Malta – Midnight Mass in the Cathedral and Bethlehem on Gozo

I didn’t think we could outdo the experience of Midnight Mass in the Cathedral of Granada last year. And we didn’t, because I’ll always remember it as an ethereal burst of soaring white stone and music in the midst of a dark night. But this year’s midnight mass at the Valletta Cathedral was its own kind of beautiful. For one thing, this:

The President of Malta was at the Midnight Mass (which was almost two hours long, so fortunately it began at 11). AND she shook my hand! The mass is so popular they have to issue tickets, and to avoid selling tickets to a religious service, the tickets include a reception afterwards at the Palace of the Grand Masters, which is now the official residence of the President of Malta, who greeted each guest as we entered. Here’s her car, waiting in the courtyard of the Palace.

I was rather thrilled to see a bit more of the inside of the Palace.

The staterooms are currently closed in preparation for Malta assuming the presidency of the EU (a much lauded event here, which is being celebrated with billboards all over the island, as well as random mentions by DJ’s on the radio). In fact, there was a large display to that effect prominently displayed in the Palace itself.

The place was all lit up inside with atmospheric blue lights that made you feel like you were walking up the stairs in some enchanted palace in a Disney movie.

We enjoyed mulled wine, gold drapery, and paintings of British monarchs with the President of Malta. We also got a chance to see Valletta at night, and it was lovely. This is the Royal Opera House, which was left in ruins after WWII. The Italian architect Renzo Piano redesigned a performance space that incorporated those ruins, and the result is startling and evocative, especially against the ultra-modern (and gorgeous) Parliament Building, which was also part of Renzo’s design.

On Christmas Day, I attempted a leg of lamb. I say attempted, because we are staying at an AirBnB, and I am not very familiar yet with our gas oven. I accidentally left my lamb under the broiler for an hour, which resulted in what could be politely described as “excessive carmelisation”. In this photo I had already turned the thing over, but you can see the extent of the damage to the accompanying carrots.

Amazingly, the inside ended up tender and juicy and perfect. A handful of the carrots were even salvageable. It was a small Christmas miracle.

After Christmas lunch, we headed off to the smaller island of Gozo. Or at least we drove the ten minutes to the ferry terminal. After which we and dozens of Maltese waited for over two hours for the appearance of said ferry. By the time it finally showed up, it was too late for the scenic driving tour of the island that I had planned, although we did get some lovely late-afternoon views of Gozo from the ferry.

Instead, we raced to our final picturesque destination. Or at any rate, we tried to race. Just a note if you’re ever in Malta: Google maps is surprisingly unreliable. As well as attempting to send us the wrong way down several one-way streets, it led us down an increasingly steep, narrow, and pot-holed road towards Dwejra Bay. It was a thrilling race against time, since the best views were supposedly to be had at dusk, and dusk was fast approaching. Still, we were able to appreciate the gorgeous countryside on little Gozo.

This is as far as we got on our pot-holed road before we had to turn back and take another way. Which other way turned out to be the way we were supposed to have taken in the first place.

But we persevered and made it in the end to the Azure Window, aka site of the Dothraki Wedding in Game of Thrones. The bay is as spectacular as billed, and we did arrive just as the sun was setting.

And here are Lyra and I, right in front of the famous Azure Window.

Our final stop was Ghajnsielem, site of a traditional live nativity. In fact, they do a whole little city of Bethlehem, including an outdoor market, Roman camp, and plenty of live animals. Highlights included these women doing traditional spinning,

making mosaics

and of course, the Holy Family themselves. Look closely behind them, and see who else was in Bethelehem last night!