May 17, 2007
Today turned out to be a very interesting day. I decided to go to SG Solutions, which is the authorized Apple/Mac dealer on Malta, because when I have my PowerBook plugged up to recharge the battery I'm getting "leakage": that is, I can feel a current running through the shell and get a bit of a shock when I touch it in a certain way. I had felt this on occasion when the computer was plugged up in El Paso at school, though it's a bit stronger here. (Oddly, I can't remember ever having the problem at home.)
But SG isn't in the touristy section of Malta, where I'm staying; it's in the more business-y area several miles away. So I took a bus to Valletta, the main bus terminal, and then another to Balzan, where I needed to go. On the way from Sliema to Valletta, I had a nice talk with two ladies from Sweden, perhaps a mother and a daughter, though I wouldn't swear to it. They have been to Dallas, because they (or one of them, if they weren't related) have cousins in Argyle, north of Dallas! She was eager to tell me also that I needed to come to Sweden, and that I needed to come now, while it's warm.
Then, on the ride to Balzan, I talked to a nice Scottish-English couple. The woman did most of the talking, and both were quite nice: and insistent too on the distinction between being Scot or English. (She is Scot; he is English.) They are now retired in York and were disappointed that I haven't got York on my England itinerary. She even gave me her card and told me they have a guest room if I make it to York. How very kind they were, and as pensioners themselves, they commiserated with my need to save money by not staying in the UK as long as I might otherwise.
In Balzan, I found SG fairly easily, after a walk of a few blocks, and the technician came to look at my computer and my adaptor plug. He showed me how a pin inside the adaptor box is plastic instead of metal, and therefore the plug isn't entirely grounded. That's why I'm feeling the current. He assured me that it's not dangerous, either to me or to the computer, but he is going to see if he can get hold of a plug with a metal pin, which he thinks might cost about 30 Maltese pounds (or lira). This is somewhere around $93-94, so it's not an inconsequential purchase, but it sounds like it will be handy to have, if he can find one. And of course it won't really be a "trip" purchase, but rather a working necessity. So. . .
After we got that taken care, I was talking to him and the receptionist about visiting the churches in Balzan, since I was there, or walking to Mosta to see the dome, which is either the 3rd or 4th largest in the world. They advised against walking to Mosta, which is apparently around 3.5 miles or so, and also poo-poohed the idea of looking at the local churches. They said I should get back on the bus and go to Mdina and Rabat. I had intended to go to those cities anyway, though on another day, but I took their advice and headed on.
In Rabat I got off the bus (Mdina is quite small and more or less abuts Rabat) and started walking up the street toward Mdina. I passed a little cafe/snack-bar called Windsor Castle and saw "fish and chips" on their menu board. I'm always leery of fried fish, since I never know how the batter is prepared, but I asked if I could just get chips. The counter guy said yes, so I ordered chips (French fries) and a "Coke" (which turned out to be a bottled Pepsi--bottles are common here for soda; plastic is not). While I waited for the chips to be fried up, an elderly man who had been in the back of the shop (quite small), right near the entrance to the kitchen, came up and asked if he could sit at my table. He said he didn't like to be in the way. I told him to have a seat, and we got into a conversation about Rabat and Mdina and Mosta and even about his living conditions. Apparently he is now living in a retirement home instead of his own house. I wasn't entirely sure, but that's the idea I got. He made it clear he didn't like the situation. He told me that, of the two catacombs in Rabat, St. Agatha's is better to visit than St Paul's, because it has more artwork and decoration to look at. (The British couple, whom I ran into again outside Mdina, seconded that.) He also said that the Mosta dome is the 3rd largest in the world, behind St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London. I told him I would not be in Rome, as far as I knew, but that I would be going to London soon, so hopefully I'll be able to see St. Paul's. (Make a note of that, Susan, okay?) He also mentioned having relatives of some sort in Iowa. By then my chips (which I ordered for take out) arrived, so I thanked him for the visit and headed on up the street. I encountered a nice park--the Howard Gardens--and decided to stop and much on my chips and drink my Pepsi. While there I was greeted by at least five hungry-looking cats, though I wasn't sure that fries would be good for them. (And the package was plenty big: I would've gladly shared.) But one I threw out on the ground for looking ugly got sniffed at and disdained by one of the cats, so I figured they knew what they needed to eat and what to avoid. At least two of them seemed to be fairly new or fairly recent mothers, judging by their nipples. (I'm no cat expert, however.) I was going to include a photo, but my camera program wasn't cooperating and wouldn't export the file. Who knows why?
