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Category Archives: Malta 2014

Funking Cold Mdina

It’s Saturday, and very nearly time for a riotous cavalcade of song. Or, to most casual observers, an upmarket sort of karaoke. But first, a trip to the historic walled city of Mdina.

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It’s busy today, with plenty of tourists and unusually for this place, a few cars too. The narrow streets are filled with history and some really nice small restaurants and coffee shops. In fact, there’s absolutely no need for the long face.

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Mdina looks almost as impressive from the outside as the inside.

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But instead of reading more about its fascinating history, or scouring its newly landscaped ramparts, John leads us around the back of a car park and down a steep lane to search for what looks like a tramp’s lunchbox. Yep, it’s another geocache. Imagine coming all this way just to rummage around in walls for Tupperware containers.

Back in Valletta, they’ve upped the ante on this year’s Christmas decorations.

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This actually turns out to be celebrations for the feast of St Paul. But being a fiercely Catholic country, Malta has a festival for just about every saint, and unless said deity is from your town, you don’t get involved in the party. On the other hand, it means quite a few parties across the year.

And so to Maltasong, held in huge tent next to the national football stadium. The event is televised and watched by just about everybody, including about 3,000 people in the arena. And it lasts for about three hours.

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There are two main areas – the front stage and the green room, where all the acts await their voting fate. The votes themselves are cast by a combination of judges and public telephone poll. Once the show is underway, the acts warble their way through ballads, throwbacks and some rather jolly pop tunes. Chris Grech performed last year, though to be fair, he could come from just about any year in the late 70s or early 80s.

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One of the big stars of the show is Gianluca Bezzina – last year’s winner. The doctor turned singer is co-hosting the contest with another previous performer.

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Whilst the votes are being counted, the rest of the musical Bezzina family do a version of Pharrell Williams’ Happy – and they certainly seem happy enough backstage.

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In the end, the winners are a band called Firelight with a song titled Coming Home, though to be fair it could be just about anything by Mumford and Sons. Even Eurovision has got the folk rock bug.

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It’s gone midnight, but although the show is over it’s far from the end of proceedings. Maltese Television lay on a generous bar which is just about drunk dry by performers, journalists and guests. By the end of it all, everything’s a blur. And the main hall is a cleaner’s nightmare.

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Posted by on February 9, 2014 in Malta 2014, Travel Stuff

 

Gozo a Go Go

There’s much more to Malta than just Malta. Like its smaller, and in many ways, better looking sister, Gozo. That probably sounds wrong on some levels – but you can’t deny the view on arrival by ferry.

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Getting this far is a relatively easy task, thanks to a direct bus from Sliema, just down the road from our hotel. The journey itself was a combination of panoramic views of the coastline and precarious hairpin bends going in and out of Malta’s many pretty bays. One thing that strikes you about this Mediterranean landscape is the lack of any real beaches. Outcrops of rocks attract a few local visitors but that’s about it, at least at this time of the year.

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By the time we get to the Gozo Ferry, NewsMutt is beyond excited, and insists on making the most of the view. And without a life jacket.

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Like Malta, Gozo is big on history, mainly connected to its many churches. From the Citadel in Victoria, there plenty of more stunning views.

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But it’s not all about sightseeing, as John stares deeply into his phone. This can only mean one thing : he’s got news of a hidden geocache in the vicinity. The subsequent minutes look like a poor man’s version of Treasure Hunt, sans Anneka Rice. But then, hidden in a wall near some dog poo, John finds the cache.

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A couple of tips if you’re visiting Gozo. Your Maltese bus ticket won’t work here, but an all day ride will only cost you €1.50. And there’s much more to the sightseeing than just the churches. Such as the Cafe Jubilee’s little brother. And some more lovely Cisk.

