Towns / Cities Visited: 176
Countries Visited: 30
Steps Taken Today: 14,420
Steps Taken Around the World: 4,253,578
We awoke to our final day in Gozo with a mix of eager anticipation and bittersweet sadness. With simultaneously heavy and light hearts we packed our bags, and before heading out I placed the gift for my friend’s mother on the kitchen bench, along with a card I had written. I would later receive a message from him, once more surprised by the fact I remembered what he had told me his mother liked more than a year previous: a bottle of Bailey’s and a poinsettia to help brighten their home for the Christmas season. People always seem to act like gift giving is a difficult and complicated task, when really the only trick to it is active listening.
Bidding farewell to the little apartment, we hopped into the car. There was a full day ahead of us, and we would be spending most of it exploring a couple of the historic sites of the Gozitan town of Xagħra. First off though, we had to run a slightly strange errand, we had to head to a nearby hotel to get our boarding passes for the next day’s flight printed, thanks to a tip from Angelina that they would be able to help us out even though we weren’t staying with them. It still boggles the mind that Ryanair insist on self-printed boarding passes, as though everyone frequently travels with a printer on hand. Now, don’t let anyone tell you that Maltese people don’t know the finer points of hospitality, the lady at reception was not only incredibly kind and efficient in getting them printed, she also refused to accept any remuneration for the trouble.
Tedious morning errand out of the way, it was time for adventure, and after a short drive we were pulling into a parking space right out the front of our first destination, the Ta’ Kola Windmill. Dating back to 1725, but rebuilt in the 1780’s, this historic little grain grinder was an addition under the Order of Saint John. Although it no longer functions as a working mill, it does hold within it a fascinating little museum, and it was this which we stepped inside to view.
The bottom storey contains a wealth of information about three of the major commodities Malta has produced over the centuries: wheat, wine, and olives. The perfect selection of items to enjoy in the warm afternoon Maltese sun, right? There are also a large array of historic tools and gadgets from other important past industries of the nation, mainly leather and ironworking, but also baking. Fun fact: during the rule of the Order of Saint John, the Order used to purchase all of the grain from the farmers and sell it back to the people at a fixed price to ensure that everyone had enough to eat. Unfortunately, when the British took over, they deregulated it, resulting in a spike in prices and many of the poorer residents being forced to go without. Call me socialist scum if you want, but capitalism is not always all its cracked up to be.
The upper level has been restored to show how the last miller would have lived within the confines of the mill. This man, Guzeppi Grech, is actually a rather fascinating man, having fought in Gallipoli, emigrated to Australia, and returned to Gozo after his father’s death in order to run the mill in 1926. Not only that, but during World War II, when fuel for steam powered mills was in short supply, his running if this traditional wind powered version was what kept the majority of Gozitans from going hungry. Furnished with period appropriate pieces, the neatly laid out kitchen, dining room, and bedroom, really help give a sense of what living in this minute space would have been like. The only thing missing is the sound which would have come from the whir of the grinding stones, the originals of which still sit in place on the central mill. We had been to windmills in the Netherlands, but whereas they were used to pump water, this was the first time I has seen the inner workings of a mill actually used for milling grain, and as someone who’s job often relies heavily on milled flours, it was of particular interest for me to see how it used to be produced traditionally.
With our exploration of the mill complete, it was only a short walk across town to our other destination, the Ġgantija temples. Arriving at the visitor centre, we wandered in, flashing out Heritage Malta passes one final time. Seriously, if you’re going to spend time delving into Malta’s history during your visit, do yourself a favour and grab one of these bad boys.
Now, like the good students we are, we took the time to thoroughly study the museum before heading out to the site itself, and given the plethora of information and artefacts contained here, it was time well spent. The site is more than 5500 years old, making it the second oldest manmade religious structure in the world: an impressive feat for this tiny little Mediterranean island. Not only did the exhibits here explain when and why the temples were built, and by whom, it also went into detail, as much as humanly possible given the historians are going off relics from 3600 BC, about what life in Neolithic Gozo may have looked like, from food, to fashion, and even diseases. Basically, anything you can make an educated guess on based on ancient skulls and stonework was covered. Also, for those of you who are interested in linguistics and folklore, the name Ġgantija translates roughly to ‘Giantess’, and legend has it that a giantess who ate nothing but broad beans and honey bore a child with a man on the island, and with the child hanging from her shoulder she built this temple as a place of worship.
Lesson over, it was time for the practical portion of our education, and out the door we headed, along the boardwalk until we reached the ruins of our final Neolithic Maltese temple complex, which is made up of two temples which are joined but not interconnected. Coming at it from behind, where the unexpectedly tall and fairly complete rear wall stands, the entirety of its extent was masked from us until we rounded its flank. Given its age, and the amount of defacing and pillaging the Victorian era tourists inflicted on it, the temple remains remarkably well kept, erosion dimpled limestone aside. Sure, its roofless, the entrance is no longer intact, scaffolding buttresses large swathes of it, and an unsettling amount of its stone faces have 19th century graffiti carved into them, but if you have the will and imagination to look past that, there is much to be seen. Disregarding LTP’s insistence that they were there in 1840 and E.J. Chapelle’s claim of a 1867 visit, the original stone tables and circular holes aligning with the sun’s movements, along with Neolithic man’s clear aptitude in stone based Jenga, gives much more poignant features to focus on.
