Monday, 28 February 2011

Domestic Details

When coming away for a month it is important to sort out a support system to enable the holiday to be enjoyed.  Apart from anything else I don't own thirty pairs of knickers so I found a launderette and Monday morning is devoted to laundry.  My Geordie Gramma would be proud of me, Monday was always washday.  This launderette in Gzira is a short walk away and has very large machines which take up to a twelve kilo load, it costs 14 Euros to wash and dry a full load and takes about two and a half hours in total.  I have been soaking "whites" in the kitchen sink every other night and then handwashing before hanging on the line on our balcony the following morning.  By the time we return from our activities the laundry us usually dry.  The launderette has a very useful table covered with books and customers are invited to swap one for one and that is brilliant because we are beginning to run out of reading material.  The launderette is used by the yachties and whilst I was there yesterday twenty two service washes were handed in from the boats.  We now have plenty of clean clothes which is just as well because we have a lot planned to do in the next week and need them.

Monday is also supermarket day so I trudged round there and stocked up on toothpaste and butter and stuff so we are set there for another week.  I bought some bread there yesterday too and tonic water but for the rest of the shopping I buy from the little shops and/or produce vans parked on corners.  I need to get some tomatoes today to make a bruschetta topping for some of the bread toasted this evening when we get back.  We have been incredibly lucky and have tickets to visit the Hypogeum this afternoon - normally there is a two to three month waiting list and only sixty people per day are permitted to visit on guided tours lasting an hour and a half.

We went out for supper on Sunday evening and I had the best pizza I have ever tasted.  Very thin dough with the barest smear of tomato and then a seafood topping over real mozzarella cheese.  The seafood was evenly distributed, there were plump prawns, mussels still in their shells, flakes of tuna, little bits of anchovy and then capers and thinly sliced black olives.  Every mouthful was a sheer delight but it was so large that I could only eat half of it.  The waiter put the rest in a pizza box and I had it last night for supper - still delicious.  I did ask the waiter if next time we could order one pizza between the two of us and he acquiesced immediately.  At eight euros that will be a cheap meal - even with the addition of drinks - and a delightful one. If anyone is planning on being in the Gzira/Sliema area the bistro is called Pomodoro and not far from the ferries.   Highly recommended.

I have discovered a soft drink called Kinnie - not quite like anything I have previously encountered.  It is fizzy, looks like cola but tastes like weak Oxford Marmalade.  It is made using the local oranges and herbs and quite delicious and refreshing.  The company that makes Kinnie is called Farsons and they are also responsible for the Cisk lager I tried the other day.  I suspect they may well be the largest employer locally, we drove past the factory on the North tour last week and it is massive.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Marathons and Moggies

We have had two enormous treats this morning.  I was looking out of the bedroom window down on to the wasteland we overlook and spotted what I thought was the white and ginger cat which prowls the seafront in the evenings.  I was not wearing my glasses so found them to ensure I had not spotted a white plastic bag and discovered that what I could see was a kitten.  After about five minutes Mummy cat and another two kittens came out to play and it was absolutely lovely watching them gambol around.  There is a tree in a corner which still has some Christmas decorations on and one of the kittens had a fine old time trying to knock them off.  As long as we stay behind the glass they don't know we are there and play happily until Mummy comes and holds them down to wash.  It is the first time in two weeks that we have seen the kittens but Mummy is a regular visitor to the land which is a sort of enclosed patch about thirty or forty feet in a squarish irregular shape.  Our balcony overlooks it and until this morning I was not particularly impressed with the view but now I have entertainment I am quite happy.

The second treat was the Malta half and full Marathon which has the finish only a couple of hundred yards from our apartment.  We went down and spent a happy hour in the sunshine watching the end.  The first half dozen or so returning runners were fairly widely spaced but then they started to come home in bunches.  The highest number I saw was 3580 so there were at least three and a half thousand people running this morning.  Only the later ones were dressed up in silly clothes, there was a bunch of hairy blokes in blonde wigs and white dresses a la Marilyn Monroe and a whole gaggle of girls wearing coloured tutus over black leggings.  There was a Scottish pipe and drum band giving it some wally and lots of people cheering and clapping at the end.  The sea is a bit choppy this morning and the final fifty feet or so of the route meant that people were treading in the sea water which had been washed over the wall.  Still, a nice cold foot bath at the very end would perhaps be very welcome. 

