Paris-Malta-Rome 2011 Part 2, Malta
First of all, when my friends decided they were staying in Malta for the summer I had to look up where Malta was. I knew there were the Knights of Malta, the Maltese Falcon, Maltese dogs, and that it was somewhere in the Mediterranean. To save you the trouble, in case you are as geographically ignorant as I am, here is a map.
Malta joined the EU in 2004. The language there is Maltese, which is the only Semitic language written in Latin alphabet. I did not see any Maltese dogs there, and the Maltese falcon is now extinct on Malta. Actually, there are no nesting raptors on Malta because of illegal hunting which has denuded the islands of many birds. As a birder, this made me not want to go there. I detest poachers, and apparently these can be quite threatening to birders as well as birds. But I was there in summer, which is neither prime birding nor prime poaching season.
I stayed in Valletta with my friends at an apartment in a building that must have been 500 years old. The city is walled and has been a strategic port for centuries. It has old, hilly, narrow streets that are lined with traditional buildings with balconies.
Sometimes the streets are crowded with Maltese people doing business, and sometimes with cruise passengers following umbrella-wielding tour guides. Malta is a Catholic country, and the first day we went to see St Pawls or the Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck, which is very ornate and holds several relics, including a wrist bone.
The next day we hit two sites that everyone should see in Malta– the Hypogeum and Casa Rocca Piccola. The Hypogeum is older than the Egyptian pyramids. Get tickets in advance, because they only let in 80 people per day. Casa Rocca Piccola is a charming house full of Maltese history. If you’re lucky enough to get one of the family to take you on a tour, it is a fabulous experience. They are very British for all their Maltese descent; full of dry wit and charm; and they know everything about Malta. Maltese artists, authors, history, anything. Their house is filled with beautiful art and historical artifacts, not to mention the bomb shelter.