Learning is, as always, hungry work, and upon our departure from the site we took a short wander in search of sustenance, spying a little bakery and all agreeing that one last hurrah of Malta’s on point pastry products was the way to go. Sitting on a bench outside Xagħra’s church, we savoured our golden-brown treats in the warm afternoon sun, before darting across the road to the patisserie for a final scoop of lemon gelato, knowing full well that the following day would see us returning to a place equally as beautiful but with far less amicable early winter weather.
As reluctant as we were to admit it at this point, the time had unfortunately come to bid adieu to fair Gozo, and with that we typed the ferry terminal location into Google, and trundled off. Of course, Google seemed equally as reluctant to leave, especially given that its directions were absolutely atrocious, insisting we go down a road closed off in our direction, and offering no alternative route when we refused. In the end, with a little manual intervention, we managed to reach the terminal, buying our tickets and joining a line so long we could have sworn blind there was no physical way we were making it onto the next service. As it would happen though, neolithic Maltese people were not the only ones good at Jenga, it seems to be a birthright here. I don’t know how, but we managed to fit on the next ferry, albeit we were the second last car on, had to park at a hugely askew diagonal slant, and the ramp was mere inches from the boot by the time it closed. Still, we were on.
A pleasant jaunt of seafaring and we landed safe and sound on Malta’s shore once again, typing another, as we would later find out, ill-fated destination into Google: our Airbnb, located right near the airport so we could drop off the car that afternoon and save ourselves a little cash. Long story short, finding our desired location was painful to say the least, from attempts to turn us onto a one way merging lane in the opposite direction, to having to navigate miniscule one way streets around our accommodation barely wide enough for a car and akin to trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle. The entire ordeal was doubly terrifying because throughout this entire trip of Europe we had never put a single scratch on a hire car, and we didn’t plan on starting today. We would later come to realise that these aren’t even one-way streets, they are actually two-way and you have to just kind of enter and hope to hell there is no one else coming or one of you is a veritable expert at reversing.
Dropping off our luggage, we then had to venture back through the maze of laneways, and with little help from Google yet again (no Google, I didn’t want directions to the airfreight dock), we managed to find the car rental parking lot. By the time we took the keys out of the ignition, there was a collective sigh of relief from all involved. Handing over the car to the same friendly Scottish man who had given it to us last week, we soon found out, despite no mention of it from the car company when we called, nor the mechanic who fixed it, that we were not supposed to drive on the spare tyre for more than 50km, and were supposed to have taken it to a shop to get the puncture fixed. Luckily for us, he only charged us a small fee, and jokingly explained that his corporate overlords make all of their money off the extras they try and push on you, like upgraded insurance to lower your excess; a feature we never fork out for because it’s simply not worth it. If we had taken it out we would have paid at least three times what we paid for the flat tyre.
Walking back to our little unit, we quickly looked up the nearest supermarket to purchase supplies for dinner, which, rather annoyingly, was a half hour walk away. Bags rearranged in anticipation for the following day’s flight, my partner and I headed off on our hour and a half adventure for ingredients, returning in the dark. Dinner out of the way, we settled in for a well-deserved rest. From here on out, over the last few remaining weeks, our adventure would be winding down, slowing to a much less breakneck speed as we ticked off the last few odds and ends we’d missed in the UK and made a few special visits; the cooldown, if you will.
As I sat flicking through the day’s photos on my camera, I couldn’t think of a better final country to round off Europe than Malta. As I counted back through the twenty-nine nations which had come before it, I considered all we had done. No one could deny we had packed more into the past nine months and thirty countries than most people fit into an entire lifetime of holidays. Our rest day allowance could be counted on one hand, and it was rare that there was a day which had only one destination or attraction on it. Perusing the plan on our calendar was enough to wear me out all on its own, and yet, despite the fatigue, I wouldn’t change a minute of it. It was the first year of my life that I can honestly say I made the most of every minute I had. I lived in the moments because I had worked so hard to be in them, as fleeting as they often were; a long-term goal finally come to fruition. Although it was all rapidly coming to an end, for now at least, there was a deep satisfaction of achievement in my heart. I won’t lie, there was days when, wearied by constant manic travel, I longed for the calm familiarity of routine and work, but each new view, flavour, and experience, drew me back into the alluring arms of adventure. I knew the time was rapidly approaching when the stagnancy of work would have my wanderlust wrapped heart yearning for sweet freedom once more. With that knowledge, I took a deep breath, cleared my mind, and simply revelled in the now.