Category Archives: Beaches

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?

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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

A Look Back at 2017

Beer Drinking in WroclawSpain 2017aEast Anglia 2017Ireland 2017France 2017Kim in PortugalMellieha Bay Hotel 4

Portugal, Póvoa de Varzim and Azuleja

Pavoa de Varzim AzulejoCasa dos pescadores Vila do Conde

Portugal, Póvoa de Varzim and Fishing

Bacalau Portugal

“The ancient handsome litter of the sea front had possessed its own significance, its vivacity and its charm.  A spirited collection of abandoned windlasses, the ribs of forgotten boats, the salt wasted, almost translucent gallows on which the fish had once been dried, the sand polished sculpture of half buried driftwood.”  Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’

Once again the coastal weather didn’t cooperate with our beach plans and we woke to a thick sea mist that seemed to hang around like a wet blanket.  The hotel clerk apologised several times as though he was personally responsible for this and reluctantly told us that most likely it would be like this all day.

No beach for us today for sure.

Instead we left the hotel and walked along the north bank of the River Ave until it met the sea and then we turned north towards the city of Póvoa de Varzim about three miles or so away.

On the way we visited the fish market of Vila do Conde and passed the now abandoned timber fish drying trestles where traditionally cod from Newfoundland was salted in preparation to be transformed into bacalau.

The trestles and the drying frames have all gone now and only the rotting skeletal timber supports remain but with a bit of imagination it is possible to see what it must have been like; a beach full of white fish facing south and glinting madly in the sun rather like a modern day solar energy farm.

fish and solar

On the side of a derelict fish preparation warehouse there was a mural, a painting showing just how this place once looked with women workers attending to the precious fish.

IVila do Conde Fishing Mural

Ocean fishing is a hard job.  It used to be a whole lot harder.

Generally when we think of fishing we focus on the brave men that put out to sea, sweating, straining; blistered, burning, bleeding, bruised; grunting, groaning – dropping their nets; heaving, hoisting, and then bringing in their haul and returning worn out, beat and battered back to beaches.

A tough job – I wouldn’t want to do it and I wouldn’t want to do the job of fishermen’s wives either because I imagine that was equally as demanding.  They might not have put out to sea or battled with the nets and the ropes, the rough seas and the weather but they had their own arduous tasks to perform just the same.

Before the men set off to work the women had to help them prepare, maybe a bit of patching up here and there, wounds to stitch, bandages to apply and then pack up some food and drink to take with them.

Next the really arduous job.  While they were out at sea they had to sit and worry about them returning safely and when they did they were thankful but now there was more work.

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While the men hauled the boats away from the surf onto the beach the women dealt with the catch, gutting the sardines, descaling the mackerel, separating the flesh from the bones of the cod and hanging into the sun prior to salting and all the premium fish expertly prepared for market.

And then they had to go to market to do the negotiating and the selling.

When they had finished all of that they had to start mending nets digging the sand for juicy bait and harvesting slimy seaweed and drying it to sell to inland farms as fertilizer.

Oh, and I almost forgot, the housework, preparing food and looking after the children.

I mention this because everywhere in Portugal there is street art which is based on the lives of fishermen and women and for a country which didn’t grant equal rights  until 1974 the art celebrates fishing men and women in equal measure and I was pleased to see that.  Women so often get overlooked in these matters.

The depiction of women and fishing has changed though.  These two contrasting examples are first from the city of Ovar (at the Railway Station) and the second from the city of Póvoa de Varzim.

Portugal Fishing TilesFishwives Povoa de Varzim

The first is a tiled wall from about fifty years ago which shows a traditional image of a glamorous, smiling woman who looks rather like Sophia Loren, someone a fisherman would be delighted to return home to after a tough night at sea and the second is a modern sculpture that depicts a group of fishwives that you wouldn’t want to bump into down an alleyway on a dark night.  I suspect that the second is probably a more accurate depiction..

Póvoa de Varzim turned out to be a much larger place than I had imagined, it is the seventh-largest urban centre in Portugal and was once home to the country’s largest fishing port.  It is still important to the fishing industry but now predominantly for processing and canning.  The story of Póvoa de Varzim is rather like that of Grimsby in England, the town where I live.

Eventually we reached an agreed turning around point, found a beach bar for a drink and then as we walked back the mist began to reluctantly clear and the sun made the odd shy appearance.

