This was a different trip. A few months back I found some reasonably priced flights to Malta. I never knew much about Malta…nothing, actually, but after reading some things it seemed like a pretty interesting place. I thought it would be a nice closing trip for the summer.
I would definitely call Malta one of my more unique trips. Rich with war history due to its strategic geographic location, it was bombed like crazy during World War II, when it was still a British territory. They even have a church in Malta that memorializes a ‘miracle’ where two bombs fell through the roof during a service, but by chance didn’t go off. The language, Maltese, is a unique blend of Italian and Arabic. I’ve heard many things about the Maltese people being rude, but I think people just misunderstand. They are very direct and can appear curt, but that just seems to be part of the culture. I think anytime tourists don’t get what they want they put the ‘rude’ label on locals.
I stayed in St. Julian’s, one of the ‘hip’ areas of the island due to its nightlife. The main area for nightlife, Paceville, I never ended up going to. Maybe it’s my older age, but I have no desire to start my night at midnight, then stay out till 5 a.m. Also, four people in my hostel got robbed there, losing wallets or phones or both. No thanks, I’m not sure how I’d live without my phone. 🙂
When I first got to St. Julian’s I was struck by the heat in Malta. Not just the heat, but humidity…and mosquitoes. This made for a rather uncomfortable time during the days, but I was determined to not let it effect my ability to have a good time. There was a cool local bar near my hostel called ‘City of London’, and I met some locals there. One was a really cool, recently-arrived local, Wayne from the USA. We all hung out the first night, basically just chilled and chatted, which seems to be what you do in Malta. Next morning I took one of the bus tours with Wayne to check out the island. I don’t want to complain much, but this was my first bus tour, and I thought the 17 euro ticket was a bit steep. It’s one of those ‘hop on, hop off’ buses, and I guess the idea is to spend a whole day just hopping off and taking pictures everywhere. If you stay on the bus the whole time like I did, it barely ever stops, and zooms past all the sites. The problem is two-fold…1) you need to balance yourself while on the roof of the bus, trying to take a good picture as the bus is moving; and 2) you get no explanation as to what any of the sites are, so that’s why my pictures from the tours are blandly labeled ‘bus tour’. However, the bus tour did allow me to see a lot of the island, and made me realize the next two places I had to visit…Valletta, the current capital, and Mdina, the old capital.
I went to Valletta the next morning, only about 40 minutes by bus. That’s the only real method of transport around here, so I got pretty good at taking the buses everywhere. Some were really crowded with tourists, but they were air conditioned so not that bad. Valletta was a beautiful city…small but packed with all kinds of beautiful buildings and statues. My first stop was St. John’s Co-Cathedral, one of the nicest churches I’ve seen in Europe. I love all the gold…it’s overwhelming yet it doesn’t look overdone. I loved the Maltese crosses everywhere in the church…an eight pointed cross indicating the eight lands of origin for the ‘Knights of Malta’…very cool. Next I went to the Upper Barrakka gardens, where they have this cool cannon firing twice a day to commemorate Malta’s role in World War II….I shot a long video of this, 99% build-up and 1% the actual cannon firing. There were some great views of the water from the gardens, and some nice statues littered throughout the grounds. Valletta is the perfect place to just have a glass of wine and watch the world go by.
Next stop was Mdina, a 20 minute bus ride from Valletta. It’s called the ‘silent city’…a walled city with not much nightlife or cars. Mdina definitely reminded me of Morocco, not surprising since Malta is rather close to North Africa so probably gets some influence from there. The arch to enter the city was beautiful, and so were the views of Malta from the edge of town. I was referred to a great restaurant, Fontanella, so I stopped in for a local beer and a pastizz, which is basically a local pastry with mashed peas inside…not bad. The Mdina cathedral was really nice from the outside, though in my two trips to Mdina it was closed both times so I didn’t get to go inside.
Lots of horse-drawn carriages going through this town, I felt bad the horses had to work so hard in the extreme August heat.
I met someone at the hostel who wanted to visit the south of the island, so we took a day to visit the Blue Grotto. There were magnificent views, which I quickly realized was the norm in Malta, but unfortunately the water was too rough and boat tours weren’t running that day. What’s very cool is we ran into a falconer who had two falcons and an owl. I couldn’t resist getting my picture taking with Nina, the owl. One of the falcons was really young, and the falconer told me he was having a hard time training her because she kept on going after pigeons…I guess she had killed three in the past week alone!
Next we went to the Hagar Qim temples. Usually I’m not that much into history, but this was really cool since the temples date back to 3200 BC…one of the most ancient religious sites on earth. Not too much to see here other than the stone structures…I get the idea that archaeologists don’t really know a lot about their origins, which is expected I guess with them being so old. Unfortunately a lot of the artifacts found in the temple complex are in the archaeology museum, an interesting way to make tourists go there, I guess.
My last full day in Malta I took the boat over to Comino, a small island only a 20 minute ride away. I couldn’t bring myself to make it a separate blog entry, as it’s not really a place people live. In fact, there are only 4 permanent residents in Comino, and they all work at the one hotel on the island (which I imagine does a lot of business, great idea being the only one). I thought I’d do some swimming here, but alas I didn’t. I was too freaked out by the reports of jellyfish everywhere, in fact two girls at my hostel got stung, one on the face and one on the butt…caused these big nasty welts, too. I love animals, but I’m freaked out by jellyfish, they look like they’re from another planet, and I guess Malta has them everywhere…I made the decision that swimming wasn’t worth the risk of an itchy welt on my face. Even without the swimming, however, Comino was an amazing sight. The water was so blue…nicest water I’ve seen in Europe. The ‘blue lagoon’ is the common tourist area here, and of course being a Saturday the place was packed with 20-somethings swimming and laying out in the sun. I walked around the island for a bit, taking some great pictures of the scenery. There was a lot of cliff diving going on, not really at dangerous heights…looked fun. It reminded me of my time in Kauai, where I actually had the balls to jump of a cliff into the water (about 40 or so feet, nothing crazy), even with my fear of heights.
I had a very good time in Malta, and met some really great people. I may not ever be back, but it was definitely worth coming here. If I come back, I will stay again at Hostel Malti. This place really impressed me, as the guys who run the hostel, Chris and Aaron, really know what they’re doing. It’s hard to believe this is a relatively new business, but I think it’ll be around for a long time, particularly with the outrageous hotel prices in Malta. The only complaint is something the hostel staff can’t do anything about…the heat. I knew what I was getting into by going in August, so any discomfort while sweating and sleeping is my fault, I figure. Malta is a really quiet area, as evidenced by the neighbors around the hostel complaining basically every night about the noise. I’ve stayed in much louder hostels than this, and after 11 at night you could hear a pin drop in the hostel common room. I have no idea what the neighbors were complaining about, it sucks for the hostel staff they have to put up with that.
My last night I went back to the hostel early, and just relaxed in anticipation for my long travel day coming up. I met some Estonians who were staying at the hostel….very cool people! I’d never met anyone from Estonia before, and learned that Estonians are really into singing and picking mushrooms…haha, sounds like something out of a fairy tale! My taxi arrived the next day and I was off, back to Belgium. Thanks to Malta, and all the people who helped me have a wonderful time.