“Welcome to Miami”- Long Weekend in Miami, Florida

I have a dear friend that used to live where I do and she moved to Miami several years ago. The last time I went to see her was around 6 or so years ago so I was long over-due for a visit to see her. When I was planning my vacation to Malta, I was curious to see how much more it would cost to go through Miami on my way home. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a single penny more (in fact it was a bit cheaper to go through Miami) so after making sure she would be available in late November (she was) I booked our airfare.

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I’ll admit, I’m a huge planner and always have been. It’s nothing for me to have tentative plans for vacations or races a year or more in advance. It may all be in my head, with nothing purchased, but it’s still more or less planned. However, for my time in Miami, I didn’t plan a single thing. I didn’t go online to check out restaurants. I didn’t go to TripAdvisor to choose things to do. Since we would be staying with my friend and she would be driving us around, I didn’t even have to make hotel and/or rental car arrangements. This is truly unusual for me, to trust another person with all of the details for my vacation.

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I’ll also admit our time in Miami may not be how many of you would choose to spend time there. We didn’t go to a single club or bar. When we went to South Beach, the only things we did were go to lunch and spend the rest of the day on the sand and/or in the ocean. We also went to my friend’s neighborhood pool and my daughter had a grand time there. Most of all, we relaxed and thoroughly enjoy ourselves as my friend went out of her way to make us feel truly welcome.

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So what did we do other than go to the beach and pool? Well, we went on an airboat ride in the Everglades. We wanted to also go to Everglades National Park but because of a recent hurricane, they were closed. My friend has gone on multiple airboat rides in the Everglades over the years with visiting friends and relatives and she likes Everglades Safari Park the best. For $28 per adult or $15 per child you get a 30-40 minute airboat tour, a wildlife nature show, and you can walk along the “Jungle Trail,” observation platform, and exhibits on your own after the airboat tour. There’s also a discount if you buy your tickets in advance online.

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I’ve been on airboat rides before through the Everglades but I had forgotten how much fun they are! My daughter had never been on one and she loved it as well. During our tour, we saw multiple alligators, a few birds, and our guide pointed out some interesting plants in the area such as some so poisonous you would be dead within 20 minutes of touching it. After the airboat ride, we watched the wildlife nature show, where they had a boa constrictor and alligators. You could also get your picture take with a baby alligator after the show for $3 (we didn’t). We finished up our time at Everglades Safari Park with a walk around the “Jungle Trail,” which was nice but we didn’t really see much of anything of note.

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One of a few alligators seen on our airboat tour

Two things of note come to mind when visiting the Everglades: this is apparently an entirely different experience if you come during the warmer versus cooler months. My friend has been here during all seasons and said the mosquitoes will eat you alive during the warmer months (most of the year in Miami) and you may not even see a single alligator on the airboat ride. More reasons to go to Miami during the winter.

This vacation was a nice break after being so busy and active in Malta the previous couple of weeks. Normally you wouldn’t think of a long weekend in Miami as being quiet and relaxing, but like I’ve said many times, my family and I don’t vacation like typical Americans do.

How many of you have been on an airboat ride through the Everglades? What was your experience like?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

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Beaches of Malta- We Saved the Best for Last (Maybe)

On our final day in Malta we decided to check out some of the beaches a bit further away than the one across the street from our hotel. Although we had walked along this beach in St. Paul’s Bay a couple of times, we hadn’t attempted to get into the water and it was a rocky beach so it’s not one where you would sit on the sand and relax. Still, it was nice to walk along the water in the evening and watch the beautiful sunsets.

I had read that Ghadira Bay Beach is Malta’s largest sandy beach and that even in November the water could be warm enough for some people to swim in. I also knew that Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and Gnejna Bay were also worth checking out. Popeye Village, the movie set for the movie Popeye that was left permanently after filming ended on Malta is also close to Ghadira Bay Beach, so I thought we could make a day of it going to all of these places.

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Popeye Village, movie set from the 1980 movie “Popeye”

First we went to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and were blown away by how beautiful the view was. The water is this mixture of turquoise, greens, and darker blues that’s mesmerizing. It’s all surrounded by these huge limestone cliffs that just add to the beauty of the area. We hadn’t packed our bathing suits or towels because we hadn’t planned on doing anything other than taking in the views but our daughter begged my husband and me to drive back to the hotel and put on our swim suits and get beach towels. We agreed on the condition that we could first check out Ghadira Bay Beach and if we didn’t like it as much we’d go back to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay.

