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Bowyers in Malta 9th-13th May 2008

On the morning of the 9th May a group of Bowyers met at Gatwick airport for departure for Malta. arriving at Luqua, Malta's International Airport, in the afternoon where we were met by Rachel Borg the Voyage Jules Verne representative for on-ward travel to our Hotel "Le Meridian St Julian". The welcome was warm and we were given a refreshing glass of fresh orange juice before being given a short briefing by Rachel and checking in. Despite a few problems with the lifts and room key cards the rooms proved to be very large and comfortable. Having settled the party met I the bar before moving to the Hotel's Brasserie Restaurant to enjoy a pleasant and well deserved dinner.

The following morning we were me by our Tour Guide, Alfred Micallef, before going by bus to Valetta, Malta's capital, for a walking tour of the city. Progressing from the Phoenicia Hotel we walked through the main city gate having admired the fascinating age, marque and range of the local motor bus fleet. We then moved past the remains of the old opera house to the Barracca Gardens where we admired the magnificent view of Grand Harbour, after which we walked to St Paul's Anglican Cathedral a beautiful neo classical church sponsored by Queen Adelaide, wife of William IV. On route we passed Strait Street (The Gut) and viewed with curiosity the decaying decadence of the of night club and tattoo parlour signs whose customers were the sailors of the Mediterranean Fleet. Then on to the great contrast of the Baroque magnificence of St Johns Cathedral the spiritual home of the Knight of St John. The carving, iconography, gilding and silver altar furniture were much admired and in the Oratory the two paintings by Caravaggio, the Beheading of St John the Baptist and St Jerome, were greatly appreciated.

The Museum of the Archaeological Museum then followed where we saw some of the ancient artefacts that had been discovered over the years: the sleeping lady and the fat ladies being the most memorable. The tour ended with Lunch in the roof top restaurant "de Robertis" which in addition to excellent food also gave us a superb roof top view of Valetta.

That evening we ventured to the "The Black Pearl " restaurant a Swedish built sailing ship once owned by Errol Flynn, star of the film Sinbad the Sailor. The menu was predominantly fish and many of us indulged in eating lobster washed down with copious amounts of wine.

On Sunday there was a full day excursion to the area known as the "Three Cities" the part of the Island first settled by the Knights after their move from Rhodes. The first port of call was Fort Rinella the home of one of the four 100 ton guns (manufactured at the Armstrong Works, Elswick, Newcastle) deployed into the Mediterranean in the 1870s-80s for the defence of Gibraltar and Malta. The guide dressed in the Victorian uniform of the Royal Malta Artillery led a most interesting tour. At the entrance to the Fort he described the defensive arrangements describing the gate, the glacis, the caponiers, the armoured windows and the operation of the entry bridge. He then moved into the fort where he described the operations of the gun, the movement of the explosive elements and the method by which the gun was aimed and fired.

Following this we visited the Maritime Museum located in a former Royal Naval Victualling Yard Bakery. The collection was small but comprehensive covering a period of time from the Roman Period to the leaving of the Royal Navy in 1979. The next port of call was the Inquisitors Palace where we viewed the Inquisitor's Court Room and the associated cells. We were particularly moved by the story of two Quaker ladies who were arrested for circulating religious tracts and were imprisoned for four and a half years after which time they were released having not modified their position one jot.

In the afternoon a visit was arranged to visit the War Museum that began with watching watching a 1943 wartime documentary regarding the defence of Malta. Then having been issue with a hairnet and a protective helmet we went underground for a tour of the anti aircraft shelters carved into the rocks. They included corridors with benches illuminated by olive oil bases lamps placed in carved niches in the walls. It was interesting to be told that they wealthy could buy family rooms underground the proviso being that they had to dig them out themselves!! A visit to the original Hospitallers church dedicated to St Lawrence then followed before returning to the Hotel having viewed the magnificent Grand Harbour from Senglea Point. In the evening we then had another magnificent meal at the Quadro Restaurant.

The following day we went by bus to the Grandmaster's Palace. Unfortunately we arrived early but this gave us the opportunity to view "The Pub" also known as "Ollie's Last Stand"where the actor Oliver Reed died whilst making the film Gladiator. The Grand master's Palace was again a magnificent building reflecting the power and wealth of the Order. We entered through the tranquil Neptune and Prince Alfred Courts where we admired the 1745 four faced clock before struggling up a spiral staircase to the first floor into a log corridor lined with pictures and a display of armour. Of particular interest was the darkened Tapestry Room, formerly the council chamber of the Knights, where we admired the Gobelin tapestries depicting imaginary scenes India, Africa and the New World. Then we moved to the Gold Room and the Green Room before entering the Throne Room where we admired the fine ceiling and the frescos depicting the Great Siege. Lastly we entered the Hal of he Ambassadors where there we admired portraits of Presidents of Malta and a very handsome portrait of HM the Queen.

We then travelled by bus to Medina and Rabat the old capital of the Island. In Rabat we were privileged to visit the Casa Bernard where we were welcomed by the owner Georges Magri to his 15th Century Palace which has been lovingly restored over the years.. It is a family home and is furnished with beautiful antique furniture and of particular note was the collection of Maltese silver. The collection of walking sticks and other family items littered around the house gave it a family feel despite the heavy grandeur of the architecture.

A small party then separated off to visit the Hal Salfieni Hypogeum a unique archaeological site which has been declared a UNESCO Heritage site. It is an underground three story necropolis dating back at least 5,000 years. The exhibition was introduced by a short film describing its discovery and excavation. The caves have been cut out of the living rock some of then resembled building with doors and windows and roofs of overlapping rock discs. The perceived wisdom is that these underground structures reflected the architecture of contemporary temples above ground.

The whole party reunited in Rabat before proceeding to lunch at the Roadhouse Restaurant set in the Buskett Forest in the shadow of the Verdala Palace. Having partaken of a light lunch and some local wine the party returned to Rabat to visit the St Paul's Catacombs. The Catacombs were an extensive labyrinth of caves and corridors where the dead were buried sometimes as individual but there was evidence of family vaults. Of interest were some carved discs carved out of the rock where family members seemed to share a last meal with their departed loved ones. One of the caves had been enlarged to be used as an early Christian Church.

On leaving the catacombs we then visited the Silent City of Medina. The city had been suffered a sever earthquake one side of the town being affected much more that the other. He surviving part had been repaired along the lines of an old part town and the other had been substantially rebuilt in the baroque style. Our guide, Alfred, posed us a question regarding the low wrought iron gates that closed across the lower part of the main doors of the house, after a time he revealed that they were there to keep the goats out!! We had a final view of the surrounding countryside from the ramparts before returning to the coach for the return journey to the hotel. In the evening we dined at the Phoenicia Hotel having enjoyed an aperitif in the atmospheric Captain's Bar.

On the last day a number of the party went on a boat tour of the harbour. The weather had improved and the experience was very enjoyable. On returning to shore we were taken to the Royal Malta Yacht Club where we had a light lunch before returning to the Hotel to pick up our luggage before our onward journey to the airport and our return to Heathrow.

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