Warwick

There’s no question that Birmingham is the airport to come into. No marathon hikes from gate to Immigration, no crowds, no non-stop departure announcements, just a cosy and comfortable stroll to the carousel and a welcoming smile from underworked Customs officials. All very nice.

Then there’s the road traffic. A shock to the system indeed, with confusing diversions for road works and whole new roundabouts popping up here, there and everywhere. It’s all good, of course, if disruptive and time-consuming.

It’s good to be met by daughter and son-in-law, to catch up and, finally to fall into bed to sleep long and content.

 

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Leaving Malta

This morning I woke with a dreadful feeling of sadness because I’m leaving Malta this evening. When I decided to do this trip I figured it would be the last, for no other reason than that these mature aged bones don’t like long-haul flying so much any more. The human memory, though, is short and surprisingly forgiving. I’m already wondering how soon I can do it all again!

Pondering the thinning ranks of close (and ageing) relatives here, it seems more important than ever to make the journey again. Well, I’ll think about it, anyway, and I’ll always have the prospect of another visit in the back of my mind.

The warmth of the greetings, the welcome hugs and the immediate acceptance has much to do with the fact that I’m John’s daughter, and John was everyone’s favourite uncle. They don’t have to treat me like royalty, but they do, and I appreciate every moment of our time together.

I suppose I’m writing this as a tribute to my amazing, loving family, who share their time so generously with me, who answer my questions, who remind me that I’m not alone on this planet, all of whom I love to bits.

To the Xerris, the Paces, the Salibas, their spouses, their descendants and the ones I haven’t mentioned – you know who you are – thank you for being who you are, and thank you for being related to me. I hope to see you all again one day.

 

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‘Twas a Dark and Stormy Day

"Red sky in the morning". Well, this was the result - and when it rains, it rains.

“Red sky in the morning”. Well, this was the result – and when it rains, it rains.

When you wake to a red sky in the morning you expect some wet stuff to follow at some time in the future. By early afternoon the lightning flashed and the thunder roared and the rain pelted down and the doughty drivers of Malta batted not a single eyelid. Slow down for the poor visibility? Nah!

My cousins took me under their wings today, helping by identifying my photos of Grand Harbour and explaining exactly where various events occurred during WWII. Charles pointed out the place where the Bofors had been (for which he heaved the ammunition).

Paul was able to point out where the Ohio, one of the very few surviving merchant ships in the Santa Marija convoy, tied up after being nursed into the harbour on the morning of 15th August 1942. The arrival of the remnants of this convoy quite literally saved the island, which was close to starvation. Supplies of ammunition were so low at that time that anti-aircraft batteries were rationed to just 11 rounds per gun and, so short of fuel, the fleet of submarines could not sail. The story of Operation Pedestal and the great ship, the Ohio, has been told many times – and so it should be.

We piled in the car and Paul took us to lunch in a swish restaurant in Sliema and afterwards back to Hamrun, to show me the house my Aunt Mary lived in, and the one my late father ‘baby-sat’ her children in. What a devil he must have been. I can’t repeat all the mischievous things he got up to, but I think there were sighs of relief all round when he grew up and joined the Army.

How jolly fortunate I am to have such a lovely family. I just wish I didn’t live on the other side of the world.

 

 

 

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Harbour Cruise with Shower

 

I fancied seeing Valletta as a yachtie might, from sea level, so last evening I booked a harbour cruise with one of the enterprises offering such excursions from Sliema.

“You better go tomorrow,” the sales girl said. “Sunday and Monday may be too rough and cruises may be cancelled.”

Promising to go on Saturday, I paid my €16, pocketed the ticket and returned to the hotel to charge the camera battery and deal with all the photos on the SD card.

This morning was lovely. The sky was blue, the breeze not enough to ruffle a feather, the sun warm enough to sting even at 9am as I caught the bus to Sliema Ferries (€1.50 return).

Marsamxett Harbour:  vast defences.

Marsamxett Harbour: vast defences.

I sat on the quay at the Sliema Ferries terminal watching the frenzied Saturday morning shoppers getting ever more frenzied and arguing over parking spaces much as they do anywhere. It’s great entertainment watching people. I’m not surprised at the number of vehicles bearing the scars of altercations.

