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A few things we didn't see in Malta


It's not all old stuff in Malta. Paceville (pronounced patcheyville), just up from St Julian's is the latest resort. Half of it is given over to an enormous Hilton complex with designer shops, a bijou harbour and a casino. The other half is a modern shopping centre with international shops and brands, all shiny and new. In between are all the night clubs and strip joints. We had a voucher for two for one at one of them, but it didn't say what we would be getting half price, entry, drinks or something else.

And then there are the theme parks. There's a waterpark on the North coast, a short bus ride from St Julian's. It was shut in March but has lots of interesting looking slides.

Further afield, the Popeye film was shot in Malta and the film set is still there. You can visit Sweethaven here but we didn't.

Finally, one thing that did tempt us, but just not quite enough, was a tour of the Playmobil factory.

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Maltese Snaps

Here is a selection of my 300 Maltese photographs. Click for larger views on Flickr.

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Rabbit Wednesday

One of the restauarants next to the hotel, the other side from McDonalds and Wagamama, has a sign in the window saying ¨Rabbit Wednesday¨and it wasn´t clear whether it was the food on offer or dress code for the patrons. In any case, yesterday was Thursday and we went to San Guiliano, a very good Italian restaurant in the old gate house to the Spinola manor which overlooks this bay. For starters, chilledchimp had creamy buffalo mozarella with rocket and cherry tomatoes and I had beef capaccio. The mozarella was the best I´ve tasted and the carpaccio very meaty with some parmesan shavings as a counterpoint and a balsamic vinegar dressing. Her main was medallions of pork in massalla sauce and mine was rabbit cooked in red wine, rosemary and pine nuts. The rabbit was cooked slowly and almost fell of the bone, the sauce was rich but didn´t overpower the fine flavour of the rabbit. Pudding was tarte tatin. The ambiance was cheery and the staff excellent, inobtrusive but attentive without being obsequious, all round a very good meal.

When we´d recovered this morning we decided not to go Gozo because wed got up rather late and all though not very far, it would have meant a few hours on buses either way. So instead we went to the Ghar Dalam cave on the east coast. Above this is a small museum. One side is pure Victorian Horniman with rows of cases with bones recovered from the caves, bears, otters, pygmy hippo and elephant. The other side is more modern and has a geological and zoological history of Malta, as well as a couple of paintings that were shown at the British Empire Exhibition in 1954. The main paleontologist on the site was called Giuseppe Despott and he found some of the most significant finds in Malta.

The cave itself is about 150m long and about 15 wide. It goes straight into the side of the hill and as you come to the entrance, there is a sign saying ¨Just ignore the Earth Bees, they are harmless¨. Nothing was said about the Venusian Death Bees but we went in anyway. The sound of buzzing was quite strong and it turned out that the bees use the soft earth at the mouth of the cave for digging their nests. It´s not a big placce but is calm and charming and on the way back to the museum we saw a skink.

We then walked via Pretty Bay to Marsaxlokk, a fishing village. Pretty Bay is a gorgeous blue and green with another picturesque village at one end and an enormous container port at the other, possibly no longer deserving of its name. But we found a path between a castle now a fish research institute and a petrol plant that led along the cliffs with gorgeous views of the bay below.

Marsaxlokk is a working port with colourful fishing boats packed into the tiny bay or pulled up for repairs. The man in the museum said we should have Lampuki at the Carrubia but we shared a pizza at Mr Fitz next door. After a stroll around we caught bus back to Valletta and then the ferry the short ride across the bay to Sliema. It´s about twice as far as the Woolwich ferry goes but just a little 30´ motor launch but with much better views, Valletta, Manoel Island and the deep blue Med.

And that was it for today. We´ve had a really enjoyable holiday. There has been plenty to do and almost everyone has been very friendly. The hotel was good, and the food has been too. Public transport has been great 11 euros for 5 days is excellent value and the buses pretty much run on time. The only strageness was the driver this morning who seemed to be on speed. He was chewing his nails to the extent that he took his eyes off the road and his hands off the wheel, he was nervous and tried to race the other buses but his one was so old and cranky that it barely made it up the hill to the terminal.

But I´d certainly recommend it to anyone else.

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25 again

Today is chilledchimp's birthday and she decided she'd like to have a look at something other than caves so we took the bus North up to Golden Bay, a delicious little rocky cove with, asthe name suggests, a good yellow beach. We walked up and down, chased waves and ate ice cream before boarding another bus to Mgarr, a small village further down the coast. From here we walked down the rocky valley road through a dramatic landscape to another even more deserted beach. The only people about seemed to be a few fishermen and a couple of small boys stamping on jellyfish. The walk back was a bit harder, 1 in 5 in some places and in the midday sun too but we survived and it was a glorious walk. We hoped on another bus back to Valletta.

At the third time of asking we managed to get into the Baroque cathedral of St John, remarkable for being the centre of faith for the Order of St John (no sign of ambulances though) and housing a couple of Caravaggios, St Jerome and the beheading of John the Baptist, an incredibly naturalistic treatment of the subject.

And now we're back at the hotel getting ready to go out for a slap-up dinner, a la Desparate Dan no doubt.

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Malta disappoints

Instead of going to Valletta, we got one of the few buses that bypasses the capital and went straight to Mdina, a walled town built on a rock from which you seemed to be able to see all of the island, even though it was a much greyer and windier day. We wentt to the small Cathedral museum and it turned out to be much bigger than we thought, even though the ground floor was mostly empty due to renovation. Upstairs there was a fine, if in need of a good clean, art collection with pieces from all over, and not all religious. The highlight for me was the 43 Dürer prints and the best of those the Madonna and monkey.

