The Maltese experience
Trip Start May 27, 2011
10Trip End Jun 19, 2011
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We woke up early again today at some appalling hour that starts with a '3' and got dressed and ready for our transfer to Madrid airport. These early starts are really taking a toll – when I looked in the mirror this morning I looked like Melanie Griffith. It was a shame to leave Madrid so soon, we really didn't get a good chance to meet the locals and see more of the sights, so I'm hoping we will come back some day. It will be a relief though as the roof of my mouth is killing me from all the hard bread they consume, whether it be on a bocadillo or tapas. Whilst waiting for our airport transfer outside our hotel, three locals who were standing next to us decided to do a few lines of cocaine on the top of a wheelie bin. I know that crap happens in a lot of places around the world, but it certainly turned me off the whole Madrid experience.
When we arrived at the airport, we didn't need to check-in as Ryan Air demands that you check-in online and print your own boarding pass, otherwise they charge you some exorbitant fee. We did however have to get our passes approved as we are non-EU citizens, although the agent did it incorrectly twice, first stamping the return passes, and then stamping only mine. There was another huge fee if our checked baggage exceeded 15kg which my bag, being the largest, weighed exactly. We did however pay an extra fee before leaving home to use their so-called "priority boarding".
When we arrived at the boarding gate, the agent did a PA announcing that boarding would commence in ten minutes so we all lined up. Thirty minutes later, they finally started boarding so Ted and I were the first through. Whilst walking down the aerobridge, another agent stopped us midway and asked us to wait, causing all the passengers following behind us to come to a halt. Five minutes later the agent walked off so we all wondered what to do. We continued down the aerobridge and, upon reaching the aeroplane door, found it was closed, the aeroplane lights were all out and there was no crew to be seen. We then waited another twenty minutes in the aerobridge, totally confused and having no clue as to what was going on. The second agent then turned up and said there was no crew for the flight in the airport
When we could finally board the plane, Ted and I jumped straight into the far exit row seats in Row 1 as the leg room looked more promising. Despite the original fiasco, the flight was not as bad as I had thought it would be, even though there were no seat pockets and the seats didn't recline. In short, the crew were good, the food was okay and the coffee was bad. There were some strange sales on board though - once they finished doing food and beverage service, they also went through the cabin offering passengers cigarettes and instant scratchie lottery tickets. Well, what's a little onboard gambling when you're already flying Ryan Air?
When we arrived in Malta, Ted was completely in awe. The landscape and buildings look very Tunisian and we both admitted the country looked nothing like we expected. As Ted is part Maltese, I think he feels right at home. Our transfer driver collected us and we saw some of the sights as we headed toward Paceville where our apartment is. Malta looks a lot older than I expected, with a Mediterranean feel. I admit I am not a fan of Paceville as it appears similar to Australia's Surfers Paradise, with a lot of construction happening, and too much American commercialism
Our apartment is very handy and very friendly. We are located on the fifth (top) floor with a rooftop balcony overlooking the city. This place was probably built in the 1970's with its older looking furniture and very simple facilities but we are definitely not complaining. We are after all in Malta, not Las Vegas, and we will happily take this rustic and genuine accommodation than a resort any day.
After settling in we went straight to sleep, enjoying the cool sea breeze as well as the warmer weather. We then found a nearby Mexican pub for some fajitas and beer. We probably shouldn't have drunk in the middle of the day because, after going to a nearby grocery store and buying some supplies, we needed to have another nap afterward.
Our friend Gary from Australia used to work at a local venue here called Tom Bar, so we promised him we would go for a drink at his old watering hole. We dressed up and decided to head in using the local buses, which cost only fifty cents. To give you an idea, they are pushy and noisy, your knees touch the seat in the front when sitting and you need to stoop when walking to the front or back of the bus
The drive to Valletta took about 45 minutes and it was totally worth it. When we passed through Saint Julian's, the waterfront scenery was spectacular. It’s very much a mixture of old world charm buildings coupled with a restaurant culture. When we arrived at Valletta we were similarly impressed, although this was more of a walled city, with alleyways, huge churches and open plazas. We actually went to the old town by mistake as we were trying to find Tom Bar but it was still a worthwhile detour.
