Sicily – Off the Beaten Track

For the travelling-amateur, Sicily usually consists of Mount Etna, the town of Catania, Palermo, Siracusa, Erice and maybe Taormina. Some even make an effort and throw in Castelmola. All these places are worth visiting (I have been there too and am saying that from personal experience of course), however the secret about Sicily is that the more beautiful, mysterious and historically precious spots are actually not so popular as you might think. Which is, of course, part of their charm.

Having been to Sicily around 4 or 5 times during the past 5 years, I must admit that each time I visit, I fall in love with this island more and more. The more one explores and finds new places, the more one realizes that one has seen nothing yet!

IMG_20180422_180339_709.jpg

Take my last vacation there for example. There were a number of astonishingly amazing places we visited, but I’m only going to write about one in this post, as there is so much to write and describe about each of them.

IMG_20180417_214359_579

‘Le Gole dell’Alcantara’, or the Alcantara Gorge, is situated in Alcantara Valley in Western Sicily. This natural canyon holds a jewel of a river, which gurgling and crystal clear, has sculptured and formed the surrounding hill for millions of years. The stone formations present in the gorge itself are indeed natural works of art tailored by mother nature. Coincidentally some time before, I had watched the movie ‘The Shape of Water’, and while the film itself has nothing at all to do with this place, or anywhere like it, I couldn’t help but think that the phrase itself, ‘the shape of water’ described the gorge perfectly, as one could definitely see the paths that the river-water had taken and forged into the rock itself.

IMG_20180426_104840_667

The Gole dell’Alcantara are as such not so popular as other ‘touristy’ attractions, even if they ARE set in a very well-managed tourist park full of flowers and plants, an orchard and ‘family-friendly’ facilities. This is kind of perfect for those who wish for some peace and quite, while at the same time don’t want to go somewhere completely without any sign of human habitation.

IMG_20180423_163336_405

We visited the Alcantara Park in March, that is, what I call pre-Spring. The weather was perfect, a tiny bit chilly, yet so sunny as to make one want to strip and just fall into the cool welcoming arms of the Alcantara stream. Unfortunately, this is only available for swimming in summer, so it was not possible, yet we were also aware that there would be more people visiting it later on in the year, so we much preferred to bask in its glory before that.

IMG_20180419_145807_752

The park itself, apart from the natural wonder that is the Gorge, contains a number of themed and styled gardens, many orange trees, a number of meandering walks with beautiful views, as well as a good canteen and playground for children. You could definitely spend from half a day to a full-day relaxing here. Not to be missed!

By the way, all photos were taken by me, except for the first one which was taken by my one and only. :0)

Advertisements

Getting rid of the Garbage

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that one of the great joys of coming back home after visiting another country is taking a look through the photos and videos one has taken, and marveling again at the places one has been to. I usually do this bit by bit as I slowly upload my photos on social media, while savoring each memory of those times for as long as I can (or at least, before the next trip abroad comes along!)

During the last 5 years I have been to Sicily 4 or 5 times, and this Mediterranean island, which is the closest one to the Maltese archipelago, never ceases to amaze me. I admit, part of the fascination is the fact that it is so much like my own Malta… and yet, so different too. In fact I previously wrote an article about it, which mainly focused on the historical ties between the two islands, and which one can read here. However with the positive, unfortunately, one also has to face the negative aspects of each country, and while Malta and Sicily have a lot of amazing things in common, such as their heritage, architecture, art, food, etc, they also have one other thing in common which they could well do without.

I am talking about garbage.

20180330_151216

Every country, indeed every place where there is human habitation, generates an amount of garbage. That is normal. The responsible and acceptable thing to do of course, is to take care of this waste and recycle it, or at least dispose of it in some constructive way which does not damage the environment or ourselves.

Unfortunately, that much appreciated lassaize-faire attitude which both the Maltese and the Sicilians have in common, is, I think, the issue from which the waste-related problem stems. The so-called ‘u ijwa‘ (an expression basically meaning ‘I don’t give a damn’) attitude is why people simply don’t care enough to pick up their trash and take it with them whenever they are in the countryside for a picnic for example, or at the beach for a swim. What’s worse, larger junk and discarded appliances, such as BBQs, mattresses, fridges, etc, which in Malta is even picked up free of charge by local councils once or twice a week from the front of one’s own household, is, for some incomprehensible reason, left outside to rust and deteriorate, besmirching our natural habitat, instead.

