Welcome back folks to day three, or more realistically my second full day on the wonderful island of Malta.
As always, a quick word about the logistics of this site. If you have happened upon this page by chance, firstly welcome and secondly this is a series of blogs about a trip in 2013 to that tremendous county. If you want to read the whole piece the please go to the bottom of the page and hit the “previous” button a couple of times which will take you to the start. OK, tech briefing over and so back to the “action”.
Having spent the previous day orientating myself, which in planxty speak means finding out how many bars he can safely navigate home from, I decided it was time to spread my wings a little.
I have a bit of a travel tip for you here. If you are in a strange place and do not know too much about the local transport system pricing, get yourself a “rider” card / pass so you don’t have to fret about overstaying your stop and getting hammered by some ticket inspector. Splash out and get one for all zones and this is where the magic comes. Get on the train / bus / tram / Underground or whatever and sit on it until the very last station, then go for a walk. Usually, you will be in a place where tourists never go and where you will be something of an oddity but that is a good thing. Find a bar or a cafe or whatever, go and eat, drink and chat with the locals as you will get proper local food. It doesn’t really matter so much if you don’t speak the local language although obviously it helps but I have got by well enough in places where I had not a word of the local tongue. Have a look round and you’ll get a much better idea of where you are visiting than by visiting the usual tourist sites. I have had some of my best travelling experiences that way but I shall not bore you with them here, I shall bore you with them when I get my other pages ramped up here!
On the principle mentioned above I had noticed that many of the buses which passed by my apartment on the coast road terminated in Bugibba. Bugibba? Never heard of it but, as mentioned in a previous entry in this series, the only place I had really heard of in Malta was Valletta so that was hardly surprising. I jumped on the bus and bought myself a “rover” ticket or whatever it is called there which allows unlimited travel throughout the island and is available for the day or the week so obviously I bought a weekly one. If you are not self-driving I really do recommend this as it represents extremely good value and unless you want to visit some really obscure place you can get where you want on what is rather a comprehensive system. I know the locals use it extensively.
In an attempt to balance this entry between a reminiscence and a hopefully valid travel resource I have just researched it again on the excellent website here and, as of January 2019, the seven day card runs to €21 for adults (€15 for kids) and that includes the adjacent island of Gozo which I think represents great value. I also noticed in passing that they even operate a reduced system on Xmas Day which puts the London Transport system to shame as it shuts completely.
Having sorted out my transport needs for the week, I sat down to watch the world unfold around me and it was a pleasant journey following the coast road for the most part although it did go inland on a more modern road for a bit and eventually we got to what was supposed to be Bugibba but was actually Qawra (I did not know that at the time) although where one stops and the other begins would probably require consulting a local authority map, they are effectively the one settlement now although that was obviously not always the case. So what to do now?
Again as previously mentioned I had no internet access in my digs, the only “guidebook” I had was the excellent in-flight magazine (not with me) from the journey over, and I was in a place I had never even heard of albeit I thought I was in one that I had. Bloody brilliant, just the way I like it, this is travelling for me. OK, I know that some people would find this disorganised wandering about total anathema and would have five “sights / sites” marked down to see in a day and that is great, nothing wrong with that if that is your gig. Another one of my numerous travel mantras is that there is no right or wrong way to travel, the only wrong way possible is to travel in a style that does not suit you.
Enough philosophy then and what was I going to do? Not a clue but favourite had to be a breakfast beer. Well, it was about that time and so I walked out of the surprisingly large bus station, looked left and right and decided that left looked more like town so off I went. In truth, it was well past breakfast beer time as I had allowed myself a bit of a lie in but thankfully help was almost immediately at hand in the form of Hannah’s Bar.
Hannah’s is a lovely place and I can make no complaint about it but, writing this some years later, I distinctly remember at one point wondering why I had spent money on a flight, inexpensive as it was, and not least when I was cordially invited to join the afternoon pub quiz run by a man with a very Yorkshire accent. I declined the quiz on the principle I am not too clever and don’t need a quizmaster to prove it to me! I could have easily been in the UK as every single person there (and it was pretty busy) was a Brit and, judging from accents predominantly from the North of England with a few Scots thrown in for good measure. This includes the staff. There is obviously a large expat community here and fair play to them, there are a lot worse places to live.
With my tongue fairly firmly in my cheek I have written often about the “travel gods” that seem to attend me when I am on the road. By religious persuasion (or lack thereof) I am an atheist and such do not believe in a God or Gods in the accepted sense so I think what I am really referring to is the sometimes almost freakishly good luck that seems to guide me to some of the most incredible sights / sites and into many wonderful travel experiences which are engraved upon my heart. All this despite, or perhaps because of, my somewhat perverse obsession with never planning anything. Whatever the philosophical reasoning for this may be it seems that the little chaps were working overtime that day as a very short distance I walked past what looked like a large block of flats / apartments which it turned out to be and as I walked past I noticed a fairly lurid 50’s style neon sign announcing “Down Memory Lane” and an arrow apparently pointing downwards.
