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General Malta & Gozo 2014

Malta & Gozo – Day 5

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We got up fairly brightly and went to the nearby Heritage trail after packing and checking out. This short historic trail with its Roman Road, Apiaries, ancient trees and one or two of the finest caves ever seen, made a fitting brief excursion to end our trip.

Back to the airport where we returned the car, after a nervous time when there was some doubt as to whether we had done some damage to the rear right wheel arch. I was convinced not, and fortunately the office confirmed that it was a previous driver who had caused the damage although neither the Europcar man nor I had spotted it when we did the initial handover, which just proves I must take more time and care over the checking process in future,

The plane ran on time and my neighbours kept me entertained with constant trips to the bathroom, telling me how ill they were and how they didn’t like computers, refusing to go online as in their early eighties the book was still best. They did eye up my iPad however…

Catching their sticks as they got jettisoned out of the locker by the person in front, they did say they felt I had been quite helpful and I thought I’d be happy to still be travelling and doing crosswords with the same aplomb if I were to reach 86…

After bags were collected and Rod met us with his usual promptness, we felt the chill in the air and appreciated the break we had enjoyed with warmth and patchy sunshine and understood why many Brits choose to make Malta their retirement destination of choice, although H and I agreed we wouldn’t. Worth a visit though!

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Categories
General Malta & Gozo 2014

Malta & Gozo Day 3 – Island Tour

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Sunday was apparently the best day to visit Marsaxloxx on the south of the island, according to the digitally downloaded replacement for the lost guide. A fishing village with a large market all morning and a host of fish restaurants serving up fresh local fare seemed a good destination for lunch and we built our plan around that.

We did the tour back to front in order to get to our chosen spot at the right side of lunchtime and had a structured timetable which we lost 10 minutes on right away by leaving a bit late. We soon made that back up by finding that everything on Malta was quite close together.

Our first stop was the medieval city of Mdina, which we had to ourselves. Nothing stirred and we found the place deserted despite the signs suggesting we respect the locals. Well we did, both for being so invisible and so quiet. After taking in the views from the ramparts, and zigging and zagging our way through the narrow streets which must have remained unchanged for centuries, we decided that Rabat would pale in comparison and pressed on before we woke anyone up.

We stopped next at the Clapham Junction cart ruts, which we used as a caching point and again we were ahead of the tourists and the locals. Erik Von Daniken would definitely have used this site in support of his theories of alien visitations we thought, and later research proved this to be so. Probably the more likely explanation (although no one actually knows for sure) is that they resulted from the heavy dragging of stone from the quarries which was then used both in temples and perhaps to shore up naval defences from both natural and human incursion. We found the cache quickly and sped on our way down to the Dingli cliffs where we drive up and down a bit, slightly under awed by the height although as the book said, they do provide a good set of natural defences. Not against the tourists though, as coaches started to gather ominously.

We then took a slightly circuitous loop to the megalithic temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra which were much more impressive. We were amazed both by the age, great state of repair and stark simplicity of this most ancient of human of building prowess. We were also amazed that we could walk so freely among the ruins, getting up close and personal in a way that one can’t at Stonehenge, a much younger monument.

We found ourselves in a German tourist sandwich at the first of the two temples, Hagar Qim and having extricated ourselves after picking up the odd bits of info about the finds on site, the sun shining through the hole in one wall and the location of the altars, we walked the 500 metres downhill to Mnajdra where apart from one lone visitor we were able to enjoy the solitude of the setting and wonder about the rites and rituals that must have taken place on this lonely windswept spot facing the sea over 5,000 years previously.

We went on to the roadside stop to look down on the Blue Grotto, pretty in its way but not a patch on the one in Capri and with the wind and the earliness of the season meaning no boat trips were on offer we kept on after a short stroll round to find ourselves on the outskirts of Marsaxloxx along with many of the Islands inhabitants all circling like vultures for a rare parking kill.

We parked some way outside town and enjoyed the walk in along the coast and could see the market and the restaurants all in full swing. Squeezing our way between the fish and the filigree, we took place at our second choice of fish restuarant and tucked in to a local fish that came bones and all for us to fillet between us.

We wound up with some locals sitting practically on our laps, such was the pressure on available tables and space and as they were talking in English we felt very much part of their conversation too.

After lunch we walked back to the car taking loads of photos as we went of the much featured multi coloured Dissu fishing boats, with eyes painted on their prows to ward off the evil spirits.

We meandered back to the resort and enjoyed a long lazy siesta before venturing forth after a gin and tonic at the bar to tackle Duo – a local restuarant which had caught our eye and was conveniently a few hundred meters just up the road. The nicest meal of the trip started with char grilled asparagus in a balsamic reduction with Parmesan shavings and tomato and pine nut granola and finished with short pasta with beef and mushrooms. A noisy table of Russian troglodytes didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the evening which was excellent all round.

Sleep beckoned ahead of the tour of Gozo planned for the next day.

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Categories
General Malta & Gozo 2014

Malta & Gozo – Day 2, Valetta

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A relatively early start and we drove to Sliema where we parked in an NCP and collected a dozen brochures on tours around the harbour before taking the short ferry ride over to Valetta.

