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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Malta Day 2: Ghar Dalam, Tarxien, St. Peter´s Pool and the Tas Silg Walk


We started our second day in Malta with breakfast at the Duncan Holiday Accommodation in Marsaxlokk. The breakfast was basic with slices of bread, marmalade, cereal, yogurt and fruit. I still dream of breakfast in the Orchid Garden and the Filipino dishes in Manila, the best breakfast I ever got, followed by breakfast in Tainan, Taiwan at the Fuward Hotel... but I'm veering off from the subject. We had asked for early breakfast as we had a lot of sightseeing ahead. The great location of the guesthouse included its proximity to the Marsaxlokk Bus Station, which was just steps away at the waterfront.


Malta has an extended net of public transportation, which makes (cheap) independent travel possible. We had checked the timetables before, which are at every bus stop and also online. With the convenient 7-day-bus pass, that we bought the day before at the airport, we boarded the bus 119 and it was just a short ride to Fossili Bus Stop. Fortunately, there´s an English service at the electronic display on all of the buses in Malta, indicating the bus stops. So it was no problem to exit at the right time.

Our first destination was the Ghar Dalam Cave. It is best reached by the Dalam Bus Station in front of it, but we would have needed to change buses to get there, coming from Marsaxlokk, so we chose the Fossili Bus Stop and did a short walk. We were there a bit too early and had to wait a few minutes before it opened, but then were the first (and so far) only guests. We've bought a Malta Heritage Pass at the airport upon arrival. It made a lot of sense when you plan to visit many cultural attractions in Malta and saves a lot of money, as 22 heritage sites and museums in Malta are included.


Finally, we entered and were told to go to a small museum room first. It was quite interesting, as it explained, how Malta was once connected to Sicily (Italy) in the Ice Age, when the water level sank, and animals wandered there southwards, even elephants, wolves and bears. We have also learned about the Maltese Pleistocene Dwarf Elephant, which I never knew existed.


In the next room, there were a lot of skeletons, including that of a young elephant. You can see some of the fossils there, that were found in the Ghar Dalam Cave. You basically get the information in the first room and then see the proof in the second one. It was nicely structured.


After the small museum, we followed the trail from the museum to the Ghar Dalam Cave. It was a nice short walk downwards and they really made it a pleasure with signs for plants along the way and benches.


Finally, we entered the cave and could walk into it for a bit. There wasn´t that much to see inside, but it was quite atmospheric and I loved it. The whole complex was a wonderful experience.



We decided to walk from the Ghar Dalam Cave to the next town, Birzebugga, which wasn´t far away. Along the way, we made a short excursion on a hill, where we saw a cross. It is on Borġ in-Nadur Hill, surrounded by the remains of a Bronze Age village. We thought, we might take a shortcut from there to the city, but didn´t find a path in that direction. So we just enjoyed the view and went back to the road.



In Birzebugga we found a shop to buy a local SIM-Card from Go Mobile and then walked further to the Palazz San Pietru. We thought it might be a historical attraction, but it turned out to be just a bar with billiard tables inside. So we headed on the other side of the street to the Parish Church of St. Peter´s Chains. We had already learned, that you need to be careful on the roads in Malta, as there are disproportionately many speed maniacs on the roads - so it seemed. Pedestrian crosswalks seem to be mostly ignored by drivers, sometimes also traffic lights.



The church is huge, but was unfortunately closed. So we sat on a bench to have cold drinks, before we continued to the nearby beach. They have a sandy beach. It is, however, not that idyllic, due to the very visible Malta Freeport and container terminal. We skipped swimming and, after a break in the park at the beach, opted to take the next bus to Tarxien, to visit the Tarxien Temples, in the direction of Paola.



The Tarxien Temples are a complex of four megalithic structures, built between 3600 and 2500 BC. They are one of the earliest free-standing stone buildings in the World and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Therefore we were very eager and excited to visit. We walked to the site from the Antnin Bus Stop, but the Neolitici Bus Stop is even closer. The site is protected against the weather by a construction and offers a lot of information on the temples and the history. So we slowly followed the walking course, that leads along and then into the temples. It was like living history.


From the Tarxien Temples we walked to the huge but closed Paola Parish Church and then onwards to the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, an underground prehistoric burial site and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We just wanted to have a look at the outside, as we already had seen, that you need to book tickets online to the Hypogeum in advance, which we didn´t (when we tried, it was already sold out for the whole month). We didn't know that it was actually closed off for public due to conservation works.



We walked back to the bus station in front of the huge church and then took the next bus 210 back to Marsaxlokk, where we relaxed a moment at the hotel and visited the market


It was still early enough for more sightseeing. So we decided to walk to St. Peter´s Pool, a rocky swimming spot, about 3 km away from Marsaxlokk. On the way up the road, we were asked by stopping taxi drivers if we want a ride to it. At the second time we agreed and for 6 Euro we came quickly from Marsaxlokk to St. Peter´s Pool. That wasn´t the worst decision, as it was very hot and we had been walking already a lot on that day. From the parking lot it as just a short walk down to the ocean and it looked great.



Originally we had planned to visit St. Peter´s Pool the next day and combine it with a 5 km walk to the north to the next city, Marsaskala in a slight variation of the "Tas-Silg Walk", a walking route suggested by Malta`s Tourism Authority. It was still early enough, so we walked back, where we came from and walked to the northeast at the Fort Tas Silg and then the Munxar Hill Path with some wonderful views. From there it was pretty much a walk along the coast to the north until we reached Marsaskala, where we, happy but exhausted, first had to rest and drink, sitting at the water.



In Marsaskala we only had one sight, we wanted to visit, the St. Thomas Tower, built in 1614. It looked great, but a huge hotel ruin next to it doesn´t really upgrade it. The tower itself was closed and seems like it wouldn't be open for the public anytime soon.



It was time to get back to Marsaxlokk and we had checked the schedule for the bus when we had walked past the bus stations and now were ready to hop on. But no bus came. We wondered if we were too late or if the bus is late and decided on the latter, as we were actually there five minutes before the scheduled departure. In the end, we waited one hour at the bus stop, as there`s only one bus to Marsaxlokk every hour. The next bus came already 10 minutes before the scheduled departure and then we realized, that the schedules in Malta are only suggestions. Later in the journey we always went to bus stations 15 minutes before the scheduled departure for important busses and for more frequent buses didn´t bother to check the schedule at all.

Back in Marsaxlokk, we had another wonderful dinner at the beautiful waterfront, where the bus trouble was soon forgotten...



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