I could have slept indefinitely this morning after yesterday's early get-up, but I'd planned a trip with a fair amount of travelling for today so we needed to make a reasonably early start this morning, with our first bus at 09.25. We actually ended up being ready with a bit of time to spare, so after breakfast we had time for a short stroll along some of Valletta's city walls. From here we had a great view of the fountain and the church in Floriana which we had seen yesterday.
We walked through some shady gardens...
...and had a view out across the opposite side of Valletta from where we had been looking yesterday. From this side you can see how built up the surrounding area really is!
Our aim for today was to visit the island of Gozo, Malta's second smaller island, located to the north of the main island that we were on. There is a regular ferry between Gozo and Malta, which was running every 45 minutes today and which leaves from the harbour of Ċirkewwa on the northernmost tip of Malta. The bus which we needed to catch would take us across the island from Valletta to Ċirkewwa, a journey which takes a bit over an hour.
The bus was punctual at 09.25 and the fare of €1.50 seemed like a real bargain for such a long journey. It started off fairly quiet and peaceful, but as we progressed along the route the bus picked up more and more passengers until soon they were crammed and standing in the aisles. We were glad we had got on at the start of the journey and been able to secure seats!
As the bus drove through central Malta, I thought we might have had some interesting views. For the first 45 minutes of the journey, however, all we saw were towns sprawling into one another. This part of Malta seems to be just one big conurbation, which I suppose is not surprising when you consider that the population of Malta is around 445,000, of which only 37,000 live on Gozo, so the rest all have to fit onto the main island somehow. Towards the latter part of the journey the views did improve, as we left the urban sprawl behind and instead had views of the rather dusty-looking countryside and, of course, the sea
I'd investigated the idea of a day-trip to Gozo originally because I had read in the guidebook that it was quieter and less busy than the main island. I was therefore surprised at quite how many people seemed to be squeezing onto the bus the closer it got towards the ferry terminal. Perhaps there was some great Maltese tradition I didn't know about which involved travelling to Gozo on Sundays and the whole place would be overrun?! It turned out I needn't have worried; over half of the bus ultimately got off a few stops before Ċirkewwa, in a town which seemed to have a sandy beach with an awful lot of sun loungers!
We arrived in Ċirkewwa a bit earlier than I'd expected and so there was a ferry sitting waiting in the harbour to depart. The journey across to Gozo takes around 25 minutes and is a bit unusual in that you don't have to pay on the leg from Malta to Gozo, but only when returning from Gozo to Malta.
It was a big boat and we were able to sit outside on the deck, which was fun As we set off we had views of Malta's third island, Comino, which has a resident population of only four people.
Once we were past Comino, we go our first views of Gozo.
The ferry docks in the town of Mġarr (pronounced im-jar).
The guidebook had made it sound like a bit of a metropolis, but it was actually pretty small. The harbour area was pretty though...
...as was this interesting church on a bit of a hill above the town.
We climbed up a series of staircases to get to it, though once we were closer it was actually harder to take a good photo of it.
From up high we did have some nice views out across the sea though.
Having exhausted the sights of Mġarr, our next aim was to catch a bus to the capital of Gozo, Victoria (also known as Rabat). The reason for the two names is that the town was originally called Rabat by the Maltese, but was officially renamed to Victoria by the British in 1887 in recognition of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.
Victoria is only 6km from Mġarr so we could technically have walked, but it didn't look like the road would have a pavement and some of the driving in Malta seems a bit erratic. Luckily there are several buses which leave from the harbour in Mġarr and head towards Victoria (in fact, according to the guidebook there is only one bus on Gozo which doesn't go to Victoria!) and so we were able to catch a bus in the right direction almost straightaway.
After a short journey, we stepped off the bus in Victoria and immediately had a view of what looked like a beautiful church.
We walked in that general direction and soon found ourselves in a busy square.
On the other side of it we found the seventeenth century church of St Francis.
As we were admiring the church, we noticed something which looked rather familiar from Valletta.
The people of Gozo seemed to have put up stars to celebrate their football victories as well Maltese football must be very competitive!
From here we turned off onto some little side streets.
As we walked up one of them, we got our first view of St George's basilica.
The basilica was built in 1672 and it looks enormous.
Again, from up close it isn't possible to see the church's huge dome, though.
We walked through another nice little square...
...and noticed that in Gozo they have the enclosed Maltese balconies too
We were planning to visit Victoria's citadel, and as we climbed higher up towards it we were able to get a proper view of the dome of St George's basilica.
Eventually we arrived at the citadel itself, but we were unsure whether we would have to pay to get in. We saw a sign saying something about tickets for €5 inside, but it turned out these were only if you wanted to go into the visitor centre and a couple of museums. The majority of the citadel can be explored for free.
The fortifications here date from medieval times, when a castle was built to withstand attacks by the Ottomans. Unfortunately it was not entirely successful, and the castle was ransacked by the Ottomans in 1551, with the majority of Gozo's population being captured and enslaved. The fortifications were then rebuilt and strengthened between 1599 and 1622.
One of the largest buildings within the walls is the Cathedral of the Assumption. This was built in 1697 after the original church was damaged first by the Ottomans and then by an earthquake.
There was one tour group being guided around the citadel, but once we got away from them it was fairly quiet and we were able to wander round and explore in peace
We strolled along narrow walkways...
...and soon had some lovely views, both of the cathedral...
...and of the surrounding countryside.
I particularly loved the little archways....
...and the views out towards this beautiful domed church in the distance.
Churches with domes seem to be really popular in Malta!
It was from up here that we could get the best view of the dome of St George's basilica as well
We were quite tired and hot by this stage, so we headed back down into the centre of Victoria in search of somewhere to have a late lunch.
We found a nice little place where we were able to get a spaghetti with ragu, before beginning our rather long journey back home, with a bus from Victoria back to Mġarr, then the ferry from Mġarr to Ċirkewwa, followed by the bus from Ċirkewwa back to Valletta. The journey all went smoothly, except for the bus from Ċirkewwa. When the ferry arrived there was a horde of people waiting for the bus which was supposed to arrive in 10 minutes... but didn't arrived until nearer 30 had passed. We were extremely lucky that the bus driver happened to pull up relatively near to where we were standing, and so we managed to fight our way on and grab seats, despite some very aggressive pushing and shoving from Maltese pensioners
We had a lovely day in Gozo though, and it was definitely worth the journey for views