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Postcard from Valletta, Malta on TravelSnapz

Steps in Malta

Valletta is a city of steps
(and steps).

     and steps

         and steps.

It was cut in half and laid head to tail on the large oval plate and covered in a sauce of fresh tomatoes, olives, red and green peppers and capers. It was a lampuki and the season is open.

Lampuki is a fish that is caught in the waters around Malta from September to November. Perhaps it was the Sicilian diet of pasta and pizza that I had been suffering over the past four weeks, but this fish was absolutely delicious.

It is not the only thing that is delicious in Malta. The scenery is delicious, the history is delicious, even the ancient busses that bump you around the island are delicious.

We had arrived in the capital, Valletta, on the fast ferry from Pollazzo, Sicily. The trip is only around 90 minutes and our 11pm arrival gave us a reasonable chance of getting to a hotel that night. By the time we got through customs and then made the 20-minute walk up from the port is was midnight and the first hotel we tried was locked up tight. The same story at a nearby guesthouse. We did eventually find a bed but at $US90 for the night, we moved the next day to the Midland Guest House (and the best view in Valletta) at less that a third of the first night's expense.

Our first day was spent around the old city of Valletta. It is a city of steps.

Steps up and steps down - I much prefer the steps down but, unfortunately, you can't have one without the other. In fact I think that there must be two things that are included in the genetic disposition of the Maltese - the ability to climb steps and stairs and the ability to stack rocks. I have never seen so many beautifully made rock fences.

Steeped in the history of the Knights of Malta who ruled the island for over 200 years, Valletta is an interesting city. It sits on the end of a finger of land that points northward. Either side of the finger is a beautiful harbour that plays host to freighters, cruise ships, sailing yachts, and the colourful local fishing boats. Narrow streets (and steps) criss-cross the peninsula that is protected from ancient foes by huge bastions and fortifications.

The city was actually built to a design (it didn't just happen) by the Knights of Malta. This can be seen in the ordered layout of the streets. Some in fact say that the streets are designed to create a natural air-conditioning effect.

An impressive artwork in St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta.

An impressive art work in St John's Co-CathedralIf you need a church there is always one nearby and the carillon of bells calling the faithful to prayer is a delight to the ear. The church interiors are covered with a great deal of gilt and important and impressive art works. The morals of the city are further protected by the strong censorship laws that apply to theatre productions and this also means that there is not too much modern theatre seen in Malta (although it was good to see a production without the "f" word being thrown in for no valid reason).

The play we saw was in a small 150-seat theatre that is part of the impressive St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity, an art centre complex that was built to celebrate the new millennium. We walked past this place for a couple of days, an ancient high walled sandstone block tower, without realising the inside had been turned into such a useful and intriguing space for live theatre and exhibitions.

The impressive calendar of plays and exhibitions that was to be held in this centre over the following months showed that Malta has an active cultural life.

The exhibition we saw at the St James Centre was of 300 to 400 year old pottery originally used by the Hospitallier Knights to store their pharmacy needs.

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Also of this vintage is the Manuel Theatre - a grand boxed theatre house where the Knights staged their own productions. Most of this building is original and two seats at every production are reserved for the censors. It is the oldest theatre in Europe still operating.

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