Category Archives: Malta

A collection of travelogues from my trip to Malta, peppered with reviews and recommendations of accommodation, walking tours, restaurants and pubs.

Travelogue Malta 2: Gozo


12-15 June 2017

We’d pre-arranged with our Sliema Airbnb hostess, Rosella, to get us a taxi for 09h00 to drive us to the port to catch the ferry to Gozo.

The 40-odd minute drive to us up the coast through several villages which had all but met to make a continuous thread of habitation. While the houses are generally attractive (or at least interesting, with decorative doorways, balconies and bay windows), there is a distinct lack of grass in these towns and suburbs. As we’d noted in Sliema, besides being largely apartment living, everything was paved so there was little to no greenery anywhere. While understandable in a city like Sliema or Valletta, it was surprising that this was also the case in the rural and small towns.

Arriving at the ferry in perfect time, we grabbed our tickets and waited to board.

The ferry was a lot bigger than we’d expected – a bit like a poor man’s cruiseship – obviously to cater for the hoards of daytrippers – and we were lucky to get a window table in the canteen for the short 20 minute journey, to the destination we could already see from our departure point.

Our host, Frank, was waiting for us and was hard to miss in his fluorescent green shirt. He took our bags, armed us with a pack comprising island map, tourist map, map of Victoria and a bus timetable and packed us onto the 303 bus for a few hours exploring the island while he finished evac’ing the current tenants and readying the place for us.

The bus journey to Victoria (the capital, in the middle of the island) took longer than anticipated, with a 45 minute standing transfer in a crammed stuffy bus, and deposited us at the bus terminal in the centre of town.

The main attraction in Victoria is the Cittadella, which was an easy walk and, as an imposing yellow building that dominated the skyline, impossible to miss.

The Visitors Centre revealed that 12000 years ago a land bridge stretched from Sicily to North Africa. When sea-levels rose after the last Ice Age, this land bridge was submerged leaving its high points to form the islands of Gozo and Malta. Natural forces shaped a flat hilltop on which the Citadel was built.

Our timing was spot-on and as we finished reading the neat collection of exhibits, we were able to walk straight into the English version of the video presentation (quite serendipitous since it rotates in 6 languages), which told the story of the Citadel in a dramatic 9 minute narrative with visuals that flashed around all 4 walls of the small square room.

We then wandered around the rest of the Citadel, enjoying spectacular views of all of Gozo and the sea surrounding it as well as the exhibits and ruins within the walls, postulating on what the various sections might have looked like and what functions they performed all those centuries ago when this was the civilisation of the island. And imagining the Napoleonic invasion – and predictable ensuing French concession. The poor Maltese and Gozitans had certainly had their fair share of pillage and plunder and it was no wonder that Malti was such a mix of so many influences.

There wasn’t much else open in Victoria since the signs in most shop windows indicated that they observe siesta and were shut from 12h30 to 16h00, to reopen until 19h00.

Hungry and lazy, this was no problem. We used the opportunity to sample the pastizzeria that all the tour guide books had recommended. As a quick grab-and-go option, the mini cheese pies and peas pies did the job and worked well with the setting; the lush little park across from the bus terminus (that seemed to be the only grassy patch in Gozo from what we’d seen!)

The return bus journey was much more comfortable, with enough seats for everyone, and deposited us almost at our doorstep.

Frank was ready and waiting for us and showed us around our apartment, starting with the very impressive ground floor level that housed a washing machine and a generous selection of holiday accessories and equipment, including bicycles, snorkel gear, beach gear (brollies, boards, buckets, spades…), games, shopper bags… You name it, Frank had thought of it (and it was all included in the price!)

Starting all the way at the top, Frank showed us around the 3rd floor, which was to be mine and Christian’s flatlet; a double en-suite room with a kitchenette/lounge and a huge terrace off the room and another off the kitchenette, leading to yet another on the rooftop. Frank’s detail was painstaking, down to lifting the sheets to show us the brand of mattress, showing us the stock of pillows (that included down, hard, soft and memory-foam) and even a tutorial on how to use the mixer taps.

