More Mediterranean Ports of Call
The strategic position of Malta, a group of islands about halfway between the coasts of Sicily and North Africa, has made it a crossroad of history. The Stone and Bronze-Age people, Romans, Phoenicians, Arabs, Normans, French and British all played a role. The Apostle Paul was shipwrecked there; the Knights of Malta, have had a significant influence on its history, and it has the reputation of having been "the most bombed spot on earth" during World War II.
St Paul's Island, at the mouth of Mellieha Bay, has a huge marble statute of Paul, who came ashore there in 60 AD. The precise spot of the landing is marked by a church. You probably recognize the eight-pointed Maltese Cross, the insignia of the Knights, who were a religious and multinational order of soldiers and hospitallers. You've probably also heard of the Maltese falcon, the "rent" the knights paid for the island.
Valletta, the capital, was built by Jean de la Valette, the order's Grand Master. It's a packed with churches and palaces, and dominates the island's historic Grand Harbor, one of the finest natural ports in Europe. Malta is a limestone island, and every building in Valletta is of golden limestone. Their color harmonizes beautifully with the blue Mediterranean sky, and the city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta is the place to trace all this history, as are the Maritime Museum and the National War Museum. Among other things at the War Museum you can see the George Cross, awarded to the island for bravery by England's King George VI in World War II. Despite the pounding, Malta never surrendered to the Germans.
Malta has beautiful beaches. The Upper Barrakka Gardens at Valletta commands a magnificent view of the Grand Harbor, and the Blue Grotto is famous for the clarity of its water and the brilliant colors around the rocks.
Lisbon, the westernmost city in continental Europe, has strong links to the past. Renovated palaces and magnificent churches mirror the city's rich cultural heritage. It used to be the center of one of the biggest empires of all times, with colonies in America, Asia and Africa. The celebrated explorers Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan were both Portuguese.
Lisbon has a vivid cultural life. Its trademark is the Fado, a nostalgic and melancholic art that combines elements of narrative poetry and singing. Bairro Alto is the center of nightlife with various restaurants and bars where the Fado wails. One of the oldest quarters in Lisbon is the Alfama, which largely survived the 1755 earthquake that devastated most of the rest of the city. It is very picturesque and every year in June the streets come alive with feasts in honor of popular saints.
The Centro Commercial Colombo is the biggest shopping mall on Iberian Peninsula. It occupies the huge main pavilion of the 1998 Expo, which has a double glass ceiling. Water falls between the glasses, making you feel inside a waterfall. The mall has many movie theaters, fashion shops, restaurants and bars. For those who prefer to shop in local markets, there is a fascinating flea market at the Campo de Santa Clara.
Portugal boasts springtime temperatures during the winter and cool summers freshened by a breeze off the Atlantic. It's famous for its seafood cuisine, the most typical of which is the bacalhau cozido com grão e batatas (cod with chick peas and boiled potatoes). Lisbon also has one of the best aquariums in Europe, at the seaside.
Near Lisbon is Sintra, a beautiful village that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its lush wooded heights and verdant charms invite visitors to take a ride in a horse-pulled carriage and gaze at the marvelous manor-houses of the 19th century aristocrats.
Haifa, Israel's third largest city, is built on the slopes of Mount Carmel, site of Elijah's Cave and the place where the Catholic Carmelite Order was established.
Mount Carmel is riddled with caves, one of which is traditionally known as the "Cave of Elijah". It is considered by many Jews to have been the home of the Jewish biblical prophet, who the Bible says raised the dead, brought fire down from the sky and ascended into heaven in a chariot. In the Books of Kings, Elijah is described as challenging 450 prophets to a contest at the altar on Mount Carmel.
On the summit of of the mountain is the lovely Carmelite Muhraka Monastery, at the spot where the worldwide Catholic order was founded in the 12th century. It has a dramatic stone statue of Elijah, sword raised to heaven, and the view from its roof is unsurpassed.
As if all this religion wasn't enough, Haifa is also the world center of the Bahai faith and site of the enchanting Bahai terrace gardens. At the foot of Mount Carmel is the very fine Haifa beach and the area known as "Down Town," with its colorful, authentic markets.
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