Fly to Malta
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The one day in four years and we fly to Malta...nice, easy one hour flight and the island greets us with 70 degree sunshine. Renown for its 300 days of sun and never winter weather $26, we welcome this change having been in Tunisia's cold and off/on clouds & rain for 2 weeks. The change comes w/ a price however, literally a giant jump of 4 years. We soon discover to our dismay that the 37 Dinars we'd spend in Tunisia which would be sufficient to pay for a 3 bed room for 3 of us for a nite only is enough in Euros for one of us for 2 nights! In other words our per nite per person has jumped from $9 US to $25 US! We still enjoyed our stay in the Grand Harbour Hotel but Malta is definitely a tourist driven economy and mostly tourists from Euro-ville countries (although, we did meet a recently graduated Japanese gal on her month long vacation before beginning her first job on her return). Granted our accommodations here are on a higher scale than those we'd find in Tunisia, a scale we do not SEEK! In fact, our search for lesser was totally unsuccessful, nothing is available at the backpacker/hostel level - though I did find a tourist brochure at the tourist office which gave info on the ONE camping option aimed at travelers driving there own caravan vehicles!
We attempted to get information at the Tourist Information Office but found the workers there very difficult. They understood English perfectly well but acted as if we were bothering them or interrupting their conversation with each other. Then we went to SMS Mondial Tourist Travel Agency located just inside the gate on the main tourist street on a corner. The fellow there, Carl, was THE MOST helpful person we could imagine. We were not buying anything and in fact, we did not even mention purchasing anything but he gave us a lot of information regarding getting around Malta, etc. He spoke excellent English and was very patient. We returned several days later to purchase ferry tickets just because he was so very helpful the first time.
FROM KRYSS & TALAAT: email@example.com
I suppose I should have called it "Valetta Letta".
So it all began on Saturday after breakfast with a taxi to Farringdon -a smaller station than the cavernous St Pancras - followed by a train to Gatwick Airport. A flight of 2 hours 55 minutes and an hour forward on the clocks. Our new passports remained as fresh as the day they were printed as we entered Malta, my 110th country (and Talaat's 86th). A machine churned out a seven day bus ticket for less than 7 Euros. Bus X2 took us through the darkness around the houses to the Sliema Ferries from where it was a 200m walk to our hotel. Our room faces the old medieval city of Valletta. We saw Mars rising, a brilliant red and much higher than we see it from London. Time to sleep.
The Hypogeum is a series of underground tombs dating from 3000BC in the suburb of Paola. Only ten people are allowed per tour every hour and pre-booking is essential. I had tried to pre-book online but it was fully booked for over a month ahead. Sunday had seen the clocks go forward for Summer Time so we were now on GMT plus one plus one. We tried for a cancellation in the hope that someone had forgotten to put their clocks forward. No luck. But we were told of where we could buy tickets for the following day if we got there early enough.
Nearby were the Tarxien Temples also dating from the same period but this time above ground. We bought a Malta Pass and guess what - I got a 60+ discount. This is my first trip as "an old git".
It was Sunday so we went to the pretty village of Marsaxlokk (bus 82) to see the fish market and to partake in a seafood lunch - or two. I had grilled grouper at one establishment followed by deep fried calamari at another purveyor. Each was washed down with a beer and accompanied with salad or chips.
Maltese is a Semitic language and sounds like Arabic with an Italian accent. Some words are of Latin origin ("grazzi" thank you) while others are close to Arabic ("dar" house, "dinja" world).
Monday morning I left Talaat enjoying her breakfast and went to buy tickets for the Hypogeum. I succeeded by the simple expedient of being in the queue first. We were now - as they say - "sorted".
The rest of the day was spent exploring Valletta, a walled city jutting out into the sea and full of narrow and hilly streets lined with balconies. We visited the Grand Master's Palace once inhabited by the leader of the Knights of St John - not where the world's best chess player lives. It was sumptuous inside. Next was the War Museum covering Malta's activities in WW2 - exhibits included the George Cross awarded to Malta and a cane used by Dwight Eisenhower. We had a slow lunch of lamb and salmon in a family run restaurant.
After sitting in Barrakka Gardens with their superb views across the habour we ended the day at the Archeology Museum. The Phoenicians featured as they were the earliest inhabitants of the island. We have two ways of getting to our hotel from Valletta. Buses 12, 13 or 15 or the ferry. Today we tried the latter. It was an easy way of getting a tour of the harbour.
We spent Tuesday in Valletta. The cathedral was explored with its marble tombstone paved floor and paintings by Preti and Caravaggio. There were more Pretis in the Fine Arts Museum along with a few scenes from English poet, Edward Lear. The afternoon was spent underground at the now-booked Hypogeum. This unusual site had to be seen on a guided tour in small groups. It was fascinating but hard work. There were eiree noises resonating though the caverns - and wasn't anything I'd eaten. Talking of food, lunch was a tagliatelle with a creamy salmon sauce.
For Wednesday, we took a day trip to Mdina and Rabat, the old inland walled capital (buses 202 and 52). There was lots to see including a palace belonging to an artist, another cathedral, narrow streets, Roman mosaics and several catacombs. A Maltese Platter was the luncheon of choice. A Maltese Falcon was the photo of choice in the Natural History Museum.
For Thursday we had to rush to the airport - no, we were not leaving, but bus 201 begins there. I say bus, but it was more of a minivan. In fact it was too small to take us. Since they come every hour, we decided to take a taxi. This took us to Hagar Qim, the site of two cliff top temples overlooking the sea. There was talk of equinoxes and solstices and alignments. I had garlic octopus for lunch before several buses (the tiny 201 and the normal sized 52) brought us back.
Malta has been interesting and friendly and Talaat says "they know how to make a good cup of tea". We probably needed another couple of days (to visit Birgu and Gozo) but our stay is now over.
Tomorrow morning - very early - we leave for another Mediterranean island.
There are people who would pay for that informa