GONZO GOZO: Azure Window Part I

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All great quests begin with a dragon to slay. And of course, a truly noble quest may include a princess in distress, a pilgrimage site, various vagaries of a strange and near-magical land, and then there’s all the unlikely characters—some timid and tilting at windmills, some brave and dueling with devils, and some…sheer villains.

The path is peppered with one ordeal after another—otherwise, we’d call it a five-star vacation sitting waist deep in tepid water at the poolside bar, which is lovely, but not a quest.

At some point on a quest, you may meet a mentor who aids your progress, or maybe a wood nymph or goddess appears offering comfort or grace. There’s a heartbreak or two of some sort along the way, a chapter or two you may regret.  Perhaps your Karma drone falls out of the sky, or a wheel falls off your carry-on. You may find a hint of humor—perhaps your sidekick wanders away chasing rainbows and unicorns in one scene. Just when things seem fine, trolls emerge from under what appears a safe bridge to cross.

Azure window, Malta

Quests all end pretty much the same way: your underdog’s character changes, a hero emerges and maybe learns to fly solo after learning valuable lessons, then returns to the shire with the magic elixir—or returns with 2TB of photos, a Tumi carry-on, and an upgraded drone.

When you travel the world solo, some days feel like a quest.  Take, for example, my desire to visit the most-stunning site in the Maltese archipelago: the Azure Window on the island of Gozo.

The Adventure Begins: Tarxien

Malta stone house

I was holed up in an atavistic five-hundred-year-old, limestone-walled home in the small village of Tarxien on Malta’s main island. I had intended to rent a car for the whole month I’d be on Malta, but never quite got around to it until my last week there. The guidebooks actually say “driving on Malta is fun.” However, I’m the poster child for procrastination, and I also held a fairly good rationalization not to: they drive on the wrong side of the road in Malta, the left.

Besides that, the local bus is remarkably inexpensive and stopped fifty paces from my front door. If you ride west for 20 minutes, the bus drops you at the main bus terminal outside the medieval city gate of Valleta, where you can transfer to anywhere else on the island at no extra charge. If you go east, the bus drops you in front of Costa Coffee overlooking the alluring Marsaxlokk Bay.

Malta boats green water

And perhaps most importantly, the towns are small, quaint and appealing to walk through; you see and experience significantly more than if you’re behind the wheel, concentrating on the left side of a narrow road or figuring out which way to turn at the next roundabout.

On some quests, it may be difficult to get through your day, as some like to say, without at least one good rationalization.

Entering the Gauntlet

On this venture to view the Azure Window, the villain appears in the first scene while I’m renting the car. My first impulse here is to begin whinging about this initial bump in the road before I even get on the road, but I’ll “man up” and move on. Let’s just leave it with this word of caution: the villain in our story performs sloppy sleight-of-hand tricks and palms your money like an ace of spades.

But let me offer you this advice du jour: if you travel to Malta and decide to rent a car at the airport, make arrangements well in advance, and choose your agency depending on whether or not you wish your travails to begin at the car rental counter or somewhere else further along your adventure.

Okay, and this: if the car rental company’s name begins with a “G”, read a few online customer reviews and know that everything negative, and each scam, those customers endured—all that is going to happen to you.

Apparently, I need to hone my manning-up-and-moving-on skills.

The Second Ordeal

There is no airport on Gozo, yet, though there is a plan to build one.

One more piece of advice: visit before they do—Gozo is still a rough gem waiting for the final polish of globalization. There are no Starbucks, no Taco Bells, and only one McDonalds.

You’ll drive from where ever you are on the main island of Malta to the far west end and the little burg of Cirkewwa on the rustic Marfa Peninsula. I’m rather in a hurry to reach the ferry early enough to beat the flurry of late-night tourists who arrive later in the morning.  And I’m more than a little uneasy about getting lost, so I don’t bother to stop and take photos. But I do get lost. And I arrive at the ferry terminal a bit later than I hoped.

It was my own fault. I had the Google Maps turn-by-turn directions set up on my phone, which I’d never used before and didn’t quite trust (because I’m from the dinosaur generation that still doesn’t trust techy stuff, just recently purchased my first smart phone, and already have been diagnosed with appophobia), and then I see a road sign that says “Cirkewwa” with an arrow that looks like the right direction, so instead of listening to my phone I follow the sign, figuring there would be more.

Advice du jour: when driving on Malta…listen to your phone. You’ll find yourself meandering through marvelous, picturesque villages with a maze of narrow streets built for horse carts, few road signs, homes of stone, and hundreds of photo ops, but you may need Ariandne’s Thread to find your way out of these small towns.

Malta-Gozo ferry

When I finally reach the ferry terminal, I’m a little unnerved at how many cars are already in line, rows of them. I leave the car in line and walk toward the terminal to purchase a ticket. Inside the fairly-new terminal, it feels more like a bloggers convention or night club—modern and nicely appointed décor; a shedload of young travelers brandishing backpacks, tech gear, and music; the din of expectation rising like steam; and a bar to buy drinks and sandwiches. Only thing missing is a disco light. I buy a brownie and Perrier. Obviously, this is a fine place to while away some time while waiting for a ferry.

