I need someone to talk to (yes – and did!). It wasn’t that I hadn’t travelled before, I have been to many countries across four different continents, but I’d never travelled before completely by myself. Off I went with a Lonely Planet Pathfinder badge I’d recently acquired, a few essentials in my battered old case with wheels. I took a camera with me. And a pen and notebook because writing, like travelling is a journey on which you can progress.
The trip provided opportunities to see new places, people and sceneries to die for, as well as to share treasured memories and stories that I wouldn’t ordinarily have been able to experience had I stayed home with the same mind-set, repeating daily activities that can all-too-often halt progress at whatever it is one hopes to achieve.
I had a brilliant time! I met many people and experienced much. I was never lonely; and I was only as alone as I wanted to be. As well as being fun and an adventure, and sometimes a test, I found that this trip pushed me out of my comfort zone; offered opportunities to understand and accept what I didn’t yet know about: I tried out different things and reassessed what I thought about them. And this brings about a change in the self.
When travelling our senses become heightened, each day unfolds like magic providing us with new vistas and horizons and scope for renewal and change. We learn about different ways of being through not only observing but also by communicating with others across language barriers, borders and cultures. We eat foods which we haven’t heard of, or tasted with people we’ve never met. Maybe we try out new activities we’ve never done before. We test the unfamiliar. At best, we stand in different shoes; see from a different perspective. And we have a jolly good time, most of the time, thank you very much.
We tread this path in a given physical location in time and space, heading for new and deeper experiences, but the journey we make isn’t only the physical travelling we do any more than the act of writing alone is a story.
Travelling takes us to new physical places, people and experiences, as writing words is the vehicle by which to bring the story to the reader. As we travel, our assumptions can change: we become renewed by broadening understanding, knowledge and creativity. We leave behind narrow-minded perceptions and negativities that hold us in our daily lives. The same goes for a well written story: it has a capacity to send the reader on a journey of the mind, escaping, often, the hum-drum of life and it does so in an amusing, entertaining and thought provoking way.
And I wonder if, as well as the thrill of seeing new places, it is also this thirst for experience, renewal and change that drives us on. Not so much the travelling, the miles covered, the sceneries and experiences but the actual change of heart or mind within oneself.
I think this thirsting after change of some kind could be a reason why some travellers become nomadic and never look back. And whether we do come home, or make the road our home, we do so changed with stories to treasure and tell.
What do you think? If you have a moment, please share the reasons why you decide to go to a place or keep on travelling!
Please share, or like, Leave a comment if you can!
If a relaxed pace, interesting sight-seeing, rural scenery, transparent-sea – green water and a variety of beaches is your thing then perhaps Gozo is for you?
How to spend five days in Gozo
The only way in to Gozo, currently is by ferry from Ċirkewwa on the north-west coast of Malta to the port of Mġarr on Gozo. There are many crossings each day and a fully synchronised bus service once on Gozo.
Gozo Ferry – Bus Service
There are a total of 15 different routes on Gozo many of which pass through Victoria, the capital.
Firstly, familiarise yourself with the island by boat. There are so many opportunities for diving, snorkelling, water sports as well as swimming. Gozo is known as a world class place to dive. So, give it a go. There are very supportive dive centres dotted about Gozo. Personally, I haven’t dived yet, but it is on the cards!
Xlendi Pleasure Cruises do a fantastic Round Island Tour, including a trip to the famous blue lagoon on the neighbouring island of Comino (ten minutes by boat) The cruise stops at most beaches on the island and the staff are friendly and knowledgeable should you have questions. They also provide a delicious lunch and have a bar.
For further details see my Round the island of Gozo blog for more details
In the evening why not have a fish dinner at one of the waterside restaurants on Xlendi Bay? – It is a beautiful location and the fish restaurants – all – have a wealth of choice including gluten free options!
In contrast to your first day why not spend the second day in the island’s capital, Victoria? Victoria is known to the locals as Rabat. There’s so much to see and do. You’re spoilt for choice!
You’re going to want to visit the Citadel:
A good place to start is at the free visitor centre which is very informative.
Things to do around the Citadella
It could be that you decide spend a half day at the citadella – there is so much to see.The citadel is a prime example of Aragonese and medieval architecture. It has ramparts fortifications and city walls which offer 360 degree view of the city. But if you want to do something different after a walk around the Citadella, then you could visit the smaller museums.
