Us Versus Malta! [Guest Post]

This is a guest post by @clairethecivilengineer.

You all know I don’t do this often, but today I have let my friends Claire and Knox hi-jack the blog to bring you a faithful retelling of their recent trip to Malta. I know you’ll welcome them and leave plenty of feedback below 😉 Aside from some editing, this post is all their own. 

The story is told from dual perspective. Claire is bold and Knox is indented. Enjoy!

Day 1

Source: Andrea Santoni / Flickr

Source: Andrea Santoni / Flickr

Claire: The adventure begins with a 3-hour plane ride to Malta from London Luton airport.  After a sick Knox arriving late on my doorstep then a very early morning flight, I was looking forward to a relaxing, peaceful flight and catching up on some z’s. 

Unfortunately, the ‘plane-seating gods’ wouldn’t have it and I was trapped next to a couple having a mega-domestic argument!  How anyone can think it’s a good idea to argue on a plane on a 7am flight on Easter Friday is beyond me… 

Knox and I had a busy Easter Weekend ahead of us.  Earlier in the month, we had somewhat ‘spur of the moment’ booked a package deal with flights and half-board (meaning bed, breakfast and dinner included). I also booked transfers through our airline for a total of £14 ( £7 each) and this was a brilliant idea if I may say so myself! Getting off the flight, we headed straight to the transfers desk and were whisked away on a shuttle to our hotel and home for the next few nights – The Sodera in Qwara. 

Knox: Ah the hotel! Fresh, crisp white sheets were my selling point. Having started the adventure with a grand total of 2 hours sleep due to the aforementioned sickness (allergic reaction), the idea of a glorious, deep nap in a bed with a top sheet underneath the duvet (a concept foreign to the Brits) was enough to lift my spirits! 5 hours of nap later, we went to our first buffet on the island. This is where Claire met her fans…

I’m not really sure if you can call them fans, but the kitchen staff were very happy and helpful at advising me what I could and couldn’t eat from the heavily laden buffet. 

The labelling took some getting used to – dishes were labelled ‘gluten free’ or ‘non-gluten’.  From inspection, it appeared ‘non-gluten’ meant ‘contains gluten’, but perhaps that was lost in translation. 

Knox and I stacked up our first plates from the salad bar – Butterbeans!  Cheese!  Artichokes!  Sundried Tomatoes!  Olives!  All the delicious things! – then tried the hot food of which there were four different dishes in various states of appealing. 

It turned out I was able to eat most savoury things, which was great, but the gluten-containing dessert buffet was a no-go for me. The kind chef went and got me a piece of Snickers Cake – essentially an almondy, caramelly cake layered with chocolate and peanuts. Yum!

Day 2 – North Malta

After breakfast and fresh-faced (or incredibly groggy in my case), we gleefully scooted off to the ‘hop-on-hop-off’ bus collection point. We had cleverly booked this the day before on arrival at The Sodera.

Source: makoekis / flikr

Source: makoekis / Flickr

It was fun being a tourist, sitting up the top of the bus outside in the fresh air!  St Julian’s Bay looked picture perfect and we happily snapped photos from the bus as we zoomed by.  It looked like a perfect little bay with the traditional Maltese fishing boats moored in the inlet.  There was also a very nice looking hotel there. I told Knox that’s where we will stay next time!

Slowly we realised the schedule was slipping. The stops were longer, the scenery unchanging, the audio system unresponsive. While we did see an awful lot of Valetta from the parked bus we had only 1 hour to reach Mosta in time to visit the great domed church! Claire discovered the channel for the audio guide and we listened intently to distract ourselves from what seemed like a losing battle to make it to the church by 11:30am.

Just after the narrator had told us more than we needed to know about the local brewing company and the alcohol content of its range I was attacked by a vicious, malicious, nasty, awful, low hanging branch! Turning my head just in time to see the foliage whip down the bus against two rows of unsuspecting passengers in front of me, my forehead was slashed with such venom I thought I was bleeding. My indignation led to a fit of giggles from us two at the back of the bus.

“Haha, I could have been blinded!”

“Ohoho lucky it didn’t have a pinecone attached! Bong!”

Note: I checked Knox was ok first before I laughed!  It really was like something out of a movie – you can’t make this kind of stuff up!

Source: Tony Hisgett / flikr

Source: Tony Hisgett / Flickr

We hopped along to the Mosta Church just before it closed for the afternoon.  It’s beautiful dome is, apparently, the third largest in Europe.  It was a very striking building, both from the interior and exterior. 

The church is also home to a miracle! During World War II most of Malta was destroyed – more bombs were dropped on Malta than anywhere else. A pilot was meant to drop a bomb onto the nearby airforce base, but missed and ended up hitting the church.  There was a service being held inside the church at the time, with 300 parishioners in attendance.  The bomb pierced through the dome, landed on the floor but didn’t explode.  Miraculously, no one in the church was injured!  If that isn’t enough of a miracle, after the war the very same pilot returned to Malta and Mosta to ask for forgiveness. The Maltese admired his courage and welcomed him with a huge celebration.  Incredible!

Source: Gary Bembridge / Flickr

Source: Gary Bembridge / Flickr

Hopping along on the hop-on-hop-off bus we got to the Mdina in time for lunch!  This old walled city had been recommended to me as a must-visit and I could see why.  It was beautiful; perched on top of a hill with a large grassy moat around it.  It was also home to the place we did most of our shopping and had our best ever meal!  I’ll let Knox fill you in on the lunch.

