Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Burning Red

Day 76

My next door neighbor had kept his tv up very loud for half of the night and I didn't get much sleep. Despite this I woke up full of energy. I had a huge day ahead of me.

My first stop wasn't that interesting, it was the post office. The girl there tried to charge me a ridiculous amount of money to send a small package home. She tried again and it worked out much better.

I then hopped on a bus and headed to Paola. I went straight to the Hypogeum, even though I was about an hour early. They told me to come back and to check out some nearby ruins.

The Tarxien Temples are 4 neolithic structures dating from 3600 BC. They were discovered in 1913 by farmers when the Hypogeum was being excavated. This seemed to be the only site in Malta where there wasn't an overabundance of information. Luckily there were signs pointed out all of the most important bits and I don't think I missed anything.

To be honest, I kinda of ran through these temples. I didn't want to take any chance that I would miss even one minute of the Hypogeum. You have to book tickets for it months in advance. Only ten people are allowed on each tour and there are only so many tours a day. This is to help conserve the site. As I red when I was waiting for the tour to begin the Hypogeum is one of the most impressive neolithic sites in the world, it is also the most fragile. There were no pictures allowed.

The tour guide was a guy name John who was probably around the same age as my grandparents would be. He flirted with me in that teasing non-threatening way only a man his age can do. Everyone had to put their bags into a locker. I was able to bring my notebook though. This mini notebook is my life. There is a list of places that I have been, my beer diary, my expense log, names of people that I have met, and notes that I have taken at almost every site I have been to.

Each person was given a handheld audio guide and we were told to follow John. After the brief movie where I learned that the Hypogeum has five levels, but we only visit the first two, that the floors are much lower than the bottom of the doors because they would have been filled with human bones and dirt, and that the architecture is just stunning. When we finally went in we paused on a stairway above the first level. John noticed that I was awkwardly taking notes and holding my audio guide. He kindly went to give me his headphones so that I could be hands free. In the process of this I dropped my notebook. It fell (in the dirt thankfully) with an echoing thud. I stood there in horror, as did everyone else around me. John walked down and picked through the ruins to retrieve my book. Thank goodness no damage had been done, it had just fallen in a really inconvenient place.

When John came back up the stairs I apologized about a million times. I could feel the embarrassment red hot on my face. He said that it was alright, that it wasn't the first time.

The rest of the tour was not quite so eventful. I managed to keep my belongings to myself. There were bits of ceiling paintings to stare at and ponder their meaning for the temple building people. As I couldn't take pictures you will just have to take my word for how amazing this all was. It was just amazing that this place had survived through all the earthquakes and building above the structure.

After the tour I asked if the Hypogeum was used as a shelter like the other underground structures in Malta, and John told me yes. He then gave me his address and his phone number and told me that if I come back to Malta that he will be my guide.

I was out a little earlier than I had thought I would be so I pulled out my journal and started writing on a stoop near the Hypogeum. Back in New York I have a Maltese friend named Owen. He was kind enough to introduce his parents to me via email and they offered to show me around for the day. It wasn't long before I heard his mother, Giorgina call out my name. A minute later I was back at their car meeting Mike, Owens dad. I was ecstatic to get to meet them and 'barrow' Owen's parents for the day. They seemed happy to see me as well.

Right away they took me to the Ghar Dalam Caves. Malta is a limestone country and these caves are some of the best example of limestone caves on the island. It was quite surreal with all the stalactites and stalagmites. We also checked out the display on animals that had been on Malta when it was connected to Sicily. There were some rather large deer and a baby elephant as well as hipos.

On the way back to their house we made a quick stop off at St. Catherine's Cathedral so that I could take a picture of her statue. Back at their house Giorgina made me a typical Maltese lunch of local bread with tomato paste and oil. It was wonderful. I've found this trip that a little tomato, not in its original form, is actually quite good. While we were eating we got to know each other and I learned some Maltese words.

After lunch we headed to the nearby Blue Grotto, a cave system that you need a boat to reach. Unfortunately it was too windy for the boats to be out so we simply took in the view and had a beer instead. Our next stop was Birzebbuga. This is where in 1989 Bush the first and Mikhail Gorbachev signed a peace treaty ending the Cold War. I had had no idea that this had happened in Malta.

For dinner we were joined by they daughter Michelle, her husband and son Raul. We ate at a cute place in a small fishing town. I had some wonderful fish soup and fish pasta. It was a really wonderful time.

It was said saying goodbye to everyone, even though we hadn't spent much time together I had really enjoyed everyone's company. But it was late and I had an early flight in the morning and a bag to pack. I will definitely have to get back to Malta so that I can see everyone again.

I really loved Malta and I wish that I had built in more time here. The people were fabulous and the sites were well done and diverse. In Spain and Italy there had been almost no information and the sites were expensive, here most of it was very reasonable and I was given more information than I knew what to do with. It seemed like the Maltese would really like to have their visitors understand their history and culture. It was quite welcoming and I loved it.

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