Malta and Gozo - Day Five

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 30 June 2005

Earlier this year I spent a week in Malta and Gozo with my wife and a couple of our best friends.

On the fifth day we were in Gozo, and had quite an exciting Secret Seven style adventure in our hostel, the Maria-Giovanna, to get the day going. There was a door to a small cupboard in the bathroom in our room, but closer inspection of the fire escape map suggested a mystery was afoot. Upon opening the door we found ourselves confronted with a tiny spiral staircase leading up to a secret compartment above our bedroom, and then on until you could emerge onto the roof. If only we had realised this the night before I would have been able to get up on the roof to look at the stars - I always take a star map with me on holiday, because for me one of the joys of being away from the light glare of London is that you can actually *see* untold numbers of stars with the naked eye.

The weather was glorious so we set off for the reputed best beach on the island at Ramla Bay. It really was an exceptional beach, with clear water, clean sand, and the nicest I've visited since a trip to Kefalonia back in the early nineties. The previous day at the Old Prison in Victoria (Rabat) the guide had explained Ramla's sea defences to us. To avoid attacks by pirates the Gozitans built an underwater wall which would beach ships before they reached the shallow harbour formed by the bay. They then built a fougasse - a pit in the rocks at the side of the bay which was packed with explosives and stone and used as a primative cannon to scatter the beached ships with rocks.

Hola from Ramla beach in Gozo    Ramla beach in Gozo

Whilst I could happily sit on a beach in the sun all day, my wife has really sensitive pale skin, so we can only ever manage a couple of hours before she has to retreat into the shade. Since we were due back on Malta later that afternoon we decided to visit a couple of the other tourist locations on the island.

Our first trip was to Xewkija, to visit the Parish Church of St John the Baptist. This giant church dominates the village around it, and the huge domed roof forms, with Il-Kastell, one of the two landmarks visible from virtually every point on Gozo. Higher than St Pauls Cathedral in London, the church was completed in the early 1970's and built mostly with volunteer labour. The inside is impressive, and there is a small side-room which features remains of the previous church on the site, from 1665, which were moved brick-by-brick to be put on display. There is also a lift up to the roof, which we didn't get to go on which was a shame. Even venturing into the sideroom had caused a flurry amongst the three cleaning women on duty in the church, who had to open it up for me and turn on all the lights. I kind of felt bad about making them turn the lights on, let alone get the lift working...

Inside the dome at Xewkija    Parish Church of St John the Baptist in Xewkija

From there we went to Ggantija Temples in Xaghra which date from 3,000+ BC. There is limited information at the site, but the size of the stones are impressive (Even Obelix would have struggled with menhirs this size). We couldn't quite pin down the etymology - our guide book said the name derives from the gigantic size of the temple, the local sign suggested that the name derives from the belief that the temple had been made by 'giants'. I prefer to believe the latter.

Ggantija Temples in Xaghra    The view of the dome at Xewkija from the Ggantija Temples in Xaghra

We returned to Mgarr to drop off our hired car, and to get the ferry home. We'd picked a really bad time to travel, as we boarded the same ferry that seemingly every single day-trip coach party was using to return to Malta. We were held waiting for some time in sweltering heat in a gazebo by the harbourside, packed full of old people moaning, pushing, jostling and at times jabbing at us as we slowly shuffled on board. I missed out on getting some good photos because it was so busy you simply couldn't get to the side of the ferry in order to take them.

The scrum of old people waiting for the ferry at Mgarr in Gozo

In the evening we went into Qawra to have a pleasant if uneventful meal at Mirabelle's - a Pizzeria. It was also the last time we got the minibus from our hotel down into town, and so the last time we got to see the dog that lived in the lobbey of the Canifor Hotel where the minibus ran to

The dog in the lobbey of the Canifor Hotel, Qawra

We headed to Alex's Bar, which transpired to be the nearest you could come to a northern working man's club transplanted to the heart of Qawra, so after one drink there we made a move and opted away from either "The Diana Pub" (Yes, that Diana) or the neon-lit "The Red Lion" and ended up at "The Wood Hut". At last we had found somewhere that was mostly populated by locals, and not grumpy old Brits. Although you wouldn't have guessed it from the d�cor - the walls and the ceiling were plastered with pages from reprints of newspapers about the Second World War. It had a really nice relaxed atmosphere - and I wished we had found it earlier in the holiday.

There was something quite amusing about the toilets though. You went through different doors that were marked Gents on the left, and Ladies on the right. I walked through the Gents door and wandered into the cubicle on the right. It was only on my second visit I realised that despite having different doors, they both lead into the same atrium - so in fact on my first visit I had strayed into the Ladies cubicle. What was very funny was that despite both cubicles being identical, it was only in the Ladies toilet in which there was an A4 sheet of paper taped to the back of the door explaining how to operate the lock mechanism - as if the fairer sex wouldn't be able to work it out in their own pretty little heads, the soppy things. It was actually quite noticeable in both Malta and Gozo that bars tended to either have one unisex cubicle, or one cubicle for both, not the multiple provision of toilets you'd expect from a pub in the UK. "The Wood Hut" was though, without doubt, the nicest bar we visited in Qawra.

1 Comment

While in Gozo I would check out the "Inland Sea", a lagoon called Qawra. I seems a great place for diving. Jacques Cousteau said the Inland Sea was among his top ten dives.

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