Tag Archives: Eurovision Song Contest

European Capital of Culture 2016, Wroclaw in Poland

Wroclaw Dwarfs Postcard

In 1985, Melina Mercouri, the Greek Minister of Culture came up with the idea of designating an annual Capital of Culture to bring Europeans closer together by highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and raising awareness of their common history and values.

The European Union enthusiastically endorsed the idea and as a consequence The European Capital of Culture is a city designated for a period of one year during which it organises a series of cultural events with a strong pan-European dimension.

The first city chosen was Athens which was fair enough I suppose.  In 2016 it was Wroclaw in Poland.  A very good choice in my opinion, I have visited the city twice and would gladly go back again.

Read the full story here…

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

If you want to know about the Dwarfs you can read about them here…

Dwarf Spotting

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Naples, A City of Danger?

Naples and Vesuvius

“See Naples and die. Well, I do not know that one would necessarily die after merely seeing it, but to attempt to live there might turn out a little differently”, Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

A few weeks ago I suggested to some regular travelling pals that we should go to Naples in Italy for a few days.  They were horrified by the suggestion because of the city’s reputation as being quite dangerous.  They said that they would prefer to go to Barcelona in Spain even though I pointed out that the Spanish city is the pickpocket capital of Europe.

So we made plans to visit Naples, the third largest city in Italy (after Rome and Milan) by ourselves.

Italy Postcard

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting. I started as usual with the Human Development Index which ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed amongst other criteria from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.  Italy is ranked twenty-seventh which is quite low, especially for Europe but it is improving and is up two places from the previous year.

The European economic crisis has had a negative effect on Italy’s position in the Europe Happiness Index and it is rated at only twentieth out of thirty which is some way behind the United Kingdom at thirteenth.  Finland is the happiest and Albania the least jolly.

Not surprisingly Italy is the country with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites; it has fifty-three, seven more than Spain which has the second most sites in Europe.  I have visited half of the sites in Spain but when I reviewed the Italy list I was disappointed to find that I have been to less than a quarter.  The historical centre of Naples is on the list and although I have been there before it was a long time before it was added to the list.

Italy has a lot of coastline which stretch for four and a half thousand miles and along this coastline are three hundred and forty-two Blue Flag Beaches which is the fifth highest amongst participating countries.  The Bay of Naples is not very famous for beaches and there are none at all along this particular stretch of coastline.

Volare Domenigo Modungo Polignano a Mare

My next measure is always the Eurovision Song Contest and Italy has participated in the annual contest forty-three times since its debut in the very first contest in 1956. They have won the contest twice but the most famous Italian entry made only third place in 1958.  “Nel blu dipinto di blu” or most popularly known as “Volare”  by Domenico Modungo.

Despite its success the entry surprisingly only came third in the 1958 competition after France and Switzerland but was later translated into several languages and was covered by a wide range of international performers including Al Martino, David Bowie, Cliff Richard, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Luciano Pavarotti, The Gipsy Kings and my personal favourite Dean Martin.  I might be wrong here but I don’t think any of these musical giants ever recorded cover versions of ‘Waterloo’?

Flying even short distances can be a tedious business, not much to see or do but there are one or two exceptions and flying south across the Alps is one of them.  The aircraft seems to come across them so suddenly and even flying at thirty-seven thousand feet, the earth suddenly gets an awful lot closer and suddenly you are only twenty-thousand feet high. And the snow covered black granite peaks rise like soft meringue peaks below.  It is a wonderful sight and I never tire of it but it doesn’t last long and just as dramatically as they rise in southern France they fall away rapidly in Northern Italy.

I always enjoy flying over the Alps, it reminds me of my very first flight and continental holiday in 1976 when I visited Sorrento just south of Naples.

Centro Storico Naples

We arrived in Naples around mid-morning and the only sensible way to reach the city and the hotel was by taxi.  I hate taxis, I am a very nervous taxi passenger, I am petrified of the metre which seems to rack up charges at an alarming rate and I spend any taxi journey fixated upon the clock.  I am almost as afraid of taxi drivers as I am of dogs, but that is another story.

My friend Dai Woosnam once challenged me on this point when he commented: “… there is a contradiction between someone who avoids taxis like the plague, but is happy to spend £100+ a night on a hotel !!   It is such contradictions that make people interesting!”  Well, here is my rationale:  A fifteen minute, €30 taxi ride costs  €2.25 a minute, a  €120 hotel room for twenty-four hours costs .10 cents per minute so it is a simple question of economics and value for money.  If I hired the taxi for twenty-four hours at these rates it would cost me €3,300!

