Valletta 2018: the culture trip

2018 stands for feast in overdrive in Valletta, capital of Malta, as the entire year it proudly wears the crown of ‘Culture Capital of Europe’. If you haven’t put it on your travel radar yet, now’s the time to adjust your antennas! With 320 monuments all within an area of 55ha that makes this compact capital one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world, and if UNESCO says so…

Valletta Malta

We explored this charming and picture-perfect city early June and we’re completely under its spell from day one… join us, that’s the husband and me, on this little photo stroll through Valletta’s streets…

…though not winding…no, the city centre handles a uniform grid pattern and orientation is therefore easy. First things first though: we flew in from Brussels South with Ryanair and stayed in an Airbnb located in Cospicua/Bormla, one of the so-called ‘Three Cities’. We had a lovely trip to Mdina and an extensive fun tour of ‘The Three Cities’ which I’ll tell you more about in the next posts.

Three Cities Malta
Our Airbnb in Cospicua/Bormla

but let’s focus on Valletta first…

Malta’s history is forever linked to the Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem but to fully understand the capital’s and island’s current mix of styles and influences we need to step back much further in time for a (very brief, I promise) history lesson…

In chronological order the island was invaded by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Carthaginians, then came the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Norman, the Sicilians, the French and Spanish…are you still with me? Then, in 1530 the Knight Order arrived (more on that later) with years of glory and fall, followed again by a, this time very short, French rule; after them the British took over for many years. During WW2 the city suffered extremely heavy losses and bombings and then, fi-nally Malta gained independency in 1964…and if you would think all these influences would result in a mishmash of styles, think again…it all blends perfectly well to a, to this date, modern vibrant town that fully embraces its cultural heritage.

The island thanks it name to the Phoenicians, who called it Maleth, which means shelter. The Maltese language, still spoken, found its origin in Arabic and the capital was named after Jean Parisol de la Vallette, Grandmaster of the Knight Order and also the one who commissioned the building of the new city capital. You can have coffee full Italian Style and a Mediterrenean afternoon siesta oh and driving left and tea and biscuits stuck around too 😉

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Queen Victoria forever wrapped in Maltese lace on Republic Street

How exactly did those knights end up in Malta? When they were thrown out of Israel by the Muslims, they first ended up in Rhodes until they had to flee from there too. The Spanish king gave them Malta to make their home, which they did. Years of glory followed, with fortifications being built, coming out victoriously out of the Grand Siege and Turkish attacks and the building of a brand new capital and more defence structures. All that building and defending against enemy invasions cost a lot of money though and by then some of the knights of the Order had a certain decadent lifestyle they didn’t want to give up, scandals followed and hence the fall of the Order.

Enough talking, time for photos now 😉

Staying in the Three Cities meant our daily trip to the city centre included the inner harbour crossing by ferry (fun) or typical dhasja (much more fun).

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View on docking area and elevator to Barrakka Gardens coming from Three Cities

 

Stepping off the boat and heading left brings you to the elevator (your feet and back will thank you) going high up to ‘Upper Barrakka Gardens’. This is a ‘must do’ to see and be seen: you can admire the phenomenal view on the Grand Harbour, watch the canon firings at 12 and 16pm, feed the pigeons, have a snack and drinks, people-watch or just rest and absorb those holiday vibes.

Valletta Malta

 

These gardens were installed on the upper of  the St Peter & Paul bastion, originally as place of recreation for the Italian knights of the Order. On the lower tier you can find the saluting battery.

Salute at 12h and 16h

Valletta Malta
Some odd feathers could be spotted during our stay – part of an historical re-enactment group

Valletta Malta

From Barrakka Gardens on you can start exploring the city at your own pace or if you appreciate some extra historical and cultural info, join one of the many guided tours. We joined a ‘Colour my Travel’ tour taking us on a three hour walk through the city centre.

Colour My Travel tour Valletta
Colour My Travel city tour
Valletta Malta Auberge de Castille
Auberge de Castille Valletta

guards at Grandmaster's Palace

The Lady of Victories chapel is built on the exact spot the very first stone was laid when building the city of Valletta.

