Tag Archives: week-end breaks

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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.

Venice and Dubrovnik

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Dubrovnik“. The name conjures up images of a city so beautiful, many respect it as paradise. The town, as you enter it, sets a sight that you’ll never forget. The entrance to the old town from the north is very quaint indeed.

You walk slowly down a windy, s-shaped street that descends gradually towards the water until you reach the shaded area that has a waterfront overlooking the harbour from the south.

The 'old town' of Dubrovnik From the photograp...

The ‘old town’ of Dubrovnik From the photographer: Canon 5d + 24-70mm @ 45mm Slik Sprint Pro 2 tripod Redsnapper RSH-61 ballhead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many cafes stretch across fortified medieval city walls next to the water’s edge. It’s a lovely cool walk along the pavement down here and you may also find harbour tours. The sea was as turquoise as the word itself. The waters as calm as silk.

A brief pass through Bosnia and a small stop at a convenient store later and we pass back into Croatia again. The drive into Dubrovnik was eventful, as was negotiating who wanted to park where in the lot when we got there.

There, of course, was not much space between the mountains and the sea for a city, let alone a parking lot. It was here that we spent the day, drinking cold drinks, repeatedly saying how gorgeous it was and basking in the sun.

The drive home was uneventful. We dined eagerly by Split‘s Old Town harbour area and boarded the ferry for Ancona. The boarding process was long and laborious and the passage equally so.

 

English: Countryside along the Adriatic shore ...

English: Countryside along the Adriatic shore en route from Dubrovnik to Split, Croatia. June 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The unloading process was dreadful. The cars were being brought off the ship at the same time the walk-off passengers! Ancona.

The town of seagulls! Not much to see here…just a dreary port and its docks. Full speed ahead to Venice!

There is one thing that I will never forget about the day we arrived. The rain. Boy it poured! It I stared deep into the blue. I was thoughtful.

Happy. Contented. Many good things. After all, maybe life had a calling for me after all. I was, of course, in Croatia.

A country that must have some of the most desirable coast in Europe. Our location, at that point, was a hotel just south of Split. We were situated by the sea as well.

Always a plus. We sat out on the terrace and had a scrumptious breakfast. We set out around eight-thirty.

A brief pass through Bosnia and a small stop at a convenient store later and we pass back into Croatia again. The drive into Dubrovnik was eventful, as was negotiating who wanted to park where in the lot when we got there. There, of course, was not much space between the mountains and the sea for a city, let alone a parking lot.

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As for the hotel, very posh. It was quite a walk from here to the train station. And the trains were crowded too, cattle class. In fact, I recall my mother saying that she was quite claustrophobic.

The train stopped at a lot of stations before reaching Venice and we passed Marco Polo Intl. Venezia Santa Lucia is the main station and you’ll have, at some point, to pass through Venezia Mestre station on solid land if you wish to see the island city.

 

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venice-grand-canal-from-train-station (Photo credit: hartingale)

 

Once you’re there, then the fun begins. You’ll be able to enjoy the famous “Vaporetto’s”. These famous little boats are the buses and life-blood of Venice.

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The Rialto bridge . My mother spent some time photographing this as I eagerly looked on. The rain had abated and I had removed my raincoat.

It was really magical, despite the smell of the brown stuff. The sun began to shine from behind those dark and brooding clouds above.

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How about seeing the Piazza San Marco. Thats a wonderful place. You pay a small fee to go up the tower and have the most wonderful view. The centre of the tower stretches high above the square and you can see the whole city from here!

I took the sight in really well, feeling slightly giddy because of the height, and returned to terra firma.

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After this, we felt like having a drink. Why not stop off in a Cafe? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because two regular-sized glasses of lemonade will set you back six Euros! Yeah, its expensive here. Next, the shopping district. After a happy hour here, we headed again for our water-bus Vaporettos and casually made our way back to Central Station.

During our stay, a cruise ship came into harbour. Sacrilege if you ask me. Why couldn’t that hundred-thousand-plus-tonne monstrosity stay outside the city and boat its passengers into the city. The passengers were quite irritating too. Loud. Smelly. Overweight.

 

At least we left the next day. I never thought I’d say that about Venice, but I’d had just the right dose of holiday…

The Adriatic (Credit to Rebecca Cox for photography)

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It was a late August day. We set out under bright blue summer skies in what is generally acknowledged as warm weather in England. It was an eventful journey. After having stopped in a lay-by and bought the usual assortment of refreshments for a journey from Gloucestershire to Luton Airport.

Ryanair EI-DPC taxies at Luton airport

Ryanair EI-DPC taxies at Luton airport (Photo credit: bigpresh)

After a while, though, around Milton Keynes, my mother began to get agitated with “my navigation”. I was responsible for failing to identify three roundabouts that didn’t appear on the map. As it turns out, they weren’t on the map. Anyway, after a heated argument, we realised this and continued normally.

