Friday, June 15, 2007

The Citadel at Victoria, Gozo (and the Ups and Downs of My Crazy Day)

June 14, 2007

Even though I only arrived on Gozo yesterday, it seems like much longer ago. Not so much, I think, because I had a busy day (although I did), as because my mood was so up and down, which--added to yesterday's disappointments--led me to make some changes to my schedule. But first a question:

Do gnats bite? Or do they excrete something on your skin? Or are they just so annoying that you feel like they're biting you? I've got a gnat problem--not a serious gnat problem, but a minor gnat problem--in my room here at the hostel. I guess we're far enough from the sea, although we can see it from the little rear garden and overlook, that the wind doesn't quite carry them away.

Something did bite me today, though I didn't discover it until after I showered a little while ago. (And given that I was out until almost nine taking an evening walk, it may not have bitten me much before I showered anyway.) Right on the right ankle, making it look rather inflamed, though it doesn't feel feverish, as mosquito bites often do.

Anyway, the sun woke me this morning fairly early, as it did most mornings at Sliema. But I suppose I had been at Sliema long enough to feel a sort of routine to things and have a sense of how the day was going to go, and that made it easier to roll over and sleep some more. Here I did a little rolling over and maybe a little drowsing some more, but my mind was a little too active--a little too concerned still about my accommodations here and the need (well, it sure felt like a need to me) to decide if I was really going to stay here for 13 days. So I finally got up, shaved and dressed by about 7:40 and wandered downstairs. A friendly woman named Teresa showed up immediately and asked if I was ready for breakfast. So that was a good start--having someone here and ready to "take care of the guest". She made me toast and heated water for my oatmeal and tea, and when I asked if it was all right if I heated water in the evening for a cup of tea, she told me I was free to use the kitchen for tea or even cooking if I wanted to. Again, a nice feeling.

After breakfast and clean-up (I mean, cleaning me up, not cleaning up dishes), I got on the bus and went into Victoria, the capital of Gozo. I roamed through a little mall I passed and bought a relatively fresh roll (yes, I know--it had been less than 90 minutes since breakfast and I was already hungry: but traveling is stressful and hunger-making) and a bottle of water. With the help of another tourist and the tourist information center, I found a wifi hotspot in Victoria as well. I hadn't brought my laptop with me, since I didn't know what I would find, but at least I knew where to go. From there I went on to the Citadel.

The Citadel is the high part of the city (yes, like the Acropolis) which was the fortified area, going back I'm not sure how far. Certainly the Knights built it up. If I've got my facts straight there was a successful Turkish raid on Gozo in 1551, and after the battle many of the citizens were taken into slavery. The island was mostly depopulated for a while. (This would have been 14 years before the Great Siege at Valletta in 1565, the last Turkish attempt to invade Malta or Gozo.) But it was a fortified area even earlier, I believe, and certainly a settled area.

In terms of a place to wander around in, the Citadel reminds me of Mdina on the island of Malta. Unlike Mdina, there are open spots in the Citadel, but I don't know if they are places where houses have fallen into ruin or if they were garden plots or something like that. But one truly has the feel of being in a walled medieval city because one pretty well is. There are 4 state-run museums in the Citadel, one each for: the old prison; natural history; archaeology; and folklore. The old prison is reminiscent in some ways of the Inquisitor's Palace in Vittoriosa, though it's a much more straightforward prison, unlike the Inquisitor's Palace which was a palacial residence, and a prison, and a court. Other than the limestone architecture itself, which this photo will give a sense of:

the coolest thing here is probably the prisoners' graffiti. The Order of St John often sent their own knights here for prison terms when they got too unruly, assaulting someone else or something like that. And the British used the prison too, once they took over the islands in 1800. At some point (and I'm sorry but I can't remember exactly which point), a new prison was added to the old prison, and it continued in use until the 1960s, I believe, even after the old prison was not used anymore. The natural history museum is built in part of one of them (maybe the new one), and it may be that other things in the Citadel are as well--I was tired today; I was stressed; and I saw too many museums for one day, so I'm not remembering as much as I might otherwise.

