Our day trip to Valletta was made courtesy of the "boneshaker" buses, and once we arrived, it was really easy to walk around the town. Leaving the bus station behind, we headed for City Gate (sounding more inspiring than it really is) and then into Freedom Square (best described as a paved area surrounded by shops), which was rebuilt after its destruction in World War II. Not really a place of celebration, but more a large parking lot!
Next we head off to the Upper Barakka Gardens. These formal gardens were created in the 1660s, and after several modifications, they are now a haven in an otherwise noisy city. There’s a stunning view from the terrace out to the three cities and the harbour, and if you’re brave enough to look over the edge, you’ll realise how high up you are. Take time to examine the many sculptures and enjoy the colourful flora.
The town has been developed on a grid-like basis, and following the Triq ir-Repubblika, or roads running parallel to it, will take you in the direction of Fort Elmo. It’s virtually impossible to get lost with the town’s layout, so we followed our instincts, and if we saw an interesting building, we headed for it. En route, we saw signs of a bustling market, but on closer inspection, it was a fairly tatty set of market stalls selling second-hand goods, cheap clothing, and obviously copied CD's. Yes, yet another Maltese disappointment.
St Paul’s Shipwreck Church was dedicated to the alleged shipwreck of St Paul in 60 AD (a befitting name, don’t you think?) and is so unremarkable on the outside that we almost missed it. It is said to be one of Malta’s oldest churches (built in the mid-1500s), and we entered by a small side entrance. This small church is rammed full of icons and artwork, and I don’t think there’s a square inch that hasn’t been decorated in some way. The dark church’s lighting seems to be by way of its silver chandeliers, and the small chapels are delights, with their paintings and frescoed ceilings. The priceless relic of a bone from St. Paul’s wrist is on display, but you will need a certain amount of imagination to identify it.
St John’s is perhaps the most bizarre cathedral I’ve ever seen. It is baroque in the extreme, and the arched cloister around the nave is heavily carved. Make sure you give detailed attention to these, as there’s a mass of gruesome skeletons and hidden skulls giving symbolic warning to non-believers with triumphant messages for the pure and unsullied. I could not accuse St John’s of being understated!
St John’s Square has the most cannons I’ve ever seen outside of a museum, and it’s here that you can rent a horse and carriage for a tour of the town. We didn’t bother, but the sight and sound of the horses brought some added interest to Valletta.