Monday, October 29, 2007
Back from Malta
Let me say at the outset that Malta was never somewhere I planned on going. It was an island in the Mediterranean and a lovely lady who reviews my books lives there. I also knew of the connection with the Knights of Malta and that the Romans called it Melita or Honey Island.
A friend of the family's mother is Maltese and they recently acquired a flat which they generously allowed us to use.
We arranged transport through Percius who were very friendly and efficient -- picking up at the airport at 3 am etc. And I would certainly use them again.
We arrived in a horrid thunder and wind storm. The plane rocked as we landed and the rain was horizontal. Negotiating the stairs proved tricky and I had to cling on to both railings.
Malta is generally limestone which means when it rains, the water runs off quickly, creating streams and floods in the valley. The trip to the apartment went through several floods, and in the dim light, cascades of water could be seen, pouring off the hillside.
The first day was spent in and around the Paceville/St Julian area where the flat was located. Paceville, in particular Portomosta is where some of the best restaurants on Malta are located. The Hilton Portomosta complex looks as if it belongs in HM&B Presents novel -- private marina, marble, turquoise blue water. We ended up going to the Blue Elephant (a very upmarket chain of Thai restaurants -- you can get packets in Waitrose of their spices --Tom Yam soup with prawns and ginger is really good). The service is fantastic and the interior setting recreates a Thai garden. The food is to die for. We also went Buffalo Bill's ( steakhouse with Maltese sides) where the steak was some of the best I have had in Europe (on a par with some of the meals I had in Colorado). It is difficult to get a bad meal in Malta. The other area where we went out was the Spinola Bay with two restaurants standing out -- Terrazza and San Guilano's. San Guilano's has a reputation of being a place that film stars visit when they are filming in Malta. The Mediterranean Film Studios are famous for their water tanks. We did not see any stars (or at least none that we recognised but there again we didn't look too hard!) The service and food, however were excellent. Below in the marina, brightly coloured boats with the Phoenician eye bob in the waves.
The Maltese buses are picturesque. They date from the 1960s and 1970s and bright yellow. My dh remembered travelling across India on a Leyland bus... Because of Malta's position, the waters are exceptionally clear and many people go diving. We did not -- the children went swimming instead.
M'dina and Valletta proved to be our two main sight seeing areas as we spent most of the time at the beach. Mdina is also known as the Silent City and is one of the best preserved walled medieval cities. The Mdina catherdral is reputed to on the site where Publius the Roman governor who witnessed StPual's miracles in 60AD lived. Malta has one of the oldest communities of Christians in the world and they remain very Catholic. The silence fills up the streets of Mdina and it made me jump to hear the rumble of horses hooves and carriages along the pavement. Out side the city walls is a Roman villa with excellent mosaics. It made me quite nostalgic for my Romans.
Valletta is the main area of commerce in Malta and is the city that the Knights of St John Hospitaliers built after the 1565 siege when they defeated the Turks. They ran their famous Sacred Infirmary here until Napoleon kicked them out in 1798. He melted down the silver plate that they used for the patients to finance his Egyptian campaign. The populace rebelled and fought the French until finally the British came to their aid. The British then ruled the colony for 150 years. During WW2, the ENTIRE nation was awarded the George medal of honour for their collective bravery. We visited the Larcaris War Rooms which are deep within the bowels of Valletta where the Allies planned the invasion of Sicily. It was very evocative.
After my experience in Malta, I would urge any who enjoy good food, good weather, the beach and many 1000s of years of history to visit the island. Most of the Maltese speak English. The language of Malta is the only Arabic language written in the Latin alphabet.