I’ve always been curious about Malta since ordering my gramps’ World War II military records and seeing he had a period of time stationed there. It seemed so exotic, so far away, nestled in between Africa and Italy in the Mediterranean ocean. I never thought I would visit, but it was always at the back of my mind when we found out we were moving to Germany. Flights seemed impossible until Ryan Air began flying to Malta from the Baden-Baden airport near Karlsruhe. I booked tickets immediately for the July 4th long weekend.
We set off for Malta on a Saturday morning, bright and early at 0600. The flight was just under three hours long and after an aborted landing (my first ever – which is so lucky after so many flights!) we were on the ground in Malta. The heat was intoxicating as we stepped off the plane, it felt like I was back in Australia! Palm trees were everywhere and the buildings were all sand-coloured. I haven’t been in the Middle East, but it felt like we were stepping off the plane and into what I would imagine it looks like there.
After stepping off the plane, we were quickly in our rental car and off we went. Malta has a history of passing through many hands, but in more recent history it was British. This means that the legacy of driving on the other side of the road (or the right side of the road for me!) still stands. We forgot our GPS, so we decided to try a road map. Do not do this in Malta. The streets are medieval and it is impossible to follow them. We ended up in Valletta when we should have been on the other side of the bay. Just rent/bring a GPS, or don’t rent a car at all!
We made it to our hotel that was in the suburb of Sliema. The roads are extremely narrow, Nick hit the mirrors with another car as the two-way street was as narrow as a one-way street anywhere else in the world. We parked and didn’t drive it again for another two days, hence my comment about not renting a car at all. I had read on Tripadvisor that there was a café called Mint owned by New Zealanders. We headed there for a coffee and snack. I have to say, my Uncle Bryan’s flat white was better than Mint’s! (I hope you’re reading Aunty – you can pass that on.) After our coffee, we walked the promenade where people were swimming alongside, until we came across a kiosk. We had a drink and then moved on for lunch, where we had a delicious Maltese salad and pizza. This trip was all about relaxing and eating, and that’s exactly what we did that day!
After lunch we rolled back to our hotel and laid out by the pool until we worked up an appetite again. It was then that we discovered the most amazing restaurant. Piccolo Padre was by the water and had a beautiful balcony that jutted out over the ocean. We were lucky enough to have seating on the balcony and enjoyed delicious food at the most reasonable of prices considering the setting. We ordered whatever we wanted, including drinks, and our bill came to around 40 euros. Malta was proving to be much cheaper than we expected!
Oh, day two. I don’t even know how to describe day two. It was a day with such great lows, but such great highs.
Day two was our day of exploring the island via a boat cruise around the island. We set off at 0900 and we wouldn’t be returning until 1800. When I booked the cruise, it boasted having an open bar for the entire duration, and by booking online there was a discount. Our tickets were only 35 euros – an incredible steal when considering there was an open bar all day! We set off, with the beautiful sight of Valletta in view and headed south-east around the island.
It started getting a little choppy, and we were on a beautiful looking sail boat. I started feeling sea sick only half an hour in. I worked through it, and Nick got himself a beer and everyone around us took up their spots for sunbathing. The thing is, it started getting really choppy. And everyone had started drinking. I think what saved me is that I hadn’t. It was going to take three and a half hours to get to our first spot. That was the longest three and a half hours of my life. Our boat started swaying, back and forth like a rocking horse and then side to side like a child’s playground toy. It got more and more violent. People were running to the bathroom, some weren’t making it, white bags were appearing, people were puking over the edge of the boat. Everyone was ghostly white. Oh, except for Nick, who somehow gets vertigo on land but was happily the only one drinking his beer perfectly fine. For the record, I did not physically puke like everyone else, but that was the worst case of sea sickness I’ve ever had. Even the Captain puked. This video doesn’t even look that bad, but it was. This video caused me to get my hair done, just incase you were wondering about those roots.
We arrived to a perfectly calm Blue Lagoon and it was then that it was all worth it. The boat docked and put a ladder down and we were able to jump off into the depths of some of the most beautiful water I have ever seen. I’ve seen beautiful water. The water surrounding Perth in some areas is completely see through, but this was something else. The colour was so intense, so vibrant.
