Thursday, August 25, 2016

MALTA: Valletta, the Capital City

We're now at the part of our Malta trip (from April!) that is the most important to most tourists:  Valletta, the capital city of the Maltese Islands.  Do you notice how I have saved it for the end!?!  Well...almost the end, that is.  I still have two more posts, but...that's then and this is now.

Here we are, again, getting our bearings.
Remember how we did the Grand Harbour tour around Valletta last post?
Today we will be inside Valletta, as well as looking out beyond.

In fact, if you lay that Valletta peninsula on the top map on its side, this is what you get.
It has two natural harbors, Marsamxett Harbour and the Grand Harbour (which we saw last post).
The city itself is only 0.8 sq. km., the smallest national capital in the European Union.

Because it's the start and finish of every trip we took to Valletta,
we'll start with the bus terminal next to the big Triton Fountain, installed in 1959.

From the bus terminal, you walk a few meters through the gate of the city,
and immediately see the stairs to the Upper Barrakka Gardens.
But more on that next week.

For now, the gardens are a high vantage point to The Three Cities
across the Grand Harbour, as well as to inland vistas of Malta far away.

But if you don't climb up the garden steps, you walk straight through the city center.

Remember St. John's Co-Cathedral (top-left)?  
That's right off the main drag.

In fact, that's also where we found a delightful Wi-Fi spot, twice,
for lunch and liquid refreshment (English hard ciders).
We had very poor internet reception at our hotel,
so this was a perfect solution.

You may recall me saying that Valletta was ruled by the Brits for 150 years.
You feel and see and taste their influence everywhere.

It's one of those cities where you just...walk around!
Doesn't that fountain (middle left) remind you of Rome?

Speaking of which, so did the cats, which the Maltese clearly love.

Because the peninsula is so narrow, you can see the harbors on either side,
as you look up and down the side streets.

Does this city remind you of anywhere else???
Well, at least the hilly part, yes:  San Francisco!
And, yes, we climbed up and down.

There are 25 churches in Valletta within the space of its 900 x 630 meters.
(Malta and Gozo combined have 359 churches!)
Besides St. John's Co-Cathedral, we entered two other churches.
I have no clue which one this is...

But this is the Basilica of Our Lady of St. Carmel, from 1570,
one of Valletta's most famous churches.

In fact, that's a good segue to another vantage point from somewhere UP in the city.
That's the St. Carmel Basilica (top-right)...within Valletta.
But The Three Cities are off in the distance across the harbor,
much of which we saw on our Grand Harbour cruise.

Is this all starting to run together for you?
Well, it still does for me, too, not knowing where one leaves off and the other begins.

But that's the next Malta post...The Three Cities...followed by Gozo, the other island.
And then, yes, we'll be (drum roll) finally d o n e.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

MALTA: The Sliema to Valletta Harbor Cruise

I know, I know.  It's a never-ending story but, believe it or not, I have saved Valletta (Malta's capital city) and Gozo (the other big island) to the end.  So, yes, we're very close to ending our 11-day April holiday in Malta.

On our second day, Saturday, we decided to take the cruise of the Valletta Grand Harbor, also known as the Port of Valletta, to get an overview of the capital city, which we knew would be a constant point of reference our entire stay...which it was.

To get our bearings again, we took the bus from our Bugibba hotel to Valletta.
Actually, to be correct, we got off at the Sliema stop because that's where our harbor cruise began.

 The Msida Parish Church in Msida was as far as the bus could take us.
From there we walked along the harbor for half an hour to our boat in Sliema.

It was a foretaste of what was to come...

...with plenty of people-watching along the way.

Once we found our docking spot and waited for the next boat, we had a nice koffie break
 and watched all the other cruise boats taking off.
Remember, Malta relies on tourists for its livelihood.

Since we're waiting, here's a closeup of the approximate cruise route (not the land part, silly).
It took 75 minutes to go from the left dot around to the right dot,
starting in Sliema and ending on the eastern side of Valletta.  [Google image]
As you can see, Valletta is a peninsula city, with the Grand Harbor on its eastern side.

Here's a partial sky-view to give another point of view.  [Google image]

Our boat was the MSV Life "Sliema to Valletta" ferry.
We booked it through our travel agent because it was a longer tour than the others.

