Busy doing nothing – but enjoying it.

The 17th was a Sunday so I didn’t reckon there would be too much going on and so it was to prove. I have mentioned that there were no windows in my apartment so I made myself decent and opened my door for a look out into the small courtyard which indicated that it was indeed a bright sunny day, and about time too.

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Pretty deserted for a Sunday afternoon.

I knew there was also a reduced bus service on Sunday so I decided to stay local and have a look round Sliema. Apart from my initial walk from the bus in the pouring rain and a very brief exploration when I found the wonderful Hole in the Wall pub all I had seen of the town I was staying in was the main seafront whilst walking to and from San Giljan. Having had a coffee and performing my ablutions I stepped outside, got about ten yards and immediately retraced my steps as the weather had totally fooled me. Certainly it was sunny but there was no heat associated with it and it was bitterly cold with a biting onshore breeze. Having amended my clothing to virtually sub-Arctic levels I had another go and instead of turning left as I normally did I went right in the direction of the town centre.

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That poor child must have been chilled to the marrow!

On a Sunday lunchtime anywhere in the Med. I would expect people to be out walking along the front as it is just the done thing but, as the images show, there were only a few hardy souls braving the elements and most of them appeared to be tourists /expats. The locals obviously had enough wit to stay warm indoors. I decided to brave it and tried a spell of sitting on one of the numerous benches provided to watch the world go by but that lasted all of five minutes before I was in danger of hypothermia so only one thing to do and that was find a pub.

There were a few to choose from although not as many as I would have thought and they were all obviously totally geared to tourists and expats with names like Times Square and Compass Lounge. There was nothing wrong with any of them but they were so totally unremarkable that I did not take a single image which is very unlike me. The attraction of expat pubs soon wore off so after I had warmed up a bit I decided to wander on a bit and it was whilst doing so that I came upon the one thing of note the whole day which was the memorial to the men, women and children of Sliema who had died during the Second World War.

I have a great interest in military history of all periods and also war graves and memorials and so I naturally stopped for a look and to pay my respects.

In it’s long history the island of Malta has been subjected to two major sieges which I suppose is hardly surprising given it’s strategic importance slap bang in the middle of the Med.  The first was in 1565 when the Mohammedan (i.e. Muslim) Ottoman Turk forces of Sultan Suleiman, assisted by a large group of corsairs (pirates) besieged this very area for three months before being eventually repulsed at great cost to the defending Knights of the Order of St. John aka the Knights of Malta.  They were supported by a number of mercenaries from all over Christendom (i.e. Western Europe) as well as the local population who came out virtually unarmed in Birgu (across the harbour from modern Valletta) and helped to tackle the invaders where they had all taken shelter. It is not hyperbole to say that this really was a war for religious control of all of Europe and was a pivotal moment in the history of the continent.

The second siege is much more recent, being within living memory, and was much longer than the three months, three weeks and three days of 1565 as long as that must have seemed to those involved. For virtually the whole of the Second World War the island was blockaded by the Axis fascist powers of Germany and Italy and it was only the bravery of numerous military and merchant seamen that prevented the island being starved into submission. As I mentioned in a previous entry in this series the sheer determination of the Maltese was so impressive that King George VI awarded the entire population the George Cross after the war which was the only time the medal had ever been awarded to other than an individual. This remained the case until 1999 when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II similarly honoured the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The memorial itself is well-tended and stands on the seafront looking out over the Grand Harbour and the first thing that struck me on examining it was the sheer number of people commemorated. Even today, Sliema is not a huge place and presumably it was smaller in the 1940’s and yet there are hundreds of names inscribed here. Remembering that the memorial is only for this small area it really brings home the sacrifices made. I have not physically counted the numbers but I have included all four aspects here so you can judge for yourself. It really was quite sobering.

With respects paid and headgear replaced I struck out for the backstreets. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, I had seen pretty much all of the “promenade” aka Tower Road, secondly and, as I have described frequently in other writings here and elsewhere, I love getting off the main drag and seeing how people really live. The third reason was purely practical in that I reckoned (correctly as it turned out) that the buildings would protect me from that vicious cold onshore wind which was becoming really unpleasant. I really was surprised that somewhere as far South as Malta and with an obvious maritime influence could be so cold. It was never a problem as I am not a “beach bunny” and had not intended to be sunbathing, which bores me rigid, but it did catch me a little off-guard.

