Monday, April 10, 2017

Anniversary Vacation Notes 2017: Day 10: 2/25: Saturday: Claye-Soilly, France

And on the day after the night before, the sun shone bright. 

It was a long night of bobbing about in the water while the wind drove us in every direction, but by morning we rode on the calmest of seas, under the bluest of skies, greeted by the morning sun rising in the east. Our cruise ended as it began, on a delightfully sunny day in Marseilles.
            
Travelling light really paid-off when it came time to disembark. While most passengers had to wait for their luggage to be sorted out, we simply carried our few things, walked off the ship, and immediately set about finding our way back to the city and to the Gare St. Charles.

Getting off the ship early would prove to be a bonus. We hopped in the first taxi (the attendant at the stand swore they took credit cards), and we were on our way back to the train station, where we had reserved seats back to Paris. Naturally, when we got to the station the driver balked, and demanded cash. Merde! We paid from our dwindling Euro funds and entered the building.

It’s difficult to plan too tightly when you’re on a cruise. The ships aren’t always on time and sometimes the good people at customs get a little contrary, so we planned post-cruise travel with a lot of cushion. After a little shadow-boxing, maneuvering, and a kindly wave to the front of the line, though, we were able to move up our passage to Paris by several hours.

For the record, the high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, French for "Damn Fast Train") zips along at about 200 mph. The trip from Marseilles to Paris, with a few stops thrown in, takes about three hours -- over the same distance that required overnight passage on the normal train going the other direction. 

We arrived in Gare de Lyon, on the east side of the city, right on schedule. We had come equipped with some semblance of a plan. Though our plane wouldn't depart Charles De Gaulle airport until Sunday morning, we were still in a bit of a rush to get back to Paris. Nope, it wasn't for the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, or the Mona Lisa. None of that. Our actual destination was the little town of Claye-Soilly.

What does Claye-Soilly have that Paris lacks? It ain't the Carrefour. No, Claye-Soilly provided a chance to get together again with members of my family, most of whom I hadn’t seen in over twenty years.

But we weren’t just dropping in from eight thousand miles away. We had the phone number of one of my cousins, who was expecting our call. All we had to do was dial, say hello, and then let her know what time we expected to arrive at the nearby station of Blanc-Mesnil. 

But it was in the Gare de Lyon that we discovered that making a phone call, via wifi, would be more of a problem than anticipated. It seemed simple enough: Just find wifi access in a major transportation hub. The Gare de Lyon did offer free public wifi, but for some reason it balked at making our phone connection. As if the phone problem wasn’t bad enough, the scamming taxi-driver who had taken most of our change in Marseilles had precipitated an even bigger crisis. The only toilets in the Gare de Lyon were pay toilets. Scrounging and dancing we were eventually able to pull together adequate coinage for a brief visit.

We walked around the station, seeking the best wifi. Eventually we found an area that at least allowed us to dial through. I called my cousin’s number. This time the phone actually rang. 

 “Hello,” she said. 

 “Hello,” I said. Actually, I probably said “Bonjour,” but with my accent who could tell? 

 “Hello?” she said again.

 Zut! She could not hear me! 

 I hung up and re-dialed. Voila! This time she could hear me but I suspect only barely. I could hear her only in little chop-chop phrases. Hoping we’d communicated adequately, we left the main station for the metro. There would be a little train-hopping but it wasn't terribly complicated. Before long, we exited the underground and were on our way to our rendezvous (See how I worked in my entire French vocabulary, there?)

To be truthful the train to le Blanc-Mesnil does not always travel through the best parts of town, and I was concerned that if my message had not been understood, we could be walking around a long time looking for wifi or telephone access. 

Luckily, those concerns turned out to be unfounded. We were met at the top of the platform by mes cousins I**** and B****.  

I have to admit, this meeting had me a little worried, mostly because I believe I suffer from a condition known as prosopagnosia, sometimes simply referred to as stupid. But again, my concerns were unfounded. I knew I**** and B**** immediately. It was though only twenty minutes had passed, not twenty years.

 After taking care of a little bit of business, I**** and B**** drove us to their home. We met their son for the first time, and he turned out to one of those spectacular teenagers who gives you hope for the future of humanity. Eventually other family members arrived and we sat at the dinner table enjoying the several courses of a memorable French meal, a little bit of wine, and a little bit of champagne. We talked a bit about the past and of the present. We even speculated some about the future. We talked about those not with us, and the possibility of owning a tiny little property out in the countryside—in a castle, of course. Too soon, and as always without not enough warning, the night came to an end.