OMG!  Where do I begin??!!

It doesn't take long to realize there are churches everywhere.
Measuring 900 x 630 meters, Valletta has 25 churches, most of which are Roman Catholic.

And boats, of course.
Sailboats, yachts, cruise boats, catamarans, freighters, navy vessels, etc.
After all, this is the Mediterranean Sea area.

There were cranes everywhere...massive ones in dry dock area.

From such a cruise you see how "walled" the city really is, 
established in the 1500s by the Knights of St. John.

Where did they get all that stone???
Right.  The island is full of it!

After rounding the lighthouse and bridge from the Grand Harbor,
you're definitely out to sea...the Mediterranean Sea, of course.

Once docking in Valletta (not back in Sliema where we started),
we immediately met this fine gentleman, who was a good beginning to our Valletta experience.
He was so proud of his Maltese boat called luzzu (luzzus, pl.)

But our Valletta experience is another post to come....

Thursday, August 11, 2016

For Don and Ruth: Paris in July

So, to continue the visit from where we left off last post, it was time to go to Paris!  Sister Ruth and hubby Don were with us from Friday to Wednesday, 3 days here where we live in the Netherlands and then 3 days in Paris...before they then headed on their own for a week in Provence.

Monday, 25 July:

We took 3 different trains to get from Gorinchem to Paris:
first to Dordrecht, then Rotterdam, and then the fast train to Paris.
It would normally take us 5 hours to drive it.  By train it took us 4,
but only 2.5 hours from nearby Rotterdam to Paris.

Did I ever mention how much I LOVE the European trains!

Once getting our Metro tickets, we found our République stop.
Tributes were still up for the 85 people killed in Nice on 14 July.

Our AirBNB apartment was around the corner a couple blocks away.

Simply adorable!
But it wasn't quite ready yet at noon, so off we went to eat lunch.

It was a good jump-start for the rest of our day.

We headed off to the River Seine.
(See the MICHIGAN boat?  Good omen--top-left!)

What is it about the book stalls along the river!

It didn't take long to find The Louvre, the world's largest museum.

Or the Tuileries Garden nearby...including the obligatory ice cream.

An unexpected libation turned up when a sudden downpour hit.
Short and sweet.  Just long enough.

And then it was back to the apartment for our what-we-wanted supper.

Plenty other impressions from that first day.

I even saw "RH" as Ruth Hart along the way.  Another good omen.  :)

Tuesday, 26 July:

After a leisurely breakfast, we were off to the Luxembourg Garden.

The Medici Fountain there was a must, of course.

And then back to the River Seine for the Notre Dame Cathedral.
It's one of the largest and best-known cathedrals in the world for a reason!

Because we were there at the Ile de la Cité, we crossed the bridge to the Ile Saint Louis
for lunch at one of Ruth and Don's favorite restaurants.

And then walked back to the Notre Dame.
We had no intention of going in, but even if we did, the lines were too long.
It was enough to see it up close and personal.

Then on to Montmartre, where we had a chance to sit and take in the ambiance again....

before seeing Paris from the point of view of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica.

And yes, we all did the up-and-down steps, coming and going.

The 3 of them did it all by maps, signs and Ruth's iPhone GPS.
I just watched and took pics!

Lots of pics.

And at the end of that day, another luscious what-we-wanted supper.

Wednesday, 27 July:

After breakfast, Ruth and Don went off to the Metro station to catch their train to Provence for another week of vacation (which, I can tell you now, they loved).

Astrid and I had another couple hours to "kill" while waiting for our own fast train back home.  We spied a church on the map near our Gare du North station and visited it.

St. Vincent de Paul was built during 1824-44.

Lucky for us, we arrived 10 minutes before it closed at noon.
It was enough time to give us a feel for the place.

We then had time to eat a bit of lunch across from the train station,
before catching our train back to Rotterdam, then Dordrecht, and finally Gorinchem.
We arrived at our apartment 2.5 days after we had left it on Monday.

How's that for all the "usual suspects" in a short trip to Paris!
I still can't believe we did it...but we did!

THANKS, again, to Ruth and Don for being our companions all along the way.
We'll never forget it!