I did my usual and headed of vaguely in the direction of my digs but a few blocks back. I came upon a street which seems to be the commercial centre of Sliema although it is not large as I suppose everyone goes to Valletta which is so close and so much better served for shopping. The few shops that had opened on a Sunday were in the process of reversing that state of being and shutters were being pulled down left and right. That didn’t bother me as I loathe shopping with a passion bordering on the pathological! I wandered through a tidy little town with nothing remarkable to write about here although more worryingly with nothing in the way of an establishment where a man could slake his thirst. I had no fear of getting lost (I never do) as I knew if I turned right and kept going downhill I would get to the sea and I would know where I was. Simplest form of navigation known to man.

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Just what was needed.

I knew that on my slightly meandering route vaguely parallel to the sea that I had passed where my apartment was but I just kept on going. I although I did not do it consciously I think my homing instinct was guiding my feet back to San Giljan as I did rather like it there because it was certainly a lot livelier than Sliema but it gave me an opportunity for a pleasant walk there and / or back most days. I was very pleased with where I was staying so it all worked out nicely. Once in SJ I inevitably ended up in the wonderful Dick’s Bar which I have spoken of before here and had a lovely, if simple, feed as shown in the image. Nothing fancy but just what was needed to satisfy the hunger I had built up on my walk in the rather “bracing” conditions.

After another pleasant evening in what was rapidly becoming my “local” it was time for best foot forward on the walk home as it was still pretty chilly although thankfully the wind had dropped considerably.  I got back to the little bedsit that I was becoming increasingly fond of and had made myself completely at home in. I would happily live there if they sorted out an internet connection. I had a fairly early night as I had determined to do a bit of proper something or another on the morrow although what it might be I knew not.

In the next instalment I make my first proper trip to Valletta so stay tuned and spread the word.

Introducing WMDs.

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I cannot describe how tasty this was – proper pub grub.

When I am writing these blog entries, especially given the length of time since the events to which they refer, I rely heavily upon my images which I store on a daily basis and then piece the day together from the various writings a have scattered about all over the wasteland that calls itself my computer “filing system”. On Saturday, 16th February my supply of images runs to precisely one so I have given it pride of place here. It is homemade pie and chips and I can tell you it was gorgeous as I ate it many times and it always was. What this indicates to me was that I spent the entire day in Dick’s Bar in San Giljan (St. Julians) which was not an uncommon experience in the month I was on the island.

This is where my WMD comes in, in this case Weapon of Mass Deception although I may be doing myself a slight disservice there. Usually I write about places when I first encounter them as it is the only way I can keep on top of it and not omit anything but in this series I have been holding a few things back for just such a “slow news day” as this so I shall tell you about Dick’s Bar albeit I had visited several times before. The text, as always is an edited version of my original Virtual Tourist tip and the images are from various days.

” I found eating out in Malta to be a not inexpensive pastime and prices are certainly comparable with UK which is regarded as being expensive. I know Malta, some years ago, was regarded as a good value holiday destination but their accession into the Federal States of E and adoption of the € has seen to that as it has in so many places. With this in mind, Dick’s offers a good selection of local and British dishes but in truth, much of the Maltese cuisine is British orientated because of the long period when the British administered the islands. Does roast chicken and chips count as local or British? I have no idea.

I ate there many times and have always been very pleased with the food and the service. There is the usual tourist fare like burgers, sausage, egg and chips, “full English breakfast” etc. but there are also local dishes like roz al forno (a baked rice dish), timpana (a baked pasta dish) and various filled local rolls (ftira) which are similar to foccacia bread. These you can have as they are or toasted and tuna capers and olives is a favourite local combination.

First, a note about the image attached here. You will see a monstrous sign boasting about the best pizza in the world (it isn’t even the best pizza in St. Julian apparently) but this refers to Margo’s then newly opened restaurant on the upper floors. Dick’s Bar is the downstairs portion of the building, run by Richard (junior) and Marco, the sons of the original and eponymous owner Richard (Dick) senior.