So much choice! – Choose according to your interests.
Food: If you don’t want to leave the citadel just yet, you could try the Café San Martino, a short walk from the Pjazza Katidral, (Cathedral Museum Piazza), yet still within the citadel at St Martin’s demi-bastion. So you can continue your tour without leaving the citadel.
Alternatively, if you want to head back to the main square for lunch, try Il Tokk http://www.it-tokkrestaurant.com/Home.aspx or stop by Grapes bar café near the Basilica. Both are traditional Gozitan fare providers, try the stuffed vegetables, courgettes, aubergines, peppers, or octopus stew – stuffat –tal- qarnit and the cheese platter with Gbejna, a Gozitan cheese is to die for.
You’ll get a first class view of the Basillica if you eat there!
At the end of the day why not head to a beach for a refreshing swim. West may be best for the sunset
From Victoria take bus 310 to Marsalforn
or bus 304 to Ramla bay, alternatively take the 306 to Xlendi Bay.
You could start the day with an early morning swim with a snorkel and breakfast, or lunch at one of the beaches before heading off to Ggantija temples. They are a world heritage sight and a MUST SEE.
Take your time after wards and have a lazy dinner at Qbajjar restaurant in Marsalforn. There you can feast on local dishes, classic dishes such as fish, steaks, or even pizza. Locals flock here. So the proof of the pudding must be in the eating, so say they! Besides, what could be better than a sea view? http://qbajjarrestaurant.com/
Today why not be a little nautical? The Kelinu Grima Maritime Museum is a privately owned museum in Nadur that has a great collection of exhibits that will take you through an interesting journey of three centuries of maritime history. You can find rare and priceless items, such as original pieces of timber from Lord Nelson’s ship, the HMS Victory, the first US warship, the Constitution, battleships and also one of Lord Mountbatten’s gold epualettes which was worn during his duty in the Mediterranean.
If a church is more your thing (and there are 50 of them on Gozo), the astounding Rotunda church is well a worth a visit. It was made by the people for the people and took 20 years to build. Some people were killed in their devotion to making it. Fortunately, now there is a lift to take you to the top where there is an automated clock. It is remarkable in that its shell went up around the existing church, so it is actually two churches in one. And it is bigger than St Paul’s cathedral in London.
It is an architectural masterpiece and the third largest unsupported dome in Europe – remarkable for a small island!
The views from the top are excellent and it is well worth a visit – and do climb to the top (or take the lift).
Nearby there are restaurants cafes and bars for refreshments amongst them the only stone oven on the island. Try Gozitan pizza there – you wont’t regret it!
In the afternoon if you haven’t already passed by – take a visit to the salt pans at Marsalforn.
For Dinner why not head to the ferry terminal and harbour at Mgarr for the fresh catch of the day? Porto Vechio, Martino Garces Street in the yacht marina, Mgarr, or Manoel’s restaurant are particularly good.
Go on the trail of Edward Lear – if you fancy! He visited Gozo for one week in 1866 where he coined the term pomskizillious and gromphiberous to describe the Gozitan scenery. Head to the village of Xaghra (Shara) to the Pomskizillious Museum of Toys.
Inside the museum as well as a late 18th century Maltese Doll with carved wooden head and some Italian Presepio and figurines dating from 1790’s, there is a 1930’s Noah’s Ark as well as other lead toys including zoo and farm animals, cowboys and indians, aeroplanes, ships and soldiers and an abundance of very spooky dolls on display
Of Edward Lear himself there is a poem written by him to the nymph Calypso and a diary entry which reveals his account of his painting Xaghra, as well as a visit to the temples. There is a spooky life size replica of him in a display case along with a first edition Laughable Lyrics and Nonsense songs from 1872 and his Nonsense songs, stories and botany, Alphabets. Early edition (1872).
In the afternoon kick off your shoes and chill at one of the gorgeous beaches you haven’t yet visited, before dancing the night away in the fantastic club La Grotta club -inside a cave at Xlendi.
* * *
I stayed at Gozo for four days at the end of August when even in summertime it wasnt over crowded. I’ll definitely be returning.
What to do on Malta and Gozo for an awesome and inspiring day out!
Must See: On any trip to Malta and Gozo it is essential to visit the temples.
