My Holidays in Malta, Mgarr in Gozo

Fishing Boat Mgarr Gozo Malta

“Gozo remained an utterly private place and lucky the man who could find the key, turn the lock and vanish inside.”  – Nicholas Monserrat

Mgarr GozoSculpture Mgarr Ferry Port Gozo Malta

This is the port of Mgarr in 1997 when I first visited…

Mgarr 1991

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My Holidays in Malta, Ferry to Gozo

Gozo Ferry

In 1997 I visited Gozo for the first time.  It is a short crossing and there had hardly been time to settle down in our seats on board when the ferry began to approach the port of Mgarr and began to slide into position ready at the quay side for disembarkation.

Mgarr was thankfully a lot more attractive than Ċirkewwa and in the shelter of the walls the iconic multi-coloured fishing boats of Malta were swaying idly in the limpid water of the harbour.

We wanted to go to the capital Victoria but the bus looked crowded and so, because I knew it wasn’t very far, I foolishly allowed myself to be talked into a taxi by a persuasive cabbie.

It was immediately obvious that a short ride to Victoria was the last thing he wanted and he was looking for a much more profitable fare.  He told us an improbable tale that the capital was mostly closed today so we would be disappointed and he suggested an escorted island tour instead.  He ignored our repeated instructions and set off instead on his preferred itinerary and towards the east coast village of Xaghra where he promised windmills and Megalithic temples.

The last thing my teenage children wanted were windmills and Megalithic temples but once there he made the mistake of stopping and letting us out for a closer inspection and it was now that we took our opportunity to be rid of him and we told him that we no longer required his services, paid, what I am certain was an inflated fare, and the with a collective sigh of relief looked for a bus stop.

It didn’t take long for a grey and red bus (grey and red to distinguish Gozo buses from the Orange of Malta) with the sun glinting off of its immaculate chrome bumpers to come along and we climbed on board past the heavily decorated driver’s seat which he shared with pictures of his favourite Saints and swinging rosary beads hanging from the window blinds, paid our fare and found some vacant seats.

Gozo Malta Cannons

The centre of Victoria turned out to be rather too busy for me but the quiet backstreets were shady and quiet and we wandered around the maze of alleyways until we re-emerged back in the centre, visited the cathedral and walked the walls and ramparts of the old Citadel with its fortifications and old cannons and explored tiny side-streets until it was time to make our way back to the bus station and return to the ferry port at Mgarr for a late afternoon ferry back to Malta.

I returned to the island in 2015 and for our day on Gozo we had booked one of those open topped tourist buses.  I don’t usually like these because they seem to spend a lot of wasted time going to places that you don’t want to go but the man at the hotel reception had persuaded me that this was a good option because we could be sure of seeing all of the places of interest in one day which could not be guaranteed if relying on the privatised bus service.  We found the bus, made our way to the top deck and waited for it to fill up with passengers and leave for the first stop Victoria.

Victoria is the capital of Gozo.  It used to be called Rabat but in 1887 the British renamed it to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.  I can’t help thinking that it is rather arrogant to go around changing place names in such a superior way.  A lot of people on Gozo still call the place Rabat – Good For Them!

The bus dropped us off and we made our way to the centre of the city, to St George’s Square and the Basilica of the same Saint.  As it was 23rd April there was a lot of bell ringing and celebration but the disappointment was that the square resembled a construction site as it was in the process of restoration and improvement.

We moved on from St George’s building site and made our way to the Citadel at the very top of the city which as the name suggests is a medieval fortress city in the most defensible position on the island.  This also turned out to be rather a disappointment because this was another construction site.

The Citadella is on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list and it looked as though the Gozians are putting in a bit of extra effort (courtesy of EU heritage funding) to give the application a boost.

This is the Cathedral, no cannon anymore, replaced now by statues and the decoration on the facade of the building is gone which personally I thought was rather a shame.

In 2017 we took the ferry to Gozo again but when we got there we did nothing more than wander around the port town of Mgarr which is most likely something that not many people do as they clamber aboard buses and taxis and leave the place as soon as they can.  It was rather nice, we strolled around the port, explored some dusty back streets, found a friendly bar and then after only an hour or so made our way back to the ferry terminal and returned to Malta.

Gozo Victoria Rabat

My Holidays in Malta, Popeye Village

Popeye Village

As a rule when I am on holiday or travelling and reporting back on a place I try and remain positive and upbeat, I try to find the best in a place, I try not to be disappointed.

Today is an exception – I am going to tell you about Popeye Village.

Popeye Village is in Anchor Bay, Malta and it was constructed as a film set for the 1981 film starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall.  When the film was shot and the actors had all gone home the set became a modest tourist attraction.

I first visited the place in the summer of 1997 and in those days it still looked like a film set.  Entrance can’t have been too expensive because in 1997 I wasn’t that keen on parting with unnecessary cash (still not actually).  The buildings were much as they would have been for the shooting of the film, a lot of timber and the smell of sawdust.  There were a few little embellishments of course to try and amuse visitors but really nothing too dramatic.  In fact I think I remember thinking that it was dangerously close to falling down, one Mediterranean storm and it would be surely washed away and gone!