The decor is just that of a typical Maltese bar / restaurant and is usually full of a good mix of locals and travellers / expats. The atmosphere can get a bit lively, especially when the football is on, which seems to be most nights. Probably not the place to to take your loved one for a romantic meal. The food, however, is excellent with many of the dishes being home-made by Richard on the premises. His speciality, of which he is justifiably proud, are his savoury pies (steak and onion, steak and kidney and chicken and mushroom) which really are amongst the best I have tasted. The steak and kidney is particularly good. He also makes a deep dish apple pie which is pretty special as well even though I am not usually one for desserts.

Sometimes, there will be something sitting in the chiller which is not on the menu. For example, one night I feasted on beautifully slow-cooked Maltese beef which was literally falling to pieces and absolutely so tasty. The guys here do not stick slavishly to the menu, you just basically ask for anything you fancy and they’ll knock it up for you. Actually, half times you would not even need to order food as the generous free bar snacks they provide like chips (fries), toasted Maltese anchovy and olive oil bread, Maltese sausage etc. would nearly fill you up, especially if you have a bird-like appetite like mine.
There is a good selection of both local and imported drinks and bottles of local wine from €6 (2013 price). If you don’t want alcohol, the coffee is excellent.

Dick’s is certainly it is not haute cuisine, nor is it meant to be but I do recommend you try at least one meal here, you won’t be disappointed.

Favourite Dish: A difficult choice as the beef was so good but I think I would have to plump for the homemade steak and kidney pie with chips. Proper pub grub.”

That was the review I wrote at the time and quite early in my stay but I certainly did not change my opinion later on, I really did like this place. If your wondering about the “Favourite Dish” sentence at the end of the piece this was a section in the old VT tips and I did not miss it in the edit but decided to leave it in as a piece of nostalgia.

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San Giljan harbour by night.

I did manage one more thing before the day was done and that was to capture a night image of San Giljan harbour. The fact that I said I only had one image for the day earlier is that this was well after midnight and I only discovered it whilst researching the next day’s activities!. Although my files indicate that this took a few attempts I am quite pleased with the result as it was taken with a cheap compact camera (a Canon Ixus which I love) hand-held and I had been drinking beer all day so no shaky hands there then!

There you are then, WMD successfully deployed and hopefully nobody got hurt!

In the next instalment I go for a more in depth exploration of Sliema so stay tuned and spread the word.

Wrong town, right attraction.

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.

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Hannah’s Bar, Qawra.

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.

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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.

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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.

Here now, so what to do?

I awoke well-rested on the morning of the 14th February, showered and went downstairs. Declining the proferred complimentary breakfast I collected the keys to my apartment which had been immaculately made up as I hope the images show. If this makes little sense because you have just randomly landed on this entry, I suggest you read the previous entry where it is all explained. This was to be my home for the next month and very comfy it was too so I suppose this is as good a time as any to tell you about Miranda apartments and, again, the text is an edited version of the review I wrote for Virtual Tourist at the time. The hyperlink is for the Europa Hotel and you should go through them to book.

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A comfy place to spend a month, wish my flat was as tidy!

When I had been looking for an off-season stay in Malta I checked on several of the usual booking sites I used, finally deciding on the Miranda apartments and there were several reasons for this. The location seemed good with easy access to the nightlife etc. of nearby St, Julian (San Giljan) and also easy transport to Valletta plus the bonus of a small kitchenette. Staying for an extended period, eating out every meal was going to knock the budget a bit so the thought of a little self-catering was attractive. The clincher though was the price which was absolutely right. I ended up paying approximately £13 sterling per night which was a snip and even lower than the prices published on the official notice in the apartment.

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I’ll bet Michel Roux could work that kitchen. I did!

The rental apartments are all on the ground floor with the upstairs floors being occupied privately and this leads to a sense of it being a “home” rather than just a holiday resort place. Security is as you would expect in a private residence and you actually have to negotiate four doors to get in your room, so that is not a concern. If you like it, you can rent a safety box in the hotel but I really didn’t feel the need. You can also get wi-fi in the internet cafe in the hotel if you want although there is none in the accommodation.