I was compelled to visit these UNESCO World Heritage sites. Having read about them in some detail I was fascinated to see them and eager to find out exactly what they stand for. They are considered to be among:
THE OLDEST FREE STANDING STRUCTURES IN THE WORLD.
Hagar Qim, Mnajdra and Ggantija
One thing is clear, the first inhabitants of Malta settled around 5200 BC having come from Sicily by raft, bringing with them flint and obsidian with which to make tools – rocks not found on Malta or Gozo. Carbon dating tells us that it wasn’t until 4100 bc that these temples began to be constructed.
Upon entering I was immediately struck by the awesome size of Hagar Qim. The enormous megalith is curiously placed – how did anyone lift and move this 20 tonne plinth into position?
The large 20 tonne bastion stone at Hagar Qim, Malta.
It appears a ball bearing approach to moving the plinth was executed. Ingenious – without machinery. These temple builders were very strong!
Both sites Hagar Qim and Ggantija on Gozo are built with semi circular apses each connected with a central passage.
Hagar Qim, is intriguing -but there is yet another independent temple complex, Mnajdra, connected by a 550 metre long track. It’s a lovely walk down the track smelling the fresh air, the lovely wild flowers and earth. It really is a garrigue terrain featuring dry earth loving Mediterranean and Africa shrubs and wild flowers, such as the sea squill as well as indigenuous species, such as flea bane and Maltese spurge. Very sparse tree cover includes carob and fig trees.
Though it’s a pleasant walk after a full morning at Hagar Qim, I’m curious about what I’m going to find at the end of the track. The track itself is quite a long way if you go there and back, so make sure your footwear is appropriate.
Disabled Access is good – you don’t have to walk all the way back, or there for that matter – a small electric mini car with soft seats can take you there and back for a euro.
Mjandra Temple, Malta
Unlike Hagar Qim this temple was constructed on the outside with hard coralline limestone whilst the inner sanctum was constructed from the softer globigerina limestone, allowing decoration to be made more easily. Dimples and spiral patterns have been found on plinths here.
Mnajdra, built 3600 – 3200 bc – consisting of three – in one, is more mysterious. It’s a special place, pointing to the South East, overlooking the little island of Ffilifa. It is thought that it was used for calendric reasons as it is full of solar alignments. It was probably also used for astronomical observations. There is an excellent model in the visitor centre which allows the vsitor to see what it looks like when the sun is in alignment with the entrance on the June 21st and a similar alignment on the winter solstice. It reminds me somewhat of Stonehenge.
Ggantija Temples at Gozo
These temples are believed to have been built by giants hence the name Gee- gant-ee-ya. They are the oldest free standing structures in the world.
Have a drink of Kinnie when you go – it’s an acquired taste – being fizzy with added bitter-tasting botanical herbs giving it an aromatic flavour – just what you need before going doing research in the visitor centre!
I want to share what I found out about why the temple builders went to all this trouble of carting megaliths about.
Snail found at Ggantija
What’s it all for and Why visit?
As most Neolithic sites tend to be burial chambers, but these aren’t, I wonder what made our ancestors construct such mammoth works of Art? To our Neolithic ancestors I understand that rituals and symbols were important to the temple builders’ way of life. Human beings have always had a thirst for creating; for making meaning of our lives: evidently – not only living to eat, take shelter and procreate. With natural, found resources this has been possible. Scores of sharks tooth and pottery beads, figurines and animal representations have been found.
The ‘fat ladies’ are renowned as a symbol of fertility on Malta and Gozo: the belief that women were goddesses of fertility, an idea held in high esteem in Malta and Gozo. Could this have led to the erection of the temples?
But it seems that there were other uses for them too. None are used as burial chambers, like most in Britain, Egypt and other parts of Malta, for example the Hypogeum which was at first a sanctuary, only later becoming a necropolis.
One lady with a head – one without! (Found at Ggantija, Gozo)
More images of the sleeping ladies and the Venus of Malta can be found here:
Models of diseased pilgrims have been found in the temples making it likely that the temples were in part used for places of healing.
There is evidence of altar tables in the temples – a slab raised on a dais – the Holy of Holies – with a carving of a snake (now in Gozo museum). It has links to rebirth and reincarnation. There is a purification hole at Ggantija where one would wash their feet and hands before entry. Did people go there to be spiritually purified?
