Of Churches, the George Cross, and WW II Bombs on Malta

Malta is home to more than 360 churches on just 122 square miles of land. We passed by quite a few churches and domes, too many to even list any names.

During World War II, Malta was heavily bombed, having been a strategic outpost for the Allies. The bombing was so extensive that by the end of the war, Malta was considered the most-bombed nation on the planet. Later on, this title went to Laos, because of its bombing during the Vietnam War.

Quoted from Wikipedia:

The George Cross was awarded to the island of Malta by King George VI of the United Kingdom in a letter dated 15 April 1942[1] to the island’s Governor Lieutenant-General Sir William Dobbie, so as to “bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people”[2] during the great siege it underwent in the early parts of World War II. The George Cross is woven into the Flag of Malta and can be seen wherever the flag is flown.

Dome in Mosta, Malta

Dome in Mosta

The best way to travel around the main island is by tour bus. We took the North tour one day, and the South tour the following day by double-deck buses.

Malta by bus

Touring Valetta. We had head phones to listen to the recording, but sitting on the deck of the bus, made listening very difficult during traffic.

Valetta, Malta

We got off in Birgu to take a look around for half an hour. More churches.

Birgu church

Sign in Birgu

The next bus for Birgu was supposed to come by 30 minutes later, but some Maltese have a very different attitude towards time and timing, especially compared to us Germans. Be prepared that buses sometimes are late or do not even show up, which was the case in the town of Birgu.

The bus stops are usually located in very nice areas, so waiting another 30 minutes was no problem. We were waiting in the sunshine! We watched this man throw out his fishing rod for about 40 minutes. The fish were so quickly off with his bait, it looked like he had come to feed them.

In the end, he dumped the remainder of his bait straight into the water. It was fun watching him.

fisher & bait

Touring the island by bus is great. Hotels usually sell tickets, and you also find ticket sellers at the bus stop. They are working on commission, and we overheard a feisty female Irish ticker seller arguing over customers with an elderly male Maltese. Be prepared for entertainment.

North tour: 15 euro p.p.

South tour: 17 euro p.p.

Notes from Madaba and the Dead Sea

Nobuko, my travel-the-world friend, is posting from Madaba and the Dead Sea.

Madaba is a small town, 40km and a world away from Amman and also renounced for its Christian settlement. The Palace Hotel in Amman had a sister hotel in Madaba, so they shuttled me there for free. Well, NOTHING is really free in Jordan. But that’s how they put it. The hotel in Madaba was far from the city center, about a 30-minute walk, if you don’t get lost, that is. This was s contrary to what I was told before: a 10-minute walk to the town center. But it was a clean place. I give them that much. 17ND for a single. Jordan was stripping my wallet in just three days.

I ventured out to find the town center, following the map and verbal directions, accompanied by hand gestures given by the front desk staff. But I got lost. It seems that perhaps in Jordan left means right, or people don’t know what is left and right. I ended up going the complete opposite way. By the way, maps serve no purpose here: people don’t know how to read them. They will just turn it around, look puzzled, and turn it around some more just for the heck of it.

A police car with two officers passed, and not even they could read the map on their own, with Arabic indications. They were nice enough to give me a ride to the city center, but one of them tried to charge me. The other one pacified the greedy one, thank God. This type of “Nice gestures, that end in money making” schemes would repeat itself throughout my stay in Jordan, and strongly color my opinion of its people here (not a nice one as you can guess).

Once I got to the center, I continued to be lost. The map is not well written, not even correct. I found four young Jordanians from Amman, the sole exception to the general public who I’ve found to be greedy, liars, and distasteful. They suggested that we go around together. They could not even find some places, so this made me feel less stupid. We managed to find St. Jorge Church and a museum.

The next day, I went to the Dead Sea and the Jordan river where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Jordan is a hard place for an independent tourist to get around: the lack of public transportation options (hitch hiking is not recommended), the high cost of a taxi, the mob network of taxi drivers and hotels, and the Jordanians’ inability to read maps make this country one of the worst places to travel cheaply. I ended up hiring a taxi for 40 ND for a day to visit only three places.

The Dead Sea was very nice. The Amman Beach is a public one and costs 16 ND to enter instead of 40 at private hotel beaches. It has a shower facility and locker. If you want mud smeared on you, that’s an extra 3 JD. Remember, nothing is free here. I’m surprised they don’t charge for the oxygen you breathe. I went early in the morning and it was not crowded. I floated for about two hours – it is even hard to stand up, because of the very high salt content. And the skin feels very smooth afterwards. This was better than any spa treatments I had received in my life.

The next destination was the Jordan river. Both the Palestinian side (West Bank, aka Israel) and the Jordan side capitalize on this river to which so many biblical stories are attached. At one point, the river is only about 20 meters wide, so you can greet tourists on the other side. There are die-hard Christians who bring themselves and their babies to be baptized in this river. Apparently, Israel got control of the water flow of the Jordan river, so it is affecting the fresh water supply to the Dead Sea. As a result, the Dead Sea is shrinking. Soon, there will only be a mass of crystallized salt there. After taking a break at my hotel room for two hours, I was taken to a sunset point overlooking the Dead Sea, with Jericho on the West Bank and Jerusalem in the distance.

But the entire time I was trying to enjoy the view, the driver was giving  his spiel on whatever else he could sell me – tours to this and that place, shopping at this and that, shops which are presumably owned by his “uncles” or “cousins”.

