The locals, aware of Paul’s recent string of bad luck, thought he must have been some sort of evil murderer whom the gods were trying to kill off. When they saw that he was completely unscathed, they proclaimed him to be a god himself.
Paul became well-liked on the island, and even befriended the local Roman governor, Publius, after he healed the governor’s ill father. Despite his celebrity status, legend has it that Paul spent his three months on Malta living in a very humble (and sparse) underground grotto.
St. Paul’s grotto is located in the present-day village of Rabat, which is literally right across the street from city of Mdina. The grotto now lies underneath St. Paul’s church, which was built around the site to commemorate the apostle’s visit.
I spent about 20 minutes walking over to the church after I finished exploring Mdina. After walking in through the side entrance and descending a marble staircase, I came face to face with the legendary grotto.
The grotto was surprisingly not as cramped as I expected it to be. I spent my childhood in a bedroom that wasn’t much bigger. The cool air inside was more comfortable than the summer heat up at the surface. Give me a sleeping bag and an iPad, and I wouldn’t mind being a hermit here for several months.
Aside from the archaeological sites related to St. Paul (mainly this church, the grotto, and some catacombs), there aren’t many other points of interest in Rabat. So from here, it was back on the HoHo bus to the capital of Malta, Valletta.
I did grab a quick treat before I left: a fig roll with cinnamon and black treacle. A man from Parruccan Confectionery, a shop specializing in traditional Maltese sweets, was handing out free samples. Even though “treacle” sounded like some sort of bodily fluid you’d secrete during a bout with VD, I couldn’t resist.
It was dense, but flavorful in all the right ways. Like a thick, gourmet Fig Newton, but with a more natural fig taste. If I’m ever in the area again, I’d buy a batch or two of these in an instant.
I only had an hour or two before my ship was scheduled to leave port, and I still needed lunch. Republic Street, Valletta’s bustling pedestrian thoroughfare, seemed like a good place to start my search for some food.
The street is lined with jewelry stores, gift shops, and of course, restaurants. I didn’t know anything about Maltese cooking prior to my visit, but I noticed many places offering one particular dish: rabbit stew. Alrighty then.
I picked out the Cafe San Giovanni, which sat in front of one of the city’s most important landmarks–St. John’s Cathedral–and ordered my rabbit.
The rabbit was fried, then cooked in a red wine jus. Not to sound cliche, but it tasted like chicken. The meat was tender, mildly flavored and not very gamey. It went well with the more intense red wine jus. I really felt like I was eating coq au vin, except I was eating Bugs Bunny instead of Foghorn Leghorn.
After lunch, I walked around the city for a little bit more before heading back to the ship. The city is built on hills, and the San Francisco-like views were a beautiful conclusion to my stay. I wish I had a few more days to sample all the hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars that I walked past, but that’s life when you’re on a cruise.
But, after seeing just how beautiful this little island is, I’m sure I’ll be back someday to finish the job.