So what is it like? Well, I do not require much from the places I stay, I just need somewhere to sleep, wash and, in this case, eat a little. The images probably do it justice and it was perfectly comfortable. Being an apartment rather than a hotel, I was expecting the room to be made up about once a week with new laundry etc., but it was immaculately made up every day I was there. It was a twin room that I had sole occupancy of and the bed was comfortable and big enough for my rather tall frame. The toilet was small but adequate and clean although the shower cubicle was a bit tight for me.

The kitchenette consisted of fridge, sink, two ring electric burner and microwave. I don’t know how many people they expected in a twin bedroom but the pots were huge, you could have fed ten from them. My only slight complaint was a lack of implements, there was really only kitchen cutlery and a couple of plastic spatulas etc. but this was explained to me when I met the former owner by chance one night. He explained that the guests keep stealing everything!

It is not a problem for me, having travelled in Asia where it is common, but there is no window in the room save for a tiny one high up on the wall to allow ventilation. I know this may be an issue for some people. I loved it there and would certainly stay again.

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You have been warned!

Having stowed my kit I decided on a wander round the local area before venturing off further afield and just turned left out of the door along the seafront and began walking with no plan at all. Almost the first thing I saw was the sign you can see pictured above which raises a couple of issues. The first is that the local authorities really are strict about the topless bathing regulation, not that it was anything like sunbathing weather never mind sea bathing. I believe there are topless beaches elsewhere on the island but this is effectively a residential area so I suppose that is fair enough. The second matter is that of the currents which I was told later can indeed be treacherous and have claimed casualties, so you have been warned.

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One off the Redin crusader towers which are to be fount all along the Maltese coast.

Not too far along I came upon the rather imposing structure you see here. Initially, I was unsure if it was a genuine historical building or a modern reproduction, such was it’s state of repair. It really was in good order and looked like it could have been erected a few years ago. I have seen other such facsimile buildings on the island.

A little research, however, established it’s provenance as one of the 13 towers built by the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta called Martin de Redin in 1658 – 1659. Redin was an Aragones knight. These were in addition to five towers built by his predecessor Grand Master Lascaris and formed an excellent defensive and warning shield around the island. The towers were all visible to the next one in the chain all the way from Gozo to Grand Harbour so an alarm of potential invasion or Corsair raid could be raised all along the coast. The alarm was raised by means of smoke during daylight hours and by bonfires at night.

I believe some of the so-called Redin Towers are accessible although this one appears not to be. I should point out that I visited off-season so maybe it does open in summer, I can find no information on this. I did find it rather impressive in it’s wonderful state of repair although it is not large. The last image shows a more modern view and indicates the very seaside town out of season nature of Sliema in winter. Worth a look if you are passing. Just pause and think of the soldiers manning the tower watching for the possibility of imminent battle from the sea.

Walking on in a fairly leisurely fashion and ignoring the obvious delights of the talking telescope (no, I had never hard of such a thing either) I discovered this rather interesting sculpture, if that is the correct word for it.

In my relatively short time in Malta I was struck by how fond they seem to be of public statuary. Virtually every ten yards you will find some sort of statue, either old or very modern. I suspect it must be something in the Mediterranean psyche that likes such things.

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Relatively modern (2007), it was not a static piece but the globe was revolving, apparently moved along by the water. I did see another similar piece later in Valletta so I am not sure if this is simply a popular form here. Basically the globe rotates, fairly fast, but not as you might expect along an axis through the poles which is how the Earth apparenty moves but the other way, through an equitorial axis. It threw me a little but it was still a very impressive piece. As the image shows, there are some fairly thought provoking pieces written around the base. I was slightly taken aback to find a Red Indian (yes, I am of an age where I can still use such terms) proverb in the middle of the Med!

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The globe statue is technically just in Sliema although few yard further on I was to find myself in San Giljan (St. Julians) for the first but certainly lot the last time as so let me give you my impressions of it.
It is located on St. Julian’s and Balluta bays a few miles North of central Valletta it seems to me to be completely tourist orientated. When I say it is a few miles from Valletta, that is as the crow flies. The many inlets on the Maltese coast and the sometimes heavy traffic can make it a bit of a journey to actually get there from the capital. Boat might be best!

I don’t actually know how the place evolved, I am guessing it was a fishing community once although little evidence of that exists now. This is “party central” for Malta, specifically the area known as Paceville where it appears loud music seems to pump out of bars constantly even in winter. I have no idea what it must be like in high season. In an indication of how geared to nightlife it is, there are nightbuses coming from places like Rabat and not even going to Valletta the capital. These only run at the weekend and are obviously designed for clubbers.