Man was I excited when our food arrived! I asked the very busy waitress for her recommendation and got lamb ragu with lemon and fresh peas. Of course, we decided on a small bottle of wine to go with our meals. The white wine was… crisp. Not the tastiest, but it was alcohol, so we drank it. I admit I have no idea what Claire ordered because all I remember is staring down at my plate intently and making happy noises as I munched!

Knox, I had a sage and pumpkin risotto…

The restaurant was in the old Battery where gunpowder was stored, so it was pretty snug but comfortable. The entire old city felt this way; tight streets, but with sunlight streaming down every twisting section it was peaceful and pretty.

Post wander around the Mdina (and more waiting for the bus), we eventually got back to the hotel for a nap before heading out to St Julian’s Hotel Bar (our favourite spot) for some drinks with Knox’s friends. 

Day 3 – The Island of Gozo

It was an awful realisation that due to daylight savings we would lose an hour of sleep and be getting up at 6am. Forcing ourselves up and out in time for the collection downstairs was difficult indeed!

Still, we made the bus in plenty of time. Plenty of time to wait at a bus stop for a group who never arrived! This, in turn, meant a sprint down the gangplank to be the last people on the ferry! Every 50 metres was another person yelling ‘go go go’ and shouting into their walkie-talkies that the last people were legging it.

View from above Calypso Caves. Source: Tim Venchus / Flickr

View from above Calypso Caves. Source: Tim Venchus / Flickr

Our first stop was the Calypso Caves, which I foolishly thought were open for people to go exploring. Sadly not, this was a nice lookout over a bay of golden sand, but there was no chance of going down into the caves themselves, which have been cut off by the cliff collapsing onto them.

Author's Photograph

Author’s photo

We also visited the Azure Window. In one of the highlights of the trip! There was a small lagoon where powerboats take you through a crack in the high cliff to circle the Azure Window from the sea below. We arrived just as they were setting up and I was on the first boat of the day. It was choppy, but a lot of fun. I count it as a success I did not lose my phone, and the salty sea spray in my face was actually quite refreshing.

After this, and ignoring all safety warnings, I clambered to the top of the cliff to walk across the opening itself. Claire was below and we managed to communicate through ridiculous flapping-arm gestures to each other!

Source: Steve Deeves / Flickr

Source: Steve Deeves / Flickr

Rabat/Victoria and the citadel was our final Gozo destination.  We wandered the narrow winding streets of this walled city perched on a hill-top and came across tiny shops built into the walls and sold the famous Gozo lace work and fine silver filigree.  We had a chat to the local artisans about their craft and were blown away by the skill and detail involved in each piece.  If you were after fine lace or delicate silver jewellery (we weren’t), it was certainly the place to visit.

After a late lunch, we wandered back down to the bus. I saw some nuns loading a van while Claire braved the public conveniences and we settled down at the bus station once more to wait for a bus to take us back down to the ferry.

What we should have worried about was the bus on the other side of the water. We planned to leave Gozo at 4:30pm…

…with the intention of catching the hop-on-hop-off bus back in Malta. But we couldn’t see the hop-on-hop-off bus… until it drove out of the ferry terminal car park leaving us to navigate a local bus and walk in our jandals (flip-flops for the non-Kiwis) back to the hotel.  We were not very impressed…

…when we got back to the hotel several hours later!

We were not happy bunnies on Easter Sunday. Until Claire whipped out the mini eggs she had stashed!

Knox was very excited about the Easter eggs! What with it being Easter and all, and Luton airport duty-free having a decidedly absent Easter egg theme.

Dinner really did sum up the whole day.  About 800 Italian students descended on the hotel for a school trip and they all seemed to come for dinner when we did! They were surly and stroppy and we waited in line behind them for hours (ok, maybe 20 mins), only to find out the buffet had run out of pork chops and I got half a plate of disappointing vegetables instead. 

Day 4

The Grand Harbour Cruise from Valletta was easily my favourite activity.

It was a bit of a false start though as we went to the local McDonald’s McCafe to get a coffee and the lady obviously got confused when I asked her about an iced chocolate (no, they didn’t do them). An unimpressed Knox ended up with a cold mocha!

Author's Photo from Valetta Cruise

Author’s photo from Valletta Cruise

I loved the views of the old city and the new super yachts. One creek in particular, Kalkara, was beautiful and what I imagine living on a yacht in the Mediterranean would be like. Winning Euro Millions and cruising around on a boat for the next 5 years is now a goal of mine.

When we pulled in after our relaxing float around, we went to find edibles and settled on a place called ‘Army and Navy’ which had enormous, scrumptious looking omelettes for Claire and enormous, scrumptious looking pizza for me. I felt decadent slurping fresh orange juice and munching on a cheese pizza!

We sat in the sun for about an hour, watching the harbour boats bob and the people wander along the promenade before our mission to get the bill, catch the bus and head back to the hotel for our airport pickup.

The trip ended up with Knox being sat next to a screaming baby, the flight being delayed, and then delayed again.  Eventually we both got home (Knox enjoying the fast-track status on her passport to skip the mega non-EU queues I was stuck in at Luton Airport).

***Photos sourced from Flickr have Creative Commons Licences at time of posting and all are source linked.***

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