Last day in St. Julian and Sliema.

Saturday the 9th of March and my penultimate day i.e. last full potential sightseeing day on Malta before flying home on the Sunday and so what to do? Go and visit one more of the many sites I still had not managed to visit. Maybe make a flying visit to Gozo which I still had not reached despite best intentions but they do say the road to Hell is paved with them. Six years after the event I rely on looking at my daily images to piece together my day but in this case the honest truth of the matter is that I have no idea according to them as my first image is timed at 2253!

Dick's Bar, San Giljan, Malta.
RIP Dick’s Bar – gone but never forgotten.

I do not remember now but I have no doubt the day did not start too early due to the amount of red wine consumed the previous evening (see the entry before this for full details) which always has a shocking effect on my head, much as I love it. I obviously did not go anywhere of note but I do have a distinct memory of taking my leave from the sadly now closed Dick’s Bar in San Giljan where I had spent so many happy evenings and whiled away some of the stormiest days when sightseeing just wasn’t an option. I really did love this place, still run by the second and third generations of the original Dick’s family and easily the best bar of the many I visited on the island. A history begun in the 1930’s is now lost and Malta is very much the poorer for it.

I must have spent a good long time in there and I remember the warmth of the sendoff I was given (including several free local drinks) which was much appreciated. There were the usual assurances that I would return soon and come and see them but unfortunately that does not seem likely now unless I can make local enquiries to see if they have opened up elsewhere in which case I shall make a beeline for the new establishment.

I mentioned above that I did not take any images this day as there are only so many angles you can photograph a cosy little bar from and so, without apology, I am recycling some images I have used earlier in this series.

One other thing of note is that it was election day there on the island, an event which had been hotly debated the whole time I had been there. The Maltese are a very politically minded people with the turnout in this contest a staggering 93% which is a figure unheard of at home in the UK. Basically the Nationalist Party, whose colours are black and white and who had been in power for some years were going head to head with the Labour Party who march under a red and white banner. A few independents and tiny parties made up the numbers. It was the Nationalist Party whose rally I had inadvertently stumbled upon a few days before and which I described in a previous post in this series.

It appeared, if the polls were to be believed (which they are not always – witness the Brexit referendum in my country for a fine example) Labour had a commanding lead with the final poll before the election giving them a 12% lead. On polling day there were a few vehicles driving about with flags flying out the windows and some more broadcasting messages through tannoys but it was nothing compared to what happened the next day as you shall see if you read the final instalment of this group of entries which follows this.

Le Malte restaurant, Sliema, Mlta.
Le Malte taken the next morning.

Again, I fancied a bite to eat and again I had left it pretty late in that it was nearly 11 when I got back to Sliema and headed to the Le Malte restaurant adjacent to my apartment for my final Maltese meal. I had previously earmarked it as the menu looked good and not likely to break the bank completely. I was not too worried about the hour as it was a Saturday night and even off-season Mediterranean countries tend to eat much later than we do in the UK so I was fairly confident it would be open and thankfully it was although not too busy at that hour.

Le Malte is a thin, long restaurant which is not that big even with the terrace area to the front. The decor is a bit quirky with mostly old-fashioned Maltese artefacts juxtaposed with a rather large plasma screen “painting”on the wall which I found slightly incongruous. Very odd but very cosy. Apologies for the quality of the images but even though it was nearly empty I am still loath to use flash when people are eating. Hopefully they give an idea of what Le Malte is about.

A quick perusal of the menu suggested to me soup du jour and then something rather special. I have mentioned in a couple of previous posts that I had fallen quite in love with ravjul (ravioli) and if you are looking at the images you are probably thinking, “Oh no, he is not at spinach and ricotta again, is he”? Indeed no, I was not. How does ravjul stuffed with prawn and lobster served with a lobster sauce sound to you? It sounded extremely good to me and that is what I ordered.

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After the previous evening’s excess and the fact that I was flying the next day you would have thought I would have learned my lesson but there is no fool like and old fool and I am certainly that so I asked the waiter to recommend a Maltese red. Yes, I know it should traditionally be white with fish and seafood but I believe that old chestnut is going out of style somewhat these days and I do much prefer red to white. Without hesitation he recommended Carissimi which was indeed a very decent drop to my Philistine palate and again it was only whilst researching this piece that I found out a little about the winemaker.