Many goddesses of fertility have been found in all of the sites including Tarxien and Skorba. Though they have either no heads, or detachable heads. Many of these fat ladies with large hips and ample bosoms have been found in Hagar Qim. Those were found squatting and headless – only two were found at Ggantija. Nobody clearly knows why. Except that Neolithic man saw in mother nature the link to the tree of life – to reincarnation – some figurines have been fond that are curled in the foetal position – perhaps awaiting rebirth. Neolithic man saw mother nature giving birth to children, the fruits, the crops and so it could be that symbols were created of her in reverence to her in the form of pottery figurines as a devotion to the goddesses of fertility.
There are altar tables though it is not clear what they were used for. It is highly likely it was for offering sacrifices. No human remains were ever found, but animal remains have been found suggesting some sacrifice was likely on the altars. Were they offered to the goddesses of fertility?
5. Oracle Holes, Astrological observations and Divination
Oracles were called upon to seek advice and maybe to interpret dreams. Oracle holes have been found across the sites in Malta and Gozo they seem uniform at 60cm in height. (Tarxien, Ggantija and Hagar Qim). They seem to be similar to oracle holes found in other parts of the world where cutting holes into stones was a ritual or a symbol.
It’s been fascinating – it has raised more questions about our humanity, but I have learned that Neolithic man had a sensitivity to nature, was grateful, was aware of time and was artistic.
If you would like to know more about some of the temple uses highlighted, or plan a trip for your self – further information can be found below:
* * *
With sincere and grateful thanks to the Ggantija Temple UNESCO site and Archaeological Museum , Gozo who made this trip possible.
enables admission for 2 adults & 2 children to 22 Heritage Malta sites and museums (except Hypogeum) plus the Malta National Aquarium. Holders of this ticket also benefit from a 10% discount at any Heritage Malta museum shop.
Price 40 euros – Adult
15 euros – Child.
It is valid for 30 days.
Bus no 201 from the airport, or Valletta. Or take the Hop on Hop Off sight seeing bus. Buses are regular and inexpensive.
Entrance Fee: Adult 9 Euros, Child 4.50 euros. Concessionary tickets are also available. See below for details on multi museum passes.
Best to: leave a full day to explore comfortably, the sites and the visitor centre.
Eating: There’s a good restaurant on site at Hagar Qim. Down at Blue Grotto there is a choice, though Blue Creek restaurant is particularly good, serving light snacks as well as sumptuous local fare, atop the Dingli cliffs overlooking the beautiful coast. Set Menu 25 euros a head, A la carte-9-16 euros
Nearby: Blue Grotto lovely swimming to cool off in summer, as well as boat trips out to the Blue Grotto caverns. m
Ggantija, Gozo: Most things are only 10 minutes away from the capital, Rabat – so the choice is yours!
Please share, or like, Leave a comment if you can!
The sound of the tzitzikia is so loud, I comment to a friend as we sit beneath a lemon tree in Maroussi, Athens.
I notice as I chat away that the stridulation is sporadic – one moment the cicadas are humming in full swing, the next stopping before the next chorus inevitably reaches a crescendo once more. Sometimes you don’t notice if you are talking, until, that is, it goes silent.
After some time passed I asked my friend, ‘What makes them stop and start like that?’ She looked thoughtful for a moment, then replied, ‘Well it must surely be the conductor!’
Perhaps it’s really not that funny, or perhaps it is just that I am delighted and happy to see my friend and to be back in Greece, but we howl with laughter.
Please share, or like, Leave a comment if you can!
An account of a circular tour of Gozo by boat, from Mgarr harbour, Gozo. The account features highlights of the beautiful emerald green bays and the timeless, special beauty spots of this paradise-like island that is Gozo.
If you can – go!
Where is Gozo?
Gozo meaning ‘joy’ and in Maltese called ‘Għawdex’ (pronounced: Awdesh), is the second largest island of the Maltese archipelago, in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Italy and north of North Africa
As well as Gozo’s absolute joyfullness, it is also known as The Island of Calypso, according to the Greek mythological location of Ogygia in Homer’s Odyssey. The nymph, Calypso controlled the island and said that she lived in a cave near Ramla Bay. There she detained Odysseus for seven years as a prisoner of love. He could not leave because his love was so deep for Calypso.
I think I, too, have come under the same spell.
Gozo is very different from its big sister, Malta. Malta has the highest density of population per square Kilometre in Europe, and is full of cars. Whereas Gozo is half the size and has a population of just 37,000 people.
