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Michael’s Travel Diary

Friday, 12 Sep 2008

Location: Sliema, Malta

MapHey guys...

Made it to Malta, which in itself was a non-stop mission from work. Rode like the wind (on my new bike, and yeah it does go fast) to the chain ferry and missed the first one after work by all of 10 seconds. That had me stranded waiting for the next trip for the best part of 15 minutes (we are talking less than a 100m wide river to cross here... build a bridge or tunnel, I don't care... pedestrians only... fine). Anyway, caught the ferry, which costs me about 30 minutes of my 50 minute journey each day to work, and powered up hill on the bike the rest of the way home. Quick change, change bags, and run out the door to the ferry.

Arrived at ferry dripping with sweat (that was supposed to happen in Malta, not on the way) and made it to Southampton just in time to catch the bus to the station and make the 6 pm train (as doors were closing) to London.

Unfortunately that train was late, due to delays, into Clapham Junction, and I just made the connecting train to the airport. Arrived at Gatwick and checked in about 15 minutes before closing time... cutting it close the whole way.

Once in airport, I headed to the book shop to look up a recent lonely planet of Malta. I still hadn't booked accommodation for Thursday night and I was arriving at 1 am. Not to mention that I had tried 3 places (2 from Lonely Planet circa 2002 and the place I had booked the rest of the trip at ) and all three were booked up. I took two numbers down from the current guide book, walked to the terminal gate, and then called to make a reservation - both places were full. I was now 0 for 5... and a little worried.

Air Malta were cool - free feed on the plane and an in flight movie (Fantastic Four, Ice Age 2 on the way back ) despite only being a 3 hour flight, and rather budget.

Once in Malta, I called upon my travel wisdom and went against all logic. Not only did I get a taxi from the airport to the city (to be fair, it was 130 by the time I'd cleared customs, and the buses had stopped hours ago) but I also admitted to not having a place to stay. Within seconds, the taxi driver took over. Wallace (a Scottish name he tells me, I can only presume from his viewing of Braveheart) started suggesting we head to St. Julians instead of Sliema, as there were bound to be more hotel options. I did insist on budget, but knew already that I had rung most of the hostels in the area. Before we'd even left the airport drive way we'd switched from Sliema to St. Juliens. Admittedly, they are next door to each other, like Lilydale and Chirnside Park, but he taxi driver was one up.

He didn't know that I planned to do him one over (much as he planned me) and ditch him at the first sign of vacant hotels. Unfortunately, that sign never came. It was like a ghost town, and the first two place we entered were both full. It was now two am, and I was 0 for 7 on the hotel front, and had visions of my night in front of a bank in Brighton popping to mind. Though it was much warmer here in Malta - 25 degrees at 2am.. ohhh yeah!

On his third try he found a hotel and I agreed to stay there... despite the guy refusing to budge from a triple room price (only room left apparently) at 2 am....I decided to take it rather than risk searching all night.

My first impressions of Malta, at least the seaside part, was a rundown and rather empty Gold Coast. Everything seemed shut, except for a couple of small bars, so I decided to call it a night and get some good sleep - especially given the cost of the room!

The next morning I tried to figure out why I had thought it reminded me of the Gold Coast. It didn't look anything at all similar, and I could only assume that it was due to the Wallace the taxi driver. I think it was a sub-conscious connection with the Indy Car driving. Wallace was doing 100 mph on dual carriage ways, using both lanes of the road to find the racing line as he tore from the airport to the sea-side, and then when he hit the coastal road he slowed considerably to 80 mph, in an essentially pedestrian precinct. When he asked if I'd like to book him back to the airport I said I wouldn't pre-book, but took a card anyway in case I found myself running late.

So Friday morning I woke up after a restless sleep. The warm weather already stuffing up my sleeping. I was out of the hotel early, looking for an ATM, breakfast and a dive shop. Having found all three I went back, checked out and paid my bill at the hotel and was back on the street at 11 looking for my next hotel. By this stage I had my backpack, it was already 30 degrees and I was showing signs of struggling with the heat.

Finally at 1215 I found the hotel but was told I couldn't check in till 4pm, damn that was late. I put my bag in storage and started looking for a dive company that was heading to the Blue Hole on the Saturday. A few no's, and eventually a yes. But as I hadn't dived in 2.5 years, I needed a refresher dive, and luckily there was a young kid doing a 'Discover Diving' dive, so I tagged along for that.

It was a pretty uninspiring dive, only to about 4 meters, terrible visibility, and not much in the way of sea life to talk about - it was just in the harbor near the touristy part of town after all. Instead, after going through the basics of diving again, I spent most of the dive picking up rubbish while Wally the South African instructor kept an eye on the young Austrian kid. But afterwards I was all ready for my big day of diving on the Saturday on Gozo, so in that sense, it was a good dive.

More to come soon....