Monthly Archives: June 2012
Like most everyone, Tony and I never visit the sites that are right in our own backyard, but last weekend it was so hot, daytime temperatures around 98 degrees, that we desperately sought a place to cool off. And, what better a place to cool off than an underground cave? And so we took a holiday from Tony’s work and my music and headed off to Ghar Dalam (pronounced ar dàlam) which is right in our village near the sea. Even older than the temples of Tarxien, Hagar Qim, and Mnajdra is Ghar Dalam which means Cave of Darkness. It is a cave that contains the bone remains of many small animals that became extinct on Malta at the end of the Ice Age. The museum at Ghar Dalam—actually the air –conditioned museum at Ghar Dalam, contains the bones of many of these animals, the most interesting being the pygmy elephants and dwarf hippopotami, which became extinct about 180,000 years ago—so this cave is really old, yes?
I just did my first driving trip and I thought I was going to have a heart attack! In Malta, the driving follows the British system of driving on the left hand side of the road and the driver’s seat is on the right hand side of the car. I have been putting off driving for obvious reasons…
I made my first attempt driving around a huge parking area a few weeks ago. It was an industrial park so they were big wide roads and there was no traffic as the businesses in the park were closed.
Well, today I decided it was time to try the roads, it’s not going to get easier waiting any longer.
I thought ok, let’s try a trip to the grocery store in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. It’s only about 5 miles each way so shouldn’t be too bad…
Well. First, I taped a note to the windshield that says “stay to the left” just to remind me. 🙂
However, there’s so much going on that I kept forgetting to look at the note. The car is a Land Rover and Land Rovers are known for having heavy clutches – the clutch needs to be pressed all the way to the floor to work. It’s like driving a truck, and my last car was a little sports car. Slightly different. So I’m sitting on the right side of the car, driving on the wrong side of the road, trying to get used to driving a different car, and I keep reaching for the stick with my right hand…and of course the stick is on my left. The gear shifting feels so ‘off’ because I’m not used to the perspective of the left hand.
Now I come to a corner, and by this time, between the wrong side of the car and the wrong side of the road, I’m so confused, that I don’t even know if I should look to the right or to the left for oncoming traffic…and all of the mirrors are in a different perspective as well.
Then I’m moving, and I’m used to hugging the left hand side of the road to keep away from oncoming traffic – and Tony keeps yelling – “you’re too close on the left, too close on the left!” There is no perspective as to how close the parked cars on the left are so I’m trying to stay close to the middle of the road, but not too close to the oncoming traffic. Oy.
Of course no other drivers know that I’m a newbie so they are on my ass behind me and one guy starting honking. I pulled over to let him pass but I pulled over to the right and Tony is yelling – “No! Pull over to the left! To the left! Not to the right!” I somehow make it over to the left without hitting anyone and it turns out to be a bus stop and the bus is waiting behind me to pull in.
There are a lot of one-way streets which make it easier to stay in the middle of the road, but people park on both sides facing both directions so I can’t really tell which streets are one way.
And then, I get to the roundabouts.
Ugh. Well, the roundabouts are in lieu of 4 way stop signs. They have crossroads with a big circle in the middle, and you enter the circle and then you have a choice of about 4 or 5 different exits that you can take. The beauty is that you can miss your exit and just go around again to it, but the terror is that everybody is moving (and entering from all of those 4 or 5 exits), changing lanes, and there are no stop signs. For an American driver, it appears like chaos. The rule is that the person on the right has the right of way but you know how well drivers follow the rules of the road…
The 5 miles seemed like 500 miles! By some miracle, I made it there and back without killing anyone or hitting anything. The first thing I did when I got home was to pour a glass of wine, even though it was only 4:30.
Are you done laughing yet??
To me, the most fascinating sight in Malta is the ancient temples. They are over 7,000 years old! They are among the oldest remains of man found anywhere on earth, Cyprus being the other site with human remains of this period.
These temples look similar to the famous Stonehenge in England, with the basic structure of two very tall vertical stones with a horizontal stone across the top. Those are the doorways into the temples, with the insides shaped like small amphitheaters. However, the Maltese temples are 2,000 years older than Stonehenge so they were clearly not built by the same people. Like Stonehenge, they were built so that during the summer and winter solstices, the sun shines through the exact middle of the ‘doorway’ into the temple beyond.
How could these giant structures have been built thousands of years before there was machinery? How could the stones have even been transported to the sites? How could these stones have been lifted into place? No one knows who built these temples or where the people came from to live and worship on the tiny island of Malta. Because nothing is known about these people, the era is called The Temple Builders Era. They arrived, they built the temples, and then they disappeared. There is speculation that they could have been Phoenicians but that theory has been dismissed as the temples have been dated to at least a thousand years prior to the Phoenicians.
Isn’t it interesting that 2,000 years apart, ancient people built temples that looked the same and functioned the same astrologically in both England and Malta which are not even close to each other? Even in today’s jet age, it’s a 3 1/2 flight from Malta to England…
We have personally been to three of these temples – Tarxien (Tar-shee-en), Hagar Qim (Ha-jar-eem), and Mnadrja (Man-ay-dra). The Tarxien temples are in the middle of what is now a village. Hagar Qim and Mnadrja are within a two minute walk of each other on a hilly area right by the sea. It is a beautiful quiet spot with gentle sea breezes blowing. I wonder why they built two temples so close to each other…
I will be blogging much more about the temples and adding photos so check back often.