3 December 2014

The Malta Experience

It is damn cold here in Germany now and so I think back to my nice time on Malta and Gozo rather fondly and wish I was there, instead of here. My personal history with Malta goes back to 1968 when, as a young soldier, I transited there on my way to Cyprus. I was billeted in transit accommodation in RAF Luqa airport, took a taxi with comrades into the then, Red Light district of Valletta. It was my first experience of a medieval city, but though I was fascinated by it, I was more fascinated by Strait Street, which seemed to get steeper the more I drank, for we started the evening’s entertainment at the bottom and worked our way up to the top!

My next trip was in 1995 when I joined Hanna and two of her daughters there, on their annual summer holiday. Hanna as the widow of a Maltese, had spent virtually all her summer holidays with her three daughters there, and so knew it well. It was she who showed me the historic places and the beaches, but I introduced her to “L” my friend, who as luck would have it, had also now married a Maltese and was living in Malta. The Red Light district of Strait Street was history and I discovered that Hanna’s in-laws had a house there at the top end of it.

My next visit was in 2002 when I sailed there on the return leg of my circumnavigation. It was a poignant moment for me sailing into the Marasamxet harbour. I recognised all the land marks and knew now some of its long history. “L” came on board and before I left she took me to lunch in the old British Officer’s Club on Manoel Island and now the Malta Yacht Club.

My visit this time had been planned to be with Hanna in 2010. We had booked the flat in Senglea with “L”, but sadly Hanna had to go into hospital and then was told she could no longer fly as it was a danger to her health. The holiday was cancelled, but now I felt I should go.

If, like me, you enjoy history and clambering over ancient rubble, if you also enjoy sunshine and blue skies and the sea, then Malta is a must see for you.

“L’s” flat in Senglea is blessed with a view to die for. This flat now had no history with Hanna and me, to make it a sad memory for me. It was something new and so a new beginning for me. I was content there. I kept it as a quiet place, there was no TV and I did not turn the radio on. In the evenings I checked my pictures or read a book. Or just sat in the balmy evening and enjoyed the view. It is now MY special place and one I will keep returning to. Insha’Allah!

Malta lies half way between Europe and Arabia! Geographically it is closer to Arabia, but in culture and mentality it is clearly European Mediterranean. The language alone has its roots in Arabic. The people are friendly and speak English as a second language, though I have an impression that the standard of English spoken has deteriorated since my first visit. I found on this visit that Malta had changed and was still changing. It is now a member of the EU, uses the Euro as currency and everywhere one goes, one can see huge sums of EU money being used to renovate and improve the infrastructure. Malta has three World Heritage properties on the UNESCO list and seven properties inscribed on the tentative list. For such a small archipelago this is quite something.

Malta and Gozo have ancient ruins which are older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids. They also have some of the finest medieval structures I know and if you like Baroque Churches those too. The British Empire history and buildings are also there to see and enjoy. The Film industry discovered the archipelago some time ago, and use it regularly. Popeye was made there and you can visit his village, for example.

New hotel complexes have sprung up in many places where once there were none. Holiday camps too in Mellhia Bay, one of which is being enlarged, according to an article I read in the Malta times. So you will find many places to stay which will suit your taste and pocket.

The cruise liners have also discovered the islands and almost every day one of these monstrous floating cities (sometimes two) puts into the Grand Harbour and the grockles pour like a plague of locusts over the island and Valletta in particular. If you gather from this that I hate mass tourism then you are correct. For the locals it must be quite something else in the summer months. But I am and have always been a loner and hate crowds. This should not put you off going, for I am sure it is no worse than the crowds elsewhere in Italy or Spain.

If you like eating out then there are many fine restaurants in both Gozo and Malta and I only had one bad experience in Gozo. In Senglea I ate out only once from choice, for I wanted to enjoy the view from the flat and I also enjoy cooking and hate eating alone in a restaurant. In Gozo with my friend “A” I ate out more often and she showed me some nice places with lots of atmosphere.

So if you have never been, now is the time to go. If you have been before then “L” has said that “friends of friends” are welcome in the flat. You need only send me an email and I will make the connection and electronically at least, introduce you to “L”. 

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