To welcome 2022, we stayed up until midnight and watched fireworks from the balcony, slept in, had breakfast together, and enjoyed the unseasonably nice weather in a local park. Then the parents went on a bike ride and the kids went home to plug back into their screens. Still, a relaxing and warm welcome tothetzt new year. May we greet what lies ahead refreshed and together.
Yesterday marked my 43rd trip around the sun. We had a nice celebration. After a typical breakfast of fresh rolls, the kids were eager to give me their presents. Meg got me a spoon rest from Malta, and Spencer got me a nice black belt. Presents from Clare and my parents came later, including a pair of boots, and some new cymbals and cymbal stand for my drum set, which I have been really enjoying playing. The low-volume cymbals are designed to be just that – low-volume. They have a bunch of holes in them. I did a bunch of research on them, and decided to ask for the Millennium brand, which is an in-house brand of Thomann.de. They are not fancy, but they are indeed much lower volume, and they feel and sound very nice. I am really excited to do some low-volume drumming for the next six months in our apartment, until we move into our house and I play a bit more loudly.
Our friends Thomas and Ulli invited us to their garden house to celebrate with some Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and a little bonfire. Most of the Christmas markets are cancelled again this year because of COVID, so it was really nice to have some Glühwein. We made Grünkohl (kale soup), and had other goodies like cheese and crackers, cookies, and an Italian type of Christmas cake called Panettone. Clare recalls that I used to get annoyed by Christmas traditions spoiling my birthday, but I guess as I have aged, I have come to enjoy mixing them all together.
We decided to throw in some solstice celebration as well. We sang Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles, and the Holly and the Ivy. We called the four spirits of East, North, West, and South, and celebrated the fact that the sun is coming again. Then we wrote our intentions done on slips of paper, tied them to a wreath of holly, and burned them.
Thomas and Ulli got me a Spätzleblech for my birthday, which is a kind of metal grate which goes on top of a pot, which allows you to easy push the dumpling dough into the boiling water. We promptly put it to use for a different purpose, which was to douse a sugar cone in rum and light it on fire, allowing the caramelized, boozy sugar to drip into the pot of red wine. In German, this is called a Feuerzangenbowle. It was fun and delicious.
The birthday celebration continued on Sunday. We still had a whole second bag of kale, so we decided to cook it as well. This time we decided to make it without potatoes. It went really well with the rest of dinner – sour roast beef, potato dumplings, red cabbage, and kale. I didn’t used to be a big fan of kale, but I really like the German way of cooking it, which makes it less bitter. You need to make sure to sauté it with some onions until it becomes bright green, and then continue to cook it with some broth for at least 30 minutes. I like a little bit of white wine in it, along with some mustard, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. After it has cooked for quite some time it actually develops a bit of a sweet flavor. Most German recipes also call for bacon and sausage, but I made it vegetarian so that Meg could eat it as well. Other tips for good kale is to only pick it after the first frost. Clare bought it at the local farm stand, so it was hyper-local and fresh.
Alice is crazy about Christmas, reading books, watching movies, decorating the tree, and keeping us all in bright spirits during the dark days of December. She also really wanted to try making a gingerbread house again this year. Last year we made one, and I messed it up while trying to put it together, though Clare saved it from total catastrophe. This year we invited Alice’s friend Jana over to join in on the fun. Once again, when it came time to actually start constructing the house, I failed. But fortunately we had some extra dough, and had a second chance. Clare read on the interwebs about using canned goods to help prop up the gingerbread pieces while the frosting sets up, and that seemed to be the magical trick to keep everything from falling apart. Clare keeps saying that I did all the work while she only came in for 20 minutes, but it was a very important 20 minutes. All in all, a team effort.
We mostly followed the recipe from Alice’s favorite cookbook for girls that Grandma Fran bought her several years ago, other than the spices. It called for 2 tablespoons of ginger, and nothing else. We decided to do just 1 tablespoon of ginger, and also 1 tablespoon of Lebkuchengewürz, which is a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and anise.
We put out our shoes on the eve of the 5th, and sure enough, they were filled with goodies on the morning of the 6th, including some tasty candies, a holly tree, a glass Christmas tree, and a Feuerzangenbowle set. We spent most of the weekend baking Christmas cookies. We made our favorites – peppernuts, spritz cookies, sugar cookies, and chocolate mint delights. We put together a number of cookie plates, and shared them with neighbors and friends. The Germans really seem to like the “green cookies”. Spencer’s favorite are the chocolate mint delights, which seem to be the least favorite among the Germans.