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Posted by on February 7, 2014 in Malta 2014, Travel Stuff

 

5.30 : Last Orders

I wouldn’t normally dedicate a whole blog title to a single sign outside a pub. But this isn’t just any pub. The Pub in Valletta is where Oliver Reid had his last drink. And quite a session it was. On my previous visit to Malta, I’d promised to pay a bigger homage to the old soak by having more than one pint in his pub. So it was rather disappointing to turn up at 5pm to see a sign saying that last orders were at 5.30. That’s the low season for your.

Still, Valletta was looking splendid once again, with many streets decorated in the national colours. For what, exactly, I couldn’t work out. But it looked pretty enough.

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Early evening seems to be the time when the Maltese do their shopping. Familiar chain stores line the streets of the capital, which was just as well – as I hadn’t exactly dressed for winter. In such situations, BHS is your friend, although the woman serving me didn’t seem to have ever operated a credit card terminal.

“I think I’ve made a mistake on my PIN number. Can we start again.”

“No,” she said apologetically, “I make the mistake,” before staring blankly at the four card machines in front of her.

One sweater later, we were free to peruse the other delights on offer.

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If you’re writing comedy, this is the city that keeps on giving.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2014 in Malta 2014, Travel Stuff

 

Don’t Look Out Of The Window

What a difference a year makes. I was so impressed with my first visit to Malta that I not only came back on the same week with the same people, but we booked into the same apartments. After all, last year’s view was pretty impressive.

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To say that this year’s offering is less impressive would be a slight understatement. On the plus side, it’s about 17 Celsius outside and it’s the first week of February. But the bookings staff at the Bay View apartments have managed to split us into two different rooms. Franko has pretty much the view you see above. John and I don’t.

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For those wondering, NewsMutt is currently showing his rear end to two other dogs on a balcony below. Typical. Although he’s also been checking out the safety arrangements in our luxury kitchenette.

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Another thing that’s changed this year is the public transport. For years, Malta’s bus network was run by individual drivers who owned their ancient vehicles, famously making the whole island trafficscape look like something from fifty years ago. Then two years ago, then transport multinational Arriva took over operations, compete with a sleek new fleet of bendy buses. But suddenly, at the end of 2013, it pulled out for financial reasons. The result is that the Maltese Government has brought the entire system back in house. And for the previously modern airport bus service, the best place to sit with your case these days is on the back seat.

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But thankfully some things never change, and we are soon sampling some lovely beer at the Cafe Jubilee in Gzira.

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This little gem of a bar combines English familiarity with French decor and permanent jazz music. If it only had a terrace, I might not move from here at all. But there’s a whole island to explore out there…

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Malta 2014, Travel Stuff

 

Platform Zero

Railway stations can be places of inspiration, not least at the start of an epic journey. Who can fail to be awestruck by the stunning restoration of St Pancras in London, or it’s newly refurbished neighbour? The sweeping interior of York always makes the hairs on your neck stand up.

Then there’s Stockport. In February. In the rain. The vagaries of ticketing mean the journey to Manchester Airport involves not one, but two changes. And with just eight minutes to make the connection at Stockport, the last thing you need is a sign directing you to Platform Zero.

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What even goes from Platform Zero?! A time travel train? The bus replacement service? There’s no time to think, though, as we are swiftly on board the next train, connecting to Wilmslow. We’re taking the posh way to Manchester Airport.

The guard on board is confused as to why we’re taking a train bound for Bournemouth only to change again and head back north.

“Have you got one of these, but for the other direction?” he asks, pointing at my ticket.

“Er, yes. For next week.”

And so begins another journey to the beautiful Mediterranean haven of Malta. Described by some as what happened when Britain and Italy had a dirty weekend in the Fifties, this is also the home of what’s slowly becoming my own guilty secret. A trip to Maltasong : when the island chooses its tune for the Eurovision Song Contest.

Regular followers of the blog may remember what happened last year, when I somehow managed to leave a bag on a bus, containing my keys, passport, phone and ipad. My return, almost exactly a year later, has been borne out of a dogged determination to rid myself of “the curse”.

And to do some drinking and sightseeing, before attending an enormously camp night out.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Malta 2014, Travel Stuff