Carissimi is one of the brands produced by the Emmanuel Delicata vineyard which is the oldest on the island although it was only founded in 1907 so there is none of the heritage of, say, France, Spain or Portugal. If I had been asked before visiting Malta I would have said that I did not think the very rocky ground and relatively poor soil would have been conducive to viniculture but apparently it is if given enough attention. Not only do they produce wine and import various types of alcohol but they are also responsible for having saved two varieties of indigenous Maltese grape, namely Gellewza and Girgentina, from extinction so fair play to them for that.

The meal was rather special and I have since found out that even on Saturday Le Malte closes at 2330 and I know I was there a lot later than that but, as in previous late night restaurant visits, I was not rushed at all and took my leisure with the bottle of wine. I genuinely would have been quicker if I had known the closing time but I didn’t and there were still one or two others sitting about and obviously in no rush to go anywhere. After paying the bill which was remarkably easy on the pocket it was a journey of literally about 25 yards from table to bed and a setting of the alarm for my journey home on the morrow and so to sleep.

N.B. The image above was obviously taken the next morning and the restaurant was close but at least it was daylight so you can see it should you wish to seek it out and I suggest you do although reservations are probably a good idea in season.

In the next and final post in this series I head back to UK so if you want to know about that and my closing thoughts about my month on Malta then stay tuned and spread the word.

Back to Mdina.

Hello again and, as always a very brief word of explanation. This entry, should you have alighted on it by accident, is one of a series so I suggest you scroll back to the 13th February where the whole thing starts and it may all make a little sense but then again it may not!

 

After my last entry on the 22nd of the month, the 23rd yields me a mere three images and these saved images are my default position for starting to write. Two of these were of the plug of my computer and the third was of the fairly abysmal weather which had dogged me since my arrival. I may as well explain the plug images which were taken to illustrate a practical point on another travel site I used to write for. The 13 amp square pin “British” plug, which is not overly common worldwide is still used here but other variants of two pin plugs are also in use so here is a practical tip for you if you go to Malta (recommended), don’t forget your universal adaptor!

Straight then to the 24th and again a fairly meagre day of things to report. Another rubbish day on the weather front, indeed the only fronts that seemed to be crossing the country were cold, wet and with very closely packed isobars i.e. very windy. Seemed like another day in Dick’s Bar was called for and why not? For all the reasons I shall not bore you with again it was as good a plan as any and apart from the excellent meal shown (I know, I just keep posting images of lovely things with chips / fries but why not?) I was reading one of the local newspapers, which I love to do. Even in countries where I do not speak more than a tiny smattering of the language, I can generally associate images with text and usually manage to learn a bit of vocab. that way. It is the same with watching TV news with subtitles. However, I quickly collapsed in my desire to learn Maltese as English is so widely spoken, there was always a local English language paper available and I was having my usual peruse when I came upon a full page article (pictured) that actually made me chuckle vaguely audibly (no, I do not LOL!) which was a report from the restaurant critic about the pizza house which had just opened upstairs from Dick’s, a place called Margo’s and which rather arrogantly claimed to serve the best pizzas in the world. I have mentioned it before here. This is the place where you can spend €1800 (that is not a typo, that is one thousand eight hundred Euros) on a single pizza and they do not even take credit cards! To say that the critic was less than impressed would be an understatement along the lines of saying that Mother Theresa wasn’t a bad sort really. The critic ripped the place to pieces. I mean no disrespect whatsoever with the Mother Theresa comment lest anyone take offence, a few more like her in the world and we might all be a lot better off.

Apart from that, nothing else happened apart from me half freezing to death on the way home but I did just like that walk along the front with the lights over the harbour, even though I could have jumped a taxi or bus easily enough. I took to my bed hoping for finer weather on the morrow to allow me a bit more exploration.

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Winter sun? Sadly not.