 My wife and I were prepared for anything for the evening: a couple of lawn chairs, a corner to crawl up in, these would all have been fine.

 However, our French family had found us a room at the inn. (Ha, ha, Inn. It was a great hotel, brand new and near the airport.) After everyone had departed for the evening, I*** and B*** drove us to the hotel, where we bid each other fond adieus, and the evening was complete.

 It’s funny. There were so many fantastic things we saw and did on this trip. It was the first time we had seen Genova, Palermo, Malta, and Barcelona. We’d never seen the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I still feel bad about missing our lunch date with the Pope, but we never actually told him we were coming anyway. But in spite of all the undeniably great stuff that happened, our fondest memory of this trip is the evening we spent in Claye-Soilly. 

After a short rest in a wide bed, followed by a hot shower in the morning, our anniversary vacation would be over.

Sunday morning, we took the hotel shuttle to Charles De Gaulle airport. I guess anytime you can say that a flight was unmemorable that means you had a good flight. We arrived in Philadelphia with a four-hour layover. I had hoped that the long layover would allow us to shoot over to New Jersey for a quick hello, but after customs, and the time it would take to check out and then back in, plus the time to get a rental car and then drive, even in light traffic—all of a sudden four hours was not as much time as it once seemed.

 After a seriously disappointing airport-quality Geno’s cheese-steak, we made our connecting flight to Seattle. Another smooth, albeit packed-in-like-sardines, flight, and we arrived in Seattle a little after 10:00 pm.  Our daughter picked us up at SeaTac airport and we rode home, tired, grateful, and full of grandiose ideas about our next adventure!







Saturday, April 8, 2017

Anniversary Vacation Notes 2017: Day 9: 2/24: Friday: Barcelona

               I'm told there are days when the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, but on this particular day all the rain in Spain was mainly in Barcelona. It takes more than an overcast sky and a little bit of rain, or even this torrential downpour, though, to darken a day for Seattle habitués.
                Fortunately for the cruising crowd, Barcelona has decided to embrace the daily influx of visitors by creating an entirely new section of the Port of Barcelona specifically to handle cruise-ship habitués. (You find a good word; you work it!)

                We disembarked directly onto a covered walkway, sheltered from the storm, then descended by elevator to a greeting (i.e. customs) area. Instead of the usual queue crowding through a narrow passageway, there was a broad space where passengers could congregate with their various excursion groups. A nearby help-desk offered maps and advice for visitors. Just outside the main doors the buses waited: charter buses for the excursions and ordinary buses for the rest of us. Because we famously don't plan ahead, we boarded one of the ordinary buses for the short trip from the dock to a central Port area just beyond the shoreline.

                It’s possible that this central area had an actual proper name, but we never learned it, and Google maps has not been any help in this quest. I can say that it lies to the east, just across from the Mirador de Colon, the literal translation of which means “Viewpoint of Colon,” but that fails to convey that fact that this almost 200-foot-tall (60-meter) monolith, topped with a giant pointing man, is a monument to Christopher Columbus. The monument sits in the center of a traffic circle, perhaps to allow pedestrians to relive the terror felt by the indigenous Western folk as they watched Columbus and his crew stomp ashore.

                Even before the cruise had begun we knew that we wanted to see the famous Barcelona Cathedral, also called the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. Once again we decided on the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus as our primary mode of transportation.

                We purchased our bus tickets in the plaza across from the Mirador de Colon, in front of the most architecturally impressive building we've ever seen without an ostentatious name. It looked like it should have once been a palace, or a grand hotel, but, apparently, it was merely the admin building of the Port of Barcelona.

                The bus stop was about a mile and a half (2 kilometers) away, near a site called the Centre Comercial Maremagnum, a large complex of stores situated on a man-made dock, currently on the other side of the water. We were told that the Centre Comercial Maremagnum is the only place in Barcelona where shops can remain open for business on Sundays and holidays. Apparently being on a made-made island, rather than on solid earth, is all the legal loophole they needed.

                Our location on solid earth was connected to the Centre Comercial Maremagnum by the Rambla de Mar, an uncovered half-bridge, half-quay pedestrian-only walkway. A walk over the water in a light rain just felt like a very Seattleite thing today. 
               
