For the second day of being in Malta (country), I had planned to go to the island of Gozo. A colleague/friend of mine had told me that he found Gozo to be much more nicer than Malta (Malta is both the name of the country and the biggest island of the Maltese archipelago). So I was keen to be there. However, it was a bit of a journey to reach there. First of all, from Valletta I needed to go to the ferry point in Cirkewwa. With the public transport bus, it takes a really long time – almost 1.5 hours (bless you Malta transport to provide wi-fi in the bus) as it takes you through all the towns on the way (giving you ideas on where you would like to go later)! With a car you can make it in 40-50 minutes.
Once you are there, then you just take the next ferry and it takes only about twenty minutes from there to Gozo! Funny thing – you don’t need to buy the ticket then. You buy it when you return from Gozo to Malta and that covers both ways! Quite smart – saves the logistics of maintaining ticket offices in two places (since you would need to return to Malta eventually). Ferry schedule can be found here.
Another thing – there will be several salespersons for the Hop-on Hop-off (HoHo) bus vying for your attention – outside the ferry port in Cirkewwa. If you have done your research, then it’s quite alright to buy the ticket from them as they give discounted tickets. If they don’t offer discount, then you can ask for it as well. There are two operators of the HoHo buses in Gozo. Then once on the ferry, there is a counter there as well (but of one of the operators). And of course, when you arrive in Gozo, there are counters there too. There are so many places to explore in Gozo and going there with the public transport meant having to come back to Victoria city as the sights are connected in a radiating pattern with the center being – you guessed it – Victoria. With the HoHo bus, you can go everywhere and get down at whichever stop you want as they keep making the rounds. That worked out very well for me.
Upon disembarking from the ferry in Gozo, it was quite easy to spot the bus. I took the one which was about to start so as not to waste time. Disadvantage – I didn’t get the seat on the top. And then the journey started and boy, what a journey it is! That landscape is amazing. You go through rolling hills, sometimes getting a lovely view of the ocean and sometimes you get into the towns with houses having interesting balconies. The Spring time added to the beauty, by sprinkling colors in the sparse (but more than in Malta) greenery.
Along the journey, the bus stopped at an artisan shop where people could go to the restroom and get something to eat or drink and by souvenirs. I got dazzled by the silver filigree jewelry and bought a nice pendant with a chain. It was the next day in Valletta, that I found so many shops which had so many more choices and at much cheaper prices. But may be the difference is that the one I got was handmade. Whatever it is, it cannot be undone. I like the piece and wear it from time to time, so all good there. A good thing that happened after this break was that I could get a place on the deck. That made it convenient to capture the scenery that was fleeting by.
I got down at the stop for the Ggantja Temples – Xaghra. These pre-historic megalithic structures are standing since more than 5500 years. They are an impressive site and makes one wonder what would have been the purpose. The folklore says that they were built by a giantess who ate only beans and honey! On looking at them one can get a sense of why people would think that it was made by a giant/giantess. Who else could have carried those huge slabs of limestone around and then put them on top of each other! Another interesting thing is that the makers knew which of the two varieties of limestone to use for which parts of the construction.
There was a relatively modern windmill also nearby – the Ta’ Kola windmill. The ticket for the temples covers the windmill too. It was made in 1725 and renovated in 1780. When the wind was right for the mill to operate, the miller would make an announcement by blowing through a triton-shell (Maltese bronja) and villagers would then bring their grain to be ground into flour! It was turned into a museum in 1992. It gives a glimpse into the Maltese life of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Thereafter, it was a bit of a wait for the next bus on the round to appear. The sun was getting hotter. So getting on to the deck of the bus came as a relief because then the breeze was pleasantly cool. I decided to get down at Victoria next. I was a bit hungry and was hoping to get something to eat there. Well, found a gelateria which was perfect for the hot day and the short climb up to the cittadella. It’s a very nice fortress. At the Visitor’s center, you can get to know some history and buy the ticket to some museums within the cittadella. There was a nice audio-visual show also at the center. The church museum is not included in that ticket. You need to buy that one separately.
One of the museums there – the Gozo Nature Museum – contains a tiny bit of moon-dust! The fragments were gifted to Malta by Richard Nixon.
Then there is an old prison which probably is where Mr. Valette was imprisoned for drunken fighting, long before he became the grand master of the Maltese knights. Looking into one of the cells which had only a small window to look inside, I got startled! There was a very real looking mannequin of a prisoner with coarse hair and wild eyes staring right at me!
After having my fill of history and photos, I came down from the cittadella and decided to walk back to the bus stop. On the way, I found a beautiful church and lots of souvenir shops. I bought a small bottle of prickly-pear liqueur there. The rocky sun-beaten islands have little vegetation and cactii seem to be growing easily everywhere. The fruits if these cactii – the prickly pear – are used by the island people to make lots of things like jams, liqueur and other drinks.
Then after waiting for the bus a while longer (the first bus was going back to the ferry terminal), I decided to go to the last stop for the day – the Dwejra Bay. The evening was approaching and I wanted to get back to Valletta before it was too late. So I didn’t get down at a lovely monastery that came on the way – the Ta’ Pinu.
At the Dwejra, I had a very adventurous experience. A place there looked like a pool of green water with fisherman’s sheds around it. And there is an inland sea there – the Il-Qawra. It’s a natural recess made of the limestone rocks where sea water comes in through a sixty meter long tunnel known as Ghar iz-Zarqa – the Blue Grotto – so named because of how the water appears there. The opening is just enough to let small fishermen boats get into the open sea. I didn’t know what was on the other side of that opening, similar to everyone else who decided to take the boat. From that placid pool, one cannot even imagine what waits in the inland sea and then on the other side!
It was so choppy that I just put my phone back into my bag and held on tightly on to the side of the small boat, while taking in all the scenery around me and listening to what the boatman was telling us. The lady beside me got really scared with the bobbing up and down of the small boat in the huge sea and couldn’t stop herself from screaming the whole time that we were there! There used to be a beautiful stone structure in that part of the sea called the Azure Window but unfortunately, in 2017, it collapsed into the sea due to a storm. The experience was amazing. I felt so small in that vast ocean and couldn’t help but wonder how the intrepid humans have been crossing oceans since centuries!
After that, when we got back, I just walked around the cliffs a bit and just enjoyed the views, until it was time for the next bus to arrive to go back to the harbor and return to Malta. At the harbor, I needed to buy the ticket and then it took quite some time being in the queue and waiting for the next ferry. On reaching Malta, had another great experience – that of seeing the sun set really into the horizon, which I’d never seen before. Every time in the past, whenever I have waited to see the sunset at the sea, the clouds have come and put the curtain on the sun’s exit! Got it this time 🙂
Then after another hour of journey, I was back in the city and after having something to eat, I called it a day and went to bed – exhausted but happy with the sights and experiences of the beautiful day..