We had an international Thanksgiving celebration today with 4 Americans, 1 Belgian, 1 Italian, 1 Austrian, and 1 Liechtensteiner, in Würselen, Germany. We all had a great time, and much tasty food was consumed. We made turkey, gravy, bread dumplings, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry relish, and pumpkin and apple pie. Thomas and Ulli brought mini quiches, red cabbage, and apple streusel. Lorenza and Jeroen brought an endive salad and a tasty cauliflower and caper dish, plus some Italian wine. Spencer and Meg both helped quite a bit with cleaning and cooking. It was really nice to celebrate. With COVID numbers rising as they are, it seems likely we will be going back into lockdown soon.
Alice had a halloween party with 5 of her friends; she dressed up as a skeleton doll from the movie Coco. Spencer dressed up as Maverick from Top Gun; the leather jacket is my grandfather’s, Robert Goold. Robert “Bud” Goold Jr. kept it until his death a few years ago, and we inherited it this summer.
This was the first time I had gone out trick-or-treating in Germany. Halloween is not a traditional German holiday, but has been gaining popularity over the last 20 years or so. It seems to very hit and miss whether or not people celebrate it here. We went trick-or-treating in a nearby neighborhood with lots of kids, which is known to have lots of houses which hand out candy. Unlike in the USA, halloween in Germany only focuses on spooky stuff – no princesses or superheroes here really – only ghosts and goblins. One thing I noticed while trick or treating – most of the dads out with their kids had beer – a very nice improvement.
We ended up getting back from the Hypogeum tour around 2:30 or so, and the weather was beautiful, so I convinced Clare and the kids to go to the beach one more time. This time we went to Exiles bay, which is near Ballutta bay, but it is not sandy. They have some nice piers you can jump in from, and also ladders. It was lovely. My only complaint is that I wish we would have tried it earlier in our stay, because it was so nice. We had some fun with the underwater camera again. There were quite a few fish out.
Clare saved the best for our last day – the Hypogeum. This is an underground tomb (hypogeum is Greek, meaning underground). It was discovered in 1902 while digging a cistern for a house. The workers discovered a huge underground burial site from around 3000 B.C.E.
Before we went to the Hypogeum, we stopped at the nearby Tarxien Temples. These temples were very similar to some of the other temples we saw from the Stone Age, but also had some distinct qualities. I think they were one of the first of the temples to be excavated, and this really shows in the methods they used. Unlike most of the other temples we saw, which were mostly left in the shape they were found, the Tarxien temples had many pieces reconstructed. I can understand why one might want to do this, but unfortunately, it was not always well marked which parts were original and which parts were reconstructed. In some cases, artifacts like clay pots were moved to the archeological museum, and were replaced by replicas onsite. It was really handy that we had gone to the archaeological museum in Valletta earlier.
One downside of the Tarxien temples was that there were a ton of little mosquitos or bugs of some sort which kept biting us. So after 30 minutes or so, we made our way towards the Hypogeum. It is right in the middle of the city, and actually quite easy to miss. Once we had found it, we then sought out a park to have some lunch, consisting of a variety of fruits, cheeses, crackers, bread, and such. One Maltese treat we really enjoyed were these Treacle Rings, which were a kind of cookie filled with a sweet paste consisting of some combination of honey, dates, and/or treacle, which is sort of like molasses.
Since it is all underground, the climate is very sensitive. By the 1950s, frequent visitors to the hypogeum was causing significant damage, including the growth of algae on the walls. They decided to close it for awhile, and after fixing the damage, they re-opened it, but only allow 10 visitors per hour, which means that you have to book your tour months ahead of time. Fortunately Clare is a great travel planner, so she had done so. They also don’t allow any photography at all, so the pictures here are taken from Wikipedia.
The experience at the hypogeum was definitely very different from the other sites we visited, in a number of ways. For one, we did not have a tour guide with us. Instead we had an audio tour, which started with several videos about Malta and the temple culture in general. The second video was in a square room, and was projected onto all four walls. There was music coming from the speakers in the room, but then the speech was delivered via a handheld audioguide (which was configured to the language of your choice).
