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My travel plan was to leave on October 27th for Malta and Sicily and return the same year, on November 27th. My passport expired on January 15th the next year, but it had to be valid until January 27th, three months following my departure date of October 27th   for the passport to be valid for my trip. I was missing 12 days

Here’s my story: I arrived at the Ottawa airport at about 2:30 pm on Oct. 27th, in plenty of time for a 4:00 pm flight to Toronto and an international flight from Toronto at 8:00 pm to Paris, then on to Valletta, Malta. While trying to get my boarding pass at the self-serve counter, an ominous note came up on the screen: “Please proceed to the counter for assistance.”

The woman at the Air Canada counter was clear, “You’re not going anywhere until you have a valid passport. There’s a Passport Centre on Meadowlands, which isn’t far from here, you could try to get it renewed.” With baggage and knapsack in hand, I took a taxi to the Passport Centre, got a new photo, filled out the two-page questionnaire, called a friend who was available as a reference (plus her brother).

Could I please be fast-tracked through the passport line-up as I had a 5:00 pm flight to Toronto. “Nope, take a number and get in line.” In tears, I waited for my number to be called. I needed moral support, so called my friend who had acted as a reference. She said, “Don’t give up, you’re going to make it.” Finally they called my number with a passport that was renewed for ten years at a cost of $250.

The clerk warned me, “Don’t sign the passport until you get to the airport, the ink will smear.”A taxi got me to the airport too late for my 4:00 pm flight, but I was able to book the last seat on a 5:00 pm flight to Toronto. Once there, we were delayed15 minutes on the tarmac. Yes, I was sweating bullets, but finally made it to the departure lounge for my 8:00 pm flight to Paris, a flight that was delayed by 20 minutes…

About passports: The same three-month rule applies to 26 European countries; A valid passport is required for three months from date of departure. For many other destinations it is six months after date of departure. Go to https://travel.gc.ca/ for more info on passports and travel abroad for Canadians.

Here are some travel tips for Malta and Sicily:

Valletta, Malta: I stayed at the Osborne Hotel, a three-star hotel which is centrally located in Valletta. Check out the positive reviews for this hotel, praising its great location, wonderful breakfast, roof-top terrace and amenable staff. From the hotel, a five-minute walk takes you to the central bus station where, for just over $10 Canadian, you get a one-week bus pass. Buses depart from this central station all day long to all the important tourist sites on the island. It is hardly worth it to rent a car here on Malta with such a practical service to get around.

The history of Malta is fascinating with several centuries of it related to the Knights of St. John.

The Knights of St. John did not originate on Malta. The order was founded in Jerusalem in the 11th century. After the fall of Jerusalem in the late 13th century the Knights built an island fortress on Rhodes, after their defeat by the Ottomans in 1522 they arrived in Malta in 1530. The Knights of St. John, in exchange for one Maltese falcon per year, were allowed to occupy the Maltese Islands by Roman Emperor Charles V. The Great Siege of 1565 occurred in Valletta with the invasion by the Turks. The Knights of St. John won this incredible battle even though they were outnumbered.

The order of the Knights of St. John fell into decline in the 17th and 18th centuries and in 1798 they were ousted by the French. The Knights of St. John continue to function mainly as a charitable organization with branches throughout the world. You will find many places throughout the islands related to the Knights of St. John and their history.

More facts about Malta: Human settlement dates back to about 5200 BC and maybe as early as 7200 BC in the Ghar Dalam Caves. Malta is also home to a fascinating temple that goes back to 3600 BC.

During World War 11 Malta  was the most bombed place on earth when 6,700 tons fell in six weeks. The brave Maltese were all awarded the George Cross in 1942 for heroism and bravery.

Where to stay in Valletta and what to do on the Island

I stayed at the Osborne Hotel, a centrally located, three-star hotel. Check out the positive reviews for this hotel, praising its great location, wonderful breakfast, roof-top terrace and amenable staff. I advise staying in Valletta for several reasons. From the hotel, for example, a five-minute walk takes you to the central bus station where, for just over $10 Canadian, you get a one-week bus pass. Buses depart from this central station all day long to all the important tourist sites on the island. It is hardly worth it to rent a car here on Malta with such a practical service to get around. Plus, in Valletta itself there are so many not-to-be-missed historical sites:

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St. John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John’s Co-Cathedral, is considered to be one of the finest examples of high Baroque architecture in Europe and one of the world’s great cathedrals. It still belongs to the Knights of Malta; it has the famous painting “the beheading of St. John the Baptist” by Caravaggio; 400 knights are buried there.

Go on a treasure hunt of the seven original Auberges in Vallettta that housed the various “Langues” of the Order of the Knights of St. John. The Auberge de Castile currently houses the offices for the government of Malta and the offices of the Prime Minister; it originally housed the langue of Castile, León  and Portugal. What was originally the Auberge d’Italie is now the site of the Grandmaster’s Palace on St. George’s Square and houses the Office of the President of Malta and the House of Representatives, as well as being a heritage site run by Heritage Malta. Part of it is The Armoury, which runs the width of the back of the palace and houses one of the finest collections of weapons of the period of the Knights of Malta, including spears, swords, shields and heavy armour.

The National Museum of Archaeology is housed in what was the Auberge de Provence, a fine example of Baroque architecture, it was built in 1571. The Lower and Upper Barrakka Gardens where you have wonderful views of the harbour. The Old Hospice built by the Knights of St. John in Valletta

Take a ride in a dgħajsa (pronounced dysa in Maltese) a traditional water taxi, to tour the harbour. The design of the Dgħajsa possibly dates back to Phoenician times.
Our Lady of Victory Church was the first building completed in Valletta, built and funded by Grand Master Jean de Valette to celebrate the victory over the Turks in 1565.
The Old Hospice built by knights of St. John. The National Museum of Fine Arts is Malta’s major museum for the visual arts. It houses a collection of works by Maltese and foreign artists mainly representing the major European artistic styles.

Outside of Valletta

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The Sleeping Lady

An absolute must is a visit to the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum (in a town called Paolo, a bus from Valletta will take you there) an underground burial chamber carved from solid rock and built starting in 3600 BC. Visitors must reserve well in advance to visit this chamber, as it is limited to a few groups per day.The ‘Sleeping Lady’ dating back to 3000 BC was found here and is on display in the National Museum of Archaeology. Tarxien Temple site also in Paola consist of a complex of four megalithic structures built between 3600 and 2500 BC. Discovered in 1913 by local farmers, the site was extensively excavated between 1915 and 1919,

Temple Site Hagar Qim Temple site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, inscribed as part of ‘The Megalithic Temples of Malta’. Another nearby temple site is the Mnajdra Temple. All these sites are “an outstanding example of a type of building which illustrates a significant stage in human history.”

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Mdina

A visit to Mdina, a fortress city, walled off by the Arabs, is Malta’s most hauntinhgly beautiful city, the site of St. Paul/s Cathedral. The beautiful Blue Grotto is a number of sea caverns on the south coast of Malta in the village of Qrendi.

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Mdina

Marsaxlokk is a traditional fishing village located in the south-eastern part of Malta and known for its large Sunday Market which takes place around the whole village, a great place to visit. There are over 360 churches and chapels scattered throughout the islands, a church for every day of the year.

The Għar Dalam caves has a history of their lowermost layers that date more than 500,000 years old, contained in the fossil bones of dwarf elephants, hippopotami, micro-mammals and birds among other species.  The top layer, or ‘cultural layer’, shows the earliest evidence of human settlement on Malta, 7,400 years ago.

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