Malta: Noughts and Crosses

Posted by in Culture, Travel

In the hot traffic in the red tail lights.

*this blog contains affiliate links

LIFE IS A ROLLERCOASTER

Malta on a map is a mere speck, surrounded by the beautiful or hazardous blue (depending on your circumstance) of the Mediterranean sea. The day I land its airspace is being smothered by a storm! This makes Air Malta’s A320neo a flying roller coaster as we are batted around from side to side and up and down through air currents, air pockets and god knows what else. 

Breaking the cloud seems to take forever and when we do the Med seen through the window of an adjacent passenger is a choppy grey, it could easily be New Zealand’s Cook Strait but of course isn’t. On landing, applause for the captain breaks out including from yours truly.

London had been sparkling by comparison, chilly, autumnal but sunny. For the first time ever in my lifetime I’ve had to pass through non-EU immigration and COVID certificate checks. 

Outside, the palm trees stood in a sombre grey silence as I waited for the bus to St Julian’s. My notes say it is a posh expat haven, in reality it’s a tourist’s party zone with tacky bars and gentlemen’s clubs. Somewhere in there was my intended bed for who knows how long. 

A room at the inn.

THE FIRST NIGHT

The St George’s Park Hotel is a whopping great complex. Although technically a hotel you can almost call it a studio apartment as a fridge and kettle can be requested and I’ve got a desk with light and wifi – so voila! What it doesn’t have is a microwave or washing machine but food for the fridge can be found in the nearby Welbee’s store (Carrefour in all but name). 

The George is a bit 70s and smells of old furniture but for the price is unbeatable compared to the hotels around it… The Intercontinental, The Westin and the Hilton. Christ, even the Holiday Inn Express isn’t bad and there’s yet another, Be Hotel Malta in the Bay Street mall. 

Over on the adjacent peninsular is the Radisson Blu and the Corinthian. Better still (Wang Chung moment) you can hear the waves of St George’s Bay crash on the beach at night! Points on the Curve in realtime.

But as I was saying, Malta is not the dot it appears, Gibraltar this is not and it takes the bus bloody forever to first appear at the airport and then to get to my destination with a series of twists and turns, ups and downs and double backs. There’s a Lidl supermarket to my left, a few moments later it’s on the right. 

300*250_Evening

*Note none of the buses X1, X2, X3, and X4 are particularly express like so expect to go round the houses a bit especially at Marsa (with the Lidl) and the University. I’d avoid using your contactless credit card and buy a tallinja card (minimum 15eu) and under no circumstance board the 120 bus; whoever did the route planning is a total dolt!

**Note II: Malta is full of place names with the letter Q, this is silent so Luqa is Lu-ah, Qormi is actually Ormi, Qawra = Awra and so on. Never saw the point of silent letters myself, if they’re silent why use them? Anyway, back to my first night woes…

It is now dark, I am totally disorientated and I was about to learn my first lesson in Maltese – the roads are not your friend. I alight the bus at Spinola tipped off by some passengers who I’ve had to ask for assistance and head further still in the wrong direction. 

Fortunately I quickly realise my error but even so, I am in for a longer walk than was expected. The St George’s Park complex as mentioned above is mammoth and should be right in front of me but isn’t so where the hell is it?

I must take every street before I eventually get it. It says business park NOT hotel, no wonder. I arrive tired, hot and bothered and on top of that, check in comes with a city tax. I am just grateful to get a bed and crash out.

There may be trouble ahead.

MOVING TO MALTA?

The next day I take breakfast at the light and airy Cafe Pascucci who bill their wifi as strong as their coffee and the latter, like COSTA is marginally cheaper than the UK – hooray for that, but the croissants are a touch more expensive so a coffee and croissant can come to around a fiver (which doesn’t sound like much but would over time add up).

Now comes the fun bit of trying to find Identity Malta the people who can give us (that’s me and you readers) residence for a nice price (even if the UK was still in the EU there would be bureaucratic headaches aplenty). 

This is not in Valletta but slightly inland from the marina at Msida and yes, it’s another conundrum with the roads. The pavement stops and it looks like the beginning of a motorway. It isn’t though there are roads leading to and from one so tread with caution.

Bottom line, you will need to have an employer apply for you – but what if I you want to be self employed? Well, you can apply yourself but you better be loaded and be prepared for the usual antics – having photocopies of all passport pages for example. 