That turned out to be something of a forlorn hope and the 25th came around pretty miserable although not actually raining which was a blessing. It was just saving that up to hit me with later as the image shows! I had a bit of a wander about, took a few random images and generally cursed the weather although it was not a huge issue, more of an inconvenience really. My images indicate there was another visit to my “tame” kebab shop just up the road from home where they were getting quite used to me and friendly but that should have been no surprise. These guys were not native Maltese (Turkish, I believe) but the island in general just seems to engender a fairly laid back sociable feel.

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Looks basic but this was gorgeous!

With a tummy full of a (very small as I eat like a bird) kebab, planxty was off to bed and by now just hoping for fairly light rain the next day never mind any sort of sunshine. Please don’t misunderstand, the fault was entirely mine for not checking. I had stupidly worked out in my head that anywhere this far South must be at least bright this time of year but a Maltese acquaintance told me I had picked exactly the worst time of the year to visit. Nice one, planxty! As it turned out, it really didn’t matter to any degree as I just indulged myself in my usual pastimes of seeing a few of the tourist sites as circumstances allowed, meeting a lot of lovely people and making a few friends. How bad can it be?

On now to the 26th and my daily morning check of the back garden in lieu of a weather report showed that things were looking up, as indeed I was to a lovely bright morning. I guessed it wasn’t going to be overly warm and so wrapped up well and determined to go back to Rabat / Mdina. If you have read my previous entries you will know that Mdina was the old fortified Crusader town and the surrounding area was known as Rabat. I had spent a lot of time in the latter and do not regret a second of it as it was fascinating but I knew there was still a lot more to see behind the walls. Out came my “go anywhere” buspass and two comfortable bus rides took me back to a place where I had a head start as I knew the geography a bit. I do like Maltese buses.

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Maltese buses really are the way to travel.

There I was back in Mdina on a reasonably pleasant if not terribly warm day which promised to produce some decent images and so what next? I shall include a few of the images here just to give you a general sense of the place and it really is no surprise that so many tourists come here. I have to say I would not fancy it on mid-August with almost 40 degree heat and teeming with tour parties but on this day it was a joy.

Particularly interesting amongst these images are a few I thought I might point out above. The first is the sign for the old Jewish Silk Market which is long gone and with the sign rendered in either Hebrew or Yiddish, I am afraid I do not know the difference. The second is the long since sealed door of the Greek bordello with the third showing the sign denoting where it was. I was interested to see some apparently recent Greek graffiti on the door, presumably put there by some young yobs on a drunken holiday who had lost their way to the nightclub. Why do people do this in such a beautiful place? I do not write this to make the entry a salacious piece by referring to a brothel but merely to indicate what a multi-national crossroads Malta was and indeed still is.
Wandering about in my usual totally random style, I came upon the Chapel of St. Agatha. Obviously, I knew the name (not as a Saint) which I associated with P.G Wodehouse novels etc., as in, “This is great–Aunt Agatha”. For me it was just a very old-fashioned name in my home country. Let’s have a look first and then I shall get into my inevitable research!


The first thing I needed to find out was who St. Agatha was. A quick look online and, frankly, it does not make for pleasant reading. Look it up for yourself if you wish. When you have, I then decided to look up the church named for her (she apparently died rather horribly in 251AD) and I found there had been a church built there about 1410 but was pretty well wiped out in the massive earthquake of 1693. Malta lies on a fault line and gets a lot of this horror. The church was rebuilt but let us go back a little and look at the events of 1551, a year I do not think I have mentioned yet.
I know I have spoken of the Grand Siege of 1656 before but in what may have been a “recce” mission for it, the Ottoman Turks and associated allies, laid siege to the island and specifically Mdina, then called Notabile (see my earlier post about the stunning former casino). It is alleged that some nun in a local convent had had a vision from St. Agatha telling her that if she got all the people, both military and civilian, to attend mass in the church and then parade around the town carrying their banners and religious relics then all would be well. They did so and the Turks went away. Personally, I can see a host of alternative military and logistical reasons why the besieging force may have disengaged but that is the tale that still holds currency here. Hence, amongst other reasons, although Agatha never visited Malta as far as I can see, having died at about age 20 or 21 in Sicily where she was born, she is now one of the patron saints of Malta.
The building itself is relatively small and consequently quite intimate. Despite it’s minor dimensions it was still decked out in full finery as you can see and I shall not bore you with my thinking on this again but it is definitely worth a visit if it is open (it keeps somewhat irregular hours).
I read that during the last war the chapel gave sanctuary as a home for two refugee families, presumably bombed out by the Germans and Italians and after the war the place fell into somewhat a state of disrepair. I am pleased to see that the building offered it’s original purpose as a place of succour to those in need in the dark days of Axis oppression and also that the Maltese people saw fit to restore it later when opportunity allowed. Somehow it was just yet another reminder of the indomitable spirit of these people in the face of apparently unbeatable aggression.
I did rather like it here and found the altar particularly pleasing although nowhere nearly as grand as others I saw on the island. If you want to check up on the logistics, here is an official website with all the details.

