Malta day 4

Another thunderstorm tumbled at about 5am, the breakfast room (which is mostly a conservatory & is probably the pool room in the summer) leaked a bit and it was kind of raining, right up until I went outside.

I successfully found the bus stop for the fast bus to Valletta, we manoeuvred around a prang between a Mercedes and a bus and then the hop-on-hop-off bus man said the words “harbour cruise”. So I did. As I walked away with a handwritten paper ticket for a boat leaving in an hour and a half from a different peninsula, it occurred to me that maybe it was a fake ticket. Well, if it was, never mind. I’ve never been caught out before and once in 10+ years isn’t bad. I didn’t opt for the quick Sliema ferry. I had time to kill and a card full of bus journeys to use up. I took the bus to the headland at the bottom of St Julian and walked back to Sliema.

The boat was real and the ticket was real. And it was the pretty boat, not the functional one, the one in the style and paint job of a traditional Maltese luzzi. Boarding it as soon as it got in from its previous trip saved me sitting on the seafront in the boiling sun but if I was going to be first on a boat, I was going to take my choice of seat, not shelter under the deck, so I sat in the full glare of the boiling sun on a seat that bobbed gently up & down. I could see my left arm getting sunburnt so I hid it inside my t-shirt and draped my jacket over my head. Yes, I looked ludicrous. But I was avoiding the worst of the sun

It got cold once we were out on the water. Once we were moving, I decided to sit along the side of the boat in the shade instead of at the front and that worked quite well until we were sailing up the creeks between the Three Cities, when it got very cold indeed. I moved back to my seat at the front for the return journey, right in the sun.

Now what? I had two or three hours. That’s not time to do anything. I returned to Valletta and used the bus wifi to look up airport bus timetables. Ah ha! The X4 would take me to a place called Pretty Bay, 15 or 20 minutes beyond the airport. I could look at the view and catch the earlier bus back to the airport on its return loop.

Pretty Bay is pretty but it does have a big container porr at the south end. But the water is proper blue, there are rock pools and a stretch of yellow sand and if you want a quiet bit of beach,this probably isn’t a bad choice. Then I got the bus back to the airport where I sit right now, finishing up orange juice and eating the first meal-like thing since breakfast.

Malta day 3

Today, after breakfast (someone burnt the toast & then retrieved it from the toaster with her knife!) I wrote Thursday & Friday’s blog and then went out. It had rained a little bit in the morning but by the time I got to the bus stop, the sun was out. I hid down the road in the shade to figure which bus I should be getting – the info said only one was going to Valletta but I know that every bus that came to the other stop yesterday was going there. As it turns out, they are, but they’re marked for the far end of the loop they’re making before they all finish up back in Valletta. The one I got on went to San Gwann and the back streets of Sliema before ending up at the main bus station. It was hot, I had to lean against the cold window but it had free wifi – Malta’s very good at that.

Now I could understand how Valletta works – or at least, where it starts and finishes, which had been a mystery. Valletta is a walled city occupying the end of this peninsula. I entered through the City Gate, which is a combination of huge dry most, massive lumps of yellow limestone and a big stone doorway. Immediately on the other side is Parliament, more yellow limestone but this time very much of the future, and the new royal theatre, an open-air built in the bombed-out remains of the old one. It was hot. Really hot. I wandered a little way down the main street then spied a sign for the Sliema ferry. That meant a sea breeze so off I went. Valletta is very hilly. As I made my way down to the shore I found a 4×4 that was holding up traffic by not being able to get up a steep hill and another hill with grippy sttips cut into it.

At the bottom was the ferry – much more the size I’d imagined for the Gozo ferry, more like the Browner’s ferry. Sliema, on the other side, was very different to Valletta, all high-rise towers, no limestone at all. I got my return ferry ticket & sat at the front upstairs. The wind was cold as we sailed across, the sort of freezing cold I’d hoped for. And when we reached Sliema… it was like being in any town in Britain. M&S, Burger King, Zara, Matalan, an entire seafront of British high street shops. Great view of ancient Valletta, though. And right in the sun. I walked along the seafront and then decided it might be best to get the ferry back over to Valletta and hide in its narrow alleys.

So I did. I walked to the end of the peninsula looking over at St Elmo’s Fort and ate some lunch on the rocks. I walked round the fort via the narrow back streets of what is apparently the old red light district, round all the historical stuff, saw the Three Cities on the other side of the Grand Harbour, the Siege Bell and then walked back into the touristy streets where I got on the land train. It basically did the same route I’d just walked but it kept up a commentary and we went found a few places at the south end of the city that I hadn’t seen.

I finished off my tour of Valletta with St John’s Co-Cathedral – best on the inside but closed after 12:30, also I need to find out why “co”-cathedral – and the main square and armoury. That done, I bought some postcards and went to the bus station.

They don’t make it easy there. I eventually had to look up buses that would go to Qroqq 2 on the app and then go and look up the bay on the departure board and found my bus not in the main bus station but a separate set of bays at the bottom of the road. And then I discovered if you go a direct route, Qroqq is only 5-10 minutes on the bus, virtually in easy walking distance.

I thought I had plenty of good to last 24 hours but when I’d eaten pretty much everything within twenty minutes of getting home, I realised I needed to go shopping. I found a quicker way to Gala Center, this time via Gzira, more or less. This is why I’m confused about exactly where I am – all the town’s and villages I’ve ever heard of seem to overlap just here.

At 10:50 that night, there was a bright flash of light – not the notification light on my phone. Then what? Then a huge rumble of thunder, one of the biggest I’ve ever heard. Ah. Yes, it had been ridiculously hot ever since I’ve been here. A thunderstorm is always what follows excessively hot weather. It tumbled on and off all night and had a second go at a real thunderstorm about 4.30am. It’s now 9.17 on Sunday morning and although the thunder has finished, it’s still drizzly and grey – which suits me far better than the sun.