We finished the tour with the middle floor, which was home to the lounge, another terrace, the diningroom, kitchen, 2 more bedrooms and a bathroom.

Frank, bless him, had some pies (the same ones we’d just had in Victoria) and traditional ftira in the oven and had laid the table in the kitchen for us to sit and sample his wares, washed down with a bottle of Gozo Rosé.

When we were done, he called us to the dining-room table to work through a selection of maps and timetables to help us plan our time in Gozo. There was so much to do and see and he’d worked through everything in such detail that by the time he left we all just flopped in the lounge to catch our communal breath!

Being a Monday, both of the restaurant options Frank had recommended were closed so we decided to make use of our lovely home and considerable leftovers from the second lunch Frank had surprised us with, with dinner in. This would require a visit to the supermarket, which we’d been told was on the road down to the Harbour so, being Sundowners-o’clock anyway, we made our way down the hill to see what we could see.

No more than a 10 minute walk, we were delighted by the nest of restaurants and pubs that lined the crescent of the Harbour opposite the ferry building.

We ambled past, reviewing a few of the menus on display outside, but got lured into the Gleneagles, busiest by far with a full row of patrons occupying the single row of benches lining the gallery balcony looking down on where we were walking and surveying the harbour and general activity.

The inside was equally charming with an garish fishing theme, complete with massive fish and crabs and lobsters and eels and propellers and such decorating the walls, and fishing nets hanging from the double-volume ceiling.

Across the road from the supermarket, Alex and I made a quick satellite mission to grab our dinner supplies without losing our prime people-watching position at the bar, taking in locals and clearly not-so-locals alike while we wiled away the evening with the sun still in the sky, and it still felt too early for dinner.

Which was worth the wait, with a new appreciation for the pastries, having given them a few hours between sittings and combining with a crunchy green salad.


The next morning we got up later than planned (just after 8) so adjusted our original thinking of catching a ferry across to Comino Island – a small sister island that we can see from many of our terraces. The island is a big tourist destination with its perfectly clear-water lagoon and azure caves, so we had been told that if you’re not there early, the sea becomes people soup and ruins the experience.

We thought instead we’d catch the bus up to the North of Gozo and explore the many beaches, snorkelling spots and the famous traditional salt pans.

Easier said than done. On the cusp of the busy season, the buses were still operating on shoulder schedules and we were awkwardly between the bus options from ferry port and the bus stop outside our house.

It was also, although only 10h00, already searingly hot, so our short wait at the bus stop motivated us to consider renting a car (to avoid future searingly hot bus stop waits during the day). A quick Google and Alex was on the phone with Jamie, arranging to collect a car from the ferry port for a very reasonable €35 a day which, seeing as there were 3 of us, wasn’t much more than we’d have spent on bus rides with the amount of adventuring we intended to do.

Jamie met us and took us to collect the car, a compact little Hyundai, and we were soon on the road, relying on dodgy maps and you-can-see-where-you-are-and-where-you’re-going-from-almost-everywhere good sense to head in the direction of Ramla Bay.

The beach lives up to its name, with a distinctive red sand (“Ramla” is Malti for “red”). We set up camp (with the beach towels and brolly from our holiday home) and headed for the water, which was welcome and refreshing in what was now the midday sun.

It was great to flake on the towels in the shade and watch the day (and a little Yellow Lab puppy 2 brollies down from us – a real cutey called Max) go by…

It was really (really really) hot… Even for a beach day, so an hour or so of lounging later, we picked up the roadtrip and drove over to Marsalforn for lunch.

Yet another beautiful spot, Masalforn’s harbour with its idyllic crystal blue water and bobbing yachts was a brilliant backdrop for a feast and our seafood pasta was worthy of the scenery, in which we were virtually engulfed since we were sitting at the very edge of the dock with water on 3 sides of us.