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No wonder it was a fortress.

Yet again, I was just wandering and took myself to the walls at the “back” of the town (i.e. furthest away from the main gate) as I had done on my first visit and the views are stunning over the local countryside and all the way to the sea. That really is worth doing.
Unusually for me,even though it was well past “beer o’clock”, I fancied a coffee and picked, as always completely at random, the Old Priory Cafe.

Honestly, I thought I had walked into another Museum by accident but I was really in a cafe slightly oddly decked out with a plasma TV (thankfully turned off), modern, minimalist furniture all sitting amongst some tremendous looking oil paintings although I am certainly no judge. Top all this off with a roof that would not have disgraced a Christian church anywhere in the world, and which I nearly got a crick in my neck looking at, and it was the most wonderful setting for a very decent coffee.


OK, so I was being vaguely civilised and had not just retreated to the first bar so what to see next? Well, if the relatively minor Chapel of St. Agatha had been so rewarding then surely the Cathedral had to be worth a look and so it was to prove. After a few more images of the utterly charming alleyways and little curios of Mdina as depicted above, off I went. It is not difficult to find as it can be seen from just about anywhere within the walls.


On a technical note, you cannot buy tickets to the Cathedral at the Cathedral but only at the Museum although that is no problem as it is only round the corner. In truth, in a town the size of Mdina everything is just round the corner from everything else. You cannot buy a ticket just for the Cathedral, it is a joint ticket for it and the Museum but it is worth doing. I will not bother you with out of date prices and opening times but the website here gives all the logistical details.

In I went and it was just deja vu (have you heard that before?) as I was totally entranced by the place. My arguments against organised religion are well-rehearsed here and do not need repeating but I was literally looking round like some kind of rural bumpkin who had never been in a grand church before, it was magnificent. I was to find out some days later that it is a mere shadow of the Co-Cathedral in Valletta in terms of grandeur and yet here I was gawping at everything. Certainly, I have been in much larger, much more impressive Cathedrals than this but it was just that feeling again. I know that places like this were designed to cow people into subservience and giving money / tithes or whatever and I have to say they must have succeeded impressively. If it gets me this way, think what it must have done to an illiterate 17th century Maltese farmer brought up in fear of “eternal damnation”.


I have tried to analyse this for years and the best I can come up with is that it is not the religious aspect of the buildings that get me but rather the sense of history, which is a passion of mine. You cannot miss the history here as you literally walk on it wherever you go with the entire floor being constructed of the tombs of the “great and the good”, many of them Knights of the Hospittalers. Back again to another theme of mine about learning and I read only yesterday (albeit in a historical novel so I am unsure of the provenance) that the reason “important” people wanted to be buried in the place of worship and as close to the altar as their station and funds allowed was that there were usually relics of the Saints on or near the altar and on the day of judgement when the faithful will ascend to Heaven they will be somehow dragged upwards more swiftly on a holy “wind” as the Saints will be resurrected first. I shall leave you to make your own mind up about that one but it just reinforced to me about never ceasing to learn.