                We had to wait only a few minutes for our bus. We boarded and began our journey to the cathedral.

                The bus dropped us off very close to our destination at the Placa d'Antoni Marua, directly across from the Avenue de la Catedral, which would lead us to the cathedral. While it’s true that the rain-gods may not have been looking down on us favorably on this day, the car-gods more than made up the slight.

                In the middle of the plaza outside the cathedral we happened upon a car show, with some pretty spectacular European vehicles. There were rally cars, race cars, classic cars, and more than a few home-grown Seats—the Spanish-made automobiles, not the furniture.
                After several minutes of ogling, and indulging in some auto-lust, we headed up the stairs to the cathedral entrance.
                We’ve visited several cathedrals over the years. Some, such as Notre Dame, are majestically dark, where even the smallest nook is filled with artistic masterpieces, but the overall effect is a brooding solemnity. More common in Italy, and especially in St. Peters, is the over-adornment, the bright colors and artwork that attempt to infuse life into the inanimate.
                The Barcelona Cathedral was neither of these. I’d have to say that my first impression of the Barcelona Cathedral was one of enormity. It was huge, and it was also dark, but not cave-like. Where Italy has a brilliance of gold and color, and France mixes gold and stone, the breathtaking woodwork in Barcelona is an array of earth-tones. Carved wood masterworks are featured throughout.

                I don’t mean to suggest that the church is in any way plain. The chapels surrounding the perimeter of the cathedral are all more than adequately appointed with gold leaf, statuary, and paintings that compete with the masters of the Vatican.

                Outside the right arm of the cathedral is a cloister with several alcoves. Most feature sculptures that, if they don’t quite measure up to Michelangelo, don't lack their own beauty. Some of the alcoves are actual burial places, while one is a souvenir shop. In the center of the cloisters is a fountain with several geese who appear to be permanent residents.

                We wound up spending much more of the day than anticipated at the cathedral. We were perhaps less than ten minutes from leaving when I spotted a man tucked away in a corner, dressed in ordinary clothing and sitting by a folding table with a small change box. Behind him was a narrow door with a small sign promising a trip to the rooftop. It’s not every day that you get to go on the roof of a cathedral in Barcelona. We paid the fee and entered the coffin-sized elevator that led to the top.
                I imagine that on a clear day you could see almost forever. This was not a clear day, yet the view was spectacular. Interesting, too, was the fact that there was maintenance work underway, and the roof was being re-tiled. I suppose maintenance is not something I’ve ever associated with buildings that have been standing for centuries; for some reason I’d imagined they maintained themselves all on their own. Now I see, quite sensibly, that it's probably an unending chore.

                After gazing over the glories of the city, we eventually left the cathedral and ventured back out onto the Avenue de la Caterdal with its immense plaza, auto show, sidewalk cafes, and pedestrian walkways.

                The rain stayed at a steady drizzle, so we decided to explore a little more on foot. The area surrounding the cathedral consisted of pedestrian walkways lined with shops both local and international.
               
                We wandered into a walkway, slightly north-west of the cathedral, named the Carrer de la Palla, where we found what appeared to be a promising rooftop restaurant. However, the path to the restaurant led through a head-shop that prominently featured every shape, size, and type of drug paraphernalia imaginable. By the time we reached the stairs the rain had intensified, and it took only a slight glance upward to confirm that eating outdoors was an idea best put off to another day.

                We continued walking and happened upon a small restaurant offering tapas and beer! How could we go wrong? It turns out we couldn’t.
               
                When someone says tapas, the first thing that comes to my Pacific Northwest mind is Spanish sushi. I ordered accordingly, expecting small samples of various dishes. In this I was very wrong. In Barcelona, at least at El Nuo Pi Antic, tapas is Spanish for generous serving of great food served, where appropriate, hot.
               
                After a satisfying lunch we headed in the general direction of the cathedral, likely walking in semi-circles, through walkways wide and narrow, sometimes emerging from a place we’d recently been. Eventually we did make it back to the cathedral, and to our bus. Somewhat exhausted, we stayed on the bus for the remainder of the tour of Barcelona, and didn't disembark until we’d returned someplace near the main Port.

                Naturally, the bus dropped us off at a location we had never seen. The way back to the ship wasn’t clear. Still too early to panic we made a few false moves -- for instance, attempting to board the wrong bus. Eventually we did get it right and made it back to cruise port, where we caroused a bit in the shops. This turned out to be a good thing because it wasn’t until we were about to board the ship that I remembered my daughter’s only request: a keychain from Barcelona. We went back made the purchase and re-boarded the ship, not early, but not in danger of being left behind.