At last the vessel arrived at the ferry wharf, reversed into its slot as they all do, and lowered a metal gangplank with a reverberating clang. I joined the queue of optimistic sightseers boarding and opted for a lower deck seat on the starboard side, which I figured would be closest to the walled city.

Marsamxett Harbour.

Marsamxett Harbour.

The noise of the engine was such that the commentary, provided by a Maltese lady whose linguistic capabilities were confounded only by the appearance of a dozen Japanese tourists at the last moment, was rendered quite inaudible. Just as well I had a pretty good idea where we were anyway.  We headed up the creek first, Sliema Creek, that is. A few minutes later we circled Manoel Island and sailed through Marsamxett Harbour to Msida and Pieta, then back through Marsamxett to the open sea.

Fort St Elmo: Siege Bell.

Fort St Elmo: Siege Bell.

The sea might have looked calm from my hotel room this morning, but when actually out there… well, it was anything but, and the stripe of rust running along the waterline that I had observed from the ferry wharf (but dismissed as unimportant because, well, it didn’t appear overnight, did it?) came to mind again. Still, I wondered… The sea wasn’t that rough, but it was only a small vessel. A deep, plastic lined bin was strapped to the hand rail. Several passengers utilised it but, heck, it only lasted a few minutes and we were soon chugging through the narrow gap between Fort St Elmo and the breakwater and we were once again in calm, harbour waters.

Grand Harbour: Ancient waterfront buildings.

Grand Harbour: Ancient waterfront buildings.

Grand Harbour is not just grand. Grand Harbour is stunning.

The curtain wall which towers above the water, protects the city of Valletta today just as it has for centuries and it can be appreciated so much better from sea level. It’s easy to imagine how difficult invaders found it. Suleyman the Magnificent tried in the 16th Century; the Mussolini/Hitler Axis had a go in the 20th Century. Tunnels and caves in the curtains provided shelter for the Maltese during the air raids of WWII when Malta was declared the most bombed place on earth.

Grand Harbour: Sea Cloud II

Grand Harbour: Sea Cloud II

We sailed up the far reaches of the harbour, to Marsa Creek, then headed out past the cargo wharf and the Dockyard Creek dry-dock – in which a huge bulk carrier was undergoing maintenance – then an ocean oil drilling platform and past Fort St Angelo and into Kalkara Creek, home to some pricey yachts. 

Grand Harbour: Dockyard Creek dry dock.

Grand Harbour: Dockyard Creek dry dock.

Out in the ocean once more, we sailed into the rough stuff. The little boat stuck her bow into a couple of big waves and a cold shower was provided for all passengers free of charge. Concerned about the effect of salt water on the camera, I stowed it away in double-quick time. That’s my excuse for having no photos of those walls of deep blue water that hurled themselves at me! I have a clear 60 year-old memory of just what the waters of the Mediterranean can do. A crossing from Malta to Sicily… but that’s another story.

 

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History, History and More History

Gardjola, one of many strategically placed guard posts.

Gardjola, one of many strategically placed guard posts.

The vast walls (called curtains) that protected Valletta from invaders of all persuasions still stand after centuries. Probably the worst battering they withstood was that of the bombing of World War Two. It’s no wonder they remain standing today. Roads into the city run beneath archways cut through the walls and, even at the mad speed Maltese drivers hurtle along at, it takes long moments of darkness to travel the distance.

A much decorated gardjola, this one at Senglea (Isla)

A much decorated gardjola, this one at Senglea (Isla)

Gardjolas – sentry posts – are placed strategically on prominent corners of the curtains. This one at Senglea (left) is decorated with an eye and an ear, so there’s no question of its purpose. It’s easily accessed from Senglea Gardens and  it cannot fail to fascinate.

The very nature of the stone, much affected by rain and wind, means that maintenance is an ongoing affair. With every building constructed of limestone and so much restorative work, there’s no such thing as an unemployed stone mason in Malta.

Constant restoration work.

Constant restoration work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s some concern that this beautiful white limestone is actually running out. This mason seemed to think he was working on the last of this particular commodity.

This morning, before having lunch with Cousins Doris and Vince, I spent a fruitful hour or so in the Maritime Museum. Yet more history to absorb. Quite unable to retain so much new-found knowledge, I bought a book. Okay, I know, there’s always the Internet, but there’s nothing quite like a book written by a knowledgable local to impart meaningful historical facts.

 

 

 

 

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