I loathe spending money on taxis especially when the flight here cost only £20. Kim tells me that I should look at it in a different way – because we got the flight so cheap then we can easily afford a taxi.

As usual in Italy we managed to get a driver who looked like and drove like Bruce Willis in an action movie car chase, the type where the cars scatter dustbins and demolish vegetable stalls, and he rattled through the streets at break neck speed, occasionally using his mobile phone and cursing any two second hold up or inconvenient red light and I was thankful when the journey finally ended.

Gulf of Naples Postcard

Portugal, Travel Plans, Research and Arrival

Portugal Postcard Map

We generally take our main annual holiday in September. Sometimes we go to the sea, usually the Greek Islands which are our favourites and sometimes we travel.  This year we decided to travel and we chose to go to Portugal.

There are organised guided tours available for this sort of thing but we prefer to make our own arrangements and not be restricted by a holiday company schedule and inevitable stops at shopping centres and outlet factories that suit the Company but not the Traveller.

We had decided to use the Portuguese railways so we plotted an itinerary that started in the capital Lisbon and then worked north through the town of Tomar, the city of Coimbra, the seaside at Ovar (Furadouro) and then finished in the second largest city in the country at Porto, a couple more days by the coast at Vila do Conde, visits to the cities of Guimarães and Braga and then back home.

Portugal Tiles Ajulejos

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting.

I started as usual with the Human Development Index which ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed amongst other criteria from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income. Portugal is ranked forty-first which is quite low, especially for Europe but it is improving and is up two places from the previous year.

Although it is in Western Europe (in fact it is the most western mainland European country) Portugal did not begin to catch up with its neighbours until 1968 after the death of the dictator António Salazar, the Left Wing Carnation Revolution of 1972 and eventual entry into the European Community in 1986.

Egg Custard Portuga

Unhappily, the European economic crisis has had a negative effect on Portugal’s position in the Europe Happiness Index and it is rated at only fifteenth out of thirty which is one place behind the United Kingdom.  Finland is the happiest and Albania (no real surprise) the least jolly.

The Country has fifteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites and our travel itinerary was going to take us to six – The Tower of Belém in Lisbon, built to commemorate the expeditions of Vasco da Gama, the National Palace of Sintra, the Convent of the Knights Templar of Tomar, the University of Coimbra, The Historic town of Guimarães and The Historic Centre of Porto.

Portugal is famous for its Atlantic beaches which stretch for one thousand, one hundred and fifteen miles and along this coastline are three hundred Blue Flag Beaches which is the fifth highest amongst all participating countries but looking at the statistics in a different way they get even better and dividing length of coastline by number of beaches, Portugal is way out in front and storms into first place with one proud blue flag flapping away every three and three-quarter miles or so.

When it comes to wine,  screw caps have all but completely replaced the cork. Interestingly 35% of the World’s cork forests and 50% of World supply comes from Portugal so there for the time being the cork stopper still reigns supreme.

Furaduero Beach Portugal

My next measure is always the Eurovision Song Contest and Portugal has participated in the annual contest forty-nine times since its debut in the 1964.  Up until recently the country held the unfortunate record for the most appearances in the contest without a win but they put that right in 2017 when they won in Kiev with Salvador Sobral’s entry, “Amar Pelos Dois”.

In my research I have discovered some more impressive statistics: Portugal is ranked third in the Global Peace Index, just behind Iceland and New Zealand.  The index gauges global peace using three measures – the level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict and the degree of militarisation. Portugal for example was one of only a few European countries that escaped involvement in the Second-World-War, the others were Spain, Switzerland (only in theory of course because they did a lot of Nazi banking and gold trading), Sweden and The Republic of Ireland.

On the subject or war and peace, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance (Aliança Inglesa) ratified at the Treaty of Windsor in 1386, between England and Portugal, is the oldest alliance in the world that is still in force – with an even earlier treaty dating back to the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373.  England (UK) and Portugal have never been on opposite sides in any military conflict which is a very impressive statistic when you consider that in that time England (UK) has at one time or another been at war at some time or another with almost every other European country.