Teaching English in Malta? Better for the Irish who are still in the EU and as such now have free reign over any European territory. For us Brits and other third nations (Aus, NZ, SA, US and Canada) the first thing is to find an interested party.

Start saving your ideas

As anyone with any experience of TESOL knows, English schools are at best fickle and will soon rescind when they learn they would have to apply for a social number etc (personally I prefer universities but getting a response from any is another matter). 

So the catch 22 is this, Identity Malta won’t move without a school or employer interest. The ELT Council (with whom you will have to sit some tests to make sure you’re worthy of teaching in Malta) won’t move without a number from ID Malta. 

And then you’ll need to contact MFHEA (Malta Further and Higher Education Authority) to verify your docs – all of these come with fees and some with fast track or standard options and no one seems keen to tell you how long the cheaper and slower option will take. 

Other options? Again like Gibraltar Malta is a mecca for gambling and gaming and then there’s the humble waiter. This is the reality, Malta wants you as a tourist (or investor) but nothing else. There are plenty of Indians and Filipino’s working but lord knows how they do it.

If you can get past the bureaucracy and are deciding on where to live I’d suggest: Pembroke, San Gwann, Paolo, Santa Lucija and Gzira. And so to the island’s capital Valletta.

The gateway to a cultural capital – aren’t they all.

VALLETTA – THE SLENDER CAPITAL

A clear deep blue sky drapes over the city and the sun is brighter than I’ve ever known. It’s a good day to check out Europe’s smallest capital – smaller than Cardiff but isn’t Gibraltar a capital? That may give it a run for its money. 

The gates of the city are signalled by two silver spires. I quickly dart down one of the streets running parallel with the main drag to avoid the mass throng of people and thus move about quicker. This is a good decision because I stumble on the chocolate district and the Chinese cultural centre – more or less opposite each other. 

Russian, and German cultural centres and many embassies line the old city streets as well as the Valletta Cultural Agency who organise events like the Polish in Malta photo exhibition taking place when I’m in town. The modern edifice residing at the very beginning of the street known as Republika is the Maltese parliament building.

A few days’ later I find myself again wandering the streets of Floriana (just outside of Valletta). Golden hour and the late afternoon shadows cast a different mood on my walk. My mission is to see more of this intriguing city and visit places previously missed; the Malta Chinese Friendship Society, Spazju Kreattiv (arts centre) and what is that building with the huge dome? All was to be revealed.

The first of those was tucked away on the same street as the Austrian consulate but closed during the twilight blue of eventide (and every other time I visit as was the national library) – are you getting that familiar feeling? See Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham blogs.

Spazju arts centre – prepare to be amazed!

The second Spazju Kreattiv was amazing! I am there to see the movie Sisters with Transistors about the overlooked female electronic composers. At the same time an exhibition ‘Spaces in Suspension’ is taking place. I don’t say it lightly but it’s hands down one of the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen, here’s why…

In keeping with my and I’ll assume some of my readers fascination with nostalgia and abandoned places such as my ‘In Search of…’ blogs (Athens for example) the show looks at the decay of The Grand Hotel Verdala (now sadly demolished) but better still, some of the artefacts are there and so are the creators, photographers Joseph P Smith and Therese Debono (no relation to Edward apparently though she does lecture at the one of the colleges). 

It gets even better in that there is a 12 minute film showing what the place was like in the its seventies heyday, and of course in its recent past. The hotel was a luxury oasis but in truth was a bizarre location. I ask Joseph or Joe (who is from Rabat, the town where the hotel was located) what happened to it. His response was it fell into disrepair for a number of reasons. 

Also included in the exhibition are photos of some of the former hotel staff set amid the ruins. It’s an all round immersive experience and a triumph in my opinion. Later on I see the aforementioned film (again recommended) and its cacophony of electronic sounds and that brings me to the third of my intended destinations. 

White sky over Valletta.

Whenever you see an image of Valletta you can’t fail to miss the huge dome on the cityscape and that belongs to the basilica ‘Our Lady of Mt Carmel’ and is as much a symbol to the Maltese capital as the Blue Mosque is to Istanbul.

I mention this because the mind melding sound emitted by the (piped?) Bells of the famous basilica would try the patience of some, even for someone into ambient or avant garde music it was getting a bit tired after what must have been 10 minutes or so. Nevertheless it’s a must visit.

Drowning in Maltese nostalgia.

