At the beginning of the year we thought of participating in a Carnival but, discarding the idea of Rio de Janeiro that frightened us for the known criminal events that characterize it and having a few days available, we thought of a particular one that would do for us.
The idea of a "different" Carnival there? came when, by chance leafing through an English travel magazine, we became aware of this event which is held in Malta in the 5 days preceding Wednesday? of the Ashes. The days of the Carnival are five days of madness, with colorful floats mounted on trucks that parade through the streets of Valletta, children and adults in masks to party in the street and the various parties organized on the island. The Carnival party? it was brought to Malta by the Knights of the Order of St. John in the th century. The Knights loved parties, and saw Carnival as an opportunity to drink, dress up and have fun. These celebrations soon became part of Maltese traditions and developed over the years. The center of attraction for Carnival parties in Malta? definitely Valletta. Different teams set up large colorful floats that have moving parts, plus seats for the dancers are included. The floats parade slowly through the streets of Valletta and Floriana, among the masked spectators and other dancers in grotesque costumes. The main celebrations are held at the City Gate of Valletta, where floats and their dancers parade competing for the best float of the year and other prestigious awards, but Carnival is celebrated all over the island and also in Gozo. So what better time to go to Malta than to visit this beautiful island? And then in March we certainly won't be overwhelmed by the tide of summer vacationers!
Malta? an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea made up of five islands. Of these, only the three most? big? Malta, Gozo and Comino? are inhabited. The territory ? flat and rocky, with numerous cliffs on the coast. Malta, in the heart of the Mediterranean,? a melting pot of civilization? with a thousand-year history: Malta? always been inhabited since 5200 BC. An important civilization? prehistoric was already? present on the islands even before the arrival of the Phoenicians, who gave the main island the name Malat, meaning "safe haven". Later the islands were for centuries the seat of the Order of the Knights of the hospital of St John and later part of the British Empire.
Malta gained independence in 1964.
From Fiumicino our plane takes off for Malta. We arrive at the Maltese international airport, defined as the best of 2010, and with perfect punctuality. we find a shuttle bus that takes us to our hotel in Sliema, a seaside town located along the north-eastern coast of the island of Malta, locality? tourist renowned for its splendid beaches, the heavenly Mediterranean climate and places dedicated to entertainment. The name Sliema? of Arab origin and means "hello!", a word with which the Maltese sailors of the past used to address the church of Our Lady, entering and leaving the port with their boats loaded with nets and fish. Arranged your luggage, how? as usual, we immediately commit ourselves to discovering the places by heading immediately to Valletta. We have the first encounter with the characteristic old and battered yellow and red buses. To move around this island by bus? an excellent way, because, although inside they are all old, uncomfortable and battered, the ticket is cheap, they are punctual, the network? capillary and you can reach almost everywhere. Without considering the fact that it allows you to immerse yourself in the real Maltese life. To use a metaphor, we could say that buses reflect a little the characteristics of this people: a scruffy interior that is very reminiscent of the Arab world, is contrasted by a punctuality? and an all English precision. During the transfer we meet Bernadette Pace, the councilor for culture of Malta, (very simply use the bus and not the blue car ...) who congratulates us for having chosen the occasion of the Carnival to come to Malta and giving us many tips to better enjoy our stay.
We arrive at the gates of Valletta where there are preparations for the evening parade of floats, which will be held? to Floriana while in the meantime the one for children is starting that winds through the streets of the capital. It is a Carnival dedicated directly to the very young! Obviously the floats are small in size having to pass through the city streets which are certainly not very wide but nevertheless they are very imaginative and above all crowded with costumed figures all very young! It is a really good initiative!
Following the floats along via della Repubblica we arrive at St. John's Co-Cathedral. (why co-cathedral? Because the cathedral of San Paolo in Mdina is older and therefore remained a cathedral even when that of San Giovanni was built, which had to be satisfied with the title of co-cathedral). A peculiarity? of all Maltese churches? that of having two clocks, one working and the other stationary, in order to disorient and drive away the devil.
At the intersection of Republic street and Old Theater street c '? George's Square, with a unique fountain where the water gushes to the rhythm of music at certain times, and in the evening there are also very suggestive lights. Some kids play predicting and ... avoiding gushes. Result a nice bath that in March is not? what a pleasure!
Continuing on our path, we realize that Valletta? made up of many small streets that go up and down and that vaguely remind us a little of Lisbon. On each house there are strange closed balconies, in wood, colored green and blue, which, then, I discover are called gallorijas: they are a legacy of Arab culture, since? from these windows Maltese women could observe, without being seen, there? that happened on the street. And what about the red telephone boxes left by the British? They are functional!