Ghadira Bay Beach is beautiful but we didn’t think it was nearly as beautiful as Ghajn Tuffieha Bay. Honestly, I don’t have nearly as good of photos of Ghadira Bay Beach as I do of Ghajn Tuffieha Bay, so I’m only going to show Ghajn Tuffieha Bay here. After having lunch at Ghadira Bay Beach, we drove the short drive to Popeye Village. We decided it wouldn’t be worth the 30 Euro it would have cost to go inside the village, especially since we didn’t want to spend more than 20 or 30 minutes there. After admiring the view and snapping some photos, we drove back to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay.

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Just look at this water!

My husband and daughter who are both more cold-tolerant than I am got in the water and swam around for quite a while before they both got out to warm up on the soft sand under the warm sun. I kept thinking to myself that this was a very nice way indeed to spend our holiday. I felt very fortunate to be here in this beautiful country with such rich history, awesome scenery, and friendly people.

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One unexpected thing that we discovered in the Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and Gneja Bay area were all of the trails there. We explored the many paths that wrapped around the bays and were rewarded with some fantastic views of both bays.

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Stopping on one of the trails to take a photo

After leaving Ghajn Tuffieha Bay we went back to our hotel to get cleaned up for dinner (which happened to be Thanksgiving Day for us Americans). So what did we decide to have for our Thanksgiving dinner in Malta you ask? We actually got take-away from a Chinese restaurant and celebrated back in our room. It was our last day in Malta, since we would be flying out the next morning to continue our vacation in Miami, Florida.

As we were driving to the airport bright and early the next morning to leave Malta, I started thinking about what was my favorite part. Usually I have an answer to questions like that pretty quickly, but here, I’m not sure. I loved Gozo and the salt pans there. I loved Dingli Cliffs and the views from there. I also loved Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and the beautiful water. I think in this case, I’ll have to go with my top three.

You can find other posts about Malta here:

Where in the World is Malta?

Rabat/Mdina/Mġarr Area of Malta- Touring a Roman House, Temples, and Catacombs

Valletta Area of Malta- the Capital City

Harbour Area of Malta- A Palace, a Fort, and Temples

How many of you have been to Malta and have been to these beautiful beaches and bays? What is your favorite part of Malta?

Happy travels!

Donna

The Blue Grotto, Dingli Cliffs, and My Favorite Temples in Malta

For our exploration of the southern area of Malta, we decided to go to the Blue Grotto, Dingli Cliffs, Hagar Qim Temples, and Mnajdra Temples. Since it was late in the year, I thought it would be too chilly to enjoy a boat ride, but there were a few other boats going out for tours while we were there. I would definitely do it during the warmer months- next time! Still, it was fun to just walk around and look at the beautiful water for a bit and snap some photos. There are a few small restaurants where you can get a quick snack but it’s a pretty small undeveloped area (which is a good thing).

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The Blue Grotto

To get to Dingli Cliffs, we started in Buskett Gardens, an area with woodlands dating back to the 16th century. There are historical sites nearby such as prehistoric cart ruts and Ghar il-Kbir (a complex of caves that were inhabited up to 150 years ago). Although there are numerous trails you can hike around Buskett Gardens, we just walked straight from Buskett Gardens to Dingli Cliffs although we could have just driven straight to the cliffs. If I would have had more time, I definitely would have spent more time hiking around Buskett Gardens since it seemed very pretty in the area.

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Dingli Cliffs
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Looking down Dingli Cliffs

Hagar Qin Temples were my favorite of all of the temples we went to (and we went to a lot). I thought the preservation of the temples were some of the best in the area and the location of the temples by the Dingli Cliffs just added to the experience. Mnajdra Temples were within walking distance from Hagar Qin, just a bit closer to the water but not quite as extensive. First excavated in 1839, the remains of Hagar Qin suggest a date between 3600 – 3200 BC, a period known as the Ġgantija phase in Maltese prehistory.

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It was nice that the last temples we went to were my favorite ones; we saved the best for last. After all of this history, we were ready to see some other things, so we decided to see some beaches in the area. Join me for that upcoming post!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

My First Experience with Mobile WiFi for International Travel

Based on a recent visit to Chile and going without WiFi  for a week, I started investigating mobile WiFi options for an upcoming vacation to Malta. I’m an American and my cell phone is locked and doesn’t offer me the option of putting a sim card into it from Malta, so I knew I had to find another way. In my mind I pretty much had three options- 1) buy a cheap phone in Malta for my time there and share it with my husband and daughter (not really an option), 2) rent a GPS for the car but possibly not have WiFi or have limited access (again, not really an option) or 3) rent a MiFi or mobile WiFi.

