We arrived from Sicily to the port in Valetta around 9:30PM. As we left the port, we ran the usual gauntlet of taxi drivers offering their services. I’d read that a taxi from the airport should be about €15, and as the port was less than 4km from our hotel, I expected the rates to be much lower – and did my best to barter them down. They wouldn’t go below €18, so we kept walking. They tried to tell us that we were going the wrong way, but we had the map on our phones, and we could tell that we were headed in the right direction.
We thought that we’d start walking, and then hail a taxi (or bus) once we got away from the port area. Well… that was the plan anyway. We kept walking, and walking, and eventually we’d walked right past our hotel (my bad). It was now nearly 11PM, and we were exhausted. The hotel, Bayview Hotel & Apartments, was as basic as you could get – no breakfast, no wifi, and a deposit required for a hair dryer. However, it was one of the cheapest that we could find.
As I couldn’t get online, I couldn’t book/plan what we were going to do for Gozo Island, so I had to wake up early the next morning and turn on my data roaming (£5/day from Three). I had originally thought about catching the bus to the port, catching the ferry across, and then hiring a scooter/car for the day in Gozo, and returning the same way. Instead, I realised it was cheaper, quicker and easier to just hire a scooter for two days from here, and then take it across on the ferry. It ended up being €30 for the two days rental, and then an extra €5 to take it across on the ferry. Bargain.
The sun was shining, the sky was blue, so we grabbed our swimwear, sunglasses, polariser for the camera, and went and picked up the scooter. The first thing we realised is how hard it is to use GPS navigation while on the scooter. The second thing I learnt was the drivers here were in no mood to be behind a scooter, and even though the island is tiny, people here are in such a rush on the roads! We also very quickly realised that although the sun was out, there was very little warmth in it, and there was a wind howling from the north. We put on all the clothes that we’d brought along (not many – I was in a t-shirt and shorts) and were shivering uncomfortably. The only respite was being stuck behind the dirty coaches, where we were able to soak up the heat from their engine (and other systems).
For all the negatives of the scooter (the cold, the vehicle exhausts, the comfort, the danger), it was great to be able to pull over at a moments notice to take a photo. We were both amazed at how different the landscape and buildings were here. The island looked barren, with barely a tree taller than a person to be seen. The houses were also simple sandstone houses, blending in with the environment, and reminding us more of the houses you see in North Africa (well, in the photos that we’ve seen of North Africa).
The ferry to Gozo Island is odd, as you only have to pay on the return leg. Should you work out a way a different way to return to the main island, you could travel to Gozo for free. We jumped to the front of the queue of vehicles waiting for the next ferry and found a place in the sun, but out of the wind to attempt to warm up.
The crossing was surprisingly short, and smooth. We travelled past the other island, Comino, which if we’d had the time (and it was at least 10˚C warmer), we’d love to visit. We settled for the breathtaking views of the rugged coastline, peppered with coastal caves and vivid patches of blue waters, and topped with a solitary sandstone fort. There was something incredible to me about the bleakness of the island. However, the cold wind eventually got to me, and I ran back inside.
The ferry approached Mgarr, and after a short period of just gazing out at the buildings in the port of Gozo, we realised that we had to return to our scooter.
I said earlier that Malta was tiny, well, Gozo is miniscule! We had a rough map of places that we wanted to visit, and it was almost confusing how quickly we were getting between places!
In a rush to get out of the hotel, we’d skipped breakfast. It was now nearly noon, and we were ready to eat. Risa did some research, and found a highly rated restaurant in Xlendi called Sofia. Due to our late arrival last night, and us skipping breakfast, this was to be our first meal in Malta. It came a little surprise (and a small disappointment) to learn that this was actually a Baltic/Bulgarian restaurant. The owner was really nice, and the menu looked good, so we just went with it. He told us that Bulgarian food is better than Maltese food anyway, so we were lucky. We had to take his word for it, however the food was delicious, so it wasn’t hard to believe!
We had a quick look at the small cove at Xlendi, then hopped back on the bike to head to the Azure Window and the Inland Sea on the west coast. Unfortunately, all roads seem to go via Victoria/Rabat, the capital in the middle of the island, slowing down access a little.
Just before we reached the Azure Window, Risa spotted a small church in San Lawrenz that she wanted to go inside and have a look at. As we had both heard, the churches here in Malta aren’t much to look at on the outside, but are amazing inside. I think that perfectly describes this small church! It was also the first one that I’d see with a silver dome – most of the others have a crimson coloured one.
