Category Archives: Malta
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.
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 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!
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!
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.
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!
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
I went to Malta last month, here are some post preview pictures…
Just over forty-five years ago when I was about fifteen I bought a fascinating book called ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’.
The book was an almanac of random stories with tales of the supernatural, mythical beasts, feats of improbable strength, a glimpse into the future and was divided into chapters such as “Strange customs and superstitions”, “Hoaxes, frauds and forgeries” and “Eccentrics and prophecies.” There were actual photographs of the Loch Ness Monster, Sri Lankan fire walkers and “O-Kee-Pa, the Torture Test,” where young men of the Mandan tribe of Indians endured a brutal and horrific rite of passage that culminated in chopping off their own little fingers.
I learned that people sometimes spontaneously combust, and that an Italian monk named Padre Pio suffered Christ like wounds in his hands called stigmata that never healed. There were weird facts such as pigs being flogged in medieval France for breaking the law, and that the entire crew of the Mary Celeste disappeared one day, leaving the ship to float empty around the Atlantic. I became acquainted with Anastasia, the supposed Romanov survivor; and Spring-Heeled Jack, a demon who leapt about London in the nineteenth century, spitting blue flames in the faces of young women.
I acquired this book during my Ouija board occult dabbling days and the chapter on the supernatural I read over and over again. I was interested in the paranormal and here now was a book bearing evidence that ghosts were real and to prove it there were photographs of writings they’d scrawled on walls. You can’t dispute evidence like that. There was an article on the most haunted house in England and in another a photograph even showed how some ghosts could actually present their reflection on tiled kitchen floors.
I used to love this book, much to the despair of my dad who considered it to be a collection of useless false drivel that was distracting me from studying for my ‘o’ levels and he was right of course because I should have been concentrating on Shakespeare and Chaucer but for some reason Henry V and the Canterbury Tales were just not as interesting as ‘The night the Devil walked through Devon’!
I mention all of this because just last week I was on the island of Malta and came across a mystery of my own which would be worthy of inclusion in the ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’.
Have you ever noticed that wherever there is freshly laid concrete someone manages to walk in it? I have always considered that to be rather stupid, dogs do it but they are extremely stupid of course (when they are not being dangerous) in fact the combined brain cells of all the dogs in the World would still not equal that of the dumbest cat, but returning to the wet concrete, I have always wondered why people do it?
Anyway, I was rather perplexed by this bizarre example that I came across in Malta just recently. Here is a slab of concrete measuring roughly six foot by three and right in the middle of it is a single footprint. Nothing before and nothing after and nothing to either side and almost impossible to leap into the middle and back out again without losing balance unless you are a World Champion Hopper, surely a curious mystery equally as mystifying as ‘The night the Devil walked through Devon’!
Is this perhaps the mystery of the Night the Devil walked in Malta but only managed one single footprint? Who or what I wonder passed this way?
Malta is the most religious country in Europe…
…it has more religious public holidays than any other in Europe and 10th February is especially important because this is the The Feast of St Paul’s Shipwreck which was bad luck for Paul but good fortune for Malta because it brought Paul to the island in the year 60AD and he then went promptly about converting the island to Christianity.
Saint Paul is the Patron Saint of Malta.
In a survey in 2010 95% of the population of Malta said that they were practising Catholics. Nearby Italy (where the Pope lives) only registered 74%. The least religious countries are all in the north where over 80% of respondents in Estonia, Norway, Denmark and Sweden all said that religion isn’t important!
Interestingly this survey didn’t seem to include the Vatican State where there is a population of only about five hundred official citizens and three-quarters of these are clergy so I imagine the response would surely have been no less than 100%
There have been four Papal visits to Malta, the last in April 2010 to celebrate the 1,950th anniversary of the shipwreck of St Paul on the island. His ship ran aground in St Paul’s Bay (obviously) and I give you my word that I am honestly not making this up but in 1997 I too suffered the same fate. Taking a speed boat ride with Tony Oki Koki ‘Mr Crazy’ Banis the boat broke down and we were stranded on the very same rock in a storm for twenty minutes or so until thankfully rescued.