MEDITERRANEAN NOSTALGIA

Valletta is a pleasure to stroll around in the evening, most of the tourists have gone and there’s a glorious full moon hanging over the city. And speaking of nostalgia, The Old Bakery Street is a treasure trove, MELI books looks like has been there for years – and probably has!

But getting back to the greater question? What is it about the mediterranean and nostalgic imagery especially? There’s anything from airlines, to HMV, to old camera films (AGFA, KODAK) not forgetting the Maltese drink Kinnie. 

In the UK anything of that ilk would be stripped down, and either trashed or sent to a museum. In Spain, Greece, Egypt and now in Malta I have seen living evidence of this strange phenomena and I absolutely hope it continues. 

On the plaza…

SHOPPING IN SLIEMA

Though some of the main shops reside in the capital, M&S, Next, ZARA, some are actually over in Sliema in what looks like an unassuming back street Triq it-Torri – also a nifty short cut between Sliema and St Julian’s Bay (it takes time to get to know all the bays and inlets and harbours). 

There is a small mall called Plaza (three stories, four if including the basement food court). Again it has a few ‘brands’ Body Shop for example, and the sandwich chain SUBWAY. The rest is clothes stores one of which has a cafe and perfumery. The foodcourt has some interesting choices from Peruvian, filipino to Hawaiian to the more standard pasta and pizza.

Also worth noting Malta can be very deceiving; not far from Torri St is Triq Tignè which looks like a road to nowhere, so much so that originally I didn’t bother to investigate it BUT this is Malta, expect the unexpected! 

You’ll soon discover a smart pedestrian street which in turn enters into a square and a bigger shopping mall called The Point; big brands (except H&M) and while it does have a supermarket it strangely is a generic non-brand affair. You can also enter from the side (before you get to the square) if you wanted to.

Every colour you are.

Sunday morning is a great time to go walkabout – the scent of herbs coming from Dolce Sicilia, and that’s just to begin with! The main draw is of course the churches, some on the waterfront, some tucked away in the hilly nooks and crannies of Sliema, such as the fabulous Sacre Couer. Also look out for the colourful verandahs and the Lady Todd cafe on the way down to the waterfront.

The greater lesson here is to get off the coast road and into the back streets – you could get lost but there are more interesting businesses there than the hotels and real estate offices lining the coast road.

ST JULIAN’S AND THE ART OF THE MALTESE SNACK

St Julian’s too is not short of surprises. If you head up Triq Wied Ghomor in the direction of the gorge, you’ll see a pedestrian bridge crossing the road behind the Badass Burger on your right. 

This leads up some stairs to St Julian’s Parish Church (which is another one to see even if you aren’t religious) however if you stay on the level you’re on and go right you’ll enter a food court – go through there and downstairs and voila a whopping great Welbee’s – bigger than the one on the hill.

Maltese street food at Mr Maxims.

On the way up to St Julian’s from Spinola (that is to say the opposite direction to the bridge, church and eateries are a nice set of pizzerias; you simply have to try Alice! You could easily get carried away in there and yes they take contactless. 

Be aware that most of the places selling Maltese Street food only take cash so you’ll need a pocket full of change for the privilege. There are two on this stretch, Mr Maxims and Champs. Maxims closes for Christmas and new year, Champs is strangely open on Xmas day but closed for NY.

Maltese snacks? Here’s some pointers…
WUDY – Like a Sausage roll but with cheese in the actual hot dog sausage.
QASSATAT – These are odd shaped – see the photo above – and come with various fillings eg Cheese. They don’t look like much but are filling!
ROSS – Baked rice (looks like a spaghetti bolognese)
TIMPANA – penne in a pastry in effect a pasta pasty!

There are also different pizzas: olive, salami, bbq chicken, and burger pies! Like a pasty only with a burger inside. I’d skip the bbq chicken but the others are ok.

Hello Adventure

There’s a lot of building work going on, if you love the sight of cranes against the sky, you’ll love the top end of St Julian’s. As such the smell of construction masonry scents the morning air especially around Cafe Ottimo, a stones throw from my residence.

They are playing The Gypsy Kings, music as warm and fluffy as their Pain au Chocolate’s (known here by their Italian alias Fagottino). All the while a cool dude sits reading a book with his shades on. As with Pascucci the croissants come in apricot, chocolate, pistachio and this leads to Maltese lesson two…

You can’t buy Croissants in supermarkets the way you can in the UK. Though I’ve yet to try Lidl – that might be different. I can’t tell you because there isn’t one in St Julian’s and when I did find one the security guy took offence to my face mask which he said wasn’t a mask. So I left (I wasn’t going to waste my time arguing with a moron). *(Inter)Spa in Hamrun is best for bakery – I’ll get to that later.

