Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee

This weekend we will all be celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in one way or another.  I just wanted to share this commemorative stone from the Ministry of Gozo building which used to be a hospital.  I noticed it especially as the Queen was then a princess and held the title Duchess of Edinburgh.  She and the Duke lived for some periods of time in the Villa Gwardamangia on Malta when they were first married and he was a Naval officer.

Home Tomorrow

Today is the last full day of my time in the Maltese islands.  Tomorrow will be packing, checking out, getting to the airport, waiting at the airport for hours...  why didn't they work harder on the teleporting thing they had in Star Trek?  Anyway, today we visited the fishing village of Marsaxlokk and had a lovely mooch around looking at the fishing boats and a small tourist market.  Local weaving and local lace claimed the labels, hmm, I wouldn't put my money on it! 
On Sundays there is a massive market and live fish is sold as well as produce and tourist stuff but today was much calmer with all the cafes extending out onto the quayside with tables and shady umbrellas.  Enjoy a quick photo-tour with me:
Time for lunch!  Normal service will be resumed soon.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Peasant Costume 2

This is DH's handkerchief all bundled up with flowers and leaves that I have gathered here on Malta.  It is currently sitting in the steam room in our swept-up hotel room and I'm trying to resist untying it!
Below you can see samples of dyed cotton from the exhibition I visited on Monday.  You will spot some indigo, which was probably first brought to the islands in 1746 and was then used until the First World War.  Most of the dye colours are in the yellowy to brown range, from plants such as pomegranate, daisies, camomile, grass and then onion skins were used for the rusty orange colours.  Fibres were also used in their natural colours of white through to cream.
Here is a Gozitan dye pot, isn't it great?  According to the book accompanying the exhibition, "Peasant Costumes - Insights into Rural Life and Society", many villages here had at least one specialist "tintore" or "mghallem" making their living from dyeing thread which was a time consuming process.
My assumption was that the thread being used in Malta and Gozo by the ordinary people would be wool.  In fact it was cotton.  At one time all available land was given over to cotton growing and an area of half an acre of cotton could provide sufficient income for a family.  Cotton was traded between the local people in its various stages and finally exported as yarn into Spain.  In 1800 the annual export of cotton yarn into Spain was valued at half a million pounds sterling.  The country folk of the Maltese Islands used cotton for clothing and household textiles but may also have kept a couple of sheep and used wool for extra warmth and for filling pillows and mattresses.
This fellow is ready to go to market.  His cap, shirt and underpants are historically accurate reproductions but the rest of his outfit is from the 19th century.  He wears a cotton waistcoat "sidrija", cotton trousers "qalziet" and has a cotton pouch "horga" over his shoulder and a cotton sash "terha" around his waist.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Peasant Costume 1

Today I have been to a great exhibition:

It's been a long (and hot) day so I'm too tired to blog properly about it this evening but here are just a few photos to tease you.

 Sweet dreams.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Malta Cloth Finish

A finish (except for the backing and binding) - my Malta cloth is done and I am quite satisfied with it.  It is called "Going Up, Coming Down?" after the building work here. It is almost impossible to tell whether something is being constructed or demolished and Al and I try to guess.  Our general belief is that if there is a crane on site then the building is going up.
Speaking of the backing...I have decided to try some eco-dyeing while I'm here for the backing but haven't got any suitable fabric with me.  "Allie babe....", sure enough DH came up with the goods, greater love hath no man than he would hand over his brand new white cotton handkerchief to be dyed with prickly pear flowers.  Watch this space.
Speaking of flowers, I found these white strelitzia in the hotel grounds this morning, rather different from the usual vivid orange/blue version isn't it?
Today has been a lovely relaxing day.  We had a stroll this morning and then I stitched while Al sudokued (is that a verb?) and read the newspaper.  Here's a picture from yesterday's trip into Valletta, there was no way I was going down this street, look at the up to follow!  Many of the smaller streets are steps, Lord Byron referred to them without any love in his poem Farewell to Malta
Adieu, ye cursed streets of stairs!
(How surely he who mounts you swears!)

Hoping you've all had a lovely weekend - I know that England has been having some excellent weather at long last :-)

Saturday, 26 May 2012

View of the Grand Harbour

A gentle day in Malta today with a very special highlight.  We went into Valletta and visited the National Museum of Fine Arts.  There was the fairly predictable collection of religious paintings by Maltese and Italian artists especially, all fairly dark but the detail was still possible to appreciate.  Some of the paintings date from the 14th Century.  There was a collection of modern bronzes in a lovely sunlit courtyard but the room that attracted me was a collection of pictures of the Grand Harbour of Malta and the surrounding area.  There were some lovely, understated watercolour and ink sketches by Edward Lear (probably better known for writing limericks and The Owl and the Pussycat) and there was a tiny watercolour jewel,
View of the Grand Harbour painted by Joseph Mallard William Turner in 1830. 
It was exquisite and worth the admission to the museum on it's own.  Here's a link to an article about the loaning of the painting to the museum
This afternoon we returned to our hotel and I stitched and enjoyed the sunshine while Al studied the Arriva website - the bus "timetables" change tomorrow, it could be a chaotic day on Malta's roads!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Dwejra, Gozo in Pictures

Here we are at the Azure Window on Gozo (note the indigo scarf I'm wearing and ignore Al's hat please).  Today's post is a flying visit to Gozo, the sister island to Malta, reached by a short ferry crossing.  It's much more laid back than Malta and quieter, especially when you can avoid the coach trips which disgorge their passengers for a quick photo fest and then load up again and disappear to the next honey trap.  Here comes one now.....