The cruise included lunch served on the boat. The lunch was Maltese food, and included such things as couscous, a bean dip, a pepper stew, Maltese salad with a special Gozo island cheese. The food was delicious and included saltine crackers to settle all of the upset stomachs. One thing that was funny is that they had guys roaming around on boats with freezers in the back selling ice creams. They were legitimately from the ice cream companies, they had branded boats and had actual menus. It was awesome!
After lunch we jumped back into the water and went snorkelling all around. There were so many schools of fish, and the water was so clear so they were easy to see. The water was incredibly deep and yet everything looked so close. It was the first time in my life that I had ever swum in deep open waters like that, so it was quite thrilling to me. Anywhere I have ever lived before I’ve had to worry about sharks, so I’d always felt like it was safer to stay where your feet could touch the ground. Not that that would really save you, since sharks do come into shallow waters, but it always made me feel safer. The fish were not too exciting. I think the best thing I saw during the snorkelling were the sea urchins – haha!
The boat set off after a couple of hours for Gozo island. The waters on the north side of the island were much more relaxed and no one had any trouble with sea sickness again that day. It was quite a relief! The boat docked in the middle of the sea and put down the ladder and we all jumped off into the water. Again, I couldn’t believe I was swimming in the middle of the ocean. It was so incredible!
We made it back to Sliema at around 1800 that night and headed back to the same restaurant as the night before. The food was just so good that we had to go back a second time.
The next morning we headed to Valletta. The day started off quite stressful as we decided to try to drive over to Valletta. There was no parking and we got lost driving through the narrow streets. After a bit of a domestic (there’s always one per trip) we headed back to Sliema, parked the car, then did the original idea of the boat across the river. The boat ride was a short five minutes across the water and dropped us right off in Valletta.
Our first destination was the National War Museum. This is really what we had came for in the end, and it was an amazing museum spread all across the buildings of the old fortress and barracks. The museum went into great detail about the history of Malta and how it came to be such a fusion of Middle Eastern and European. While everything I read said that Malta was the official language, everyone we heard talking spoke in Maltese which sounded very Arabic. The place names were also very Arabic sounding.
The area we were most interested in was the World Wars section. I didn’t realise this, but Malta was a big staging point in World War I during the Gallipoli campaign. The injured were transported to Malta first before being stabilised and then were moved on to other hospitals. It seems like New Zealand has had a long history with Malta. The World War II section was also interesting, with some great interactive infographics on how pivotal the island nation was to the allies. When Italy bombed Malta on the first day after declaring way, three planes defended the island. They did such a good job that the Italians who attacked reported back that they had underestimated the size and strength of the defence on the island. They thought that those three planes were in excess of a squadron of twenty something!
There were many photos and videos of the squadrons stationed there during both wars. I was watching closely to see if I could catch a glimpse of my gramps by the bombers, but no luck. My mum was telling me to keep a look out for any potential half-siblings in Malta, haha!
I would definitely recommend the museum to any history buffs. It was very interesting reading about what the allies had to do to even keep the nation fed, with it smack in the middle of the axis territory.
We left and found something to eat and then walked around with no particular destination in mind. We pulled out our Lonely Planet book (that every other tourist seemed to have also) and discovered that at 1630 there was a firing of the cannons at the Saluting Battery. It is part of a pretty little area called the Upper Barakka gardens. We sat and enjoyed the little history show, watched the firing (that coincided with a boat passing below – I’m sure they got a bit of a fright!) and then headed back to Sliema on the boat.
It is worth noting that while we were staying in Malta, there was a religious festival going on in the area of the neighbourhood where we were staying. It resulted in several fireworks shows a day, at completely random times. When we asked a waitress what was going on, we looked at her strangely when she said fireworks and it was only 1200 – who was going to see them?! It continued on all weekend. Each road had special banners and houses were decorated with the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. According to the waitress it was a kind of celebration to their patron saint for the area and we just happened to be there when it was going on. There were decorations everywhere. It was pretty cool to capture a special part of their traditions on the island.
Sadly, our time came to an end in Malta early on Tuesday morning. Just one more day would have been perfect so we could have explored a little more and more importantly, done some more sun bathing and swimming! Unfortunately, there were only two Ryan Air flights a week – first world problems!
Until next time,