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Michael’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 16 Sep 2008

Location: Malta, Malta

MapOn the Sunday in Malta (14/9) I woke up late, having my first sleep in for a long time. Pretty nice it was too. But I was on holiday, in Malta, and wouldn’t be there forever, so I had to get out and see what Malta was all about, above the sea anyway. I headed out for a late breakfast of Burger King (nice, I know…) and then jumped on the 5 minute ferry ride from Sliema to the capital city of Valletta. It was a stifling hot day, and already I was sweating like I’d not experienced in a loooong time.

First stop I headed for The Grand Master’s Palace – pretty cool name hey? It is now the seat of the Maltese Parliament, and is open to the public when the parliament isn’t in session. From the outside it is a most uninspiring building, but walking through the archways into the central courtyard it became much more impressive. Massive palm trees, benches, wide open spaces and some impressive balconies over looking the court yard. Most of the rooms were off limits so I decided not to pay the money to get into the few rooms that were open.

From there I wandered past Republic Square, the main city square in Valletta, which was overrun with café tables, and therefore tourists. It was quite an incredible sight seeing all of those tourists there and the Maltese Library in the background. And if to drive the point home that Malta was once a British colony, there was a bright red post box and telephone box on the corner.

Continuing through the streets I passed Manoel Theatre, built by Grand Master Manoel de Vilhelma in 1731, making it one of the oldest theatres in Europe. Admittedly kinda just wandering around in circles with an ice-cream in my hand, I stumbled across the St John’s Co-Cathedral with its massive exterior with 3 clocks on the right hand tower. The front of the church was in fact so large that I couldn’t get far enough away, given it was in the centre of town, to get a photo of the front.

Continuing the aimless wanderings, I made it to Fort St Elmo hoping to get inside. It was built in 1552 by the Knights of St John and overlooks the Grand Harbor of Valletta. Unfortunately it was shut for restoration, why you’d do that at the end of the peak tourist season I don’t know. Wandering along I crossed a viewing platform that looked out over the Grand Harbour towards Vittoriosa. That was an incredible view, and incredibly well timed. Looking across the harbour was magnificent, and seeing all of the mega yachts on the opposite side waiting there to be used, it was clear that there definitely is plenty of money floating around in Malta. And to top it all off, a massive cruise liner from P&O was maneuvering through the port, heading out to sea. Seeing the ship move, it was clear the harbour was smaller than it appeared!

I wandered from there to the City Gate, a large entrance to the city, which from the outside looks incredibly well fortified, with extremely deep mote and retaining wall surrounding the front part of the city, and the sea on the outside. A sign outside the City Gate labels the city as a World Heritage City. The most amusing part of the whole thing is the incredible roundabout and fountain in the middle of the roundabout in front of the city gates. The reason it is so incredible is the fact that this beautiful monument and roundabout is actually home to the city bus terminal. Over 50 busses were parked and moving through the roundabout as every bus route on the island goes through the bus terminal.

I started heading back to catch the ferry across to Sliema again, and it was about that time the ‘storm’ struck. The wind started, and there must have been all of 15-20 drops of rain. Not even 15-20 minutes! I was really looking forward to one of those great summer storms! It is just unfortunate that I gave up a day of diving due to the expected storm. I headed back to the hotel and decided to make use of the rooftop pool and bar. It wasn’t long before the winds started picking up a bit more making the pool feel cooler. I got out of the pool and dried off and ordered a beer from the bar keep. “Terrible weather isn’t it” he started with. I responded in an honest way given it was 28 degrees and windy, “depends what you are comparing it with! For England, this would be the best day of the year.”

After the beer I headed down to my room, showered and rested up getting ready to head out for the night. I wandered along the waterfront, heading north before stopping in to a fancy restaurant for fish – Lampuki, the local fish that is only available for 6-8 weeks each year. Not bad either, bit pricey though, but that may have been the restaurant more so than the fish itself! From there I continued on north towards Paceville and ended up at the Dragonville Casino. Being still early in the night, around 9 pm, I decided to have a gamble! I waited for the longest of times, trying to get on a 5 euro blackjack table, but had no luck. I even looked in the smoking room, yes, they have designated smoking rooms in the Malta casino, but that table was full too. And I wouldn’t have lasted more than 5 minutes with the smoke.

Eventually, after at least an hour, I gave up and played on the 10 euro table, and for a while I was doing well. In the end I was down about 45 euro, but I did manage to keep a souvenir 5 euro chip. Eventually I dragged myself away from the casino and headed into Paceville, the nightlife epicenter of Malta. It didn’t take long to locate the clubs, just follow the music. All of the nightclubs in the area, all on roads leading off a main intersection, had music blaring away, with windows open to the street. It was a real mix of music, with dozens of clubs all belting out tunes, it was truly a matter of wandering along the streets and chopping and changing between clubs based on the music being played.

Many of the bigger clubs even had leather sofa out the front, probably not even bringing them in late at night, or for bad weather, given how rarely it rains in the summer anyway. The first bar that I went into I felt overwhelmingly old. I couldn’t believe it. Was I getting older by the day, or were these people getting younger?!?! Maybe I walked into an underage club somehow? But they were all drinking. After a couple tracks and finishing my bottle of beer, I decided to look for an older crowd. As I walked out of the club I noticed a massive 16+ sign on the door – that would explain a thing or two at least.

The clubs were all huge, and had the typical party island feel about them - cheap drinks, plenty of people (though admittedly not as many as in the height of summer), banging beats, and of course, dancing on the bar.
Eventually I packed up and headed back to the hotel. It was a cool night, but partying by myself in a town that was full of package holiday makers wasn’t the greatest party atmosphere. Malta isn’t exactly the largest back packer destination going around. It was a fairly long walk back to the hotel, and thankfully I managed another good nights’ sleep, even if it was the wee hours of the morning before I got to bed.

Monday I woke up and checked out of the hotel, leaving my bag in the luggage room. The Monday was a fantastic day. I didn’t have to fly out until almost 5 pm, so had most of the day to chill. I wandered around the shops, and had a nice lunch on the water front. Mainly, I just lay out in the Sun, trying to rest up and get some semblance of a tan, remember what the feeling of the Sun was like, and make the most of it before I got back to England. The taxi ride back to the airport was akin to the ride out from the airport and I was there in a matter on minutes! Once again, the flight was nothing to write home about, so won’t write anything here. And thus ends the Malta trip experience, in 3 installments!