It didn’t clear completely until we arrived back in Vila do Conde so with the sky now blue and the sun in all of its glory we walked the centre of the old town, the market (gone now for the day) the Cathedral, the Convent and some more of the Aqueduct. I was glad that we had returned to Vila do Conde, I liked it here.

Later the hotel arranged some car hire for us on the following day, it was a lot less fuss than Europcar and quite a lot cheaper as well. The next day we planned to drive to Guimarães and Braga.

Fishwives Pavoa de VarzimSelling Fish Furadouro

Portugal, Porto to Vila Do Conde

Vila do Conde Santa Clara

The following day we were leaving Porto and taking the metro to Vila do Conde.  We thought it might be a good idea to hire a car so I used the Internet and booked a vehicle through Europcar , who in my experience are usually quite reliable and efficient and arranged to collect it from Porto Airport on our way north.

We had a final couple of hours in the city so we took a walk around the local area near to the hotel, a park, a convent and a church, quite different to the busy centre and then approaching midday we made our way to Trindade metro station.

It took about thirty minutes to travel to the airport on the Bombardier Flexity Outlook low-floor dual-carriage ‘Eurotram’ and it stopped every few minutes to pick up and drop off more passengers and it stopped fifteen times before we reached our destination.

I thought using Europcar with an office in the airport arrivals hall would be easy but I was about to be disappointed.  There was no office, just a reception desk and after waiting around for an eternity while the desk clerk dealt with a difficult customer we were directed to a shuttle bus to drive us a mile or so off site.

When we got there the office was ram-jam full and there was a forty-minute wait to get to the front of the line and during this time my patience tank was completely drained dry.  Eventually it was my turn to sign documents and pick up keys but I became uneasy about this simple process when the clerk began to shake his head and sigh.

It turned out that I had reserved a car using Europcar.com when I should have used Europcar.co.uk so I had made a reservation that is only for people from North America.  OK, so what, I suggested that he just amend the booking and we could take the keys and be away.  So he tapped away at his keyboard and scratched his head and told me the price would be higher, almost 50% higher and he was unable to explain to me to my satisfaction why citizens from the USA and Canada could get a better rate for hiring a car in Portugal than those from Europe.

I was so angry that I told him to poke it, reported the news to Kim who was unhappy about this unilateral decision and then we made our way back to the metro station where we queued for thirty minutes to get a ticket to get to Vila do Conde.  Kim was beginning to overheat.  It was like waiting for Vesuvius to erupt!

Cathedral Vila do Conde

Another thirteen stations later we arrived in Santa Clara and negotiated a steep climb up a pot-holed cobbled street to our hotel, the Santana Hotel and Spa. We had been here before so we knew all about it and we especially liked the restaurant but bad luck hadn’t finished with us today and the fine à la carte that we were looking forward to had been replaced by a tourist buffet menu and I began to sense another disappointment coming our way.

As I didn’t have a bucket of cold water to hand it was probably best that we spent some time apart right now so while Kim stayed in the room and went to the spa I took a walk down into the town.

My plan was to climb the hill on the other side of the river to the Santa Clara Convent which was once the largest in all of Portugal but is now no longer used for its original purpose and after spending some time as a prison is now rumoured to be being converted into a Pousada hotel, which is the Portuguese equivalent of the Spanish Paradors.

Next to the convent and snaking north away from the town are the extensive remains of the Aqueduto do Convento, a sixteenth century structure that was built to supply water to the Convent.  At four kilometres long it is claimed to be the second largest in Portugal after Lisbon but I have been to Tomar and their aqueduct is measured at six kilometres.

I am not taking sides, I am just saying!

Vila do Conde Aqueduct shadows

To put things into perspective the longest Roman Aqueduct served the city of Constantinople and was two hundred and fifty kilometres long.  The largest existing aqueduct in the world is the Thirlmere Aqueduct in North West England built between 1890 and 1925 and running one hundred and forty kilometres over and through hill and dale of the English countryside in pipes, streams, tunnels, dams and aqueducts.

The United States has the largest ‘water tunnel’ with a storage capacity of five hundred and fifty billion gallons and providing fresh water to the New York City’s eight million residents. Also in the US, the Central Arizona Project allows passage of water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona and at five hundred and forty kilometres it is the largest aqueduct ever constructed in the United States.

I admired the views from the Convent, walked a section of the aqueduct, found a mini-market for supplies and when I judged it safe to return to the hotel I walked a weary walk back up the hill to the Santana.  Oh how I wished that I had got a car!

Evening meal didn’t turn out to be too desperately disappointing and over an overflowing plate and a jug of cheap wine we made plans to go to the beach in the morning.

