Friday, November 16, 2007

Malta

It was a strange thing but we had a couple of cool encounters with people while we were on Malta. On our last night in Gozo the founder of Hospitality Club (HC) was also a guest. What are the odds? It was great to talk about the whole experience and his plans for its future. He's 29, German, and a very well travelled hitchhiker. Lots of story-swapping ensued and I guess we were impressive enough because he suggested that we be added to the small group of HC ambassadors, which are unique, long-term travellers promoting cultural exchange. He convinced us to come back with him to Malta for our last 2 nights and stay with a great Turkish couple he knew there. Ah, Turkish hospitality.... That night we went to an HC gathering to meet other members and hangout. Those are always fun.
The following day our itinerary took us into Valletta, the capital. Wow! I really liked it and it is quite unique as far as cities go. It is mostly the work of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John. They started out in Jerusalem during the crusades, giving hospitality to the pilgrims heading to the holy city. The Templar knights are an offshoot of them and they have been the inspiration for numerous other groups including the St. John's Ambulance guys (unofficially) I believe. It started out as a noble thing with knights taking strict vows and all that but eventually greed, power and money got in the way. They took control of Malta in the early 1500s (it was a gift from Spain? I think) and kept it until 1800 when Napoleon took control. He kept it for 2 years and then the English got it. But now I am side-tracked. Anyway, the Knights had lands all over Europe but their capital was Valletta on Malta. It had a handful of palaces and the Knights were quite rich and powerful for a long time. This history is mostly what people can come and see. As such an important capital, it was necessary to defend it and defend it they did. The old city was built on a peninsula jutting out into the sea and defensive walls were built all the way around it and with a large fort at the end, using the natural cliff landscape to its full advantage. The views over the grand harbour are awesome as the harbour has a few peninsulas jutting into it from the other side, each with it's own little fortification on the end. It must've been easy to defend back in the day. I know the city was beseiged in 1565 by the Ottomans but they must've lost, and although it was bombed during the early stages of WWII, it was never taken and remained a very important strategic post for the British. As I said earlier, the British controlled it the most recently and because of that, and the similar climate, I think Malta is most similar to Cyprus. They are similar to Cyprus today in another way too, both countries will switch to the Euro on Jan 1st. We also quickly went up to Mdina, the old capital in the middle of the island. Because of the short days we have mostly just been enjoying the great people we've met and had fun chatting. I suspect that when we get back into Africa the conversations will be short and simple due to the language barrier. It was fun here and I hope to get to Malta again soon :)
Ammon

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