By the time I'd had enough chips and was strolling the gardens a bit more, I saw what looked to be the entrance to Mdina, which I had taken to be a bit farther along. It was indeed the entrance, so I moseyed on in. Here's a photo of the main gate:
Mdina is called "the silent city". It is a walled city which seems to be built almost entirely of limestone. Beautiful limestone. Apparently residents (at least some of the places looked to be houses), business people and police can drive inside the walls, but outsiders can't. The streets are very narrow, about 8 feet wide, maybe, in many cases, with doors which open right out onto them. One of the shops I gawked into (on one side) and stepped into (on the other side) had limestone walls inside as well, low arches, and a limestone staircase going up the back of one room. Like having your own little home inside the castle. Truly wonderful and "Romantic". Here I visited with two more couples, talking mostly with the husbands while the wives looked in shops and so forth: one couple English; one couple Scottish. The Scot said he had been to Malta 5 times, and the Englishmen 3 or 4 times. The Englishman was selling me on visiting Essex, since we talked about my having studied Roman history, and he pointed out that the oldest known Roman settlement in England is Colchester. Very nice and personable folks.
After we parted ways, I came to a place on the walls where a number of people were gathered because there you can get right up to the outside wall and look out over the valley below:
At the end of this open sort of area, I came to Fontanella Tea Gardens and went inside for a pot of tea and a piece of chocolate cake. (It was the plainest thing I could get.) It had already been somewhat cloudy with a somewhat chilly breeze for a while by this point, and I thought a pot of tea would do me well. It did indeed, and the bill was only 1.35 pounds.
I wandered on to the Cathedral and its museum. One buys a ticket (1 pound) for both at the Museum and starts off there. I guess I spent an hour at the museum, maybe a little longer. What an impressive place it is. At least one of the paintings was early 15th century, and I'm not sure it was the oldest I saw. There was also one or two works by Mattia Preti (I think I've misspelled that too), who had a lot to do with St. John's Co-Cathedral. And I think I had an odd realization: I think I've come to like painting. Most of my life I have preferred sketches and sculptures and not cared much for painting (Michelangelo, Rousseau and Rothko being exceptions), but looking at these, admiring the details and the skill it required to create them, made me think back to visiting the Getty in April with my mother, my sister and my friend Allen, and talking about admiring the skill of some of the work there without really liking it. (Although some I really liked as well.) It felt anyway like a little revelation--like a part of the world I haven't cared much for is maybe opening for me, and it made me think I ought to (once I've settled down a bit more than I can while on this trip) take up painting (or perhaps colored-penciling) and see if I can get any good at it at all. Any little bit of skill. (Note 1: Maybe Nancy is an inspiration too! Oh, yes, and she pointed out that I had misremembered what she said about her sales of artwork: she hasn't sold anything in Italy yet, but has sold work in the US before coming to Italy.) (Note 2: Some of you may remember having seen some work I did with pastel chalk on canvas and colored ink on canvas back in the '80s, almost none of which still exists. As I moved and moved and moved, I simply had to throw things away. "Paintings" included.)
The museum collection has a complete set of Albrecht Durer's prints on the "Life of the Virgin" as well as another set called "The Small (Something)", which I'm blanking on at the moment. It included scenes from the life of Christ. There were also other prints which they called "After Durer", and were apparently prints done later, by other artists, based on Durer's originals. There were also two bas-relief artworks carved out of wax, which were quite amazing. I don't know if the artist used colored wax, or colored the wax after carving the shapes. The eyes of the people were especially entrancing. And there is a large crucifix for which Christ's body is carved out of ivory. Another amazing piece of work, even though the ivory has cracked in one or two places. Its whiteness and the smoothness of its surface are quite remarkable.
There is also a large display of bishops' garments and mitres and illuminated choral books from 1576, and another room houses a significant number of coins from various times in Maltese history, going all the way back to the Phoenicians/Carthaginians. Apparently the Greeks weren't interested in the islands. But the Romans were, and there are a large number of Roman and Byzantine coins on exhibit.
The cathedral, right across a small plaza, is quite heavily decorated, like St. John's in Valletta, although many of the pillar walls are smooth here, rather than elaborately carved as in St. John's. Here's a photo looking up into the dome:
and another looking just beneath the dome, which you can see the edge of at the top of the photo:
By this time of the afternoon, I was ready to head back to Sliema, have a snack and do my email and Internet activities, so I did not make it to the catacombs in Rabat, or to the Roman villa (if I decide it's worth visiting--depends on the cost, probably, hehehe), or the church.
For those of you following my worries about how much I'm spending, today I was able to keep my spending to about 6.5 pounds, which included:
1.2 pounds bus fare
1.05 pounds chips and Pepsi
1.6 pounds tea, cake and tip
1.0 pound museum and cathedral entrance
1.55 pounds deli ham (for supper), package of cookies (for several days worth of dessert and snacks), and 2 liter bottled water
Derek has suggested that I discuss my use of the shower for washing my "delicates" (although I think I would not call anything I wear delicate). Here's what I've been doing. I take the T-shirt and pair of boxers I've worn that day into the shower with me. I soap them up (one at a time) with the same soap I'm bathing myself with; rub and lather it all up very nicely; then rinse, wring, and hang outside the shower. (If one is wearing shoes instead of sandals, one can also wash the socks in the showers.) Then after I finish showering and drying myself, I roll up the wrung-out clothes in a towel, twist and squeeze to draw out even more water, then hang overnight on a hanger. I have also washed out my Quiksilver shorts this way, and because they are made of fast-drying material, they are also dry by morning. I originally intended to buy long pants of this material, then changed my mind, and shouldn't have. So now I have a pair of jeans and a pair of khakis which have to be machine washed. Rats. Tomorrow I may try washing out my short-sleeved button-down shirt in the shower as well. I was going to do that today, but because it's cooler and damper I thought it might not dry overnight.