Vila do Conde Portugal

Portugal, Atlantic Gales and a Bike Ride

Portugal Fishing Boat

Although the sun was shining the wind was raging and wild, someone told me later that it was something to do with Hurricane Irma on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and that may have been true, but then again maybe not.

As we walked along the seafront Kim continually complained about how cold it was and although I disagreed with her and accused her of being nesh, (nesh, if you are wondering,  is an English dialect adjective meaning ‘unusually susceptible to cold weather’’ used mostly in the Midlands) I have to  retrospectively confess that secretly I was rather cold myself.  Naturally I just shivered in silence but didn’t share this information.

With last night’s excellent local restaurant inconveniently closed we looked for an alternative and chanced upon a likely looking place quite close to the seafront.  Kim declined my invitation to sit outside so we found a table inside as near to a fire as she could find.

And then things went wrong.

I suggested a fish stew to share which looked good on the menu but when it arrived spectacularly failed to live up to its promise.  Full of bits of fish and bone that they were evidently not going to sell to anyone else.  The only recommendation that I had made whilst in Portugal and it was a near disaster – and considering the content it was relatively expensive.  Kim said nothing but I knew inside she was preparing to refuse me any further menu selections for the remainder of the holiday.

The wind continued to buffet the seafront promenade as we walked back to the hotel, it carried on howling throughout the night and it was still blowing a gale in the morning when we left the hotel after breakfast.

Vila Do Conde Portugal

The beach plan had to be revisited once more and it was clear that there would be no swimming again today.

Actually, to be fair, the weather was a lot better this morning because the sun was shining and there was no fog but there was a scything wind ripping in off the sea like the grim reaper, a dangerously high surf and a churning ocean like horses of the Camargue making a charge out of the rolling, twisting waves that relentlessly barreled and pounded the gritty shoreline.

crashing waves portugal

We thought that we might walk along the beach towards the next village to the north but we were forced to turn back after only a couple of hundred yards or so because the wind was too strong to battle against without serious discomfort and the flying shrapnel sand was stinging our faces so we gave in, turned around, made our way back to the promenade and sat for a while outside the Tourist Information Office.

I feared that this might turn out to be a very long day!  What should we do?

We considered going by train to Aveiro but to be honest we were rather weary of travelling and trains , I couldn’t face the prospect of queuing up for tickets and we would be doing that again tomorrow anyway on the way to Porto so we decided against it.  And then I remembered that the Tourist Information Office had bikes for hire so I went inside to enquire the price.

They were free, how brilliant was that, so we selected one each and then headed north out of Furadouro towards the seaside town of Praia de Esmoriz about eight miles away.

We didn’t get time to buy dayglo lycra outfits or alien shaped cycle helmets but simply set off in our beach walking clothes.

Cycling in Portugal

The gentle ride took us away from the sea and the beach and through a dense pine forest which stopped the invasive wind from penetrating and made this a pleasant pedal along a lonely cycle track.

Eventually we arrived in the unremarkable town of Praia de Esmoriz but to be fair it was now end of beach season and most of the cafés and bars were firmly closed up.  A single life guard was working his last shift on the beach.  Chairs and tables were stacked where until only recently they were set out on the pavements.  Some local men who had spent the summer chatting up girls were now doing crosswords.

Back at the coast the wind was strong again now but we found a sheltered spot and stopped for a drink before turning straight back around and making our way back to Furadouro.

Kim had complained rather a lot on the way out, the saddle was too hard, the gears didn’t work properly, the handlebars were too wide, the little bell wasn’t loud enough, the basket on the front was too small, the brakes were stiff, the list was endless so I had to find some way of incentivising the long ride back.

My solution turned out to be a complete success and I could barely keep up with her and we arrived back at the resort in about half the time that it took to cycle out.

Incentive001

The sun was shining but it was still blowing a gale and our favourite promenade bar was closed because if it had been put out then the pavement furniture would surely have been scattered way across the beach so we found an alternative along the main street and reflected on our sojourn in Furadouro.

It hadn’t worked out quite as we had planned, this was supposed to be have been a few gentle days at the seaside to break up the travelling but the weather had intervened and put paid to that.  Never mind, we had enjoyed the beach walk on the first day, the tour of the tiles in Ovar on the second, which was an unexpected bonus and our bike ride today.

Later we returned the bikes, found somewhere for evening meal and then packed our bags ready for our next train journey tomorrow to the city of Porto.

Portugal Blue Sky