{Travel Tales: Malta & Italy, Part Four – Shrines and Citadellas}

Today we began our adventures with a trip to the shrine at Ta’Pinu.  It was situated in the perfect spot where you could see it as you approach, and it had clear views of the island from its vantage point.  It’s an impressive building as you approach it and as you’re standing in front of it.  The longer name of Ta’Pinu is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’Pinu so you can understand the shortened name.

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The story is that a woman named Karmni Grima was walking by the site when it was just a small chapel and heard the voice of Our Lady and it soon became a pilgrimage site.   The current, large shrine was built between 1920 and 1931 (source: visitgozo.com). Inside you can visit the wall of miracles, where people send thank you notes, pictures and often souvenirs (such as casts or neck braces) for the miraculous things that have happened in their life.

All around the outside of it has been restored with ornate mosaics and a number of statues.  Across from the church there is a hill with a series of statues representing the way of the cross leading up to the top.  We wanted to walk it, but it was so hot by the time we finished visiting the shrine we decided against it.

From there we made a quick stop at the Craft Village.  This was a small area where there were handmade items like lace and glass, two things they are known for making in Malta.  It’s a little kitschy and most definitely tourist-oriented but this craft-oriented girl had to at least take a look at it, so we just wandered around briefly and watched some artists working on the various products.  We got some ideas for gifts, but didn’t buy them there.

We were on our way to meet Sarah’s uncle Raymond (Joan’s husband and Sarah’s mom’s brother), who was going to take us to Dwejra to try and set us up with a boat tour.  We all piled in the car and headed over there.

Dwejra is the former sight of the Azure Window, a limestone arch formation which sadly fell after it eroded earlier this year (and well before the trip).   For years, the sight has been a popular and beloved one in Gozo, and was even included in an episode of Game of Thrones (at the wedding of Daenarys Targaryen and Khal Drogo).  I realized after look up the pictures below that we basically stood in this Game of Thrones filming location, despite the fact that the arch was no longer there.

Even though the arch itself is gone, you can still walk around the bay and look at the water where it once stood, and take in the sights of the coastal rocks towering over the area.  The terrain is rocky, resembling a dry, hardened sponge.  The best part of the whole thing was the woman walking around in her crazy high stiletto heels.  You might have assumed she was there for some sort of photoshoot but she seemed to just be walking around.  Everyone who passed her gave her the same look – eyes that looked down at her shoes and then back up and said, “Really?”  I think I overheard someone ask her about her footwear choice at some point and she claimed she wouldn’t be able to walk in other shoes.  Now, I don’t want to judge but take a look at the picture of the terrain and her shoes and you decide:

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We walked down to the beach area to try and arrange a boat trip through the caves, but the water was particularly rough that day and no one was going out.  We weren’t too disappointed in this as we had plans to be on an all day boat tour the following week.  Instead, we enjoyed the bay area.  We didn’t bring bathing suits with us so we didn’t swim, but we did get our first ice cream of the trip.  For the record, because I remember nearly every scoop I ate, it was a combination of banana and chocolate.  It was excellent, though it wouldn’t compare to the gelato we would have in just a few short weeks.  We sat and enjoyed ice cream, while “the adults” (which is the term I will always use to describe the older people in a group, even though I am well into my own adult years) had a light lunch and some drinks.

It’s funny, in the moment I felt like I was taking pictures constantly, but while looking back on them – on both the ones from camera and my phone – there aren’t that many of this particular area.

Back at the house, Sarah’s mom rested (she actually ended up getting sick towards the end of her trip), while the rest of us went out swimming at Hondoq.  Compared to the first few days, this was probably the hottest at this point, and swimming was a cool relief.  It was still very close to midday so unfortunately I couldn’t keep my crazy fair skin in the sun for too long, so I enjoyed the water as much as I could for a little bit, and then took refuge under my giant hat an towel.  The last thing I needed was a sunburn so early in the trip (or at all, really, but one at the end would’ve been far easier to deal with than one at the beginning).  I took a break from the cameras for this excursion and left everything back at the apartment.

Back at the house, we took much needed showers – because I insist on using non-chemical sunscreen, it gets in my hair and needs to be scrubbed off my skin and it’s crazy annoying (but it does it’s job so I can’t complain too much about it), it was time to visit the Citadella in Victoria.  This ended up being one of my favorite parts of our stay in Gozo.

The citadella is located high above the city, and was once used as a strategic vantage point.  It was restored in 2008 and reopened in 2016.  You have to climb up a few hills and steps to get there.  It’s not a particularly taxing hike, even if you’re not in the best shape, so nearly anyone can do it fairly easily (though if you have any knee or ankle issues, I wouldn’t advise it), and it’s well worth it.  The views are beautiful and the church and surrounding areas of the citadella are definitely worth seeing.

We couldn’t go into the church as they were having mass while we were there, but we were able to walk around everywhere else.  The citadella is like a neighborhood on it’s own, built for protection.  The ruins inside of the citadella dates back to the medieval period, and many of them are still ruins but much of the outlying structure has been restored.  The walls are well worn, with signs of wear from the salty sea air on the blocks used to build the structure making each one unique.

It was nice to just walk and enjoy the views around us.  There was a bit of a breeze that evening (though nothing compared to the wind of the other day), and it was a nice break from the heat of earlier in the day.

Dinner that night was in Xlendi at The Stone Crab.  We sat right on the water – quite literally.  The restaurant had a platform built out over the water and we sat right on the edge, nothing protecting my chair from falling in (except myself being careful, of course).  There were schools of fish swimming around in front of the restaurant that we kept throwing pieces of bread to, watching the chaos as they all scrambled to get the food.

One thing I developed in Malta was an obsession with eating octopus.  It became my go-to item at most restaurants we went to.  On this night, I had the Calamari Xlendi, which was sauteed fresh calamari in pernod, sweet red pepper and mustard sauce.  It was fantastic.

The meal on the water was lovely and peaceful.  It was fairly early when we sat down to dinner, and still light out but as the evening progressed it began to dim and all the lights in the town started to come on.  We sat enjoying the views for a while before a quick grandma visit before turning in for the night.

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