Nah, that title is totally misleading. But as was frequently referenced in blogs passim, I went to Malta on 26 March to attend an international road safety conference & stakeholder event.  

The first day began in the usual rush; I set my alarm early so there’s plenty of time to get to the airport, I wake up and think “I’ve more time”, get up late, panic and fling myself out the flat door hoping everything is in order. I’d booked myself on an early morning flight y’see as I wanted to get there in good time to see the place. As I’d dithered in the flat and not had time to eat anything, I treated myself to one of the more upmarket restaurants and had an Indian-themed breakfast (special of the day) – very not bad.

I was flying with Air Malta – first time. The plane was delayed in taking off so we missed our slot and therefore were stuck in a long queue of planes flying out. Once we were under way, I enjoyed the view from the window, gawping at the peaks of the Alps popping up above the cloud layer – think I spotted the Matterhorn as I’m familiar with the shape/outline. And then looked at the Mediterranean and the ships travelling about, particularly around Sicily. The descriptions of Sicily from the Michael Corleone interlude in novelisation of the Godfather stuck out in my head and I tried to picture the land below as if it were post-war 1946.

We made it to Malta about ninety minutes late, then the next task was to get to the hotel. I tried to do the right thing and get the bus to Sliema but owing to exiting the airport at the wrong entrance, I missed the X2 by seconds. So I joined the queue for the next one. After waiting two hours for buses that just failed to turn up, I eventually cracked and took a taxi, getting in this rickety cab which I think was brand new in the 1980s. Malta was the first time I’d ever seen wild cacti growing – Prickly Pear. They were festooned in every field and in every garden between the airport at the hotel. 


Finally arrived at the hotel, checked in and took a good look around. Sliema is across a bay from Valletta (the capital) and also overlooks Manoel Island (ex leper hospital, fort and boatyard). Lots of hotels and waterfront eateries, boating activities of all sorts and a shopping centre. After sufficiently cooling off, I enjoyed a stroll along the coast line before finding somewhere to eat and partook of the local brew, Cisk. Wasn’t a bad beer, kinda mild but with more flavour than garbage such as Fosters. Had a ravioli made with local produce – there’s a lot of rabbit served in Maltese dishes but I didn’t partake in that. The bar filled up quickly as Malta was playing Slovakia in football though people were far less excitable than in a UK pub (blessedly).

 

Monday was my day to myself. Hadn’t slept all that well owing to the air conditioning unit which only seemed to pump out hot air regardless of the setting and maintenance not picking up their phone. After breakfast (and this is when I saw that I was the youngest person in the hotel by 20 years excluding staff), I had a kerfuffle over switching my room before deciding to walk to Valletta. A ten minute ferry ride would have deposited me there but I wanted the exercise so strolled all around the harbour for an hour before arriving in the capital. But I’m totally glad I walked. The far end of the Marina you could see rainbow fish swimming in the water and lizards (or salamanders) darting between the rocks. Very few skanky pigeons and gulls but you could see falcons on occasion as well as sparrows by the dozen.

 

Many of the buildings in Malta are made from local materials (i.e. sandstone) which obviously crumbles quite easily and makes the place look more run down than it otherwise in because the interiors are nice, modern and well kept. Streets are about as wide as they need to be so drivers appear to have developed a reasonable etiquette over road use. Bicycle use in Malta wasn’t prevalent at all. But pavements were seldom wider than a meter except in Valletta itself which is almost totally pedestrianised. But boats were everywhere and from the number, it seems that every house has access to even the most basic sloop right the way up to luxury yachts.

 

So Valletta itself: I thought the Parliament building was a library until I saw a sign telling me otherwise. Though I enjoyed looking around at the contrast in architecture. You could tell what was built when Malta was a Crown Colony – the Presidential Palace and square had a distinctly colonial feel to it, right down to the uniforms worn by the guardsmen. And because Brits were the predominant breed of tourist, there were a number of instantly recognisable high-street brands that one could patronise. I did go to Costa a couple of times – the iced drinks were most welcome as the temperatures climbed every day I was there. But resisted the others.

 

Monday was sort of like Sunday in Malta, a lot of shops were shut or had different opening hours. But it also meant that the streets were less crowded (contrast with Tuesday and Wednesday) so getting about was pretty facile. Lunch was a sammich in a local café, dinner was Italian again, asparagus risotto. Also had drinks with a local thanks to the power of the interweb which was a nice change of pace. Alas, I didn’t sleep well again – opened the balcony window only to let in the damn mosquitos.

Tuesday was the day of work, the conference. I got up extra early to ensure I was able to get to Attard which is in the centre of the Island, not far from the former capital of Mdina. Glad I did because navigating the buses was a nightmare. Although I’m glad I did elect to stay away from the hotel where the event was happening – Attard is…if you’ll forgive me…in the middle of nowhere. It was just suburbia with the occasional shop. The hotel was another colonial relic, both inside and out though the gardens were very well kept and the food was excellent. Again the air conditioning struggled, particularly in a room with a couple of hundred people in it. I won’t go into detail over the event – it was…well, it was work. And you can read the Valletta Road Safety Declaration online if you’re really desperate.


Getting back to Sliema: another nightmare in public transport. It was rush hour and every bus was jam packed. I went from one bus stop to the next and in the end, I traipsed back all the way to the hotel where in some places, there was no pavement to walk down. That aside, I got to see stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise have observed and my walk to Valletta the previous day paid off as the road from Attard rejoins the route to Sliema. My vague plan that evening was to go to St Julians up the coast but my feet were aching and I could not be bothered so went to the Tex Mex place up the road which caught my eye earlier – totally glad I did. They had amazing cocktails, a great dinner of quesadillas with again local cheeses and vegetables + an Oreo cheesecake dessert. Decadence all round.

 

Final day: actually slept that night but I think had there been a nuclear blast, I’d have been zonked out right the way through it. My flight home was at 5pm, checkout the hotel was at 11 so had to amuse myself for a few hours. Went back to Valletta by ferry for a couple of hours for some last minute souvenir shopping and to see the old fort at the tip of the island. Then to the shopping centre in Sliema to source some local food and drink to take home. It was wonderfully cool inside, next time I’m pitching a tent and staying in the mall! Very UK-like which was handy.

Once again, the fickleness of Maltese public transport hit me: I turned up to the bus stop about thirty minutes early as I was just done for the day. The bus showed up thirty minutes early (or late) so I jumped on and the journey took longer than the promised 45 minutes (more like double that) which was a bloody good thing. So readers, if you ever find yourself in Malta, take the bus timetables with a fist-full of salt, hire a scooter or walk! Plundered duty free for the usual treats (6 cans of Cisk, Maltese wine + locally made prickly pear jam) before queuing for the plane. 

Flight home was uneventful and I found myself a little bit down at the thought of leaving. I was finally warming up to the country – usual sense of personal caution in accepting something readily – and have decided I’ll go back one day. About the same time of year, I reckon but with more organisation over activities. 


Coming up next: back to the video games and the latest acquisitions…