However, like anywhere else, I did manage to find a few less lively places that I liked and I used to spend quite a bit of time here. Apart from the nightlife and many restaurants and bars, there does not seem to be a lot to do here and it had the atmosphere of any off-season tourist place but it is pleasant enough and not completely manic off-season which suited me.

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A fine bar but just not my kind of place.

All this walking was making me thirsty obviously and so it was straight into the first bar I found open which just happened to be the Dubliner and I was not going to fall out with my company as I was the only customer. The Dubliner is fine and I have no complaint at all but faux Irish bars or “plastic Paddy pubs” as I call them are not really my cup of tea, or even pint of Guinness come to that, and so I contented myself with just the one and moved on.

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Sausage, egg and chips. Eat your heart out Gordon Ramsay!

A lot of the bars in San Giljan do not open until late afternoon as it really is a town for nightowls and so I had a bit of a walk to find one that was open and I eventually did in the form of Dick’s Bar which was to become like a second home to me. I am conscious that I have got a whole month’s worth of blogging to do here and many day’s when I did precious little plus which there are a few other places to tell you about today so I shall save my full review for a “slow news day” and just tease you with this image of my very traditional Maltese brunch! I do like to eat local food when I travel but I saw another customer having this and it looked so good I had to have it. Yes, it was as good as it looks.

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What does this name really mean? Damned if I know.

After spending the best part of an afternoon in Dick’s I thought it was time to maybe move on a little as I still had seen very little of San Guljian. It was dark by now and rather than retrace my steps I took off on up the hill away from the harbour, which is now really a marina as there is nothing in the way of commercial or fishing vessels there. I did not know it at the time but I was heading towards Paceville as mentioned above although the main “drag” is a little off the main road to the right. I took myself into the Rose and Lily bar and to this day I have no clue if the name represents the English rose and the French Fleur de Lis or the name of the two ladies who owned it. May even have been the names of daughters of the owner, who knows?

My initial suggestion here is not actually as fanciful as it may at first sound given the massive association the island had with the Crusader knights from the late 11th century onwards where just about every modern Western European country was represented in the supposedly holy cause of recapturing Jerusalem from “the infidel”. There will be much, much more about the Crusaders as this series of blogs progresses because Malta is so steeped in that history that you can barely turn a corner without finding some remembrance of their prolonged presence.

Whatever the provenance of the name, it was a decent enough little bar showing the ubiquitous football on one of the many myriad satellite channels but there were only another couple of guys in there and so, after a couple more Cisk beers, which I was becoming increasingly fond of (still am), it was time for another ramble. Rather than just head back I knew that if I kept going downhill I would get to the sea and either get wet or get my bearings back home no matter what happened. I had seen plenty of taxis and I knew that if I got to the coast road the buses ran there so it was no great hardship to go for another wander round some backstreets.

I walked about a bit more and came upon Memories Bar and so in I went. Again I shall let my original thoughts on the establishment serve as memory (no pun intended) fails a little at my time of life.

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Go on Elvis, give it some.

“San Giljan (St. Julian) is a very tourist place with nightlife centred round “Bar Street” or “Pub Street” as it is locally known. Music policy here is mostly of the pounding modern dance music at huge volume type which is not really my thing but younger readers may appreciate it. Well, if it is not your thing and you think you can do better, for a little something different why not try your hand at karaoke which seems popular on the island? Many places will have karaoke on a weekend night but in Memories bar you can indulge your passion for Frank Sinatra impersonation all night every night.

I visited Malta in February and March which is extremely off-season and even then there were people crooning the evening away. I wasn’t actually looking for a karaoke bar, it just looked like a decent place for a drink but it soon became obvious what was going on. In the way of these things and with few other takers, I was persuaded to give a number or two. When nobody is singing, the DJ / karaoke man plays reasonable music and is happy to take requests. Even if you don’t fancy exercising your vocal cords, it is a decent and friendly place for a drink.
It is open 0900 – 0400 daily except Sunday when it is 1800 – 0400″

There you go, another old Virtual Tourist review saved. I enjoyed Memories OK although karaoke is really not my thing, especially performing it as I want a guitar in my hands and a good backing band loud enough to drown out my nonsense but these things happen although what they made of a bit of full-bore Ian Gillan era Deep Purple is anyone’s guess. I do get a bit lively on stage but it is what I do and if pressed to it then “Smoke on the Water” complete with rock screaming and that dangerous octave note, is my thing.

