Monday, 5 November 2012

What I Saw In Valletta (Malta's Capital)

Valletta looks like someone folded the city in two.
The Plan was to walk around the inside of the city walls to get a good impression of the fortifications, as well as going up and down Triq Ir-Repubblika (Republic Street - the main street) and Triq Il-Merkanti (Merchants Street), talking in various sites and attractions.  This didn’t quite go to plan. 

In The End I took in Valletta over two days, though with better planning it could be done in one day.

I was looking forward to seeing the ruins of the Opera House, which was hit in World War II and is a symbol of Malta’s suffering during that time, but there is currently huge building work all over City Gate as they build the new houses of parliament and the new opera house and I couldn’t see a thing, except for The Builders and all their rubbish. 

I considered trying the view from St James Cavalier which overlooks this area, but the whole of Valletta seemed to be one big building site and a horrible eyesore, and I just couldn’t be bothered.  And then there was The Great Crane Accident on Monday, where the crane broke and fell on one of the buildings.  No one was hurt, according to The Newspaper, but City Gate had to be closed, and everyone redirected around usually-closed-off-to-the-public areas:
so that people could get out of the city and back to the bus terminus.  Despite The Inconvenience, it was fun to watch other tourists wander about almost bumping into walls in their confusion. 

About that bus terminus, since all buses lead to Valletta, I have certainly had The Fill of this particular capital city, having visited it roughly three times a day for a week.

When you see this fountain, you have reached bustopia:
Things I saw in Valletta:
Pigeon fort:
Hastings Gardens.  This garden has some very impressive views of Valletta’s defences (it’s like being on a castle ramparts)

and various weird statues and monuments (one very disturbing), including the defaced statue of the first Marquis of Hastings, who now looks like a zombie.

This is a view of Manoel Island:
This is the view of Sliema, where I stood on the first day looking at Valletta:
This bit sticks out really far but I was too afraid to go all the way around it as I couldn’t see what was on The Other Side:
Here is a hidden tunnel I saw:
I wanted to see Valletta’s fortifications from ‘the invader’s point of view’ so after taking in the king of the castle views from Hastings Gardens I went out the side gate at Triq Marsamxett, on to Triq L’Assedju L-Kbir, intending to walk around to St Michael’s Bastion on the outside.  However, this is a main road and I’d walked through such ugly back streets with so much road works, with honking lorries and barking dogs and no tourists to get here (it was like the soundtrack to a horror film), that I just got sick of The Idea and after a quick glance at what was probably St Andrew’s Bastion,
I nipped back into the city and worked The Way up to Triq Ir-Repubblika (Republic Street).

National Museum of Archaeology (€5.00).  I didn’t take any photos here as I wasn’t sure what The Rules were as the signs were a bit ambiguous, so I took photos of the replicas when I visited Tarxien instead. 

The museum starts with the early Neolithic period, and there was a lot of reading required (in Malti and English), which being tired from an early start and really hot, didn’t exactly intrigue me.  I glanced at various bits of bone and stone they’d found but it wasn’t until I got to the rooms with the animal and human representations from the ‘temple period’ that things began to pick up.
This stuff was interesting and impressive and opened up The Imagination to what this prehistoric society could have been like.  I spent a long time here going back and forth to re-examine previous exhibits as new ones led to comparisons. 

Eventually I went into the main hall, which is a bunch of rocks/bricks/altar blocks.  These are probably just as impressive as the carvings of people, but since they just look like big square rocks with swirls on, they didn’t interest me.

The temple sites now have replicas where this stuff has been moved to the museum for protection from The Elements and I highly recommend visiting the museum before going to any of the temples.  

I was about to leave when I discovered that there was a whole other floor to the museum, with Bronze Age, Phoenician and other stuff. 

To begin with this section is just bits of pot, and I hate bits of pot, and the whole layout was irritating, with weird cartoon strips and really fake rock walls, but then I got to some of The Most Intricate And Tiny Jewellery I Have Ever Seen, dating from The Phoenician and Roman times, and this stuff blew The Mind.  Here there wasn’t enough writing to explain what I was looking at.  There was even a bit of ancient writing that shows a glimpse into a belief in an afterlife historians don’t have any other information on. 