I shall, as always, let my pretty poor images stand in place of my totally inadequate words although I would draw your attention to a few of the images above and offer an observation, not my own I am sorry to say and we are always just a fraction away from a digression when I get going here so you might as well have another one but hopefully the above images will help to make sense of this.
In the sixth form at my school we had a Friday afternoon we all had to attend a “lecture”, normally from an outside and generally terribly boring speaker. We would do anything to get out of it but one particular Friday I couldn’t and our extremely affable Vice Principal, Mr. Fred Jeffrey(s?) took to the stage armed with an old fashioned slide projector. No “Death by Powerpoint” or laser pens in those days and off he went on an exploration of English architecture, backed mostly by his own monochrome images which probably dated to the 60’s or even earlier (this was ’77 or ’78). We all tried to sleep without being seen or dreamed about our potential exploits on the sporting field the next day or even our potentially “unsporting” exploits in the Botanic Inn pub that night with the young lady of our current affection.


At some point I happened to glance up at the rippled and not particularly good screen to see what appeared to me as the rather incongruous sight of a row of the upper storeys of quite wonderful buildings. Then he slid in the next frame to reveal street level and the standard British High Street look of the time, BHS, House of Fraser, the odd Wimpy bar and so on. He revealed the two images were taken from exactly the same spot at the same time and something just clicked in my bored, testosterone riddled brain. It was Oxford Street in London and with a few sad exceptions it is still much the case today over 40 years on.
No, I didn’t go walking about staring at skylines that afternoon (I had to get home and clean up for my evening out) but it is a concept I have held to ever since. I am not for one minute suggesting you walk about like these idiots taking selfies and walking into lamp-posts or over high cliffs or into the path of an oncoming bus but wherever you are, either indoors or outdoors, just stop somewhere safe and have a look up. You might just be surprised what you see. Dear old Fred was nearing retirement at the time of this story and if he is still alive, which I sincerely hope is the case, he must be a centenarian now or if not then damn near one. I know he had a wonderful career in education and instilling this small piece of knowledge into my unreceptive skull must rank fairly low in his list of achievements but I thank him for it nonetheless.
It has happened again, hasn’t it? What started off as what I thought was going to be a fairly short entry has turned into another complete rambling saga. In truth, I quite enjoy it as I generally sit up all night writing this stuff due to my somewhat obscure sleep patterns, if indeed there is any pattern, rhyme or reason to how and when I sleep. If it was a knitting pattern rather than a sleep pattern I would have by now cast on and knitted and purled myself towards a lovely baby cardigan that would suit an infant octopus as it would have so many arms in it! Perhaps my choice of website name is starting to make sense to you now so let’s get back to Malta which is what you are presumably here to read about.


With my head still full of the wonderful cathedral and vague notions of other things to see I headed back out into what was actually becoming a pretty passable day weatherwise. Again, there are a few more images above to give you an idea. I like to write chronologically when I can and do not cherrypick the “best” (a very relative term given my equipment and minimal skills) images for the top of the page. If the eagle-eyed amongst you spot that I have revisited the same alleyway, that is entirely plausible. I was completely lost, in the best possible way, and the back alleys of Mdina are fairly homogeneous and labyrinthine. How much would I love to use either of those words in a game of Scrabble! Less Scrabble friendly adjectives would have to include atmospheric, beautiful, historic and charming.
I would not suggest that you do such a thing but if you visit Mdina and do not enter a single building then your day would not have been a waste of time. Just to wander these tiny backstreets and wonder at the old names (Magazine Street for example, obviously where they kept the ordnance and not named for a glossy coffee-table publication), look at the little religious curios that seem to adorn every building and just drink in the centuries you would have had a wonderful day.
Of course, the great thing for the geographically challenged is that you cannot get lost! If you go too far away from the centre you come to what can only be described as a bloody huge wall (please excuse my vulgarity) with a totally suicidal drop down the other side so you know to go back. The cathedral is visible from just about anywhere and it is easy to find the gate from there. Mdina is really one of the great places to explore freely as the topography and architecture dictate that you can go anywhere you want and you will not go far wrong. It is a bit like Disneyland without Mickey and Minnie but you do not need a map and the best thing of all is that it is completely real, not dreamt up by some “imagineer” in Hollywood.