We viewed the not quite baroque cathedral itself and then just wandered the tight little streets for an hour before going to the immediate neighbour Rabat. Both names are an indicator of the long Arab presence on the island. Then, more caves! chilledchimp impressed the friendly keeper by paying for the tickets herself, and then by showing an interest in football, both rather unwomanly things for the older Maltese generation it seems. These caves were entered through a mausoleum which had a steep staircase instead of a grave. Below, spread out over several acres and criss-crossed by narrow passages and other steep steps was an early Christian burial ground, hewm out of the rock. Apparently it had started life much as the Hypogeum as a pagan place but had been adopted and turned to different religions as time passed. There were some Jewish tombs. Near the entrance where several large flat areas with raised borders. One even had a nick in one side that made it look like pacman. These were for the refigerium, the pre-burial meal for Romans.

Afterwards we wandered around Rabat looking at the Dominican cloisters, some more caves which were only open to the local cat population. The Maltese like their cats, leaving out water and food for the many strays that you see in the streets. Next, buns: I had a kwarizema made of hazelnuts, spices, almond flour and egg white, then baked to a chewy consistency before being topped with nuts and honey. I´ll have to bring some back, they were good.

Finally it was time to leave and we took the bus the short distance to what used to be an RAF base and where the Nissen huts had been redeployed as a craft village and therunway as two football pitches, the Centenary whihc looked like it was built by Royal Engineers and the Millenium, built ten years ago, a modern all-seater with 17,000 capacity. We were here to see Malta v Finland, a friendly, along with about aaaaaa thousand other Maltese and twenty fanatic Finns. The Maltese Ultras had a good array of flags and drums and many of the local kids teams were in attendance including some tiny ballboys.

It was a lively gaem with both teams going close in the first 15 minutws, Finland hitting the bar and Malta missing a penalty before Michael Mifsud, ex of Coventry and easily the best player on the pitch, picked up a loose ball in the area and poked it home. Finland were looking dangerous although Jari Litmanen couldnt find the killer pass and the defence held out until half-time. In the second half it was all Finland. Malta played too deep and gave the Finns too much time on the ball instead of pushing up with the midfield. And when they did get the ball, they were too slow in releasing Mifsud and so squandered the few chances they did have. So it was no suprise when Finland equalised, although it was from a dodgy penalty. The ref who had been fine in the first half had a bit of a mare in the second, seeing many Maltese fouls where there were none. Aaaaaafter the Finns got their second Malta came back into the game a bit more but in the the end Finland´s class was too much. Malata 1-2 Finland was not a bad result considering less than half a million people live here.

Then we had a mad 2 mile rush back to the bus stop in the dark for the last bus back to Valletta. Fortunately the buses seem more reliable than in the UK and we got back by about 11:30 armed with a couple of chicken pasties for supper. Along the way the bus drove past the longest aquaduct I´ve ever seen, eerily illuminated by floodlights the whole way.

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Temples

Today we got up a bit later and got a bus to Valletta and then another to Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, two neolithic sites on the south coast. It's one of the wilder parts of the island, big cliffs and stoney fields, not the easiest place to live. Both temples, if they are that, are about 4,000 years old and resemble the multi-lobbed dwellings at Skara Brae, with more impressive carvings and statuary.

A short walk later we got on a small motorboat and went round the bottom of the cliffs to look at the Blue Grotto, a sea cave where the clear water and light combine to produce an incredible luminescent colour.

After some minor pootling round Valletta on the way back, we had kebabs out and thenn cakes annd No Country For Old Men in our roo

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Fiish

We were up early this morning for the 8:45 bus to Valletta which took us to the bus station. This turned out to just be a fountain round which the buses turn round. They are all pretty much old Leyland buses, driven fast and with the door open to keep the inside cool. But they´re very cheap and cover the whole island.

We got to Valletta early for the market, a ramshackle affair which reminded me of the Dordogne in the Eighties so England in Sixties, and this was reinforced by the music played on all the buses and bars, 80s europop or 60s British. We strolled through the mostly empty streets of the old fortress, down to St Elmos fort on the point. Here we sat and watched a pageant of 16th century soldiers with displays of swordmanship and artillery. It was all good fun. Then after more wanderings round the city walls and a alrgish lunch, we came back for an afternoon siesta. we also had a look at th Musuem of Archaeology, only half open but worth it for the neolithic figures.

We´re watching the Ice Hockey final on Eurosport in German whilst I´m typing this. They have an Aemrican commentator who can has a terrible accent. It´s even making me laugh.

Tonight we walked to Paceville, the touristy place just next door. It was pretty bad, we were even serenaded by two waiters desperate for trade, Malta´s answer to Jedward. So we caught the bus to Sliema and had a glorious dinner. Gilt-headed bream for chilledchimp, a bit like a large sardine in taste, and rib-eye in pepper sauce for me. You coud tell it was posh as there were no chips.

On the walk back, we crossed Triq Sir Luigi Cammilleri, which just about sums up this place, lots of English and Italian influences but still separately Maltese.

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Mild for the time of year

It´s t-shirt weather here in Malta, so we wandered along from St Julian´s to Sliema for a couple of pizzas in a restaurant with a shrine to Diego Maradona. We don´t really have a feel of the place yet, they drive to fast (although on the right side, that is, the left), there are feral cats all over the place but they seem well cared for and most restaurants are pizzerias or chinese, with a liberal sprinkly of pubs sheltering drunken English men.

Tomorrow is market nday in Valletta so we´ĺl be up and out and on a bus before 9. Should be good.

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