Perfect for me. Just perfect.
Gozo is also much more of a green idyll, has friendly people, very little crime and a community spirit that makes you feel at once at home.
The 8 point Maltese cross.
Meaning: To have within yourself the ability to be in service of others and that according to the knights involves: Spiritual Joy; to live without malice; to be sorry; to humble yourself to those who injure you; to love justice; to be merciful; to be sincere and pure of heart; and to suffer persecution.
Being something of a utilitarian it holds appeal for me. And I think the people live it. Or try to. Somewhere, when I was on Gozo, I saw an inscription saying, ‘we cannot make it, we have to be it.’ It was about a church not being the building, but the people.
In love with Gozo
That aside, the World Heritage sites, the delicious food, the many other things to do such as: entertainment venues – there are three theatres on Gozo; fortifications, towers, gardens, religious sites, natural sites, walks and so much more that it would take me at least a year to thoroughly investigate the place in detail.
But I was there a week and I have to say I was completely smitten.
I fell in love with it.
Things to Do – at Sea
When Louis from Xlendi cruises told me that Gozo is best viewed from the sea, he wasn’t wrong.
Louis hard at work in Xlendi Bay
Gozo truly IS a delightful place and a boat trip around the island is an excellent way to spend the day. The people I travelled with – had even done it twice in the same week!
Included in most of the boat trips is a trip to Comino where you can walk around the island in an hour and a half – an option for the walkers amongst us.
There are so many other opportunities off shore at Gozo. For example : swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, water skiing, paddle boarding, pedallo boating, jet ski, private boat charters, and fishing trips so that you are not stuck for choice. So if you love the sea, why not visit Gozo and take your pick of the best? With the sea always being only 10 minutes away from any point on the island who wouldn’t make use of it? And Gozo has word class diving sites that have to be seen to be believed!
Taking George and Louis’s advice I opted for the full day boat trip around the island that stops off at the small island of Comino, just a ten boat ride away from Mgarr harbour.
Once aboard the comfortable boat it wasn’t long before we reached the too-blue-to-be-true water of the blue lagoon of Comino. It is incredible. And I am glad I was there early, because we stayed there an hour and a half and by 11:30am it was becoming crowded. At night there are boat parties too with blaring music. So it’s essential to choose your time to visit.
On arrival at the blue lagoon the colour of which has to be seen to be believed, I just wanted to gaze at it for longer, but I was summoned to snorkel. I’m so glad I did!
The water is crystal clear due to a number of factors I’m told by the skipper, Sergio. Firstly the lagoon is situated in open water, and secondly the limestone orientated sand is white, so the reflection in the water with that kind of sand renders the water a deep, yet light aquamarine colour.
Bit like the Maldives really.
There are many fish and underground fauna to see whilst snorkelling . I saw a large number of sea bass, other colourful fish and a lot of limpets clinging to the side of the rocks when I swam over to Cominotte, another tiny, uninhabitated island.
Feeling refreshed I climbed back aboard thinking how that crystal-like-gem-stone, green sea has offered me the best swim I’ve experienced to date.
All pictures taken with a Sony camera. No special effects applied.
Yours Truly, re-embarking.
Unusual Rock Formations
Gozo is a myriad of landscapes, with interesting rock formations chiefly of limestone. But the striped effect, I notice is because of the different sorts of limestone. There are layers causing this striation of coralline (upper and lower variety) and globigerina. It’s a beautiful sight, and the formations are very interesting.
This rock is called – you can probably guess? (Answer after the photo)
Did you guess right?! – The Elephant’s Head
No – it’s not a pub in Camden Town . Well, yes, actually. It is!
At Crystal lagoon, you can forgett about drying off. I’m in again, for a beautiful swim. Again a snorkeler’s paradise – many fish here. Sergio throws in bread, scores of shoals come to feed!
Donning a snorkel and mask, I see smaller fish and limpets clinging to the side of large flanks of limestone far below the lagoon. As the morning passes and we finish our swimming the colour intensifies. It is marvellous to see. I was talking to the skipper again and he tells me that the thin pen-like fish are called swordfish, but the Gozitan people call them ‘imsella’. Imsella is the special thin needle that is used to repair fishing nets. So really these fish are ‘fishing needle’ fish. I like it.
