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Valletta

Saga Sapphire blog - Captains' blogs

29th April, 2015

Before today we had a day at sea. After breakfast the Guest Speakers, Instructors, our Beauty Staff and Cruise Staff were in action and busy presenting, organising, hosting and treating. The evening started with cocktail hour in the Britannia Lounge, where the passengers could listen to the spellbinding, staggering, virtuosity of Flautist Tara Rachelle or in the Cooper’s Bar with Dave Peterson at the piano and in the Drawing Room, where the Perfect Mood Duo entertained the guests. After Dinner the Britannia Lounge hosted a performance The Celtic Tenors. This was followed in the Drawing Room by Easy listening with The Perfect Mood Duo and in the Coopers Bar by The Late Show with Dave Peterson at the piano till late.

This morning we arrived at the pilot station at the early hour of 6.30 am, as we had a passenger on a tour that needed to set off at 8 am sharp. We took the ship into one of my favourite ports as the sun shone on the sandstone of the beautifully restored buildings that line and guard port, swung her in front of the berth and were all fast at 7.30 am.

Soon after the officials had boarded the ship was cleared and the passengers could go ashore. Today’s tours were:

“Day trip to Gozo”: Situated 4 miles from Malta, Gozo is the second largest island in the Maltese Archipelago and host to olive and orange groves, rugged cliffs, breath-taking landscapes and historic remains. It has been inhabited since the fifth millennium BC and its history is closely tied with that of neighbouring Malta. After a 20 minute ferry ride our passengers arrived on the island to discover that it has its own character. They visited the magnificent Citadel, formerly known as Il Castello, which has been at the centre of activity of the island since possibly Neolithic times, but is known to have been first fortified during the Bronze Age c. 1500 BC. It was later developed by the Phoenicians and became a complex Acropolis by Roman times; The Azure Window at Dwejra, the limestone natural arch formation created after two sea caves collapsed, that is now very popular with scuba divers despite warning notices of the arch disintegrating; the lavish St George’s Basilica; the preserved prehistoric Ggantija Temples, dating back to between 3600 and 3200 B.C, and listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. These temples are one of the most important archaeological sites in the Maltese Islands and are considered to be one of the oldest free standing monuments in the world, preceding Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. The name Ggantija derives from the Maltese word for giant as the site was commonly associated with a race of giants. Of course there was some free time to browse and pick up a souvenir or two before heading back to the ship.

“Scenic Malta”: This scenic tour revealed some of Malta’s finest attractions from the comfort of the coach. It set off heading north, through rural and agricultural areas, past Mdina, Malta’s old capital and through Xemxija Bay. The coach then continued heading south-east to the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, where Napoleon is said to have landed, which is famous for its quaint harbour with its colourful ‘Luzzu’ fishing boats. There was the opportunity to visit a 19th-century home, designed as a villa with spacious interiors and gardens, set amidst an orchard of fruit trees. From here the coach drove to Zurrieq to view the Blue Grotto. Also seen from here was the tiny rock island of Filfla, home to migrating birds: it cannot be visited but forms part of the breath-taking panorama.

“Medieval Medina & Mosta”: This tour took our passengers on a scenic ride from Valletta through the pretty towns and villages of Malta to Mdina. Known as the ‘Silent City’, it is the former capital of Malta and one of the finest ancient walled cities in the world. It is home to many handsome buildings and narrow streets, palaces and museums. Our passengers visited the Baroque Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, rebuilt at the end of the 17th century, and the bastions for a panoramic view of the island. Frome here they went to Mosta Square to see the Mosta Dome which crowns the Church of the Assumption. During World War II a shell penetrated the dome but landed unexploded on the church floor.

“Jeep Safari”: This tour offered 'off the beaten track' scenic island sights. The tour first headed north towards an area called Mellieha to visit the Red Tower built by the Knights. From here our passengers enjoyed panoramic views over the Maltese Islands. The tour then proceeded to Dingli Cliffs, where sloping terrain, dotted with tiny cultivated plots, ends sharply at the edge of steep cliffs that drop straight into the sea.

“High Tea at Palazzo Parisio”: The venue was Palazzo Parisio, a unique 18th-century palace in the very heart of the ancient village of Naxxar – the ultimate memorial of the ambitions, aspirations and pretentions of a Maltese noble family, Malta's very own Rothschilds. After a tour of this grand house visiting the great ballroom, the richly decorated family chapel, the fabulous walled gardens and the orangery, high tea was enjoyed in the magnificent gardens, and some time was spent looking at the Mediterranean trees and flowers. The return journey passed by the Mosta Church.

For passengers wishing to explore independently there were four options: first a taxi, secondly the bus, thirdly the lift and fourthly a good walk.

As soon as all our passengers and crew were on board, and the pilot on the bridge we left the berth, sailed out of the port, disembarked the pilot and set course for the next port, Gibraltar. While I was busy on the bridge the passengers enjoyed a Farewell to Malta Sailaway party, with a bang. The bang referred to the cannon salute which was given to the ship as it sailed passed the fortifications on its way out of the port. The evening started with pre-dinner cocktail hour in the Drawing Room, where The Perfect Mood Duo were playing and in Cooper’s Bar, where Dave Peterson entertained guests at the piano. After Dinner the Britannia Lounge featured a Fund Raiser Game in aid of Nepal followed by an uproarious game of Call My Bluff ‘starring’ myself, Cathy of the Tours and Travel team, chairwoman Pamela Johnston, the ship’s cat and Cruise Director John Parton.

Captain Kees Spekman

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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