Malta and Gozo - Day Two

 by Martin Belam, 20 June 2005

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

On our second day we travelled into central Malta to visit the walled city of Mdina. The views from the hilltop ramparts are spectacular, and on a fine day you can apparently see as far as Mount Etna in Sicily to the North. The previous day Benedict XVI had been confirmed as the new Pope. We noticed that most newspaper stands in Malta had pictures on display in memory of the previous pontiff. In addition the cathedral at Mdina had a marble plaque remembering the visit of Pope John Paul II, who had visited and celebrated mass there.

The gate to the walled citadel of Mdina on Malta    View from Mdina's walls    Corner statue in the streets of Mdina

Whilst we were within the walled city we had a quick snack at the Fontanella Tea Gardens - if you can get a table on the roof the views are again spectacular. We then headed down to Rabat, which forms the suburbs below the walled part of the city. Here we visited St Agatha's Catacombs. These rock-cut tombs feature frescos from the 12th to the 15th century, although they have had their faces rubbed off by later Turkish invaders to the island. There is also an amazing surviving rock-cut painted Christian Altar from the 4th century. I did find it strange that in several places the bones of those buried there were simply left exposed as a tourist attraction.

Rock-cut altar in St Agatha's Catacombs

We had arrived about half-hour before the guided tour, so were invited to look around the museum. I don't think I ever walked around such a collection of random ugly stuff. It seemed like anyone who died on Malta passed on to the museum their old coins, broken watches, waxwork decapitated St John the Baptist heads etc. There were skulls, the remains of a crocodile, a collection of religious vestments, and geological samples. My wife and J. got the giggles and had to be calmed down. The courtyard with the entrance was also adjacent to a school, so we also had the fun of being abused through the window by some young Maltese kids - good to see juvenile delinquency alive and well - and they weren't even wearing hooded tops so we could easily identify them.

Whilst waiting for the bus to take us back to Qawra I had a massive hayfever attack, so when we reached our destination we headed straight for the nearest chemist. This was like stepping back in time to how chemists used to be at home when I was a kid. Everything was in locked display cabinets. You approached the pharmacist and said "I would like something for hayfever", and he then emerged from behind the counter to solemnly unlock a cupboard, and produce one packet of capsules, then slowly delivered the instruction on how to take them as if talking to a child. No choice of product. No assessing what the price might be, just being told what was good for you. And he gave the additional advice to my wife of washing her face repeatedly with sea-water. I couldn't really see how that was going to help since I had the problem not her, but he assumed even though I did all the talking, that it was my wife who was suffering. Actually, he may have had a point, my wife does often suffer when I am doing most of the talking ;-). Mind you, the capsules did the trick and I wasn't bothered for the rest of the holiday.

In the evening we went for dinner at a restaurant called Venus. It had been recommended in our Lonely Planet travel guide, though we got a bit lost and struggled to follow the map to find it. When we did it was well worth it. The food was excellent, and I tried the local delicacy which is rabbit. I've never eaten rabbit before, and I enjoyed it, but I couldn't help be put off by the fact that it was still served mostly on the bone, and so to some extent continued in cooked death to resemble a cute little bunny.

The restaurant had artwork on display for sale, much of which depicted semi-naked women with 80's hair-do's done in a vibrant colour style aping charcoals. One in particular spawned the comment "She's got Tina Turner eyes" which became a catch-phrase for the rest of the holiday, and is now firmly on my list of titles for future m-orchestra tracks. They also had a really strange muzak selection in the background, which featured bland cover versions of a selection of dance and house tracks reproduced badly on cheap(er) keyboards, and an astonishing rendition of "Girlfriend In A Coma". Why on earth would you pick "Girlfriend In A Coma" as a track to make into a muzak version?

The painting in the Venus restaurant that inspired the catch-phrase 'She's got Tina Turner eyes'

During the day, whilst I had been having a nap, my wife had explored the territory around the hotel, and found that nearby there was a converted farmhouse turned into a restaurant and bar called Ristorante Savini. We decided that instead of "enjoying" the entertainment at the hotel we would head there for a night-cap. It seemed thoroughly closed, but having rung the bell people came down and were more than happy to serve us. We sat on luxurious sofas in the a stone-walled room with an elaborate water feature supping our drinks, and resolved to come back the next day in order to eat there.

The sign for Ristorante Savini

1 Comment

haha! st agatha's catacombs! the kids in the window! those were school chilredn, and I used to be a student there. Used to abuse tourists back then too. i agree with you, that museum's like one of those cabinets of curiosities, quite old fashioned. It's really interesting to read foreigner's impressions about Malta!


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