And this is what I found in Sicily, and as I was looking at which photos to upload in my online album, the issue became even more evident. There were photos in my camera which I discarded, simply because the trash overwhelmed the beauty and nature around it. Why are humans so destructive? No other mammal or indeed, no other animal, is such a parasite on nature as humanity. And that is surely nothing to be proud of. 

20180331_152035

The worse is that these photos are just a pale reflection of what I saw – and here I mean both the beauty of Sicily, and the corrosive trash left lying around it. The only thing I can do, is hope that this ‘u ijwa‘ attitude is slowly eroded out of the population, either through education, or through the consequences of learning that living in one’s own filth, is of detriment both to the mind and the body, and is one of the unhealthiest things one can do. Sounds like common sense doesn’t it? So, how come we have this issue?

The Mediterranean Island of Gozo – A Real Haven!!

Gozo (‘Għawdex’), which is the second largest island in the Maltese archipelago, is a perfect holiday destination all year round. Although Gozo is found only a few miles away from its sister island of Malta, it is quite a distinctive island, having its own geographical treasures, its own monuments, its own history, and even its own identity.

images (2)

Gozo is more rural and unspoilt than Malta, in fact it is well-known for its rolling green hills, beautiful countryside and resplendent sandy beaches. The pace of life in Gozo is more tranquil and peaceful compared to the more modernized Malta. Most of the land is still virgin, which means that one can appreciate a number of picturesque views, especially during the winter season when the fields are cultivated. Here, one can even find some old traditions which are no longer found on Malta. Gozo in fact has its own spate of religious traditional festas, its own unique crafts and artisan products, as well as being famous for its yearly Carnival celebrations and local cuisine. If you want a taste of this, you must surely try out some Gozitan cheeselets (ġbejniet).

gozo-map-final-2014

As of early 2014, the island of Gozo hosted a population of around 37,300 people. Gozo has a rich history and one can find a huge number of historical places, ranging from Neolithic to modern times, on this small island. One can hardly fail to mention the megalithic Ġgantija Temples, which, after the Temples of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, are the oldest man-made temples in the world.

imago photographics - dancilia@tin.it

Another important spiritual structure is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu, otherwise known as the Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary, first built in 1545 and then restored in 1730. This Catholic Sanctuary, located in the village of Għarb, is well-known to hold the prayers, vows, and votive offerings given by those who maintain to have been miraculously helped after praying to the Virgin of Ta’ Pinu. This church is in fact linked with many miraculous healings.

images (1)

Apart from its deeply spiritual heritage, Gozo also holds some of the Mediterranean’s most breathtaking natural wonders. There’s a number of pristine sandy beaches like Xlendi Bay, Marsalforn Bay, as well as Ramla Bay, just off Xagħra, which according to mythology, is believed to have been the site of the nymph Calypso’s abode. Gozo in fact, is theorized to be the mystic island of Ogygia, which featured prominently in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ as the island where Ulysses was held captive for seven years. Near the beach, one can also visit the so-called Calypso Cave, high up on the cliffs.

Gozo is also home to a large number of medieval coastal towers built by the Order of the Knights of Saint John, like Isopu Tower in Nadur and Xlendi Tower in Xlendi, as well as innumerable tiny churches and chapels which are gems of medieval and baroque architecture. Traditional architecture can also be admired by going to Victoria (ir-Rabat), Gozo’s capital city, and taking a look at the historical buildings, niches, balconies, aqueducts and churches, not to mention the Medieval Citadel, iċ-Ċittadella, which is a unique small fortified town situated on the promontory of Victoria.

victoria-gozo-citadel

It is easy to arrive in Gozo, one simply has to take the ferry-boat from Ċirkewwa on the north-west side of Malta. The crossing takes approximately 25 minutes and is quite enjoyable. Truly a destination not to miss!

