19.11.2016 - 22.11.2016 22 °C
The weekend arrived and with it, the promise of improved weather. Alas, alack, it turned out to be a false promise. By the time we arrived in Victoria, the rain was back. But once we boarded the ferry to Malta, the rain had eased up again and we had a dry crossing. We then disembarked and were welcomed back to the larger island with, yep, you guessed it, storms again. Luckily we had a 90 minute bus ride (that turned into a 120 minute bus ride) to get us back to Valletta while maintaining our dry status.
We checked into our apartment - situated directly across the road from a church, how very stereotypically Maltese! And then we got wet again. The ability to make a decision about where to have lunch was sped up greatly by the presence of rain, and we ended up with the best milkshakes of the trip so far. Hallelujah - proper milkshakes! With icecream! And real milk! And flavour! Turned out that our adventures had not been in vain at all. Much rejoicing was had.
We strolled the streets of Valletta looking for some sort of supermarket-grocery-store-food-retail-facility... But that was more difficut than we had expected. With some guidance, we ended up at Wembley, a bizarre general store that sold ‘fine foods’ as well as ‘less than fine foods’ and ‘dog food’ but not ‘food that Simon and Alison would like for dinner’. So we trudged back home to the apartment (in the rain - still nowhere near as wet as the day before), consulted the all-knowing Internet and found our nearest Lidl, and a bus route. Simon volunteered for shopping duty, and I took on planning duty. Playing to our respective strengths. After dinner (and some last minute Italian cramming), we drifted off to sleep to the sound of church bells and rain. How soothing.
On Sunday we woke to church bells and no rain - huzzah for sunshine! We acted like genuine locals and did a load of washing but didn’t hang it on the balcony like genuine locals. Our morning adventures included discovering a cat cafe - kind of like a shelter for homeless cats - and finding the weekly market. The market contained the usual assortment of socks, bags, DVDs, tools, sunglasses, and other random pieces of non-essential bric-a-brac designed to thwart the aspirations of KonMari wannabes the world over. I am disappointed to report that the Valletta market (held in Floriana) had absolutely NOTHING on the Murrabit Markets - only about one hundredth of the size. No plants, no books, no crafts, and definitely NO barbeque cooked by the local service club. No food at all, which ruined my plans of eating nothing but pastizzi for the day. Bah. So we had to go to Lidl instead, which stocked a surprising range of local delicacies - ftira (bread), Kinnie (softdrink) and a Twistie-like product that tasted a little of parmesan cheese.
After lunch, the sun kept on shining so we kept on adventuring. We cut a lap around the edge of Valletta, admiring the views of the water from every possible angle. We discovered that ‘gardens’ in Malta are actually ‘expanses of concrete and limestone archways with the occasional hint of greenery and excellent views’. We also discovered that the Maltese love a good plaque - any excuse will do. In ten years time, I would not be surprised to see a plaque unveiled to commemorate the fact that a decade ago Team Buccheri enjoyed their milkshakes in Valletta. The Upper Barrakka Gardens (not to be confused with the Lower Barrakka Gardens) were poised above the saluting battery, and at 4pm we were witnesses to an earth shattering kaboom as the time canon was fired. That stirred the pigeons up, that’s for sure!
As we relaxed with a milkshake (another good one!) and a latte, we reflected again on the brilliant mix of cultures here. You could just as easily find rabbit stew as a Sunday roast, and you could call home from a red phone box as you munched on buccellatto or bragioli. And if you wanted Sicilian cuisine spelt differently (kannoli, anyone?) then you were certainly in the right place.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away from ‘the right place’, headed for home and settled in for Kinnie and pasta, with apricot yoghurt for dessert. I can only hope that apricot yoghurt has magically become more readily available by the time we return home (and I don’t mean apricot, mango and peach yoghurt - although that’s certainly the best available option). And I finished the night off by winning a game of 500 against Simon with a triumphant call of Open Misere. I can definitely gloat here because Simon won’t read this for another six months or so, and when he does, I will simply remind him how modest I was in the moment of actual victory.
The next morning, we thought it was about time we learned some Stuff and Things about Malta - after nearly a week, we had done a lot of appreciating the natural beauty, appreciating the local food, and unappreciating the weather, but we had very little idea about Malta’s history. So we filtered through the reviews of about ten different options for getting an overview of the historical situation. Malta 5D, The Malta Experience, Malta - The Musical, Much Ado About Malta - so many options, most of them gimmicky (and some of them invented purely for the amusement of anyone reading this). Eventually we settled on a film (”audio visual experience” if you believe the hype) called Valletta - Living History. It turned out to be a private screening, so we were able to enjoy the mildly awkward dialogue, lame acting and subtle messages about Malta being a great place to live/work without any of the distractions pesky tourists can cause. Kitschness aside, we learned Stuff and Things and felt better equipped to continue our explorations.
We grabbed a pastizzi to prepare ourselves for St John’s Co-Cathedral - definitely not a site to be tackled on an empty stomach. I think it would rate in my Top 3 Churches That Are Not Sagrada Familia (nothing will ever beat that), although the audio guide was a little dull. Needed the Monty Python touch - perhaps Doune Castle has ruined audio guides for me forever. Anyway - back to the church itself. It managed to find a comfortable level of ornateness (ornaticity? ornatification?) that was impressive and beautiful but not completely to the point of ridiculousness. I got the message that the Knights of St John had some serious dosh at their disposal, but they also jad some taste (or they employed people who did, anyway).
Back home for lunch, then back out to complete our day of learning, at the Fortification Interpretation Centre, chosen because it was free (hurrah) and because it tackled the topic of defence. We figured that by doing religion in the morning and defence in the afternoon we would have covered the two most important themes in one day. It was a very informative museum, and was definitely money well not-spent. We then proceeded to spend the money we had saved on gelati, as our little tribute to the original Sicilian inhabitants of Malta. We had the most amazing gelati, because not only did they taste delicious, they were shaped like roses. Che bella!
That evening we caught the bus out to Sliema with 400 or so of our closest friends, and scored ourselves a table at one of the surprisingly rare Maltese restaurants. Had we desired Italian or Indian cuisine, we would have been spoiled for choice. I guess Maltese people don’t go out for the food they prepare themselves at home. Anyway, we encountered our second Serbian waiter and promptly succumbed to the charms of the self-serve salad bar buffet. Mmm vegetables... We had rabbit stew and rabbit ravioli, and then caught the bus back home again. Another successful outing. The next morning we used the seventh day of our seven day bus pass to get ourselves out to the airport... Look out Sicily, here we come!