Thursday, September 22, 2016

GOZO: The Other Big Maltese Island

We've arrived, the final post from our Malta trip back in April!  Yes, it really has taken this long because we really did pack it all in.  And we'll never forget it.

We basically did everything on our own, with the help of public transportation (bus and ferry) and the one Grand Harbour cruise that gave us a view of Valletta from the water, which was important to us.

Other than that, the only planned excursion we took was the all-day trip to Gozo, the smaller island just north of Malta, just past the wee island of Camino.  We had been told we could do the trip on our own but the bus system might be problematic.  You could get from one place to another but some buses came only every hour.  It was a no-brainer to use a tour coach, from Buggiba, our hotel, for the entire day, round-trip.

Malta is the largest island:  culture, commerce and administration.
Gozo is the second largest island:  fishing, tourism, crafts and agriculture.
Camino is the smallest island:  one hotel, pop. 4, day-hikers, water sports.

[Our travel agent was the one who suggested we NOT visit Camino, 
since we´re not sun-worshipers.]

Here's the public bus route/system for Gozo, covering 26 sq. mi. with a pop. of ca. 37K.
Our all-day trip, from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m., stopped at 5 main places after arriving at the Harbour.

But first, we had to get to the ferry in Cirkewwa from our hotel in Buggiba, 14 km. away,
passing interesting landmarks along the way.
The Gozo Channel Line runs back-n-forth all day long, every 45 minutes.

It's a 25-min. ride covering approx. 6 km. across the Mediterranean Sea.
It was fun to "capture" the island from the sea...and find our coach waiting for us.

From there, at the Mgarr harbor, we started our 5-point Gozo experience.

1.  Victoria (aka Rabat), the Capital City of Gozo.

From the ferry our coach drove us the 5km to Victoria, the capital city of Gozo.
It's situated on a hill, the highest point on the island, with the citadel on top.
Once off the coach, we started climbing further up to the citadel/Cittadella and cathedral within.

This is the Cathedral of the Assumption, dedicated in 1716,
with the clock tower in the curtain wall of the main gate keeping watch.

You walk in and immediately look up!
There is no dome on this cathedral but inside is the appearance of one
 because of the trompe-l'oeil painting, creating the optical illusion ((top-right).

This was when Astrid and I wandered off from the group to take photos!

We can never retain all the information from the tour off we go,
knowing we can Google later for the info we want

Because the cathedral is inside the citadel, we kept climbing to the wall, looking back.

From there, on top, we could see all across the island to major landmarks.

As you know, what goes up must come down,
so down we went back into the capital city of Victoria, away from the citadel.
St. George, Gozo's patron saint, was killing the dragon everywhere.

So many impressions, just like in Valletta, the capital city of Malta.

2.  Lunch at the Fishing Village of Xlendi.

From Victoria we drove 3 km to Xlendi for a 3-course, mass-produced lunch (with wine).
Xlendi happens to be one of the most beautiful stops on the island,
but we were only there long enough to run down to the bay and take a handful of pics.

3.  Fontana Cottage Industry.

After lunch we drove 2 km to Fontana for a chance to see/buy Gozo crafts/products.
(Nearby were ancient stone laundry basins.)

Remember, the Maltese Islands depend on this kind of tourism for their economic existence.
And what did we buy?  Prickly pear jam and carob liqueur (for on top of ice cream!).

4.  Azure Window near Dwejra Bay.

From Fontana we drove 7 km to the Azure Window near Dwejra Bay.
We first had the opportunity to see the "window" from a short boat ride.
For an extra €4 pp., what the heck, right?

 It was a chance to see this major tourist attraction from a different point of view (right-middle).

Then we saw it on the sunny side, in all its glory.
The natural arch is made of limestone, of which the Maltese Islands has plenty!

5.  The Ggantija Temples in Xaghra.

From the Dwejra Bay coast we then drove inland 10 km to our last destination of the day:
the Ggantija megalithic temple complex from the Neolithic era, a UNESCO site.

When do we get to see things this ancient???
These temples, c. 3600-2500 BCE, are more than 5500 years old...older than the pyramids of Egypt.

