Wednesday, August 31, 2022

All Around Gozo

Trip date: December 2021

For such a tiny island, there are a lot of sights to see on Gozo. And right down the street from our rental house was one of them; the Basilica of Ta' Pinu. This huge church is a shrine to the Virgin Mary; there isn't anything else around it except for a parking lot, so it's a bit unusual just sitting out in the middle of a field. The site was chosen because a woman by the name of Carmela Grima claimed she heard the Virgin Mary speak to her there. She is entombed behind the altar as a thank you to for her faith. 

Outside of the church are mosaic panels with biblical stories which were created by artists from around the world. The work is quite beautiful.

A very short drive from our house in Ghammar is the Ta'Dbiegi Crafts Village. Local artists each have their own space and most are actively creating while you are there. It's a little touristy but we found some interesting stuff and also learned about the declining lace making industry. The owner of the lace shop wouldn't even let me take photos of their product as he said big manufacturers steal the local designs!

While we were all shopping Thibault found a whole herd of cats!

After our shopping we drove up to the north part of the island to Wied il-Għasri. This is quite a unique place with a sea canyon cutting through very tall cliffs and ending at a tiny beach.

There are about 100 stairs down to the beach but it isn't very steep. It was really cool to see the gorgeous blue water rushing in and out through the channel. There is a cave that people dive in and it's also a popular spot for snorkeling in the summer when the sea is calmer. 

After checking the area out we walked back up and out onto the limestone cliffs. Wow, the views around here are so stunning! And there were so many fossils!!! 

Besides the fossils we also stumbled upon some now out-of-use salt pans from when the area was partially submerged (but now sit on the top of sky-high cliffs!) We then got back to the car and drove to the currently used salt pans at Xwenji Bay. These pans are cut, filled with seawater, and harvested by hand. Some of them go back to the Roman ages! 

There was a basket with some examples of sizes you could buy and the directions to head up the hill a short way to the caves where the salt is stored and sold. We met Rose who told us her and her husband had been harvesting salt here for over 45 years!

She's got a little collection of historical photos as well as different varieties of salt for sale. We were more than happy to buy from her directly!

Throughout the day the wind was soooo strong and the waves were huge! As we drove along the coast to Marsalforn the sea had actually risen up over the road at one spot. Forest had to time the surge and drive through when it was least deep. A bit nerve wracking to possibly be swept out!

We had made lunch reservations at Qbajjar Restaurant. This restaurant has awesome views of the (raging) ocean and a menu filled with seafood and other local dishes. I had the best fish soup of my life here! I think everyone really enjoyed their food, I'd recommend it if you are in the area.

We tried to visit Xerri's Grotto in Xaghra after lunch but found it closed. So onward we went to the Ġgantija Temples. 

Upon entering the historic site, you wind your way through the museum which provides information on the Neolithic Period. There are also displays of really interesting artefacts excavated from various prehistoric sites in Gozo.

After trying to get your head around artifacts that survived from around 2300 BC (!!!) you wander outside for your first glimpse of the temple. 

Ġgantija is a megalithic temple (meaning built with large stones) and are older than the pyramids of Egypt!!! There's really no apt description of the feeling you get as you walk in and around the structure. I'll just say it is AWESOME!!!

Even with how old this temple is, they still don't know the exact use. But there are doorways, and halls, individual rooms, tiny stones, giant stones, and even ancient graffiti that is visible. 

We walked down the street afterwards to one of the last surviving windmills on the island. The Ta’ Kola Windmill was built in 1725 during the Knight's Period. The museum within shows tools used for harvesting and milling grain, as well as how the mill keeper and their family lived inside. It's interesting if you have time after the temple but I wouldn't go out of my way to get there.

We finished our amazing day at Dwejra Bay with the most amazing sunset I think I've ever seen! 

With the winds still gusting, the waves were absolutely spectacular! None of us could stop taking photos! If you are on Gozo, a sunset out here is a do-not-miss.

After some drinks in front of a little fire in our farmhouse (the owner had stopped by with some wood as it was chilly), we caught the bus which stopped right in front of our house, and had a quick ride to Victoria. We were having dinner that night at Maldonado but not in the normal restaurant area. We were booked for a special Maltese and Gozitan wine pairing dinner in the upstairs private space. I'd say there were about 15 diners for this.

The owner talked us through each of the wines while his chef prepared courses as we watched. It was great to learn more about the wines from the area and also watch the chef in action using local ingredients like in this mini tart with sheep's milk cheese, pea hummus, and zucchini. 

We just loved Gozo! If you are planning a trip to Malta it is really worth it to take a couple of days to explore this island as it is completely different then the main island country. 

All Gozo photos here.