We did the walking tour around the city in more or less the prescribed order and ended up in the square where they set off the noon gun just in time to witness that.

Impressions of the city were of a blend of retail and restoration, with hill and stair climbs keeping the legs and heart going and some pleasant views interspersed with some lively streets made for an enjoyable 2 hour of exploring,

Settling in for lunch by pressing our noses onto the pristinely clean glass of the restuarant on the harbours edge while waiting for the ferry, we chose sea bass from a cornucopia of freshly presented fish which had been awaiting our arrival.

Delicious it was too, and a hasty retreat to jump back on the ferry meant I foolishly left the guidebook and the all important map on the table, which we discovered after we had completed the harbour tour with Captain Morgan our host at just 10 euro a head for just under 90 minutes of exploring all the creeks and history of the impressive natural setting.

Headed back to the resort without getting lost and after a restorative snooze and bath we were ready to tackle the steaks in the South African run successful steakhouse that was housed on the ground floor of our apartment block.

We ignored the 1.5kg T Bones which although were a bargain at 52 euros still represented a larger proportion of a cow than we could eat and opted instead for 300g fillets, with piri piri sauce and pepper sauce respectively. As it was Heather couldn’t finish her steak which was slightly more tender than mine although both were equally delicious. A secret way that South Africans have with beef? The Tanzanian chefs could also have played their part in the success. Spicy chips were a great accompaniment, the whole lot all washed down with a tasty bottle of local red.

We staggered upstairs and slept soundly under the weight of all that food and drink.

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Categories
General Malta & Gozo 2014

Malta & Gozo – Day 1

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A quick long weekend taken in March 2014 flying via Easyjet staying in the Sunset Coast in Qawra leaving Friday coming back Tuesday to get some winter sunshine and blow the cobwebs away.

We picked up a hire Hyundai held together by scratches (watch the pavements) at the airport and 25 keep-alert-for-the-unexpected-maneuver minutes later we arrive in Qawra wondering whether RCI had finally let us down badly. Over lunch of lasagna and pizza at Vinnies nearby the resort we resolved to look at the rooms and probably sell the timeshare weeks when we got back.

The room was ok as it transpired, on the 6th floor overlooking the sea and with a small balcony in the shade of the afternoon. Things looked a little brighter as local green label wine went down a storm and at 2 euro something in the local supermarket was top value, where we also bought Peruvian grapes the size of squash balls, a few bananas and some oranges and guava juice for breakfast, having refused to be intimidated by the drug dealers next to the car in what was increasingly feeling like a holiday ghetto from hell.

The staff at the resort were very friendly and welcoming and that always helps to calm the nerves.

We walked out to explore the area further and after a succession of the worst kinds of Benidorm style British pubs abroad failed to lure us in for fruit machines and lager in front of the football, we settled for classy alternative Churchills where we had a great meal of swordfish and 5 giant prawns which I made a happy mess of.

The pillow’s impression of a bag of soft beans and rice pudding didn’t keep me awake and with the blanket keeping the nip in the air at bay, the wine was slept off a treat.

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Categories
General Malta & Gozo 2014

Malta & Gozo – Day 4 – Gozo circuit

We jumped on the 9.45 ferry after learning that we paid for car and passengers on the way back and therefore going to Gozo, a bit like going to Wales, was free. Getting out again cost just over 20 euros.

We headed on the prescribed route to the large dome of Xewkija and then missed the turning in Xaghra ending up at Calypso Cave instead of the ruins at Ggantija where we just got ahead of the tourist coaches and found a quick cache into the bargain. We drove down to Ramla bay, but the strong winds bouncing off the red sands forced us back into the car.

We then took a very circuitous route through Marsalforn , which looked a bit forlorn, and we failed to find the craft village on the way back, so pressed on to the twin sites of the Azure arch and fungus rock at Dwera Point.

We were jumped on our arrival by a man pressing brochures into the open window of the car. Brochures? It might be your way of earning a living but giving tourists a load of tat they don’t want and then trying to coerce money out of them for it? Seen it all before. No thanks.

Wandered down to look at the inland lake and took a few photos – a pretty spot.

After getting lost in the local town on the way back, we eventually found our way into Victoria, where we parked up near the citadel and explored that, enjoying great views of the island in many directions.

Leaving Victoria we drove down to Xlendi – a picture perfect little bay where we were happy to while away some hours watching the surf crash into the wall below our seaside table, while sea bass and fish soup kept the waistline content.

After lunch we wended our way back to the ruins at Ggantija where we explored the ruins and again came away impressed with the wonderful history of this World Heritage site and pondered how the average height of the inhabitants was about 5ft 10 all those years ago. Must have been aliens….

Back on the 3.45 ferry and unlike the trip over when we couldn’t find the door opener and also once we did manage to get back into our car then witnessed two fifty or sixty year olds having a punch up over who could leave the ferry car area first, the return journey was quite uneventful!

That evening we returned to the SA style steakhouse for more red meat indulgence and after a few red wines had a sound sleep despite the onset of Heathers cold taking place with some serious sneezing and snuffling during the night.

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