This article was written by me and published on LivinInMalta.com. To view the original article, please go here.

The Spectacular Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs on the Island of Gozo

One of the most panoramic and beautifully unique views within the Maltese Islands, can surely be found within the small Gozitan village of Ta’ Sannat, on the Southern side of the island of Gozo. Known as Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs and rising to 460 feet above sea-level, this location offers amazing sea views from the picturesque and unspoilt garigue countryside of the Sannat coastline.

download (1)

The steep and rugged cliffs sport a number of interesting cliff paths whereby the intrepid explorer may venture, not just to enjoy the staggering Mediterranean views, but also to take a look at the typical Maltese landscape, since Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs are the homing ground of a number of typical species of flora and fauna redolent to our islands.

ta-cenc-cliffs

Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs also harbor a number of mysterious and interesting archaeological and historical remains. One cannot but mention the cart ruts; a series of parallel ruts said to have been created by the huge rocks dragged by Neolithic men, this is just a theory however, since no one really knows what the so-called cart ruts were exactly. What’s sure is that these strange tracks, carved in groups into the plateau itself, together with the stark natural beauty of the surroundings, create a unique palate of sensations which anyone interested in hiking and history will appreciate.

download (2)

Another important element present at Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs is surely the Megalithic Temple known as Tal-Imramma, which is situated at ‘ix-Xagħra l-Kbira’, and consists of an oval court with many oval rooms in it. One can also see three dolmens, that is horizontal stones supported on three sides by stone blocks, and which date back to the Early Bronze Age.

download (3)

Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs are an area of geological and ecological importance, and in fact they are crucial for many species of birds, such as the Blue Rock Trush or ‘Merill’ which is the Maltese National Bird and is protected by law, as well as the rare Spectacled Warbler, Cory’s Shearwaters, and Yelkouan Shearwaters.

Wild plants and herbs grow prolifically on the Cliffs, perfuming the air with aromatic scents and lending a particular quality to the rich landscape. One of these plants is wild thyme (‘sagħtar’ in Maltese), which flowers between May and June, and which is of particular importance to local bees which acquire a particular flavor when producing honey after having flown over it. Other flora found on Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs includes Carrob (‘ħarrub’), and eucalyptus.

ta_cenc_annalise4

Such organisations as the Malta Geographical Society, the Malta Ramblers Association, the NGO Din l-Art Ħelwa, and other groups, frequently organize awareness walks and hikes at Ta’ Ċenċ Cliffs.

This article was published on LivingInMalta, to read the whole thing, go here.

Visiting Blair Castle in Scotland

Blair Castle, found near the village of Blair Atholl in Scotland, is located between Perth and Inverness in Highland Pertshire. Being the ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl, and strategically located in the Strath of Garry, it holds an important place in Scottish history, both strategically and culturally. Whoever held the Castle was gatekeeper to the Grampian Mountains, and the most direct route to Inverness, which is also the reason why Blair Atholl itself possesses such a colorful history. It is situated at the entrance of Cairgorms National Park and surrounded by a magnificent backdrop of hills and forests. The village of Blair Atholl itself in fact grew up as a means of supplying the Castle, and lies at the confluence of the Rivers Garry and Tilt, 10 miles north-east of Pitlochry. Blair Castle is the focal point of the Atholl Estates, which once covered 350,000 acres, that is, 141,640 hectares of the Scottish Highlands. Currently, the estate lies on 145,000 acres, that is, 58,680 hectares, making it one of the largest in Scotland.

blaircastle

Blair Castle stands on the ancestral home of Clan Murray, as it was historically the seat of their Chief. The first known structure to be built on the site dates at least to the mid-13th century, and the oldest part of the present Castle is known as Comyn’s Tower, which was built in 1269. This was commissioned by John I Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, who wasn’t even the legal owner of the estate at the time. Comyn was in fact a neighbor of the rightful owner, David I Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl, who started building on the Earl’s land while this was away on crusade. When the Earl came back home, he found the interloper building on his land and complained about it to King Alexander III. The Atholls won back their land, evicted the Comyns, and incorporated the tower into their own castle.