Saturday, 26 February 2011


Onslow did a bit of research on the yacht with a helicopter (it is called the Samar) and apparently it is available for charter for up to twelve people and only costs half a million pounds a week.  It might be extra for food and stuff - unclear.  So my estimate that there are millions and millions of pounds worth of boats in the harbours around Malta is totally wrong.  There are multi billions and billions of pounds invested in floating mansions here.

Palazzo Parisio

I was chatting with someone yesterday who told me about a fabulous fishmonger (Azzopardi) about a ten minute walk away so I left Onslow in bed and strode off early with my trusty rucksack to forage.  The shop was absolutely incredible - I have never seen anything like it.  There were a couple of swordfish on some scales by the entrance, a massive iced counter with scallops in shells, king prawns, Dublin Bay prawns, clams, sea bream, bass, octupus and squid and at least a dozen fish I did not recognise.  There were two hug chest freezers with transparent tops which contained everything from kippers to crabs.  A tank had plenty of bad tempered live lobsters and a little glass fronted fridge contained caviar, squid ink and bottarga.  The shop was really crowded - about a dozen men and me, which makes me think that the purchasing of fish is a male chore in Malta.   One man in front of me had ordered a turbot which cost him over two hundred Euros.   I bought twenty king prawns and they cost twenty five Euros and we shall have them with wonderful Maltese bread, Italian butter and wine as supper.  I asked about mussels and was advised that he hopes to have some on Monday or Tuesday so since my launderette is not far away I shall check on Monday while the washing is doing.

I came back to the flat, cooked Onslow's breakfast and then we went to catch the bus to Naxxar to see the Palazzo Parisio.  We went along the coast road past Paceville and St Julians and there were quite a few Navy looking ships on the horizon.  I suspect they are standing by because of the Libyan problems - it is not very far from here. 

On route to Naxxar the heavens opened but Howard and Hilda were in the rucksack so we were undaunted.  We bought our entrance tickets and went straight to the cafe where I had a fabulous hot chocolate which gave me the strength to climb the most incredible marble staircase I have ever encountered.  Every step is made from a single slab of marble and the coping over the banisters is made from one piece which must measure over twenty feet.  Onslow wanted to slide down it but I always spoil his fun.  The original building dates from 1733 but it was totally refurbished at the beginning of the 20th century and was the first place in Malta to have both electricity and a telephone.  It is very opulent - I think there is less gold leaf in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.  The music room defies description - gold and white throughout and I wished I had packed my sunglasses.

There is a particular quirk to the architecture on Malta which really pleases me.  The balconies.  They are totally different from any I have seen elsewhere.  The Maltese in the towns all huddle together in apartments and the older ones seem to be four or five storeys high.  The wall on the street is flat but as soon as you get to the first floor there is what looks like a squared bay window with four panes on the front and one on each side.   All the subsequent floors have exactly the same arrangement and they are painted in the same colour on the same building, but you can get a block of green ones next to a block of cream ones and some maroon ones a bit further on.  This is a little balcony and they quite often have washing lines hooked on them.  I have twice seen the lady of the apartment lowering a basket on a piece of rope for groceries to be put in them.

Malta just gets better.  Tomorrow is the half way point of our holiday and the weather apparently becomes much sunnier and drier as soon as we get into March.

Friday, 25 February 2011


We have had the loveliest day in Vittoriosa.  The weather is still a bit dodgy, no actual rain today but very cloudy and on the cool side, so we dressed in warmish clothes packed Howard and Hilda (our very good and matching waterproof jackets which fold up the size of a slim paperback) in my rucksack and braved the morning wind to catch a bus to Valletta and then a connecting bus to Vittoriosa which is one of the "Three Cities" the other side of the Grand Harbour in Valletta.  The first bus had a lit up Madonna over the driver's cab - that's a new one.  We changed at the bus station and continued up to Vittoriosa on a new bus.  The bus system is absolutely brilliant, all the buses go to Valletta, timetables and maps are available free there and you just go and find the next bus.  At 47 cents a trip it is very cheap too and much the most efficient way of getting round the island.

We had a sort of plan for Vittoriosa which involved the Maritime Museum, lunch, The Inquisitor's House and St Lawrence's church.  All of which were achieved, eventually.  The Maritime Museum is superb, Onslow is rather keen on boats of any description (he actually sailed for the Army) so he was in his element.  Apparently all the badges of rank on the naval officers' uniforms are wrong and I was told in no uncertain terms what they should be wearing.   The WRNS uniform displayed would have been too small for my 12 year old grand-daughter - the WRENS were obviously not built on the same lines as the WRAC - I am one of the smaller ones amongst my friends at 5'9".   There is some really fascinating stuff in there though and I managed to spend two hours being interested.  The actual building it is housed in was originally the Navy Bakery and the plans are there to see how it operated.

