I have never been to Malta and to approach it by sea is incredible. Entering the port of Valletta (the island’s capital) has to be the most breathtaking arrival of any port I have been to. We have booked a cabin right at the front of the ship, just for occasions like this. We love to watch from our balcony as we enter a port, and this morning makes every dollar of the cost worth it.
The Harbour is shaped a little like a hand. The thin wrist being the point of entry from the Mediterranean. On either side are medieval forts guarding the narrow entry. They are truly imposing, and still threaten in their size and structure . Once through the entrance, the natural harbour opens up like the palm of the hand and then divides into inlets or fingers. Between each inlet is a promontory of land which rises up several hundred feet, and is covered with narrow streets and tall buildings. Everything, including the forts, is built with limestone, a pale yellow colour glistening in the sun. Nothing has been allowed to intrude on the look and you can easily imagine that this is how it looked a hundred years ago, maybe even two hundred years ago. Nowhere are there modern flats to spoil the impression. The only colors, other than the pale yellow limestone, are from the gaily painted shutters over the windows. It is breathtaking
The largest finger, or inlet, is the port, built for the largest ships. Here there has to be some machinery and modern structures, but the wharf is still lined with a terrace of 100 year old buildings. Where they were destroyed by bombs during the Second World War, the facades have been rebuilt and now hide the car parks and offices which are a necessity of modern life.
The other inlets are where the true beauty of this port lies. Some have a small beach at the end, others have a marina packed with expensive yachts. All are lined with cafes, and have narrow streets climbing up from the waters edge, many so steep that they are stepped, the limestone houses opening directly on to them.
The protected water inside the inlet is covered with the small colourful fishing boats that are synonymous with Malta, as well as the little boats for carrying passengers that are reminiscent of Gondolas
We could easily spend all day enjoying the sights of Valletta, but there is more of the island that we want to see. So we rent a car and set off to visit the ancient city of Mdina, Malta’s first Capital. It looks a little like a fort because of its massive city walls rising out of a limestone plateau high above the rest of the island. Inside the walls the narrow winding streets are lined with imposing aristocratic houses, and huge churches and monasteries.. Even though the town was built in the 18th and 19th centuries it still reeks of the power that created it. And again, nothing has been allowed to alter the original look and feel of the town. Although it is a tourist destination, the shops within the walls are all small with no noticeable signage, and the streets are somehow miraculously quiet.
Our last stop is at Hagar Qim and Mnajdra on the other side of the island. This is a World Heritage Site where archeologists are carefully uncovering two temples, dating back to 3600 BC, which are the oldest freestanding temples known anywhere in the world. Incredibly there are only a handful of people wandering through , and the adjacent museum is virtually empty. It is hard to understand the lack of interest, but the other charms of this beautiful island are obviously more appealing to most of the tourists.
Back on board ship I have an hour to relax before dinner and I take my book to the pool deck. Sitting next to me is a gentleman engrossed in a book. Out of interest, I lean forward to discreetly look at the cover. I wish I hadn’t. It has the fascinating title of “Natural Ways to a Healthy Prostate” . I decide conversation with this man is to be avoided at all costs. I just sit there praying that he won’t need to do a self examination. I have a long list of books that I would choose to take on vacation , and this is not one of them.
A little later we go up for dinner. We have a table for two next to a couple from Waco, Texas, As soon as they tell us where they are from we know we should move, but we don’t. As the evening progresses they start talking to us, and when they find out we are from San Francisco, they decide to share the story of their one visit there several years ago. They arrived late on a Saturday night in June, and checked into their Hotel on Market Street. The next morning they discovered that there was a parade going on right outside their hotel. They took their three young children out to watch it, not knowing that it was, in th
eir words, “the Doo Dah Parade”
We have lived there for years but have never heard of the Doo Dah Parade.
“You know” they tell us “it’s the Parade for all the Doo Dahs”
Finally it clicks. They are referring to the Gay Pride Parade, and we are now not so affectionately known as Doo Dahs.
They go on to say that their daughter works for the Peace Corps and is teaching in Bulgaria at the moment.
“What a wonderful young woman she must be”, I say and continue with my usual wit, “You must have a hard time living up to her”
He just gives me a blank uncomprehending stare.
“ We think the Doo Dah Parade was a bad influence on her” he replies, “ she’s never been the same since”
This conversation is obviously going nowhere, so we leave.