One thing to note in the photo. Remember I said I had come here looking for winter sun? Take a look at the jacket the local is wearing. I wish I had had it as it was still bloody freezing! In the event, I needed neither taxi nor bus to get home when I had bored the locals enough and had a very pleasant stroll back along the seafront (I did find it easily enough by another route) to my digs where my newly made up room proved to be very homely. The bed was great and I slept like a baby.

So what had I achieved on my first day in a new country? Quite a lot and nothing really. I had done zero of particular interest except gone for a walk and visited some bars and yet I had started to get a feel for the place. I had orientated myself locally, found a few bars I knew I would be welcomed in again and observed everything. I now know where the bus routes were merely by reading bus stops, I knew where to get a taxi if I needed one and a lot of the other minutiae of travelling. I know this may sound a bit ridiculous but it is the way I am, I enjoy getting to know a place a little bit better than merely being just another gawping tourist jumping on and off a bus at the behest of a tour guide.

Yes, there are plenty of Cathedrals, museums, Roman sites, Crusader castles and WW2 bomb bunkers to come so stay tuned and spread the word.

Time for another blog series.

Hello folks and welcome to the first in another set of blogs about one of my previous trips and starting with a few words of explanation as always.

This series of entries is all backdated to the appropriate dates and hopefully should therefore run sequentially if I get it right. That means that you merely have to press the “next” tab at the bottom of any given entry and it should take you to the correct subsequent entry. If I get it right!

A quick word about writing style. Whilst I generally write in a fairly narrative style (i.e. far too much), much of the content here was rescued from the now sadly demised Virtual Tourist website and was written as reviews or tips as we called them and tend to be a more informative style, at last I hope they were. Please bear with me if it reads slightly awkwardly at times but I am trying my best.

I do not merely cut and paste, I do edit the former reviews to try to make them read slightly better. Also, I am conscious that I am republishing this almost six year after the event and so I do check hyperlinks and so on and also that the information is still current e.g. the restaurant is still in business or whatever. I shall indicate if this is not the case although I may well still publish the piece as a personal reminiscence which this site is more about than attempting to be a current travel resource.

I think that is about everything on the logistics front so let’s get started, shall we?

I really am hating British winters more and more as my old bones start to ache a bit in the cold and damp and I just sit inside and mope, which is not a good way to be. My usual solution is to act like a migratory bird and head South for some winter sun, generally to Asia but in 2013 for various reasons I had not done so and by early February I was thoroughly sick and tired of looking at rain out of my window and so it was time to move, but where to? I didn’t really fancy one of the off-season resorts in Spain or Portugal or even the Canaries or wherever although there are some excellent deals available and somehow I hit on the notion of Malta and an excellent choice it turned out to be.

Why Malta? Well, my first and most obvious answer would be, why not? I love travelling and visiting places I have never been before so that was a box ticked. I had spoken to friends both online and in person who had visited both on and off season and loved it. Although I do not mind muddling along in countries where not much English is spoken it didn’t hurt that it is virtually universal on the island. There were no visa issues and when I did a bit of research I found that I could get a pretty cheap flight with the national carrier as I refuse to fly with these “cheapo” airlines and I am not even sure they run off-season. I also managed to score myself what looked like a decent little “apartment” for a month at a very reasonable rate and so it was all systems go. As usual, this was a totally last minute decision on my part and whilst I forget exactly how long after all this time I know it was literally only a few days from booking to flying. That is the way I operate and it is a proud boast of mine that it has never taken me more than 40 minutes to pack a suitcase even for an extended trip, it is just get up and go.

Another large part of my decision-making process process was that I have a great interest in military history of all periods but I do particularly like studying the Crusader knights of the late 11th century onwards and Malta is inextricably bound up with this subject as we shall see in future entries here.