First off, what is mobile WiFi? Unlike WiFi which provides internet connectivity to wireless devices through fixed WiFi hotspots, mobile WiFi or MiFi provides connectivity when devices are on the move. The MiFi router acts as a mobile hotspot. In other words, you can have internet connectivity anywhere you are and have the MiFi  device, whether going down the road in a car, on the beach, in an apartment, etc. Anywhere you can pick up a signal, I should say. We never had problems getting a signal no matter where we tried in Malta.

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Many roads like this aren’t one-way in Malta!

There are many options for Americans who travel to Europe (which includes Malta) so I began comparing them. You can buy a device or rent one. I knew I didn’t want to buy a device at least at this point in my life so I looked at companies where I could rent one.

Skyroam seemed like a good option at $9.95 per day to rent plus $1.95 per day to upgrade to 4G LTE and includes up to five devices. You can have the device delivered to your house before you leave on vacation and return it upon arrival back to the States. Xcom Global also seemed like a good option at $7.77 per day plus an option of $1.50 per day extra for LTE upgrade for $9.27 total per day so I went with Xcom Global. I also paid $19 to have the device shipped to my home before I left for Malta and returned it at a FedEx facility upon arrival back in the US for no charge. After I returned from my vacation, I learned that Xcom Global closed their US facility mid-December of 2017. Since I was planning on using them for future international vacations, I’m sad this happened, but I’m willing to try Skyroam and see how they compare the next time.

More importantly how did the MiFi work? So well that we’ll be renting a device the next time we travel internationally and probably every time we travel internationally. We could have gotten by with just renting a GPS for the car but then we wouldn’t have had WiFi for all the times when we were in little public squares and needed to find a restaurant, cafe, pharmacy, or just where the historical site we were going to was after we found a parking spot several blocks away and getting thoroughly turned around.

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I personally wouldn’t want to drive a big car in Malta with so many narrow roads

The roads in Malta are not well-marked or in some cases aren’t marked at all. Without the verbal turn-by-turn directions from the MiFi (or a GPS), we would have gotten lost pretty much every day we drove somewhere. The one time we only had printed directions to a place with no address, we were only able to find it after stopping to ask someone for directions. The roads are fairly well-maintained in the more populated areas, but when you get out in rural areas, they pretty quickly get worse, meaning narrow, winding, completely unmarked, and sometimes downright insane. On a couple of occasions when the GPS said to go on a road, we looked at it and said no way in hell are we taking that road and circled around until the GPS found us another way.

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Road, sidewalk, or both? It’s actually both.

Beyond using the MiFi for driving and finding our way around Malta, we had the device at both the Airbnb apartment in Gozo and the hotel in Malta. Fortunately the WiFi at both places was sufficient that we didn’t need the MiFi but it was nice knowing we had it if we needed it. We’ve stayed at hotels before that advertised WiFi but it turned out it was only in the lobby, which of course isn’t ideal. I wasn’t 100% sure if this was going to be the case at our hotel in Malta and didn’t really want to take the chance.

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Look closely at this hillside- there are actually roads here. Yep, they can be like that in Malta.

After having MiFi for our vacation in Malta and being so pleased with it, we will absolutely rent another device for future international vacations. It makes the vacation so much less stressful and to me that’s worth every penny.

Have any of you used MiFi devices for international travel? Are there any ones you recommend?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Harbour Area of Malta- A Palace, a Fort, and Temples

Right beside Valletta in Malta is the Harbour Area. If you missed my post about Valletta, you can find it here. We tried to combine Valletta and the Harbour Area but it was too much for one day so we ended up splitting it into two days. I found the Harbour area to be a bit less hectic and crowded (a bit but not a ton) than Valletta and liked the Harbour area a bit more because of this. We enjoyed just walking around admiring the huge yachts and coming up with names for our future yacht after we win the lottery.

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Plan B looks pretty good to me!

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Continuing with our historical tour of Malta, we began with the Inquisitor’s Palace. This unused (at the time) palace was offered as a residence to an inquisitor in 1574 and is the only inquisitor’s place open to the public in the world so it’s a rare opportunity to be able to tour such a place. Although it’s sad to think about what went on here, especially when you see the prison and torture areas, it is a part of history that can’t be forgotten.