Inside the hypogeum, it is quite dark, with minimal lighting, to protect the structure. Since it is underground, it does not have erosion from wind and water like the other temples which are above ground. The wet underground climate did have the effect that most of the bones found there were very decayed. They estimate that over 7000 bones were found there. The walls of the hypogeum are carved to look like many of the temples which were constructed of stone. However, there were also some fairly large stones in the hypogeum to form a doorway. It is not clear if these stones were brought from elsewhere, or were carved out of the cavern in place. There were some spherical stones nearby, similar to stones at many of the temples believed to be used as rollers, like ball bearings, so it suggests that these stones were likely brought from somewhere else.
Researchers believe that the dead were first laid to rest in the upper chamber, likely to allow the smells of decay to escape. The bones were then place en masse in rooms in the lower chambers. In the lowest of the three levels, there would have been almost no light, so all work would need to be done with light from hand-held torches. The temple culture used exclusively stone tools, meaning that the work of creating the hypogeum must have been very slow and tedious.
Today we went to the Ghar Dalam cave and the Borg In-Nadur temple. Malta has an incredible amount of archaeological finds, from a number of different time periods. During the Pleistene age 1.8 million years ago, Malta was connected to Sicily via a land bridge. During this period elephants, deer, hippopotami, and other animals were common on Malta. After the land bridge seceded, the animals had fewer resources, so they got smaller over time. Thousands of animal bones from this period were discovered inside the Ghar Dalam cave. Shortly after humans settled on Malta, they hunted these species to extinction.
Much of the exhibit was done in a Victorian style, which showcases hundreds of bones all in one case. It was certainly the most bones in one room I have ever seen.
After we toured the museum, we continued down towards the caves. Along the way there were a number of different trees and plants, as well as the remains of a Roman villa.
The cave itself only requires a few minutes to walk through most of it, but it is labeled with the different layers of rock and sediment from which they discovered different types of bones and also human artifacts in the uppermost layer.
We also learned that the cave was used to house fuel for planes during World War Two, and there is still some barbed wire from that period. It is also surrounded by kilometers of rubble walls, which have been used on Malta for thousands of years for various purposes.
After Ghar Dalam, we stopped at Borg In-Nadur, which is another temple from around 3000 B.C.E. It is not as impressive as some of the other temples we saw, but it is still fascinating to see just how pervasive the temple culture was on Malta.
After the temple we tried to get lunch nearby, but we could not find much open, so we ended up taking a cab back to Sliema near our apartment. Spencer really enjoyed his double cheeseburger.
Saturday we had our second day of guided tour with Mona, our wonderful tour guide. She picked us just after 7 a.m. We drove to the north of the island to catch the ferry to Gozo, an island a bit north of Malta, which belongs to Malta. The main island of Malta has nearly 500,000 inhabitants, while Gozo only has about 30,000. It has a much more relaxed atmosphere.
Traffic was light and there was an extra ferry, so we got to the island even earlier than planned. We had a few minutes to spare before the temple visitor center opened at 9 a.m. so we made a quick stop to get a few pictures looking back at the island of Comino.
Our first main stop in Gozo was the Megolithic temples at Ggantija. Unlike the temples on the main island of Malta, the temples on Gozo were not as widely excavated during the 1800s. They were discovered then, but the farmers covered them up so they could continue to farm the land, and thus they were not fully excavated until the 1980s, which means that the technologies and tools used for excavation were able to better preserve the artifacts.
The Ggantija temples were built between 3600 and 2500 B.C.E. making them the second oldest human-made religious structures. The visitor’s center focused mostly on the Xaghra circle, which was only more recently excavated, and is not open to visitors right now. Some of the artifacts were incredible though, especially the skull with all the teeth intact.
After the temples, we stopped at Dwejra, which up until a few years ago had an amazing arch rock structure called the Azure window, which unfortunately collapsed. The Blue hole and the inland sea were still notable sights to see.
The highlight of the trip was a visit to the citadel, which is near the center of the island, and provided protection from invaders for the inhabitants of Gozo for many years.
After the citadel we enjoyed a relaxing lunch along the coast at the boathouse restaurant in Xlendi. I had braised rabbit, which is a traditional Maltese dish. I was a bit perplexed when the waiter handed me wet wipes. I thought maybe I should eat it with my hands, but I wasn’t sure. After about 10 minutes of enjoying it with fork and knife, our tour guide informed me that normally it is eaten by hand, so then I dug in. It was delicious.