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Not Quite the Oldest, or Tallest, or Last
Stump’s Travel Log — penultimate edition
The last few days of the great European trip have been very chill. I left you hanging with a change of plans: it turns out we’re in Malta!
Here’s how that happened:
For our last day of hiking, we started the day in Santoña and we had to get to Santander, because that is where we originally had tickets to fly to Rome, and we couldn’t cancel that hotel, so we needed to get there. That is a longer stretch that you should hike in a day, so the plan was to walk as far as we wanted, and then take a bus to the hotel. Well, it turned out that “as far as we wanted” was about 200 meters to the bus stop right close to where we were.
Then we got those cheap RyanAir tickets to Barcelona. When I say cheap, I mean cheap: 10 Euros each… unless you wanted to bring a bag on board, then you had to pay another 20 Euros. But still, 30 Euros was pretty easy to swallow as a plan B. In Barcelona we overnighted, and then took a flight to Malta, where we decided that we had earned some relaxation. We had gorgeous weather for the last few days, and then today it was back to rain. So we decided on separate plans.
For me, it was back to the feel of the beginning of my trip: fairly ridiculous travel plans in bad weather. I took a bus, then a ferry to the island of Gozo, then an Uber to the ancient temples of Ggartija (sorry, they don’t have a character set on Substack that lets me put a dot over the initial G the way there should be). And when I say ancient, I mean ancient: these were built in 3600 BC, making them the second-to-oldest human-made structures known to us today (the oldest being the Gobekli Tepe (sorry, they also don’t let me put an umlaut over the o!).
There is something very meaningful for me to stand in the place where our human ancestors stood more than 5500 years ago. They were responding to the spiritual urges and longings in the only way they knew how. This was more than 1000 years before Yahweh called Abram; about 2000 years before Moses; and more than 3000 years before Jesus. It’s fairly clear that there was animal sacrifice going on in the temples here in Malta. It’s probably good for us to remember that the ancient Israelites didn’t invent animal sacrifice, but appropriated (and perhaps reinterpreted) it from earlier traditions.
I spent about an hour there, and then it really started raining. So I stood on someone’s porch for about 15 minutes, waiting for a bus to come. It finally did, and I was one of only two people on board as we started driving down fairly narrow roads that were lined with stone fences. We came around one corner, where the water was rushing like a river down the street, and one of those stone fences had washed out. There was a little digger there, trying to scoop them up into a dump truck, and that prevented our bus from passing. As we sat there, I reflected how interesting it was that this obviously newish stone wall had washed out in this big rain, while the temple I just came from had been standing for more than 5000 years (true, it isn’t totally intact now, but still, it is recognizably there). And back then, they didn’t have stone tools for making it, or even the wheel! They moved stones that weigh 50 tons, and it looks like they moved them by putting a series of round-ish stones under them and pushed.
I made it back to the ferry, and took a very bumpy boat ride back to the big island of Malta. Then another bus to get me back to my hotel about dinner time. My good wife had a nice day at the spa.
Actually, both of us have had a pretty cushy few days. Swimming in the Mediterranean is lots of fun, as it’s so salty that you easily float. And we toured the medieval walled city of Mdina. And we saw a Premier League soccer game. OK, it was the Premier League of Malta, but it was the #1 and #3 teams (out of 14) playing each other on Saturday at the national stadium. I had looked into going to a premier league game in the UK, but that’s a bit different. Tickets for this game cost less than ten dollars, and there were about 300 people in the stands. But it was pretty fun. We decided which team to support by which side of the stadium would let us in. The guy at the first side we went to said, “you need to go over to the other side.” I’m not sure why. But we did, and they let us in over there. There was a four-piece band playing music that sounded like it came out of The Godfather (Malta is very influenced by southern Italy and Sicily). Our team gave up a very early goal (1st minute), and then there was no scoring until the 85th minute, when we tied it up (and the fans went crazy). Another highlight was that the central defender for our team was an Italian guy named Alessandro Coppola, who is the second-tallest professional soccer player in the world at 2.05 meters — almost 6 foot 8 inches, or 0.001 nautical miles (if you’re confused by the units of measurement, see my earlier post, “Packing List.). In case you’re curious, the tallest professional footballer is 2.08 meters, a goalkeeper in Belgium named Kristof van Hout.
Continuing this post’s theme of penultimates, I’m going to say that this will be the second-to-last of Stump’s Travel Log entries. I’m just about done seeing cool old things, and I doubt that those of you reading have much more tolerance for hearing about my adventures.