Part 137: A Week in Malta

This Sunday’s regular post will be a little later than usual, as by the time you read this I will be travelling back from an impromptu trip to Malta with my girlfriend and our crazy alligator mascot. This is Alan the Alligator, at the city gates of Valletta:

Most of this has been typed up on my phone, so please excuse any mistakes.

We were due to fly at 05:40 on the Monday morning from Manchester, and we decided to stay in the airport hotel the night before. We had asked if we could check our bags that night, but no luck.

Anyway, before setting off for Manchester my Dad picked us up so we could drop Poppy off at the cattery. Then, we went for brunch at Nonna’s in Sheffield. It was not great. My omelette was tasteless and huge. I will not be in a rush to go back.

We took the train to the airport which was stressful due to the strikes on the network. We also had to change trains, when usually we can go direct.

The food at the hotel was gross but we didn’t have a lot of choice. Suffice to say we were already stressed before we woke at 01:30 for our flight.

We thought we were smart for getting to the bag drop at 02:00 for our 05:40 flight. We were wrong.

When we had asked the night before, the agent told us that the desks would open at 03:00, so we should arrive just before to avoid a queue. When we rocked up at 02:00, there were already hundreds, maybe more than a thousand, people in line. It took over an hour to drop our bags. Then, another ninety minutes as we wound our way through the airport in a vast queue for security. Our gate closed at 05:10. We made it through at 05:08.

The system at the airport was beyond dumb. No clarity over the delays, and seemingly no staff working. For the hundreds of people queuing there were two bag drop desks open. At security there were only a couple of lines you could join.

Once we were on the plane I was ready to sleep. Now, my girlfriend is not a confident flyer. She’s got a pretty bad phobia. Our flight was a bit bumpy and she was getting very upset and scared. At one point she turns to me crying and asked me to comfort her. In my wisdom, I turned and fell asleep. She later told me I was snoring within seconds. Luckily, she saw the funny side once the flight was over.

The airport in Malta is clean and well organised. The line for passport control moved along fairly well, although my girlfriend (who still has an EU ID) was able to skip the queue whilst laughing at all us Brits, saying, “that’s what Brexit gets you!”

As I was waiting in the non-EU line one of the agents at passport control asked if anyone had EU ID. A British guy behind me raised his hand, but was quickly embarrassed. He thought that because we were in Malta, an EU member, his ID was now considered to be an EU ID.

I just know he voted Tory.

Getting a cab is easy; there is a desk with prices listed for all areas of the island. You pay at the desk and the driver takes you to their car.

One major problem with such an early flight is that you arrive a fair time before you can check in to the hotel. We dropped off our bags and made our way to Tigne Point, where there’s a shopping mall, restaurants, and cafes. Then, we just killed time until check in.

A street in Valletta.

I love Malta, which on my first visit is something I never thought I’d say. Our first trip in 2015 was a disaster; a crap hotel, crap food, and just a crap time. This is my sixth time and I see the island changing on each visit. It’s a country with a rich history, and a culture influenced by Islam and Christianity. It’s fascinating.

One of my favourite things to do in Malta is walk along the sea front, stopping for a drink and a kebab at the shawarma place between Sliema and St. Julian’s. Sitting on the rocks and watching the sea is just so relaxing. I’m not confident in the water, but watching the water is one of the few things to bring me peace.

Gozo

Malta, as a country, is not just one island. There is the island of Malta, as well as Gozo, Comino, and a number of smaller islands that are basically just uninhabited rocks in the water. There are a few that hold special significance such as St. Paul’s island, but Malta and Gozo are the main population centres.

A new ferry service has opened between Valletta and Mgerr, Gozo. It’s a forty-five minute journey best described as “choppy”. It’s great fun.

We visited Gozo twice this week. On the first visit we took the open top bus tour of the island. It takes a few hours and is so peaceful. From the top deck you see the cliffs, bays, and the deep blue of the Mediterranean.

On our second visit we went to the citadel, which is stunning. It’s at this point that things started to go wrong.

We climbed almost to the top of the castle and the views were incredible. It was also a little bit windy. I was wearing my cookie monster cap and I thought I’d better adjust it so it didn’t blow off. My adjustment had the opposite effect and my hat blew off my head and fell several dozen meters to the ground below.

The citadel is big, with a maze of corridors and walkways. The first fortification on the site was built over 3,500 years ago. It’s such an important part of our history, and here we are trying to find my wayward cap.

Oana, my girlfriend, went looking for it first as she has a much better sense of direction. As I watched her progress I saw a guy pick my hat up and throw it to one side. Tosser.

My girlfriend was able to recover the hat and I met up with her later. It was so nice of her to retrieve the hat without complaint and absolutely no mocking of me. She has the patience of a saint. I’m not typing this under any form of duress. Honest.

Malta’s Food Scene

Since our first visit to Malta, the food scene has improved massively. New restaurants are appearing, and the quality seems to be stepping up. In Valletta there is Sciacca Grill, which is a steak restaurant serving a mix of cuts from around the world. They also have a specials board of rotating salads, pasta, and seafood. There’s not a menu at the restaurant. Instead, you are taken to the meat counter where you discuss the available cuts and talk about the weight you want and how you want it cooking. They know how to prepare and cook meat, but my only slight complaint is that the side dishes that come with the meat are a bit boring; just a few bits of roasted veg.

We have often struggled to find a decent coffee in Malta, but since our last visit things have changed drastically. There are many Starbucks and Costa Coffee sites open, but there are also local espresso bars that serve excellent coffee, such as Lot61. They have different coffee blends available, as well as fresh cakes prepared daily. Although I drink no where near the amount of coffee I used to, it was nice to have the occasional latte or espresso from Lot61.

There were two other restaurants that we ate at multiple times on this trip; LaPira in Valletta, and Impasta in Sliema. The former is a traditional Maltese restaurant with a small menu, which is normally a good sign. When a restaurant has just a few options, it generally means they know those dishes well and are confident in their ability to please with them. Impasta is a pasta bar where they make fresh pasta daily, and then serve it with your choice of sauce. They also had excellent salads and bruschettas.

On the whole, we had a good time. It wasn’t a restful holiday as we were on the go most of the time. The days were long with us leaving the hotel in the morning and not returning until late in the evening. Sliema, Valletta, and Gozo are great places to visit, although some other parts of the islands are a little more “Brits Abroad”.

Financial Update

I don’t have a balance sheet for you this week, but it will return next week. My ISA and pensions have been hit hard this week, and this has wiped around £3,000 off my total wealth figure.

Also, some frustrating news on the BTL front. We were optimistic about landing the property as we had the funds to go significantly above the asking price, but the vendor chose to accept an offer from a cash buyer. So, back to the drawing board.

Apologies once again for the late post, and further apologies if you expected a more financial post this week. I’ll resume normal posting from next week.

Thanks for reading.

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