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A display in the Inquisitor’s Palace

It was getting late in the evening when we toured Fort St. Angelo so we got to see views of the harbour at dusk from the top of the fort, which was nice. There really isn’t much to see at the fort other than take in some stunning views of the area but the views are some of the best in the Harbour Area. While it’s not the biggest, oldest, or strongest fort in Malta, it is said that who ever controlled Fort St. Angelo controlled Malta. To me, that’s one powerful fort.

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View from Fort St. Angelo

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The Tarxien Temples turned out to be some of my favorite temples on Malta. Built between 3600 and 2500 B.C., they were re-used between 2400 and 1500 B.C. and are four megalithic structures. I really liked being able to walk around and get up close to these temples and see the prehistoric artwork unique to these temples. The temples contain highly decorated stone blocks and screens, reliefs of domestic animals and spirals, the colossal statue and a number of altars, one of which contained a flint knife and animal bones.

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Tarxien Temples
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Tarxien Temples

We tried to visit a dog rescue place, Island Sanctuary in this area but were turned away, since visitors are only admitted on Sundays from 9 to 12 and it was not a Sunday when we went. There was also a sign on the gate that said dog walks were cancelled until further notice. I had checked the website earlier and it seemed like there was a possibility we would be allowed in so I thought it was worth trying. It was a shame we weren’t allowed to go in and walk one or more of the dogs because I was looking forward to it. When we visited Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah and took one of the puppies on a walk with us and back to our cottage there for the night, we loved it. We were told there weren’t enough volunteers at Island Sanctuary for visitors other than the scant hours available. If you go, make sure you call in advance.

Like the rest of Malta, the harbour area did not disappoint. I loved this area for all it had to offer and couldn’t wait to see more of this beautiful island.

Happy travels!

Donna

Valletta Area of Malta- the Capital City

Many people that come to Malta do so on a cruise ship and as such may only see the Valletta area. The view of the water in Valletta is the photo that you see most often if you search for photos of Malta. Established in the 1500’s, Valletta is the capital city of Malta and has a population of around 6,000 people. It’s not the most populated city in Malta by any means but it does seem to be the most-visited city by tourists.

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Valletta, Malta

During our week-long vacation in Malta, we decided to spend a day in Valletta and take in some historical sites. We wanted to choose places we thought would interest us the most but not feel rushed and like we were trying to cram everything in, so we went to the Palace Staterooms, Palace Armory, and the National Museum of Archaeology. All of these places are part of Heritage Malta which includes 23 historical sites and museums plus the Malta National Aquarium and the Citadel Visitor Centre. My family and I bought a Multisite Family Pass that was good for everyone in my family for up to 30 days.

The Palace Armory contains arms and armour used by the Knights of St. John between 1530 -1798 and by the Ottoman Empire during the Great Siege of 1565. I especially liked seeing all of the different materials from so many different origins like Italian, German, French and Spanish. There are also a variety of Islamic and Ottoman arms and armor. Honestly, you could spend hours here if you chose to, since the collection is so extensive.

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The Palace Armory in Malta

The National Museum of Archaeology is a good base for learning Maltese history and information on other archaeological sites on the island. The building was built in 1571 and followed a plan by local architect Ġilormu Cassar. This building was house to the Knights of the Order of St John originating from Provence, France and thus has many French architectural characteristics. This museum has artifacts from Malta’s Neolithic period (5000 BC) up to the Phoenician Period (400 BC). Some of the more popular pieces include the ‘Sleeping Lady’ (from the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum), the ‘Venus of Malta’ (from Ħaġar Qim), bronze daggers (recovered from the Bronze Age layers at Tarxien Temples), the Horus & Anubis pendant and the anthropomorphic sarcophagus, both belonging to the Phoenician Period.

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Some artifacts on display at the National Museum of Archaeology in Malta

Finally, we visited the Palace Staterooms. The Palace itself was one of the first buildings in the new city of Valletta founded by Grand Master Jean de Valette in 1566 a few months after the successful outcome of the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. The Palace was enlarged and developed by successive Grand Masters to serve as their official residence. Later, during the British period, it served as the Governor’s Palace and was the seat of Malta’s first constitutional parliament in 1921. The palace today is the seat of the Office of the President of Malta. The 18th century French Gobelins tapestries entitled, “Les Teintures des Indes” were my favorite part of the Palace Staterooms.

