The Fortress
An unexpected start to our trip
I didn't know what to expect in Malta, apart from it being hugely important in WW2, plus people talked about it as a good place to get some sun. We had decided to go because A's grandfather was there from 1942 to 1944 as a radar technician. Back then, radar was top secret tech. The Germans didn't have it and he was issued a cyanide pill in case of capture; it was serious stuff. He'd been seconded to the British Navy, but we didn't have much more information than three old photos and his service number.

Flights from Rome were cheap and spending a few days exploring family history should be interesting. We planned to overnight in Rome from Vancouver instead of connecting through and just as well: by the time we got to Rome we were toast. Not even fresh toast. I don't usually get jet lag but this time we were both hammered flat. We scoffed some simple but delicious food and slept for fourteen hours.

Next morning, the hotel shuttle driver's rampant disregard for anything resembling safety woke us up smartly. He had two fingers on the wheel whilst reading a printout, texting and checking emails, all while attempting to drive up the arse of the car in front at 140km/h. What a jerk.

Malta from the air was a complete contrast to the fresh, shimmering seas we saw in all the pictures. It looked like a largely flat but rocky terrain covered with dusty, sprawling towns and sparse vegetation.

We'd booked an AirBnB and our host graciously met us at the airport. We stayed on St. Christopher Street in Valletta near the water, an easy walking distance to most places. It was clean, well set up, and comfortably cool in the day.

The streets of Valletta were narrow and cobbled, but straight and easy to navigate. We found a food market for supplies, then retreated to eat and sleep. It's not like we'd been running any marathons but we were tired! We awoke after dark and walked down to the waterfront, then headed back for another snooze.

We made some rookie mistakes on our first full day. Firstly, by the time we'd got up, decided what to do and headed out, the sun was baking down. Our plans changed anyway when we got to the first town square. It was filled with at least fifty concourse-level classic cars, including a lineup of old Minis. Our 1977 Mini is quietly gathering dust and cobwebs in storage back home and this was a great reminder for how fun they are. There were many Jaguar E-Types too, plus Chevy trucks, a Ferrari, a mint Mk1 Ford Escort, an Aston Martin and a couple of Jensen Healeys, all demanding a good look around. One enthusiast even had a DeLorean.

The Lineup
All the Minis you can eat
Nobody does big, chrome tanks quite like them
The Locals
First rule of travel. Watch what the locals do
The Triton Fountain
Very nautical
Right, back on task. We thought some antiquity would start us off on the right foot. Hagar Qim temple on the south coast was built around 3500BC and that sounded antiquated enough. The bus ride wound along narrow roads bordered by high, dry stone walls and dry bushes, amongst hot dry fields coated with dry, pale dust. It was pretty dry.

Our second rookie mistake was going into the temple complexes first and the visitors’ centre afterwards. We should have done it the other way around for context. To the idiot tourist (me), Hagar Qim just looked like a big pile of squared-off rocks. What a pleb.

The displays were really good and explained how the temples could have been built and used, 5000 years ago. I tried to imagine a bunch of people with no metal tools splitting, shaping and lifting the huge stone monoliths then gradually adding the corbel roof. The structures are aligned to the solstice, and I guess they took so long to make there would have been time to do a few trial runs each cycle before settling twenty-tonne limestone blocks in the right spot.
It was too damn hot for a second look, so we stood and melted in the sun for the bus to Mdina instead. Mdina is the old capital and sits on high ground, with a view of about three-quarters of the island.

The fort entrance was reached by a stone arch bridge over a moat trench and through a barbican. The streets inside ran between high stone walls that shielded the noonday sun. Occasional breezes dropped the heat a bit more. Everywhere we walked there were walls, parapets, lookouts, and rows of arrow slots reaches by narrow stairs.

Reading that Malta was strategically important is the same as reading Mt Everest is a big mountain but then actually going there. That's when you see what they're talking about. Malta has been fought over for millennia and invasion seems to have been its defining character. The high walls, strong doors, and narrow windows were designed solely for keeping out the latest unwelcome visitor who wanted to come and take everything the Maltese had. Including their freedom. They've been invaded, sold to slavery, given away and bombed almost flat. I realised that all the invaders over the years are now gone, despite the cost.

Behind Walls
A lot of Malta looks like this
Baking Hot
Kentucky Fried Finch
Hagar Qim
Just a pile of old rocks
Rush Hour
Mdina wasn't that busy
The Front Door
Not the welcome some might be expecting
Amazing fresh food just down the road

Marsaxlokk fishing boat
The second day we got underway by six-thirty. Slowly learning. Valletta was already stirring for work in the cool morning, but the tourists were still asleep. We rode an empty bus down to Marsaxlokk and saw brightly-painted boats resting on calm waters. Washing hung on the rigging lines and fishermen were just out and getting their nets ready in the morning sun. We decided to leg it up over the low ridge to St. Peter's Pool before the day got too hot, to have a look. We hadn't brought togs but were curious to see it. Some enterprising local had hand-painted signs to “Parking” down a side road which we followed, thinking it was the path.

The pool was the deepest, richest emerald green and almost deserted, apart from an Aussie couple who we got talking to. The woman's parents were Maltese who had gone to Australia after the war to escape the poverty and rubble. Now her mother was 84 but came back often for holidays and always thought of it as home.
The pool was was too tempting, so A and I stripped down to our undies and jumped in for a splash. The water was cool and refreshing and clear as green glass. I nonetheless failed to spot a small jellyfish until it drifted up and stung me on the shoulder. Considering how I look in togs, it probably thought I was a long-lost cousin. Time to go. Just as we left, the young and gorgeous selfie-stick wielding crowd was arriving with their tans, tats, and cigarette butts. God bless social media.
St. Peter's Pool
They did say the fishing village of Marsaxlokk was famous for its brightly-painted boats
Back for Coffee
Heading down to the village after a lovely swim
We'd planned to see the Lascaris War Rooms under Valletta that afternoon and got ourselves down through the tunnels and stairs to see if we could find out where A's grandfather might have been during the war. A lot of it is still being restored, but the stuff that was finished was really interesting to see. After the tunnels were abandoned by the military in about 1978, they were occupied as a drug den. Years later, over 25,000 needles were removed as part of the cleanup. Now, sanitised for our enjoyment, we could see the reconstructed planning tables, Eisenhower's chair, and offices. Canvas beds were ring-bolted to the walls where the operators slept in shifts. Through the open doors while they tried to sleep, the phones were ringing, orders shouted out and overhead thousands of tons of bombs hammered down.
Centuries of Defence
It was a relief to see some flowers taking hold
Too Many Names

The Office
Here is where you'll work and sleep for the next two years
Overshadowed by balcony's and window boxes
Working From Home
I didn't get many street scenes, but this guy sitting outside his house caught my eye
We got up early again on our last day to see the war memorial outside the city gate, and then the museum in St. Elmos Fort. Once more, the cost of human life in Malta's history was blatant. Detailed timelines starting two millennia ago showed how hundreds of thousands had bled here in the name of greed or religion, or both. The human race is strange to me. We are so determined to oppress or kill what we don't understand and assumedly take anything we want. We don't learn, and there are plenty of people in power quite willing to start it up all over again.

We should have gone out for a walk that evening, but didn't.

And that was Malta. We saw the things we wanted to and A got an impression of where her Grandad spent two years. We could have seen more and gone up to Gozo, but we were happy. There are several months in Italy and France coming up, with all the churches, temples and museums we could wish for.

Speaking of which, next stop is Rome.
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