Above crystal lagoon, Comino, is a watch tower which if the flag is flying you can go inside. It wasn’t when I was there.
Besides which there are plenty of opportunities for watchtowers. There are four in Gozo : Mgarr ix-Xini Tower in Xewkija, the Xlendi Tower, the Dwejra Tower and San Blas Tower in Nadur. But this tower is special because it is where the new Count of Monte Christo film starring Angelina Jolie was made. They threw a dummy off here in the scene where the Count jumps. The cliff is very high and nobody would have been able to pull it off without injury so the dummy was used.
The whole island was filmed in the part where the treasure is hidden.
The boat provides a decent lunch, if you’re stuck and water, wine, beer, teas, coffees, cokes and so on.
After lunch we head around to the famous Azure Window which actually reminds me a little of Dorset, though of course the rock is different. It is here that the Game of Thrones was filmed.
Recognise this?! It is the Azure window at Dwerja.
But . . .the Azure Window is disintegrating
The arch is in a dangerous condition because large pieces of rock keep falling from the arch of the Azure window. Estimates predict that the arch will disappear in a few years. A very large piece came down recently on the right side making the gap wider and dangerous. There are notices warning the public to refrain from walking over the top of the arch.
No more filming there then!
The afternoon was spent exploring the wonderful south and west of the island which has amazing places, such as Fungus Rock, where a medicinal herb grows.
On we go, the salty sea spray flicking back in our faces. Refreshing and invigorating. At Marsalform Bay we arrive with its symmetrical yet organic shaped salt pans.
Salt is harvested here by the lovely Cini family who go back generations on the island and whose fore fathers and mothers feature dyers and spinners of cloth, weavers, historians and salt harvesters.
There is a sign displaying the salt harvesting process. It takes time for the sea to dry out in the salt flats, once done the salt remains – thanks to the Romans! But there is more to these people than this.
A tradition passed down the years. A local lady continues with making necklaces, bookmarks and bracelets. She could turn her hand to anything.
It’s fascinating to hear their stories, and I spent some time looking at Louis Sabila’s photographs, depicting the massive change that the community has undergone since Malta’s independence. Thank you, Louis.
Back round on the boat heading north we stop at Ramla bay for a final swim. Here there are red sand beaches, this one, as well as San Blas bay.
I had a beautiful and very salty swim in Ramla bay and the sea was as clear as a bell. No fish!
Ramla Bay, Picture by William Schering.
Heading to the point from which we started – we have journeyed full circle round Gozo, I note there are some very interesting walks from Xlendi bay and more, interesting land formations.
I’ve had a fantastic day. If I had more time, for sure I would do it all again
* * *
I took the full day tour which lasts for 8 hours and visits all the main beaches of Gozo as well as Comino.
Further details of the Boat trip I took can be found here:
It is not surprising that Valletta is the European capital of culture, 2018.
Valletta, a fortress and world heritage city is the capital of Malta, and it is packed full of cultural sights. To spend only one day there, as I did, is certainly not sufficient time to do justice to its immense wealth of Archaeology, Art, Design and History.
Nevertheless, if you aim to set off early in the morning there is a lot you can see and do in one day. And even if History is not quite your thing, the sceneries alone are awe-inspiring. Whatsmore, it’s even possible to swim in the sea near the Grand Harbour – if you know where to go!
Valletta, is a medieval city featuring ornate, baroque style architecture for the most part, though there are also a few neo-classical buildings too. Valletta is so called after Jean Parisot de Valette, the Grand Master who led the knights of St John to victory over Ottoman rule in 1565.
The knights stayed on Malta for 268 years and transformed Valletta from what they called merely a rock of soft sandstone into a flourishing island with mighty defences that stand as one of the great powers of Europe.
I cannot help thinking that Malta’s history is governed by its geographical location. It is just 60 miles away from Sicily, 115 away from Italy and 210 miles from Tunisia in Africa. This confluence of cultures and powers that have ruled there are what make this interesting cultural blend of flavours. Further information about Malta’s complex history can be found here. http://www.visitmalta.com/en/early-inhabitants
Later during the Great siege of Malta the defeat of the Turks brought a lot of good things to Malta and its people, though it must be said, not all good – amongst its glories are ignomnies, such as the taking hostage of the Jewish community so that the Order of the knights could secure large sums in ransom money.
Malta’s great siege of 1575, is well documented in the National War Museum. The museum is a hive of information dating back to 2500 BC.
