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Malta - Early October 2005

Malta R & R

Oct 9: Within the design of our 14 months of travel we incorporated three weeks of R & R.  Our time in Malta was the first of those weeks. Why Malta? We have a time-share and did a search for places to exchange. Malta was about the only thing that popped up that would fit into our round-the-world itinerary for the first week of October. We knew virtually nothing about this archaeological haven when we booked our exchange, but we now have an incredible appreciation for much of what is there. Because our exchange included a two bedroom unit we invited Aaron`s parents to join us there for the week. Fortunately for all of us it worked out for them to take us up on the offer. While we are having one of the most amazing journeys of our lives since we left home, we have certainly missed our family and friends. Hooking up with Irwin and Sue for the week provided a sense of connectedness that has been missing. Hopefully that will stay with us for a while.

Here is what the website has to say about Malta:

An archipelago at the centre of the Mediterranean with a wealth of heritage.  Home once to ancient civilisations and Europe's nobles.  Malta's location at the heart of the Mediterranean is the key to its rich history.

At the crossroads of maritime routes, the Islands have been a home, stronghold, trading post and refuge over 7000 years of history.  From temple builders, seafaring Phoenicians and the traveller Apostle Paul, to the Knights of St John, Napoleon and British royalty - all have set foot here leaving their imprint for you to discover.

The Islands have several World Heritage sites: the enigmatic, prehistoric temples; Malta's baroque capital Valletta , founded by the Knights; and the walled, medieval capital, Mdina , where descendants of Norman families still live today.  The palaces and cathedrals of Valletta and Mdina house some of Europe's finest treasures. 

Wander around the sister island Gozo and explore gems of a rural life largely untouched by time.  And hike across a rugged, terraced landscape fashioned by man over a millennium ago. 

We were fortunate enough to visit two of Malta`s ancient temples Hagar Qim, & Mnajdra and Ggantija on the island of Gozo. These temples, built approximately 3600 B. C. predate the Egyptian Pyramids by 1000 years and are the oldest known human made structures on earth. How they moved massive rocks into place boggles the mind. They created round rocks the size of large bowling balls, placing them under the stone slabs they wanted moved, and then rolled the slabs to the temple site. That was probably the easy part. Lifting them to heights of 3 -5 meters must have been the real challenge. At some of the temples they oriented their openings to exact positions so sunlight would shine at a specific interior location during the winter and summer solstices only.

Prior to seeing the temples we spent time in Valletta, the capital. The city is a mix of old and new architecture. Forts were built at the entrances to all harbours that would provide access to potential enemies. We visited the National Archaeology Museum and had a guide give us the tour. He was an archaeologist himself and had uncovered some of the items in the museum. His wealth of knowledge provided a much greater appreciation of the temples when we visited them the following days. In addition to the temples, the pieces of artwork that have been uncovered are incredible. Virtually all of the pieces were made out of stone (some ceramic pots were found). The detail of their human figures that were sometimes no more than 2 inches (5cm) high was fantastic.

The week also included a tour of 7 harbours which provided a totally different perspective on the island´s largest cities. Malta boasts Europe´s largest natural harbour at about 2.5 miles in length. We took a sailboat cruise to Gozo and Comino, the latter a very small island between Malta and Gozo, with purportedly 6 full time inhabitants. The cruise brought us to Comino`s Blue Lagoon, a magnificently clear bay with great snorkeling. We also did a full day guided tour of Gozo. The highlight of that tour was taking a small boat ride through caves to view the Azure Window, an incredible arch in Dwejra bay. The water was the most spectacular colour of blue that all of us had ever seen, and the clarity was fantastic.

Irwin and Sue fully anticipated that we would be in the mode to relax and sit by the pool a lot during the week since we had just completed nearly 4 months of travel and 4000 miles on the bike. That was not to be. This tiny archipelago holds too much to see and do. In an email we received from them after they arrived home they stated it best: We had a great time being with both of you for a relaxing vacation, we now need a vacation.

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