We enjoyed fossils, flowers, it was sunny enough for lizards....

The views were great

and I even managed an arty shot!
Thank you for all your lovely comments and please be assured I am getting plenty of rest while we're here. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Maltese Stitching

In case you think this has just become a travel blog I thought I'd share some stitching today - for the first time for ages!
This is what I'm working on while I'm in Malta.  It's a woven cloth I started after doing an online class with Jude Hill and those of you who have been with me for a while will have seen it in the early stages and also know that I've found it's not really my "thing".  However, I decided I would bring it with me to finish here, if I'm not motivated in the place that inspired the project then there is no hope.
I wove the cloth first and tacked it to a muslin backing.  Now I am stitching and adding various embellishments, all aspects of the island.
I was actually very encouraged this morning when I showed it to DH, his comment? 
"That completely says "Malta" to me."

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

New Buses on Malta

Warning:  this is a bus heavy post!!

Today I am having a relaxing day in the sunshine after a wearying day yesterday.  It wasn't intentional to get worn out and I blame Arriva buses.  They have been on Malta for nearly a year now, replacing those lovely vintage vehicles the island was famous (infamous?) for.  They don't seem to have got things quite straight yet, a proper timetable isn't available and the one that is doesn't list all the buses, show the routes clearly or give times!  We were aiming to go to the south coast, to enjoy Dingli Cliffs in the sunshine after lunch in Mdina.  Firstly we had to get a 41 from outside our hotel.  Now this is a Valletta bus and they all seem to arrive full so we got a bus in the opposite direction first with the intention of getting a seat!  Good plan but of course the bus still filled up and was stifling.  (I'm not sure the buses supplied were new when they got here, they seem to have all sorts of technical problems, like non-functioning air con for a start).  We arrived in Mosta when we knew we had to change to an X3.  What we didn't know, without a proper timetable, was that the X3 goes from the first stop in Mosta, not the "terminus" near the church, the Mosta Dome.  So, we had to retrace our journey, uphill (of course) and in the heat, rushing because the buses only seem to run every hour and we didn't want to miss it when it did come.  We arrived in Mdina, the lovely old capital of Malta, also known as the Silent City
and headed for a much needed drink and lunch at our favourite restaurant.  Aaaagh, the door to the restaurant and the Carmelite Priory (to which it belongs) was firmly shut, no signs, nothing.  We wondered what had happened to the lovely Charlene who used to run it with her brother.  (Admittedly this is probably not Arriva's fault!!)  Okay, find a different place for lunch, one with a great view across the island as it happened:
Next we wandered in the shade of the Silent City for a while and then went to find a 201 to Dingli.  By the time we reached the cliffs I was feeling pretty tired and so we decided to stay on the bus and make notes for another day - where the bus stops are located etc.  The views were lovely and it would have been a spectacular place to stroll or picnic. 
How are you doing, are you enjoying my bus-related rant?
One plus point, the 201 continued to the Blue Lagoon and actually went down the hill to the village and back up again, saving quite a climb after a lovely boat trip another day.  The bus then continue to the airport.  Why oh why in this day and age would it seem a good idea to make the international airport the location of a bus terminus?  Just asking!  Surely you just need buses that serve incoming and outgoing flights, not buses for the hospital, the race course etc etc.  Another scenic journey on the X1 followed, on some fairly good roads and along the north coast of the island until we finally arrived at our hotel over an hour after leaving the airport.
A soak in the hot tub and straight to bed for me, DH brought me a plate of salad from dinner later on.

Today it is 26C and the wind is now a gentle breeze.  We are making the most of it and having a very relaxing day.  Our only exertion has been to stroll about 30m along the street to buy some pastizzi for lunch:
straight from the oven!  Excuse me now, I'm heading back to my lounger for a rest!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Maltese Wildlife

In case you were feeling envious, dear reader, I have to tell you that although it is warm again today it is cloudy and blowing a hoolie!  We went for a lovely walk along the coast (downhill, and got the bus back) and got quite sandblasted at one point!  We found the Ghadira Nature Reserve and had a lovely walk around there. Malta is not too hot on conservation so this is an important project.  It wasn't sunny enough for lizards and snakes but we saw some good flora and birds:

and had a good view of the Red Tower built in 1649 by Grand Master Lascaris and dedicated to St Agatha:

We also had a good view of lots of kite surfers who were enjoying the wind much more than we were:
Our bus trip back up the long and winding (and steep) road was our first on Malta courtesy of Arriva (go Ed!!*) who recently took over the bus service and brought it in line with European regulations.  It means the iconic Maltese buses, held together with faith and duct tape, are no more.
Al just called from the balcony (where he is being kept amused by watching Maltese v tourist drivers on these narrow streets) that the sun is out, I am away to bake gently.

* a comment purely to amuse my DD who I am trying to pair with a nice guy called Ed who works with Arriva!)