                                                          * * *

                The MSC Splendida is over a thousand feet long, holds almost 4,000 passengers and weighs nearly 140,000 tons. I mention this because you don’t see a ship this size and imagine that it’s about to be tossed around like a paper kite.  I especially never considered this bouncing about could happen in the Mediterranean Sea, which is only the Strait of Gibraltar away from being nothing a big lake.  But that is exactly what happened. Apparently, the rain in Spain had only been the very edge of a huge storm which had situated itself between us and Marseilles.

                All night the winds blew and we could feel the ship rock. Around midnight, crew members were knocking on doors to confirm that all balcony doors were securely locked. If I feared for my life, it soon became apparent that I feared for my lack of sleep even more. I closed my eyes wondering how much roll was built into these vessels. Apparently enough. As far as we could tell, nobody fell off the ship the entire night.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Anniversary Vacation Notes 2017: Day 8: 2/23 Thursday: Day at Sea

            The day at sea, as the name implies, is a day spent cruising from one location to the next. It’s a great time to make use of one of the several pools, lounge a bit, read and relax, and re-charge the batteries for the last hundred meters. What it is not is an interesting day to blog about. But that’s OK; even bloggers deserve a rest.

            We managed to spend most of the day at sea camped on our balcony working on small projects and staring at the Mediterranean. By sunset, we'd had quite enough of relaxing, so changed into civilian clothes and joined our regular dinner companions in one of the ship’s dining rooms. Dinner was, as always, an enjoyable affair. And after dinner things got a little interesting.

We’ve been on board all day, so there's no regrouping or preparation to occupy our evening. Instead, we spent the evening exploring as many entertainment venues as possible. Entertainment options are plentiful on a cruise ship. There are multiple lounges, coffee-shops, themed bars, and pool-side games next to actual pools! There is a casino on board and if you want to lose your money the old-fashioned way there are shops with $40 T-shirts and other outrageously over-priced items. This ship even has cigar lounge and a bowling lane.

            Neither of us being cigar enthusiasts, we decided to check out the more musical offerings. Our first stop was in the Centrum, unsurprisingly located in the center of the ship. The floor of the Centrum is on the 4th deck while the ceiling rises well above the lights to around the 14th deck. Footlights illuminate the bedazzled stairs and stage, blinding anyone who dares to look down from above. The piano man sat at the bedazzled piano. While I don’t remember if the piano man himself was bedazzled, it is a possibility.

The piano man played competent, middle-of-the-middle-of-the-road arrangements of classic-rock standards, killing any fond memories in the process. His back-up band was a laptop computer.

I might be harsh,
I might be crazy.
There was something ‘bout the way he played, I did not care.
He hit the notes,
It didn’t faze me,
He played all night,
Or so we’re told,
He did alright.

            We left the piano man to visit the “Purple Bar.” This is not a stage where Prince songs are played all night; it's more of a karaoke event where all the participants appear to be crew members on break. We considered staying for a bit, but just a few notes of the song being performed convinced us to keep on trucking to the next venue.

Our next stop was the jazz bar, which featured a pleasant-sounding jazz pianist. He was mellow. If you closed your eyes you could drift away in song. If you closed them too long you’d probably fall asleep. Occasionally this alternative piano man was accompanied by a guitarist, who would lay down a few smooth runs and then disappear for the next several numbers. As seemed to be the trend on board ship, the backup band was a laptop computer.

Our last stop of the evening was the final performance at the big theater. The big theater actually had a glitzy name I've already forgotten. I do remember the show, however, a medley of highlights from West Side Story. It was a competent production and in the dark nobody noticed I was sleeping.

The show ended around midnight, and though we had originally planned to return to the jazz bar, some combination of travel overdose and old age left me too tired for another round of smooth jazz. We decided to call it a night.

