Well, it had to happen and Sunday 10th March 2013 came around with me not feeling too bad despite the excellent hospitality I had been shown in Dick’s Bar and the perhaps foolish ordering of a full bottle of Maltese red wine (see previous entry for full details). I really do not know why I do such things. I rose, checked the weather which was not too bad then showered and packed which was a matter of about five minutes. It is my proud boast that it has never taken me more than 40 minutes to pack for any trip and that was for a month trekking in Nepal. I cannot comprehend why people start packing a week before they depart.
I had a quick tidy up round the apartment, threw out half used food, stripped the bed etc. I don’t know why I do this but it is something of a habit of mine. Maybe it is because I use hostels a lot or it is something to do with being in the Forces or whatever but I do like to give the cleaners a bit of a hand. I really do not like people who throw towels on the floor, leave a terrible mess and so on.
My apartment was right at the back of the premises which shielded me from the road noise, not that Triq il Torri (Tower Road) was that busy at night but I walked out the front door into a complete cacophony of blaring car horns, shouting and singing and general racket. If you have read my previous entries in this series you will remember that there had been a General Election the previous day with the Labour Party hotly tipped to win from the Nationalist Party and this is indeed what happened as they had taken 39 seats to 30, a victory of over 10 percentage points. All the minority parties combined won a total of precisely zero seats so it really was a two horse race. The supporters of the victors were certainly making the most of it and rather than have me try to explain how raucous it was, the video here gives an idea. Remember that this was only about 1030 in the morning and it did not abate until I got well out the far side of Valetta en route to the airport.
I dropped my key off at the hotel a few doors along and crossed the road to the bus stop, noting as I did so that it was much more clement weather than the evening I arrived. The excellent bus service took me to the central bus station and thence to the airport where I arrived in very good time. I hate rushing for planes and trains and stressing myself out and yet, for various reasons, I invariably do just that but on this day I found myself with time to kill after a quick check-in in a relatively quiet Malta International Airport. Looking at the above images it is hard to imagine a report dated 13/09/2019 (I am writing this retrospectively) indicating that this facility, the only airport on the island, has increased passenger numbers by 133% in a decade. I wonder how long it will be before they need to expand.
As a general rule, I try to buy, eat and drink as little as possible on airports as their captive audience pricing strategy leads them to be nothing more or less than highway robbery but I was well ahead of schedule and fancied a beer. I spotted the Hard Rock Cafe, went in and ordered a beer which came with an eye-watering price tag. For reasons as described above and the fact that HRC is a ripoff at the best of times, I was expecting to pay over the odds but this was utterly ridiculous. I doubt I would have paid much more in their outlet in Mayfair, London and there is no comparison between the two places. As is usual in establishments of this chain there are items of rock memorabilia everywhere and the images above show Bob Seger’s 12 string Fender, a Led Zep gold disc for Coda and Melissa Etheridge’s Ovation guitar. I do not really know much of Melissa’s work but I am a big fan of both Bob Seger and Zep so that was a kick.
I have to say that purely from the memorabilia point of view I prefer Bill Wyman’s Sticky Fingers restaurant in London’s Kensington. I decided to leave before I was tempted to have another beer and have to mortgage my home in the process and went for an amble round and a bit of people watching before being called for my flight which was punctual, comfy enough and quite unremarkable as was the rest of my journey home.
Here, then, ends the story of my month’s “winter sun” holiday in Malta and so I shall just finish off by giving my general impressions of the place and a few websites which I hope may be of use to you.
Did I enjoy Malta and would I go again? Yes and yes as I really enjoyed myself and were any further impetus needed I shall hopefully re-visit in 2021. I speak often on my site about the wonderful Virtual Tourist (VT) website which was so cynically wiped out by the appalling TripAdvisor but the CEO, a repulsive man called Kaufer, hadn’t apparently considered one thing. He could, and did, destroy the site thereby wiping out at a stroke years of people’s hard work (12 years in my case and up to 16 in others) but VT was always so much more than that, it was genuinely a community and it still is. Although I do not use social media I know there is an active group of ex-members who communicate there and I am still in touch with one or two via e-mail.
One of the highlights of the VT year was the annual Euromeet which took place in a different European city every year. I have been to several and thoroughly enjoyed them every time with people coming from literally all over the world to attend. Whilst VT were very supportive and sent lots of promo kit as “swag” they jut did not have the staff numbers to assist in the actual organisation, although at least one staffer always made it from California to attend. Through these meets and online I know the last two CEO’s of the site, Kimberley Stirdivant Wasson and previously Giampiero Ambrosi (known to one and all as G) personally and Kimberley even sends me an Xmas card every year. How many commercial websites with the volume of traffic that we had can you say that about?
