Post-Conference Journey
The Islands of Malta and Gozo: Microcosm of the Mediterranean

Throughout our time in Malta and Gozo, our group will be accompanied by Dr. Karen Ralls, Ph.D., a religions scholar, medieval historian specializing in the 12th to 14th centuries, and former curator of the Rosslyn Chapel Museum art exhibitions.  Dr. Ralls has led groups to Malta for years, exploring the mysteries of its Neolithic temples, and the history and legacy of the Knights of St. John.  Her books include The Templars and the Grail; The Knights Templar Encyclopedia; and the forthcoming Sacred Doorways: History, Lore, Places and Symbolism of Twelve Medieval Mysteries.

Tuesday, 18th of June 2013:
After dinner in Ortigia, we will travel by coach to Catania’s Fontanarossa Airport for our late evening flight to Malta.  We will fly on Air Malta # KM 0643, leaving Catania at 11:55pm for the 40 minute trip to Malta’s Luqa Airport.  A coach transfer brings us to our hotel in Valletta where we will spend the night.

Wednesday, 19th of June 2013:
After breakfast at our hotel, we spend our first morning exploring Valletta, Malta’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Built by the Knights of St. John nearly five centuries ago, the city is a living example of Baroque magnificence.  We’ll visit the Upper Barrakka gardens, with its stunning view of Malta’s Grand Harbor, St. John’s Co-Cathedral and Oratory, home to Caravaggio’s famous painting of the “Beheading of St. John”, and the 16th century Grandmaster’s Palace.  After lunch in the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, we then travel back several millennia to the Neolithic stone temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, perhaps the oldest surviving religious structures in the world.  Our evening is spent in Vittoriossa (or Birgu), one of the Three Cities built by the Knights before establishing Valletta, crossing the harbor to the city in the traditional gondola-like dghajsa boats.  We’ll stroll through the twisting, atmospheric, lamp-lit streets, have dinner, and then return to our hotel in Valletta for the night.

Thursday, 20th of June 2013:
Our morning finds us crossing St. Paul’s Bay on colorful, luzzu-likeboats for an off-the-beaten-path visit to the island where St. Paul was shipwrecked in 60 AD.  We’ll soak in the peace and tranquility, and exquisite views, before venturing on to the Mellieha Sanctuary (The Crypt of Our Lady), one of the many natural caves found on the northern part of the island, so-named for the 13th century fresco depicting the Virgin Mary painted within.  We then travel on to the medieval, walled town of Mdina, the “Silent City”, situated on a hill in the center of the island, and nearby Rabat, lying just outside the Citadel.  After lunch in Mdina, we’ll visit its majestic Cathedral and Wignacourt museum (located in the former Grandmaster’s palace and connected by an underground passage to St. Paul’s grotto), as well as the catacombs of St. Paul.  We’ll then take an early evening ferry over to the more rural, mystical island of Gozo, where we will have dinner and spend the following two nights.

Friday, 21st of June, 2013:
After breakfast at our hotel and a relaxed morning, we’ll head out to explore the Citadella, Gozo’s historic, fortified town, inhabited as far back as the Bronze Age, with its rich Archeological Museum, and 12th century tavern at which we’ll take lunch.  Our afternoon will be spent visiting the Xlendi Bay.  Site of a former fishing village, Xlendi’s bay is a beautiful inlet with a sandy beach and the vastness of the clear blue sea, surrounded by majestic cliffs and caves, and a cloudless turquoise sky.  We’ll have dinner in Xlendi at a restaurant with enchanting views of the harbor, and return to our Gozo hotel for the night.

Saturday, 22nd of June 2013:
This day has us immersed in the stark and unusual beauty of Gozo’s natural world as we explore the caves and coves and temples of this island.  We’ll begin after breakfast with a visit to the megaliths of Ggantija, surrounded by olive groves and flowering cacti, and an excursion to Calypso¹s cave, legendary site of Odysseus’ love-imprisonment in Homer¹s Odyssey.  We’ll have lunch at an Agriturismo restaurant before continuing to explore the imposing cliffs of Ta’ Cenc and the colorful alabaster stalactites and stalagmites of underground caverns.  We’ll take a short boat ride to view the Azure Window and the dramatic geological formations of the windswept and wild Dwejra coast.  If possible, we’ll also make our way to see the Black Madonna at Ghajnsielem before a ferry returns us to Malta.  We’ll conclude our time together with dinner in Valletta (and the possibility of live, traditional Maltese music) and a shared evening walk back to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, where we may now glimpse the exquisite magic of the waterfront lit at night, and reflect upon the multiple layers of history and spirituality that imbue these islands.

Sunday, 23rd of June 2013:
Our coach departs after breakfast for Malta International Airport (MLA) in Luqa in time for flights departing at 12:30pm or later.  Participants with later departures will have the option of stopping at Wied iz Zurrieq, the wondrously glowing sea caverns known as the Blue Grotto (if time permits, entry is available for a nominal fee of 8 euros).