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Trip 27 -- Malta and Gozo Walks

Malta day 6: St. Julian's to Valletta
Monday, August 16, 2021

Today: 14341 steps/10.31 km/6.41 mi/2h 12m
Total: 150352 steps/112.75 km/70.06 mi/22h 19m

I climbed up out of St. Julian's as the cleanup from last night continued: the washing of the streets of the Paceville club scene, particularly the narrow staircase called Triq Santa Rita with bars lining both sides and a boxing machine for the drunk to release their energy with their fists if they would not get to by other means. I'd walked along it last night, realizing I was twice as old as everyone else and attracting only the attention of the escorts of the gentleman's clubs, who figured that even a waddling man with aching feet and shoes that had been sprayed by a sandstorm must be more likely to part with money than twenty-year-olds staying in hostels. One place offered 72 shots for €24.90.

I followed the waterfront promenade around Spinola Bay and the posh peninsula of Sliema, which had several mini-peninsulas protruding from itself. Valletta was straight across the harbor and a ferry could have gotten me there, but that's for another time. I was reminded of my drive around Iceland, where the only way along the coast was to follow the road around each fjord.

There was no altitude gain until the final approach to Valletta, but my feet were having a rough day. They were complaining in unfamiliar ways, perhaps because of the past few days' ups and downs. This morning I'd released a blister on my right heel that was more voluminous than some grapes I've eaten. And the bottoms of my left middle toes were stubbornly sore.

My doing laundry while wearing a set of clothes in Victoria meant that I had to do it again, and Bluwash was the place in Valletta. It was an excellent concept executed for maximum inconvenience: self-serve machines, with soap already loaded, that cost €8 and took only coins. On the unstaffed premises was a bill changer that was out of service -- perpetually so, according to the reviews.

I'd intended to start the machine, check in to my hotel, and then collect my clothes, but instead I had to get change from the reception desk. The Vincent, almost at the tip of the Valletta peninsula, was situated in a 404-year-old building with a spiral staircase reminiscent of the type found in church towers. My windows were the kind where you push them out from the bottom and secure them open with hooks and, if you're a grandmother who's lived there for decades, hang your washing out to dry and shout at your neighbors across the narrow alley. The room itself was modern, with a kitchenette and walls painted to evoke the Mediterranean, which was the name of the room. This was an appealing hotel.

I had a fantastic ftira (sourdough sandwich) filled with pulled duck and then examined the archeological museum, where they store all the little stuff associated with the megalithic temples and other sites. And some of it is among the oldest manmade stuff anywhere: animal figurines from 5000 BC, the time of the earliest arrivals from Sicily. The museum also explained, to some extent, those mysterious cart ruts -- how some are half a meter deep -- but we still don't know what kind of vehicles were driven along them, and if we did, the archeologist said, wouldn't they be less interesting?

I brought my laundry back to Bluwash, only to discover that not only did the machines take only coins; they took only denominations of one euro or fifty cents. And a couple of mine were two euros.

The bar I found two blocks away, near the top of a staircase that provided access to, among other things, the St. Paul Shipwreck Church, had room for me to sit for 45 minutes before its first dinner seating -- enough time to have them change my coins for more-appropriate ones, drink a couple of "Blue Lagoon" cocktails (lemonade with vodka and blue Curaçao), and wait through the wash cycle. I didn't bother with the dryers; I was too frustrated with the whole system (why don't they take credit cards?). I had romantic notions of hanging the clothing from the windows, but the surfaces were dirty enough that I sprawled them out over the couch instead.

Opposite Malta's courts in Valletta is a statue of humans representing faith, fortitude, and civilization. Since October 16, 2017, when the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered for her research and exposition of Malta's corruption, it has been a memorial to her. Candles are lit and flowers are left daily, and daily they are removed.

On the 16th of every month, a vigil is held; it has now been 200 weeks since her assassination. Tonight's event, the first in person in 14 months because of the pandemic, drew a couple hundred people to hear speeches from Occupy Justice, the agency acting on her behalf. Among the speakers was Manuel Delia, a close friend of Daphne and one of the authors of "Murder on the Malta Express."

I started among the standing crowd but soon sat at a table in the adjacent cafe, which served the dual purposes of relieving my feet and replenishing my stash of change -- further depleted when they came around for donations to support justice for Daphne -- via a €6.50 negroni. The speeches were virtually all in Maltese (I detected the mention of Ruth Bader Ginsburg), but I joined in the periodic applause, and I stood with everyone and held the two-finger peace and victory sign as the Maltese national anthem was played at the end. Over the harbor, fireworks and cannons marked whatever was being celebrated today.

I walked down Strait Street, Valletta's bar-festooned alley that stretches for several blocks and is marked by strung red lights. I found dinner outside at a restaurant whose glacial service would have been contemptible had it not been for the jazz band next door, comprising a clarinetist and bass clarinetist, a violinist, and a drummer, and then I repaired to Strait Street, where the bars' variety of purpose left me feeling less out of place than in Paceville.

Go on to Malta day 7