The Journey Pt. 33 – Vaulting through Valetta – Malta

Hi from afar but nearer (or further away depending on where you are),

We’re back at sea after visiting Malta, heading for Gibraltar (day after tomorrow). Then it’s Lisbon and home.

How quickly the formidable becomes picturesque, even quaint, and the functional takes on the patina of charm. Sailing into Valetta at dawn, with the sun already risen, yet still providing a soft morning glow, one was struck by the perfection and beauty of the harbour. It must rate as one of the most striking – scaling the very heights of chocolate box. Everywhere one looked were huge thick walls and fortifications. The skyline, with its many spires and basilicas, was revealing. This had been constructed to make a statement, to scream strength and power, and to be the most forbidding sight on the planet. This was a bastion of Christendom, successfully standing against the flood of Islam, a staging post to the Holy Land and a show of Christian might.

Back in its day any Muslim fleet daring to venture into that harbour, causing that enormous warning bell to be struck, would have been met with withering blasts of cross fire from a great array of cannon. The walls would have been insurmountable and the city impregnable.

Valetta was built for war.

How times change. The sandstone fortifications have now aged, glow with pastel honey, and are no longer functional and threatening, but have transformed to become positively endearing. The cathedrals and churches are places of beauty and no longer statements of defiance whose grandeur was challenging to those who believed differently. Now the narrow streets with their assortment of balconies are delightful.

The derelict shops on the waterfront have been refurbished and painted with gay colours. Muslim, Christian and Jew pay to visit the Caravaggio’s in the cathedral. Perhaps the world, becoming smaller by the day, has reached a point where travel has opened the eyes to the fact that we humans, despite our differing faiths and beliefs, have more in common than we have differences? Besides, there’s money to be made.

Malta has become a tourist destination. The climate lends itself. The military might of a past long gone has been gentrified. The gardens provide wonderful views a real scenerama. Around the corner are the resorts. There was a European feel to the place – mainly Italian but with strange British touches – such as the old bright red pillar boxes and telephone boxes. After the careering bustle of Asia it felt like we were back with the familiar – and everybody spoke English.

We spent a pleasant day wandering the streets, eating ice-cream, having a local tuna salad lunch, drinking a coffee and a beer and enjoying the pleasant temperature. It was warm, not searing. The people also provided warmth and those streets, gardens (replete with green lizards), churches and fortifications were good on the eye.

When we sailed out late in the afternoon, and watched the fortifications of the three cities slide past I was struck by how welcoming the might of the ancient military might can be.

We’d already marked down that Malta was definitely a place for a longer future visit. We’d only scratched the surface. What was below that patina of charm? More charm?

Only six days to go now before we hit Tilbury. Just Gibraltar and Lisbon left. We both have very mixed feelings. We’ve been on this boat for sixty five days and it feels like home. We’ve packed in so much that it is going to take us months to unpack our mental baggage. Yet we are looking forward to coming home to our new house and meeting up with friends, picking up the threads after three months away. Our real life is waiting for us on shore with a thousand and one pressing needs. This is all an unreality, like treading water in a fantasy. It will be good to get real again even if a lot chillier.

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