In 1322, David II Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl lost his titles and estates after his rebellion against Robert the Bruce. The title was granted to a number of individuals until, in 1457, it was given to Sir John Stewart of Belvenie, King James II’s half-brother, as a reward for fighting against the Douglasses and Macdonalds. 

highlanders1

The castle was engulfed in warfare once more in the 17th century during to so-called Wars of the Three Kingdom. At the time, the Murrays supported the Royalists, and this led to the castle being captured by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1652. These held possession of it until the monarchy was restored in 1660. In 1676, the restored King Charles II granted the title of Marquess of Atholl to John Murray, 2nd Earl of Atholl as a reward, and the 2nd Marquess was given the title of Duke in 1703 by Queen Anne.

During the subsequent Jacobite uprisings, the Murray family was divided as to its loyalties. In 1746, Lord George Murray, together with a force of Jacobites besieged his ancestral home in an attempt to regain possession of it, however before he could succeed he was ordered to retreat in order to fight elsewhere, at the Battle of Culloden. This was the last siege to take place on British soil. Afterwards, Lord George Murray went into exile and later died in Holland, George Murray, his oldest brother, died as a prisoner in the Tower of London, and James Murray, the 2nd Duke of Atholl, resumed residence of Blair Castle.

europe-great-britain-scotland-perthshire-blair-atholl-the-blair-castle-da5j5p

James Murray in fact later inherited the title of King of the Isle of Man via his maternal grandmother. The title came with a huge income and properties, which helped fund his project of transforming the medieval castle of Blair into a grand Georgian mansion, tearing down turrets and castellations, in order to create a more fashionable residence. The 3rd and 4th Dukes also prospered, and the grounds around the Castle too were transformed and improved.

In 1844, Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, visited Blair Castle and stayed there for three weeks, during which the Queen granted the Duke of Atholl permission for the founding of the Atholl Highlanders as a private army. This is today the only private Army in Europe. During the First World War, Blair Castle was used as a Red Cross hospital. During the Second World War, the Castle was used to house a displaced private school and a number of evacuees from Glasgow. Blair Castle was one of the first private houses in Britain to open its doors to the general public, which it did in 1932. The 11th and current Duke of Atholl visits each year, while the Blair Charitable Trust runs the day to day management of the estate.

images (1)

Blair Castle is the focal point of a breathtaking historical landscape. Its extensive parklands in the impressive magnificent Highlands are set in a number of walks and trails, and the grounds themselves form part of superb woodlands. There is a deer park and pony trekking center close by, as well as a woodland adventure playground for young children. One can most easily arrive at the Castle through Blair Atholl village. Once one passes the handsome gates, one can use the visitor’s car park to the east of the Castle, from which one can choose to explore either the gardens first, or the visit the castle itself. If one chooses the castle, this is reached by crossing a small pleasant footbridge over the Banvie Burn and walking across a large open area.

The first room one sees as one enters the castle is the 19th century entrance hall. Two storeys high, with wood panelled walls covered by muskets, swords and shields, the Great Hall is truly a picturesque experience. Crossing the main hall, across the vaulted ground floor, the Castle tour continues with a grand total of 30 other rooms. These give a rich and varied impression of Scottish life over seven centuries, and give visitors of the castle the opportunity of understanding not only the way the Dukes and Earls of Atholl lived, but also historic customs and traditions.

maxresdefault

One of the most spectacular of the Castle rooms is surely the Tapestry Room, which is hung with Mortlake tapestries, once owned by King Charles I. The Victorian ballroom is also impressive, with its display of 175 pairs of antlers. All the rooms are filled with iconic period furniture and fine art, including a number of Jacobite relics, Masonic items, fine porcelain, and collections of weapon and lace. The present dining room was built during the 18th century. 

The six-storey Comyn’s Tower is the oldest known part of the Castle, dating back to 1269, although it was later re-modelled in the 5th century. In 1740, the 2nd Duke transformed the medieval structure into a stylish Georgian home, removing the turrets and applying fashionable Georgian finishings. 

inside-castle

Some of the rooms at Blair Castle are in use today for a number of ceremonies and events. They can be used as conference venues, for private dinners, business functions, corporate meetings, special receptions, and even weddings.

