2008 - Malta
 

This was very much a last-minute trip, having been organised only three days beforehand!  Keren and Zoe were to have gone to Japan but delays due to baggage handling problems at Terminal 5 which opened the previous day, caused them to cancel this.  They decided to go to Malta and we joined in!  The accommodation was extremely cheap at £77 for the two of us for five nights but without meals.  What we didn't know was that because we booked by the same people (skyvillas.co.uk ) and had the same surname, the agency had not passed on the second booking to the hotel.  However, Zoe and Keren were able to sort this out, as well as securing a room just four or five rooms away from theirs.  They also kindly gave us the basics for breakfast the following day.
 

Wednesday 2nd April

We arrived at 1:40 a.m. and took a taxi arriving at the hotel shortly after 2:30 a.m..  For a three star hotel, there was nothing surprising.  The accommodation was in fact quite good as it had a separate kitchen and sitting area.  The equipment was cheap and some did not work and cleanliness appeared to be a bit of a problem in some areas of the hotel.  There was also no heating.  Nevertheless, we felt that we had value for money.

We met with the girls mid-morning.  There was a welcome meeting but the representative was late and in the end we decided to go out.  We took a bus to Valletta which was about 50 minutes away.

The weather was cold and overcast which was a disappointment.  We walked around the city admiring the old architecture and trying to get a clear picture of what was worth seeing.  Having had lunch in a relatively indifferent cafe Zoe and Adrian visited the state runs at the Palace bar Keren and Jill sat in the sunshine on the steps of the Law Courts!  The four of us then went on to see the church of the Shipwreck of St Paul.  We then visited a history slideshow entitled "The Malta Experience".  Whilst this did not give a huge amount of additional information, it did assist in reinforcing the fact that Malta has been occupied since several thousand years BC and has been subject to wave after wave of conquest, most recently by the British from 1800 to 1964.  It has been independent since then and became a republic in the early 1970s.

We arrived home mid evening and Jill and Adrian were certainly ready for bed by then.

 

Thursday 3rd April

We took a bus to the old hill top walled city of Mdina.  Built entirely of the local honey coloured stone this comprised Medieval buildings or rebuilds following extensive damage by earthquake in 1693.  There were many narrow and winding passages and roads and beautiful buildings.  We enjoyed a fairly good lunch in a restaurant full of character and history before moving on to the Cathedral.  There was also a Museum with a collection of paintings, woodcuts and some furniture.

By now we were getting into the swing of using buses, although we did get bored with the time that we would have to wait.  Timetables simply indicated the frequency of buses rather than the actual times.  We took a bus to Dingli Bay, a fine set of cliffs with one or two historical points such as cart tracks in the limestone rock.  We had a long semi-circular walk to the centre of Dingli before catching the bus back to the centre of Valletta and then another into Xemxija (" Shem Shia") where we were staying which was adjacent to St Paul's Bay.

 

Friday 4th April

We all very much wanted to visit the small island of Gozo which lies to the north of Malta.  A short bus ride took us to the ferry for a 25 minute crossing.  Gozo is noted for being a quiet retreat after the hustle and bustle of Malta.  (In fact, Malta in early April did not have a lot of hustle and bustle.)  On landing we were assaulted by people seeking to get us to take a taxi, or hire car, a guided tour or anything in order to sell us their own form of seeing the island.  In fact we chose a hire car at Ä26 and enjoyed the entire freedom that this gave when compared with the buses.  Indeed, we do not think we saw a single bus on our visit so it is as well that we made this choice.

Our first stop was at a 17th-century windmill before moving on to Ggantija.  This is a prehistoric temple ruin dating from about 3500 BC and designated the largest freestanding building of that era in the world.  Whilst walls of up to 20 feet high remain together with the general building shape, it is not terribly impressive on the ground, although an aerial photograph does look quite spectacular.

From then we drove to Marsalforn a small settlement having a coastal track running beside some cave dwellings and also salt pans dating back to around 1740 and still in use.  Jill was seen disappearing with her camera into the far distance until we took pity on her and picked her up in the car.

We then went to the western end of the island and the village of Dwejra noted for a spectacular rock arch, somewhat reminiscent of the 12 Apostles on the great Coast Road in Australia.  There is also a small tunnel leading to the Inland Sea, a shallow expensive see beyond the coastal cliffs.  By now the weather getting warmer for the first time and, combined with the spectacular scenery, we felt that we were really beginning to enjoy our Malta experience.

 

Saturday 5th April

We had no particular plans for this day and had again felt the cold weather to be a nuisance to us as the hotel had no heating.  Keren, Zoe and Adrian walked up the hill behind the hotel and were amazed to find within 100 yards the beginning of an archaeological site freely open to the public with no great fanfair or even signs.  Small notices affixed to heaps of rock led us to cave dwellings, a Roman apiary, pilgrims crosses carved in the rock, a Roman road, a derelict farmerís cottage, pits in the limestone leading to caves which had no doubt been used as dwellings, a prehistoric temple and a corbelled, round hut.  The sun was shining and it was reasonably warm.  We decided we would go for a longer walk and ended up walking across the width of this narrow part of Malta to Golden Bay.  We thoroughly enjoyed this and especially sitting on the cliff tops eating our sandwiches and drinking in the view.

Another bus ride took us home and we spent the remainder of the afternoon with Jill sitting on the hill above the hotel on stone seats outside the apiary.  We each took the opportunity to do some reading and to enjoy the scenery.

 

Sunday 6th April

It's seldom that the journey home is one of the most memorable parts of the holiday. Ours began by getting up at 3 a.m. and taking a taxi for the 5.30 flight.  The taxi turned out to be a minibus which we shared with two foreign looking English people who proceeded to have an argument with the driver as to the cost of the trip.  The driver stopped the bus and said that he would take them to the police station or back to the hotel if they did not agree the price.  We were not very happy with this as we could not afford to waste time for fear of missing the checking in time for the flight!  After a further argument we proceeded to the airport.

We knew that England had been cold while we were away.  In fact, some days London had been warmer than Malta.  Even though we were hardly coming from the tropics (!), we were less than happy when the pilot announced that within about 15 minutes of our landing at Gatwick  there would be snowfall.  This forecast proved extremely accurate.  Indeed, by the time we reached the car park there was a blizzard and we battled through 2 or 3 inches of snow as we tried to drag wheeled suitcases.  It wasn't helped by Adrian identifying the wrong bus stop at which to get off thus making the walk longer!  He cleared the car of snow but by the time he got back in, everything was covered once more.  Snow blanketed the roads but with the four-wheel-drive car and the absence of traffic the journey felt safe even though unpleasant and slow.

We had heard that the M3 and the M25 were both affected by the snow and had heavy jams.  Jill and Adrian therefore went cross-country and by Basingstoke the snow had largely disappeared so that by the time we entered Wiltshire the roads were dry and there was little indication that there had been any snow.  ZoŽ drove home to Cambridge and arrived without any particular problems.  Keren took the train to Teddington feeling that this would be a fairer then taking us out of our way to give her a lift by car.  Again, her journey proved uneventful. 

Our trip had been interesting and it was good to spend time with Keren and Zoe.  We had seen some beautiful buildings and some historic sites.  Most of the countryside was pleasant but unremarkable. A good holiday that would have been made much better by some lovely warm sunshine.