After lunch we wandered into a dive shop and set up a dive for the following day at 11h30. While details were short on where we’d be doing the dive or what we could expect to see, our hopes were high that everything under water was as spectacular as what we’d seen above.

The rest of the afternoon was then launched with snorkelling at Xwejni Bay, a delightful shallow sheltered bay, perfect for having a flop around and stalking the little fish that inhabited the mossy, grassy bits on the sea floor.

We could see the famous salt pans from the bay, so headed on foot to see them up close.

Salt production has been a thing in these parts since Roman times and there are still families that farm and harvest salt in the traditional manner. The pans are basins carved into the soft limestone cliffs on the water’s edge. Varying in size and shape, the majority seem to be no more than a foot deep and the premise is that each pan is filled with sea water and left to evaporate, leaving the salt behind. The salt is then swept up (literally, there were people with brooms sweeping the salt in each pan into heaps) and collected to be bagged and sold. For a princely sum too, with tourists lapping up kilo bags at €8 a pop!

We returned to the car, intending to drive to the next recommended bay (Wied Il-Ghasri) for another refreshing snorkel, but we got a bit lost and ended up in a fjordlike inlet called Naghag Il-Bahar instead. It was a narrow strip of pebble beach with several people already so we gave it a skip and continued the search to Wied Il-Mielah, a natural rock arch that had risen suddenly to fame since the much more famous and spectacular Azure Window collapsed into the sea. Such is life with limestone I guess; easy come, easy go.

We struggled a bit to find it since all the narrow roads look the same and some looked unlikely to be roads at all. Google Maps was even having a little trouble getting us there. In the end it was as private Segway tour that lead us to it. We’d crossed paths a few times on our mission and when we saw the group off their vehicles and posing at the edge of a cliff, we figured they knew something we didn’t. They did. And we too were soon happy-snapping picture of ourselves with the impressive natural arch over the bluer-than-blue sea.

Feeling accomplished after all our adventuring, we headed home for much-needed showers and, redressed and refreshed, adjourned to our roof terrace to watch the sun go down from the comfort of our swing chair, with the Gozo wine we’d left chilling in the fridge.

Of course it was still light when we left home for dinner at Ta’Philip – as recommend by Frank – a hundred or so metres down our road.

A stunning restaurant and clearly a local legend by all the awards and photos on the wall in the entrance, Ta’Philip also only offered a 0km menu, meaning everything served was sourced super-locally and consequently the entire menu was only 1 page.

Still, we each chose something quite different and all were ridiculously good! Alex’s suckling pig was enormous, Christian’s swordfish buttery and my Bragioli (beef olive of sorts) super-duper. The owner came to check on us and gave us a sample of his homemade sambuca, which was very aniseedy and smoother than most but, well, still sambuca. It was a good thing we were stumbling distance from home!


We’d booked our dive for 11h30 to give us enough time to do something beforehand and to be underwater for the worst heat of the day.

The thing we chose to do beforehand was a bike ride east through Qala to Hondoq Beach, which Frank said was his favourite. Christian passed, so Alex and I helmeted up and hit the road.

It was already quite warm, but fortunately it was a relatively easy ride into Qala along a flat road with little built along it so we could enjoy the magnificent views of the sea as we pedalled.

After Qala, the road became quite steep downhill so, figuring that what goes down has to come up again (at considerably more effort), we turned around and repeated the return ride home.

Shortly we were off again, hopping in our little car to hightail across the island like seasoned pro’s to get to the dive shop for our 11am briefing. It was quite a laboured process with a DVD, a quiz, a recap by the dive master and then a test (underwater) on our skills, so we only set off on the main dive at around 12h30 in the end.

To our disappointment, the dive was around Marsalforn Bay itself, probably because our dive companion, Audrey from France, was a first-timer, who seemed quite nervous (no doubt because all the instructions had been in English!).