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Hallway in the Palace Staterooms

It’s nice to just wander around Valletta and take in the views. At one point in the day, we found a quaint little cafe where we relaxed with some delicious pastries. There are no shortage of shopping opportunities of all sorts in Valletta either. Initially we thought we could combine Valletta with the Harbour area since they’re near each other, but we found it was just too much to take in on a single day, so we decided to come back to spend some time in the Harbour area.

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Tips: Parking can be a pain in Valletta and some of the busier cities in Malta as well. I suggest finding a spot to park and leaving your car there and just walking around. We found free parking and didn’t have any problems walking to everywhere we wanted to go for the day. While there is a bus service in Malta,  I had read that the buses run infrequently so we just rented a car and had no problems driving ourselves around the islands of Gozo and Malta.

In my next post, we go to the Harbour area of Malta and explore there. Join me as I continue on my adventure of this fascinating country!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Rabat/Mdina/Mġarr Area of Malta- Touring a Roman House, Temples, and Catacombs

After our short stay in Gozo, we took the ferry back to Malta and decided to dive into some of the historical sites first. The diverse history of this small independent country is fascinating to me and I was very much looking forward to seeing some of the ancient ruins and other sites first-hand. You can read more about this beautiful archipelago located off the coast of Sicily on the Wikipedia page.

First we decided to explore the northwest corner of Malta which includes Rabat, Mdina, and Mgarr. Like so much of Malta, this area is rich with historical sites so we wanted to spend our day here visiting several historical sites that were part of the Heritage Malta Pass. The Heritage Malta multisite pass includes access to 22 sites and museums plus the Malta National Aquarium and the Citadel Visitor Center and is good for 30 days. If you plan on seeing multiple sites rather than one or two it’s worth the 50 Euro per adult or family pass for 110 Euro good for 2 adults and up to 2 children.

We began at the Domvs Romana, a wealthy aristocratic Roman house built in the first century B.C. and discovered in 1881.  A museum was built around the remains and opened in 1882. Although most of the house has been destroyed over the years, beautiful mosaics remain along with marble statues of Emperor Claudius and his family. I think it’s worth going to this site, just don’t plan on spending more than 30 minutes max here.

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Domvs Romana

The Skorba Temples are small but of great historical significance. There are two remaining monoliths, one dating to before the Temple Period before 3600 B.C. and these structures are among the oldest constructed structures on the Maltese islands. We only spent about 15 minutes here because there simply isn’t that much to see but it’s still impressive.

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Skorba Temples
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Ta’Hagrat Temples

Ta’Hagrat Temples are comprised of two structures, the oldest of which dates back to 3600-3200 B.C. The temple has a well-preserved doorway and facade and is the only temple built entirely of local upper corralline limestone. Ta’Hagrat Temples are bigger in scope than the Skorba Temples and we spent a bit more time here to be able to take it all in.

St. Paul’s Catacombs was our final stop on our historical tour of the Rabat Area and it is the best in my opinion at least of the sites we saw on this day. We chose to only go to St. Paul’s Catacombs even though Ta’ Bistra Catacombs are also in the area because it seemed like St. Paul’s would be more interesting. You can actually walk into over 20 different burial sites at St. Paul’s and although I don’t know for sure since I didn’t go, it doesn’t look like you can do that at Ta’Bistra.

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If you’re claustrophobic, you’d hate going in the catacombs!

St. Paul’s Catacombs consist of over 30 hypogea or burial grounds that were in use until the 4th century A.D. They are the earliest and largest evidence of Christianity in Malta. Roman law prohibited burials within the capital at the time so the burial grounds were chosen just outside the city of what is now Mdina.

I really liked being able to go inside so many hypogea and explore the catacombs completely on my own (versus with a guide or workers there standing guard). Some were bigger than others but typically you would go down anywhere from a few to several stairs and you could walk around and see areas where the people would have been buried. If you’re claustrophobic this would not be a good place for you, though, since it was very tight, confined spaces. In case anyone is wondering there were no skeletal remains left in any of the catacombs.

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The lighting in the catacombs made it really hard to get a decent photo!

As much as I enjoyed these historical sites, the ones we went to later during our vacation only got better (for the most part), although we had no way of knowing that at the time. Join me as we explore the capital city of Malta, Valletta in my next post!

Have any of you been to the catacombs anywhere else in the world, like Italy? What do you think of catacombs? Creepy or cool?

Happy travels!

Donna