We had a very nice lunch, I had a paella which was stuffed with seafood but the rice was the wrong sort and it was on the dry side and Onslow managed fish, chips and peas.  You can take the boy out of Bolton but he still wants fish and chips if he sees it on a menu.    I tried the famous Maltese beer called Cisk (pronounced Chisk) and it was really lovely - very light and refreshing.  I think it is quite low alcohol but delicious.

We then went to the Inquisitor's House which was quite interesting.  The house itself was practically destroyed over the years but is now being restored and there were some extremely interesting displays.  My favourite was the Christmas one which showed the importance of cribs in traditional Maltese Christmas celebrations and there were lots of examples from the last couple of centuries.

We wandered back to the main square and had a drink and a piece of apple pie.  And what an apple pie it was - absolutely fantastic and quite different from any I have ever had before.  The pastry case was soft and spongelike and about two inches deep and on the base was a thick custard.  Then a sweet apple puree of the type you get with Bramleys which had lots of chunks of dessert apple mixed in and then slices of dessert apple in circles around the top.  It was glazed with sugar and toasted almond slivers sprinkled on top.  It was served warm but since I chose it from a chilled display cabinet I think it was zapped in a microwave.  No matter, it was lovely.

My guide book said that St Lawrence's Church opened at 4pm but that was wrong, it did not open until 4.30.  So we were hanging around a bit waiting.  The church was the original church for the Knights before they moved across to Valletta and there are quite a lot of Maltese Crosses around, the stained glass windows, the altar cloths and above the entrance being the most obvious examples.  Inside it is very ornate but quite dark so I am not sure we saw it at its best and I might have to back for another look.

A lovely day.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Still Malta

The weather yesterday was foul so we had a busy doing nothing day and have woken up to blue skies and will get back on track today.

We did a couple of things last week which are worthy of mention before this blog was set up so I will trawl my memory for the highlights.

All along Sliema harbourfront are people selling various cruise options and bus sightseeing trips so I collected all the leaflets and narrowed them down and eventually bought the City Sightseeing package at 29 Euros each which includes a North Route, a South Route, a trip to Gozo and a harbour cruise with Captain Morgan - good value.  We also got lured into a timeshare selling scheme and ended up with a load of goodies including a free harbour trip with Luzzu Cruises - and did not buy a timeshare. 

The North Route bus trip was really interesting.  It is one of the hop on and off services and covered Valletta, Floriana, Hamrun, Mdina, Mosta, St Paul's Bay and Pembroke.  Some of the old British naval buildings are really fabulous.  They were all "appropriated" back in the 70's but the architecture is superb.  Hamrun has an amazing aqueduct (which now provides covered car parking for the locals) which brought water down from the hills in the long dry summers before the desalination system was built.

We only had a quick glimpse at Mdina because it is the intention to spend a whole day between Mdina and Rabat next week, but it looks lovely.  The ancient capital of Malta, all golden stone and cobbled roads.  We glanced at Mosta Dome but are having a day there too so did not stop and then enjoyed a ride along the northern coast road.  The coast road is a mass of modern development and not particularly interesting but the sun was shining, the sea was impossibly blue for February and we simply looked out to sea and ignored the buildings.

The Luzzu harbour cruise was fabulous.  We did it late in the afternoon and went up all the six creeks surrounding Valletta.  Seeing all the fortifications from the water makes you realise just how impenetrable Malta could be -  there are up to six levels from where invaders could be fought off.   The yacht harbour at Msida has millions and millions of pounds worth of yachts moored there.  We even saw one yacht moored which had a helicopter on it.  How the other half live.

Still Malta

The longer we stay here the more I like it.  The weather has changed and we had really bad storms last night.  I have been up since 4 am - I went quietly into the sitting room and read so as not to disturb Onslow.  Today is our tenth day on the island and things are beginning to make sense and slot into place.  The fortifications are  amazing and for anyone interested in history or art Malta is a good call for a winter break.  I suspect I would not like it nearly so much in the summer.

The fabled yellow buses are brilliant and I am so glad that we came in time to see and use them.  On 3rd July Arriva take over the transport and a new fleet will be arriving.  The buses go absolutely everywhere and are incredibly cheap.  They run all day from early in the morning until late at night and then there are a few nightbuses around the nightclub areas.  A lady I met (an expat who has lived here for thirty years) told me that when she first came here the drivers would sit sideways because God really drove the buses and they did not need to pay any attention to the road.  It is much busier these days so they are giving God a bit of help and looking at the road.  Every bus we have been on has at least one religious picture above the driver's window and we have seen a few of the drivers just say a little prayer whilst waiting at traffic lights.