The first bit of graffiti I want to show you is a ship. The historians theorize that some prisoners might have added a mast for each year they served:

This next one is a ship too, and it's maybe my favorite of the shots I have for you today. It's very simply done, but how smoothly and quickly the lines of the carving seem to move: like the little boat is zipping across the water. Do you think the three sails/masts mean three years in prison?

This one is a hand. Just as the cave artists and the Native American rock artists "signed" walls or, perhaps, said "I was here" by printing or outlining a hand, some of the prisoners carved hands because they were illiterate and couldn't write their names. This one is definitely from the British period, whether that's an 1808 or an 1868.

And this photo is converted into a "negative", because the carving showed up better that way. It's possible that all the long scratched across the top signify the number of days he was in confinement. What's kind of interesting about this is that, at the bottom of those scratches, he seems to have written his name once; then under that his name occurs again, written more forcefully and deeply; and then under that are his initials L L. The last name pretty clearly looks like Luglio, which I'd guess is an Italian name. But I can't make out the first name. It may be abbreviated--like they used to sometimes write Robt instead of Robert. But whatever it's supposed to signify, I can't figure out, unless maybe it's Lino.

Well, that's enough for the old prison. The natural history museum and the folklore museum were nothing out of the ordinary, though the building that houses the latter--an old house--is very nice: staircases, arches, etc. And the former has a collection of butterflies, some of which are quite beautiful. (And yes, I know it's cruel.)

The museum of archaeology is much smaller than the museum in Valletta, but it's especially interesting pieces are some small sarcophaguses (although these were made so simply I'm not sure why they don't just call them coffins), except they housed not bodies, but the cremated remains of bodies. There was also at least one ceramic jar with cremated remains in it. More interesting yet was the skeleton found underneath a large ceramic jar which had been split in half in order to be long enough to cover the whole body. Scholars can't say why the person was buried in that fashion, apparently fairly near the shore, but one guess would be that he died on a ship and was taken ashore and buried quickly.

(I write too much, don't I?)

The Gozo Cathedral is quite attractive inside, though much smaller than St John's in Valletta and much less ornate, while still being quite decorative. One of the interesting features is that there are six small domes over six chapels along the side walls, but the dome one seems to see over the altar is actually a visual trick--a painting to look like a dome. Of course the trick only really works from near the entrance because it's painted with perspective and all. Once one is closer, it's clear that it's either a trick or a really weird dome! There are also tombstones in the floor here, with burials underneath, but they are not burials of knights, but of other prominent citizens.

There is a cathedral museum (one buys a ticket that lets one into both of them) with houses a lot of silver items which have belonged to the church and have been used by various bishops, etc. There's also a collection of paintings, some of them at least 300 years old, and this, which was once the bishop's carriage! (You knew I needed a "car" in here somewhere, yes?)

And here, if you look carefully into the opening where the bell is, is an actual, living bell-ringer!


Well, some of you are wondering about my funk which set in when I got a good look at my accommodations and got worse when I spent some time at the grocery store. So here's the news, such as it is: I was able to talk to the woman who owns and runs the guesthouse in Valletta which has been highly recommended (not only by one of my travel books, but also by a German couple I met the first time I attended the Sunday morning concert in Valletta) and have booked myself into it beginning on Saturday night. As it stands right now, I have only Saturday through Tuesday nights. If she gets an opening for Wednesday, then I may stay Wednesday as well, though she may not know until that day what the situation is. In the meantime I have an email into the hostel I am supposed to stay in on June 26th, the night before I leave for London, asking if that room is open on June 20th. If it is, then I will probably go ahead and make that booking. And if that comes through (and maybe even if it doesn't), then I may change my London flight from June 27th to June 21st. (I would go for June 20th, in which case I wouldn't have to worry about a room in Malta that night, but Air Malta told me that flight is almost booked up, and it would cost a good deal more to switch to it. Of course if it's Monday before I can check with them again, and there are still open seats, the price may drop. As it stands, the June 21st flight has a lot of open seats.) I also emailed this afternoon to one of the B&Bs I'm supposed to stay in in July, asking if they have at least two nights open in late June rather than mid-July. If they do, then I may visit Hay-on-Wye before meeting Susan in London on the 27th, instead of afterward. So the clay pigeons I'm juggling right now are: where will I stay on the night of June 20th; will I move up my flight to London; where will I stay once I get to England? Susan and I are spending three and a half days in London before we go on the bus tour, so I don't really need more days there--especially if I can get out into a smaller place (where I can walk around and see the sights without such crowds and traffic) and where the accommodations are not so exorbitant.

