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View over Valletta

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Visions of castle, knights and damsels in distress come to mind as we approach Valletta's Grand Harbor under full sail on a stifling hot Tuesday afternoon. The Republic of Malta, consisting of the islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino (plus two uninhabited islands), has changed hands many, many times over the years. Romans, Arabs, the Knights of St. John, Napoleon Bonaparte and later the British have all laid claim to this barren, rocky outpost in the deep south of the Mediterranean. The Brits came to the islands in 1814, turning Malta into a Crown Colony and making full use of Valletta's huge natural port as a vital link for ships on the route from Britain to India via the Suez Canal. Malta still retains its British influences and most inhabitants speak English fluently, yet the official language is an intriguing mix of Arab and Sicilian influences and the currency is the Maltese Lira.

Sailing towards Gozo Gozo Gozo Excursion by zodiac
Royal Clipper still life Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Mgarr All Aboard! Port of Mgarr, Gozo

When Lucy and I get out on deck in the morning, Royal Clipper is cruising off Gozo's north shore. Under a bright blue sky, our Captain steers the huge clipper towards the island's main port of Mgarr. We drop anchor here and the water sports team bring out the zodiacs to transport passengers to the Blue Grotto on nearby Comino. As our time in Gozo is extremely limited, we opt to take the tender into town, where a short walk uphill sees us admiring the views from the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes. Dominating the view of the center of the island are the sandstone churches of Victoria, the capital of the island. Too bad we don't have time to go there; we will have to come back another time!

Sun Deck Heading towards Malta Gozo breakwater Hoist the sails!
Relax on Sun Deck Blue Mediterranean Cruising the Malta archipelago Arrival at Valletta

While crew members set up a fabulous lunch buffet in the Tropical Bar, the anchor is hoisted and Royal Clipper sets sail for Valletta on the island of Malta. The three-hour sail under cloudless skies is very pleasant and we fully enjoy the casual, upbeat lunchtime atmosphere and the consequent "siesta" under canvas. Lucy and I head for the bow of the ship and watch the crew prepare for our arrival in Valletta. Upon entering the fortified port, all sails are unfurled and under the tones of Vangelis' "Conquest of Paradise", we majestically enter the Grand Harbour. To port side, within the old fortifications, the movie set for "Troy" (starring Brad Pitt) can clearly be seen and later in the day a fellow passenger runs into Sharon Stone who is shooting her new movie in downtown Valletta. Malta goes Hollywood!

Valletta, Malta Royal Clipper docked in Valletta Shop in Valletta Shopping in Valletta
Typical Maltese houses All Aboard! Decorations in Valletta Cathedral Royal Clipper docked in Valletta, Malta

By 3 pm, Royal Clipper is safely docked right in the center of town. Lucy and I conquer the stifling heat and climb up to the main shopping street, which is amass with people. As all prices are shown in Maltese Lira here, we make good use of the many ATM machines and make our way to the Cathedral of St. John. This rather unassuming looking cathedral was built in the 16th century by Gerolama Cassar and was largely cleared of its priceless art objects by Napoleon. Fortunately, Napoleon was not able to take the beautiful ceiling paintings by Mattia Preti, painted in such a way that they appear to be 3-dimensional. We spend a couple of hours strolling around Valletta, one of Europe's smallest capital cities. What strikes us most is the original feel to the place. We see no towering office blocks here, no concrete. Instead, all buildings are done in sandstone and many feature the typical green glass-enclosed balconies.

Statue of Winston Churchill Cathedral of St. John Cathedral of St. John Unforgettable departure from Malta

Back on board, we position ourselves at the railing in the Tropical Bar, seeing groups of smartly dressed dignitaries get on the ship. This is Royal Clipper's maiden call at Valletta and the officers have invited a number of guests for a cocktail party. Alas, Brad Pitt and Sharon Stone do not appear, even though persistent rumors on board said they would! Instead, we have our own piece of movie magic as Royal Clipper slowly slips her berth at 11.30 pm. Her masts decked in lights, she quietly passes the city of Valletta on her way out to sea. Most passengers join the crew out on deck to witness  this spectacular sailaway after a wonderful day of Island Hopping in Malta.


Photos and text: 2003 Bart de Boer - www.ShipParade.com

First published on August 30, 2003

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