March 25, 2008

The sights of Valletta, Malta’s capital city

Posted in Exploring, Travel tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 1:34 pm by Lauren

The bad thing about waiting half a month to write about a vacation is that you’re sure to forget half the things you did. (This is probably not bad for you, oh reader, who really don’t want to hear every last detail.) The good thing is that you get to revisit your vacation, if only mentally. So here, I go, back to March 5…

We spent the first day of our Malta trip in Valletta, the capital, which is full of historical and religious significance for the Maltese. Valletta became the mass of fortifications that it remains today in 1566, after the Great Siege by the Turks the year before. Walking among its narrow lanes, it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like then.

Valetta Malta

On the other hand, maybe that internet cafe wasn’t established back in the 16th century.

Our first stop in Valletta was Saint John’s Co-Cathedral built by the Knights of the Order of Saint John. From the outside it was simple, though large.

Saint John Co-Cathedral

But once you stepped inside, every inch of every surface was gilded and marbled and painted.

Inside the Co-Cathedral

I particularly enjoyed the colored marble tombstones set into the floor. Many had the coats of arms of the knights they covered, and some scenes were quite elaborate. I was drawn to the motifs of death and time – one tombstone even portrayed the grim reaper as an entire skeleton. Here is part of a tombstone that shows an hourglass with wings. Tempus fugit.

Marble tombstone

Saint John’s Co-Cathedral had an excellent audio guide, and we spent hours inside exploring every corner. When we came back out into the sun (oh, my eyes!), we wandered down Triq Ir-Repubblika looking for a bookstore to buy a book about hiking trails in Malta. We ended up down by the water and followed some stairs outside the fortifications, right down to the water’s edge. We then climbed up to the Lower Barrakka Gardens, where every park bench held a couple or a group enjoying the sun and the view.

On our way back to the Grand Master’s Palace, we saw a restaurant that had been mentioned in our Top Ten Malta guidebook. Though it was slightly early for lunch, the servers at Ambrosia let us have a table. I no longer remember what we ordered, but we were very happy with the food. The restaurant had a great ambiance, with the menu changed daily on the chalkboards and a larger dessert menu than appetizers and entrees combined. The ceiling had several mirrors hanging from it, all facing down into the room.

After lunch, we visited the Grand Master’s Palace, which included the Armory and the State Rooms. The Armory was fascinating and had a huge collection, but if we’d listened to everything in the audio guide, we’d have been there for days. (And, as my dad said, the audio guide went something like this, “Now take a look at these curved swords. They have large curves. Next are the swords with slightly different curves. Moving on, you’ll see some curved swords, but notice that these have more rounded curves.”) I did like the intricate suits of armor (but I’m glad I’ll never have to wear one).

After the Grand Master’s Palace, we tried to get some gelatto, but all the flavors had strange names and seemed to involve coconut. We passed. The Top Ten Malta book had suggested a one-mile walk into Floriana, which started right outside the Valletta bus station, so we headed that direction. The Malta buses are very distinctive, and many of them seem like antiques.

Maltese bus

 Our walk through Floriana was nice, but the highlight was seeing 15-20 stray cats in the Botanical Gardens. They were everywhere! I took an embarrassing number of pictures of the strays. The Botanical Gardens had some interesting cacti and was nicely laid out, but we were shooed out by a couple of old men closing up the gardens for the evening. It was just as well, because we needed to meet the hotel shuttle at 5:30 for our ride back to the resort.

After a bumpy ride back, Allen and Mom broke out the puzzle, and I headed to the lobby to do some work with the free Wifi. (I promise, it was only a very small amount of work.) That was when I had the pleasure of being serenaded by an ABBA cd on a loop. I was singing it for days. That night Allen and Mom charged through the puzzle, finishing it around 3 am. What were we all thinking, staying up that late? But that’s what vacation is for.



  1. Anthony Ciantar said,

    Hi, this is very interesting and gives me more to think about when I am next in Malta, even though I am Maltese (living in the UK) and was born in Valletta.
    Have to try and find that guide book you used.

  2. […] always take my visitors to the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta where one can take in breath-taking views of the Grand Harbour and the three cities on the other […]

  3. terri said,

    I’ll be in Valleta malta for only 5 hours (cruise stop) Can I walk to most of the attractions you listed or do I need to take a bus. If so are the buses at the port area or do I walk or taxi into town.

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