The churches I have been in so far are absolutely overwhelming - I have never seen such splendour anywhere else in the world.  I went to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta and had to just sit for half an hour to try and absorb some of the magnificence.  I am a big fan of both Butterfield and Pugin but they are austerity personified compared to Mount Carmel.  Six different marble alters dedicated to different saints, lots of red lights and poinsettias decorating everywhere, brilliant light shining in through the dome windows.  Yesterday was St Paul Shipwrecked and even though this is much darker the decor is stunning.  The floor is composed of marble memorials with armorial mosaics and it seems a shame to walk on it.  St Paul's wrist bone is contained in a glass case which was attracting a lot of attention.  One chap sat there for the entire time I was in the church praying away to it.

Foodwise we are doing very well.  As well as the supermarket I have found a lovely greengrocer and a nice butcher.  I saw a chap selling fish on the promenade last week and had a chat before buying some but he has not reappeared.  Or perhaps I have missed him whilst gallivanting.  The butter available includes that lovely very pale Italian stuff so I am really enjoying plain Maltese bread and butter.  The bread is absolutely fantastic, quite the best I have ever tasted.  We ate out a couple of times last week but have not done so yet this week, I am enjoying pottering around trying local produce.  There are men driving sort of open vans stuffed with fruit and vegetables, they just seem to park up somewhere, sell stuff to anyone who wants it and then move on.  We have had new season potatoes and broad beans and I spotted artichokes yesterday so they might go on the menu.  I am keeping my eyes peeled for asparagus - the stuff we get at home is fabulous but I would like to try local freshly picked stuff here.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


It has been suggested that I write a blog about our month in Malta during February/March 2011 so please bear with me if my first few posts are a bit amateur.  

We left Birmingham airport on a cold Valentine's day and landed in Malta in the dark.  Our ordered transfer driver drove like an absolute lunatic - which I have discovered is the norm here.  I actually saw a learner driver the other day and was surprised that people are actually taught to drive.  Like this?  I digress.  Our accommodation is the Bayview Hotel on Sliema seafront, we are are not in the main hotel because the self catering apartments are dotted all over the place, ours is on a little side street practically next door.  We get to use the hotel facilities so I am swimming daily in the indoor pool.  Usually alone.  Our little flat has a kitchen/dining/sitting room, a very large bedroom and a shower room.  Quite sufficient for our needs, the kitchen is not particularly well equipped, but adequate.  We have a balcony off the bedroom with a couple of chairs and a small table quite large enough to hold a bowl of olives and a bottle of wine.

Day one saw me up and raring to go by 7.30 am,  my husband (known as Onslow) was happy to permit me to go off foraging for his breakfast whilst he had another hour in bed.  So off I went, trying to work out the best place to find a shop.  I had done a bit of research on the area via the internet and realised that the main shopping area was to the left of the hotel so I turned left and started walking along the seafront.  The sun was shining, the sea was sparkling and I saw very few people at first.  After about five hundred yards I turned left up what appeared to be a main shopping street and noticed a sign saying supermarket so I followed it and found a massive multi storey car park with a Carrefour entrance.  It was a very odd sort of supermarket, loads of groceries in jars and tins, a bakery corner and some fridges containing cheese, milk and cooked meats.  No fruit and vegetables or cleaning stuff.  No matter, I bought eggs, bread, butter, milk and cheese and ham and went home for breakfast.  The following day I noticed a sort of escalater you can put shopping trollies on lurking in a far corner, threw caution to the winds and went for a ride on it.  On the floor below was more cleaning stuff than is carried in a large Tesco and a big butchery counter taking up about a quarter of the entire space.  More was to come, there was another escalator down another level and there I found all the fruit and vegetables one could wish for and also freezers and beverages.  My very first three storey supermarket - and I had to come to Malta to find it.

The first couple of days were spent just mooching around Sliema and Valletta and trying to find our bearings.  I spent a small fortune on the Malta Heritage multipass and the City Sightseeing four day pass to do various trips.  Our location was carefully chosen for proximity to the Valletta ferry and also the fabled yellow bus routes but since Onslow has trouble with his knees we are tending to catch the bus into Valletta and then the ferry home.  Which is lovely.  The bus station is at the top of the city and right by the main gate so we amble around losing height gradually and end up by the ferry terminal at Valletta ready to come home.