Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Day Five: A free day to explore the capital, Victoria

St.Georges Parish Church, Victoria

Gozo: Day Five

It's a free day for both painters and walkers so individuals and couples make their own arrangements. Nine of them embark on a guided tour around Malta, organised by hotel owner Jason. I take my time and have an extra leisurely breakfast, tasting things I wouldn't normally - including a very moist cake embedded with red and green fruits.
Guarding my cappuccino against strong winds!
Catch up with some writing, before hopping on a bus to Gozo's capital, Victoria. The locals still call it Rabat, even though the city changed its name to mark Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. I struggle to walk in a straight line. The wind is so fierce it almost knocks me off my feet. What strikes me is the amount of balconies in this city - it speaks of communities chatting over streets as cars pass by underneath. I take refuge from the wind in a small street cafe, in St Francis' Square and guard my cappuccino carefully while attempting to sketch an ornate fountain.
On my way to find out more about Victoria's history, I pass a statue of Gorg Pisani (1909-1999) who was a Gozitan poet. Realise I have arrived during siesta time so most of the shops are shut, so plans to buy my children gifts are put on hold. Endeavour to try a local pastry called a cheese qassatat and venture off to find St George's Square where I spot a couple of our party dining. I don't disturb their quiet lunch and have a peep inside the elaborate almost overwhelmingly ornate St George's parish church, built in the 17th century and bestowed the dignity of a basilica (a canonical title granting special privileges) by Pope Pius XII in 1958. I find out more about Gozo's ancient past by visiting the Gozo Museum of Archaeology, containing pottery dating back to the Copper Age and Bronze Age. Intrigued by clay wine containers dating back to 2BC recovered in 1961 from a shipwreck at the mouth of Xlendi bay, where I am currently staying.
The cathedral
Brace the winds again and climb up Castle Hill to reach the citadel, which is what the Greeks referred to as Acropolis - the highest part of the city. The views up here are breath-taking, but having already lost my museum ticket in the wind, I daren't risk taking anything else out of my bag. I need my hands to ensure I'm not blown over the edge. I have never experienced such string winds, which locals say are 44kts or 51MPH.
Walking back down, I spend time reading up about Victoria in a delightful restaurant called Ta'Rikardu, which is almost carved into the city walls and has such character. It acts as a perfect shelter and free Wifi means a quick chat with my lovely husband who is ably looking after the children this week. I walk past the old prison and have a look round Gozo Nature Museum, taking note of the island's butterfly collection and fossil-rich limestone, before buying what looks like a giant pretzel. The shop keeper informs me it is a honey ring, a traditional Maltese food. Manage to get a small gift for each of my daughters before reaching the bus station. Wait at the wrong bus stop, but thankfully one of my party spots me and rushes out of their bus to ensure I get back safely. In the evening I meet up with a handful of ladies from our group and dine at one of the local restaurants looking out on Xlendi bay. Enjoy listening to their accounts of the day which involved fine dining and not a lot of art.

Wine pots discovered in a shipwreck off Xlendi Bay at The Museum of Archeology

View from the citadel