Last year I visited the town of Rabat to visit his grotto next to his church where he is supposed to have spent his time on Malta in hiding from the Roman soldiers who were searching for him – rather like Saddam Hussein, two thousand years later hiding from the American troops – also in a cave.
“Valletta equals in its noble architecture, if it does not excel, any capital in Europe. The city is one of the most beautiful, for its architecture and the splendour of its streets that I know: something between Venice and Cadiz.” Benjamin Disraeli
Before I go any further, let me agree with Benjamin because Valletta is my favourite European Capital city.
On the second day we decided to take our chances on the buses again and visit the capital of the island, Valletta. We waited in a long line at the bus stop but luckily most people were going to nearby Bujibba on a different route so when the bus we wanted pulled in to pick up there were still some spare seats. This didn’t last long and after a few more stops it was packed tight like sardines in a can. A very warm can!
It wasn’t very far but Malta has one of the highest ratios of car ownership to population so the roads were seriously congested and the nearer we got to the city the slower the journey became until the bus finally crawled into the bus terminus close to the old medieval walls. The terminus is like a giant roundabout and was clogged with buses all belching fumes and impatiently trying to get in and out.
Cathedral of St John, Valletta…
After walking around the city and the Grand Harbour it was time to visit a church and although Kim wasn’t too keen, on account of the fact that the exterior was dull and uninteresting, we bought tickets to visit the Cathedral of St John and even Kim was pleased that we did because inside was a complete contrast with an opulent Baroque interior and a floor of headstones each commemorating one of the Knights of St John.
St John the Baptist…
There was some wonderful things in the Cathedral, art, sculptures, tapestries and finally a room with two magnificent paintings by the artist Caravaggio including the famous beheading of St John the Baptist.
Very good I thought even if it is a bit gruesome…
In a Museum there was an explanation that the Cathedral once possessed the Saint’s right hand, which is of course a very important relic, one of the most important in the Christain World, because this was the hand with which he baptised Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.
Unfortunately and rather carelessly at some point over the last five hundred years it went missing. No one can be really sure of course but today it is claimed to be in the Serbian Orthodox monastery in Cetinje* in Montenegro, the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and also in a remote monastery somewhere in Romania.
Several different locations also claim to possess the severed head of John the Baptist. Among them are Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, San Silvestro in Capite in Rome and the Residenz Museum in Munich. Other John the Baptist heads were once said to be held by the Knights Templar at Amiens in France, at Antioch in Turkey and, most unlikely of all, the parish church at Tenterden in Kent in England where it remained until it was disposed of during the English Reformation as being superfluously Catholic.
I digress here to tell you that we have just had a decluttering exercise at home and have cleared out the attic space and in our frenzy of disposal I can’t help retrospectively wondering if we threw out anything valuable.
The town of Halifax in West Yorkshire (UK) also claims that the head was once buried there in the Church dedicated to St John and the authorities there cling on to this claim by incorporating an image of the head within the town crest.
Anyway, there are thousands of Churches and Mosques dedicated to St John the Baptist. I used to go to this one every Sunday in the village of Hillmorton, near Rugby where I grew up…
No flash photography rules…
Despite all of the splendour the most memorable thing about our visit came at the very end when we came across an altercation between a German visitor and some Cathedral staff.
He was upset about the no photography rule and wasn’t prepared to listen to reason. I feigned a sudden interest in the last of the exhibits so that I could enjoy the exchange.
Try and do in a German accent because that is how it works best – “I vant to know who vrote ziz policy”, “I vant to speek to ze man who vrote ze policy”, “Just who has made deeze stoopid rooles”. I was tempted to join in and suggest that it might be the Big Man himself upstairs. Eventually the staff tired of repeating their reasonable explanation and he followed them to the offices demanding to have access now to the complantze policy.
I like Valletta, it is a vibrant city, an eclectic mix of Naples, Palermo, Porto and Marseilles and only spoilt by the fact that it has become a cruise ship destination which means more jewellers, boutiques and pricey restaurants.
I really do not like those awful cruise ships!
* I have driven through Cetinje in Montenegro and have to say that it seems a distinctly unlikely place to find the hand of John The Baptist.