My next “port of call” was the Mdina Experience and the name should have told me everything as anything including the word “experience” in it’s promotion is usually rubbish although I know it is almost obligatory amongst marketeers these days. It describes itself as an “audio visual spectacular” although that possibly got lost in translation as spectacular it was not. I should have trusted my gut, as I usually do. It was, indeed, rubbish comprising of a series of tableaux with little or nothing in the way of actual artefacts. I cannot remember how much I paid and I refuse to endorse such a blatant ripoff by attaching a link here but please do yourself a favour and avoid this place like the horrible Plague of Malta of 1813.  Now, that is worth a bit of your time to read up on.  OK, I had been ripped off, I was not the first and I am sure not the last but it was not going to stop me on what was turning out to be another such brilliant and fascinating day so I just kept walking as is my way. The next “tourist trap” I came across was the “Medieval Times”. I really should have known better and I have not even the excuse of being drunk (maybe I should have been!). Another set of poorly rendered tableaux which the late Mme. Tussaud would probably have melted down for candles. Utter rubbish and again I exhort the reader to avoid this place and will not include details.
So, I had been gulled twice by shysters playing on the immense history of this walled town. Was I depressed by this? Yes. I was depressed by my own stupidity but how can you know? Was I depressed by my return visit to Mdina? Emphatically no. No visitor to Malta should miss this place, it is phenomenal and I have no idea how it must look now after all the work the EU funded. I reckon the old moat is a thing of beauty now (six years after I visited) and the town itself needed little in the way of beautifying but I am sure that has been done as well. It was a day very well spent and remains, after some years, one of my happiest “lunatic wandering” memories. Really this place is a gem set atop (literally) a crown in the Med. and you really should go if you can.

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Sunset in Mdina. How lovely.

The day was wearing on and I was just about “touristed out” and so a beer was inevitably called for but I thought that getting back to Valletta was probably a good idea even though I knew the buses ran late enough. I managed to get a couple of images of the outer walls of Mdina on the way out and back to the bus and I am a great fan of “shadow images” so I have included one of them here which I as quite pleased with. I love the outline of the trees so clearly marked in the setting sun. I am sure that with a proper DSLR camera, tripod and all the rest that I could have made a much better job but this is the trade-off. Would I have had a better day out in a town I had quite unashamedly fallen in love with for reasons as outlined above had I been carrying half a hundredweight of camera gear? I think not. Thankfully, I do not do photography for a living or I would have starved to death years ago but my trusty little compact, which is exactly the same size as my cigarette packet, still gets the job done.  At least I hope it gets the job done although perhaps I am deluding myself and, as always, I shall let my loyal little band of readers decide.

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I thought I deserved a beer.

Back to Valletta and a quick couple of beers before getting back home to Sliema and off to bed. What a great day yet again.
I was falling rather in love with Malta but then again that is a failing of mine if it can be seen to be a failing. I have had the great good fortune, not accorded to many, to have visited many countries, most of them amazing and perhaps it is a failing that I just seem to love everywhere I visit. I may have a simplistic or even childlike view of the world but I am fully aware of how lucky I have been. I have dear friends who have been to over 100 countries each but only one of them wants to do it as a “challenge” i.e. to visit every country recognised by the UN, which is generally regarded as the international standard.
For myself, I’ll just go where the road takes me and hopefully to as good a time as I have had thus far. I have obviously taken off on another digression here and I would offer this as an observation to younger readers (if, indeed there are any), and that is to travel as much as you can as young as you can. It is a very perverse state of affairs that the people that have the time and money to travel are old grey hairs like me and maybe do not have the physical abilities to do so as they once did. Don’t get me wrong, the “grey brigade” is the fastest growing sector of the travel industry (and has been for a few years now) and long may it continue but it just seems a little odd.
A while ago I was talking to a mate of mine with two grown up kids (both at Uni) and, in the course of conversation, he told me that he and the good lady were off to the Far East skiing. When I mentioned that it wasn’t really skiing country he smiled and said to me, “No SKIing” as in “Spending the Kids Inheritance” which I thought was brilliant. I have no kids so the argument is somewhat redundant in my case but you get the point.
Still more to come so in Malta so stay tuned and spread the word.

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.

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.