The knights leave behind a legacy that can be experienced today in the St John’s Ambulance service, the area in London known as St John’s Wood – which they once owned, amongst other services for the benefit of all of the communities of the world.
Note Secret Swimming Spot.
Once you arrive at the War museum if you continue forward a little further, there is a set of steps leading down to the water. Once down – there are about thirty steps – you will arrive at rocks with manmade safe climbing ladders leading down into the sea. It is a refreshing place to have a swim before continuing on your journey.
Walking around Valletta I gain an immediate sense of the influence that the different cultures have impressed here.
But the first place I encounter when arriving at Valletta is the walkway leading into the palatial Freedom Square. The erection of the new parliament building has been a contentious issue in recent years as the new parliament building invited questions, and disapproval about the difference in style and proximity to other historic buildings, in particular the Our Lady of Victories church (the first church built in Valletta).
Nevertheless the square itself is remarkable – the floor is hewn from large slabs of polished Gozitan limestone resembling marble, and the sweeping open space is jaw dropping and gives a sense of coolness and calm.
It’s not easy to get lost in Valletta, though I did find myself going in a circle just once, but the street systems are fairly grid -like, being as they emanate north-eastward of the spectacular Grand Harbour.
As I continue exploring Valletta, I encounter the most beautiful Maltese balconies, both well-kept and some ruined vestiges. I can’t refrain from photographing them, I love their ornate curlicue designs. Some are open balconies, some closed and there are even corner ones. It’s not clear whether they are originally Turkish, Arabic, or Spanish, but either way these Maltese balconies are beautiful.
Inside the must-see spectacle of St John’s Co-cathedral – http://stjohnscocathedral.com/ are two Caravaggio oil paintings, the famous Beheading of St John the Baptist, as well as the lesser known, but no less beautiful, St Jerome writing
Moving away from the city of Valletta, yet only a short five minute ferry ride across the water, I soon arrive at the Three Cities.
It’s eye opening to see the wonderful layout of the three spits of land reaching in to the water stretching across the water to Valletta. Vittoriosa (Birgu) in particular has its many churches splendidly lit up at night in stark contrast to its neighbour Senglea which is accessible directly from Vittoriosa by a small foot bridge.
Further information can be found here: http://birgu.gov.mt/ it’s a good place to start to plan how and what you will visit in Birgu.
Walking up a steep hill I cannot peel my eyes away from the flags hanging high above my head. The colours remind me of the saffron colours of monks’ robes and I am compelled to follow the road right up to the top.
Once I reach the top I gasp at the sight before my eyes. There is a large open square festooned with flags. I have no idea what it is for, until I take a drink at the café bar and am told that it is the feast day for Saint Dominic. I am in Birgu square.
Bedecked for the Feast day of St Dominc
I decide to sit and watch the activity that is ensuing across the square.
Local workmen are taking note of something. There’s something wrong with the décor.
Right above my head. It seems. It doesn’t take me long to relocate.
It’s a good job too. Further work is evidently needed.
In come the Lighting crew. . .
They soon fix the stray garland.
I am told that there is fierce competition in the villages for which village will have the best decorations. Tonight St Julians is also having its feast. But I cannot be in two places at once. Besides, by the time the decorations are complete I am certain there will be no better celebration than this!
The community effort is what makes the Holy Feast of St Dominc a success.
The priests have arrived.
There is to be a procession starting in just two hours. There are to be players of the Cor Anglais, clarinets, cymbals, drums, trombones, trumpets.
They are almost ready, the orchestra takes up its position and begins its parade across the square.
Feasts and the church – that is: the idea and practise of community spirit – are integral to life in Malta and Gozo, Malta’s sister island.
I sit back to take in the sights strike up conversation with the locals. The sound is glorious!
When the occasion arose to be a guide for the blind and partially sighted, I jumped at the chance. As an avid explorer, and Rambler, and curious by heart and nature – I’m glad I did.
As well as being a fun and rewarding volunteering experience, we also walked five miles, made many more friends and soaked up all that this part of the world has to offer! This travel narrative highlights a section of the journey along the river Lea Navigation route from Hertford Town to Ware on a sunny day in August.
“My eyes are empty bottles floating in the sea. . .
Above us is the sky; below us, all around –
I can’t remember colours, though my guide tells me it’s green.”