The Azure Window is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Gozo, so we expected there to be crowds. There were plenty of people crawling around on the rocks, and swimming in the pools, however we were able to catch a few moments of emptiness for photos. I later learnt that Daenerys and Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones had their wedding here. I’ve thought since arriving that quite a few places looks like a set for Game of Thrones – but surprisingly there hasn’t been many other scenes filmed here.
I was staring down into the pool just in front of us, and could see bubbles rising to the surface. I thought that it was odd, and that there must be some kind of deep gas well slowly seeping out. Turned out that it was scuba divers who were swimming through an undersea tunnel! Unfortunately, I’ve had many problems with my sinuses, and generally scuba companies don’t want me to dive. Figuring that most businesses are interested in wanting my money, I trust them when they say no to me.
We had a quick walk to the Inland Sea, which is where the divers were starting, just behind the cliffs in front of us. You could do a short tour out through the cave to the open sea, but I was out of cash – and not an ATM to be found – so we gave up and kept exploring the island.
As mentioned before, all roads lead back to the capital (Victoria/Rabat), so we decided that we should have a look now, rather than avoiding it. The town was much smaller than I was expecting, and looking at maps gave a incorrect sense of scale, frequently over shooting directions. The most prominent feature in town is the fortified Citadel, which sadly (for the sake of me taking photos) is currently undergoing major renovations. Inside the sandstone walls of this mini-fortress were the ruins of many other buildings, as well as the Gozo Cathedral. We didn’t see the value in purchasing a €6 ticket to visit, and gave it a miss.
I loved the uniformity of the colour of the buildings, with everything made from the same sandstone that makes up the island. Every now and then we’d find certain angles while walking around where traces of the modern world would almost slip away. I realised that this is what I was looking for – a view of a time long ago.
We skipped the Gozo Cathedral, but went inside the Saint George Basilica, which was actually free to enter. As with most of the other churches that we’d been to in Malta, the exterior masterfully hid the richness and detail that was contained inside. There was so much going on, yet there seemed to be a sense of harmony. Neither of us have any religious beliefs, so it always feels a little like we’re intruding when visiting, so we didn’t stay too long. We lit a candle for an Aunt who recently passed away, said our well wishes to her, and made our way back to the scooter.
I’d read about a natural salt mine, and my initial thoughts were of something like the one I saw in Poland. What we found was quite different, with lots of shallow, man made pools to trap the seawater, which is then evaporated and the remaining salt is collected. If I had of paid attention, I would have noticed that they were called Salt Pans – not Salt Mines. The coastline was as rugged as ever, and again, it felt like the set of some fantasy movie.
We made one last detour to Wied L-Ghasri, which was surprisingly difficult to find, and the road leading there didn’t look it had had much attention for several decades. I didn’t really know much about this place, other than it was somewhere worth visiting in Gozo. What we found was a very narrow canyon that led out to the sea. The booms and thumps as the water filled the cavities underneath the canyon were amazing, and the sound of the pebbles being dragged back by the water as it drained back towards the sea reminded us of the sound of a crowd applauding. It wasn’t the type of place that I would enjoy swimming. There were no waves, just a tide that surged to and fro, pushing between the walls of the gorge, and overflowing up the narrow rocky beach. The narrow canyon was drowned in shadows, but it was still much warmer than above, where we were still being blasted by frigid winds.
We made our way back to Mgarr to catch the ferry back to the main island – with just a minor detour to Xewjija Church, the gargantuan domed church that dominated the skyline of this part of the island. Navigating here was pretty simple, as it was visible from just about everywhere. From up close it’s difficult to appreciate the scale, but from a distance, it’s apparent. Inside was surprisingly simple and spartan, with clean light sandstone walls. There was a service taking place, so we did our best not to intrude.
We returned to the ferry terminal, bought our return ticket, and queued at the front with the rest of the scooters. Of course, there were still many other places that we wanted to visit, but hadn’t arrived early enough to squeeze it in to a single day. Even with the minuscule size of Gozo Island, it still takes time to get between places – and then time to actually enjoy the labours of our travels. We were tired from being blasted by the cold all day, and generally fatigued from a busy week. We sat in the warmth of the ferry, and nearly collapsed. We just had to make it back to our hotel in Sliema first.