Gozo

I arrived yesterday to Gozo, after a short ferry from Ic-Cirkewwa, Malta. Unfortunately, my fantasy dream of a pastoral paradise was shattered by roads clogged with noisy vehicles – all praise, though, to the bus drivers who navigate the tiny, snaky roads. But worse was my arrival to a rather unsatisfactory accommodation, which I ditched as early as possible this morning. I’m now sitting by a pool on a very hot October day, fully dressed, waiting to check into my new room, and fuming because the although the owner reluctantly agreed to charge me for only one night, I see that he fudged the charge by entering the amount five separate times. I thought the nightmare was over, but now I gotta deal with that.

FYI, they have ingenious ferries here.

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Malta, south side

This morning I took more public buses to reach the south side of Malta, and yes, all of the bus drivers are speed demons; this explains the many ‘Speed Kills’ signs along the byways. That said, I have not seen one crash nor heard one siren since I’ve been here, and only the rare honk.

The bus lines, of course, travel through residential neighborhoods with all their charms and peculiarities; it was a feast for the eyes. Here’s a sign I don’t see every day in Hawaii: “Graduation togas for hire.”

I went to the south to walk the coast line, reputed to be spectacular, and proven so today. In some places I could see two sides of the island. The 11 km walk, however, illustrates perfectly the ‘1000 joys, 1000 sorrows’ of life: the walk began and progressed along paths and little-used farm roads, passing Bronze Age settlements and pastoral lands; then, it took me along a main road past a quarry and its hundreds of gargantuan trucks charging along and generating clouds of rock dust. I, foolishly, tried to capture the chaos in photos, and suddenly saw a man in a small car gesturing angrily and yelling at me, I assumed, for blocking his passage, but no, in truth he was telling me to get in his car so he could whisk me to safety! He was kind and took me safely to Hagar Qui and Mnajdra, ancient temple sites, and gave me good advice about the visit. Afterwards, as I left the area, suddenly my rescuer appeared again and offered another ride. Coincidence or not, I don’t know, but he showed me some lovely spots for photos, including a stop where a falconer stationed his birds for photo opts. I recently read and loved Hawk, by Helen MacDonald, so I was completely thrilled to hold one of his birds!

Afterwards I returned to Birgu, where a festival is ongoing (the band is currently covering ‘Sweet Home Alabama’!) On the way to the same restaurant I ate at last night, I heard the church bells going off at the 3/4 hour as they are wont to do around here, and I passed a door where a man was actually pulling the ropes to ring the bells! He saw the look of joyful discovery on my face, and invited me in to pull the ropes and ring the church bells for the entire parish!! This officially turned this into a stellar day. I arrived at the restaurant moments later still high, and gushing, told the staff of my experience, earning the nickname ‘Bell Woman’ from them, which I will cherish. The meal, porcini ravioli, was utterly dreamy, as was the dessert of lovely Maltese sweets. The host also brought me a complimentary glass of cactus pear liqueur to round out the meal.

Heaven.

I need to have more days like this.

Here are some photos, including Malta’s Finest:

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Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Malta

I clearly got stuck in my fantasy version of Malta when planning this part of my trip. I had imagined small, quiet, quaint . . . Yeah, no, it is large, loud, and quaint-ish. And so Arabic. Somewhere I read that English is widely spoken here, and it is-ish. The native language is Maltese, which is 70% Arabic-based, with Italian, French, and more mixed in for good measure, and it, not English, is the main language spoken. (Here is one direction I was given: turn left on Fuq San L-Inkuruanzzjoni.) The English spoken is highly accented to me, and spoken very quickly. Also done quickly is the driving of large public buses, whose drivers I suspect are imagining they are driving sports cars; I was tossed around like a wet noodle on one ride, causing the driver to say, “I think you have never ridden a bus before”! Well, not his bus, anyway.

Most of the buildings are made of a blond sandstone, and gorgeous, but hard to photograph in the bright morning light. Also, it is hard to photograph anything when one leaves one’s camera battery in one’s room, note to self.

Fun fact: the limousine of some fancy pants person was escorted through the main street of Valletta by a mounted guard, and the horses had Maltese Cross tattoos on their left rumps – look closely.

Valletta is very boaty. As the plane was landing yesterday, there were a kagillion huge ships hanging outside the harbor, waiting to enter. I sat for hours watching them come and go in the port.

I spent the rest of the day, after returning to retrieve said battery, cruising Birgu/Vittoriosa and taking photos, and had dinner at a posh restaurant, my one fancy dinner for the trip. The local wine was fantabulous. The dinner good. The host/waiter kind and sexy. Not a bad evening.

Here are some photos. FYI, Maltese are into fancy doors/door knockers. (And apparently so am I.)

P.S. I have a crush on tug boats. And one of these tugboats was working backwards. Be still my beating heart.

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Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Catania, and Arrivederci Sicilia

Today, the last day I am part of this tour and my last full day in Sicily/Italy, brought us to Catania, a city I was clueless about. It’s a gritty, vibrant city of about 300,000 inhabitants; lots of sweets and colorful objects; and a Roman amphitheater that moderns have built atop. The unusual architecture pleased me greatly, but my photos don’t do it justice. Here are my attempts along with lots of other random shots:

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Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

A smoking volcano and its wine

This morning, I got up early to watch the sun rise, then we left Syracuse and headed north to mighty, smoking Mt Etna (there, off to the left in one of the sunrise photos). A local and vivacious volcanologist went with us to the top, telling stories of getting bonked the head with flying rocks after a sudden eruption and about his job of trying to keep people who live on the slopes of an active volcano alive. When I told him I can see the glow of Halemaumau Crater from my bed at home, he knew right where I lived. During his talk he referred to Kilauea several times, which was pretty cool. Mt Etna is a different kind of volcano from the one I live on, but I saw lots of similarities, of course. The group was so impressed by what they saw today – everyday life for me back home – and I was reminded of how unusual the place I live is.

After the mountain we visited a winery on Etna’s slopes. The terroir makes for lovely, highly drinkable wine, I can tell you!

Now I am sitting on a terrace listening to live jazz in Taormina, watching the sun set on the Mediterranean, mainland Italy off to my left, Mt. Etna off to my right. Not too shabby. (And, yea, finally some decent wifi to catch up on my posts.)

Fun fact: Taormina was the home Polyphemus, of the cyclops Ulysses vanquished.

Here are some photos:

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Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Ortygia, and fabulous puppets!

We started off this morning traipsing through the open market of Ortygia (snails for lunch, anyone?), then casually walking past ancient ruins surrounded by laundry hung out to dry – oh, the wonderful continuity of humanity! More lovely narrow streets; more churches; Greek, Roman, medieval, Baroque, and Fascist architecture; and a wedding about to start. Italians at weddings are gorgeous, let it be said, although the memory of a Sicilian wedding in ‘The Godfather’ did cross my mind. Afterwards, we saw a marionette show! Puppets, or the delightful pupi in ItalianI can’t express how lively and awesome this was; the marionettists were a family, including a seven-year old girl. It was so cool! And action packed with sword fights and battles, dragons, infidelity, and retribution!  Afterwards I strolled the town, got a bottle of local wine and a pizza, and watched the nearly full moon rise as the waves crashed against the sea wall. More awesomeness, more great food and more great wine. I’m feeling pretty darn fortunate these days.

Here are some photos:

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Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Live all you can. It's a mistake not to.

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