But I feel antsy to move on and, uncharacteristically, not in the mood to sit with other travelers and talk travels. I begin to wonder if this is merely due to my impatience to get on the road to the Azure Window, or my disappointment at arriving late, or something more insidious, perhaps something like early-onset geezer misanthropy.

When the ferry begins loading, it feels like we’re all sliding inside the cone of a huge funnel waiting to slip through the narrow shaft before sifting into the boat. I’m surprised how efficiently and humanely the queue moves, and more cars board than one would imagine possible. Philip, a Maltesean who rides the ferry daily, informs me that at busy times, you might wait for two or three ferries to come and go before boarding. I board the first ferry.

Advice du jour: arrive early in the morning to evade long queues at the Gozo Ferry Terminal—and try to avoid August altogether when all Europe goes on vacation. The ferries actually run day and night at regular intervals. But I suggest crossing the channel at least one way during daylight hours for the impressive views over the deep blue Mediterranean. To ensure an early start, you might overnight at a nearby hotel, perhaps the Paradise Bay Hotel Resort with its private beach and a dash of local panache, only minutes away.

YOU ARE HERE:

***Caveat:  This story seems to be running away with itself, and is too long for one post: this is Part I of a (most-likely) three-part series (still unfinished). Sorry.

Next Post— Gonzo Gozo: Part II.

Read more about Malta

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70 comments

  1. Great stuff, BF. Nice to go travelling with you again. Any plans to visit the prehistoric stuff. Did an undergrad. dissertation on same, back when I was a young dinosaur. Appophobia indeed. I do feel for you. Am wondering if one could have an appodectomy without it being too painful. I’ve tried blitzing the scourge from my PC 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tish…HA! Appodectomy…I’m going to ask my doctor tomorrow!! And yes, I visited a couple prehistoric sites…older than the pyramids! My photos didn’t turn out so well, and they now have the sites covered to protect them from the sun and elements, so my photo shows an ancient stone with a lean-to above. Not my best work.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well it’s good to know the sites are being protected. They are unique to Malta as far as I know., and so rather mysterious. Or at least no one knew much about the people who built them
        when I was writing my dissertation.

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        • Well, protection, yeah, that’s good. But the new museum-like centers, well, I’d rather just happen upon these sites in the wild.
          Your dissertation was on THOSE sites? If I look you up, can I read that dissertation online? How cool, eh? You were like way ahead of your time. What was your major?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Lost in the mists of time, Badfish. I don’t even have my own copy. It was a second-year undergrad dissertation for a Prehistory degree. Like you, though, I’d rather just come upon ancient remains and not have them tarted up. It’s a fine balance though – to actively preserve or not to actively preserve.

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  2. For you, this was not even close to long yet! Wahhh, keep going. I’ve been wondering about you … now here you’re back to Malta in your tales, but surely it’s spring break time and you are preparing for (or on) a new quest. No? Anyway, I’m eager to see the Azure Window; these photos are an appetizer, I guess, filled with lower-case azure to whet our appetites. Nice to see you back!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lex…well, you’re right, this is not even close to long for me. Right now the thing is like 4000 words, and not completed. I wanted to get back online after the hiatus, so opted for a piece. But get this: I went nowhere for spring break!! How’s Texas? It’s going to get hot…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Alison…yeah, good to finally get something back up online after so long of…not. I got lost in some wasteland of mind stuff. You know, I do not think I have ever used or written the word “vaunt”…but the Azure Window deserves it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the way you’ve framed this venture as a quest, with your hallmark humour. I wish I could acquire appophobia and I fear I’m acquiring “early-onset geezer misanthropy” – although maybe I’m too old for early-onset. Can’t wait for the Azure Window, although I wouldn’t put it past you not to find it as part of the adventure!

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    • Ha! At the time, it actually did feel sort of like a quest. And a bit scary. But honestly, it was quite pleasant and nothing terrible actually happened! And the Azure Window is coming up!

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  4. Gorgeous! Are the waters truly that beautiful? Usually when I take a photo of water it doesn’t come out nearly as gorgeous as it really is. You seem to have captured it. Enjoyed your post.

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    • You’re right…many photos of things just don’t capture the thing. Like the Grand Canyon. I’ve never seen a photo, even great photos, that capture that canyon. And yes, the water is that beautiful. Deep blue where it’s deep, green where it’s shallow.

      Liked by 1 person

          • I agree. I’ve not heard of that in California, but in Fiji, I remember hearing of them and when I went snorkeling, I saw this long snakelike thing on the bottom and I panicked. I’m not a good swimmer, so fast for me is like a turtle on land. It turned out to be a sea cucumber. They stretch themselves out to move, otherwise they look like potatoes at the bottom of the ocean.