Arkadia in the upmarket Portamassa complex (along with the Hilton) does have a bakery but it’s not as cost effective as those back in Blightly, oh and if buying bottled water or refrigerated items be wary that the prices displayed DON’T include wait for it… fridge tax! 

This is not huge but is an unexpected expense. Yes I found that out the hard way. I didn’t spot the minuscule sticker telling me this and I don’t think many would. Welbee’s do not have this tax so you can guess my preference here. Just don’t take a day pack to the supermarket because they’ll have a dizzy fit and make you put it in a locker (though this is fairly standard in Europe).

This town is gonna be a ghost town.

WHITE ROCKS

Malta is full of abandoned buildings and ruins. Just up from Pembroke (a mainly residential area) is a training ground for the Maltese army (prepare to hear gunshots and hope you aren’t in range). Beyond that lie a former army living quarters, the eerie ghost town White Rocks – even more so in the strange light. It’s Therese from the exhibition that tips me off about this place. 

Added bonus if you happen to be gay, it’s also used as a ‘cruising’ joint and possibly other shady goings on. Otherwise it’s an astonishing place full of urban art and it’s hard to believe it’s been left to rot considering the land and its views straight out over the Mediterranean. 

Like Athens old airport there are legal wrangles over who owns the land and how much it’s worth, many deals have fallen through but whatever happens I hope some of the urban art is maintained in any new development. 

If approaching from Valletta, St Julian’s or Pembroke the two most noteworthy pieces of urban art are on the sea facing side of the first two buildings on the right (one of which is often used for shady biz which is why I steered clear on my first visit).

Another notable is the Watermelon room also to the right on the main drag (cars can no longer enter) you should be able to see it from the road. It is by the Swiss artist L’original (aka Nicolas Bamert) who also decorated the airplane in his distinctive clouds at the Montekristo estate (near the airport – see below).

STORMS AND COFFEE

After a few stormy days I am itching to see more of this island. I’ve managed Buggiba in the north which isn’t exactly doing much for me in terms of mood even if it does contain the Chocolate Factory (shop and cafe) and the nearby Bird Park (which has mixed reviews online). 

So the plan is to go to either Mosta, Mdina or The Chinese Garden but in the end the weather and time plot against me. Instead I try the Chinese Friendship Place – which is still closed and I wonder if it ever opens. The National Library is also closed, it’s beginning to feel more like an English coastal town closed down for winter. 

Fortunately this means coffee and COSTA are advertising their Toblerone season which is drawing me in. I end up on a Tiger Spice Latte – it’s ok and different from the norm. Another tip – the McDonald’s in Valletta is old, crowded and not as nice as the one in the Bay St Mall in St Julian’s – a bit of a trek but worth it. Also the meal deals are on the pricey side for fast food. 

Any meal after breakfast is 6.55 euros as of Dec 2021 – also no pancakes and syrup or jam and muffins as at home. Oh there’s another Macca’s in Spinola – eat breakfast outside on the upstairs verandah if it’s a nice day and watch the tiny boats in the bay.

Victory, I manage to arrive in Naxxar in one piece!

WALKING IN MALTA: NAXXAR AND MOSTA

So is Mosta and its famous domed basilica walkable? Well yes but not necessarily advisable. The roads are simply not designed for pedestrians, even Valletta can be a trying experience if you veer too far left or right from the main street REPUBLIKA.

Literally walking out to winter (think Aztec Camera), my mission is to walk to Mosta via Naxxar (pronounced nasher or na-shar) in the December sun. It’s a windy day but I still manage to work up a sweaty back. The roads are dreadful even for motorists – too narrow and as a pedestrian you have to literally watch your back – sweaty or otherwise.

It was a relief when the built up area of Naxxar appeared. It too has an impressive church in Our Lady of Victory but for the moment this too is closed. Naxxar is also home to many interior design studios if that’s your bag. 

French blue, the colour suits you.

I break for lunch at the delightful Avenue Cafe (which sadly wasn’t playing Saint Etienne but does come in a pale blue with a neat line in tiles – the toilet is a marvel!) Anyway I dine on some traditional Maltese bites; a cheese pastry filled with very hot ricotta! And Arancini, some of which have an odd yurt like shape. Mine was a rounded oval of rice and chicken and was very filling.

