Jul
29
The Maltese Terrier

We didn’t get to see these elusive hounds, but our tour guide told us that 2 or 3 mutts generally hang around the tour route in the old capital.
First, let me say that it was worth it to watch us enter the port of Valletta. We met up with the harbor pilot just before noon and were docked by 12:30 or so. Ellen and I foolishly chose not to eat lunch during the short time before our shore excursion, a decision we later regretted. We did the ship’s $25 Medieval Malta 1/2 day tour. The excursion left right from the dock in a bus with zero air conditioning. Everyone from the locally based tour company assured us that it would cool down when we started moving. Now, I’m no expert on busses or their air conditioning systems, but I’m fairly certain that it’s possible to cool a vehicle that’s not in motion. By the time we made it to the medieval capital Mdina (nope, not missing a letter there) even the tour guide was griping about the heat, so the driver agreed to switch busses while we walked around. I found our short guided tour of Mdina rather interesting, and it seems to me that it would be hard to find a taxi driver who would take you to the places we visited for only $25. One of the highlights of the tour was the cathedral, which brings me to a brief interlude: Despite the clearly spelled out dress code for the trip, the majority of our fellow cruisers showed up in shorts and tank tops, and they seemed confused when they had difficulty getting into churches. Scarves were given to the ladies and some men to cover shoulders and knees, but some were denied entrance because of their clothes. J and E both say it’s just as cool to wear a sleeveless dress and bring a scarf for the church visits as it is to wear shorts. Ted #1 says he would rather have worn shorts and skipped the churches. I’m going to say that if you can tolerate wearing somewhat nicer clothes in the 90-degree heat then it’s worth it to see the churches–otherwise skip them.
Anyhow, after Mdina we were taken to see the Dingli Cliffs, which were impressive enough but not overly so. We next went to see the glass blowing factory, which is the main reason the girls wanted to sign up for the trip. Watching the glass blowers is interesting–they are truly master artisans–but no information was given on the process or what they were doing at the time. We were given plenty of time for the real reason for the vist–shopping for glass–and amazingly E came away empty handed.
Here’s a tip now that we’re back from the trip. If your itinerary includes Venice, don’t buy glass anywhere else unless you find a unique piece you must have. Just a small example: glass candies were €2.50 apiece in Sorrento and about the same in Malta; in Venice they were about €0.80.
Another quick side note: Malta uses the Maltese Lira, which was worth €2.60 on the day we were there, but most stores accepted Euros or credit cards. From the glass factory we went to a silver shop that makes Maltese crosses by hand, and this time E did find a silver bracelet she absolutely needed. Our final stop was the St. John’s Co-cathedral, so named because there’s supposed to be only one cathedral, but the Knights of Jerusalem who founded Valletta insisted on their own. The Co-cathedral was richly decorated, more so because they were preparing for a special ceremony. Of the 2 churches, this one was most worth wearing long pants. Be sure to check out the pictures section of our website once we update it with cruise pictures.
The tour dropped us off at about 5:30, just in time to miss the afternoon tea. This brings me to my biggest complaint about Orient Lines, which is the lack of meals compatible with shore excursions. If you do a non-meal excursion (most don’t include meals) then you generally miss lunch on your tour and then return to no food until 20:30 if you’re in the 2nd seating. I know people talk about we cruisers eating too much, but 12 hours without a meal is a long time. Because of all this, we wound up doing the outdoor BBQ at 1900 instead of going to our normal meal. It was a delightful change of pace, and it turned out to be great timing because our waiter was working outside instead of the main dining room. Tomorrow we’re at sea so I’m predicting a late night tonight.