It was pleasant enough. Even though there wasn’t whole lot of exciting stuff to see (random fish, grassy sections on the ocean floor etc), the fact that the water was crystal clear and we could see a good 30 metres was remarkable in itself.

With a Maltese dive under our belts, we headed over to the South Coast of the island for lunch in Xlendi. Quite different to the other places we’d seen, this bay was a harbour with no beach per sé, but loads of little step ladders into the water from the rock walls that formed the harbour’s basin.

We ate ourselves silly (again!) and then took a walk to the end of the bay, finding a smaller offshoot channel which we first crossed using the bridge at the end so we could get to the mouth of Xlendi Bay proper to take photos of the incredible cliffs and beautiful harbour from its source.

Then we returned to the inlet and scaled down the rocks to where a handful of people had had the same idea as us. One of the couples was very friendly and pointed out where the ladder was to get into the water and where we’d see the most fish.

We had our snorkels and masks with us so we descended into the water and paddled about a bit, admiring what there was to see since it was very deep but still very clear.

I even took an uncharacteristic leap from one of the high rocks and, thanks to Christian’s masterful capturing of the moment on camera, I never have to do it again!

Since we were halfway between home and what we’d planned for sunset – the Azure Window / inland sea / Fungus Rock combo, as per Frank’s suggestion – and it was already 5pm we figured we’d get ahead of the game and go straight there.

A good call because there wasn’t as much to see as anticipated.

The Azure Window was a magnificent natural arch that had stood 28 metres high. It was formed by raging waves crashing against a jutting out section of the cliff face and wearing away at the soft(ish) stone, leaving behind a column in the sea with an arch joining it to the land. Until it collapsed last March.

There is still a stump of the arch visible in the sea and many happy swimmers were clustered on the stump having their photo taken on the relic of what was, clearly blissfully unaware of what we could see from our vantage point – a massive boulder barely clinging to the raw edge where the arch had separated from the land, which we mused, based on the length of the crack, had minutes before it fell to the sea, but in geological terms probably had decades.

Fungus Rock, as underwhelming as its name, was a short walk across a series of (what looked like) natural salt pans and was quite an unremarkable lump of rock just off the coastline.

The Inland Sea was a bit more exciting and was a small shell-shaped bay which at first examination seemed to be enclosed. Boat garages (some with boats inside, some furnished and one serving as a cafe) along the crescent of the shell were the clue to looking on the cliff face that formed the rest of its border and revealed a cave inlet that we found out opened into a 26 metre cave that joins to the sea. Apparently you can swim through it, but we settled with sitting on a jetty and dipping our feet into the cool water.

We returned to our house and in a rush of ambition Christian and I decided to take a run (to clock the Vitality points for the week). I recommended the road to Qala, on the premise that I knew it was flat and, mostly, because it was supposed to be 3 km to Hondoq and it would be nice to see the beach that had evaded our bike run in the morning.

We set out and found it relatively easy-going, thanks largely to leaving it until almost 19h00 before we set out. Unfortunately though, I got us lost by taking a wrong turn and in a misguided effort to rectify the route, we got stuck in a maze of unkempt allotments, earning a few minor scratches and a full side of blackjacks for our trouble. We abandoned the mission and turned to head home, adding on an extra bit to run into our little town centre to the church we’d seen as a landmark on one of our drives (not that churches make a good landmark on Gozo usually since there are SO many of them!)

Arriving home, a welcome shower and fresh unblackjacked clothes later, we set off for dinner, to the other place Frank had recommended, Country Terrace.

It was a bit fancier than anticipated, but the view of the bay and Comino beyond was breathtaking! And the fresh local calamari and medium rare tuna steak were out of this world. A worthy Last Supper indeed.


Making the most of our short stay, we’d itineraried down to the very last second. With intentions of catching the first ferry to Comino at 08h00 and Jamie coming to collect the rental car at 11h00, we called Frank on Wednesday evening for a powwow on how to manage our morning in conjunction with his plans.