I also have a great interest in the Second World War and Malta features heavily in that conflict as well to the extent that it was the first entity or group to receive the George Cross which was awarded to the entire populace by King George. It held this honour by itself until 1999 when a similar honour was bestowed upon the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the now disbanded police force of Northern Ireland from 1922 until 2001.

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What a gorgeous view.

The 13th February was D-Day, a Wednesday and there were no dramas getting to the airport for a flight at a reasonable hour of the day (late morning) which is another advantage proper airlines have over the cheapos who fly at ludicrous hours to keep airport costs down. We left Heathrow on a dismal day of pouring rain and I was so glad I was getting out of it. The flight itself was unremarkable although a couple of things are worthy of mention. Firstly, as we headed South the weather cleared and we were treated to some glorious views of the snow clad Alps, one of which I have included here. Secondly, the inflight mgazine was definitely one of the best I have ever read and is called Il-Bizzilla whatever that means. It was so informative that I asked the stewardess if I could take a copy and she told me to help myself. It was to serve my as my guide book to the island for the whole of the trip.

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Got there in one piece.

Regrettably the good weather was not to last and by the time we arrived in Valletta it was pretty overcast. The airport was a breeze, the luggage appeared quickly, immigration was rapid and easy and the very helpful lady on the information desk pointed me towards the airport bus stop (Line 1 if you are interested) and told me I needed to buy a ticket from the nearby machine.

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Heading into Valletta – eventually!

This is where the problems began. The smallest note I had was a €10 and I had two choices of tickets, either a two hour ticket at €2:60 or my preferred seven day Rover ticket at a very reasonable €12. OK, can any of you mathematical geniuses (genii?) tell me how I can obtain either when the machine very helpfully informs me that the maximum change returned is €5? My admittedly limited maths left me without a solution so I thought that trying on the bus might be a plan. I spoke to the driver and explained the situation. No problem, and he took my €10 and disappeared into the terminal to get it changed. The dot matrix display had indicated that the bus was meant to leave in four minutes and about ten minutes later he sauntered out of the building, stopping on the way to chat to his mate. I smiled an apology to the only other passenger, a young female airline employee. She just smiled back sweetly. The driver then wandered over to another bus to chat to the driver there for a while before returning to the bus and giving me my change and a ticket which he said was valid until midnight. I still don’t know how he worked that out but that is what he told me.

Eventually we set off towards Valletta. I knew I would have to change buses there but that was no problem as I had told the place I was staying I would not be there until at least six so there was plenty of time. The road from the airport into the capital is not exactly inspiring and appears to consist of derelict buildings, industrial units, scrubland and rather incongruously the horse racetrack. I consoled myself with the fact that roads from air and seaports are rarely showpieces. I quickly worked out where my connecting bus left from and that it was a very regular service although at about five in the evening the next one departing was packed to the gunwales with people going home from work. As I had the luggage, I didn’t want to be banging into people and so I thought I would go and have a quick beer until the crowds abated a bit. There was bound to be a bar near a bus station, wasn’t there? Well, apparently not. There were several that appeared closed, possibly due to the religious holiday, I don’t know. So I trudged along trailing the luggage behind me and the rain which had been merely spitting when I set off got heavier and heavier eventually settling on a ferocity that would have allowed it to hold it’s head up in company with an Asian monsoon.

My first beer on any tip is a bit of an ritual,usually photographed and always of the local variety. Photgraphing a beer usually provokes some sort of response from the locals and it is a good ice-breaker. However, there was no ice going to be broken in Valletta just yet. I must have walked two miles eventually navigating back to where I had started, got on the #12 bus and made my way to Sliema. The only problem was that I didn’t have a map although I knew the address but Sliema seems about as devoid of street signs as the moon is of atmosphere. I was getting pretty well drenched now and still trailing the luggage behind which was to prove problematical. Malta is a hilly place and the streets were now turning into small torrents. Crossing them and unbeknownst to me, the bottom of the bag, where the rips are, was dragging in running water. Oops.

Anyway, I eventually located the hotel that runs the studios I was to stay in two doors along from it. I went to reception and booked in although I was rather surprised to have to settle the bill upfront. Not a major problem as it is an extremely inexpensive deal by European standards. The chap took me along to the apartment building and opened the door to #5, my allotted billet. One look at the place showed something was wrong as it obviously had not been made up. I blagged a quick photo whilst waiting.

