Tag Archives: Malta

Drama At Sea!

So, it’s been awhile since I’ve added anything, and that is largely because we have been out at sea, away from effective wifi. Why, you ask? Well, let me tell you a story. It’s a story about letting your COVID guard down… I think. We are fully masked on the ship, and before Croatia and then Malta we were generally doing everything possible to avoid stricter measures. Here is one more picture of wonderful Malta as we sailed away…

We had in-person classes (masked) and we were asked to keep our masks on even outdoors on the ship, unless we could stay very far away from one another. But then we had a couple of port visits where masks were basically non-existent and vaccination rates are very low (Croatia), and no vaccine mandates were in place for restaurants and shops (both Croatia and Malta). We went from zero cases to about 42 positive cases of COVID, plus many “close contacts” (mostly roommates). Basically, lack of precautions and then having to eat meals together in a small inside space is not a great combination. We ran out of specially designed isolation rooms, and we had quarantined students distributed throughout the ship (including outside our cabin, which was scary). 

As a result, we were not allowed to port in Spain on schedule. Spain demands 3.5% positive cases or less, which for the number of people on board made 23 for us. So, leadership made the decision to postpone our arrival to Spain and to go into a “shelter in place” model for 4 straight days. We moved to virtual teaching (which, without streaming – so no Zoom – meant recording narrated powerpoints in my cabin for my students). No one was allowed out of their cabins except for meals (in small groups) and after a day or so, 30 minutes extra of outside deck walking time each day. We had a window (see the picture below) so it wasn’t that bad for us. But for those with inside only cabins, three to a room with no sunlight, this was a tough four days. We got to enjoy some lovely sunrises and sunsets, but it was weird. To be expected when you get on a ship mid-pandemic maybe…

Thank Heavens for our window!

And if you think COVID is the only glitch this leg, you would be wrong! SAS leadership realized they made a pretty critical mistake. When COVID restrictions closed both Morocco and Ireland to cruise ships, we changed the plan to more time in Spain and Portugal instead of Morocco, and then Denmark for Ireland. But that change brought many voyagers, including us, into direct conflict with the Schengen zone rules (which I had never heard of before). So, here’s the deal. Once SAS told us we didn’t need visas for any of our ports, I never gave immigration another thought. However, the Schengen area (which includes about 24 countries that are also in the EU) limits visits by Canadians and Americans to 90 days out of a rolling 180. Our new voyage plan was going to keep up in the zone too long, and many of us would be at risk of having to leave early, pay fines, be deported… lots of fun options. So, we have changed itineraries again! Now we are heading to the U.K. twice. First, we are heading to Gibraltor between Spain and Portugal. Then, we are heading to Scotland instead of Denmark. I am pretty excited, as both are new countries for me.

At any rate, as I write this now we have been in Barcelona for a couple of days. We are staying on the ship for the first few nights and heading into town on day trips. I have a field class tomorrow with my students, and then we are heading to an Airbnb for three nights. It’s beautiful here, and I am sharing a couple of Barcelona pictures now. But there will be plenty more in the next installment!

The pictures below are the Cathedral of Barcelona, and a church and courtyard (with the fountain) that was heavily bombed and destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. Franco’s forces bombed and attacked this church, where children were taking refuge from the bombardment, and many of them died. You can see a lot of gun fire and bomb damage on the façade, which was the only part of the building left standing.

We spent a good part of this afternoon drinking sangria and enjoy fantastic weather. So, onward and upward!

Marvellous Malta

I arrived here not knowing much at all about Malta (sad to say). I knew it had been ruled by various groups, knew it had been a British colony, and I think I even knew something about the Knights of St. John (probably from movies, to be honest). But I know a lot more now. And it strikes me as just what you might expect from a former British colony near Sicily. Feels both British and Italian, with a lot of other cultural influences mixed in. 

Although there are many parts of Malta to explore, we stayed in the city of Valleta. This port was one of the easiest we’ve seen, on this voyage or our last one. Our berth was just below the city wall, in a gorgeous area of gardens and monuments. We were simply able to walk straight of the ship into the city (with the help of an elevator up the city wall).

Our berth in Malta

Although we walked around a fair bit the first day off the ship, on our first day of full sightseeing we headed straight to St. John’s Co-Cathedral (the “co” means it is both a cathedral and a Bishop’s seat). Pictures cannot do it justice (but I will try). Built in the 1500s, it is awe-inspiring. It’s very, very gold. And very “knighty;” many Grand Masters of the Knights of St. John’s are interred here.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral from the balcony
One of the many overwhelming views in the church

The other really interesting aspect to this cathedral, for you art buffs out there, is the room devoted to several major works by Caravaggio. The art history prof on the ship had briefed us ahead of time, so I was able to appreciate the major differences between his style and the mannerist style that immediately proceeded it (and that decorates most of the church). It was fascinating.

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist (and other paintings) by Caravaggio
Saint Jerome Writing, Caravaggio

Back to the city. Joe was happy to once again be in a city of cats. In one particular area there are many public cat-condos. We laughed to see some of them labelled “cats,” and Joe joked that this was just in case any dogs got any bright ideas…

There is just such much beauty here. The stones glow yellow in the sun (and it was sunny the entire time we were here). It was hard to choose which photos to share, but here are some of my favorites. The city is full of statues, war memorials, and thick walls and fortifications.

Upper Barrakka Gardens

We stayed in a hotel this time, and it had a rooftop garden with a pretty pool and fantastic views. In addition to some photos, here is short video taken at sunset one night.

Night views from the rooftop of the Embassy Valletta Hotel

One day we found our way to a terrace restaurant on the side of the city walls. You have to take a tunnel under the wall to reach it. Fantastic meal in a stunning setting. We learned a lot of history and thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Next stop: Barcelona!