Although he was expecting his next set of guests on the 11h15 ferry he was, as always, very accommodating and suggested that we pack up before we went to Comino so that he could clean while we were out, leaving only what we’d need for a shower and change before our departure, for which he would leave the upstairs bathroom at our disposal. Great plan.

We got up before 07h00, packed up, cleaned up and used all our leftovers to make epic bacon, egg and cheese breakfast rolls for our excursion.

An hour later we drove down to the ferry, well in time… Except for the fact that there is no parking at the harbour. Alex and I got out the car to get the ferry tickets and were very concerned that Christian was going to miss the boat… Until he came hurtling round the corner at the very 11th hour. He’d found a spot in the reserved section for ferry management and had disregarded the warnings of clamping in the hope that we’d be overlooked in the couple of hours we planned on being away.

The ferry from Gozo is a short hop and no more than 10 minutes later we were alighting at the jetty on Comino, Gozo’s little sister island.

Although about 3.5 square kilometres, the action on Comino all happens around 2 microscopic beaches. Right from the jetty, there are blue and white striped sunchairs wedged side-by-side on every inch of the flat sections adjacent to the little golden sand crescents no more than a few metres long. The rest of the beachfront is very rocky crags; not amazing for sitting on, really lousy without shoes on.

We went to the farthest point and ate our breakfast rolls, surveying the beautiful Blue Lagoon, and then hobbled down to try it for ourselves.

The water was crystal clear and you could see to the bottom, with more white golden sand. The lagoon forms a channel between Comino and its tiny twin, Cominito, which is an easy swim across so we paid it a visit. A very rocky outcrop with a small pebble beach and a few caves (that you can access from a boat tour, which we’d passed on).

We’d been there barely an hour and already the day-visitors were streaming in, so we decided to keep our memories pure and caught the 09h15 ferry back.

With some unexpected time on our hands, we finally got to visit Hondoq! A small and secluded bay at the bottom of a hill after Qala that would have been a challenge had we made it that far on either bike or foot.

The bay offered a large concrete jetty with stepladders into the water or, as we chose, a wedge of pebble/sand beach accessing (yet another) wonderous stretch of azure water. This island never ceased to amaze!

After a good half hour’s dipping, we had to return to fulfil our obligations and catch the 12 o’clock ferry back to Malta to begin the next instalment of our adventures.

Travelogue Malta 1: Sliema


10-12 June 2017

Dab hands at Friday departures, a carless me was fetched from the office by an unfettered from-home Christian and we were on the road to ORT by 15h30; an easy feat from my office, which is conveniently located for little but the airport hop.

With our routine of checking the car into a valet service for the duration (which means being met at Departures by a driver) and spending our waiting time at the Emirates lounge, the only wildcards were the check-in and Passport Control queues, both of which were surprisingly civilised for a Friday afternoon.

The flight was packed so we got little more than a couple of hours sleep on the leg to Dubai, and welcomed the short transfer time to take the opportunity to shower and refresh (ie salmon and Moet) in the brand new lounge in Terminal C where we were to catch our connecting flight.

The connection to Malta made another stop for an hour in Larnaca (Cyprus), which was actually worth it as we let off considerably more people than we took on, so ended up with a full row of 4 seats each to stretch out and get a good solid hour’s deep sleep.

We arrived 35 minutes early to a perfect sunny day in Malta. Blue skies, not a cloud and that just-right temperature where you’re basking but not sweating. This holiday was going to be exactly our sort of thing!

Alex had arranged a driver to collect us from the airport so we just had to get our bags and then find the guy holding the board with our name on it.

And there he was, waiting front and centre, so a quick stop past the ATM and we were on the road.

A big jovial fella, Rainier gave us the basic need-to-knows about Malta as he drove, mixing tourist and sightseeing info with historical and economic insights to give us quite well-rounded introduction to this tiny (316 square kilometres) island and its 460,000 odd indigenous Maltese people.