If all of this last minute changing around is making you scratch your head, I can only say a couple of things: 1] as nice as the people seem to be at the hostel here (when I actually see one of them, that is), the accommodations are just depressing the heck out of me; and 2] even if I can stay another week at the guesthouse in Valletta, I really don't need more time in Malta. I could spend it pleasantly enough (given that I'm staying in a decent place, that is), but why not move on to England?

At one point this afternoon I actually thought to myself, "You're doing everything you can to stay out of that hostel as long as you can." The Europa is not a first-rate hotel, but I didn't feel the need to stay away from it all day and just crawl back into it to sleep. I felt okay there. But this hostel--

Another thing that's interesting is this: now that I know that tomorrow is my last full day on Gozo, I can actually think to myself, "Hmm, I won't have time to see everything here that might be nice to see." And that's not a bad feeling. I wouldn't mind coming back here--as long as I've got a traveling companion or two. If some of you want to visit Malta and Gozo some time in the future, I wouldn't mind coming back here. If Arnaud and Remi want to come over here Sunday or Monday and want me to join them, I wouldn't mind doing that. But I can't stay in this room many more nights, and I don't want to: 1] take another chance on another place that will just depress me; or 2] cost me as much or almost as much as a room in London or York or Bath. There is, for example, a Kempenski hotel here, out on the western edge of the island (which is probably only about 6 miles away), and the rooms there can run (for a double, at least) around $300 a night!

So don't be too disappointed in me for wimping out on Gozo. I won't be having any long Coleridgean walks along the rural coasts of Gozo, as I had thought I would. As much as anything, I'm getting tired of doing all this by myself. If one of you were here in this little monastic cell with me, we could giggle about it, and make jokes about it, and sit and read our books in the tomb-like silence. But since none of you are here, I'm getting the heck out! Wish me luck on my impending arrangements for June 20th and for England. I like traveling--I really do. But I need company!

And the inevitable disclaimer: I may go out of email and travel log contact for a day or two. If I make it to Valletta before noon, I might be able to get to an Internet cafe I know there before it closes (at one, I think). Or I might find another Vodafone hotspot. If not, it may be Monday before I get back to the Internet cafe in Valletta. My monthly connection I bought in Sliema expired today, I think.

Oh, by the way, there's a peacock here at the hostel.


Sheila Ryan said...

When one is traveling, it's important to have a place to which you can retreat from the public sphere any old time you please. It is surprisingly tiring to be always 'out'!

And if one's retreat is such as to bring on a case of the fantods or the heebie-jeebies . . . well, that's no good. I'm glad you're not going to try and tough it out. No matter whether you might like it well enough under other circumstances, if it brings you down, then, in the words of Coach Wiley McHargue, "Shoot, yeah! Get gone!" The endurance-test aspect of travel is entertaining only to those who need not endure your travails.

I'm also pleased that you're exercising some flexibility with respect to your plans. You and I would appear to inhabit opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to planning trips. I don't think I made a single reservation the whole three months of my own Grand Tour! Never knew for sure where I'd be staying till I had the room key in hand -- though now that I think for a moment, I see that my boast (if such it is) is disingenuous. I was traveling with a companion, and that makes a huge difference in one's capacity to tolerate uncertainty.

I believe, by the way, that the worst place I ever stayed was on the edge of the Back of Beyond of Utah -- just outside Blandings, as I recall. We called it the Fool-for-Love Motel. There were three of us in two rooms -- Jon and myself in one, Jon's brother in another. Briefly. The smell permeating Chris's room was so foul as to drive him outdoors to sit in a chair he'd hauled onto a slab of pavement that dribbled off into the parched dirt parking lot. Jon and I joined him, and there we sat till late into the night eating disagreeably sticky popsicles fished from a funky-smelling cooler in the motel office (supervised by a fifteen year-old kid with a vaguely criminal air). A nasty little mongrel dog had the run of the place and enjoyed several hours of lunging at us and snapping at our ankles as we sat gazing morosely into the depths of a cracked concrete swimming pool devoid of water.