Lady of Victories chapel Valletta Malta

A definite must see is Saint John’s co cathedral, built in only five years time. The interior decorating took much longer and if you step inside you’ll immediately understand why as there’s not a blank inch in the cathedral left. Paintings, floor marble stones, tapistries, sculptures, crypt, you name it and you’ll defintely find it inside! The decorations on the walls were all paid for by two Cottoner brothers, Raphael Cottoner and Nicholas Cottoner. They were both grand-masters and you can find their monograms RC and NC on the walls. St John’s Co Cathedral has 375 graves. Their gravestones, all in marble, show the knights and grand-masters that are buried inside this cathedral. The oratory is also of great interest and do expect some crowds when visiting, all admiring one of Caravaggio’s masterpieces and the only work signed by him ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’.

 

 

Merchant St, Republic St and Old Bakery St all lead to Fort St Elmo, the crossing streets will either lead you to Sliema Ferry landing area or Upper and Lower Barraka Gardens. Do not miss out on those Lower Gardens as they equally guarantee a phenomenal view.

Valletta Malta

Monument Lower Barrakka Gardens

 

Even on colourful eye-catcher and cities’ trademark, the famous balconies, the mixed cultural influences left their mark. There still, apparently, is some discussion whether Arabic or Spanish origins. Most probably it comes from Arabic times when women had to stay out of sight and this got translated to Maltese way over time, with housewives watching the world go by from above and with little side-windows to gossip with/about the neighbours (?)

Valletta Malta balconies

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Bridge Bar Valletta balconies

Valletta shop signs
Een bijschrift invoeren

By now you probably think there are only old stones to walk on in this capital…meet Valletta 2.0…

Parliament house Valletta

The above photo is part of the Parliament House and architect Renzo Piano’s (the one of the Shard in London) so-called ‘City Gate Project’, a masterplan to restyle the old City Gate area. He made some very drastic changes, as the old gate in no longer an actual gate but a V-shaped entrance and citizens had to grow accustomed to this new style. However, to my opinion he succeeded wonderfully wel in marrying old and new. The stone slabs in the limestone are carved out this way to copy natural erosion by nature.

open-air theatre Valletta
open-air theatre

Parliament House Valletta City Gate

 

Have I convinced YOU that Valletta is worth a visit? Then start planning your trip and check the cities’ tourist site and 2018 cultural highlights!

Valletta City Gate

Next post in this series will highlight the Three Cities and Mdina, stay tuned 😉

Ingrid

xxx

Valletta City Gate

Visit Malta

Airbnb Valletta

Ryanair

Colour my Travel

Unesco Valletta

Spring, you just keep me hanging on…

This girl is in desperate need for spring! We already had those first little teasers warming the heart, however the season transition, as often, is like the dancing procession of Echternach: three steps forward and two steps back! Spring definitely keeps us hanging on…

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first signs of Spring hanging like festive garlands in the garden

Erratic as the weather and moody as my temper, this post jumps from cold to warm and from grey to colour, keeping in mind patience is always rewarded!

Speaking of patience, it took me a while to start blogging again, not out of lack of inspiration, more due to some health issues that keep hanging on themselves. There are days where all energy goes to getting through the day, but that’s another story…a little extra solar boost would definitely recharge my batteries!

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Crisp cold mornings on the nearby corn field, in search for some colour, my hunt was rewarded!

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As if someone carefully displayed them like in a giftbox…

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…and no gift without a wrap around it!

Meanwhile in our garden colours start to shift and the pale and earthy tones are joined by some welcome bright returning guests…

Hibiscus knobs

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rosehip
Rosehip

Like the airy plumes of the miscanthus below, resting in the wind and bringing fluffiness and spark am sure this slowly ignites nature’s transformation…

Miscanthus fluffy plumes

…to full spring days and a total explosion of life and colour all around, with playful bird tunes announcing the start of a fresh new day. In our garden the crocusses and daffodils are the first colourful guests, followed by some snowdrops and later on bluebells

I’ll settle with the crocusses for now and am living in hope as with the start of a new season maybe I get that reboot too 😉 The party garlands in the hazel tree are hanging in place…time to get this party started!

Ingrid

xxx

Crash and reboot, the chronic back pain tales

Making notes for this post I wasn’t even sure if I would ever publish it…it’s not a ‘happy’ topic, but it’s part of who I am, right, so why not?! I promise it will not be a depressive or even too long post!

Just to fill in the blanks for those who do not know me, or those who didn’t know that part of me yet: I have been a chronic back pain sufferer for more than thirty years now after several surgeries between the age of 14 and 19. I take tons of medication daily, have regular treatments in pain clinic and stopped working years ago as physically no longer manageable though I left many tears for giving up my job, and still do.

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Daily meds

End of story right, take your meds, physio once in a while, lots of resting, respecting the boundaries…oooh I wish it was that simple!

