Yesterday we had a day in Gozo which entailed an early start since we were collected at 0745 and driven up to the ferry port at the north of the island, collecting other people en route, in time for the 1000 ferry. The ferry port is very scruffy, if anyone can remember Dover in the days of the British Rail ferries back in the 1960's you will get an idea of what I am talking about. No proper facilities, a grubby looking caff and queuing outside waiting to board. The Gozo ferries take cars and foot passengers have to walk up the car ramp and a bit of the car deck to reach steps which then go up to the lounge area. The ferry itself was very clean, modern, good coffee cost only sixty five cents a cup so we have absolutely no complaints about the ferry itself, it is just a pity that the port is so dreary.
Arrival at Gozo is a totally different matter, a magnificent new terminal building, all marble and white walls, an escalator as well as stairs, spacious comfortable seating and a really nice food area. It is difficult to believe that they are run by the same company. The system for buying tickets means that they are only bought in Gozo - working on the assumption that there is only one way off the island no doubt.
We were met by a local chap with a mini bus, the Maltese driving standards are nobly upheld in Gozo. Horns mean a variety of things "Morning Fred", "Outta my way", "Pillock" being only some of the interpretations we have put on the frequent blares. The driver was very chatty and gave us a right sob story about being paid peanuts but felt that he was lucky to have any sort of job. Softening us up for the tips later no doubt.
We went first to Ta Pinu shrine which is a pilgrimage place, the disabled come here for hope. A sort of Maltese Lourdes. The church itself is very beautiful, rather austere by Maltese standards. It was only built in the early twentieth century and finished in 1931. There is a lovely painting of The Blessed Virgin which was painted in the early seventeenth century, a three dimensional golden crown was added in 1935 and Pope John Paul II visited in 1990 and added five golden stars. I thought it a lovely place, it felt very spiritual. On the hill opposite are some large statue Stations of The Cross but we did not have time to go to see them and were whipped back into the mini bus. We were taken to a craft market at Fontana but the very aggressive sales people put me off and I went outside. I am so glad that I did because there is an ancient laundry room with stone sinks and tables for scrubbing clothes. There were five sinks one side, four the other and some stone tables in the middle. Across the road was another room with just three sinks, much smaller and no table. I decided that the larger room was for washing and the smaller for rinsing. These "rooms" are more like caves built into the hillside and a water spring just flows through the whole place - there are channels cut in the stone floor to enable the water to escape. I had a lovely time making up stories of all the scandal that the women would gossip about whilst doing laundry (I doubt a man ever went there) and could just see the looks anyone with less than perfectly white sheets would get.
There was construction work on the road to the Azure coast section so we never went there. Carnival was beginning in Victoria so we never really got there either, a quick peep at the Citadel and off for lunch. We went to a place called Xlendi for lunch and were shepherded into a restaurant called Two Fishes or something like that. We ordered fried cod and chips (Bolton lad again) but got something extremely odd instead. It is the Xlendi version of fried cod and chips. I suspect, very strongly, that what we got was Vietnamese River Cobbler. It had been poached. It was served with two different sauces, half of the fish was covered with garlic softened in oil, the other half with a tomato/caper/olive sauce. Both were absolutely delicious. The bread was not the Maltese bread I have come to love, it was fairly ordinary white bread. The waitress proudly told us that they make it on the premises - I think they would be better off buying it in. The texture was almost cake like, we left most of it. Still, with two pints (did I tell you I have graduated to a pint pot?) of Cisk and two coffees it was only 22 Euros so very good value.
We then went to the Ggantija Temple - another Neolithic site - and because we had the Malta Heritage pass which covered us we went in. I would not have been amused had I paid six Euros for the visit though, everything was roped off and it was impossible to imagine it as a temple. you could only poke your head round a corner, not at all like Tarxien where you could "see" the rites taking place. There was a stall inside selling local handicrafts - the chief amongst them seemed to be Aran sweaters - I am no expert but they looked exactly like the Irish ones we all wore in the 70's. The driver then took us to Qual to a viewing point from where both Comino and Malta can be seen, and the view was quite incredible. Then back to the ferry and a ten minute wait in the luxurious terminal. As we walked off the ferry back in Malta (via the car deck) there was a queue of hundreds and hundreds of young people going across to the village of Nadur for carnival night, most of them dressed up. Apparently Nadur has a night of total debauchery on the Saturday before Lent begins.
In conclusion I think that it is unfair to attempt to judge Gozo on this glimpse. I felt that everyone wanted us to spend money and they were very vocal and aggressively encouraging us. Not at all the experience I have had in Malta. I think the next time I come to Malta I would arrange to spend a week of the month in Gozo and have a proper look around. Did I mention I will probably be wearing black? It will apparently be over Onslow's dead body.