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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Cruising the Mediterranean Part 4 - Final 3 Stops

 After leaving behind the disappointment of Sicily, our cruise next stopped in at
  • Valletta, Malta
  • Kotor, Montenegro
  • Ravenna, Italy
before ending in Venice.


Valletta, Malta




Who really knows anything about Malta, beyond "The Maltese Falcon", a movie from the early 1940s that has nothing really to do with Malta. We certainly didn't.

Turns out it's one of the smallest and densest countries in the world. It's a country now, but has been ruled by the PhoeniciansRomansMoorsNormansSiciliansSpanishKnights of St. JohnFrench, and British before gaining its independence in 1964. 

It's formally the Republic of Malta, and this confused me given that just a couple of weeks before we arrived, the country hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. Thanks to Wikipedia, I discovered it became a republic in 1974, but remains a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations.

After WWII, Britain awarded the entire island the George Cross to recognize the heroism and devotion of the people during the great siege it underwent in the early parts of WWII. 

Kerry and I happened to discover that there was a war room in Valletta from WWII. Not many people know this, but I love WWII things. Not the details of battles or anything about the equipment, but more its social impact, how people lived and were affected, the spy stories, how we got there, and how it impacted us later. You know, the interesting bits. So when we heard about this war rooms, we wanted to go. And we dragged along Sharla and Dad.



We knew the kids would have no interest at all. They've been so good about going along to things and behaving that on this day we gave them a break and let them stay on board in the kids' club. Normally, I would never do this, but when you've spent 8 1/2 months together without a break from each other, they deserve one.

The museum was fantastic and focussed a lot on the Allied efforts to defend attacks on Malta waged by the Germans and Italians from Sicily. I could say so very much, but I won't. I will say, the guide in the museum was fantastic and truly loved talking about his country and its role in the war.
The wall-sized map of Malta and Sicily used during WWII. The map was forgotten about and covered by NATO maps after WWII when NATO took over the secret and hidden space.

It might look like a fancy game of Risk, but it was how the Maltese tracked the French and Italian bombers leaving Sicily.

After the museum, Sharla and Dad were done with museums and wanted to just wander around town. With Dad along, wandering around town means let's find some ice cream, let's sit for a bit and maybe stop into a shop or two, and then let's walk for a block or so and have a snack or a drink. 

Kerry and I left Sharla and Dad at the snack stage. The kids had been in kids' club all day, and we felt it was maybe time to show up and collect them.

Malta was such an unknown, but has such a long and rich history, I would never hesitate to return. Plus, I always like a place that makes me want to learn and read more (who were these Knights of St. John and how did they come to rule the island?). It's just a bit awkward to get to, being in the middle of the Mediterranean after all.


Kotor, Montenegro




The arrival to Kotor was beyond fabulous, and I may have actually gasped audibly when I saw the view; it was not what I expected. The water was absolutely still and gave off a near perfect reflection of the mountains and towns we passed. It was as though we'd been magically transported from the seas onto a serene lake. 

Then I looked at the map. We travelled so far inland from the Adriatic Sea and to such a narrow bit of water, no wonder the water could be so still.




Montenegro once formed part of Yugoslavia. And that's about all I knew about it. To be honest, I find the Balkans and its history confusing and muddled.

We heard lots about the Montenegrins fighting the Ottomans (who were Turkish and Muslim - the Montenegrins are Christian Orthodox). There were skirmishes and wars. Then, the son of one of the big and successful generals, just appointed himself King. Likely, there's more to this story, but that's the general gist.

The King did live well, travel Europe, hob nob with the rich and royal, and was very friendly with the Romanov's of Russia. No one said this, but perhaps this explains the rise of communism, since the poor folks at home saw his extravagance. But I'm ahead of myself.

During WW1 they were allies, but occupied by Austria-Hungary. They were liberated, and then merged with Serbia. Then Yugoslavia begins to take shape. WWII begins and ends, and the communists ultimately have a fair bit of success leading to the formation of communist Yugoslavia that fell apart in 1992. Montenegro and Serbia joined forces and called themselves the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. 

Our guide dealt with the history after the collapse of communism as very simple. They were part of Serbia, and then in 1996, they weren't. He was rather quiet on the Bosnian and Croatian wars (both before 1996), and the war crimes that had been committed by the Serbs.

Today, Montenegro and Serbia are two different countries. Yet their religion is the same (Christian Orthodox). Many surnames are very similar (especially the -ic ending that sounds like 'each' or 'itch'). And then I read that many people in Montenegro will move back and forth between identifying themselves as Montenegrin-Serbs or Serb-Montenegrins! That doesn't even make sense to me, but clearly the history and memories run deep. 

No wonder I find this region's history so very complicated. I've never spent the time required to really figure it all out. Even then, I'm not sure I could.

Anyway, it was an awesome and interesting stop. 

The town of Kotor has this crazy old city wall that climbs straight up the mountain. It was tough to get a photo of the wall because the mountain is huge, steep and high. In this photo, the dotted white line is the base of the wall. The wall is tough to see because, of course, the stone from which it's made blends into the mountain from which the stone came.





Here's one photo where you can just see it at the top of the mountain from inside the town walls:



And then the same photo zoomed in:



When it's zoomed in, it's not as impressive, but look at the first photo and remember that these mountains go straight up from just a few metres from shore. Behind these buildings is a steep incline that the wall is on. Just crazy.

The Balkans have been added to my list of places I want to visit and linger. I'd really like to spend the time to try to begin to understand what's gone on in this area, rather than just say it's complicated and move on. 


Ravenna, Italy

Our last stop before we end our cruise in Venice.

By this point, Dad was tired. The ship docked a few miles from town. We took the shuttle into town, and soon Dad was ready to stop for a coffee, but not before stopping at the candy stand to get little bags of goodies for the kids.



Shortly after the candy stop, he was ready for a coffee break. Dad, the kids, and I stopped for a coffee and hot chocolate. Kerry and Sharla explored.

The town is known for its mosaics. I managed to get into one area where there are a lot. Keep a look out for this awesomeness (or something similar, and likely much simpler) to appear in our main floor bathroom.


Soon, Dad was ready to return to the ship. The kids were on board with that idea. I returned with them, while Kerry and Sharla checked out a few more stops in town. 

And that ended my short time in Ravenna.

The next stop on our cruise was our final one, Venice. But you'll have to wait to hear about our time there.

Early morning arrival in Venice marking the end of our cruise.








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