No more than a 20 minute journey into town, the roads became quite narrow as we twisted down toward the seafront where our apartment was. Shops and homes lined the streets, with front doors straight onto the pavement, often with cars lipped onto most of the sidewalk. Sliema was clearly a city built in a different time where traffic and parking had no bearing!

Rainier pulled up at our door and we were welcomed by our friends, Alex and Robbie, who had arrived as an advance party on Thursday night.

Our apartment was clearly a basement conversion leading from street level to a – very glamourous marble – flight of steps down to an entrance hall offering the first twin bedroom and a passage to the rest of the house.

The house was entirely sandstone so it was cool and slightly, but not unpleasantly, damp. There was a warm glow to it from a combination of the yellow stone walls and clever lighting from uplighters dotted along the skirting and natural light filtering from alcoves in each room that had a grating from the pavement above as its roof.

Moving into the main house, we discovered another twin bedroom, communal bathroom, kitchen with table and chairs, large living room and master en-suite bedroom, where we put our bags down and immediately changed into shorts.

Enjoying a welcome ice-cold Cisk (pronounced “Chisk”) with our friends, we languished the comfy corner couch and marvelled at our surrounding while catching up on the last few months, and roughly planning the next few days.

Our first excursion was a cultural adventure of sorts, which involved heading down our street, the half block it took to spit us out at the harbour where, conveniently, the ferry from Sliema to Valletta docked just across the road.

With the Valletta ferry port only a few hundred metres away across the water, the wait was longer than the trip itself, but well worth it for the short ride across Marsamxett Harbour, past Manoel Island, named after the Grandmaster of the Knights who fortified it, and towards the wonderous backdrop golden sun-lit picture of Baroque splendour and robust fortification that makes the Valletta skyline.

We wound our way through the town, taking in buildings and statues that looked consequential… But not allowing them to distract us from our mission. The Pub on Archbishop Street, which was where actor Oliver Reed (who was staying in Malta while shooting Gladiator) saw his untimely demise on a notorious drinking spree that saw him clock 8 pints of lager, 12 double rums and 14 whiskeys before collapsing and dying of a heart attack.

We had no such ambitions, so had a couple of pints of Guinness (logging #20 on the Index) and made our way back to Sliema for dinner.

It was still light as day when we got back to Sliema at around 19h30 so we stopped for a sundowner at the lively strip of bars facing the harbour, before making our way down a side street to find the restaurant that had been our choice of the options we’d researched online.

It didn’t disappoint and we shared a platter of traditional Maltese nibblybits to start, before the main event seafood pasta and Maltese sausage pasta (with tasters of Alex’s veal and Robbie’s lamb to make for a rounded experience).

Stuffed to the hilt, we followed the sound of cheering to find a political procession of sorts on the road along the waterfront. There were big flatbed trucks with merrymakers and flag-flyers cavalcaded by scores of cars hooting and flashing in support. One little hatchback had about 20 youngsters standing out the sunroof and hanging out the windows cheering and waving!

Blissfully unaware of why, but totally in awe of how passionately everyone was celebrating, we stepped into the Labour Party Bar and asked the bartender what was going on. While he poured us Jagerbombs, he explained the Labour Party had won some sort of election last Sunday and everyone was still celebrating! There was even a celebration concert being held in town, and he turned on the TV so we could see.

The Prime Minister – a friendly looking chap in his mid-thirties – was giving a quick speech (in Malti, but obviously about their win) and encouraging the celebrations. It was heartwarming to see how politically engaged the young people were – probably because their leaders seem to balance the Labour and Party in their name.

After a long journey, we were happy to head back to have a nightcap in our comfy holiday home and leave further adventures for the next day.

There’s little better than a good, long night’s sleep, waking up with natural light rather than a buzzing alarm clock!


Such was Day 1 (proper) of The Malta Experience.