How far to Mosta? I ask Maurizio (the manager). He tells me it’s about half an hour on foot and thankfully points me to the correct road as my map isn’t working courtesy of Apple’s latest update – a masterclass in how NOT to update a system. Note to Apple technicians, if it ain’t broke… 

In the end it takes me about 20 minutes and better goes through some of Mosta’s pretty backstreets full of colourful doors, more verandahs and painted benches. The rotunda dome – you can’t exactly miss it – looms large over the surrounding houses.

Mosta dome; it’s behind you! And then it’s over you.

There are a range of packages to enter Mosta Rotunda; I end up paying 2euros which gets me entrance to just the church – I don’t see it necessary to see the World War II shelter or the portico unless you have a specific interest in them. The dome and its interior are the main purchase points. 

With many paintings, it’s more like an art gallery in a church. Soft ambient music plays as eventide approaches lighting patches of the inner dome and church in amber light.

The other point of admission is the bomb (a replica) that fell on the church but failed to explode – seen quite rightly as a miracle. Rather than walk home I opt for a bus 202 to take the strain. The same bus goes to Mdina and that would be my next destination.

The streets are so cold and empty (well in winter anyway).

MDINA – SILENCE HAS A NAME

“At the centre of the Mediterranean, Malta has always been a crossroads, a battle ground and a cultural melting pot. Both its turmoil and its beauty are held within the ramparts of its walled city, Mdina, and celebrated in this track.” Steve Hackett on his song Mdina (The Walled City)

Waiting for a break in the weather seems to take a lifetime, though eventually I end up back on the 202 bound for the city and sure enough the bus fannies around in doing so. Every country lane it can find the bus takes. After Mosta, we go past the Malta Aviation Museum which doesn’t look too big on the outside. 

*I check later on the internet and the only commercial plane is a DC-3 and a BAC 1-11 cockpit. Pity there is no Air Malta ephermera, however Malta Airport has some photos of the airport back in the day in the corridor leading to the observation deck.

A walled city appears and looks magnificent against the deep blue sky. My map says Mdina is still someway off but I can’t see what else it could be. Truth is, it is Mdina and I would find that out soon enough as the bus ascends the hill – at this stage I want to get off regardless. 

Who said Malta didn’t have any space?

Being a ‘tourist’ hotspot you can expect horse drawn carriages outside prior to crossing a stone bridge and through the city arch. The good side is that although it seems busy I am not harassed by tour guides and am able to get a few shots devoid of people, dodging the odd horse drawn carriage as I find my way around its silent avenues.

There are good vantage points to look at over the countryside to Mosta (the famous dome clearly visible) and St Julians noting the warnings not to climb onto the wall as there is a sheer drop the other side! Point taken. 

Some nice eateries can be found tucked away on various side streets and another stunner of a church Carmelite Priory, as well as St Paul’s Cathedral (pictured above). I’m not there too long, and it’s a nice break from the Malta that I see on a daily basis. 

From urban art to song gardens.

SAN GWANN AND SECRET ST JULIANS

On the bus up to Mosta and Mdina I spot another area – this is San Gwann (pr San G-wan, not too far from St Julian’s or Sliema). It has a main street and some businesses on streets jutting off from it. There’s a couple of really good bakeries (Her Majesty’s Bakery and Hungry Hippies as well as the standard Jeff’s) and it feels like a local community more so than SJ’s which is more touristy. 

Further up on the aptly named Triq Bella Vista is some great urban art – difficult to shoot as the pavement is narrow and the road is busy! The view itself looks across to Mater Dei hospital and further afield to Mdina.

Coming back I do my usual trick of taking another route, halfway down the hill are great views of St Julian’s and Swieqi, and a touch down from there is a little park (with paving, no grass) but it’s what is adjoining it that catches my eye. 

Even more mysterious there is no visible entry point to what I call The Song Garden. I imagine this is some sore of residents only place but you can take photos from the pavement. The Song Garden is as slender as Valletta but has names like First Cut is the Deepest Boulevard, Pennylane Drive, Wish You Were Here Drive, and Unchained Melody. Appreciate the beauty of simplicity.

Modern ruins and the city from Manoel.