After this was some gallery of some guy’s paintings that didn’t interest me at all, but overall it was a worthwhile trip.

Upper Barracca Gardens.  As it was now after eleven, I headed over to see the noonday gun.  Due to the building works at City Gate, I couldn’t find the Gardens easily, but since I planned to take a circuit of the city, I figured I could come at it from a different direction.  I missed a turning or a road somewhere.  The Intention was to see The Siege Bell Memorial and Lower Barracca Gardens, then walk up Triq Il-Mediterran/Triq Santa Barbara/San Anton to The Destination, but having already seen Fort St Elmo on The Previous Visit, I didn’t go as far down into the city, missing the Siege Bell.

I tried to cut into Triq Santa Barbara as it has some nice houses, apparently, but instead ended up outside the city with just a gang of teenage boys around and some really dirty roads.  Time was running out before the noon firing, so I sped up some very steep steps so I completely lost The Breath by the time I finally stumbled into Upper Barracca Gardens. 

I hadn’t time to look around the actual garden, which although nice, isn’t particularly interesting.  I went straight to the view of Grand Harbour
and the Saluting Battery. 
It’s a good view, but I was more interested in securing a good spot for the cannon. 
This was The Longest Fifteen Minutes of The Life.  More and more people joined me, crowding in but I refused to lose my spot (not after what happened with The Olympic Torch).  I saw the cannon get fired so I’m happy. 
Casa Rocca Piccola (€9.00).  This is a historical house full of curios.  The entrance is pretty weird, as you go into the shop with no sign of the actual house.  There is a tour once an hour, and the lady behind the till lets you through a side door into the house, which I nearly missed due to The Stupid Man in front of me not wanting to go on the tour.  Luckily I got in just in time. 

The tour was given by a lovely young Maltese woman, who was very interesting and funny and pretty too (it helps), and seemed knowledgeable even if she didn’t always have the answer to every question.  The tour was in English with handouts for the people who didn’t speak English, such as The Italian Couple who wandered around constantly trying to go into out of bounds areas.  The family still live here, so we were only allowed into certain rooms, and touching the furniture was (generally) not allowed, which is pretty obvious, but seemed to flummox the others on the tour.  There was an American woman who was exactly the same as Eric Idle’s American tourist in Monty Python’s Meaning Of Life, and it was a constant struggle not to burst out laughing.

Stuff I found interesting enough to take photos of (no flash allowed, which is why they’re terrible quality)…

A really old chandelier:
The oldest piece of Maltese furniture in existence:
a portable chapel wardrobe, for baptising babies from home (needed in times of high infant mortalities) (the picture on the wall shows it open):
Ex-voto offerings (small silver images of a thing you pray for):
An old mirror:
A reflection of a painting in a mirror with a guy pulling a funny expression:
A painting of a woman reading a love letter:
Really old documents:
Manoel Theatre memorabilia:
Chess set of Chinese Emperor and English King:
A sedan chair:
That creepy German children’s book:
A lucky bed (a couple had something like nine children and none of them died, which is rare for that time, and since they were all born in this bed, it is considered lucky and visitors are encouraged to touch it) (I totally did):
A really old piss pot:
A beautiful Phoenician chandelier:
We even got to go into one of the balconies (gallarija), which made a nice change from being on the street and stared down at by The Locals:
A painting of a creepy baby, apparently incredibly rare as in this time of high infant mortality, mothers were terrified of The Evil Eye and wouldn’t ever encourage more people to look at their child:
An old Maltese clock:
Little knights:
The portrait room has paintings of all the members of the family throughout the centuries,
of which The Highlight was a quite new painting of Giuseppe, 6th Baron of Budach (1845-1916).  He was apparently nuts for cameras and refused to have a painting made, so the family have had one done from a photo.  But with his top hat, pointy beard and waxed moustache he looks like a lot of fun:
There was also a striking painting of a woman in a low cut dress, which is from The 1920s and was scandalous for its time:
Surgical instruments from the days of the Knights, far ahead of their time:
A painting that has spread on to the wall:
A painting celebrating electricity:
It’s only a shame that things like the portable chapel couldn’t be opened up to show us.

After the house, we went down into the cistern (a big round underground room) and then if we wanted (which I did) on down into The World War II bomb shelter that was built under it. 