Tom Bar was a lot smaller than expected as it was just one room (two if you count the toilet). Fortunately we didn’t have to wait for long before a good crowd turned up. One thing we’ve noticed is that the men here are generally shorter and either have bald or shaved heads. Not that it’s a bad thing. Since the venue was so small, we spent a lot of the time talking out the front, but the weather was very un-Malta like as it was really windy and cold!
We'd heard about a party that was on across town but apparently we were old enough to be the fathers of most of the attendees so we decided to stay at Tom Bar
When we arrived back in Paceville it was certainly different from the day. Try to imagine King’s Cross in Sydney, only with more drunks. We both hated it – sloshed tourists everywhere getting into fist fights and running riot. We called into another bar before losing interest and then returning to the apartment at 3am (although we had to buy Ted a pizza first).
Tomorrow we’re planning to do a tour of the south of the island so let’s see how Ted holds up first.
Well I didn’t sleep as late as I should have as I was already awake by 9am. Paceville was miraculously clean again after last night’s street shenanigans so the cleaners work fast here. Ted was definitely worse for wear. Despite looking totally green, he claimed he was fine to come on the all day bus tour
The day didn’t quite start as planned as the transfer didn’t arrive so after the hotel receptionist called again, it finally came. The weather today was really warm with a cooling breeze. The tour was one of those open-top buses with headphones giving commentary, which I only agreed to do after seeing it was a local company, not a foreign one. The tour included sights mainly around Valletta which suited me fine as the city is so beautiful. These included the waterfront, marina, the war museum, Fort Saint Elmo (Elmo?) and Fort Saint Angelo.
When we arrived at the village of Marsaxlokk I was pretty keen to walk around a traditional fishing village until we arrived and I noticed that the streets were abandoned and everything was closed! (I suspect they were all at church). I continued on to see the Blue Grotto in the south of the island. They offered boat trips out to the grotto so I paid one of the local fisherman to take me out. It was really worth it as the water was so blue and, I suspect, freezing as well. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been in a fishing boat (probably never) but even the rough seas wasn’t going to deter me from seeing one of Malta’s famous sights
Back on shore I went to a local pizza restaurant and waited 15 minutes for service before getting jack of it and leaving. It was pure fortune that I did – I didn’t realize the last bus leaving the grotto was ten minutes later (otherwise I’d end up taking some hellishly expensive taxi back to the city) so I was happy to grab a club sandwich from a corner café and leave straight away.
We also passed Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra (two pre-historic temples) which were unfortunately closed as the curator was possibly at church too, so I continued on the bus back to Paceville. Ted was feeling amazingly sprightly now so we caught a bus back into Valletta to see the sights again whilst the sun was still out. The bus ride in and out was worse than last time but we kept reminding ourselves it was all part of the experience.
As it’s after 9pm I think I need to have an early one. There is already so much street noise that it makes us grateful we’re on the fifth floor, and further away from the under-aged riff-raff of Europe!
We both slept surprisingly well considering the fact that there were still yahoos yelling in the street at 5am this morning
Ted was feeling a lot better today after yesterday and really enjoyed the tour. Since the glass blowing factory and crafts village didn’t sound very enticing, our first port of exploration was Mosta, a busy market town. We visited the city's domed church, Mosta Rotunda, which took a direct hit from a German bomb that pierced the dome, but didn’t explode. The locals have hailed it as a miracle. The church was beautiful enough both inside and out to make it a wonderful photo opportunity.
We then rejoined the bus tour to go to Mdina, which was the old capital of Malta. We loved it here – it is an ancient walled city with a mix of Medieval and Baroque architecture. It was also the perfect setting to have an early lunch so Ted and I decided to try traditional pastizzis, the most popular and best known culinary export of Malta.
We also visited Golden Bay, one of the island’s sandy beaches
The tour included a free cruise around Valletta harbour when we returned but since the seas were looking rough, Ted was feeling queasy at the thought. We booked another tour for tomorrow going to the nearby island of Gozo which everyone has been recommending to us. We are also flying out tomorrow evening so it will be a full day.
We considered catching a bus back to the apartment but we like Saint Julian, so walking for an hour along there seemed a lot more appealing than riding a crowded, bumpy bus (even if it is only 50 cents). Unfortunately a pack of yobbos - Italian I think - have moved into the room next door so we don't want to be spending too much time in the room. Ted has been cooking dinners for us in the apartment but we've decided to eat out for our last night in Malta instead of having leftovers.
