Category Archives: Valletta

Spice Island Soaring

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I had booked a flying lesson the previous evening. Now, here I was up in the microlight, soaring like a young man dreams to from the age of three. How about that. How about flying high above the Indian Ocean‘s torquoise waters?

There was a deep blue, cloudless sky that Saturday and Cedric, my instructor, took me into the hangar where his Kitfox microlight was and he showed me around it before having some people roll it out onto the tarmac.

It was at this point that I was asked to take a seat in it. So I did and soon I heard the engine turn over.

The first thousand feet or so after takeoff was a bit bumpy. Its always a rush, though. Soon we started heading east and already could see the east coast where Jambiani is located.  Cedric asked me if I wanted to take the controls. I said yes, of course.

I handled it through a few shallow turns with the stick and a little bit of rudder. I was in paradise. What could be better for a young man like myself.

After we got on the ground, Cedric said that he thought it would be a easy for me to gain a Private Pilots License. This thrilled me! Wow! an instructor had just spoke those words to me!

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Maltese Margherita

Courthouse, Valletta, Malta

Courthouse, Valletta, Malta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Mediterranean warmth, it is easy to get carried away with yourself. I wasn’t. I was stuck in Sliema, Malta, with no Euros. Plenty of money if you counted the Pounds Sterling. This happened for a simple reason.

After being deterred from transferring my money into Euros three days later, I had decided to wait too long. Now I was there with no money.

This wasn’t going to be solved easily either. It was a Sunday, when businesses are closed, and I had arrived on the day, of all days, when the Labour Party won over the Nationalist party for the first time in twenty-five years.

That meant that the following day was a bank holiday. Great. This meant that I would have a hard time finding a place to transfer money the next day.

But, for now, all I needed was to eat. Eventually, I found a pizza hut where I ate a Margherita and was able to have another customer put the meal on their tab, later transferring the pounds sterling they received. That was really nice of them!

Skansen, a guide to Stockholm’s 19th century exhibit

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A fully-functioning 19th-century village? Thats what you’ll find in Sweden’s oldest open air museum, formed in 1891. Truly magnificent in both content and scale, it is a must-see for anyone wishing to visit this Bastion of Scandinavia. The Post Office still operates and arts and crafts are taught all year round. 

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Its name is…Skansen!

If you like the smell of timber and architecture of the 19th century then this is the place for you. The sight of people in period costume  of the place and the architecture will leave you breath-taken. The staff are informative and there is an authentic Swedish chef. Ever seen the muppets? He’ll remind you of them. It is truly the heart of 19th century Sweden. The open air cafes are abundant. So is cycling…

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There are places like Helin and Voltaire that serve coffee tea and pastries, the smell of which you’ll never forget, plus more, or there is Skansen terrace, a wonderful open-air venue where you can sit and drink under the sky of a long summer evening. Want to have your own little glass moose? Why not go to the glass-blower and watch him make it before your very eyes?

All the fauna of Sweden are kept here. If you find seals cute and cuddly, a grey one is fed every day at his aquatic enclosure. He looks happy all -day long. The size of the enclosures is large. The animals have plenty of room and are loved by both staff and visitors.

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Its harmony with nature leads you to think of all the dream you dreamt as a child.

Pastries in Valletta

Republic Street, Valletta, Malta 1

Republic Street, Valletta, Malta 1 (Photo credit: John Drinkwater)

Valletta was lovely that day. It was the last full day of my holiday and it going to be made the most of. As I chose a particular bench in the city’s main square, I heard a voice from over my shoulder.

a nice old maltese man

a nice old maltese man (Photo credit: S.H.CHOW)

It was a little old man asking if I was from Denmark. It took me a second to realise why. Of course, it was because of the pastries! “No”, I smiled, “I’m from the United Kingdom“.

We began to chat and he asked me what I was doing in Malta. I told him that I was sampling it so I could write a blog about it.

He said he liked to have sweet food as well. He had his eye on my pastries! I kindly offered him one and he took it.

It transpired that he had worked in the UK when he was young, as a waiter for three years, returning to Malta after that.

Apparently, his mother would not stop nagging him. He asked if I had any kids of my own or a wife. “No”, I said, “not yet”!

