Malta’s Capitals Old and New (Summer Sailing 2018)

I was excited to be in Malta! I had previously heard so many people express how beautiful the country was, and especially how stunning Valletta was. This was also a completely new destination for us – a new pin on the world map when we would get home.

We knew that there was a lot of ground to cover in Valletta, so we chose to book a tour with the ship. Sometimes, in a foreign city that has as many sights to see as this one, it can be easier to be ‘on a leash’, getting dragged to the good places by the expert locals. So we picked the tour, Malta’s Capitals Old and New. Once again, we were going to be whooshed back in time, and then shot forward to the present.

We started the morning off by driving to Mdina, which had an extensive history dating back to over 4000 years ago. Mdina served as Malta’s capital from antiquity to the medieval period, and was a good precursor to our afternoon trip into Valletta. It has been said to be one of Europe’s finest examples of ancient walled cities and extraordinary in its mix of medieval and baroque architecture.

Our tour guide mentioned that Mdina was also called ‘the Silent City’ because no cars (other than a limited number of residents, emergency vehicles, wedding cars and horses) are allowed in Mdina. This made it a great place to just roam around casually on foot.

Wandering around Mdina was like stepping into a fairy tale and suddenly transforming into the princess of the land. Everywhere you turned, there were passages to go down, medieval door knockers, golden arches, and picturesque balconies bearing flowers and plants of all kinds. And so of course, we had a bit of a photoshoot. We turned left at one crossroad, then right at another crossroad, not caring where we’d end up or where we were because we knew that it’d be beautiful regardless.

Before heading back to the bus, we got a great view of the fortifications in Bastion Square, and we marveled at the illustrious city that once stood strong so long ago.

And then, we were whisked off to Valletta, where we could instantly tell that everything was so different. The architecture, the shops, the feel of the place.

Our tour through the city would be a long walk, with our tour guide pointing out the different sights while giving us the background and history on it.

We first passed the Triton Fountain, which was located just outside the Valletta city gates. It consists of three bronze Tritons holding up a huge basin, and the fountain is one of Malta’s most important Modernist landmarks.

Upon entering the city gates, we were greeted by the Parliament building of Valletta, which to be frank, looked like a cheese grater, according to the tour guide and many of the other locals. Its design, while looking silly, is actually very eco-friendly as the different architectural features help to block out the strong island sun.

Continuing our walk, we passed St. John’s Co-Cathedral, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, and also St. Paul’s Shipwreck Church, which is one of Valletta’s oldest churches.

Our guided walk with the tour guide concluded with a look at the Grandmaster’s Palace. It was built between the 16th and 18th centuries as the palace of the Grand Master of the Order of St. John, who ruled Malta. It eventually became the Governor’s Palace and it currently houses the Office of the President of Malta.

We snapped a few photos and then our tour guide gave us a bit of a free time to wander, which was always my favourite part.

First thing on the list? A drink to cool ourselves off. This whole trip had been so humid, and whenever we could, we tried to stop and rest.

After our little recharge, we walked through narrow side streets, getting a good luck at some of the residential buildings, some of the local restaurants, and the little shops here and there. My favourite part of Valletta was the architecture of the buildings. They all had brightly coloured windows/balconies and positioned in the midst of a yellowish limestone city, they popped.

We kept wandering and wandering until we found our way to the waterfront.

It was the perfect time to be there because the sun was beginning to sit and the sky was lit orange, with a nice golden reflection on the surface of the water below. I always find it fascinating how we can be looking at the same sun back home, yet here, it feels like looking at a different star. For some odd reason, the sunset on the other side of the world just seems more grand. More memorable. We watched it sink lower and lower, until it dipped behind the buildings across from the bay. And for a moment, we stood still and quiet in the now darkened light, as if trying to hold onto that memory for as long as we could.

Valletta was a dreamy city, looking back. I can see why it received the title of the European Capital of Culture 2018. Its areas like these, with its big fountains, its towering city gates, and its walled cities, that make you forget you are truly on the same planet as you normally are. How can there be cities boasting sights like this and history like this when we’re living in suburbia back home? How can there be so much out there?

But I guess that is why we travel, right? To see these sights and keep getting surprised by how much we haven’t seen, and how much there is still left to see. To remind ourselves that there is so much world, and it is all ours to explore.

We headed back to the boat, tired after a long day in the sun and ready for a good night’s rest. Onto Gozo Island for a nice dip in the tepid waters of the Mediterranean! This will surely make up for the missed stop in Mykonos. See you there!

~Julia

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