MANOEL ISLAND

Between Sliema and Valletta is an outpost jutting into the sea. Although it’s called an island it’s more so a peninsular as you can walk onto it. You will soon see signs telling you you’re entering at your own risk and that’s more or less because there are no pavements and a lot of the infrastructure is old so there might be broken glass and crumbling masonry for example.

Unlike White Rocks you can’t enter the buildings here but you can take plenty of pictures. The ‘island’ is literally dotted with ruins such as the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre, the fortress and the Yacht Yard (now home to a variety of cats). In addition are great vantage points to view Valletta opposite. This area has potential.

Churches in Hamrun and Gzira.

GZIRA

Gzira (G-zira) is tucked behind the Waterfront just past Sliema. If you’re coming out of Manoel Island it’s behind the promenade in front of you. It’s more or less a residential area but again is nice to stroll through the streets and see the real Malta and feel that European vibe which I love. 

For me, it’s a little sombre as I’ll soon be saying goodbye to the island. Nonetheless there are more assorted businesses around including the local cafe and another stunner of a church (I go back a couple of times but the door is closed on both occasions).

HAMRUN AND BIRKIRKARA

Another interesting area is Hamrun and here you can find the Daniel’s Shopping mall within which sits… the SPAR or INTERSPAR as it’s called here and finally a bakery of reasonable worth. The main street is a bigger version of San Gwann and also check out Alfred’s on both sides of the street. Cafe on one side, kiosk on the other but lots of foodie options which I didn’t see elsewhere. 

Hamrun is also home to the San Gaetan’s Church which is another one to see if you are into religious art. What’s also noticeable in these areas is the presence of a lot of African dudes. I don’t know if they are homeless, refugees, odd job men or all of those. 

Just up from Identity Malta on the Valley Road is Birkirkara. This area seems more residential but does have the usual pastizzerias and also like Naxxar has an abundance of kitchen and bathroom places – who would have thought Malta needed so many!

Did I mention Churches?

QORMI AND LUQA

Qormi (remember it’s a silent Q so Ormi) lies a bit further up from Hamrun (you’ll have to go under a motorway and then cross a busy dual carriage way if you’re on foot). It’s a place I fancied prior to coming to Malta as a potential home and while it’s not bad I wasn’t quite feeling the vibe. What it does have is two fantastic churches. One is shut (even on a Sunday) and the other is San Sebastian’s with the dome. Opposite is a Jeff’s Pastizzeria and other eateries.

If you come out of Qormi and walk up the hill toward the airport, you’ll find yourself in Luqa (pronounced Lu-ah) after which the airport takes its unofficial name. The beginning of which is signalled by another LIDL. Usual splendid church with deep red and cream dome – worth a look (outside I mean, this is one I never got to check the interior). At the time of writing they are in the throes of building the Luqa junction which will include a flyover. So a lot of road works.

In Malta all roads lead somewhere beautiful and strange.

MONTEKRISTO AND THE RAINBOW PLANE

For those interested in urban art, you may have noticed online a former plane painted by the Swiss artist I mentioned in the White Rocks section above. Montekristo (a little bit like Port Meirion in Wales only with a funfair attached) is a bizarre area. If you’re a RUSH fan you could call it La Villa Strangiato! Again the road looks like it goes to an industrial estate and to an extent does. 

This is the road to the airport’s cargo area with a gigantic Lufthansa Technik centre on the left. Eventually on the right is the entrance to the estate. The site of golden … gateposts and a wide boulevarde leading to what looks like a mansion is not what I was expecting. Stranger still to the left is the funfair which is closed but it’s there – behind a fence and trees – that the plane is currently positioned thus making it difficult to shoot from the outside. 

Fortunately some removal men are coming out of an open gate. I ask if I can take pictures and they reluctantly tell me ‘to do it fast.’ I rise to the challenge amid some Oi’s from afar, not sure who or if they were taking the pee but I had what I needed and luckily it was all in focus. 

*TIP Bearing that in mind, I’d say it isn’t possible to enter the aircraft anymore. The other side of the plane is not painted in the rainbow scheme with clouds which is a pity as that would have been easier to shoot. 

Even more ludicrous is the mansion – complete with chandeliers – is hosting a Booksale! To get to Montekristo take bus #74 but these are as always irregular so you might have to walk it. The same bus goes to Dingli Cliffs on the west of the island but I’m out of time in Malta.

No matter where you are in the world, you’re never far from the orient.