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  5. OH! A BF&CC post! Wait a sec while I pour a glass of wine and settle in…


    What a fun read! Seriously, I read your posts and am genuinely inspired to travel. Gotta say, this time, could’a told ya ’bout life with ferries. Live in a land of ferries and know all about it. Especially in July and August. I also know a thing or two about “Adventure Dog Excursions.”

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  6. Ah, but it’s nice to be back in story telling land, along with the damsels and unicorns and not too many ogres (if you discount car rental men and technology). I’ve missed you, Blue Eyes 🙂 🙂

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  7. I agree wholeheartedly – why drive when you can use public transport. It’s very stressful, and usually ends up with unpleasantries between the driver and passenger! (me being the passenger) I think you did well to even make it to the ferry terminal! Looking forward to the next instalment.

    Liked by 1 person

      • For us, it’s train travel all the way. The only time we drove was in France, which is the wrong side of the road for us, and it nearly ended in divorce. I kept telling Mr ET he was drifting off the road and he didn’t stop until we were going round a roundabout in Amiens and a hanging basket on a light post on the side of the road came in the window and hit me in the face. Then he started listening to me…never again! Trains, buses and walking are all the adventure I need!

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  8. We were there but alas the window was gone. It had fallen into the sea just days before we got there. So sad. Gozo is still a fabulous place to visit.

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  9. I absolutely love the way you framed this story as a quest rather than a vacation. A quest indeed. Especially if you have appophobia 😄. Sounds like Google Maps is a friend in Gozo. While I am a heavy Google Maps user, in some cities (e.g. Singapore) the app seems to take one along a long circuitous route rather than the simple short way, so knowing how to read a paper map as you do Mr Dinosaur Fish is still a plus when traveling.

    I have some friends (not heading your advice) that plan to travel to Malta in August 😱 and will send along your post to them. I have never been but it’s on the list.

    I love the shades of blue in this post, but then you know I am a water girl.

    Off to read Part 2 of your quest now

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    • I have only used the Maps a couple of times, but what I discovered is that if you know of a shorter route, or a route you’d rather take, and you just go in that direction, Maps will figure out what you’re doing and take you that way. Gawd…what a marvel!!! I love that ladies voice on my maps.
      Your friends will love it in August, also. There’s just more people, longer lines. But some people like to be around people more than me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Before Google Maps, I used a ‘Tom-Tom’ when I took a cross- country road trip with my dog Nelson. The voice I used was John Cleese. The more wrong turns I took (and I took a lot) the louder and affirmative his voice would become. Cracked me up for hours – what will make us laugh when we travel alone 😜

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  10. Appaphobia? You crack me up. Well looks like you are making some great progress since you actually now have a smart phone and you have at least one app. Next on to acceptance that they work. I’d also say your planning ahead is at least moving along to the contemplative phase of change. Brilliant writing as always Badfish. That water color is unbelievable.

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    • Yeah…acceptance, that one bothers me. Almost as much as fearing learning how to use them or what they do. And why. I want one that makes a map dangit.
      The water, and land, at Malta is superb!!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hello dear Badfish…. Absolutely beautiful post, my friend. The descriptions stand out…
    I like the way you seem to introduce Campbell´s structure of the Hero Journey here…. going through its stages!. Quite epic, indeed. I don´t know if you had that in mind, but I could not avoid thinking of it!.
    Wishing you the best… Sending love. 😀 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aquileana…so lovely to see you again after my MIA episode. And it’s funny…I bought most of Campbell’s books on religions and spirituality and stuff. But never read them. But a hero is a hero. I modeled this after something more like Bilbo Baggins, I think. love and hugs back to you…

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Have missed that swish, swishing I always hear when you’re around. 😀 I think I should warn you, You MAY find a gal named Holly (her real name, though I’m not sure if she has an online name) poking around your blogs asking questions. DON’T FEED HER TO THE FISH! She’s my niece. She wants to start her own travel blog and asked if I knew a good one for her to refer to. Well I HAD to send her to yours! 😉 She’s going to Paris soon — on her own. She’s 28 (if I remember right) and her mom is having a meltdown. So any advice you can give her would be most greatly appreciated. Assuming, of course, she gets brave enough to leave a comment…

    Liked by 1 person

    • No Holly poking around yet!! But I can offer some cool advice if she cares to write. You can give her my email address if you like (I mean, if she wants). Paris is a great place to start. Is she traveling or going to live there? Tell her mom it’s all cool, no need to worry. Is Holly going alone or with others…either way it’s all cool. People, especially Americans, should travel more. We get tunnel vision.

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      • Hey fish… Sorry I didn’t find this. Got sick in April and was in the hospital for awhile. Holly is 28, traveling alone. Not quite sure when she’s going, This September maybe? But I will sure pass your message on to her. And thanks so much, love!

        Like

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