Upon arrival at Luton around six in the evening, we began the check-in procedure. No biggie. Neither was the flight.

We took off around eight and landed at ten. What WAS worrying, however, was that my father, who had set off across Europe some time previously to meet us at Venice’s Treviso Airport, was nowhere to be seen nor heard from. We tried calling his mobile.

No luck. While, initially, I thought this was probably a mobile phone reception problem, my mother began to worry. She began to fear he had had an accident and went frantic.

This lasted for a couple of hours, during which time I had to ask a cop, or carabinieri, for some money to use for a payphone. For the next hour or so, my mother seriously fretted due to the fact that we could not get in touch with him.

To clear my head, I stepped outside. It was then that my father, quite by chance, drove by. This was a great relief to my mother and I. It transpired that he had no signal and was lost. Right now. Time to hit the road.

Its after one o’clock in the morning and we need to rest so the first night will be a “pit stop” in an autostrada, their motorway, service station. The car we were using was a Volkswagen Polo and it was CRAMPED.

I had to stuff my foot through, then wedge my shoulder in and, finally, use levering force to get into the car. Good times! So we arrived at a spot just outside Trieste where the next four or five hours was a combination of restlessness and hovering a round in the shop with some hanging out under the stars.

That was cool! On the road again…We went to see the famous Lipizzaner Stallions at the Lipica 1580 Stud Farm. Lipica’s history is heavily influenced by the Habsburgs who ruled the Austro-Hungarian empire for circa 650 years.

English: Favory Pallavicina, approved Lipizzan...

English: Favory Pallavicina, approved Lipizzan stallion, Australia Deutsch: Favory Pallavicina, gekörter Lipizzanerhengst, Australien (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Horses, especially the Spanish Horse, were valued for both military and commercial reasons. Archduke Charles chose to build the Royal Stud Farm in 1578.

We hung around the stables while being given a guided tour and took photographs. The farm was a lovely place, greenery abound!

The port of Trieste was highlighted by bright Italian sunshine that laid the container ships bare in the light of day. We crossed the border shortly thereafter and promptly found a market on the Croatian side and bought the best grapes I have ever tasted from the lady depicted below.croatia 3 116

It was a hot day and I had my T-shirt off, (wolf whistles) after having stepped out of the car, and strode over to the barrier, from where we could see the brilliant Azure of the water in the bay. I can still remember the radiance of the sun against the tarmac. It was tremendous that day.

The first night at a campsite was spent at a reasonably cheap place on the coast that had a traditional style Slovenian seafood restaurant. Every meal I ate at a restaurant on this trip was dead seafood still looking at me.

Fish dinner

Fish dinner (Photo credit: The Hungarian Girl)

It was a lovely restaurant, surrounded by terracotta houses that, in turn, surrounded the bay. However, I didn’t finish my meal and never got to grips with the cuisine in the region.

The sea by the campsite was crystal clear. As dusk set, we decided to have a dip. It was a good choice. Water that seemed to come out of a hot spring greeted our feet and we were “bitten by the bug”. Pitching the tent was fun and games. It was a two-man tent, which meant my dad had to sleep in the car.

That was interesting. It was a noisy night. We had a group of teenagers for neighbours and they were four or five in number, shreiking till all hours. More than that, there was an equal number of guys to girls. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

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A little while later, we made a stop in a small Croatian town that struck me for two reasons. Firstly, because of the Croatian architecture. The buildings were made of granite and were quite different to those on the Slovenian side. At least in appearance anyway. This could have been Rovinj.

The second reason was that a woman behind the till in a shop was the only person we encountered who recognized my father’s North American accent. We stopped by the waterfront for a while and had a drink there, the cool stone pavement was a relief.

Street Walking

Street Walking (Photo credit: Let Ideas Compete)

We were sat by the harbour. I don’t recall if it was the one featured at the beginning, but it was lovely.

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Later on, in the city of Pula, we saw the roman amphitheatre shown above. The amphitheatre is amongst six of the largest surviving, out of 200, amphitheatres from the great empire and was constructed between 27-68 A.D.

It is also unique because no other survivor has four side towers and all three architectural orders, or styles, intact. Please don’t mistake me for an expert. In fact, that is information off the net and we never went inside. But we got a few good shots of it, laugh.

Split was the best! It wasn’t much to look at from afar. Lots of old soviet-style apartment blocks straddle it to the North and South. However, the harbour and old city were gorgeous. This is a typical scene.

We rested here for a night and spent some time around the harbour. It was paradise.There were tenors singing in the Mediterranean warmth. Heaven.

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Dubrovnik, nestled in the hills, afforded us great views…but it was the residents that were fascinating. The parking arrangement was crazy.

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And so, I’ll leave you there. Bye!

(Credit to Rebecca Cox for the photography)