We were to catch the Hop On Hop Off bus to do the South route, primarily to visit the Sunday morning fish market and to see the Blue Grotto. This gave enormous flexibility as the buses departed every hour on the quarter-past, so we didn’t stretch ourselves too much, aiming for the one at 10h15. This meant leaving the house at 09h45 in order to grab a traditional Maltese Ftira (elaborate sandwich on a disc-shaped semi-flatbread, similar to a ciabatta) at the kiosk directly opposite the bus stop, which ticked all the boxes nicely.

The bus arrived perfectly on time, which seemed like an obvious… But was destined to be a moving target over the course of the day.

The first leg took us on the North Route bus around the bay to Valletta, where the driver recommended that we alight at the stop before the usual crossover of the 2 routes at the Valletta Waterfront stop, because there was a docked cruise ship so we’d have 5000 contenders for our seats.

Seemed like good advice – especially since that stop was opposite the square where the Labour Party concert had been held the night before and was next to a garden that housed a series of busts dedicated to all sorts of influential Maltese people (most of whom we’d never heard of), which kept us entertained on the 15 minute wait.

The next bus indeed took us to the Waterfront, but the previous driver had miscalculated the shrewd plan as we were instructed to get off and change buses on arrival at the Waterfront stop as our particular bus was relieving of its HOHO duties to go and act as a shuttle.

Of course, there was a very long snaking queue waiting to get on the bus we were needing to, so we caught the attention of the man organising (a strong word to use to describe how he was going about it), the increasingly annoyed and very high maintenance queue of people. He instructed us to stand at the front of the queue, much to the chagrin of a vocal Australian couple, who were intent on complaining about everything.

To further complicate matters, another North bus arrived before our South Route bus, so there was much hostility as people from the back of the queue who wanted to get on the bus ahead of people waiting for the South bus were mistaken for queue-jumpers.

We also realised the people have an infinite capacity for not listening and for asking stupid questions because no matter how many times the poor organiser man said “This is the Blue bus going North to Mdina”, someone would walk up and ask “Is this the Blue bus?” / “Is this the bus to Mdina?” / “Is this the bus to the fish market?”. Over and over. Thankless job.

Eventually our bus was ready and we got in (just after the Australian couple). We took seats at the back, which turned out to be an error since the audio ports didn’t work. No matter. We were headed for the Sunday Market at Marsaxlokk.

The Aussie couple were having a field day of the trip, bossing people around on the bus and the wife having a cadenza when the bus driver let more people on at the next stop, defying the prescribed number of standing passengers allowed on the bus. “NO. MORE. PEOPLE.” She shouted at him. “I’m on the bus to see the sights and all I can see are people!”. A trifle dramatic.

When we got off the bus, we heard someone asking them if they were getting off. “Hell no,” Husband said, “I’m not leaving this seat until we’re back at the ship!” Poor bus driver.

The market lined the arc of the harbour and was home to all sorts of bric-a-brac. We were expecting more of a fish market with local crafts, so were at the outset a bit disappointed which, combined with it being lunchtime, made for a good reason to adopt a table in the square (in the shadow of a very impressive looking Church) to grab a beer and some snacks.

This was to be our first poor service experience on Malta. Alex and Robbie ordered a calamari starter to share and a burger each for mains, with Christian and I sharing chicken nuggets and chips to be social since we’d had the huge ftira already (and because I’d just seen them delivered to the table next to us and the chips were proper homemade and looked amazing!). First our drinks order was completely wrong and then the burgers never came.

The menu at Restorante dell’Arte was at least more helpful than the staff, revealing on the prose on the back:

Marsaxlokk is a traditional fishing village. The name comes from Marsa meaning port and xlokk, the local name for the south-east scirocco wind that blows from the Sahara. Most of Malta’s fish supplies are caught by fishermen coming from this port. The bay is memorable for the many colourful, traditional fishing boat called Luzzu. The painted eyes on these Luzzus are believed to protected the boats from danger.

