My shiny little online spot to help y'all keep track of me while I galavant around London.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I went to Malta at the end of September for some work thingamabob. I had to look it up on a map first (thanks, Google!). I knew it was Mediterranian, but exactly where I did not know. Anyway, it's apparently smack in the middle of the Med, south of Sicily.

Because of this, it's hella warm and sunny -- which probably explains why it's so crowded. It's about 7km long, but home to 400,000 people, making it one of the most densely populated places in the EU.

And, because of its handy location -- south of Italy, north of Africa -- it's got a cool mix of Southern Europe and Arabic culture, which shows in the language and the architecture.

Right. So the conference thingamabob was held at a posh hotel on a bay on the north side of the island. For some reason, when I checked in, they decided to give me the ambassador suite: two bathrooms, massive bedroom, sitting area, dining room, two seperate balconies -- and a rooftop patio overlooking the sea. I honestly considered barricading myself in that room and never, ever leaving.

And yes, I did use both bathrooms. I alternated.

Aside from listening to people ramble about ethernets, the group also travelled to the medieaval city of Mdina for dinner one night. Built on top of a hill, this fortress-town is actually still lived in -- but you've got to be descended from royalty to live there... and have a lot of money.

I had the glory of staying in my lovely room for just two nights. On the Friday, however, as the conference was over, I had to leave (or pay more money than I was willing in order to stay).

Me and a few other journos -- one of whom, like me, hadn't bothered to book a room for the weekend -- cabbed it to the capital city of Valetta. I figured that as this place is a pretty big tourist destination, finding a hotel/hostel would be easy. I was wrong. Accomodations in Valetta are few and booked months ahead of time.

After calling all the hotels and guest houses listed by the tourist office, I found one room in a hostel, handily around the corner from the hotel of the journos with better planning skills.

This place was a step down from the resort, however (anything would have been, mind you, but this was of the mind-your-step-b/c-it's-a-big-one variety). It had two twin beds, a shoddy dresser and a toilet in the hall -- but its window opened up into the historical old town. Looking out the window, down the steep street, with laundry hung out of buildings, and cats lounging on the stairs, it was hard to be too concerned about the quality of the bed.

Valetta is the "old town". All the buildings look ancient. We wandered down one side and up another -- it's a whole kilometer in length -- marveling at the steep hills and looking out over the harbour. Then we did what journos and PRs do when they get together -- we drank. Beer.

At one point, walking down the street, we came across a religious procession -- people in pope-like garb, leading a group of guys carrying a huge statue. Chanting and singing. On a Friday night. Down the main street. This place is rather religious.

The next day, my roomie John and I took one of the hilariously old-school Maltese buses south across the island. We stopped off, unintentionally, and saw some ancient ruins. Much older than Egypt's pyramids, our tour guide from the Mdina night had lamented that they weren't as popular. She suggested this was because Egypt is a bigger country. I suggest it's because these ruins are a pile of rocks, and the pyramids are marvels of engineering.

From there, we walked along the road to the sea, which was our actual destination. We were looking to take a boat trip to the Blue Grotto, a seaside cave with ridiculously blue water. Hopping onto our seven-seater motorboat, we bumped along on top of the water, past the little town, along the cliffs -- where Italian teenagers sunbathed, and seriously hardcore fisherman climbed down in order to set out their poles.

The water along the cliffs was a dark inky blue. It looked middle-of-the-ocean deep, despite being just feet from the shore. But once inside the caves, the water turned crystal clear, a blue like you'd see on a stone on a cheap ring. Along the edge of the water, the stone was purple and pink.

All that, while exceptionally pretty, had nothing on the water further down. There's a strange algae in the water, which makes it really insanely blue, and when the light hits in the right way, it's electric looking. Really wicked awesome. (Video here and here.)

After that, we bused it back through the little winding streets that cover Malta, and hooked up with the other two for drinks, dinner and more drinks.

The next day, John took off to catch his early flight, and Matt wrote stories (downsides of freelance), so Hillary and I wandered Valetta. We attempted to shop, but most of the stores were closed Sunday, as this country is very Catholic. We did attempt to wander a market, but it was so crowded -- with people and utter shit -- that we left to wander the town some more.

It was freaking hot out, and our energy waned as the day went on and we trekked up stupidly steep streets. We eventually found the palace, wandered in, and then were kicked out, because it was closed. It was a lazy, aimless day in the sun -- perfect way to spend holiday time, as far as I'm concerned.

I headed back to London that night, catching a RyanAir (it's like a bus, that flies!) flight that arrived at Luton at midnight. The queues for passport control were weirdly long, and then I missed my train, so had to take the coach back into Oxford Street, where it was (of course) raining...

More Malta pics are here.

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Blogger Will said...

I did, of course, read the whole post, but I'm still like: "TWO TOILETS?!"



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