Popeye Village 1

Fast forward twenty years…

Returning to Malta and the Mellieha Bay Hotel it seemed like a good idea to visit again and take my grandchildren.  I thought that they might like it there.

Not wishing to rely upon the dreadful bus service I booked a taxi at several times the cost of the bus and it arrived on time and took us to the entrance of what is now marketed as a theme park.  I arranged to be picked up in three hours time and the taxi driver gave me a card and a sympathetic look and said if we needed picking up earlier then we should give him a call.  There was a message in there which I missed.

The first shock was the entrance fee, I nearly collapsed on the spot and had to be held up while I tapped in my credit card PIN number.

Popeye

As soon as were inside I knew that it was terrible.  The place has been given a gaudy paint makeover, all horrid primary colours; at the centre was a man who was dressed as Popeye but didn’t look anything like Popeye, a man dressed as Bluto but didn’t look anything like Bluto and a woman dressed as Olive Oyl who I have to concede did look a bit like Olive Oyl.

We stayed for about one hour, the children were bored, even they couldn’t find anything to amuse them, the boat ride was late and overcrowded, it wasn’t even a boat, it was a rubber dinghy, the water park was a paddling pool, the free drink (adults only) was barely a thimble full of something cheap and horrid and after sixty minutes or so (less probably) I searched though my pockets for the taxi driver business card.

On the way out Sally set out a list of complaints to the staff –   this is usually my job, I am the one to get irritable and argumentative but Sally completely upstaged me today and eventually I had to drag her away from the ticket booth before she trashed the place and thankfully the taxi turned up to take us back to the sanity of the Mellieha Bay Hotel.

Popeye Village 2

As I remember the film wasn’t that good either.  Rubbish actually!

I cannot find any single reason to recommend this place, it is expensive, it is amateurish and it is really quite dreadful.  It took me a couple of beers to get over the experience.  TripAdvisor gives it a rating of Four Stars, I give it minus four!

If you are going to Malta do not waste your money on this so called attraction.  If you are determined to see it then walk or drive to it and take a look from the other side of the bay, do not waste your money going inside!

So now I am thinking.  Where else have I been that has also been underwhelming and a disappointment.

If Popeye Village is top of the list then second has to be Gatorland in Florida which I had the misfortune to visit in 1990.

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And in third place it will have to be the Wild West film set in Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands where I went with my daughter Sally in 1987.  She was less than one year old so happily for her she has no recollection of it.

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What is the most disappointing place that you have ever visited?

Malta, More Doors and Windows

Malta Mdina WindowIMG_8726Malta Knockers

My Holidays in Malta, Chocolate Cake and Carriages in Mdina

Mdina 1997 & 2017

I am fairly certain that in 1997 there was a direct bus service from Mellieha to Mdina but this is not so today so we had to compete for space on a bus to Buggiba and then wait for a transfer to our destination.

In 1997 the bus dropped us off at the main gate where there was a flotilla of horse drawn carriages called Karrozzins with pushy drivers waiting to ambush people as they stepped into the terminus and I am not sure how this happened but almost immediately we were sitting in the carriage and taking an unnecessary tour of the city and my wallet was a few Maltese Pounds lighter.  Unnecessary because it is only a small place and it is much nicer to investigate it on foot anyway which is what we did as soon as the trip was over.

Twenty years later in 2017 after a couple of tedious waits and changes and a long and circuitous route we eventually arrived and the first thing that struck me was that in twenty years there has been a lot of restoration in Mdina.  The once crumbling walls have been repaired and the untidy concrete streets of hasty post war repairs have all been repaved.  I preferred it the old way because it seems to me that the Maltese have managed to transform this wonderful place into a sort of Disney World EPCOT interpretation.

Mdina pre restoration.Mdina Malta

Most of the guide books recommend a visit to Fontanella Tea Rooms for a cake and a coffee stop so we found it and made our way to the first floor terrace.  We did this twenty years ago but now we were not surprised to find that this place had also had a very extensive makeover.

I am never very keen on wasting money on things like horse and trap rides but Molly caught me in a weak moment and having convinced myself that a 10% reduction on an advertised rate was a bargain I was persuaded to agree to reprise a ride in a Karrozzin and we had an enjoyable twenty minute clip-clop ride through the ancient city.

Mdina

Mdina is quite small and we soon found ourselves going down the same streets as just an hour or so ago so we headed for the main gate exit and returned to the bus stop.  It was ten to three and the bus was scheduled for five past.  Ten past came and went, twenty past, half past, I found an inspector who suggested that it might be stuck in traffic (bus inspector’s first excuse every time I expect) and then when one did turn up it turned its destination light off and replaced it with ‘not in service’. 

Malta now has a seriously bad bus service so we broke a golden holiday rule and took an expensive taxi ride to Mosta.  Don’t ask me how much it was because I will surely start to weep!