I have a lot of radiating pains, to my legs, to my arms and neck and sometimes to my head leading to migraine. I call them my ‘attacks’: they vary in severeness and in duration, from a few hours to two days. They come on top of the usual daily pains I have and to which I have grown accustomed. They start at random, not triggered by anything specific, though I should not start vacuum cleaning the whole house😉, I can only do one room, or cleaning windows, etc,…things I have all learnt to work around or find other solutions for.

My days are planned based on how I feel, after doing groceries I rest, I sometimes leave them downstairs to unpack half an hour later because I need to lie down first. When cooking dinner I start my preparation in the afternoon so I can rest before doing the actual cooking, that means if dinner is something more elaborate than just cooking pasta! I split up nearly every activity, so I can rest in between. When having a party or invitation by friends or family we try to avoid two evenings in a row, as I know that is asking for trouble. When I know in advance we go out, the schedule is extra cleared the days in advance and resting is doubled. Luckily I have two lovely, understanding men in my life and here in the house helping me out, my husband and son, I honestly would not know what I would do or who I would be in all this without them! I feel blessed with the lovely friends, family and neighbours stopping by concerned and offering their help, so warms the heart!

Though I have learnt these attacks don’t last, every single time they knock me out big time, it’s not only my body that crashes, it’s a mental thing too and takes time and a lot of inner power to reboot every time again, over and over again. Sometimes I’m lucky and I am only overrun by such an attack once every two weeks, sometimes it’s two in one week!
During those attacks, depending on their severeness, visualisation usually helps me…oooh the beaches I’ve been on, and mountain streams, feet in the splashing water, or recalling happy memories from past holidays…I have a happy song too that goes over and over in my head: Katrina and the Waves’ Walking on Sunshine😀how bizarre is that, but it helps…

The most difficult thing still is to let go: letting go of the plans made for that day or evening, my social world has already been reduced and changed, so I do want to hold on and cherish the people and the things I still have or can do but on the attack days I have no choice: it’s letting go, hoping for better hours, days to come, finding that inner strength to reboot again and focus on the many things I can still enjoy like cooking and baking, reading, gardening, photography, holiday planning and dreaming, making new friends, so once I’m up and running again, well, figuratively, don’t it feel good!

Ingrid
Xxx

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Garden – Hebe Addenda

It’s an Antwerp thing!

Every year on the 15th of August the historical centre of Antwerp forms the decor for the ‘Rubensmarkt’. More than 200 stalls with food, drinks, clothing, flowers, etc…so far nothing exceptional, I know, but what makes this Rubensmarkt so special is the traditional aspect linked to it: the stall owners are all dressed in baroque costumes and they seem to have just stepped out of one of Rubens’s paintings!DSC03905

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15th of August being a public holiday here in Belgium, celebrating Assumption of Mary you can expect big crowds, especially as Antwerp throws in a second celebration that day! Due to a pamphlet written in 1913 by artist Louis Van Kuyck declaring that day a ‘day of all mothers’. Over the years the rest of Belgium and Europe copied the Amercian tradition to celebrate in May, but here in Antwerp, well yess, we feel the need to be different, sorry 😉 In our Household we usually celebrate twice, you can’t have enough reasons to make your mum feel special and appreciated, right?!

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If you plan a trip to Antwerp in August one of these years, do try to enjoy one of the typical traditional markets like this one, add some sunshine and great company and you will have a fantastic day!

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Big, Bigger, Biggest

Yessss, we are starting off big! I know, bit ironic, on a blog with the emphasis on the joy in the little things, let me explain…we, that is my husband, son and me, just got back from a fantastic road trip cruising the Amercian southwest. We crossed four states, each having it’s own charm and around every bend another jaw dropping view…will save those stories and photos for later posts, so stay tuned!

What we always do when abroad and groceries are to be bought at some point, is visiting the local weekly market or supermarkets. I know, some people hate this part, but we actually love it! Drop us on a market in South of France or in this case the local Wallmart and you won’t hear us for the next hour or so! The abundance of new, to us unknown brands or other fragrances or varieties of well-known articles or, in this case, just be amazed by the size of the packaging!

I mean, who said size didn’t matter?!  

Do you like shopping abroad or is it just a necessity and do you keep your trips to the local deli, market or supermarket restricted to an absolute minimum when travelling?

Feel free to comment, send feedback or just say hello! Still in the process of starting up this blog, so thanks in advance for your patience with this newbie in blog town!

Ingrid