(P.S. The next day's hike ten or so miles into Canyonland to see some spectacular six- or seven-foot high petroglyphs made it all worthwhile, though.)

Sheila Ryan said...

P.P.S. Luglio is in fact the Italian July, so what you have looks rather like "LL 28 July 1822"!

DrTee said...

For crying out loud, Renner, I just went to the Kempinski web site and found a room for as little as 43ML, which my currency converter says is about $150. It's a 5 Star hotel! I say go there, get the best deal you can for two or three nights, and live it up. I'll just betcha you can get it for a lot cheaper than 43ML--how full can it be?

London will wear you out, so you need your rest. OR you can go to the TI and see if you can find something less nice (but nicer than the hellhole, where I fear for your chastity ala Father George).

Every day doesn't have to be an adventure. Sometimes you can just sit and read.

DrTee said...

Well, we had the "Ann Frank" suite in Germany--at least that's what we called it. It was at the top of many flights of stairs and was so small we couldn't get both suitcases opened at the same time.

But my worst place ever was the in Taos at the D. H. Lawrence Ranch "lodge"--which we thought we were very special to be allowed to stay there--you had to KNOW SOMEBODY--UNM owns the property. I have pictures of this place that would make anyone shudder. It was, very rustic, with cots and bare, much-stained mattresses. There was no water or electricity (there was supposed to be, but "something" happened and the caretaker was nowhere to be found). We left early the next morning.

Sheila Ryan said...

Dr Tee (a/k/a "The Lady That's Known as Lou") makes a very very very good point about the value of the occasional splurge -- and about relative value in general within the context of travel.

Matter of fact, I had contemplated throwing in my two cents about London, and now -- why, heck, emboldened by Dr Tee, I'm a-gonna do it!

I can virtually guarantee that no matter how far you believe that you will be stretching your travel budget whilst lodging in London, you will be taken aback by how little you will receive for rates you'll consider eye-popping. (Note to readers living outside the USA: I make this observation in a non-judgmental spirit, regarding it as the looking-glass version of the many comments I've heard from visiting Brits and Continentals about the astonishing cheapness of travel -- and services and commodities in general -- in the States.)

In any event, you might do well to wallow and luxuriate a bit before you hit London Town running, so to speak. Mind the gap, broadly speaking -- that is, mind the gap between such places as Malta (and its neighbors) and Major World Capitals. (Not without reason do cheap Mediterranean hotels and resorts attract the boorish, bellowing holidaymakers of which Jack Lindus wrote so astutely. You can live like the top frigging per cent in such places -- at least for a fortnight! Think: Texans in Cancun . . . or Jamaica . . .)

I know that you're trying not to shoot your wad financially, especially not so early in the game. But face it: the life of a modern-day nomad costs money. Sure, I know you know that; you know it very well. I'm just thinking that Dr Tee is wise to warn you against being penny-wise, pound-foolish.

Of course, what you really need to do is make a sacrifice to Lady Luck. Then maybe you'll enjoy such good fortune as Jon and I did years ago when the godson of a friend offered us two weeks' (free!) use of his London flat (conveniently located near Neal's Yard). He was spending most all of his time at the home of his girlfriend in Deptford, and the flat was going unused . . . and it was great!

These days, in the absence of luck, I lean toward extending my finances when I see a clear pay-off.

DrTee said...

Yep, that room with Father George would easily cost you a hundred bucks a night in London.

jack said...

hi cooper
to addd to sheilas remarks on high
prices in london

there is a very good line in a film
an american returns to new york and is asked by customs
do you have you any thing to declare
he says

yeah dont go to england

warm regards jack

enig said...

stand clear of the doors please!
I'd like to point out that Bill Clinton stayed in a hotel in Istanbul that cost $35,000 a night, he only stayed for a week, i think i'd stay in bed for the duration, but thats quite a comparitive, no?
In the mean time i'd go along with all above comments on the horrendous expense of visiting London without as S mentions the windfall of a flat near neals yard(spot of nostalgia that mention incurred).one can't fart (pardon)without it costing a tenner, now i've never been to Bath, being an SW London die hard but Jack tells me lovely things about it. I think your companion will be a blessing, so onward to new adventures.