We have returned recently from a short holiday in Malta. “We” being Granny Anne and myself and our daughter Jennie and her family (known on her blog as husband GG and the two boys Handsome and Cheeky, who are aged eight and five respectively). We flew from Heathrow both ways by Air Malta in an Airbus A320 and both flights were fairly free of turbulence and actually quite enjoyable, including the on-board food. I am grateful to Mr Adrian Pingstone of Bristol for the fine picture above (which he generously placed in the public domain) showing an Airbus A320 approaching Heathrow Airport.
This was part of the view from our third floor apartment overlooking Valletta across the broad stretch of water where Sliema Creek joins Marsamxett Harbour with Manoel Island just outside the right edge of the picture. A feature of Maltese architecture is that most buildings have balconies and I gained the impression that in built-up areas these are likely to be the only private outdoor space.
This was the bus that took us to Marsaxlokk on the Sunday for the open-air market. The driver, who seemed to be in his 60’s, had a picture of The Virgin Mary mounted in his cab area together with a set of rosary beads and it was soon apparent that these were essential accessories in the absence of any evidence of the existence of a highway code. Our driver liked driving his bus, flat out. As a fairly old vehicle, of which there were many in Malta, it must have been quite well maintained to have lasted so long – though the mainly dry climate must have helped. However, undaunted by the squeaks and rattles and bangs that reminded me vivedly of school buses in the 1950s, our driver worked on the principle that as the acceleration was a bit dated it was essential to get the bus up to its maximum speed and then keep it there, come what may.
The Sunday Market at Marsaxlokk was interesting but not as varied in local goods and crafts as we had expected. However, the stalls ran for some distance around the edge of the harbour and there were plenty of the chracteristic Maltese boats to be seen as shown in the two pictures above. This style of boat, called a luzzu, very tall and pointed at bow and stern, is said to date back at least to the Phoenicians, around 4,000 years.
I believe that this smaller version of the luzzu is a water taxi. What a great way to travel!
This is the ferry that spends its days crossing back and forth between Sliema and Valletta. Granny Anne and I went to Vallette by bus one day and returned on the ferry. The reason for doing it this way was that from the ferry to the centre of Valletta there is no avoiding a long, steep hill, so steep that the pavements are stepped. So rather than tiring ourselves at the beginning of what proved to be a very enjoyable day in Valletta, we chose to walk DOWN the hill at the end of the day instead. I had to photograph the cycle racks and the sign at the Sliema end of the ferry ride.
Mdina, The Silent City, previously the capital of Malta until 1571 but now with only around 200 residents who are the only people allowed to have permits to take cars into the city. Our quick impression of this city, of tall stone buildings and narrow streets and the occasional horse-drawn transport for the tourists, was favourable. Granny Anne and I visted Mdina as part of the North Island bus tour from Sliema on which the buses run on a circular route every hour. You can stay on the bus until you complete the tour, or get off at your choice of locations and catch the next bus, an hour later, to continue. We hoped to see some of Mdina and find a quick lunch. However, we wasted a lot of time at the first restaurant that we found because the service was so slow. In the end, worried about missing our bus, we left without even ordering.
There is a lot to see in Mdina, given the time and the guidebook, and we would like to go again – but not to the same restaurant.
The Mosta Church and Dome has, arguably, as beautiful an interior is you could wish for in any church worldwide. In addition to the high altar there are six side chapels around the perimeter of the interior and the decoration throughout is simply magnificent and yet without feeling at all ostentatious or excessive. The Mosta Dome is famous for (among other things) being penetrated by a German bomb during World War Two. Apparently the bomb fell among the congregation but failed to explode and no-one was hurt. Two other bombs were deflected by the dome and failed to penetrate.
There was something strangely compelling about this church, something that transcended the sheer beauty of the interior and was in no way diminished by the work of the two or three people who were cleaning or rearranging things as I sat and tried to take it all in.
It was a great week in Malta and the weather was very hot throughout our stay by UK standards. We hope to go again – though avoiding July and August when even the Maltese think it is hot. Apart from revisiting Valletta, Mdine and Mosta there is a lot more of the main island to be seen and the smaller island of Gozo deserves a visit as well. Next March or April perhaps? We shall see.