Take the Ferry to Gozo
Today we travelled to Gozo. Malta might be tiny but gosh there’s a lot of traffic! We drove away from our little bay in Marsaskela and headed towards the other side of the island to catch the Gozo Ferry. Sadly we hit Valletta rush hour and it slowed our progress but thankfully the Gozo ferry runs every 15 minutes so as soon as we arrived at the port we were boarding. The ferry is like a miniature cross channel ferry, we parked and head upstairs to the lounge and the upper decks to see the view. We watched Malta disappear and turned to face Gozo, the journey takes no time at all and before we knew it we were back in the car and heading towards Victoria.
We had already decided there was no way to see the entire island in one day, so today we planned to visit Victoria and later in the week we’ll come back and see the coastal areas.
Rotunda of Xewkija in Gozo
Our first stop was the enormous church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, commonly known as the Rotunda of Xewkija. It dominates the landscape on the outskirts of Victoria and I expected it to be ancient but it was in fact only started in 1952 and completed in 1978. The older smaller original church was carefully dismantled and the best sculptures were saved and rebuilt in an adjacent building under the church belfry. The church was modestly decorated inside and for 3 euros you could walk around the roof and climb the bell tower. The view was great, we were able to see into the gardens and terraces of the houses below, they look small from the street but they go back a long way and most have little gardens. I decided that I could live in a house like that, in a little village, but not on Gozo (I couldn’t live on a tiny island but it’s great for a holiday).
As we walked I spotted some graffiti, Marie F and Gerald. I turned and looked at Gerry and asked him to explain himself. This is how the conversation went…
Me: Who’s Marie F?
Gerry : Maire (pronounced marry) France… and I’m glad that you finally know.
Me: Why is she called Marie France?
Gerry : I don’t know, you’ll have to ask her parents. I guess I’ll have to arrange a meeting now?
Me: I’m not sure I like how this conversation is going
Gerry : well just wait until you find out about Benoit and Matilde
Me: I just rolled my eyes!
This entire conversation led us to talk about Bigamy and Bigots and we wondered if the words had the same root as they are so similar. We had cold drinks in the sun, outside the church and looked them up and learned that Bigamy is a mix of Latin and Greek but Bigot is a 16th Century French word and there is no association between the two.
So much learning as a result of a simple inscription on a wall. Are we the only ones that have such conversations? I should add here that Gerry also had an imaginary friend when he was a toddler!
For Whom the Bells Toll
We climbed the spiral stairs up to the bell tower; it was high and open sided but I am testing myself! We arrived at 11:57am and Gerry said that we shouldn’t linger as he didn’t want to be there at midday. We made a hasty retreat and by the time we reached the bottom the bells started. At first the small bells didn’t seem so bad but on the first strike of midday the big bell chimed and oh my… let’s just say that I’m glad we came down.
We tried to get some lunch at the café below the church but they had nothing on the menu for celiacs so we decided to just have a cold drink and then drive on into Victoria.
The Citadel of Gozo
We parked in the car park beside the Citadel and searched for a restaurant. In hindsight we should have looked further or checked on tripadvisor but we didn’t and so lunch was pretty awful. However, we ate and drank and headed back to the Citadel. We climbed the steps to the top and of course found a couple of lovely restaurants; ain’t that always the way! They said at the Visitors Centre we would be able to download an app but only found the app for Apple and not android. So we wandered around with very little information which is a great shame as it would have been lovely to have known what we were looking at. We walked around the walls and then criss-crossed the narrow streets around the old cathedral. I visited the old cathedral but Gerry isn’t a fan so he choose to wait on the steps.
Later we read that it was thought that the Citadel has been occupied since prehistoric times. Gozo was also a Roman Municipality, independent of Malta, it is thought the Citadel was constructed on much older foundations but became the centre of administration as well as military and religious life. A temple dedicated to the goddess Juno once stood where the Cathedral now stands. Legends says that in 60 AD, Saint Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on Malta and as he preached the gospels of Jesus the temple of Juno metamorphosed into a church. The north side of the Citadel dates back to the period of the Aragon rulers, while the south flank, was re-constructed by the Knights of St. John.
This cathedral of the Assumption was more elaborate than the last but not the most ornate we’d see today, although this one did house the remains of St Lucida unearthed from San Saturnino cemetery in Rome and now residing as a holy relic in Gozo. I tried to find more about this saint and why she was moved but so far found nothing.
We moved on and wandered the streets of Victoria and stopped for a coffee and visited the newer cathedral, beyond the citadel. Of the three enormous churches we visited today this was by far the most ornate. The buildings are beautiful and you cannot fail to be impressed by the craftsmanship and the history that surrounds them but there are also questions as to why on such a small island there needs to be so many grand churches that dominate the landscape.
The first church we visited looked old but building work started around the time that Malta gained it’s first stage of independence. Yesterday our guide told us about how hard those times were and Malta was then regarded as a third world country. As a new nation it had to start building employment and schools and a healthcare system for it’s people. There was little very work and very little money and yet, this amazing new church was built. We’re not catholic and so it’s hard for us to understand why. It certainly led to some interesting conversations on the way home.
We left Gozo as the sun was setting and by the time we reached Malta is was dark. Driving home was like playing some kind a video game for an hour, traffic under and over taking, new road layouts that google didn’t recognise, roundabouts that didn’t exist and junctions that had been removed. Driving in Malta is simple but gosh it felt like we were one some kind of challenge in the dark to find our way home. But find it we did!
We’re back now in our little apartment, coffee made and ready to watch something light-hearted on Netflix. It was certainly a thought provoking day and we can’t wait to return to Gozo and explore some more!