Friday, October 24, 2014

A week in Malta - 4

Early Friday morning, Paul and I took turns waiting for the Fine Arts Museum to open. This was not to visit the museum again; once was really enough. We were trying to get tickets for the Hypogeum for the next day. If you haven't reserved well in advance, this is the only way you can get last-minute tickets. The first person in line had gotten there at 5:45 and Paul was there at 6:50, number 4 in line. There were two hotel reps before him. Since there are only 20 tickets for sale, I felt very self-conscious that we were trying to take 10. The people who came after us had very little chance of getting any, at all. And we were lucky! Four could visit at noon and six at 4:00 on Saturday! There was one place left and, we found out on Saturday, that went to the last person in line, the only single!
After Paul and I got the tickets for the Hypogeum and put them safely away in the room, we all headed down to the port to get the ferry over to Sliema for the Captain Morgan Harbour Cruise. This gives you a good feel for the geography of the peninsula and islands; there are many ports, in fact. There was one filled with yachts taking part in the race on Saturday; they were all decked out with sponsor flags -- Rolex. There are also a few military boats, which are used mostly for rescue missions as Malta is an emergency landing place for refugees from North Africa. Cruise vessels also spend a day in Malta. They are gigantic! They hide the waterfront. They spit out tons of diesel as they enter or leave the port. That said, the view from the ships must be beautiful and friends who have been on such large cruise ships say they loved the trip. We had lunch at a little hidden snack bar on the main street of Sliema before catching the ferry back to Valletta, where some of us went to visit the state rooms in the Grand Master's Palace and the armory. Actually, we kept encountering one another: Valletta is small, so we had time for an ice cream or coffee to compare impressions. I was struck by the decorative beauty of the armor and arms. The Knights of Malta were a rich order and when a knight died, the order inherited his armor, so it's an impressive collection, even after the passage of Napoleon at the end of the 18th century and the English, from 1800. The helmuts and full body armor was made of heavy metal and engraved, decorated with pearls and stones, and sometimes gilded. The pistols, lances, crossbows, and cannons were elegant and also expansively end expensively decorated. All this to go to battle!
Saturday, we met up at the bus station to catch the bus to Paola: 6 to visit Tarxien and 4 for the Hypogeum. We were in the first group for the Hypogeum. This is an underground temple/catacomb dug into the rock. It's an exact replica of the temples above ground, complete with roof structure and decorations. It boggles the mind to think of how they managed to dig into the rock. It's already mind-boggling when you see what they did above ground. It may have been a temple at the start but it was used later to dispose of bodies. There is speculation as to whether the bodies were deposited there to decompose and then the bones were pushed aside to make room for more or if the bodies were allowed to dry before being placed underground. If they decomposed in the crypt, then the stench must have been horrible, especially as the structure was constantly being extended with new digging. This is where the statuettes were found, such as the woman lying on a couch, which is only about 10 cm. (4 in.) long and is beautiful.
We all met up for lunch in Marsaxlokk, the fishing port on the southern coast. The first six arrived early and were finishing up when we four arrived, so we had our own leisurely lunch of fresh fish. It was a good thing we split up like this because the six had to get back to visit the Hypogeum and they caught the bus that got them there early. If they had waited with us, they would have gotten the next bus, which was running late and they would have missed their tour. As it was, Paul and I got to Tarxien in a rush at 4:00 -- just us. G and S had to get back to the hotel and take off again for dinner with friends who live nearby.
Tarxien was one of the earliest sites to be preserved. As such, in the 1950s, they covered the damaged stones with cement and concrete, which, as we know now, accelerates the deterioration. It is still worth the visit. This site was used by several different groups, so there are subtle changes in the temple structure as additions were made.
This day of local bus cost us €1.50 each; a day ticket.
Dinner again at the Ordinnance Pub, for convenience, and a conversation of summing up the day's sightseeing. Early to bed as Y and M had a very early flight back to Lyons on Sunday and we were all tired, anyway. The trip was over. Time to pack. Our minibus picked us up at 11 on Sunday to take us to the airport. We arrived back in Paris to warm weather and sun, but Monday morning, the temperature and skies were more October-like.
Links to Wikipedia articles that might be of interest to you:
Malta, general article
Hagar Qim
Co-cathedral St. John
Museum of Fine Art
National Museum of Archeology
St.. Paul Catacombs
Tarxien Temples


Evelyn said...

Hi Ellen, I hopped over from Ken's blog to read about your trip to Malta. It sounds wonderful except for the part where all ten had to ride on the bus together.

Ellen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ellen said...

Thank you,Evelyn. It wasn't really a problem, but if we were to do something like this again, I think we'd get single tickets.