Malta 2019: days 1 & 2

Day One

I’ve never flown Ryanair before. It was fine, except that pretty much everyone on the plane had paid to upgrade to Priority to get a cabin-sized bag as well as their free small bag and there wasn’t room in the overhead lockers to put all the suitcases. The people opposite me were upset that their Priority bags didn’t get priority in the lockers and that they hadn’t been allowed to board early to get first use of the lockers. That’s not what Priority is on Ryanair and it definitely doesn’t work if there’s only one person on the entire plane (hello!) who hasn’t paid for it.

We took off over Poole Harbour & then went over Southampton and Portsmouth before flying across the Channel to France, at which case my geography dissolved and I settled down to my tablet. The lady at the end of my row was up & down, apparently not sure whether to take her designated seat in front of her husband, the empty seat next to him or the entire empty rows at the front. Well, when the cabin crew handed the lady directly in front of me a sick bag & turned on her fan, I thought I might make use of those empty rows.

The front of the plane was basically empty. I helped myself to an entire row and enjoyed the freedom of leaving my stuff on the seat next to me for the next two and a bit hours. I saw an unidentified Mediterranean island, I saw spectacular mist and waves and I watched the Malta-Gozo ferries chugging across the Channel before we reached the airport. Being right at the front, I was 7th into the building, 6th past passport control & then 1st out into arrivals.

I decided the best way to deal with the bus was to get a 12-journey card rather than pay cash (and therefore keep enough small coins) for every journey. It would have been nice to hang around at the airport for five minutes – sunset and palm trees! Not a combination I generally see in Norway or Iceland – but the X2 was already about to depart. True, for the first five minutes the LCD display inside said X3 & I had to adjust my plans before realising i was on the right bus after all.

I got off at the wrong place. I thought Qroqq 4 came straight after University so I jumped off at the hospital. Still, my phone said it was only a 16 minute walk to the residence & I reached Qroqq roundabout in under ten minutes.

I knew my room was in student accommodation but I’m so glad I’m not a student here. All the windows look out over internal shafts. My room is quite luxurious – you’d have to jump to reach the other side rather than step and light comes down the shaft. There’s a perpetual rumbling noise a bit like a giant fridge, the lights aren’t quite bright enough & the fire alarms keep going off. It’s absolutely fine for £43 but I think it would be pretty grim to live here for a year.

Day two

I got up early for breakfast (toast good, juice bad, cereal worse) and then went out. Quick stop at the tiny shop near Qroqq for food supplies, then to the bus stop. 9:05 in Malta in January is not meant to be so hot. There was nowhere to shelter from the sun while I waited for the bus and by the time it turned up, I was about ready to collapse from heatstroke. The bus didn’t help by having its heating going. By the time I reached the Gozo ferry, I knew I’d be seeking out the shadiest breeziest spot on the deck and staying there. Maybe I’d stay there and go backwards and forwards all day until I’d cooled down enough to function. In fact, standing right at the front un just a t-shirt was freezing and then I finished the job by deciding the best way to explore Gozo was on the top deck of an open-topped hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus.

We went all over the island. There was an audio guide but mostly it crackled and only one ear worked. Gozo was not built for buses. We took some very tight corners & some very narrow streets and you could have stepped off the narrow balconies onto the top deck. It was windy and the sun kept going behind clouds so most people sat with winter coats and hats on.

The only place I actually hopped off was at Dwejra. That’s where the Azure Window used to be, a 50m high Durdle Door, before it collapsed in a storm in winter 2017. However, the guidebook mentioned “distorted crater-like topography” and of course I liked the sound of that. It’s limestone but in places it looks like pumice and in places it’s as much shells as rocks. Very weird to scramble on.

But what I enjoyed in Dwejra was the helicopter. A big chunky one, the kind that does search and rescue. It swooped over the beach twice, looked like it was going to land, then winched down two people. Yes, I went to see what was going on. No, I wasn’t the only one. It swooped away again and then returned and winched up two people, together. They both looked like they were in helicopter uniform. There was no sign of any rescue needed. I conclude that it was training. It was very interesting but also very noisy.

I got back on the next bus. The audio guide actually worked on this one but it was ten minutes behind where we were so we didn’t know what to look at until it was far too late. In Victoria/Rabat there’s a street leading to the bus station that’s one way except buses. I’m not convinced that’s a system that works very well.

We returned to the harbour & rather than rush for the next ferry, I found a table & had late lunch so I could get calmly on the following ferry. It seems to go so quickly – well, it doesn’t move quickly and it was a bit tougher on the way back but the journey was over do soon. I enjoyed the ferry.

I expected the bus back to be chaotic, what with an entire ferry-load trying to get on but they all went for the non-express buses with Valletta on the front. Ok, the X1 doesn’t technically go to Valletta but it doesn’t exclusively go from Gozo to the airport. But it meant I could sit at the front, where I could see where we were going and where the windows aren’t filtered to make sunset appear half an hour earlier (this was a problem on the X2 yesterday – from my seat it was pitch black outside). The driver went a little too fast – if he has to hang onto the side of his cabin when we go round a corner, he’s going too fast – but it was fun and we got back to Qroqq 4 far too soon. I nearly missed it. By the time I realised we were getting close, it was already the next stop.

I stopped at Gala Centre for food on the way back – it’s inside a Seat dealer, there’s no obvious entrance to the supermarket although there are two exits and there’s no obvious way out of the building either. Still, I got 2 litres of Happy Day orange juice and some food and then I went back to my room.