So with my Cyprus trip cancelled, I ended up with an extra 5 days in Malta. I already have four days of private tours scheduled for next week to see all the highlights of Malta and Gozo, but I needed to figure out what to do with the rest of my time here. I decided the best way to start was to jump on one of those hop on hop off bus tours. In Malta, the route is split into the north trip and the south trip and on Monday afternoon, I took the north trip.
Now prior to the bus trip, I decided to walk around Valetta’s old town. I quickly learned that Valetta is a “late starter”. I set off around 9:00 a.m. and managed to walk a large part of the area by 10:15. However, the town was still not awake. Oh sure, there were some cafes and some touristy shops open, but it wasn’t until closer to 11 that the area really started to bustle.
And while I did not get truly lost on my little walkabout, I kept getting turned around for some reason. It should not have been that hard, but somehow, I kept mixing up the two main streets: Market and Republic. Ror the life of me, I couldn’t get it right. I would turn off Market and go south when I wanted to go north and when I did this, I would immediately run into Republic. It was so bad that even after all the walking I did, I still didn’t get it right when I left the restaurant after dinner that day. I walked around in circles before finally getting it right.
Anyway, after the walk around the old town and past many of the old city walls, I made my want to Republic St., and to the area known at the bus station. This is where every bus on Malta departs from, including the tourist buses. Very convenient.
The bus left at 1:15 and I was able to find a seat outdoors at the top of the bus. The bus followed a bit of the coastline before heading inland away from the water and into the countryside. The first thing that struck me was how arid the land was. In fact, prickly pear cactus was imported into the country to provide food for the farm animals. You see prickly pear cactus literally everywhere.
The other thing I noticed was the number of vineyards. At one time, the land was covered in olive trees, but grapes/wine make a much more lucrative crop so down came the olive trees and up went the vine plantings.
The trip took us through many little villages and towns where churches seemed to be the highlight in each. Malta has long and storied history with religion, but the Knights of St. John solidified the Catholic faith here and so churches, many of which are centuries old, dominate the landscape (along with the wall fortifications around the harbors). In addition, many of the old buildings have religious symbols carved into the stone exterior.
One of the towns we passed had remnants of the ancient aqueduct constructed but the Knights of St. John. That was pretty awesome to see.
We then drove through the town of Mosta, which is home to the world’s third largest unsupported church dome (behind St. Peter’s and the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul).
Now one of the interesting characteristics of Malta is it’s unusual wooden balconies. The balconies jut out from almost every building, but are fully enclosed with only windows opening for fresh air. A little strange (I actually have one in my room), but they are very striking to see.
We eventually passed by the former capital of Malta, Medina, which traces its history back to 1500 BC. We also passed through Rabat, which is known for its many Roman frescos. I did not jump off at either spot because I will be visiting both sites with my guide next week.
We then moved away from the inland towns and made our way over and up the coast to Golden Bay and St. Paul’s Bay, two seaside towns full of hotels and tourists hanging out on the beaches and at waterfront cafes and bars. Pretty to see, but damn there was a lot of people.
The bus continued to hug the coastline as we headed south giving us magnificent views of harbors full of boats and yachts and tiny beachside towns with the ever present churches dominating the skyline.
The bus trip ended in Silema, the harbor town across the bay from Valetta. Now, I could have stayed on the bus back to Valetta, but decided to catch the quick little harbor ferry across the bay to the old town.
Once back in Valetta, I decided to walk along the harbor walls thinking I could stop and get a drink along the way and relax with some beautiful harbor views. Uh … think again, 40 minutes walking straight up hill later and I did not pass a single bar or restaurant. I finally ended up back where I started … the bus station. How stupid of me. I could have stayed on the bus and not have had to endure the heat and humidity. Good grief.
Anyway, once I knew where I was at, I walked back up Republic Street, promptly walked in the wrong direction (went south instead of north) and after walking around in circles, finally found my hotel. Two for two in the idiot category.
Once back at my hotel, I took a quick shower and headed back out. I found a lovely outdoor restaurant where I had some good wine and OK eggplant and seafood pasta. It was adequate, but not great. I have reservations on Tuesday for “great” so I expect that meal to be stellar.