View down into the shelter from the cistern:
View up at the cistern from the shelter:
Exploring the shelter:
I was the last back up into the garden, so I missed the end of the tour.  I wanted a nice picture of the tour guide. 
I failed.
In the garden, I saw two much smaller representations of the lions I’d seen in the courtyard of the Grand Master’s Palace.  There was also a pet parrot,
terrapin and some fish.
Then it was back into the shop, where I was unlucky to get caught behind two day-trippers who are buying several large model knights, which took forever, while I only wanted to buy a postcard. 

But it did give me The Opportunity to listen to the music, a beautiful rendition of Nessun Dorma, followed, oddly, by You’ll Never Walk Alone sung by Maltese opera singer, Joseph Calleja.

Misrah San Gorg (St George’s Square).  Many tourists stop here so they can stare at the guards outside The Grand Master’s Palace (Malta’s houses of parliament),
while their children play on the flat fountain (the kind with spurts of water that always catch them off guard and they get soaked).  I was more interested in the plaque that transcribed the letter to Malta from George VI when he awarded them The George Cross.  There was also this weird fountain:
I went into the courtyard of The Grand Master’s Palace, the only bit you can get into before having to pay, where there are some nice trees
and weird statues
including two large lions, which began a weeklong obsession.
It was kind of eerie in there, which was fun.

Manoel Theatre (€4.00).
Tours are regular, about eight a day.  When I went in at half one to book the two o’clock tour, The Brusque Lady selling the tickets told me to come back at five to two to get the ticket as if I was inconveniencing her and pre-booking wasn’t a normal thing to do.  So when I returned I was disheartened to see The Brusque Lady was conducting the tour. 

I like theatres and this one is 281 years old, the third oldest in Europe, so should have lots of history, anecdotes and ghost stories, but the tour was very basic. 

The Brusque Lady could do it in four languages (which were possibly Malti, English, Italian and French), our mixed band (one Japanese, two Swedish, two Norwegian, two Turkish, four French and four English) plumped for the English tour, thankfully, but, possibly due to the multilingual nature of the tour, she told no anecdotes or anything of much detail.  Considering the wonderful tour I took of Drury Lane a few years back, this was lame in comparison. 

She did have an astounding knowledge of old theatres across The World.  It seemed to be her party piece.  Tell her where you’re from and she’ll tell you your country’s oldest theatre.

The tour consisted of standing in a box, admiring the view:
then sitting in the stalls to get a brief and flat historical background (the theatre did well until The Opera House opened, then it did poorly, until The Opera House was bombed, then it did well again) and list of shows that have been on in the last year. 
The ceiling is painted to look like a dome, though it isn’t a dome.
We crossed the stage (set up for Calendar Girls) very quickly (because The Brusque Lady couldn’t stand The Smell)
and went backstage which is all new, so boring, and looked at a nice view (of The Sanctuary Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel)
before being kicked out.

The Pub, famous because Oliver Reed liked it.
Fort St Elmo which isn’t much to look at,
but there is one good photo spot. 
if that shadow would go away.
The National War Museum (€6.00).  This was hotter than Hell, with about three fans failing to help.  It’s a basic museum (no interactive sections, just stuff in cases) but it’s all labelled well and was quite interesting, even in The Heat. 

The first corridor briefly covers World War I, and the rest of the museum is laid out to World War II, year by year.  I skipped most of the large pieces of writing due to The Heat, but I did read most of the labels. 

There were some Nazi artefacts,
including a Nazi dagger. 
'How can we make a dagger look even more evil?'  'I know, add some Nazi symbols to it.'
I was excited to see Faith, one of only four old biplanes that defended Malta when Italy attacked, but it has been restored so well it looks newer than it did in the 1940s, when it was already elderly, so that was a little disappointing. 
Other things that interested me were British sailor and RAF uniforms (along with a camp RAF mannequin),
a bundle of envelopes with a piece of shrapnel imbedded in them,
the bell of The Illustrious, though I’ve forgotten why that’s significant,
a parachute,
the badge of Hampshire Regiment (simply because it was a piece of home in Malta)
and a chess set made from the wreckage of a plane. 
I also wanted to see The George Cross (replica) and letter from The King and did,
so I got what I came for.

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