At the hotel, I met two French people and we decided to share a taxi to get to Petra (there is no regular bus from Madaba to Petra, and though buses exist that connect Madaba to other towns in between Madaba and Petra, it’s time consuming). Even this decision was altered by the hotel staff who basically forced us to take their driver, and tampering with our itinerary. But at 22 IS per person, compared to me going alone and paying 66, it was still a good deal.

The next day, we hit five places before getting to Petra, most of which we spent only 45 minutes. When arrived in Petra, we could not get out of the taxi without hearing even more sales pitches. It’s one thing for them to talk, but these people try to make you feel bad about your plan, or your plan is a poor one. I was so happy to be out of that taxi.

Notes from Luxor, Assiyut, and the Dakhla Oasis in Egypt

Nobuko has been sharing her experience about travels to Cairo, Luxor, and now Assiyut and the Dakhla Oasis. See what she has to say.

Part 1: Getting from Cairo to Luxor

Getting from Cairo to Luxor was a breeze – but at $60 per bed, it is not cheap. The tourist sleeper train, which leaves from Giza station, was very comfortable with small 2-bed cabins that included clean sheets, a pillow and blanket, and a basin. Also included in the price were a pretty hearty dinner and breakfast which was served in your cabin. I shared the cabin with a Samoan woman who is a New Zealand citizen. She was also traveling alone for one year so we had much to talk about. The whole trip took 10 hours.

Part 2: Getting from Luxor to the Dakhla Oasis

Now, the transit from Luxor to the western Dakhla Oasis was an arduous one. It took me 16 hours to arrive there via Assiyut (more about that train route on TripAdvisor). I took a local train at 7:30am (cost less than 20 E pounds) which arrived in Assiyut at 1:30pm after enduring an incredibly dusty path. There was only one car for first class, but there aren’t any noticeable differences between first and second class.

I met a group of four female college students who kept me company by teaching me Arabic. I remember only one word from this lesson, which is magnun = crazy. After they got off, other women filled their seats. But these women made me feel uncomfortable by continious laughing at the sight of me. I think the laughter was not malicious, but I left to move to another seat.

Assiyut is a large city. But the bus station is only a five-minute walk to the left  from the train station. The direct bus to Dakhla did not leave til 6pm, so I decided to take the bus at 3pm to the Khagra Oasis which is located two hours before reaching Dakhla. My plan was to take another bus from Kharga to Dakhla. The ride to Kharga was hot but smooth, arriving at 6:30pm. But the onward bus from there did not leave til 8:30pm – which meant I would not arrive in Dakhla til 11:30!  By this time I was simply exhausted, so when I learned this I was going to look for an accommodation in Kharga.

I do not speak Arabic. There were many instances where I really wished that I had studied some words. But there is always someone who speaks some English and offers me much needed help. A group of college girls got me in a taxi with them, and I was taken to a micro bus headed to Dakhla. During the travel, they fed me and gave me drinks. When we reached Dakhla, one of them gave me a ride to an accommodation in her boyfriend’s car. So I was in bed before 10:30pm.

The travel route I had taken I would not recommend to anyone. But unfortunately, there aren’t many other options unless one has $130 to spend on a five-hour taxi ride from Luxor to Dakhla.

Dakhla itself does not have any sites. 30km away from it, there is Al Qasr, an abandoned medieval fort city made of mud and bricks which served as the capital for the area for a long time. It’s a surreal experience to walk through the maze of small streets in this ghost town. Some multi-storied houses are more than 1200 years old and still standing in good enough condition for us to walk in. The wood of Acacia trees was used for constructions and for city gates for its durability. To make it extra strong and preservable, it was soaked in salt water first. As a testament, none of the acacia trees were crumbling. Amazing!Acacia wood was also used for curving the prayer areas which decorate the doorway of the houses. These prayer boards record the dates when the house was built and the names of the artists who curved the boards.

The whole city was designed to remain cool in the hot desert climate by making narrow streets which created much shaded areas. The narrow and bending streets also served as a defense tactic to prevent invaders from marching into the city with  high velocity and momentum.

Aside from Al Qasr, the Dakhla Oasis was supposed to be famous for its hot springs. However, these are cemented structures with pumps that pour spring water into the pools. And due to the prolonged decline in tourism over the past few years, the pools had moss growing inside and some pumps were not operating. So my dream of getting into natural hot springs were miserably shattered.

The hotel staff were very nice people, but they did not speak English. This was a problem apart from getting breakfast and getting a wi-fi password. I could not get a map or contact information for the tourist office in town because they did not understand what I was asking for. I aimlessly wandered the streets looking for the tourist information office. Someone picked me up and drove me to the tourist police office. Probably they didn’t know what else to do with me. There finally I met the officer Mr. Mahmud, who spoke English. He gave me some tea and a snack, and called the tourist office on my behalf. With directions in my hand, I headed to the tourist office, but got lost within a few minutes.

Mr. Mahmud probably figured that I would get lost, so he came after me and drove me to my destination. There I met Mr. Omar Dahi who agreed to guide me to Al Qasr. But I admit, it was so much fun to ride in police cars! Now I understand why cops are one of the most popular attraction among the elementary school kids on  career day!

Dakhla Oasis, also spelt Dakhleh and translates to the inner oasis, is one of the seven oases of Egypt’s Western Desert. Dakhla Oasis lies in the New Valley Governorate, 350 km from the Nile and between the oases of Farafra and Kharga. (source: Wikipedia)

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