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   DIARY  3

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From the north and Diary 2, I now explore - well, a bit around the island of Malta.
The area of the day is the north-eastern Malta. I start with the nature along the Victoria lines: Old defence constructions. Well, that was what I thought it would be. The way-points I have for the lines is the English fortresses, and they are found within the town. The entire area is dominated by old, huge British architecture.

I recon I could see them as well, but the first one is a school, and I'm not welcome. The second is a military training facility, and I'm defiantly not welcome. The third - I don't bother to find. From the hill they are found on, there is a great view over a vide gorge; Wied Il-Faham and an old bridge. I find the way, and park close to the bridge.

I try to get out in the "wild", but it is private and the tall grass soaked in dew. I give up, and head on. I pass the little cosy village of Għargħur, and make a walk around the centre of town.  It seems like it once was a rich area, and it might become that again.

My next planned sight is the "of the tourist track" town of Naxxar. Another huge church and a lot of old buildings, but after quite some walking, I figure why the tourists are not numerous here: There is nothing special to see.

I head on to Mosta, and find the real impressive Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady, built between 1833 and 1860, almost only consisting of a huge dome. It is the tenths biggest in the world with its 36,6 metres. Behind the huge dome is the usual huge shop and a small chamber for praying. Within the shop, a WWII bomb is displayed.

I do quite some walking around the town, and enjoy the sunshine - and early lunch. Here are a lot of small shops in the old buildings, and a huge, green gorge, cutting its way through the town. Then I walk back through town to get to the Ta' Bistra Catacombs. When I finally find them, they are closed on Fridays. Well, I did find some flowering almonds on the way.

I have seen towns enough for one day, and find a spot on the eastern coast, which could be interesting. It is on a peninsular; Qawra Point Beach, cross a tourist town, but the area look pretty unspoiled. I see the first lizards here: Maltese Wall Lizard; Podarcis filfolensis ssp. maltensis. Then I spot a black snake; Western Whip Snake; Hierophis viridiflavus.

I have seen it before, but here, I get a good picture of a man, washing his huge catch of land snails; Għakrux Raġel; Cantareus aspersus in sea water. I get his favourite recipe, and ask if he don't use garlic and tomatoes as well - he does. I find some Twiggy Glasswort; Salicornia ramosissima, which I only have seen a few plants of.

Another little and unspoiled peninsular is found a bit down the coast, and I give it a try. Here, the old watchtower of Qalet Marku from 1658 is found. I do a walk all the way around the rocky beach and a bit across the inland, but fail to find anything new. The sun is low, and I head home. The few photos are in Day 6.

1/12. It is a greyish day, and the afternoon should offer some showers. I decide to spend at least the morning in the capital Valette. It is either clever or stupid, considering it is Saturday. It is a small city; only 1500 times 750 meters and not the biggest city on Malta; that is Birkikara.

I find a place for the car, and try to find the Argotti Botanical Gardens. I pass Din L-Art Ħelwa; a British cemetery and historical garden. It is in top five of National Geographic's list over cemeteries - and yes, they have such a list! It have started raining, and I have a long chat with some of the 20 volunteers. They even offer me tea.

Then I get a guided tour, and that does make it quite more interesting. It is from 1830 and onwards, and holds only a very few crosses. Most graves are marked with rather classical Greek and Roman. Here are some many symbolic like figures from the ancient Greek and their gods, Masons, pyramids, and more recently. I like the hour-glass with wings!

Just before noon, I head on, giving up on the botanical garden for now. I find the fortified old town centre - and a café. There are a steep assent from the harbourside up pass the high walls. The old city is quite intact with only a few modern buildings.

I find my way to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, whichs main feature is the view over the harbours. It is a bit windy and a lot rainy, and I discover the raincoat I have been caring for five years, is not waterproof at all! Further more, my pans and socks are soaked as well. Well, it is not that cold, and the duvet-jacked work fine, when I get the rainwater heated...

Next target is St John's Co-Cathedral. I have forgotten why, but later, I find out my guidebook claims "it is the most impressive church in Malta". Could have fooled me.. I do a bit of sight-seeing around the area, and enjoy the buildings. They look like those in other places of the island, but with four floors. Others are more British, and many hold governmental offices.

The rain continues, now accompanied by thunder. I find another café, and after a large cake and pot of tea, I give it another try. This time, I look for the Church of St Paul's Shipwrech. Apparently, I should have entered it, but it appeared to be closed.

All the way out east, I find the large fortification of Fort st Elmo. It takes forever to get my ticket scanned at the office, and then the man at the gate can't do it. Well, I got long legs! Here are not really much interesting to find. The first fort was build by the knights in 1552, but most look like British 1830 or so. Here are a War Museum, and despite I'm not really into it, I like the dryness. Well, except the floor is flooded in some paces. 7000 years of history wrapped into seven rooms.

The sun finally appears, and despite it does not alter the temperature, it does feel nice. I walk back through the old town in zigzag, and just before the car, I make a falafel stop. Everything homemade, and real tasty. At four, I call it a day, and head back to get some dry cloths on.
Photos of the day: Day 7.

2. Despite the soaked failure, reading the weather forecast yesterday, I try again. I should experience a bit of sun in the southern parts, and that calls for a re-visit at the Sunday Fish market at Marsaxlokk and a Chinese Garden. Then the sun moves north, and I head up to the Sunday open Marsh land - which is right next to my favourite café and its delicious cakes.