Beyond the Castle itself are its grounds and gardens, which flourish over 145,000 acres, and most of which were laid out in the 18th century. To the north of the castle is Diana’s Grove, home to some of Britain’s oldest and tallest trees, while to the east one can find the famous nine-acre Hercules Garden.

images (2)

My article on Blair Castle was published on the Polish website castles.today. If you wish to read it in its entirety, please click here.

The World’s perception of Malta

Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of posts on social media criticizing and denigrating tourists and ‘outsiders’ who comment negatively about something which they didn’t like during their visit to Malta. The comments by foreigners are actually nothing we haven’t all heard before from the Maltese themselves. However, while it seems to be okay for the natives to criticize or attack an issue within their borders, it seems to be taboo for outsiders to give their two cents.

How dare a non-Maltese person complain about congested traffic! How dare someone who doesn’t live here write about our fast diminishing countryside! How dare such people talk about the well-apparent littering present on our shores, the obnoxious parkers, or the over-priced food?

Suddenly, it’s like we’ve never heard anyone complain about these issues before. Every Maltese and Gozitan person within shouting distance of a computer rolls up his sleeves, gets out his broken English and even more hideous Maltese orthographic skills, and starts haranguing said tourist to hell and back. Because if you don’t like it here, morru lura min fejn ġejtu (go back where you came from).

2

Taking the optimistic approach, it’s somewhat quaint to see how the Maltese mentality works. Jien ngħid li rrid fuq pajjiżi (I’ll say what I like about my country), but as soon as an outsider opens his mouth, we all chum up against him, because our islands are perfect, and no Brit, Italian, American, or Korean tourist has the right to state his opinion, if that opinion is expressing negativity about Malta. And God forbid if the person is of a darker complexion!

Of course, every country has its troubles and nowhere is perfect. However, that doesn’t mean that one can’t express an opinion or point any fingers towards anyone else… does it?

Curious about this state of affairs, I actually surfed the net, read blogs and reviews from tourists, students and even business people who came to Malta. There were both positive and negative comments. I was actually proud to see how many people loved our countryside, our helpful attitude, and our own individuality as a country. On the other hand, I felt kind of ashamed at other issues which came to light. After all, no one can really and truly perceive inconsistencies and flaws more than someone whose perspective isn’t coloured by their love, history, and patriotic feelings towards their country.

Here are some points I noticed which many blogs and comments about the islands had in common:

Tourists love our food – Our special combination of Italian cuisine, meaty recipes and traditional concoctions, not to mention our very fresh fish, fruits and vegetables, are a total hit.

3

The sun and heat are terrible – Most people are acclimatised to colder climates than our own, which is why almost all of them feel that they can’t cope with the hot weather on a permanent basis. Honestly, I can’t say I blame them. But Ħeq… x’tagħmel, hux? (What can you do, eh?)

The littering – Most tourists, and especially students, love to enjoy our beautiful beaches. Keeping in mind that most of them live on huge (sometimes landlocked) land masses, this is not surprising. So the amount of littering and the relatively dispassionate and unappreciativelaissez-faire attitude of plenty of locals naturally astounds them. Having seen many such instances myself time and time again, this kind of attitude really gets to me. It’s all very well and good for the authorities to promote cleanliness and environment awareness, but if we, as a people, do not change our attitude, these kind of bad habits will never change either.

Smoking – Malta was the second country within the European Union to introduce the smoking ban. But is this regulation actually enforced? Now be honest, how many pubs, clubs and restaurants have you been to where many people don’t bother going out to smoke and do it right there anyways? Hmm…

Safe Streets – Compared to other countries, Malta is a very safe place. There are minimal levels of crime, and most of these tend to be petty and/or relate to personal issues. That being said, I don’t know if it’s my impression or not, but things seem to be getting pretty heated in Paceville. Previously, many tourists and students used to visit Malta for the nightlife, however in many blogs I’ve perused, these same tourists are now warning people off Paceville, saying that it’s a rowdy place where young aggressive teenagers congregate to get drunk. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of Paceville nights and there’s nothing wrong with having a drink with friends. The rub however is that certain PV-people (let’s call them that) seem to believe that every foreigner is fair game, and won’t take no for an answer, even when said foreigner is accompanied by a partner. The high rise of many Gentlemen’s Clubs isn’t helping the ambience of the place either.