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Where: The Maltese Islands

When: March

Why: Sunspot

How long: Four days

06:30 hours GMT. I awake for my trip to Malta. Its going to be exciting, after all these months of winter, to get a few days in the Med. I chose Malta not just because of its location, but also because of the legend the island is immersed with. The siege of the Second World War. The Knights of St John. Fabulous!

Re-enactment of 16th century military drills c...

Re-enactment of 16th century military drills conducted by the Knights. Fort Saint Elmo, Valletta, Malta, 8 May 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was dull and dreary as we made our way to Bristol airport. Just get on the flight and go there, I think to myself. After being dropped off at departures, I head straight for security, having opted for an online check-in. This made life much more easy. No long queues, although I paid a little extra.

After that, I just sat and had a raspberry fruit drink in the cafe area looking out onto airport tarmac at the usual activity. Little did I know that I was going to arrive on Malta and see a bit of history made…I was fully conscious of a cash problem that I had…namely no Euros.

I would have to get my pounds sterling exchanged into Euros when I got there. So the gate comes up and I dutifully proceed to it. A long line awaits me inside the warm air of the gate. Rather in there than outside.

As the gate opened, we filed out onto the tarmac into the cold winter air. At least, in a few minutes, we would break into bright sunshine. After boarding and having settled into my seat, I relaxed for a nice flight, no delays. just some de-icing before take off.

It wasn’t long before I felt that familiar roar of the engines and tug in the back of my seat, what a rush! Only a few seconds after we slip the bounds of earth do we break into bright sunshine.

The flight passed uneventfully with an old English couple next to me. The alps, a few drinks, blue azure waters, a steep approach and a hard thump later we land in Malta, the Jewel of the Mediterranean. Passport Control, no problem.

I’d bought a ticket for a hotel transfer on the flight and now I headed to the company’s desk. They were called MaltaTransfer. They had a reasonable rate as well; £12. Keep ’em in mind. the whole holiday was very cheap and great value.

£20 a night for the room and £110 for the flight. So if anybody wants a cheap sunspot in March, Malta’s your goal. The first thing the driver told us, after we piled into the minibus, was that, in the first time for 25 years, the Nationalist government had lost its election. Not only that, but the Labour Party had won! Suits me.

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DSC07359 (Photo credit: fchmksfkcb)

He warned us that the place would be heaving. He was right. We heard nothing but car horns, screechers, fireworks and chanting for the next three days! I’ve never seen people so jubilant, quite moving. I asked a lady where my hotel was…she didn’t know.

Finally, I found it. It wasn’t easy to find the sign tucked away beneath Burger King and about half a dozen other signs. So I went to reception and found that I had booked the hotel twice. I suspected this, having booking once and not receiving a confirmation e-mail. I still have to contact expedia to ask about a refund.

The Sliema Marina hotel is where I stayed, located, surprisingly, in the community of Sliema. It lies northwest of Valletta, across St Julian’s bay and Marsamxett Harbour from Valletta with Manoel Island between.

Deutsch: Valletta vom Marsamxett-Harbour

Deutsch: Valletta vom Marsamxett-Harbour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The community has a strip of hotels, clubs and cafeterias along the road next to the water’s edge, yet the view still attracts. The header photograph above is the view of Valletta from my room.

My money problem was not resolved until the next morning. Meanwhile, I would have to do with bribing someone to take Stirling in order to serve me food. I walked down the strip, trying various cash machines. No go. No money in the account either, as I was later to find out.

Eventually, after wondering what to do, I found a Pizza Hut. I had my usual, a Margherita. Now, what about payment? The card didn’t work, and I called Lloyd’s TSB, only to find out the aforementioned; no cash.

We eventually agreed that another group of customers would put the Margherita on their tab and take some stirling to exchange into Euros. They were very understanding and, frankly, I feel a little bad about it.

I also casually asked the waitress if she was single. No. In a relationship and had been for a year. So that concluded the first night.

The next day was a national holiday. This meant walking around the harbour, some 2.5 miles. No problem, although my feet rubbed badly due to a hole in my sock. The city gate entrance to Valletta lies on a hill above the town, preceded by the bus station if you come from the landward side.

Valletta bus station.

