Malta is our stop this Palm Sunday day and it is a very interesting, very old, very pretty independent island nation. 95 sq. mi. and 400,000 inhabitants. It has been ruled by several different countries and empires for more than 5000 years, lastly part of the British empire but got its independence in 1964. Manufacturing finished products has become a major industry but our guide, Helena, never named anything specific they make. Tourism is second with up to 2 million visitors each year and farming with export of produce becoming more important–potatoes, tomatoes, oranges, olive oil, and wine. Of course, fishing and export of fish is also a major source of income. Helena told us of all the “free” things available—education, medical care, sanitation, stipends for college students while they are getting a free university education, etc. Then she also said the citizens realize nothing is really free and taxes are quite high and spread over a variety of things. 98% of the people are Roman Catholic by religion and there are over 364 Catholic Churches on the island. We were in the main cathedral in Mdina (pronounced Medina), over 250 years old and filled with relics. Most of the furnishings and doors and some idols are wood painted to look like marble. Island is mostly limestone and there are four big quarries to supply the stone to build the houses. Saw a couple of big yellow machines in the quarry we were closest to! Although farming is big it must be a very hard life because so much of the ground is rocks that must be removed before planting. The rocks are used for fences and there were many, many of them, mostly old, old, old. We visited an ancient megalithic temple, Hagar Qim,built about 5000 years ago. Excavations have shown quite advanced building techniques and they have found tools, idols, models to demonstrate their religious beliefs as well as living style. The Knights of St. John were here for a long time—a holy order but also involved in warfare all over the Mediterranean area; thus the Maltese Cross is seen a lot. Bet you didn’t know you wanted to know so much about this little island, did you?
Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul. House to the left is a private residence. This town of Mdina is where the “ins”live those days.
Supposedly St. Paul was here and was shipwrecked just off this coast
Today I chose not to go on the scheduled tour and apparently I needed the extra rest because I slept until nearly 10:00. The ship anchored today so we tendered into town and I did do that, walked around a bit and took the 45 minute hop-on hop-off bus tour before returning to the ship for more relaxation. This is a lovely town, easy to get around if you don’t mind the uneven sidewalks and you watch the traffic. We heard it is a rather upscale place for the “upper class” to come for vacations. No street vendors selling souvenirs, no beggars, no “tourist” stores with merchandise spilling out the doors. Nice! The group visited several ruin sites including the Theater of Epidaurus, “among all the ancient theaters it is the most beautiful and best preserved.” The superb acoustics were highlighted when one of our members sang “Amazing Grace” from the stage.
The ships’ lifeboats were used to tender into town
Thursday April 6. Iraklion (Crete) Greece
A couple of hours spent exploring the excavated ruins of the palace of King Minos near the port town of Iraklion on the island of Crete. Sometimes called the Palace of Knossos it was built in 1900 BC, was the home for several hundred people and not a ruling palace. Lots of folklore and myth connected with this palace including it being called a labyrinth because of all the rooms and hallways. Destroyed, rebuilt and then destroyed again in 1380 BC, probably due to earthquake and fire and the Minoan people left this area to live further up in the mountains. The town of Iraklion is pretty modern since it incurred much damage by the Germans from bombing in WWII. Leisurely moussaka lunch and time to wander around. Three ships in town so lots of people everywhere. Main product for Crete is olive oil and tourism is second source of income.
I am in Athens, Greece. Can you imagine—ATHENS and GREECE! Never could have imagined this nor any of the previous sites. Of course,lots of old buildings but our guide said 70% of the city is “new”, a great deal of that due to WWII destruction. Only 10% is antiquities. The population of greater Athens is 3.8 million and according to a 2011 census there were 10.6 million in all of Greece. Several thousand refugees have swelled that number in recent years. Our morning was spent on a city tour, lunch of salad and a gyro platter and then to the Acropolis and the Parthenon. As yesterday, I did not climb to the top but there were good views from the base area.
There is one arch remaining, Hadrian’s Arch, built about 132 AD.
This stadium is made entirely of marble. Originally built 100 BC but destroyed several times and finally restored 1895. It seats 60,000 and is still used today for a variety of events.
View of Athens across from a fishing port as we were driving from the port at Piraeus.
Big city so lots of cars, buses and motorcycles and people. Sidewalks aren’t particularly wide but in front of every eating place of any size at all there are tables and chairs and people sitting at them as the crowds just go around.
Don’t remember who these are but there are quite a few similar statues around.
April already and that means I will be going home relatively soon–the 26th. Today I thought I would share some people and ship tidbits, both for my memory and because I find it interesting.
We have “lost” three of our group. Rita went home to Chicago about the third week with recurrence of a heart problem. Timmie was on her way down the stairs to join the tour to Petra, fell, tore ligaments in her knee, was hospitalized in Aqaba but now on her way home to Washington. Gertrud hasn’t been feeling well for a couple of days and while we were anchored waiting to go through the Canal it was decided she needed more medical care than was possible here so she was transferred to a hospital somewhere in Egypt and is waiting for family to come to help her get home to California. Someone reported they had heard there have been two deaths and six is the “usual” number for a group this big on a trip this long. Since early in the trip there has been a “sharing” of various kinds of cold symptoms. I had it in late January but am so thankful to have been healthy since then. There are frequent reminders to wash hands, stay away from others if coughing, go to the doctor if you don’t feel well. The cruise director, Gene, had to take an unexpected emergency medical leave about a week ago and his replacement will join us in Athens; no reason given but he seemed okay until he wasn’t!
I find the crew to be exceptionally friendly and helpful. Don’t know how they learn our names so quickly but early on they call us by name—Miss Joanne, Joanne, or Madam. Made and Wayan (both from Bali) are my cabin stewards; they clean in the morning and then do bed turndown in evening, leaving a chocolate and a copy of the next day’s activities on the bed. Usually there is an animal there as well made from towels and washcloths. I eat dinner in the dining room most nights and other meals upstairs in the buffet. Arief is one of my favorite waiters there; he is from Java; others from Bali, Malaysia and the Phillipines. Every evening there is some kind of entertainment in the show lounge as well as a a movie. I have liked most shows but have found the movies not to my liking.