Again, I start with a stroll along the coast outside Marsaxlokk, and I find a few interesting seashells and alike. The view to the town over the bay is great, and so are the colourful boats in the bay. At the market, here are a few more people and way more Christmas plastic. I try to calm my trigger-happy finger, but the motives are just too great. I do the entire pier once again, and then return to the car.

The next stop was recommended by the guy who rented me the car: The Chinese Garden of Serenity. The buildings look quite all right, but here lack interesting plants. There might come some colourful annuals in the beds, but at present time, the pines dominate. I do a loop before I head up north.

The Ghadira Nature Reserve sounded interesting with its marsh lands. It is one of the few places on the islands with freshwater, and it does attract a lot of birds - I'm told. Here are two bird hides and a long path, following a dam-like rampart - on the outside.

I hear quite a lot of small birds, but fail to see any. While lurking in one of the bird hides, I see several Common Coot; Fulica atra, and I'm told a kingfisher sits on the other side of the lake - by a birdie with a star goggle. I walk slowly back, but here are not really that many interesting plants. I spot a pair of Chrysolina bankii, that is all.

It is still too early to call it a day, and I find another eastern peninsula; Mistra with unspoiled nature, and ancient road, Mistra Battery; a British war-thing and a view to St Paul's Islands. I do a long walk along the cliffs and cross the inland, before I retire to the favourite café. I have a long chat with an Italian barrister, who live his life quite like mine. At four, I head back home in the low sun. Photos of the day: Day 8.

3. I head straight for the botanical garden in Valette; Argotti Botanic Gardens & Resource Centre. It takes me forever to get into town and then find  parking house. And getting into the garden is still a quest. It turns out the only entrance is a little gate with a doorbell some meters to the left. No wonder, I am the only guest here!

I buy a ticket in a little office, looking like a botany professor's office in the 40'ties. Then I find my way out in the little but very crammed collection. It could do with some weeding and general maintenance, but here are so many plants and most with the right nametags on.

The major part is succulents, but here are a lot of ferns and bromeliads too, among a vide range of anything. Some of the fig trees are enormous, and the garden is well shadowed. It seems like it sits in a part of a fortress and on several terraces. I have a chat with a local engineer, who have taught at the university and now volunteer here.

My next target is way out in the northern fields, where I have found a part of the Victoria Lines. Here the fortification crosses a deep gorge, and the wall is quite impressive. I walk along it for quite some time, but the path is real rough and the weather not as good as I had hoped.

I get peckish, and one of the few sights left around here are the Gardens of Villa Bologna. It is within the largest city of Malta, but I get the car ditched close by. Again, I have it all to myself, and considered the entrance fee, I had expected a bit more.

It is a large garden, divided into many areas, but it lack plants. I am aware it is winter, but the nature is so rich by now. It was the garden of some real rich British years ago, and it sure had some glory to it. I do all the loops, but lack the sun most of the time. It start to drizzle, and I find a restaurant close bye. Penne Pesto and a mug of tea mark the ending of the adventures of the day.  The few photos are found in Day 9.

4. It is a slightly greyish day, and I have to find some indoor activities. Luckily, I have saved just that, and start with Ta' Bistra Catacombs, which are open on Tuesdays. They looked great on pictures, but not quite that impressive on sight. It have taken some of the glory off, when they were used by the farmer for livestock and as a WWII bomb shelter.

Most of the area have been covered - at least from the sun. The water is seeking down in many places, forming ponds within the tombs. A long gallery contain a row of tombs - or stables, but most are just shallow caves. 

On the bright side; the sun start to shine, and I head out in the wildside. I head up north-west, and this is one of the more rural areas. Here, I even see the first sheep on the island! The roads are real narrow and lined with tall walls. The American Opuntia is thriving, and along with the scattered Agavas, they form the most iconic plants around. I guess they look great, if you can distract from the fact; they are invasive.

I start at the tall cliffs of Dingli, but again, the wind is too harsh for me to explore the coastal lowlands. I do a long walk on the top, and enjoy once again the great views to the fertile lowlands. Up here, The Scillas are large plants, but still without flowers. The heather, on the other hand, is covered in flowers. The Fennel have plenty of new leaves underneath dry inflorescences.

I follow some minor roads up north, and pass the sign for Chadwick Lakes - and why not? Well, they are actually dammed, but one can't be fussy on Malta. They are found along a narrow road, one little narrow lake after the other. They are connected by waterfalls in concrete and lush little creeks.

At noon, I am kind of near to the little restaurant on the northern peninsula. Sunday, it was packed, now, I have it all to my self. The locals come here in weekends and for festivities, the tourists to the perfect beach at summertime. I get a great pasta and a talk with the waitress, who originates from Serbia. She give me a few hints on what to se on Gozo, and I offers ideas for Sri Lanka, which is her dream.

My original plan was to get back to the high cliffs at Ras il-Qammieh, but the wind is on. In stead, I head to the other side and L-Irdum tal-Madonna. I walk all the way out to the blowhole and sunken cave, this time from the other side. It is a tough terrain to walk through, with the pointy old corals.

Some areas are almost barren, others covered in herbs and succulents. The higher areas are covered in bushes and small pines, and this seems to be a popular hunting ground - despite it is a reserve. And I still haven't figured what it is they are hunting. I sometimes hear shoots, and the shell cases are numerous in the wild. Rabbits are on the menu, but I haven't seen a single hole in the ground. It is getting late - enough - for a visit at my favourite café and the cake of the day. Day 10.
From here, the adventure continues in Diary 4 and Gozo.

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