Profuse apologies from the clerk and he scuttled off to get the key for #3. No luck there as it was full of builders tools and rubbish from the tradesmen retiling the bathroom floor. I don’t worry about anything too much when I am on the road and just smiled and shrugged. He then decided the best thing would be to put me up in the hotel that night and offered me free breakfast the next morning by way of apology. I rarely eat breakfast but it was decent of him. He also said he was going to speak to the housekeeper the next morning and if his mood was anything to go by I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.

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A comfy enough billet.

The room was OK with a lovely view of a building site and a little cold with a small electric heater trying it’s best to battle the chill. Here it is.

I opened my kitbag to find some of my gear damp and the bag itself sodden. Not a great start. I hung up clothes, draped damp jeans over the chair etc., had a shower in a shower cubicle designed for a munchkin, got dressed and headed out into the Maltese night in search of that elusive first beer. My digs were on the seafront so I thought there would be some bars available but Sliema really does give off the air of a seasonal town and this just isn’t the season. There were one or two places open but they looked of the “poncy wine bar” variety and not really my type of place at all. In time-honoured fashion, I took to the backstreets and was walking up a little hill with no more than a light drizzle and Force Four breeze doing their best to freeze me when I came upon a bar called the “Hole in the Wall”.

Here is that synchronicity thing again. When I lived in Portadown many years ago, my preferred bar was Bennett’s which was run by the estimable and eponymous brothers Tony and Niall. I am glad to say they are still trading albeit in different premises but the original bar was known to all as “The Hole in the Wall”. Prior to that my favourite watering hole when I lived in Armagh City also had the same name. This place was just calling to me. I wandered into what was a fairly old looking place undergoing some sort of refurb and with the most amazing thick old wooden doors at the entrance. It was empty which is never a good sign but I really wanted to try that first local beer. I engaged the young lady behind the bar in conversation and asked what the local brew was, receiving the answer Cisk (pronounced Chisk). One of those then, which came served in a can which I thought unusual but is not an uncommon practice hereabouts. It’s not a bad brew actually.

Further conversation elicited the information that the young lady, Crystal by name, had only recently returned from living in London in search of work. I also learned that the Maltese alphabet had 30 characters, the pub was one of the oldest in Sliema and had formerly been a stable and that her Father had recently taken it over. She told me (dare I use the word synchronicity yet again?) that her boyfriend who had accompanied her back to her homeland was from about 12 miles from where my family live in Northern Ireland. We chatted about this and that and she even suggested I pick the music when the current CD finished. I have been in town about three hours and already I am DJing in a bar, it could only happen to me!

We were then joined at the bar by a Scotsman who proceeded to start knocking back large vodka and tonics and talk the most paranoid drivel I have ever heard, mostly concerning the internet although he didn’t confine himself to that. If he used the phrase “the internet is a tool for fools” once he must have used it one hundred times and that is not my normal lyrical exaggeration. I just couldn’t resist and started to make a few smart comments to him but he was so fully fixed in diatribe mode that he didn’t even notice. I very rarely get wound up by drunks in bars, Heaven knows I meet enough of them, but this guy really did get on my wick and I was very glad when he decided to ramble off shortly after. Don’t get me wrong, I know many Scots people and by and large love them. It was nothing to do with nationality, this guy was just a complete pain irrespective of whether he had been born in Edinburgh or East of Eden. By this time Crystal had gone off to be replaced by her Father, a delightful man who insisted on showing me the renovations he was undertaking in the premises.

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This was my “winter sun” break – hmmmm.

The rain had abated somewhat and so I decided I should have a look at some of the other places in town and off I set. As you can see from this image however, the runoff water was still causing rivers to run down small backstreets. Somewhat like the weather, my search proved to be a complete washout and a walk along the front revealed neither bar nor eating house open. I was a bit hungry by now having only eaten Air Malta’s pretty paltry fare some hours earlier. Well, no problem, it is not the first time I have gone to bed hungry on my travels. I did hit a bit of luck then and found a little kebab place near my digs which duly served up a great kebab which was just what was needed.

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That hit the spot.

Fed, watered and just a little tired, I retired to my bed for a good nights sleep. There is plenty more to come so stay tuned and spread the word.