We start the tour from the walls, along the Marsamxett Harbor in front of Sliema, then we continue to reach the extreme? of the peninsula where the Castel S. Elmo stands (closed) and we enjoy a splendid spectacle of the sea waves breaking on Punta Ricasoli. In Valletta there are also carriages with slightly undernourished horses, to be honest ... and that stop at bus stops ... Competition?
We arrive at the Lower Barrakka Gardens where the Malta Siege Memorial stands, the monument that commemorates the Maltese resistance to the 1942 attacks. a big bell, what can you do? reach by climbing a few steep steps, which rings every day at noon. Splendid panoramas are offered to our eyes, thanks to the sun that crosses the clouds giving a magical atmosphere to everything. We make a visit to Vittoriosa, the first capital of the Knights of San Giovanni, also surrounded by a mighty wall, passing through Piazza Vittoria and taking a look at the marina where beautiful yachts are moored.
A little tired, let's go back to the hotel. Tomorrow morning stop in Marsaxlokk where a modest but worth seeing Carnival is celebrated. And then ... you eat excellent fish!
To get to Marsaxlokk, inserted in a bay in the south-east of the island, thanks to our bus we take a nice panoramic tour.
Marsaxlokk? a small fishing village characteristic for the large quantity? of? luzzu ?, the characteristic fishing boats, anchored in the harbor. They are beautiful, colorful, and make the port lively with their little Osiris eyes on the bow to protect them from bad things.
We meet fishermen who fix the boats, others who fix the nets and then we arrive at a market where the famous Maltese lace are displayed. The charm of the place? ruined by a gigantic chimney that emerges from the coast, in front of which there is a container terminal: very ugly works, a sign of the industrialization of the area.
The nineteenth-century church of the town, Nostra Signora di Pompei, also overlooks the seafront. We meet members of a musical band that will accompany? the parade to be held? in the afternoon: I'm from Catania!
We came here to eat fish and so on. let's do it: let's go to the Pisces restaurant, a nice environment where they serve excellent fresh fish. The main dish? the octopus but the starter and the mixture of crustaceans and molluscs must be tried ... But also the Bigilla appetizer made with a pur? of dried beans called? do tal-Ġirba ?, similar to those used for the Egyptian Ful-Medames, and mixed with salt, pepper, olive oil, crushed garlic and chopped parsley. There? liked it so much but so much that we will often return to Naples. IS? the time of the carnival parade and we find the band we met upon our arrival: in their repertoire Neapolitan songs! I join them with great joy and a pinch of pride. IS? really true, Neapolitan music is found in every part of the world.
Let's go back to Sliema in the evening and take the opportunity to take a look from the terrace of our hotel to the bay and the three cities. Vittoriosa, Seglea and Kalkara in an impressive light. A short rest and immediately dinner. The evening parade in Valletta awaits us.
Event that every year attracts thousands of spectators, who flock to see a cheerful and joyful snake of over a thousand participants. The highlight of the parade are certainly the scenic and picturesque allegorical floats, made with skill and imaginative ingenuity. A tradition that has been repeating itself for 450 years now and that makes, that of Valletta, one of the historic and most historic fashion shows. ancient. Children and adults in masks partying on the street, fantastic floats with blaring music that stuns, various? Schools? of dances that accompany the floats themselves (a bit like in Rio) and then a lot, a lot of joy that infects us and leads us to join them regardless of the cold that increases more and more. Impossible to describe the euphoria that takes all the participants:? Carnival and this justifies everything, even on a lost island in the Mediterranean.
At the end of the parade, the floats stop in the square in front of the City Gate, the gateway to the city, where on other days, around the Triton fountain, the bus terminal winds its way, with its characteristic yellow and red buses. It's past two ... we have to go back to the hotel and this time Malta surprises us with its organization: the buses are stationed in another space more? distant but the link service? insured by shuttle! How tired ... Tomorrow we will be in Gozo.
Today includes a trip to Gozo, an island located in the north of Malta. The alarm ? early, to go to Cirkewwa, at the far end? north of Malta, and embark on the ferry that will take us? in Gozo in the port of Mgarr.
Starting from Valletta we touch Msida, Birkikara and Mosta, where is the famous Rotunda, the church dedicated to the Assumption with the third largest dome. great in Europe, second only to that of St. Peter's in Rome and that of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. From here, crossing a landscape of vast barren hills dotted with dry stone walls, we arrive at Saint Paul? S Bay, the bay where Saint Paul is said to have been shipwrecked during his journey to Rome. A myriad of hotels stretch along the entire bay, castings of concrete that have ruined a landscape that remains, however, wonderful. The color of the water? impressive, of a clear and intense blue that contrasts with the yellow and brown of the mainland. The coast? extremely jagged and the rocks end overhanging the sea.
