16.11.2016 - 18.11.2016 20 °C
Our flight was genuinely about as exciting as you could expect a 7am flight to be - in between snoozing and reading, we caught glimpses of Mont Blanc and the Alps, which was rather lovely scenery to while away the time with. As we approached Malta, it looked fake - with the blueness of the ocean and the white border as the waves crashed on the cliffs, it definitely looked as if it had been drawn by an artist. And the fakeness only increased as we got closer - from the air, Valletta looked to be a city made entirely of cardboard cut out buildings. Thankfully the tarmac was genuine, and we had a smooth landing with the usual Ryanair arrive-on-time fanfare.
We grabbed some lunch at the airport (burritos of a relatively high standard for an airport) and headed to the bus stop. The bus timetable indicated that our X1 bus was due to arrive at 12.45, or 13.15. When it arrived at 13.00, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. An optimist would say the 13.15 bus arrived early, a pessimist would say the 12.45 bus arrived late - but in my somewhat sleep-deprived state all I could process was that the bus was there, and it was going to take us away. Much to the disappointment of the taxi drivers who had been lurking nearby and hoping to pounce on some disgruntled would-be bus passengers, we all filed on and promptly went not very far at all. Apparently peak hour traffic starts early in this place. From the bus driver’s reactions, I gathered that the slow rate of travel was not the usual pace. Anyway, we arrived at the ferry terminal after about 90 minutes, and we arrived just in time to watch the ferry pull away from the harbour. Brilliant. We didn’t have to wait too long (maybe half an hour? My sense of time was out of kilter) and we were onboard the Melita and cruising to Gozo. At the Gozo ferry terminal, we dodged the taxi drivers again and caught a bus to Victoria, then to Xlendi, and then settled ourselves into our Airbnb. Phew. I managed to wake Simon up in time for dinner, where a friendly Serbian waiter advised us on Maltese traditional dishes and taught us to say ‘cheers’ in Serbian, since he didn’t know how to say it in Maltese. Must look that one up later. The local beer (Cisk) was quite palatable, and the local limoncello variant quite acceptable (especially when it comes at no added charge to the meal - nink win).
First impressions of Malta were that it was the strangely beautiful love child of Italy and the UK. There were familiar British supermarket shopping bags being carried everywhere on the bus, they drive on the left (mostly, anyway), the power points are British, and there are places called Pembroke and Victoria. And yet the currency is euros, the weather is mediterranean, and the buildings are distinctly European. And the language! One minute I’m tracking okay and understanding every sign I see, and the next minute there are bus stops with words I can’t even attempt to pronounce because they contain characters my keyboard won’t let me replicate. A bizarre mix of familiarity and exoticism. What a splendid place to visit!
Our first morning in Xlendi was delightful - popped into the local store for supplies and pastizzi - because how can you expect to truly understand a place if you don’t eat their traditional foods? We were surprised at how difficult it was to find sunscreen though - the slip/slop/slap message obviously doesn't translate well into Maltose. And I suppose the British visitors who come here are looking for winter sun, not winter sunscreen. We had to settle for anti wrinkle cream with SPF30+ as it was the only thing available in plane friendly quantities. We took our youthful, pastizzied selves off on a walk around the coast, admired the cliffs and whatnot until a whopping great crack of thunder told us not to venture any further. It was like an almighty warning sign from the sky - and we had just enough time to get back to the bus stop in town and jump on a bus before the rain started pelting down. As we headed to Victoria, we formulated a plan, which was to jump on the first bus that was going in the approximate direction of some sort of sight and take it from there.
The 310 bus was the first available option, so that decided our fate - we were off to Xwejni Bay to see the salt pans. There was one more almighty crack of thunder just as we jumped on the bus, but by the time we arrived in Marsalforn things had calmed down and there was just a light sprinkle of rain, which eased off soon enough. The storm was still visible out at sea, and the dark clouds served to highlight the dramatic coastline. The salt pans (shallow pools designed to harvest salt by encouraging water evaporation) were strange squares at the edge of the land and were definitely worth catching a random bus to see. We were certainly getting our value out of our weekly bus passes already - and it was only day 2! We wandered around Marsalforn, where we found a Scottish bar and numerous cafes and icecream vendors - most of which were closed. Anyone would think it was off-season and miserable weather or something. We managed to stay dry until getting the bus back to Victoria, where the rain resumed and we appreciated the bus driver opening the doors early so that passengers could wait on the bus instead of standing outside in the rain. I don’t think that’s what ‘bus shelter’ actually means, but I liked it.
We made it home only slightly soggy on account of some serious puddles, and settled in for a big night of movies, spag bol and cards. Oh yeah.
The forecast for Friday was downright horrendous - according to the oracle that is the internet, the day ahead was going to be consist of non-stop thunderstorms and constant rain. Turned out the internet was only half right (who woulda thunk it?) and the thunderstorms were nowhere to be seen. The rain, however, was omnipresent. Wonderful. And things didn’t get off to a great start when I left my phone in the apartment, meaning that we missed the bus into Victoria by 30 seconds. Gah. But we figured it was only a 30 minute walk into town, and that was a much quicker option than waiting an hour for the next bus, so off we went. The rain was relatively gentle - enough to make us damp, but not enough to stop us appreciating the views, the prickly pears and the springs.
From Victoria, we caught the bus out to the Ta’ Pinu Basilica, which was impressive mostly because of the way it looked somewhat like a fort in the landscape. Across the road from the church was Ghammar Hill, a pilgrimage site with statues representing the stations of the cross all the way up the hill. At the top of the hill, the rain continued and the ampitheatre/shrine resembled more of a swimming pool. From here we could see across Gozo - and would have been able to see across Malta as well, if it wasn’t for the fact that the skies were grey and cloudy. Back down the hill, we sheltered in a phone box until the bus came to shuttle us back to Victoria.
In Victoria, we found shelter near a pastizzeria and had lunch for the princely sum of three euro, which got us a rabbit pie, a spinach and olive pastry thing, and two pea pastizzi. Not bad when you’re on a budget. As we stood scoffing our delicacies, we played the people watching game, which culminated in seeing a man walk past with a large plastic bag over his head. Perhaps he was ninking too, and couldn’t afford any other rain protection strategies?
It kept on raining, but we figured that we may as well keep sight seeing, because we were fairly drenched at this point and couldn’t possibly get any wetter, could we? The next bus took us to Dwejra, which is apparently full of tourists in summer. There were still a few brave souls out taking photographs but nothing we couldn’t handle. We checked out the inland sea, and admired the bravery of the people jumping in boats to go out to the ocean via the tunnel in the cliff face. It looked like a pleasant spot for swimming (when the weather allowed) but the jellyfish warning signs put me right off. From there, it was a matter of navigating the Great Waterfalls of the Dwejra Carpark to get the best views of Fungus Rock and the Azure Window. And then we felt compelled to spend a lot longer than usual on the porch of the nearby chapel, which offered the highly desirable combination of shelter and views. We dripped on the bus all the way back to Victoria, and made it back to Xlendi just in time for the rain to ease off. After all that adventuring, we were done for the day and turned our attention to being warm, dry and fed. Mission acccomplished - and washed down with a cup of finocchio tea.