Barcelona is coming up next and between yawns we are excited about tomorrow. We’ve never been to Spain. We’d never been to Malta or Sicily before either, but this is Barcelona! In Spain! It doesn’t escape our attention that the closer we get to Spain the rougher the seas are becoming. Nevertheless we're going to sleep with noise from the wind steadily increasing, but confident that tomorrow will be an interesting day. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Anniversary Vacation Notes 2017: Day 7: 2/22: Wednesday: Valletta, Malta

Malta. It’s that tiny smudge on your computer monitor just below Sicily. Of course, I wasn’t always so well versed in geography. If someone had handed me a map a few months ago and tasked me with finding Malta, I’d have begun the search in the Pacific, around Australia. Today, I can smugly say that, yes, I know exactly where it is. And once you’ve located Malta, finding Valetta is easy. 


The official language spoken by the people of Malta is Maltavion. It’s hard to describe and for someone as linguistically challenged as myself. It’s even harder to enunciate. To my ears it sounds like a mix of Greek and Italian or maybe German, with Arabic roots. Luckily for the many mono-lingual tourists who visit this island nation every year, Malta is, or once was, a member of the British Commonwealth.  I’m not exactly sure what it means to be a Commonwealth nation, but for Malta it does mean that most people speak English and that cars are driven on the wrong side of the road.

We’ve been on several cruises and have come to expect some bureaucratic delays when it comes to getting off a ship. In spite of the fact that cruise ships show up one after the other and contribute significantly to the local economy, most local customs officials act as though they’ve been caught unaware when one shows up. The end result is that a 9:00AM departure can sometimes be delayed by as much as 60 minutes. Or, as was the case in Rome, actually the port city of Civitavecchia, up to 6 hours. Valletta turned out to be the exception to the rule. We were able to get off the ship almost immediately after docking.  

Wearing only a short-sleeved shirt, and of course pants and shoes and such, we walked through the terminal gates, without the need to push through the usual gaggle of vendors and headed straight to the stairway that led to the city. A little-used optional elevator was available to the left of the stairs. In hindsight, a light jacket would have been a good idea for those cooler moments when we weren’t bathed in sunlight.  

Using an approach we had taken previously, with varying degrees of success, our excursion plan was no plan.  Naturally, that’s not entirely true. We had checked the ship’s planned excursions and even Googled Malta in order to get a feel for what might be a plausible six-hour adventure. Similar to the brilliant plan that we had concocted for Palermo, we opted to use the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus as our primary means of transportation. Luckily, the bus-operations on Malta seemed more straight-forward than they had been in Palermo. 

The ride was pleasant, and we passed by many places that, given the time, we would have liked to have stopped at and actually visited. These included such stops as the San Anton Garden, Balzan, Ta’Qali Crafts Village and the Aviation Museum. However, we had already decided that the one place we didn’t want to miss was the Silent City of Mdina. That would be our first stop.  

The city of Mdina was founded around 700 B.C., so nobody remembers what happened to the missing vowel. We were able to hop-off the bus right outside the old-city walls, very near to the main entrance.

Almost immediately we were descended upon by the guided-tour, horse-drawn carriage drivers. Initially it seemed that sitting in a small carriage behind the back-end of a horse might be a fun thing to do. However, at a cost of 35 Euros, we decided it would be just as well to walk. But the drivers were not so easily discouraged by our dismissal.

“30 Euros,” they asked?

“No, 20 Euros,” we said.

“That’s crazy,” they said.

“OK, then” and we continued toward the gate.

“Wait, wait,” a voice called to us. “20 Euros. We’ll do it.”

Having unexpectedly won our haggling war we climbed aboard our carriage and began our ride into the Silent City.

            I’m not exactly sure why it’s called the silent city. It may be because there is a convent within its walls. That probably keeps some of the revelers at bay. Mdina also happens to be, mostly, a no-car zone, although there are some exceptions, near the main gate, where certain vehicles may enter for special purposes. Elsewhere in the city the roads are too narrow for a four-wheel, motorized vehicle. Even our horse was feeling claustrophobic at times.

Inside the walls there is no uncovered earth on which to walk on. Every available surface, with the exception of a few box-gardens, is paved, I believe with limestone, but I may be mistaken. In any event the “limestone” hasn’t flaked away. Instead the centuries of foot traffic have polished the stones to an almost glass-like finish. I image this place would be slicker than ice in even the slightest rain.

The city of Mdina may have been founded around 700 B.C. but, as is typical, what stands today is the end result of centuries of construction and growth. There are influences of Phoenicians, Byzantines, Arabs, and of course, the Knights of Malta. The knight’s main contribution was the wall than envelopes the city. Apparently the knights were unable to sleep at night without a big wall.

