Wednesday, 2 March 2011

South of Valletta

Today we did the open top bus tour which goes from Sliema to Valletta, Vittorioso, Paola, Marsaxlokk and The Blue Grotto.  Not an unqualifed success generally.  We have used the City Sightseeing tours all over the place but I have to say that in Malta they are less than satisfactory.  The bus was very late turning up (almost an hour), the speaker system worked for about twenty minutes altogether in the whole day and our first bus lost its silencer at one point and a replacement bus was required.  The weather was a bit rough for the boats to operate at The Blue Grotto so we just had a bit of a mooch around.  There was not very much to see and one woman refused to let us in the gift shop because she was closing.  At 1545hrs.  Did she not want to sell any stock to a captive audience?

However, we did not let it spoil our fun and had a very nice day despite all the problems.  We went to Valletta and had what is advertised as a walking tour - it walked about a hundred yards down Merchant Street from the Prime Minister's Palace and then back up to Upper Barraka Gardens.  Then back on the bus.  To be fair, the chap leading the tour was very knowledgeable about the Knights, pointed out and explained the architectural symbolism of the Langues we did see and gave a really good explanation of The Grand Harbour.  Apparently the Prime Minister holds Open House on New Year's Day and just sits in his office whilst the entire population of the Island wander in to wish him a Happy New Year.  I approve of that.  He does it again on a specific date in September but I cannot remember when.  We dipped out of the tour of Vittorosio because we spent the whole day there last week and went for a coffee by the marina.  The yacht Samara complete with helicopter is still sitting there waiting for a call.  From Libya perhaps?  At Paola the bus stopped by the Tarxien Temples so we just sat there and read our books having visited only yesterday.

The next stop was Marsaxlokk which was absolutely delightful.  We had a very nice lunch - not quite what I expected but different and delicious.  The menu said Seafood Platter  for two for thirty five Euros which sounded like a bargain.  I expected a French style Fruits de Mer and got a massive platter of different shellfish, all hot, plus a bowl of fried potatoes and a bowl of salad and the obligatory Maltese bread.  The seafood consisted of mussels (ordinary and green lipped), clams, razor clams, scallops, king prawns and a heap of braised octupus which is the nicest I have ever tasted.  Very soft and luscious with a faintly liquorice tinge to the sauce.  Interrogation of the kitchen revealed it had been braised for hours in olive oil, lemon juice and water and then at the point of serving a good tablespoon of a mixture of mint, parsley and Greek basil was chopped finely and stirred in.  Quite one of the most delicious things to come my way.  The fishing village itself is lovely, there were hundreds of the brightly coloured boats with the eyes painted on the prow, fishermen mending their nets, a little market with lots of Maltese lace and generally a lovely atmosphere.  There is a big fish market there on Sundays and it is our intention to return one of the next two Sundays to see it.

The climb in the bus up to the Blue Grotto area was quite spectacular.  I am not awfully good at heights so just looked the other way for a lot of it.  The area near the car park overlooks a lot of rock pools, some of which have been cemented over to provide look out/fishing points for people.  There were loads of cats in this area, all sunning themselves and not deigning to notice the incomers from the bus.  They are obviously used to the hordes invading and just carried on washing.  Or sleeping.

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