AirToob Lightning
Malta, the Pope and the Volcano - April 2010

This was my first visit to Malta. We seemed to time it perfectly, arriving on 14th April just before the volcano erupted and stranded many people, and returning 24th April when air traffic was almost normal again.

We were also joined by the Pope on his first visit to Malta!

Entrance to the Grand Harbour, on the south-east side of Valletta (a fortress city only 1km by 700m, built on a limestone peninsula between two natural harbours)

Lower Barraka Gardens, overlooking the Grand Harbour... the first week was very hazy

Upper Barraka gardens at the top of Valletta, overlooking the Grand Harbour, taken at the end of our holiday... we saw the Saluting Battery in action (see later in album)

View of Grand Harbour from Upper Barraka gardens, when the skies were much clearer (and the wind colder)

Vittoriosa and Senglea, two of the "3 cities" which were there before even Valletta was built

The new Pinto Wharf, renovated as a cafe and restaurants area, also where the Cruise Liners came in... more about Pinto Wharf later!

When taking the previous photos I sensed a presence...

Start of our boat trip around the two harbours, a great way to see and appreciate Valletta and its surroundings

The trip begins with a ferry from Valletta across to Silema, heading north-west (the Grand Harbour is on the other side of what we are looking at)

Trip around Marsamxett harbour and its creeks...

The Lazzaretto or Quarantine Hospital at Manoel Island. It later became an RN submarine and Mine Sweeper base known as HMS Phoenicia.

This is the north-west end of the Great Ditch, which was dug to defend Valletta (to the left) from the landward side - more about the Great Ditch later...

Approaching the tip of Valletta and Fort Saint Elmo

Swinging around towards the entrance to the Grand Harbour

Saint Elmo's Fort, a massive defence already in place by the Ottaman Empire's Great Siege of 1565 (before the rest of Valletta was built)

The short cut for small boats into the Grand Harbour (it was a bit rougher on the way back... I'm not a very good sailor...)

Here was a giant anti-submarine net that could be lowered to allow entry to Allied shipping

The Siege Bell (see later)

The Grand Harbour side of the Great Ditch

The Pinto Wharf

The Pinto Wharf, the yellow shutters belonging to the I Fratelli restaurant (see later!)

This ferry is even longer in real life than it looks here. We were considering it as one of our possible escape routes during the volcanic eruption!

The Grand Harbour, the largest natural harbour in the Mediterranean, is home to a very large ship-building industry, currently struggling with the recession

One of the huge dry docks, capable of dealing with super-tankers

The smallest dry dock, intended for expensive motor yachts and such like. The three shells of the roof will extend to provide extra cover

The Siege Bell again...

... close up

Malta, due to its strategic position south of Sicily, acted as a stationary aircraft carrier for the Allies during WW2, and paid a heavy price - 154 days of continuous bombardment, compared to "only" 57 days of continuous bombardment that London suffered during the Blitz

We caught a ceremony to commemorate the award of the George Cross, the British Monarch's highest award for civilians, to the entire population of Malta

People have long memories here

OK, so the Pope decided to visit Malta 17th and 18th April. He arrived at the airport on Saturday afternoon, while we were heading down to Pinto Wharf. This underground car park is the fast way down for pedestrians. The top of the car park is at ground level near the entrance to Valletta. Notice that the car park is completely empty! You walk down 6 flights of stairs and then head for the tunnel in the distance...

Walking through the tunnel, dug through limestone rock

...emerging here...

... a short walk along to Pinto Wharf, not too crowded what with the Volcano and the Pope's arrival...

We found a great Italian restaurant (I Fratelli), opposite which was the Cruise Liner dock where rehearsals were in full swing for the Pope's visit tomorrow

The next day (Sunday). The Pope blesses the Granaries, just outside the gates of Valletta (and our hotel). We could see this event from our balcony, and watch it on TV at the same time

Back to Pinto Wharf, where the Pope was due to arrive by boat to meet the young people of Malta

Crowds awaiting for HH's arrival

The Saluting Battery greets him

All afternoon a great party was in progress on the wharf, with an ongoing concert that paused when he arrived

We had booked a table at I Fratelli, one of several restaurants constructed from the ancient storage vaults that used to store provisions for Valletta, hundreds of years ago. Its balcony was a great viewing point, only a hundred metres or so from where the Pope was being greeted

We could watch him on TV and out of the window at the same time. The transmission was delayed by maybe 10 or 20 seconds compared to the live event, perhaps to allow any unseemly events to be edited out.

The party resumes... the Pope had a great public reception (Malta being devout Catholic), but the Maltese also spoke their minds to him quite bluntly about some of the well-publicized problems in the Catholic Church

One of the family helping his Down's Syndrome son operate the Espresso machine

Evening on the Wharf... crowds almost completely gone

We stayed at the Hotel Phoenicia, just outside the gates of Valletta. In its prime this beautiful hotel must have been hotching... With people gradually leaving for tedious journeys home, due to the volcano, and not arriving for the same reason, it became emptier and emptier.

The path to the hotel swimming pool...

... a very long, narrow strip of garden beneath the walls of Valletta...

At the swimming pool... towards the end of our stay, it sometimes seemed like we were the only residents!

At the archaeological museum in Valletta

Looking at this beautiful work of art, it's hard to believe that it's around 5,000 years old...

Part of the Great Ditch, near our hotel. Valletta (and its gate) is to the right, the "Piazza" and our hotel to the left

The bus station on the Piazza, and one of massive bastions

Maltese buses are a real art form, as well as being frequent and extremely cheap

It is very strange to be in a place with such strong British connections which is south of Sicily (and well south of the northern tip of Africa)

The Grand Master's Palace

There is a lot of restoration work going on.... With an unusually forceful "keep out" notice...

An evening view of the outside of the hugely (internally) ornate and interesting Co-Cathedral. The outside is relatively plain... unfortunately I couldn't get any good photos of the inside.

One of many typical wooden balconies... this one was particularly fine (and inhabited).

The last evening...

The musical fountains on the main street of Valletta, streets which are deserted after about 8pm - this isn't a place for night life, but walking through the empty city feels completely safe

The piazza outside the gates of Valletta

If you liked this...

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