4

I chose to mention these five points in particular, but there are many more issues, both good and bad, highlighted in travel blogs and comments about the Maltese Islands. As already said, no country is perfect, and these issues definitely exist in other places too. However as a Maltese native, it is my country which interests me and which I want to shine, which is why I don’t like reading negative comments – both by locals and non-residents – about Malta. Most of all, I hate the fact that these comments are based on truth. So, instead of going into a tirade against these foreigners who criticize our island, wouldn’t it be better to actually do something to improve our standards instead?

 © Me
This article of mine was published on EVE.COM at http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/09/27/the-worlds-perception-of-malta/ 

Butterfly

Borne upon the wind
I circle
Antennae wide, lifted towards her
The brilliant one
unfurling her great shining mantle
dizzying in her omniscient heat

Scents and sounds overwhelm me
prevalent in their orgasmic wholeness
nurturing every breath,
every spasm of my floating body
Titillating

I tremble and swell
revelling in the spicy smell of poppies
bathed by the gentle sound of trees
singing with the great storm of petals
One with it all

Slowly, softly
Alighting on a blood-red posy,
I snooze, licking its soporific charm
Fluttering delicate wings
in the fluorescent warm rays

9285

Mystery Solved! Of Fairytales and Castles…

In 2013, my bf and I went for a holiday week in Kent, England. While we were there, we visited many beautiful castles and other places, including Dover Castle.

994626_10151958463029343_1770214484_n

dover1

dover-castle

At the time, we were kind of angry and disappointed. The main entrance, which is quite awesome and beautiful, was blocked and full of scaffolding, and we were barred from entering parts of the main castle, because, we were told, there were works in progress. Again and again we asked what was happening, and they told us that Walt Disney was preparing the castle as a set for some scenes, for a future movie. At this point we were as curious as beavers and could not help but beg for news about this movie, but we were only told two things. That it was going to be a fairytale, and that one of the main stars was none other than Johnny Depp.

depp

Two years passed and I forgot all about it… though the fact that wherever we go seems to be full of scaffolding has remained an inside joke between me and my other half.

Yesterday, we went to watch ‘Into the Woods’ at the cinema – and suddenly BANG – there was Dover Castle!! There was the fairytale and there was Johnny Depp! Mystery solved! I was so excited! It was like I had been part of a fairytale, without even being aware of it. And truly, Kent is really fairytale country – it’s just so beautiful.

dover_castle_01

The movie, although being very promising, ended up being nothing more than a disappointing mess. Still, apart from seeing my beloved Dover Castle in all its glory, I also got to see Annette Crosbie – Mrs Meldrew from ‘One Foot in the Grave’. She is so much older! And yet her face is still so sweet! She played the part of Red Riding Hood’s granny, and even though she appears only very briefly, I recognized her immediately 🙂

annette

She was a real looker in her time too – just look at this!

younganne

Tasting the breeze

Sometimes I forget what a beautiful island I live in. Caught in the meandering dance of work, home, love, friends and events, I just forget those sweet silent moments when I can just enjoy a walk in the countryside, smell the scents of nature, and revel in the enchanting atmosphere of earth, sea, sky and sun.

1016874_10152916941309343_8039983327268774381_n

This weekend, while relaxing at a charming four star hotel, apart from enjoying the pool and jakuzzi, I went for a Saturday stroll with my bf to L-Ahrax tal-Mellieha. This Northern part of Malta, the island I live in, teems with natural life and beauty (that is, when some hunter is not cocking his gun around to show the prowess of his manhood in the productiveness of his murdering some innocent birds).

The warmth of the sun during the beautiful Winter day, the smile of a loved one and the oneness of spirit I could feel with Mother Nature, made the afternoon a complete one.

It is sad that I don’t have the time to indulge in such perfect days more often, but then if I did, maybe they would not be so special.

10628203_10152916960694343_5203446201076662553_n