I'm not sure it's really hit me how old this was,
but what a way to end our trip.

While driving from here to there, we saw so many places of interest.
If we were on our own, for maybe an entire week on this island, we'd try to see it all.

Impressions.  Impressions.  Impressions.
(That's the carob tree, bottom-right, with its pods.)

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Guess what!  This ends the Malta Trip from April.  Finally.
And none too soon because...tomorrow we fly to England for a week-plus with friends!
You know we can't resist that, right?

Happy first day of autumn!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Out in the Dutch Boonies

By now you know how much Astrid and I LOVE to veer off the main roads to go find Dutch treasures everywhere.  The ones the tourists never see!

And I had been hungry for new weathervanes for a long time (especially while working on the gazillion Malta pics).  So, dear Astrid spent time to work up a route that would take us to new places not all that far away...for a 4-hour drive this past Saturday.

Basically, the route followed the Linge river that runs through our city, Gorinchem.
The river is 99.8 km long, one of the longest flowing rivers entirely within the Netherlands.
See the graduation cap atop the flag pole?  That is NOT a Dutch don't you wonder!

We were out mainly to find weathervanes, since I was so hungry for them.
But look what else we found...and even got to eat an Elstar, one of my new favorite apples.
The Dutch invented it by crossing Golden Delicious and Ingrid Marie apples in the 50s,
first introduced to America in 1972.

It's apple-picking time here in the Netherlands (as elsewhere, of course).
How fun to stop and hobnob with the pickers.
Astrid had a lot to talk about because she was a picker herself in a past life.

Check out the apple "train," as I call it.

BTW, Saturday was our Open Monument Day here in the Netherlands,
held the second Saturday of September each year.
This is the De Vlinder (The Butterfly) windmill in Deil, built in 1913.
Isn't she gorgeous dressed in white!  We don't normally see white windmills here.

As I often say, more Dutch you cannot get!

But then...the surprise of the trip that Astrid found for me on the Internet:
a quaint covered bridge with this archer on its Tricht.
It took us awhile to find it...and it was private property from the bridge on...
but what we saw was better than enough.

And since it was time for lunch, there in Tricht we found this delightful café on the Linge:
De Lachende Gans = The Laughing Goose.
We were hungry for Dutch good as any we've ever had.
Just think:  We could have taken a boat from Gorichem along the Linge to this point!
We're only talking about 30 km.

So, did we find weathervanes????
You betcha.  Many are variations on the theme, as you see.

Like I said, variations on the theme!

A couple of them I have shown before, but who cares...or remembers, right?!

THIS, folks, is what I love about the Dutch polder and boonies.
T H I S.
(With many thanks to Astrid for making it happen!)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

For Chad and Norma: The Dutch Experience

So, while I try to finish processing the last of my Malta pics, I have two quickie posts this week to keep myself current on Life as we know it in our neck of the woods.  After all, Life does go on, doesn't it!

It so happens that we had dear visitors from England last week, stopping by on their long camper-van trip from England, by ferry across the Little Pond, and then into Germany.  Lucky for us, we got to be with them Monday evening and all day Tuesday.

First, a reminder that we have several English friends due to our Shutterchance photoblog, of which I've been a member for 10 years and Astrid for 9 (that's where Astrid and I met, remember!).  Over the years we have made many trips there to visit real people, making virtual reality...well, a reality.

Chad and his buddy, Chris, visited us in September of 2013, 3 years ago.  But this was the first time Chad's wife Norma was here.  We had spent time with them in their own cottage back in June of this was a bit of a payback.

On both Facebook and Shutterchance I posted this snapshot collage of their short visit.
But I want to put a bit more flesh on the skeleton, to do it justice!

We have a camper parking lot nearby on the Merwede river, where they docked for two nights.
Since they arrived at 6:30 p.m. in Gorinchem, we wasted no time to greet them 
and spend a couple hours "partying" with them (as Norma said).
In the top-right image you can see their view back to where we live near the Big Church.

The next day was full but leisurely.
First we did our citadel walk, to get the lay of our land.
We even looked back at their camper across our outer harbor from the citadel (bottom-right).