Typical of the older cities in the Mediterranean region are the narrow and labyrinthine streets. Once again we were informed of the necessity to design a town that would be difficult for pirates to plunder and even more difficult for them to escape. It would seem that all reliable sources agree, Mediterranean pirates were a real problem in the 19th century.
We thoroughly enjoyed our one-hour horse-drawn carriage tour, even if it did feel as though it ended 40 minutes short of an hour.  We learned more than a few fun facts and some useful ones too. Such as, what was where within the city walls and what did we want to re-visit. Once our driver had deposited us back to the point of origination we proceeded by foot back into the city.

From the standpoint of pointing out this landmark or that landmark, Mdina doesn’t really work. There is no Pieta, or Eiffel Tower. The city stands on its own, as a testament of itself. After all, it’s a place that has survived for over 24 centuries. And what makes that even more impressive is that Mdina is not a city in ruins. It is very much alive—or at least as alive as a small walled-in city with a convent can be. Within the walls there are two cathedrals, a convent and the bishop’s residence. There is also the usual assortment of souvenir shops, small restaurants, cafes, at least one tavern, and a five-star hotel—as rated by the carriage driver. There are also a handful of permanent or reasonably-permanent residents.
We entered the courtyard of the Bishop’s residence. From there you could enter St. Paul’s Cathedral or the cathedral museum. The cathedral and the museum each had their own entry fees, and neither allowed photographs. We did enter into the foyer of the cathedral museum, but that’s as far as we went. We may have been persuaded to surrender cash if either had allowed photographs.

Our decision not to enter St. Paul’s was validated just a few short meters where, adjacent to the convent, was the Church of the Annunciation. Admission was free AND they allowed photography.

Of course, we can’t know for sure but I suspect that the Church of the Annunciation was no less stunning than St. Paul’s may have been. As a bonus we have the photographs to make our case! There were a few signs posted inside the Church of the Annunciation indicating that there was ongoing restoration. It’s possible that the cathedral was structurally unsound and about to collapse on our heads, but we saw no signs of damage, nor any indication that any restoration work was underway.

Officially the Church of the Annunciation’s design is Baroque.  In a way, Baroque simply means gaudy, but the craftsmanship on display, from murals to statues is of such high quality that one is overwhelmed by the beauty and ignores the otherwise over-stuffed aspect. Prominent within Church of the Annunciation is a carved wooden frame, lightly gilded. Also a statue of Our Lade of Mt. Carmel is prominently displayed.

After being sufficiently awe-struck in the Church of the Annunciation we poked around a few gift shops, where a few significant purchases were made.  We stopped for lunch in a hidden café. I say hidden because in order to get there you walked through the front entryway of what appeared to be a centuries old forerunner to a New York City apartment building. The café occupied a courtyard that was open to the sky, as well as an interior space in the far side for the building. We had a fine lunch at the restaurant, although I’m not sure that restaurant is the correct term to use for this establishment. The menu was very limited: a few drink choices, bread, cheese, and eggs.  Perhaps there’s a different menu in the evening.

I can only hope that I am not making Mdina sound dull. We spent the majority of our Malta time in the Silent City.  While we realized that there is so much more to see and do in Malta, when you only have a few hours to spend, you need to make choices. I think it’s safe to say that we don’t regret a minute spent in Mdina, although it would have been nice to visit places like the Azure Window, a famous natural limestone formation that collapsed into the sea only days after we’d left.

Perhaps Mdina is known as the silent city because you fail to hear time passing by while you’re within its walls. By the time we boarded the bus, the better part of the day was behind us. We might possibly make one more stop and end with a mad-dash for the ship, or we could end our day in Malta in a more relaxed manner. We chose the latter. We found seats on the upper, open portion of the bus to take advantage of the warm sunshine on the ride back to the dock. Unlike the bus tour in Palermo this bus ride covered a wide swath of the island affording us a scenic, even if only a flyby, tour.

We arrived near enough to the dock and with enough time remaining to enjoy a leisurely walk along the sea-side roadway. There were a few diversions; a school bus converted into a souvenir shop was one. There were also shops devoted to local craftworks. Shopkeepers seem to be particularly proud of the Valletta Glass-Works.  The quality and variety of items on display, from figurines inside glass bubbles to multi-colored lamps, would seem to justify their pride.

And this is where we end our trip to Malta. We descended the stairs connecting Valletta to the dock. Tomorrow will be a day at sea as we head towards Barcelona!