Our next stop after Rome was Malta. When planning the trip, knowing the Missus always loves an island visit, I first thought of Cyprus. But finally decided on Malta. The Missus's response? "Why Malta?" You might be asking the same question. In fact, if you're like about 80% of the people I quizzed, you don't really know where Malta is. So, just in case you're wondering
As to the "why?" We had visited the Island of Rhodes on an earlier trip. I remember walking up the Street of the Knights to the Palace of the Grand Masters and being quite fascinated with the Knights Hospitaller. Originally founded to care for the sick or injured. This group eventually morphed into a highly regarded military force and eventually settled first in Cyprus, then Rhodes. After several attempts, Suleiman the Magnificent brought 400 ships and a huge military force and after a 6 month siege, Rhodes was lost. The Knights left Rhodes. In 1530, Charles I gave the island of Malta to the knights. I think this was a strategic move to protect Sicily and Naples from the Ottomans. And so you have it......The Knights of Malta.
To be honest, I really didn't know what to expect when landing on this tiny island nation. The apartment we were staying at had arranged for a car to pick us up at the airport. As we drove to the capital city; Valletta, I was struck at the sun baked and seemingly wind swept look of the place. We were staying within the walls of the city, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.
I was told that, in spite of intense bombing during World War II, many of the buildings in the city date as far back as the 16th century. Our apartment owner was a very funny guy. When we asked him about places to eat and said we loved food, he told us, "I will give you the best recommendations....you see, I am a single man, I eat out at good places every night, so I know all the good ones!" While patting his belly...
After settling in, we went out to explore.
Our walk brought us to Caffé Cordina, supposedly the oldest café in Valletta, established in 1837.
Valletta was quite interesting. Crowded streets during the day from the cruise ships and fairly quiet during the nights with a few exceptions.
When doing research on the food of Malta, it became quite clear that the cuisine is a melting pot of all who arrived on her shores, Sicily, British (Malta was part of the British Empire from 1814 until 1964), French, Northern African, etc.
I thought Caffe Cordina would be a nice intro into some of the food in Malta, starting with the ever popular stuffed pastry called Pastizz.
Pastizz (plural = Pastizzi) is a stuffed pastry filled with either a ricotta mixture, or like this one, a very British looking mushy pea mixture. Think French pastry, Italian-ish Name, British filling......
This was ok, nothing to write home about as the pastry was on the downside of flaky and the peas were quite bland.
The item we enjoyed the most was an appetizer named Hobz biz-zejt. Tell me if this looks familiar or what?
Does look bruschetta-ish, huh? This was quite good. The tomatoes were ripe and had that wonderful sweet and tangy "flavor of the sun". I loved the addition of olives and capers to this as it added a nice briney-savory flavor to the very nice bread.
I actually knew of two people who married Maltese. One of them told me to try the Maltese version of the tuna sandwich.
Loved the bread, it was just fantastic, yeasty, with a crunchy crust. Also liked the addition of cucumbers, tomato spread, and olives, a wonderful combination. The only thing I didn't care for was the tuna, which was very fishy. I would try this again later at a little no name coffee shop and boy, would it be good!
In spite of being popular with tourists, this was a decent way to get acclimated to Malta. A quick note, if you ever go to Caffe Cordina, check out the ceiling, it's quite impressive.
244 Triq ir-Repubblika
Valletta, Island of Malta
Speaking of impressive......
Less than a block away from Caffe Cordina is my favorite place on this visit; St. John's Co-Cathedral. The humble exterior transitioned to a beautiful interior.
Built between 1573 and 1578, this beautiful Baroque Cathedral kept us busy for over an hour. We would end up returning for various reasons twice more.
The Order of the Knight of Malta has 8 "Langues" (literally "tongues"), divisions by which the order was organized. Each Langue ((Auvergne, France, Provence, Aragon, Castillian, Germany, Italy, and England - England was abolished because of the Reformation of King Henry VII) has it's own chapel in the Cathedral. Each dedicated to a Saint. The chapels are ornately decorated and quite a sight to see. All that gold just dazzles the eyes....
You'll find the tombs and the crypts of the Grand Master who are buried within the walls of the Cathedral.
Another interesting thing about the Cathedral are the almost 400 tombstones of the Knights buried in the floor of the Cathedral. To quote this wonderful webpage: (The tombstones) "are richly inlaid with the coat-of-arms of the respective knights, each buried in his particular grave, with inscriptions extolling his virtues and traits of character, with spoils of victories, skeletons and skulls symbolizing death and eternity, lions and stars to demonstrate valor, and other common artifacts to express the profane history of the Order of St John."
The Missus, who was doing the audio tour came over to me and told me that; "there are Knights of Malta buried in the floor here". To which I replied, "I know, your standing on one of them!" In one shining moment, the Misuss had achieved a 36 inch vertical leap.
As far as I'm concerned, this is a must visit if you're ever in Valletta. Take an hour, or two, and enjoy the place. As you can tell, it was very quiet on this afternoon. A bit of culture, history, and escape from the heat.
This was a wonderful visit, but it was time to move on. Valletta is a rather small city, about 655 yards by 1095 yards....and it seemed like the Missus wanted to see it all in one afternoon!
As for the St John's Co-Cathedral, we didn't know it then, but we'd be back.
Thanks for reading!