Then we drove out into the polder to eat pannenkoeken at our favorite restaurant...
So we punted and found one near Kinderdijk, which is where we wanted to end up that afternoon.

By now you should know this place inside and out.
We can't help it.  We want to take everyone there!

Yup.  Kinderdijk and her 19 windmills.
At 30 km. away, it's a no-brainer for us.

Back home, we had some munchies and more great conversation before bidding our friends adieu.
It was a short and sweet visit...but so much better than nothing.

So, this is for you, Chad and Norma.
THANK YOU for dropping by on your way to Germany!

Thursday, September 08, 2016

MALTA: The Three Cities

If you remember back to my post on Valletta, Malta's capital city, you may recall that across the Grand Harbour from Valletta are the Three Cities that jut into the harbor facing Valletta.

But first, here we are again to get our bearings...from our Buggiba hotel to Valletta.
It was an hour's ride on the bus, stopping all along the way.

Now look at this closer-up map of the Valletta area.
There's Valletta, the big peninsula.  Across the harbor to the left are The Three Cities:
Kalkara, Vittoriosa and Senglea.
(The only city we did not visit was Kalkara, the least populated of the three.)

To get from here (Valletta) to there (The Three Cities), we started in Valletta's 
Upper Barrakka Gardens...rounded the corner...

 ...from which you get the beautiful vistas across the harbor to The Three Cities.
Pay attention to the Saluting Battery and all those cannons...fired every day at noon and 4 p.m.
We were not in Valletta to see a firing but we were in The Three Cities...later.

From the upper gardens we took the Barakka Lift down to the harbor.
It can transport up to 800 people per hour, in 2 cabins of 21 passengers each.
Completed in 2012, it replaces the old lift (from 1905-1973), 58 meters (190 feet) high.
Talk about saving a lot of time and effort!

Down at the harbor, we caught one of the ferries that crosses every 15 minutes
for €2.80 per person round-trip.  What a great service!

We could have taken one of the gondola boats, of course...but we didn't.

As soon as we got off the ferry in Vittoriosa and started walking, guess what!
They were renovating said gondola boats.

And a bit further, we found the St. Lawrence Church we had seen from the ferry.
It wasn't open when we were there, sadly....

...but the café around the corner was, where we stopped for our morning break.
Cisk beer (pronounced CHisk) is made in Malta.
Notice the "loitering" men again!

Of course, we walked around to see whatever we could see.

And before we knew it, we found a bridge to cross over to Senglea, the next city.
As you can see, there are harbors and boats everywhere.

AND more boat renovation...this time of regatta boats!
This gentleman was delighted to explain everything to Astrid about the races held each 8 September,
commemorating Malta's National Victory Day in 1565 and 1943.
Guess what!  That big race is TODAY, from 9 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.
What a koinky-dink!

I know you think we eat all the time but it was time to eat our main meal of the day.
Notice the St Lawrence Church across the harbor from our café.

Like what we did in Valletta, we then walked up and down the streets,
almost able to stretch out our arms to touch the harbor on either side.

And speaking of churches, one was now open...
Our Lady of Safe Havens...aka Our Lady of Porto Salvo...

so, of course, we entered.  
It was Saturday, so it made sense to see some prepping.

Just a short walk away we were at the tip of the Senglea peninsula in the Gardjola Gardens.
And because it was almost 4 p.m., we waited and watched the firing of the cannons from Valletta.
In such times I am so thankful for my 1200-meter zoom lens!
(And, yes, that's moi inside that little tower, wearing my hat.)

By now we were on our way back to pick up our ferry for the return trip to Valletta,
and found this Nativity of the Virgin Mary Church open, built in the late 16th century.

Remember, there are 359 churches in Malta and Gozo, most of which are Roman Catholic.

Did I mention how the weather wreaks havoc on everything in Malta?

But how can you not love the place!
Everywhere you go there is history and culture...and beauty, beauty, beauty.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

If I can get all my last ducks in a row, I have one more major post of our April's Malta trip:  GOZO.
I'll try to make it into ONE post, from the day's excursion we took there.
Wish me luck...before we leave for England on 23 September!