Fly Me to the Moon....
...the joyous words of the famous old song are winging through my head and my heart is thumping out appropriate accompaniment as we take flight over the Grand Harbour in Valletta - rising over the glorious Co-Cathedral of St. John and swooping over the imposing bastions and ramparts of historic Fort St. Elmo. These first few spectacular minutes of our flight are alone worth the price of the tour.
We are borne aloft by a sleek Canadian made DHC3 Otter seaplane. For weeks now, I have watched the glossy seaplane as she rides quietly at her dock adjacent to the cruise ship terminal and am intrigued enough to do some research into her history. This plane is a rare bird with a storied past. First manufactured in 1951 and purchased by the Burmese Air Force, she flew rescue and reconnaissance missions there before being purchased by a Swedish skydiving club where she provided years of fun and reliable adventure. She returned to the country that first brought her to life when purchased by Harbour Air Canada. After a complete refit, she flew on the ruggedly beautiful coast of British Columbia before soaring across the world here to a new home here in Malta. Most interestingly, at the time that she left Sweden, she was the last and only Otter seaplane flying in Europe and when she glided to a triumphant landing in the Malta capital in the summer of 2007, she was the first Otter to once again grace the skies over Europe.
She has no name other than 406 - a simple nod to being the 406th of her distinguished line of only 466 of her kind ever built. I ponder that as I gaze at her before we are invited to board. Such a sleeky beautiful craft as this also deserves a name - something befitting the tenacity, strength and beauty of this country and its people...
Now in the service of Harbour Air Malta, the Otter flies both speedy commutes to Gozo and spectacularly scenic tours over Malta, Comino and Gozo. It is on one of those tours that I delight in finding myself on. During our 30 minute tour, I peer down into the labyrinth streets of the "Silent City" of Mdina, slide through a verdant valley ringed by ancient cave dwellings, marvel at the innumerable shades of azure water of the Blue Grotto and gasp as we skirt the breathtaking Citadel in Victoria. Golden hued limestone cities spill down the flanks of the hilltops they perch upon and terraced fields of every imaginable colour of green race right up to the edge of sheer cliffs.
What other mode of transport allows one to take in almost an entire country in half an hour, I wonder? I am lucky enough to call Malta my home for a few months, but for cruise ship passengers with only hours here, or for those others hoping to make the most of their time here, this tour offers the singular chance to absorb as much as possible in a short time. Our Harbour Air flight takes me places where neither roads nor boats can. I feel a shiver as I peek down into otherwise secret gardens and courtyards; and I can almost feel the history in the texture of the churches and cathedrals as we skim over them. My passion is capturing intimate portraits of countries throughout the world and I am thrilled with the unique photos made possible through the specially installed "bubble" windows of our aircraft.
Much too soon though, we are turning for our return to where historic, sundappled Valletta lies waiting to receive us. So I stow my beloved camera and simply sit back to drink in the magic of soaring over the stunning cliffs, enchanting villages, ancient temples and wildly cosmopolitan cities of this amazingly diverse country. I can't help but echo the huge smile that our pilot turns to gives us once we have swept back down onto the impossibly turquoise water of Valletta's Grand Harbour. No words are needed. The flight has been a 30 minute slice of pure bliss.