From Saint Paul? S Bay we continue to Mellieha and, after about an hour of travel, we arrive in Cirkewwa, where we take the ferry to Gozo. The crossing lasts 25 minutes and we arrive at the port of Mgarr and passing in front of the small Comino we see the famous? Lagoon? blue immortalized in many films.
We head towards Victoria and immediately find ourselves on the acropolis, from which winding streets and winding alleys, with a timeless charm and an Arabian style, are worth walking without thinking too much about where you are going. From the top of a belvedere, where Bianca arrives before me, the view extends to 360? and offers us very suggestive landscapes. Gozitans still call their capital Rabat, although it was renamed Victoria in 1897 in honor of Queen Victoria's 60-year reign.
After the Citadel we go to Xaghra, where the Neolithic temples of Ggantia are located, two temples with a trefoil plan, which recall the idea that they could be covered by apses. A great thing? the pillar-audio guide that illustrates the archaeological site in an exhaustive way. Interesting the name of these temples why? it was believed that a lineage of giants had built them. Are the huge boulders still where someone placed them? pi? 5000 years ago, before the construction of the Egyptian pyramids. Its mighty walls reach 7 m in height.
Ferry to Cirkewwa and usually very battered, half-empty bus that takes us back to Valletta. During the trip we have the opportunity to observe these? Vintage? which are still a nice attraction but which will be replaced by other modern ones from next summer and only a few will survive. Funny thing? that the bell to call the stops? connected to a cord that goes all around the ceiling: whoever wants the bus to stop has to do is pull it. In addition, we travel with the door open all the way: other than air conditioning! And then sacred images, the driver who makes tickets and immense efforts to rotate the steering wheel, push the brake and clutch pedals, braided rope handrests, diesel fuel miasma, exaggerated vibrations, an obliterating machine held with adhesive tape. However, what a whim to have been on board before their cancellation from Malta's folklore. Last thrill on a steep descent ... We arrive in Sliema safe and sound! Tomorrow in Mdina.
Mdina, the ancient capital of Malta,? a charming town surrounded by massive walls, full of medieval buildings and beautiful churches reflect its true charm. It once formed a single settlement with neighboring Rabat and later the Arabs raised a system of walls that made it a city-fortress. Mdina? a very small town with a population of less than 300 people. It is also called? The City? Silent? by the locals. Before crossing we see a farrier at work. The small town? ? traveled by many wheelchairs that give a touch of romance.
We venture into the narrow streets admiring splendid architecture such as the baroque St. Paul's Cathedral, designed by the architect Lorenzo Gafa, in whose interior there are characteristic Irish wood carvings and sumptuous mosaic floors. It is very cold due to a wind that has persisted since our arrival. Leaving the town, we notice among many things a curious one-storey building: the Casino Notabile completed in 1887, commissioned by nobles in Mdina as a place to hold social ... meetings. (???) It was built by Paulson Webster, the English civil engineer who built the Royal Opera House in Valletta.
Catacombs of S. Agata
We observe along the way that leads us to the catacombs of S. Agata, graceful religious decorations that characterize the strong vocation of the inhabitants of the area.
The catacombs of S. Agata (it is said that the Saint prayed here) are decorated with medieval frescoes while more? hidden inside c ?? another beautiful frescoed chapel from the th century AD. It is a pity that they don't let us take pictures and video footage.
Let's go back to Sliema, to the hotel, to recover from the cold immediately and for a hearty lunch.
In the afternoon, advised by a hotel employee, we go to Duck? S Village on Manoel Island, an extension of Sliema, a well-equipped marina for boats. Ed? here we come across the Duck? s Village, a bizarre place to say the least: an enclosed garden with stone sculptures and animal figurines, as well as? - obviously - the ducks. And those ducks have houses, gardens, telephone numbers, a cemetery and even a boat. Each house has a sign with the name of the duck that inhabits it on it. A strange place ... but there? liked. (It is even present on the WEB!)
Last lap for Valletta and we witness the changing of the guard in front of the Parliament. For us now? a custom, we have collected some? changes of the guard? traveling! How did we not miss our usual? Ship in a bottle? to collect. We found it in a little shop on Merchant's Street.
A last episode at the square facing the Valletta gate to take a last look at the crowds that crowd around the carnival floats and which will be ready for the next parade of the evening: in Malta the Carnival continues but tomorrow we will leave for Italy with a beautiful memory of this island, a small precious pearl of the Mediterranean and its capital declared a UNESCO heritage.