SANTA LUCIA AND MARSA

A quick shout out to Santa Lucia (sometimes spelt Lucja) about 20-30 minutes walk from the airport, again you’ll have to be careful with the roads – some have zebra crossings but there is one part which has no crossing at all and you’ll have to eyeball it. I mention this area as it’s where the Chinese Garden or Garden of Serenity is (free entry) the X2 bus stops by en-route back to the airport. 

Not sure why it’s in that part of town when the Chinese embassy is perched on a hill in St Julians but it’s a nice excursion on a day when the sky is deep blue and the wind is light – perfect for walking. I intended to get a bus back to St Julians but every bus goes to Valletta, hello Malta Bus not everyone wants to go to Valletta. 

As I’m on foot I amble downhill from Santa Lucia on – to my surprise – a wide pavement. The road (a motorway) is new and that’s because it’s part of the new Marsa Junction Project. The pavement dips to the left and down below so you would now be under the road section and it’s this urban underbelly that reminds me of China (parts of Guangzhou and Shenzhen especially). 

Marsa is an odd area, I’d avoid the docks as the roads are tricky around there and it can take a while to find a way out (expect trucks, rancid wild chickens with ruffled feathers and dust). But I digress back to the journey I did take…

From there the pavement veers to the left and I end up in horse racing territory with no end trotting alongside me. When I chuck a right and climb a modest hill out of there the road rejoins the one I had been on earlier toward Qormi. 

This time I am heading the other way, back under the motorway to Hamrun, doing some fancy footwork between there and downhill to Msida then across another busy road (the one that goes to ID Malta and Birkirkara) to the Police Station on the corner of Xatt L-imsida and Triq D’Argens which leads all the way to and from Sliema via the back end of Gzira. I end up walking 24km!  

**During my time in Malta, a law is passed making it the first place in Europe to legalise weed. This is a bit of a double edged sword, on the one hand it takes out the criminal element. On the other, you can bet that in the summer this place is going to stink beyond belief! It’s already started.

**I didn’t visit Gozo, the Dingli Cliffs or what was the Blue Grotto because it isn’t there anymore so there was no point.

Where next?

FERRIES TO SICILY, FLIGHTS TO BLIGHTY

So you’ve seen Malta and have got a taste for what’s next. Tunisia? Italy? Ok so let’s start with Tunisia – no ferry only a flight at this time in a plane similar to the rainbow one at Montekristo only with engines attached. Now to Sicily; two operators both from Valletta waterfront (once you clear all the eateries down there – I was beginning to wonder if the terminal actually existed!)

Ponte sail to Augusta (mid way up the eastern coast – closer to Syracuse, a touch further to Catania). This is about 3hrs BUT can be as cheap as 9.99! No COVID test facility in the terminal – this is a big problem for non residents as we have to go private, ideally book in advance for both test and tickets.

The woman in the terminal says their competitors Virtu are a bit further up the road – she wasn’t kidding. I mean it’s not a million miles but I thought I was in an industrial estate when their terminal appeared (no entry to this one unless sailing). 

Virtu sail to Pozallo on the southern tip of Sicily – this is the fastest at only 1hr 45mins BUT it’s further away from Catania if that is your intended destination. Likewise you can fly to Catania but the airport in Malta also has no test facilities which is a bit lame considering the times we are in. 

If you’re flying to London, your options are an early morning flight with Air Malta or an afternoon flight (Thursdays and Sundays) with British Airways. There are other possibilities with Ryanair and Easyjet to English and Scottish airports but nothing for Wales. In the end I flew out and was disappointed not to see St Julians – my home of two months – before the clouds rolled in. 

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

As always before I do the playlist and photo credits, check out MEDIA if you’re looking to hire me as a writer and the UNIVERSITY for teaching work and The Atlas for more music, travel and culture blogs. Also if you like what I’m doing hit the socials: Facebook, Twitter, 500px and Good Reads. Ok here comes the Playlist…

PLAYLIST
August Day – Hall and Oates
The Waves – Wang Chung
Bamboleo – The Gypsy Kings
Pocket Full of Change – Rain Tree Crow
Walk Out to Winter – Aztec Camera
Avenue – Saint Etienne
Lyra – Robert Fripp/Brian Eno
Ullyses – Dead Can Dance
Selange – Cluster and Eno
Mdina (The Walled City) – Steve Hackett
Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats – Genesis

Bonus…
La Villa Strangiato – RUSH