I filed this in the memory bank for further investigation and took a walk further on out the road but there was little or nothing to be seen except private homes so I quickly did a 180 and went back to the lure of the neon. The weather didn’t look like cheering up any time soon and it was actually quite chilly so time to get back indoors. I think a quick recap is in order here. I was wandering about thinking I was in one town when in fact I was in another, I had neither map, guidebook nor any electronic means of navigation and the only things I knew for certain were the times of the last couple of buses going back to my apartment. Typical planxty travelling and I love it.
I followed the sign down a flight of stairs and my jaw literally dropped. I would say it is a classic car museum but it is so much more than that and, as always, I shall refer back to my original Virtual tourist review which I posted with many of the images I took on what was to become a complete shutterfest. However, in the interests of saving your poor little scrolling fingers from RSI I shall condense the text and mosaic the images together. If I have done it correctly (again a big if) then you should be able to click on any particular image that interests you and enlarge it. Come with me then to this absolute wonderland.
The first image is this absolute gem, a 1955 Jaguar C type. I don’t even drive cars but I think this is a thing of beauty. There is far more to see here than just cars, it really is one of the most eclectic places I have ever been. For example, here are a selection of collectable toy motor vehicles which I can vaguely understand in a car museum but the other images here I really am not sure about.
I love jukeboxes and there are some beauties in the Car Museum. I’m not sure of the relevance but I enjoyed it. Perhaps vintage radios and televisions are your thing and if so there is more than enough to keep you happy here or what about the gorgeous old gramophone pictured? The next exhibit pictured particularly appealed to me as I simply adore pinball and I really wished I could have had the opportunity to play this fine example. If all that wasn’t enough for you, what about a life size mannequin of Hulk Hogan?
I have concentrated here on some of the more quirky exhibits in the Museum but I shall continue this entry with another mosaic where I hope to show you the main attraction namely some of the stunning automotive exhibits on display.
I should say here that I know nothing about cars or scooters although I know a bit about motorbikes. I know the red sports car looked beautiful and is obviously some sort of MG. If any reader can fill me in on the details of these exhibits, I will be happy to amend this piece and give full credit. Much less flashy perhaps but nonetheless interesting is the white car in the second image one and I do actually know what it is. It is a 1966 Ford Cortina Lotus Mk.I which apparently was a hybrid of a Ford Cortina with the 1499cc engine from a Lotus Elan. It was designed for rallying and was apparently quite successful. There were only 1,000 made so I doubt there are many still in existence. This one appeared to be in great condition.
If two wheels are more your thing, there is plenty here for you too, and if your two wheel pleasure tends towards scooters you are well catered for. There is a selection her. The withe and blue one pictured head on is a fairly old looking Lambretta which I know many “Mods” in the UK would give an awful lot of money for. Just a bit more powerful than the scooters is the excellent example of an old NSU motorbike which really caught my eye.
On now to the main event, the cars.
It is not all big expensive supercars exhibited here, there are some odd little vehicles as well including the one you see pictured (the little red and white “bubble car” as we called them when we were children). Standing at 6’5″ (1:93 m I think), I doubt if I could even get in the door but it looks like a fun little thing. If you are a petrolhead it is a 1957 BMW Isetta and has a mere 250cc engine. There are lawnmowers with more poke! I
have included an image of the driving space just to show you how tiny it really is.
If you fancy something a bit flashier, what about the silver Triumph GT6, what a great looking thing. Again I have included an image of the interior which just oozes class from the days when UK had a car industry before the Unions put paid to that. The next image is yet another sad reminder of an era when the UK had some of the finest craftsmen in the world, days before Jaguar, Bentley and even Land Rover became wholly owned subsidiaries of an Indian firm. I must say, this was one of my favourite exhibits in the whole collection and I stood staring at it in wonder for a long time. I have mentioned that I am not into cars at all but this literally mesmerised me.
If you don’t like the GT6, perhaps the 1967 Triumph Spitfire from the same stable would be more to your liking. This Museum almost wants to make me get a driving licence! For something smaller but probably sportier and absolutely iconic, it doesn’t come much better than the Mini Cooper S. I believe this one was actually rallied in a vintage rally a couple of years before my visit. Anyone remember the film “The Italian Job”? From the very sporty to the very practical, the very well-preserved Morris Minor traveller. I well remember these on the streets of the UK when I was a child. It always makes me feel a bit old when I go to a Museum and remember some of the exhibits! Another little workhorse, not dissimilar to the traveller, was the 1971 Austin pick-up. Again, this has been beautifully restored. I love the paintjob with the garage logo on it although it would not be my choice of colour!
If you are not yet bored rigid with images of cars, I’ll continue with a few more because I really do want you to see how brilliantly the exhibits are presented here.
