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.
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.
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.
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.