{Travel Tales: Malta & Italy Part Ten – Lazy Days and Crazy(ish) Nights}

What I thought was going to be a day with nothing to really write home about (we didn’t have any particular plans and were just winging it) became a fascinating example of Gozotan culture.

In the morning we ran errands and started the packing process.  We were leaving for Rome two days later and our suitcases looked like the aftermath of a tornado… or at the very least a very strong wind.  Or possibly a toddler attack.  Sadly none of things befell my suitcase and it was just me being a complete and total mess.

We had lunch and waited out the hottest part of the day in the house, and then in the afternoon we headed to the apartment to put all the sheets and towels away that Sarah’s grandmother had washed.  We also stopped in and said hello to Danny, who gave us a tour of his apartment (he and Ruth have the apartment downstairs from Sarah’s parents’ place).

Then it was off to Joan and Raymond’s house for dinner.  We were able to use the computer and print out a few things we needed for the trip to Italy, and Joan made a nice fish bake, and we all had a lovely evening together.

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After dinner, Sarah’s grandmother took us to a festa in Victoria.  It was the Feast of St.George and it was a crazy commotion.  At all of the feasts, they have a march in which they bring statues of the saints to the town square.  The feast of St. George lasts for days, with various festivities happening throughout the week.  This (text taken from the official website) is what we saw:

The external festivities on Wednesday, the first day of the Triduum, start on St Francis Square, at around 9.00pm, by which time a large crowd would have filled the sprawling square to capacity. A large statue of St George on a white stallion and flashing his deadly sword at the underlying dragon is carried shoulder high, accompanied by the La Stella Band together with a guest band giving full voice to their instruments amid a surging crowd made up mostly of young families – couples dragging small children behind them, and crowds of youths. Moving slowly down Strada Palma, turning up into Republic Street where ground fireworks are let off, then alongside It-Tokk, into St Joseph Street and, finally, St George’s Square, the whole do takes all of three hours. Then there is the jubilant tlugħ (rising) of the statue onto its gilded plinth right in front of the baslica. And then… a welcome beer at one of the numerous bars around. One – two o’clock, and off to bed.

It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen, and this is coming from somebody who lives in New York and has seen a ton of New Year’s Eve’s in Times Square (never actually been to Times Square on New Year’s Eve, but I certainly see the crowds on t.v.).  Almost everyone there was wearing a special t-shirt, and singing in the streets.  The street itself was packed with revelers and a marching band, with the statue bringing up the rear.  We started at the end of the street, watching the crowd sing and dance as the statue slowly moved up the street.

The march moved slowly, which gave us plenty of time to get to the square and get a prime spot at the top of the church steps to watch it all happen.  The revelers moved slowly up the main street and to the square.  At times it seems excruciatingly slow, especially when we could start to see the statue at the end of the street.  In the meantime, the crowd in the square swelled until it seemed like no one else would be able to fit into this small space: all the balconies of the surrounding buildings started to fill up as well, and you could practically feel the anticipation in the air as they all waited for the statue.

When the statue appeared, we had no idea how it was going to manage to actually get to the square, being surrounded by people and the large band.  Somehow they got the crowd dispersed and the statue came through, carried by a bunch of people (it’s considered an honor to get to carry the statue).  The whole crowd started singing as the statue made it’s way to the podium and onto the rigging system that would place it on top of the pedestal.

The crowd got louder as the statue got closer to its final destination atop the pedestal.  It was past midnight at this point and everyone was still celebrating, from the old to the young.  It was country pride at it’s best – everybody coming together to celebrate something.  It was fascinating.  This is what you want to see when you travel.  This is why you travel: to become immersed in workings of another culture.

The next day we attempted to visit the churches we saw the night before with no success.  One church was closed while the other was having a mass.  We didn’t explore much as we had by now been to Victoria a number of times and didn’t really need to see or do anything except pick up a quick gift.

We went to Beatrice’s house to say goodbye and pick up a dress for Sarah’s mother, and then headed to Xlendi with Joan to have a farewell Malta lunch.  We ate at the Churchill Restaurant, enjoying pizzas and aperol spritzes, as well as some complimentary appetizers.  We sat by the water and just savored the last day in Gozo.  From Xlendi we went to Marsalforn to get some ice cream (pistachio) and then it was back to the house to bid Joan farewell and rest up for our evening.

That night, we spent some time with Sarah’s other grandmother, also to say farewell, and then it was off to have drinks with Danny and Ruth, as well as Danny’s brother Steven.  They took us to a place in Marsalforn where we had drinks and some small snacks.  We talked about the trip and made plans to see them again soon when they come to New York for a portion of their honeymoon.

It was a really nice night, and a nice way to end our stay in Gozo.

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