The stunning vehicle pictured first (silver grey with a white blaze) is a 1957 Austin Healy 100/6 which, like everything else here was in pristine condition. The little light blue number is an early Fiat 500 which was introduced in 1957 under the name ‘The Cinquecento’ and after numerous revamps it is still being produced over 60 years later so they must be doing something right. The red opentop with the beige interior I have no idea about but it is magnificent, don’t you think? The red hardtop I have similarly no idea about nor the orange opentop. If I have not totally confused myself with my images which is more than likely, the white open top is a 1958 Triumph TR3 and the red opentop with the white-suited cowboy beside it is a 1956 Ford Thunderbird. The silver darling with the twin headlamps is obviously a Corvette of some description and, finally for this section, the rather modest little powder blue Austin A40 which was actually used by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II on her visit to the island in 1952, a mere seven years after the end of WWII when her Father had awarded the entire island the George Cross for it’s fortitude in resisting the Axis forces in the face of terrible hardship.
For those who have slogged on this far I thank you and I shall finish this portion with a few random images from the museum and leave it there as, indeed, I had to leave the museum as it was approaching closing time and as I was the only one in there I did not want to keep them late on my account. It was an utterly brilliant afternoon and I really could have stayed there much longer.
You will probably by now be sorry to hear that the the museum was finished but the day most certainly was not. Yes, I am sure you have to endure more of my ramblings in every sense. I was fully sated with all things automotive or so I thought and yet I had not gone 100 yards from the door of the place into the gathering gloom and increasingly foul weather when I happened to notice the number plate you see in the image which I could not resist taking an image of and including here. I have no idea what the vehicle registration protocols are in that country but I thought this was so clever.
Having already determined that there was nothing to be seen walking in the direction I had gone earlier, I struck out the other way. I am pretty luck in that I have a reasonable sense of direction so if I have a base point, in this case the bus station, I will always know where I am in relation to is even if I have been getting totally “lost” in a maze of tiny back alleys somewhere. I do not know if you can teach this as I just seem to have been born with it and it is very useful for one that travels as I do.
After a relatively short walk I passed a sign welcoming me to Bugibba. Eh? I had been labouring under the misapprehension I had been there all day but, hey ho, I got there in the end. I usually do. The image of the front in Bugibba with the locals all togged up in hooded parkas and the state of the sky, not to mention the deserted seafront on a Friday evening, probably tell you all you need to know about the conditions. Winter sun? Fat chance. Time for a beer and I picked a bar at random in the “main square” which was fine but unremarkable to the extent I cannot even remember what it was called although it did throw up one interesting feature which I shall discuss here.
I have been smoking for the best part of half a century now and I know it is a bloody stupid thing to do. If anyone reading this does not smoke and is tempted to start, the advice is simple – don’t. If any of you do smoke and think you have any chance of stopping, then do it. The simple fact is that I know I do not have the willpower nor the desire to do so. There is an old cliche that “when America sneezes, the world catches a cold,” actually coined by Metternich as far back as Napoleonic times. Like most cliches it has a basis in truth. America started to introduce anti-smoking Fascism some years ago and Europe (as well as a lot of other countries) had to rush to follow suit.
I know laws are slightly different in various countries but as the image shows there appears to be an allowance in Malta for smokers to indulge their addictions in specially designated areas. Presumably these must reach certain standards regarding being fully enclosed, properly ventilated etc. but I think it is a great idea. In the UK the smoking ban was imposed on 1st July under a law passed during the misgovernment of Tony B. Liar (not a typo) and a mere few days after he had been ousted. There was never any possibility of compromise. The health risks from passive smoking are obvious and well-proven and I have no wish to injure anyone else due to my addiction but the designated , hermetically sealed designated area like the one shown seems to me to be the ideal solution. I have since seen such areas in France, Belgium, Sri Lanka and a host of other countries so it obviously presents no difficulties. Anyway, enough of this.
A couple of beers (and a few cigarettes) in the unnamed bar and I reckoned it was time to head back. As anywhere on the bus system on Malta, pay no attention to the dot matrix boards on the stops, they are a complete work of fiction and I have to say that Qawra station was the only place I found a genuinely unhelpful member of the bus staff but he was maybe having a bad day. The bus which had been shown as “due” for about half an hour was still nowhere to be seen and so I went to the ticket office to enquire. He could not have been more rude if he had tried, he had it down to an art. OK, not a problem, I had planned for a missing bus and I sat down to wait a bit longer until it eventually turned up. I must stress that this was a one-off and I found the staff throughout the Maltese public transport system to be friendly and helpful in the extreme.
I made it back to Sliema in good and quick order as the roads were pretty empty classic and there were not many passengers wanting to alight or embus. After the exertions of the day, I decided an early night was called for and was probably in bed before midnight which is a rarity for me.
I know this entry has gone on a bit and must have bored the pants off anyone not interested in old vehicles but there are different things to discover in the next entry so stay tuned and spread the word.