Thursday, March 28, 2013

Go to Goza

While visiting Malta, we took the ferry one day to the neighboring island of Gozo to experience a different slice of island life.

Even though there were severe wind warnings that day, we continued with our plans amidst drizzle, wind and grey skies (after taking a little motion sickness tablet for the ferry ride,  just to be on the safe side!)

No, this is not a photo of our ferry ride, but a picture of our group in fishing boats as we toured the area around Dwerja Bay.

We first boarded the boats in the Inland Sea, then headed out to the Bay through 200 foot tunnels through the cliffs.

Once in the bay, the views and water were amazing.

Geography created this natural phenomenon when 

two limestone caves collapsed thousands of years ago. The Azure Window, as it is called, is a popular spot for cliff diving, 

and the whole area is well known to divers for the underwater scenery,

coral and beautiful seascapes.

We were "gob-smacked" as the Brits say, to find that there are 365 churches in Malta. Our guide told us that 98% of the people in Malta are Roman Catholic and that they are very proud of the heritage of the Biblical story that Paul was shipwrecked there on his way to Rome, staying for sometime after and converting the island to Christianity.

We were able to visit just a few of the churches, but enjoyed seeing a couple in Gozo, such as The St. John the Baptist church perched high on a hill,

where they were preparing the statues for their annual procession during the days leading to Easter. With Malta being such a devout Christian country, every city, town and village

will have processions of the statues from their churches, representing the different stages of the Passion.

 Another quite amazing church indeed was the Ta Pinu church, most recently built in the 1920-30's.

Beautiful both inside and out, its heritage is quite a story. Devotees to the Virgin Mary have been coming to this place of pilgrimage for decades after a village woman reported to have heard a female's voice coming from the early chapel which stood at this location, and then was cured of her illness after prayer.

Believers have swarmed to this National Shrine of Malta for years to pray for their own miracles,

and when prayers have been answered, they have brought back mementoes of thankfulness, including this letter from a survivor of the Twin Towers,

as well as scores of testimonies of healings,

babies being born,

and wedding bouquets from the ceremonies performed there.

Our favorite slice of life that day was a visit to the Ta Mena Farm,

where Joe, along with his sidekick, Daisy, gave us a tour of his farm and shared his passion for the agricultural products and wines that he and his family grow right there.

We were treated to a feast of focaccia baked in outdoor ovens, olives, capers, ham, sun dried sweet tomato paste, olive oil and Gozo peppered cheese.

A welcome respite for the weary, windblown  travelers and a feast for the eyes and the soul.

More Malta to come....

Monday, March 25, 2013

Postcards from Malta

March brought with it an excursion to the island of Malta with the London gals. Situated in a highly strategic location between Libya and Sicily, Malta is actually made up of 7 islands, which have experienced a long and colorful history.

With a stunningly beautiful coastline,

and the impressive harbors of the city,

Malta has seen a succession of powers ruling from prehistoric times until their declaration of independence from the British in 1964.

The Maltese people are a reflection of this mix of cultures.

Some of the most fascinating sightseeing we did revolved around the mysterious remains of the temples of the Megalithic period.

Malta was evidently a sacred island and a center of worship and mystic practices.

One of our visits was to the Hypogeum, an outstanding underground feat of engineering from prehistoric times with the only underground temple and burial place of its kind in the world.

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, or Knights of Malta, as they are often called,  occupied the island from 1530-1798, and after fighting off the Turks, they left their mark on the island

by building huge fortifications, harbors, 

and baroque palaces and churches.

One afternoon, we made out way to the fishing village of Marsaxlokk

where we selected our fish for lunch and had it prepared for us while we waited. Couldn't have been any fresher.

And what's a girls' trip without treats, and here we are enjoying  some pastizii, 

a local delicacy which is a pastry filled with ricotta cheese or peas.

Hmmm.....cheese for me please!

More slices of life from our Malta adventure coming up....

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Going with the Flow

Sometimes the best plans just don't happen, no matter how well you've planned,  and this past week in London, with the spring weather turning into snowy weather, our trip to the countryside with the American Women's Club group to see Chartwell and Ightham Mote was cancelled. So what do aspiring gals do who have the day already cleared for a day trip?

We improvise! After some research by our fearless leader, Eve, we headed to the beautiful 16th century grand house, Syon House, the London home of the Duke of Northumberland, where his family has lived for over 400 years.

It was opening day for the spring season, and the guides could not have been more "chatty," sharing stories and anecdotes about the tales and visitors to this beautiful home.

Interior pictures were not allowed but you can see plenty here on the Syon Park website. The home was largely refurbished in the 18th century by Robert Adams, the most famous architect of his time, who designed a suite of rooms that will knock your socks off with their loveliness.

In between snow showers and frigid temperatures, we toured the grounds after the home tour, where we saw the Grand Conservatory, built in 1830.

Attached to the home is an amazing garden store

which makes for fun shopping in the shadow of the grand house.

Dressed for the frigid weather and armed with our maps,

we turned what was a disappointing experience to a fun day just outside of the city near Richmond.

To top it off, we had a delightful lunch, with the yummiest carrot-coriander soup I've ever tried. Must look for a recipe for myself.

That evening I was scheduled to join Cristen, along with her mother and aunt, to see the extremely popular Matilda musical. After trekking all the way there in misty cold weather, we arrived to find that the area was experiencing a black-out, and sadly, the show was cancelled.

So disappointing, but for the second time that day, we racked out brains for an alternative game plan.

How can you go wrong with a nightcap at Laduree? We headed to their Covent Garden location

for a treat to comfort us in our distress.

Instead of their traditional macarons, I opted for one of their delicious lemon tarts. So, so rich and decadent, that I thought I would just eat half and save the other half for the next day. Alas, the waiter wasn't willing to wrap it up for me to take it home, so what does a gal do?

"Force" myself to finish every single crumb.

And let it be said, it was blissful torture!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sugar and Spice

Back in London again where I spent a rainy Friday afternoon with the London gals taking in a delicious high tea at the beautiful Fortnum and Mason Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon which was inaugurated last year by the Queen, Kate--the Duchess of Cambridge and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall in conjunction with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

A dozen of us gathered there for a fancy girls' day out

which started with individual pots of tea,

and progressed to a tower of treats. Our table was literally cluttered with tea stands

full of sweets, scones, and finger sandwiches. The scones were light and fluffy and made even tastier with Somerset clotted cream, preserves and lemon curd.

Thanks to our menus we were able to identify our finger sandwiches which I'll list in case you ever want to duplicate their formula: Cucumber with mint butter, Coronation Chicken, Ploughman's, Rare Breed Hen's Egg with Mustard Cress and Smoked Salmon with Lemon Dill Butter.

And just in case you still had room, there were assorted pastries followed by

a trip to the Coronation Cake Carriage to select a slice of your favorite tea cake. We were delightfully more than satisfied, and spent the two hours sipping tea and catching up on the news of travels and playtimes.

Then we were off for the Spice of the day...

It was time to "spice" up our life with the new Viva Forever musical now playing on the West End.
A story of a young singing group and a reality TV show competition with the Spice Girls music to move the story along. And if what "you want, what you really, really want" is a fun musical with a great sing along at the conclusion, then Viva Forever is for you.

Spice it up!