Valletta, Mdina, and a Memorable Sail-Away
Silversea’s Silver Wind sailed into Valletta, Malta this morning, and I stepped ashore to discover what has unquestionably been my favorite port of call so far on this voyage. I had heard amazing things about Malta from friends who had been here before, and I have to say I was not disappointed.
To get properly acquainted with Malta, I opted to take Silversea’s 4.5-hour long Valletta & Mdina shore excursion that would showcase both Malta’s current and former capital cities, respectively.
We started with a visit to the Upper Barracca Gardens, just a short distance away from Silver Wind’s berth. This stunning open park was created in 1775 on the bastion of St. Peter and Paul, and provides a sweeping panorama of city’s Grand Harbour.
Following that, we walked Valletta’s grand streets, venturing down Trio Il-Merkanti – or Merchant’s Street – to St. John’s Co-Cathedral.
On the outside, the Cathedral is unassuming, if not downright bland, particularly compared to some of the imposing structures found in Germany, France and Italy. But the interior is breathtaking, adorned in elaborate gold accents and reliefs at every turn. It’s a visual feast for the eyes, but even this magnificent interior decoration cannot compete with the Cathedral’s most important feature: Caravaggio’s massive painting titled The Beheading of St. John.
Almost as large as a movie screen at a theatre, The Beheading of St. John is one of Caravaggio’s best-known works of art. I’ve seen prints of it many times, but I had no idea its actual dimensions were so imposing. In fact, the effect is quite disconcerting; inset into the antechamber of a room, it almost appears as if you’re looking at a stage play that someone has pressed pause on.
Our guide also told us that restoration workers discovered that this masterwork was created without any preliminary sketches at all; Caravaggio simply put brush to canvas and began to paint.
The Church, of course, hated Caravaggio because his paintings depicted the harsh realities of the day. You get the sense that this painting was likely something he personally witnessed in the course of his life; a man about to be beheaded with remarkable indifference to all in the painting except for one old woman, who stands, hands frozen near her face in abject horror at the events unfolding before her.
We then visited the Grand Master’s Palace, which takes up an entire city block and still functions to this day as the seat of Parliament in Malta.
Afterward, a quick 20-minute drive took us to the ancient walled city of Mdina, pronounced em-dina.
Known as “The Silent City” for its highly secretive past, Mdina was once the capital of Malta. While the primary visitors are tourists instead of noble aristocracy these days, the walled city still retains an air of intrigue that seems to seep from every narrow, curving laneway and opulent private residence.
Mdina truly has to be seen to be believed. A look at the 90 minutes we spent wandering this fascinating place:
The only downside to this tour was that I came back to the ship regretting that I didn’t partake in the full day Malta Highlights tour. Malta is a stunning country without equal, and I’d heartily encourage cruisers to look out for itineraries that call here. But at $79 per person, I thought my excursion offered by Silversea was a tremendous value considering how comprehensive it was.
Just before our departure from Valletta at 4 p.m., Silver Wind Captain Michele Macarone Palmieri came onboard the public address, as he has every day of this voyage, to update us on what sort of weather we can expect this evening.
Unlike last night, which was smooth as glass, Captain Palmieri cautioned guests that the weather will worsen significantly overnight. Westerly winds will approach 30 knots or more, and seas will have an average wave height of nine feet this evening. Coupled with a speed of 17 knots required to reach Tunisia by morning, it looks like we’ll be in for a bit of a bumpy ride.
Fortunately, I’ve already strapped down the Champagne in my suite.
Despite the warnings of adverse weather to come, departure from Valletta was a picturesque affair, basked in the glow of the setting sun over the harbour. The sun has rose and set on this city for hundreds of years, and this same scene will be played out long after you and I are gone. It’s evenings like this that remind me how wonderful travel is.
Speaking of wonderful, with 244 nautical miles to go until we reach La Goulette, there’s plenty of time to enjoy the evening here onboard the Silver Wind. Guests have settled into their shipboard routines by now, and I have noticed some interesting differences on this voyage.
On this voyage, the Casino – located on Deck 5 just off of The Bar – is a happening place each evening. Another popular hangout that is normally sparsely utilised is The Humidor, Silver Wind’s cigar-and-cognac paradise located on the starboard side of Deck 8, just off of the Panorama Lounge. I normally see one or two guests use both of these features on a typical Silversea cruise, but on this itinerary, The Humidor is so popular that they’ve had to bring in additional chairs.
In the end, it’s all about doing what suits you here onboard the Silver Wind – and there’s something for everyone, even if that just includes spending a relaxing evening in your stateroom enjoying one of the complimentary DVD movies for rent from the ship’s Library, or one of the new release selections playing on the television system. Tonight, Parkland – which focuses on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy – is being shown; an appropriate choice given today represents the 50th anniversary of the events in Dallas that changed the course of history.
In that vein, I think it’s only appropriate to close today’s entry with a quote from JFK that I think is applicable to the human side of travel:
“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
Silver Wind, Rome to Malaga
|November 18, 2013||Rome, Italy||Arrival in Rome||Overnight hotel stay|
|November 19||Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy||Embark Silver Wind||6:00 PM|
|November 20||Sorrento, Italy||8:00 AM||6:00 PM|
|November 21||Trapani, Italy||8:00 AM||6:00 PM|
|November 22||Valetta, Malta||8:00 AM||4:00 PM|
|November 23||La Goulette, Tunisia||8:30 AM||6:00 PM|
|November 24||At Sea|
|November 25||Cartagena, Spain||8:00 AM||5:00 PM|
|November 26||Malaga, Spain||8:00 AM||Disembark Silver Wind; onward journey|
Our Live Voyage Report through the Mediterranean aboard Silversea’s Silver Wind will continue tomorrow from La Goulette, Tunisia. Be sure to follow along on twitter by following the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.