As I have said several times, this is being written retrospectively in September 2019 and there have been several meets since the site folded. This year’s was in Plovdiv in Bulgaria, organised by my dear friend John Gayton and was a great success. I could not attend for various reasons but if you want to know more about the redoubtable John then you might wish to look at my Lundy island pages which start here.
2018 was in Rekyavik, Iceland organised by another dear friend, Regina who I have shown round London on more than one occasion. In truth, she probably knows more about my home city than I do as she visits so often. Sadly, Iceland is a bit out of my price range so I had to skip that one.
2017 was Kempten-im-Allgau in Bayern (Bavaria) organised by yet another friend, Christian. This was part of my extended, impromptu and ever so slightly lunatic ramble round eight countries in Europe beginning with what was meant to be a four day trip to see a friend in the Netherlands. If you want the full crazy story it starts hereIf you want the full crazy story it starts here, although it is long so if you want to “cut to the chase and read about the meet, you might want to start here.
2020 is going to be in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK organised by yet another dear friend Sarah who also lives in London and who I go for a drink with occasionally. Apart from being extremely well-travelled, she is a first class writer and photographer and the hyperlink attached to her name will take you to her excellent blog which I highly recommend.
2021 is already decided and it is going to be Valetta in Malta which brings me back nicely to what I was writing about. This one is being organised by, need I say it, another good friend called DAO whom I have met many times. Yes, I do actually know his real name but he doesn’t like it divulged and is DAO to one and all. This is not only a great opportunity to revisit Malta and undoubtedly see some things I have not yet seen, I consider it to be almost a moral obligation!
Did I find it expensive? Yes, compared to many other places in Europe. My accommodation was a bargain off-season but eating out was expensive as was shopping if I felt like feeding myself, I would put it on a par with UK as were drinks (except in one or two little backstreet places) and whilst cigarettes were not as expensive as at home because nowhere is, they certainly were not the cheap option of places like Poland, Romania, Bulgaria or even most of the Eurozone. Public transport, i.e. the bus, is cheap and efficient and a long term weekly ticket is great value. Admission to historical sites can be expensive but researching multiple site combination tickets can save you a lot of €€€. Malta is most certainly not a backpackers cheapo paradise.
Do you need to learn Maltese? Absolutely not, although it is obviously courteous and appreciated if you learn a few basics like please, thank you, good day, goodbye etc. English is almost universally spoken to a very high standard. Bizarrely, I know there are several English language schools around the San Giljan area and possibly elsewhere as well although I only know about here.
Is it recommended for winter sun? Absolutely not, at least in February / March when I visited as many of the pages in this series show. Later on would be better but obviously you head into the season of school half-terms and Easter when prices are hiked mercilessly.
What is the food like? There are any amount of the multi-national fast food outlets although traditional Maltese snacks are widely available, cheaper and much tastier. There is a huge Italian influence which is understandable given the proximity and the history. Pizza and pasta are widely available. Actual Maltese food seems to be limited in it’s range, with a lot adapted from the Italian like the ravjul (ravioli), and a lot of it is rabbit! It is tasty though and worth seeking out.
If you are not a beach bunny, is there enough to keep you occupied? Without doubt. I had a month there which is longer than the average holidaymaker and only scratched the surface. No matter what your interests, you will find something to suit you.
As a final aside before I provide you with what I hope is a useful list of websites to assist you should you wish to visit this fabulous country, whilst preparing this series I read an article in a UK national newspaper which was quoting a report from the highly respected consumer protection organisation “Which”. The report stated that after intensive research (almost a quarter of a million reviews) they had concluded that up to one in seven of the reviews of 100 top hotels worldwide showed the hallmarks of being false. “Which” reported 15 of the worst cases to TA who admitted they were aware of 14 of them. They were forced to remove no less than 730 five star reviews for one single hotel! As always in my writing I shall present documented facts and leave the reader to make up their own mind as to whether or not they wish to trust this appalling site whose sole aim appears to be making itself the the only internet travel resource available by whatever means. At least that is one thing I pride myself on, I can and will stand by anything I publish here as it is my name on the site and I am only interested in honest reporting here.
That is finally it then after quite a bit of work and I hope that if you intend visiting Malta that you may have found something of use to you here. If you have no intention of ever setting foot on the island and have been good enough to read some or all of this series, I thank you and hope you have found it interesting, entertaining or possibly both.
I have not decided what my next project here is going to be but I have plenty of options available and I am going to attempt to keep my contemporaneous blog pages up to date as well.
As always, please feel free to contact me with any suggestions as I really am still finding my way to a great extent here. In the meantime, stay tuned and spread the word.