Blind Ramblers rely on sighted guides to help them when out walking. The Blind Rambling Club in London is run by Valerie Davies and her blind husband, David who is the coordinator. Together they arrange partnerships with local Ramblers’ groups.
Each week a different Rambling group may volunteer to act as guides. Today’s volunteers are members of the Capital Walkers who are part of the Inner London Ramblers.
The main task of a guide is to advise companions of approaching obstacles – things like overhanging branches, undulating ground and approaching stiles. Perhaps, too, to point out the features of the surroundings, such as colours, shapes and textures.
Today’s walk is a five mile circular along the Lee Navigation to Ware town centre, where we plan to have lunch. My walking partner for the day is Mafoud. Mafoud had full sight, until 2010 when his retina detached and he went blind. He says it has been a big challenge to get out and about, and he often wakes up extra early in the morning to map out routes before the rush hour.
With my arm firmly linked to Mafoud’s we set off on to the south-west tow path to reach the banks of the River Beane. It isn’t long before we come to a weir. The sound of the weir captures everyone’s attention, but, amazingly the blind ramblers are able to quote almost exactly its size and shape.
Crossing a footbridge we enter Lea Island, which eventually leads us on to the Lee Navigation. (Further upstream this changes its name to become the River Lea.) But here the lock is a fully operational navigation system to allow river traffic to ply between Hertford and London.
The sun shines brilliantly and we cannot wish for a better day. We walk on and soon enter the open space of King’s Mead Nature Reserve, the largest remaining grazed riverside flood meadow in Hertfordshire, covering 96 hectares or 237 acres, also a tranquil wildlife haven; 265 species of wildflowers have been recorded here, as well as 119 different bird species.
Cabbage white butterflies and a rarer Adonis blue butterfly bob happily by as we traverse the soft grass and clumps of drier, wild reeds.
Continuing eastwards, successfully tackling kissing gates we arrive at a railway line with a pedestrian crossing.
Although I see quite clearly, Mafoud has developed a really strong sense of smell and hearing. Two or three minutes before I hear the sound of an approaching train, Mafoud has already informed me that there is indeed one on its way!
Safely over the two stiles and across the railway line we continue on until we come to the New River itself. As we pause for a drink of water, Linda, another member of the London Blind Rambling club tells us how she listens out for the sounds and smells of the area – the noise of cattle or the distinctive woodland sounds. It’s fascinating to hear her stories.
Linda has a guide dog, Cara to watch out for her. Today Cara is able to enjoy a ‘free run’. It is wonderful to see and hear the dogs taking a dip in the New River, their tongues dangling sideways out of their mouths and then to feel them shaking their wet bodies against our legs.
As we continue our walk it becomes evident that Mafoud is something of a poet and requires some help to complete a line of a poem he’s just started.
“My eyes are empty bottles floating in the sea…”
“Go on,” I say.
“But I can’t remember colours,” he states stopping in his tracks.
Mafoud enjoys a very active lifestyle, takes part in pottery, supper clubs, yoga, gym, music as well as being a keen walker. He can write and read Braille and will, he says, perhaps write his poetry down once he gets home.
There is a feeling ofcamaraderie, and much banter passes back and forth as we approach the White House Sluice, a 400-year-old aqueduct built to provide drinking water to London. It reaches as far as Stoke Newington, 24 miles away.
Soon we are at Ware where there is a good selection of pubs lining the tow path. We choose the Saracen’s Head to sit outside to enjoy lunch as the weather is so good.
Mafoud tells me that guides are essential to the blind to be able to get out walking and to discover new areas. “Especially if we’re visiting a pub,” Mafoud tells me, “as I’ll need to go to the toilet.” I lead him to the door and Mafoud is an expert at feeling his way around, once inside.
It’s not long before we are all back on the tow path recapturing our steps, past the Broadmead Pumping station, a Grade Two listed building, built in 1885 which once abstracted water from a deep chalk well nearby, but is now disused. Its chimney is almost 20 metres high!
Once again over the Lee Navigation and back towards the River Beane and Hertford East station where our walk ends.
For a county that is land-locked I’ve been amazed by just how much water there is and how diverse the abundant wildlife is, or as, Mafoud commented: “how much there is to touch, smell and hear.”
JulieAdexter, August, 2016.
If you fancy guiding with the Ramblers to assist the Blind Ramblers, email Valerie.