Other posts from this trip:


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Country Count #51 Malta

Trip date: December 2021 

After a year of not being able to meet up for our annual New Years Eve trip because of Covid, Forest, Thibault, and I were landing at our chosen destination of Malta! Malta was one of the only countries that we found to be requiring proof of vaccination which made us all breathe a bit easier. They also were still wearing masks, inside and outside, so it felt safe. The country is rich in history, prehistoric relics, amazing scenery, delicious cuisine, and is on the Euro. This little island country really has it all!

My friends and I flew from Lyon where we had spent Christmas with Thibault's lovely family. His mom even packed us sandwiches made with leftovers and his dad drove us to the airport. Very sweet! After 2 hours on Malta Air we were landing in the capital city of Valletta and my 51st county!

We picked up our rental car at the airport and were really surprised when they told us there was a €2k deposit! Driving is on the left in Malta and the roads are quite narrow and twisty, we also had a manual shift, so it was really nice that Forest offered to be the driver. As we drove through Valletta we passed a horse and buggy on the road; the experience had already begun!

Gozo is an island just north of the "mainland" of Malta and would be our first destination. It was a 40+ minute drive to the ferry dock, then about a 30 minute crossing. It was dark so we couldn't really see much but as soon as we drove onto Gozo we could see how charming the tiny towns were and all lit up with Christmas decorations!

It took us a while to find a restaurant still serving dinner as we were arriving later than planned but luckily we stumbled on Al Sale in Xaghra. Here we had our first taste of the Maltese sheep's milk cheese Ġbejna and I had a lovely pasta. As Malta sits in the Mediterranean between Tunisia and Sicily the food has wonderful flavors borrowed from both regions. My ragu had sweet earthy spices of cinnamon, clove, and cumin and the pasta was expertly made. We were full and happy and excited to see our rental in the neighboring village.  

The village of Ghammar is actually more like two intersecting roads. Our VRBO was a wonderful 3 bedroom farmhouse. Stone walls, tile floors, vaulted ceilings, a fireplace and a pool! I mean it was too cold to swim in December but still! My friends Anne and Brian would be arriving the next day and traveling along with us, hence the 3 rooms.
Thibault, Forest and I set out on a morning hike the next day from the farmhouse up to the lighthouse. It was great to be able to see what was around us since it had been dark when we arrived. Very pretty countryside. 

At the top it was incredibly windy! Like, oh-my-gosh-I-might-blow-over windy! And the views were breathtaking! Villages, terraced farms, ocean... this was our first real look at Gozo and we were smitten!

There were some old military barracks and an old canon up there too. It was a great little hike for exploring and taking advantage of the clear skies. We headed back to the farmhouse and grabbed the car to go into Rabat for lunch.

Victoria, also called Rabat, is the capital of Gozo. Its Citadel sits atop a hill, visible from most parts of the island. We decided to have lunch at Cafe Jubilee which had tables outside in the square and a menu of traditional cuisine. Forest and I had a hit-list of foods to try in Malta so this figured in well with our plan; I ordered the Stuffat tal-Fenek, braised rabbit which is the country's national dish.

Lunch was great, but sooooo slow! We figured after lunch we would do a little sightseeing on the drive to the ferry to pick up Brian and Anne but we ended up being late by the time we finished lunch! Gozo runs on a very laid back schedule, note to self!

Once we had our friends we set off to do a little walk around Daħlet Qorrot Beach which is on the east coast and not far from the ferry. Besides the small beach there are a series of caves which the local fisherman use for boat houses. Across the inlet we could see Sopu Tower which dates from 1667 and was the last watchtower built on the island. 
We walked for a bit around the coastline, the variety of limestone walls are really interesting! 

From here we drove to Ramla Beach where we read there was a bar and thought we would have a drink. Ramla has a wide, long stretch of red sand beach, and in the summer I can imagine it is packed with locals and tourists. But on this winter day we found the bar to be a closed up seasonal shack. 

After a nice stroll along the sand we decided to go back to Victoria and visit the Citadel at dusk. This original walled city of the island has had fortifications built on it since the Bronze Age! Until the 17th century all Gozians were required to be inside the walls at night for protection from raids.

You can walk almost all the way around the ramparts, taking in stunning views of Gozo from all angles. The winding cobblestone walkways inside the fortification take you past shrines, historic houses, and finally lead to the chapel in the center square. 

We were practically the only people there and it was awesome! Highly suggest an end-of-the-day visit for the lack of crowds and gorgeous light. We stopped into Victoria Central bar/coffee shop after and I had a lovely spritz using Maltese sparkling wine, local prickly pear liqueur, and soda water. 

One of the specialties of Malta is pastizzi, hand held pastries traditionally filled with either ricotta or curried peas. We had walked by Sphinx pastizzi a few times that day and their selection looked really good so we decided to grab some and have them for a casual dinner back at the farmhouse. Brian and Anne hadn't been yet, we had been out all day since picking them up, and we were all ready to relax. And let's be clear, Forest and I were more than ready for a martini!!

All Gozo photos here.

All Around Oaxaca

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