The starters had been really big portions and delicious, so we abandoned the unserved food, paid the bill and went to have a closer look at the market and the famous luzzu boats.

And a longer look than intended since somehow the girls got separated from the boys and we missed our bus, which had come and gone 10 minutes earlier than scheduled.

Fortunately there were lots of options to keep us entertained so we took a table at a pavement cafe… And struggled to order anything since a waiter told us it was self-service and the bar sent us outside to the waiters. We accidentally double ordered but still only ended up with one round of drinks!

Back on the bus we traversed the island to the southernmost bit to the Blue Grotto.

Again sitting at the back of the bus, I managed to highjack an audio jack on what might have been one of the less interesting bits of narrative, all about the quarries and mining.

It did answer the (unasked) question about why all the buildings were made of the yellow stone.

Malta is basically a lump of limestone in the Mediterranean and, being a rocky lump, it has stone absolutely everywhere. It boasts what is reputedly the world’s oldest free-standing dry stone temple, Ggantija on Gozo; dry stone walls everywhere; and a plethora of active and disused quarries, dating back to Roman times. Most of the quarries (including more modern ones) are little more than rectangular holes (deep, but small coverage) carved out of the rock, and the number has to be seen to be believed. The stone is drilled – up to 80m deep – with the powder residue from the drills being the base that’s mixed with water to mould building blocks. Modern law requires quarries to fill their holes with landfill and top with top soil.

The Blue Grotto stop was well worth it. For an extra €8 we took the short boat trip into the caves to see the pink coral and blueblueBLUE bits that earned the spot its name. Unfortunately we were seated at the back of the boat so our pictures aren’t the best, but the memories are good.

The sea was clear and warm which made for a refreshing dip – and a thrilling jump off the cliff in Christian’s case – before moving on.

The last stop on the bus route was the Hagar Qim and Mnadjdra Temples… But we have them a skip because Sundowners were calling.


Christian’s soccer buddy from home, Nick, happened to also be in Malta so we’d made arrangements to meet up since it was their last night. They were staying in St Julian’s, an adjacent suburb to where we were, so it was the perfect opportunity to go there to combine a meet-up with a new location.

Jumping off the bus early in Valletta to catch the much-quicker ferry across the bay to Sliema, we dropped off unnecessary items and cut over the hill to St Julian’s.

It turned out to be a longer walk than anticipated, but allowed us to witness firsthand the beginnings of what looked like it was going to be a thumping night in Paceville – the bustling (and quite seedy) entertainment hub wedged between our homebase and our destination.

Fortunately the sun sets very late in Malta so it was still apt to call our drinks “Sundowners” by the time we got to Nick and his friends – at the very lovely pool terrace bar of their very lovely seaside hotel – a little after 7pm.

They didn’t seem put out by our belated arrival and members of their group (there were 10 of them holidaying together) came and went over the next couple of hours as they went off to refresh and redress for dinner.

Having had a tactical Burger King en route, we were less urgent about dinner and so wound our way back along the waterfront, stopping in for a few pints along the way, intending to eat closer to home.

We stopped in at Surfside Café, which looked festive even though it was now very late for dinner.

What a mistake! The festive crowd was the waitering staff preparing their staff meals and, again, we got a mish-mashed drinks order as well as food we didn’t order (a massive toasted ciabatta thing with goats cheese, sundried tomatoes, olives, capers… Everything we don’t eat) which we were told was on the house, but could not have been a more inappropriate starter for our pizza order… Which eveeeentually came… After we’d ordered the bill, which our waitress (who’d been sitting at the table behind us for almost the entire duration since delivering the random order of drinks) told us to collect from the counter!

The chap from the table across from us came over to commiserate since he’s also received barely-there service and the wrong food.

Luckily the pizzas were passable and we were soon in a taxi headed home, probably a lot later than we should have seeing as Robbie’s taxi was fetching him at 05h45 for his morning flight home.

We three, however, would be off to Gozo.