Friday, 19 October 2007


I love Gozo! If you want to see Malta 30 years ago, just hop on a ferry at Cirkewwa and cross to the second largest island in the archipelago. We were lucky because Ma decided to come with us, which meant Arrow and Lu had the benefit of her knowledge, rather than having to put up with the fact that, despite my familiarity with these islands, I really don't know anything at all of use.

On our way north, we stopped at Wardija to visit Sam Cremona's olive grove, where new Maltese olive oil is being grown with enormous success. Now Mr Cremona has grafted original Maltese trees, the fruit produced is superb. Before he used imported plants, and they didn't take to the soil well, meaning the oil was bitter and unpalatable. Now they're making sweet, incredibly acid-free oil or incredible quality. Malta used to be a real force in the Mediterranean's olive production, which is reflected in the number of places that incorporate zebbug (the Maltese word for 'olive') into their names.

Anyway, we didn't get to meet Sam Cremona, who had to rush off and visit his mother in St Paul's Bay, but his wife Matti was charming and showed us the teeny tiny press they're using, talked us through the process, and let us taste some of the oil. It really is good! Fisher and I bought 3 bottles, and I plan on using it liberally when I cook for people in November. It needs to be eaten quickly, so no point in saving it.

After Wardija we headed to the ferry, only to be given a serious run-around by the Maltese inability to direct you anywhere. Owing to the rough sea, the ferry wasn't going from its usual spot, so a man waved us vaguely in a direction best described as 'over there somewhere.' Confused, we sent Ma out to get some proper directions (hey - I was driving! Blame the others for sending the old woman out into the cold while they stayed tucked up nice and warm!*) and she came back with the information that we were now leaving from further down the coast a little way, just outside a hotel. So off we went, only to decide swiftly that the directions we'd been given had to be horsecrap. The sea isn't deep enough at that point to allow a ferry to dock, and nor was there any sign of activity. Ma hopped out again and tried to ask at the crappy hotel, only to be looked at blankly by some specky oik who could only bellow "trainee! Trainee!" at her. So back we went to the ferry terminal, and found the ferry docked snugly at the South Pier rather than the north. What the hell?? We'd been sent on a total wild goose chase by a ferry official who was clearly either a) making mischief, b) totally clueless or c) taking mushrooms.

Anway, we managed to get on the ferry at last and the crossing was swift and easy. Our first port of call was the Citadel, which Fisher and I begged pardon and excused ourselves from visiting again owing to the fact we've both seen it more than enough times. Ma, Lu and Arrow went off while Fisher and I found a tiny bar/café called Bellusa, with one solitary table on the street which we grabbed. I then had a truly excellent cup of coffee, and we were entertained by the jovial, rotund propriator who, when I complimented the coffee, bellowed:

"Ah! Bellusa! Remember the name, Madam!"

So I have.

We were joined in a surprisingly short time by Ma, who'd discovered you now have to pay to get into the cathedral in the Citadel as well now, and had no desire to do so, so we sat and chatted while waiting for Arrow and Lu. When they joined us, it transpired they'd been buffetted beyond belief by the wind on the battlements but had enjoyed the marvellous views over the island.

Next stop was Ggantija, where the largest copper-age temples sit on a hilltop overlooking the wieds and ridges of Gozo. I found them less inspiring than Mnajdra, possibly for the silly reason that the stone is very ordinary looking, rather than the beautiful honeyed tones of Mnajdra and Hagar Qim. There are two temples side by side, making up one large jumble of stones, and both are in rough '8' shapes. The stones are impressively huge, and I can't imagine how they were hefted into place.

Temples checked off the list, we went in search of lunch and found a deeply uninspiring place in - I think - Xaghra, where I had glutinous spaghetti with rabbit sauce. We stayed only as long as it took to gulp it down, then drove the the Azure Window and Inland Sea. There, pushing our way through hosts of SCUBA divers who come to enjoy the best diving in the Med, we bought a 15 minute pootle on a boat which took us through the Inland Sea's tunnel and out to open water. Because we were in the lea of the wind the water was calm, and we bobbed gently by the great cliffs, enjoying beautiful sunshine and looking at the bright purple and red coral clinging to the waterline. After a look at the Azure Window from the sea side and a couple of caves, we took in Fungus Rock, where a rare fungus grows which the Knights guarded jealously because they thought it had excellent medical benefits, and then returned to the dock. It was a short trip, but for LM1.50 it was well worth it, if only to see the glee on Fisher's face at being out on the water again.

Time was advancing remorselessly, so off we went again, this time to the north. A steep drive took us to the Gordan Lighthouse and beautiful views. After drinking our fill of the sun sinking over the island we set off again. Lu had a geocache she wanted to seek out, which - after an enjoyable hunt - we found down a narrow, rocky path overlooking the lighthouse from the village of Zebbug. This achieved, we finished our Gozo trip with a tour by car of the north, taking in the ancient salt pans at Marsalforn before chasing the sun back to the ferry terminal.

Unfortunately, we had a very long wait for a ferry as the one we'd hoped to catch took only 2 trucks - presumably carrying hazardous materials - and we had to wait over an hour for the next one. It was therefore dark as we crossed the water, so no sunset views, and we were pretty hungry by the time we arrived. Again we foreswore Bobbyland and went instead to Mgarr for rabbit - at Il-Barri restaurant, which harbours the WWII shelters beneath.

The rabbit was excellent - much better than Bobbyland - and I'll take all visitors there in future. Arrow, Ma and I had the traditional casserole - which they called fenkata on the menu - while Lu went for a rabbit stew filled with such delights as pork belly to add flavour. Delicious! Arrow said it wasn't what he expected, and he also had a nasty scare thinking there were almonds in it - but luckily they turned out to be thinly sliced bits of garlic, which did indeed look alarmingly like almonds!

I've always thought fenkata was actually a whole rabbit feast, with spaghetti and rabbit sauce to start it off, followed by the rabbit stew, and then a pudding made of rabbit ice cream.

Ok, not the pudding - but the rest of it's true, and it's what Ma thought as well. I imagine they call the rabbit dish on the menu fenkata for tourist ease - but who cares? I thought it was great, and a terrific way to end our Gozo trip.

*Anyone who's actually met my mother knows that portraying her as some ancient, decrepit crone is laughable.