That turned out to be a smart idea - unknown to us, there was actually a night parade right in the vicinity of the restaurant we went to
As we had to check out for our late RyanAir flight today, we packed up all our belongings and took our baggage downstairs to prepare for a tour of Gozo today. It was lucky I was wearing ear plugs last night as the louts next door came in at 5am and possibly woke up the entire complex. I hope they were moaning about not scoring with the local ladies.
Once again we were left waiting for our transfer to pick us up but again to no avail. I went and mentioned this to our hotel manager who again made a call and suddenly our transfer arrived. Unlike the previous tour, we were transferred to a coach bus which drove us to the seaside port of Cirkewwa to join the ferry to Gozo. We arrived a bit later than expected as we had to pull over so two young girls on board could throw up on the side of the road.
When we bought our ferry tickets, we estimated how much time we would have on Gozo before we had to head back to Paceville in time for our late afternoon airport pick-up
The day on Gozo was warm and breezy, and we really liked the journey around the small island. I was a bit disappointed we couldn't disembark to see the Ggantija temples as they sounded quite mythological, or at least somewhat superhero-like. Our favourite place was Xlendi Bay - the scenery was really reminiscent of a perfect seaside town with beautiful beaches and not too many tourists. Well, that's the impression we got from the top of the bus anyway.
Fortunately we arrived back in plenty of time for the 3pm ferry and as the journey only took half an hour, we waited until the bus arrived in the sun. It arrived just after 4pm and the passengers disembarking were 40 elderly Maltese ladies and one Roman Catholic priest. Since there were only 4 of us waiting to go back, we thought the journey back would be fast. Wrong. It seems we were give some mis-information - the bus was actually there to wait for the NEXT ferry and wouldn't leave until 4.45pm. Eeek.
When the bus did eventually try to leave, we had to stop at least two more times for tourists that suddenly arrived from no-where and flagged the bus down. Then we waited at the Riviera hotel for another five minutes just to guarantee I had an ulcer by this stage. Then we finally departed. Well, not quite. My jaw nearly hit the ground when we reached a mountain road and the traffic was backed up for about three kilometres.
Ted had already texted our transfer driver and said we would be late but it was still hard to tell how late we would be. After clearing the traffic, we made six more stops for the second lot of ferry tourists before we finally arrived in Paceville. Our driver Julian wasn't even slightly bothered by us being late and he drove us straight to the airport. Literally, since he was doing 120km/h in a 50km/h zone. I nearly broke my wrist holding onto the car door handle.
Since we've arrived in Malta, we have heard about a dozen stories about miracles that have happened here. Well another one happened today. When we raced up to the RyanAir counters we found out that God was looking out for us, by conveniently delaying the RyanAir flight by half an hour, guaranteeing we would not lose the 29 Euro we spent on our low-cost carrier fare
Ted and I again utilised our priority boarding and were first in line again (take that, poor people!). The seat configuration was different this time as the seats we had chosen last time had a lot more leg room, meaning we virtually spent the whole flight with our ankles behind our ears.
During a break in cabin service, I spent some time talking to the cabin crew who told me some interesting stories about what it is like being an employee of RyanAir. It certainly made me respect them a lot more, particularly since they were generally very cheery people. They couldn't exactly put Ted and I in the non-existent business class like KLM did but they did give us a complimentary bottle of half-price water.
When we landed in Madrid, we arrived ahead of schedule even with the original delay, so the RyanAir flight attendants played a bugle sound effect, causing the cabin to applaud in appreciation. Since we are flying out of Madrid at 7.40am tomorrow we thought this extra time would give us some extra sleep since we aren't getting much tonight. Wrong. Even though the passengers arrived early, our bags didn't make it off the plane for almost an hour after we arrived.
Our hotel had a free mini-bus pick-up although we contemplated taking a taxi to the hotel to be on our way. Since the taxi driver quoted 50 Euros for a 10 minute journey, we took the mini-bus instead. We arrived at the hotel by midnight and had time for a shower and not much else before heading to sleep. Our wake up call tomorrow is 5am, so I'm sure I'll look like Melanie Griffith again tomorrow.