Valletta bus station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had no such trouble, I just passed straight through the gate and began my jaunt to the city centre. I slowly descended down the slope of the hill on which Valletta partially lies, traipsing through Republic Square where I found a taxi to take me to the airport.

That was 45 Euros that I would rather have kept. Next time, I’ll have my money transferred plenty in advance. After having a hair-raising ride/suicide run with the cab driver, I came back into town to watch the proceedings. The place was stuffed!

St. Paul's shipwreck celebration

St. Paul’s shipwreck celebration (Photo credit: Te lo juro por Madonna)

Half of Valletta’s population must have been crammed into Republic Square. And then there was the crowd that stretched down the street where I was that ran down to the harbour adjacent to the square.

I couldn’t see up to the square and we all had to rely on a large monitor to see what was happening. It was really cramped, as later my back really hurt. An old lady had to be pulled to one side, short of breath.

As Prime Minister Joseph Muscat came out, screechers howled like banshees. So did the people. He gave his speech over the next few minutes and I was thoroughly impressed.

However, I was also relieved to be able to move around again once the crowd began to disperse. I began to head down to the harbour, people still waving “Partit Labour” flags all over the place.

I walked down to Fort St Elmo, at the headland of Valletta. The town is situated on a peninsula, surrounded by Marsamxett Harbour on one side and Grand Harbour on the other. There are six forts that surround the city.

It was, after all, founded by Jean Paul de Vallette, leader of the Grand Order of the Knights of St John. The foundation stone was laid down in 1565 to mark the beginning of construction for the fortress-city.

The other five forts are Tigne Fort across Marsamxett Harbour and Fort Manoel on Manoel Island plus Fort Ricasoli, Fort St Angelo and Fort St Michael on the other side of Grand Harbour.

So I took a few photographs and headed back to the bus station, where I bought a weekly pass for 12 Euros, headed back to the hotel and crashed out. The weather was cloudy and beginning to rain when I went to sleep around 16:30. When I woke up at 18:00, it was glorious sunshine.

I stepped onto the balcony and took the shot at the beginning of the article.

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Also to be noted was the ferry from Sliema to Valletta. A ten-minute journey and with a nice view as well. I snapped the shot just above on the embankment on Valletta’s side when I disembarked.

The ferry was a well-equipped boat with indoor and outdoor seating, the outdoor being at the bow. Only one Euro forty each way. Good price:)

The saluting battery was an enchanting experience. They fire a breech-loading cannon off every day 12:00 and the uniforms of the Royal Malta Artillery foundation are spectacular.

They can be seen walking around Valletta in their blue tunics and sun helmets. They gave a fascinating talk prior to firing and are well worth a visit in Upper Barakka Gardens, from where they fire across Grand Harbour…with no shot in the cannon.

The pre-talk lasted about an hour and went through the history of the foundation. With a green forecourt and eight guns overlooking the harbour, it certainly is impressive.

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After having seen the gardens, I took a bus to the airport and purchased a transfer from the hotel for 04:40 in the morning, happy times! I was handed a confirmation sheet that was dutifully stowed away on my return to the room, shortly after.

I spent my final evening in Malta the way any sane person might, around the clubs and cafes. There was also a gelateria, or ice cream shop. I tried it…pretty good. The drinks were expensive, though. I asked one counter employee if he had any soft drinks. He let me know that he could mix a punch for me and I agreed to that.

It cost FOUR EUROS! I finished that evening again with a Margherita Pizza, they’re handy if you’re vegetarian. It was almost the size of the table I ate it on. Back to the hotel, a shower and good night.

View of Valletta from Sliema

View of Valletta from Sliema (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next morning, I was up, showered and dressed, sitting on the bed awaiting my room call. Down to the cab and away to the airport. There were other occupants at this hour, too. Seemingly unbelievable but true.

I guess they were on Ryanair too. The airport was a small affair, but it had a cafeteria. It wasn’t long before I decided to head for security and that only took a few minutes. No chance of getting lost, there were only fifteen gates. I arrived at mine and queued dutifully. No priority boarding or the like.

Not long before were stood on the cold, blustery tarmac that I’m so familiar with. I stand next to and chat with another young Englishman whose dad lived on Malta. He said in the summer, the temperature could rise to 47 degrees! Phew. Glad I went in March.

It was good to be home when I arrived back in Bristol that day.