Another way of doing this washing on-the-go--besides Woolite in the sink--is something I did quite a bit of when I was still living in the RV and thinking toward the time I would be traveling and packing light. Carry one or two two-gallon Ziploc storage bags. You can stick a pair of boxers and a t-shirt in it at the same time. Squirt in some Woolite or dish detergent or even shampoo (or you could probably just stick a bar of soap in there), put in a quart of water, zip it shut and kind of shake it around. Just make sure it doesn't come unzipped! Keep the zipper end UP. After you're done "agitating," pour out the soapy water, squeeze out the clothes, then put them back in with clean water, shake 'em around, pour it out, repeat until the pour-off is not soapy. Even better than a Ziploc bag is a Tupperware-style container (you can agitate more vigorously), but you may not want to carry that.
For any of you males planning to take a trip and wanting to travel light, here's what I recommend: buy the REI brand (I think it's MTS) and/or Ex Officio boxer-briefs (or boxers if you prefer) and the REI t-shirts which are made of the same material as the boxer-briefs. They wash easily and dry quickly. I'm set for underwear (all REI and Ex Officio), but my t-shirts are a variety of manufactures, all of which dry quickly, but some of which are harder than others to get wet in the shower. They are made to "wick" away moisture and so they repel water, to a certain extent. The REI material does it a bit, but not as badly and is therefore easier to wash. I would recommend only 3 boxer-briefs and 3 t-shirts. I've got six of each (meaning one to wear, 5 to carry) and that's too much. With 3, you've got: 1) the set you're wearing; 2) a clean set; and 3) a set you've just washed which ought to dry by morning. Carry one or two of those plastic bags that you squeeze the air out of for tighter packing, and you can use them to hold anything that didn't get dry by the time you need to pack up if you're changing hotels/hostels that day. I'd recommend one pair of long pants and one pair of shorts. Wear the long pants on the days you're traveling from one place to another, and then you don't have to carry them. The only drawback to this plan, I think, is that if you are on an organized tour for part of your time, you may be changing hotels every night, and may not have a chance to get the pants laundered overnight. So try to switch pants and shorts on alternate days.
Carry one or two button-down shirts to wear over the t-shirts when it's cooler or when you need to dress up a bit. Carry two windbreakers (light) instead of one windbreaker and one sweater (heavy). I'm thinking right now that I will ditch my jeans (and keep the nicer khakis) and maybe 2 pairs of boxer-briefs and 2 t-shirts before I head to England. I have already ditched my sweater, my robe and a pair of sweat-shorts which took forever to dry. (I left them on the ship for the steward to take.) If you want to carry shorts for sleeping in, swimming in or exercising in, take nylon soccer shorts or an equivalent form of swim-trunks. They pack light and dry quickly. And there's no reason you can't wear them, instead of a robe, down the hall to the bathroom/shower-room if you're staying in a bed & breakfast or a hostel. If you must have a robe, get the thinnest, light-weightest thing you can: you'll only be using it a couple of minutes a day. I'm also carrying a pair of quick-dry briefs, for wearing under the soccer shorts I've been using to swim in, but the truth is there's no reason not to wear boxers or boxer-briefs under swim trunks, and briefs are more likely to be uncomfortable when you're in a long sitting situation--on the plane, or a bus, for example.
I've got two pairs of shoes with me: a pair of sturdy and very comfortable Timberland walking shoes and a pair of Merrell sandals. I'm almost never wearing socks with the sandals, so that saves on carrying socks, and they pack light. So, again, when you are in transit, wear the shoes and slip the sandals into the backpack or suitcase. When in transit, wear what's heavy!
Is that enough with the house-keeping tips?
I'm sitting on the balcony in the dark. For some reason the balcony lights, which seem to be controlled by the hotel, have not come on yet tonight, which is fine, since I'm looking at a computer screen. It's been windy and a bit cool today, and now, off to the east, more or less, is what looks like heavy grey rain-clouds. If it rains, I hope it happens overnight. I don't want to fight rain tomorrow. I think I may go back to Valletta tomorrow, although there is a cathedral right near here which I haven't seen yet. Sliema, though, is not as charming and cool as Valletta. It's both more touristy and more residential and doesn't seem to have as much in the way of history, though it has more shopping, I suppose. Good night all.