Ahhhhh, Malta!

Trip Start Feb 10, 2006
Trip End Mar 01, 2006

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Flag of Malta  ,
Friday, February 10, 2006

As the smell of exhaust fumes and the sound of motorbike horns faded, we were greeted by the ringing of of church bells and the scent of the sea as we arrived in the charming old city of Valletta.

It's easy to understand the Maltese people's love affair with the ocean once you've visitied Malta. It doesn't matter where you are on the island, you're never far from the gorgeous blue Mediterranean waters.

The pace of life in Malta seems so relaxed. We found ourselves winding down as soon as we arrived here. A great deal of importance is placed on 'quality of life'...eating and resting appear to be priorities here, along side of faith and family.

We were fortunate to arrive on a national holiday - the Festa of St Paul. What a treat it was for us to experience the excitement among the people as they prepared for the procession! The decorated streets were crowded and filled with atmosphere as the bands played and the locals threw handfulls of coloured and glittery paper from their balconies as the statue St Paul was paraded through the quaint old streets.

We joined in with the locals and enjoyed a couple of pastizzi (traditional pastries filled with ricotta cheese or mushy peas - divine!) as colourful fireworks lit up the night sky.

The first two nights in Malta were spent in the capital - Valletta. This city is so well preserved that you could almost be tricked into believing that you were walking the street centuries ago (....until you stumble upon those familiar bright yellow arches). Our guest house was run by 80 year old Lucy and her dog, Billy Jean. It was the closest thing to 'home' that we've experienced in the last month. The beds were soft and cozy and the room was warmed by a powerful little heater. It didn't matter what time we arrived home, Lucy was always happy to brew us a nice pot of tea. She'd been looking after people at the guest house for the last 49 years, so she was fairly good at it!

We were enjoying ourselves so much in Malta that we extended our stay for an extra couple of nights. We spent the next four nights at a budget sea front hotel in a lovely little place called Sliema. Sliema is far more modern than Valletta. There are many lovely hotels and restaurants - it'd be a bustiling place during the hot Mediterranean summer. We woke each morning to see a beautiful sunrise over the ocean. Some days we were lucky enough to see the sun setting over the other side of the island too!

We were blessed with great weather during our stay - six days out of seven were blue skies and sunshine. We enjoyed having a coffee at one of the many cafes along the waterfront in the sunshine. If you're early and lucky enough to get a table, you can sit for hours watching the people go by.

A little Peugot was our 'access all areas' pass to the Maltese Islands. We hired a car for three days and got great mileage out of it, as we covered what felt like every square kilometre of Malta and neigbouring island Gozo.

On the days that we didn't have the car, we had great fun catching the bus from place to place. 20c (80c AUD) will take you from Valletta to anywhere on the island. Great value, and an experience that is not to be missed! The yellow buses ooze character - but you must be sure to wear supportive garments - these little beauties make your body move like it's never moved before! They're rattly old things, but they're loveable and safe, and they'll give you a ride that you wont forget.

We managed to arrange to catch up with some Maltese relatives and enjoyed an afternoon tea with them, exchanging stories and learning more about the family, Maltese history and culture. We wandered through the streets where they used to live - which brought to life many of the stories that we've heard over the years. The streets and houses were just as beautiful now as I imagined them to be, many fortunate enough not to be damaged by the bombings during the war.

We're getting used to the cost of things here - nothing is cheap (except for the bus and pastizzi!), and while at times the prices are hard to digest, we've become better at budgeting when we need to and have learnt to just accept that the cost of travelling here is quite high. We are just grateful that we don't need to try to make our money last any longer than we originally budgeted for! Italy will be more expensive, so this is good preparation for us. Here is an example of the cost of things. We were carrying around lots of clothes that needed washing, some still from Asia that we were keen to get out of our bags (I'm sure you can imagine), so we were looking for a laundry. A search in the yellow pages returned nothing, and the receptionist and the hotel advised us that there actually aren't any self service laundries in Malta (strange, we know!), so she suggested that the hotel's maid could possibly do it. When we asked how much it would be, she told us that it would be half the price of doing it elsewhere. We were a bit unsure about going ahead with it without knowing exactly how much it would be, but didn't really have an option, as there was a 'no washing in the rooms' policy at the hotel. We nearly fell over when we got the bill came back at $40 AUD! We know that you simply can not compare the two, but we were very spoilt when many of the places we stayed at in Asia actually did our washing for FREE - looks like we're paying for it now!

We think Malta is a special place. It's pre-history dates back to 5000 B.C. so there is a wealth of fascinating history to explore. It boasts an amazing coast line, fabulous weather and some absolutely stunning churches. The Maltese locals that we met were a light-hearted bunch. You don't have to walk far to find a group of them having a big belly-laugh. We often found ourselves laughing at them laughing. You must beware though, many come armed with a practical joke or two - which we fell victim to on more than one occassion. All in good fun!
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