April 6, 2022
We had not booked anything for Malta as we had been here several times before. I was interested in a tour called Maltese food and wine and signed up, but we were waitlisted. When I called destination services to book something else, they said they did have one seat available. Norm said that I should go and he would walk around the city or take the hop on hop off bus.
We arrived in port at about 11:45 today. Originally we were told we had to download and complete information on the VeriFLY app or we could not get off the ship here. But late yesterday, the cruise director informed us that Malta made an exception due to the short time we would be here. It took a long time to download and populate the app and I imagine there were many complaints by less tech savvy people and the slower internet also made it tedious to do. We did get it done though.
We were told we could use paper vaccination proof or digital, so I relied on digital which I have in many formats. But when I got off the ship, the officials said digital was not acceptable, so I was glad I did VeriFLY because that worked like a charm.
For those who blame the cruise line about almost everything, they really need to realize that things change all the time and it is the local regulations that are hard to keep up with! Oceania does a great job in spite of all the changes they need to deal with.
Sailing into Valetta is really quite spectacular. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is less than half a square mile. It is located just south of Sicily and just north of Africa. There is a large concentration of churches, palaces and museums here. The population of Malta is 500,000.
Anyway, this tour started at noon and to my surprise there were only 14 people and it was a large van rather than a bus for this tour.
Our guide was Martin and our driver was Victor. They limit the number of people on this tour because it is a very local one and a small group works the best. Martin is a professional photographer and a Knight! He is originally from Malta but lived in Melbourne Australia for years and returned to Malta 9 years ago.
Our first stop was a sheep farm in the village of Santi. Interestingly, there is no grazing here, the sheep are kept in pens. These sheep produce the milk to make an amazing cheese called Gbejniet. It is sold locally only as it is not pasteurized so can’t be shipped. We had a walk through the farm and a cheese tasting.
There are a lot of “rubble walls” which are made of stone, some from ruins. If any walls are built here, they must be in the same style. You see them everywhere outside of the towns.
We then drove through Rabat and Imdina and got to see St Paul’s Cathedral where Pope Francis visited just a few days ago.
Martin said there are a lot of festivals held here and people are really missing them due to Covid. Things are easing up, though and some festivals are back. They even have horse racing in the streets!
Like everywhere else, cost of living has increased dramatically and tourism is just beginning to return.
Our next stop was a small bakery in the village of Qormi. It was so small that we had to split the group in two to fit in. They use a small wood burning oven. We had two kinds of pastizzi, one with cheese and one with peas. They are filo pastry with the different fillings. There was a school across the street and when it dismissed many moms and kids headed to the bakery. I said the pea filled ones (which were wonderful) would be a good way to get kids to eat their vegetables without them realizing it.
Here is one of the cars covered with the sand from the recent Sahara sand storm. Martin said that the people normally keep their cars really clean but as soon as they clean them, more deposits seem to happen.
We proceeded to Bingermma where we visited a family compound with lovely ponds, beehives, lots of vegetation and a small olive grove. We had an olive oil tasting and then went to a terrace adjoining their home where we had the cheese and bread (brought from our other stops by Martin), a kind of hummus with crackers and carrots, wine (of course) and a dessert made from the cheese with a fig sauce, fresh strawberries and some homemade cookies.
It was a truly wonderful afternoon and I had no appetite for dinner so had a small green salad.
Norm’s day was OK, he took a hop on hop off bus that he thought would be a ride of 1 1/2 hours. It turned out to be 3 hours and he actually went out to the country and to some of the villages we either passed or visited. So his pictures were similar to some of mine.
The countryside is covered with wildflowers at this time of year, unfortunately, on the winding, narrow roads, there wasn’t a good shot of them. They also have a lot of prickly pear cactus which the local people love.
When the Captain comes on the intercom we know it is not good news, and due to 25 knot winds, our port of Messina was cancelled and we will now go to the port of Syracuse tomorrow. We are lucky that our tour to Taormina and Mount Etna will still take place from that port. We are eager to see Mount Etna and are prepared to bundle up because the weather report says it will be 30 degrees there with some possible snow.