As I looked out from my window this morning a flock of birds were circling and soaring around the half built tower blocks. Later I showed my video of their antics to our group but no-one could identify what species they were.
First on the agenda were two temples – Hagar Qim and Mnajdra. First we were treated to a three D movie about the history of the temples. Perched at the edge of the cliff it brought to mind the Temple of Sounion in Greece that I’d visited way back in 1976. The temples here predate Stonehenge by 1000 years, and they were built before Skara Brae in Orkney too, though I could see many similarities. Hagar Qim is the oldest free standing structure on earth and has now been shielded from the devastating effects of weathering by being covered in a giant tent – a protective canopy. It really looks like an alien space station! The lower temple was down a steep track and golf carts were available for anyone who didn’t want to walk. I took the opportunity of this so that I could have a few minutes back up at the top to wander along the cliff top by myself before the others arrives and we continued on our way.
Next was a short minibus ride to The Blue Grotto for a 20 minute boat ride into the various sea caves, marveling at the turquoise color off the water as we went. I bought a couple of calendars at the wayside gift shop on my way back to the bus.
As we made our way in yet another mini bus and a new driver Maria mentioned that until about 20 years ago women did not work outside the home in Malta. It would have been seen as a failure of the man to provide for his family. Now women work, which means they have less time to shop at local stores. She, herself, stocks up on groceries at the supermarket once a month. So locally soured products are suffering.
We were on our way to Malta Sunripe to meet an entrepreneurial farmer and his wife who are eager to share their love of farming with tourists. Alongside their 4 enormous greenhouses, each contain 9800 tomato plants they run a farm kitchen where they produce jams and wines, and also have a restaurant featuring their home grown produce. Delicious!
We were taken to see the wine cellar that the farmer and his family had carved into the bedrock themselves only a few years ago. After lunch we were shown a film about their work and then we got to tour one of the greenhouses.
8 members of the family farm the tomatoes which means they have to take it in turns to go on vacation because the plants need daily work – planting, tying, applying fertilizer, keeping bumble bees that pollinate the plants. In the summer they paint the roof of the glass house with chalk to stop the sun burning the plants. By the time the rain arrives later in the year the sun is not so hot and the chalk dissolves. Very clever!
On the way back to Sliema we saw the huge building project funded by the EU of 6 new flyovers. One had been completed. Work goes on there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Maria mentioned that newly weds tend to purchase their homes. If they can’t meet the 10% down payment the government steps in and gives them an interest free loan. Wow! People generally live with their parents until they get married, and the average age of marriage is just over 30.
For an interesting take on the problems with the Maltese economy take a look at the first 10 minutes of this: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bnb6vc/mediterranean-with-simon-reeve-series-1-episode-1
We were back at the hotel by 5:30 for a ‘free evening’ but I didn’t want a free evening. This was when I think a WhatsApp idea for those who wanted to partner up with someone else from the group would have been a good idea: get the ferry over to Valletta after dark, relax at an oceanfront bar, go beach combing. I didn’t want to eat in. A restaurant alone and though I thought about taking a nap I was too excited to sleep, so I headed out along the oceanfront to explore the peninsula. A map had promised Victorian Baths, but I didn’t find them. Still, it was nice to potter about on the rocks for a while. I went back to the mini market which had been closed on the first night and was surprised to find how good it was. It was the only food store I’d been into, or even seen on the trip.