Fontanella

The next stop was at Mosta, for no better reason than to visit the Cathedral which was built in the nineteenth century and has a dome that is among the largest in the World – in fact (and you do have to be careful about these sort of facts of course) it is the third largest in Europe and the ninth largest in the World.  You can believe that or believe it not but the most remarkable thing about the Mosta Dome is the miracle of the unexploded bomb.

During the Second-World-War it is claimed that Malta was the most heavily bombed place in the World and on April 9th 1942, during an afternoon air-raid, a Luftwaffe bomb pierced the dome (two others bounced off) and fell among a congregation of more than three hundred people attending early evening mass. It did not explode. Apparently it rolled down the aisle and into the street outside so it was a good job that the doors were open!

Mosta The Miracle of the Bomb

I suspect that that part of the story may not be completely accurate and has been embellished and corrupted by the passing of time but this is the way they like to tell it.  I am sceptical if only for the reason that with a bomb crashing through the roof I imagine that there would have been quite a lot of panic and congestion in the aisle as people rushed for the door.  There would have been a mad dash and a tangle of bodies that would make modern day bus stop queues look like a Royal Garden Party and the bomb would be most unlikely to get through.

One version of this event states that when a bomb disposal squad opened the device it was found to be filled with sand instead of explosives and contained a note saying “greetings from Plzeň” from the workers at Škoda Works in the German-occupied Czechoslovakia who had allegedly sabotaged its production.

A nice story but not necessarily true.

Anyway, not much has changed except that the statue outside used to be sandstone and is now graphite and the statue’s halo used to be graphite and now it is sandstone.

Mostar church

An Edwardian Wedding

Edwardian Wedding

The picture was taken only fifty years or so before I was born in 1906 but in a Merchant Ivory sort of way reveals a completely different way of life to the 1950s separated as they are by two World Wars and a global economic depression.

The happy couple are my great grandparents Joseph Insley and Florence Lillian Hill.  Joseph was a coachbuilder who was born in 1873, one of eight children to Thomas Insley, a wheelwright, and his wife Martha (nee. Johnson) who lived in the village of Shackerstone, near Market Bosworth in Leicestershire.  Florence was one of seven children, the daughter of James and Emma Hill from the nearby village of Newbold Verdon.

Read the Full Story…

 

My Holidays in Malta – Mellieha Bay Hotel

Mellieha Bay Hotel 4

Enjoying an exclusive location close to Malta’s largest sandy beach and graced with acres of beautifully landscaped gardens. The Resort is a regular meeting place for repeat guests from all over the world who have come to refer to the Resort as their ‘home away from home’. Mellieha Bay Hotel Website

Once a year I go on holiday with my daughter and grandchildren.  Twice sometimes like last year for example.  In 2016 we went to Malta and they enjoyed it.  Early in 2017 I began a debate about where we should go later in the year.  This didn’t take too long and the vote was unanimous – MALTA!

I am never really certain that it is a good idea to keep going back to the same place but Malta is one for which I will gladly make a regular exception.

I have been to Malta several times before.  I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following two years.  Each time I stayed at the Mellieha Bay hotel in the north of the island.  These were family holidays with two teenage children, beaches, swimming pools, banana boat death rides and Popeye Village.

I liked it so much that I had always wanted to go back.  I had repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I was certain she would like it as much as I did.  In 2015 the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay Hotel for just £200 for four nights and five full days.  A bargain absolutely not to be missed!

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I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence.  I love it but upon arrival I could tell almost at once that Kim wasn’t overly impressed.  The hotel was opened in 1969 and at nearly fifty years old and almost twenty since my last stay the place was showing its age and to be honest you would probably have to say a little beyond its best and in need of some attention.

But what the place lacked in style was more than compensated for by the welcome that we received at check in and then a wonderful five days by the end of which Kim was fully paid up member of the  “I Love Malta” club, so much so that two years later she would have been bitterly disappointed if the children had chosen anywhere else.

The Mellieha Bay hotel is now the Mellieha Bay Resort and although it now has foyer shops and a fitness centre it has still retained the essential characteristics that made me fall in love with it twenty years ago.  The restaurant is no longer waiter service, it is a buffet but it still has the Limelight Lounge, which has hardly changed a bit.  This is where I used to play bingo, this was where there was children’s entertainment and this was the place where they played groovy disco music – and they are still doing it!

Maybe I will get to break the ‘don’t go back’ rule again next year – who knows?

Where is Mellieha Bay Hotel – Mellieha Bay, Malta

Official Rating – 4 Star, TripAdvisor Rating 4/5, My Rating – Fabulous!

How do I get there? – scheduled plane service and then taxi or bus ride (taxi recommended)

Booking a room – Don’t pay extra for sea view, all rooms have sea view anyway

Top places to visit – Mellieha, Valletta, the Silent City of Mdina, Island of Gozo

Mellieha Bay Sea and Pool