Lisbon Tram Postcard

We arrived at Lisbon Airport early in the afternoon and took the metro into the city centre. A rather odd journey as it turned out because the automated on board information system curiously announced arrival at the stations one after the one we were stopping at next so we had to be careful not to get off one stop too early.  Anyway we negotiated the journey and then after a bit of map confusion which we sorted out over a beer at a pavement café walked the final half a mile to our accommodation.

We had selected a studio apartment for our four nights in Lisbon and it turned out to be most satisfactory. The Travel and Tales rooms were situated in a domestic block of apartments so we were going to spend our time in Lisbon rubbing shoulders with real locals and we were happy about that.

We were allocated the Fernando Pessoa apartment who according to Wikipedia turns out to be… “a Portuguese poet, writer, literary critic, translator, publisher and philosopher, described as one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest poets in the Portuguese language”.

I apologise immediately for my ignorance in this matter but I have to confess that I had never before heard of him.

Fernando Pesa Poet Travel and Tales

Poland and Wroclaw, Statistics and Shifting Borders

History Teaches us Lessons but we do not Learn…

I should have been in everyone’s interests (in 1803) to keep Poland as a cheerful. thriving buffer but instead, for careless, short-termed reasons the Prussians and the Russians carved Poland into non-existence.” – Simon Winder, ‘Germania’

Wroclaw it seems to me is a friendly, honest city, proud but not boastful, ambitious but unpretentious and as we walked I thought about the statistics that I generally use to get the measure of a country or a place.

Poland is placed thirty-ninth in the Human Development Index which means that it is the top fifty of most highly developed countries.  The Index ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.  It is rated nineteenth out of thirty in the European Happiness Index which may not sound very impressive but is two places above the United.

Poland has fourteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites which puts in nineteenth place in the World and tenth overall in Europe which is no mean achievement.  One of the nineteen is the Centennial Hall in Wroclaw which was built to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig and is included as an early example of the use of reinforced concrete.

Perhaps not surprisingly the country was rather late joining the Blue Flag Beach initiative but is now catching up and has by 2013 achieved the status at twenty-eight beaches and Marinas on the Baltic Sea.

But some things are not going so well, in football, Poland has finished third twice at the Football World Cup but has been spectacularly unsuccessful in the European Nations cup where it has qualified twice but on neither occasion progressed beyond the group stages.

If you think that the football statistics are disappointing however, consider this, Poland has made the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest only nine times in sixteen attempts although it did manage to come second in 1994 despite almost being disqualified for rehearsing in English!

But it is the history of the country that fascinates me most because Poland has had a most dramatic and unfortunate last one thousand years and the reason for this is largely down to its geographical position on one of the dangerously volatile European political fault lines with powerful neighbours to both east and west using it a convenient buffer state and taking it in turns to use it as a punch bag.

For a thousand years the borders of central Europe have expanded and contracted like a piano accordion as other more powerful states have invaded it, subjugated it and periodically annexed those parts that they found that they had a particular liking for.  The last great redrawing of the boundaries came in 1946 which gave us the geographical shape of Poland that we recognise today and I mention this here because this review of the borders had a significant impact on Wroclaw.

Prior to 1946 Wroclaw was called Breslau and was part of greater Germany and one of the important Imperial cities of old Prussia, by all accounts an elegant city of spires and canals.  The Germans were fond of Breslau and it survived most of the war pretty much intact but in 1945 as the Red Army advanced Hitler declared it a fortress city and ordered it to be defended to the last man.  There was a high price to pay for this military obstinacy and in a few weeks the city was almost completely destroyed to the extent that what we see now is all due to post war reconstruction.

After the city finally fell Soviet revenge for holding up the Red Army advance was swift and brutal, with reprisals against the German population going largely unchecked as bands of ill-disciplined Soviet soldiers rampaged across the city, dispensing instant and brutal justice to those who resisted.  Abandoned to anarchy Breslau had reached its lowest point, a city lost in human catastrophe.

With Germany defeated the Allies set about agreeing borders for new Poland and had to accommodate the desire of the USSR to push their western border as far into central Europe as possible to re-establish a series of buffer states that would protect Russia from further western aggression and another invasion – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine all served this purpose.  So while Poland retreated in the east it was compensated for this loss with lands in the west – principally the old Prussian/German states of Pomerania and Silesia and a new border was agreed on the Oder-Neisse line with what was to become temporarily East Germany.

Now the trouble really began because the Soviets didn’t want the disaffected and troublesome Poles living in their annexed territories so they were forcibly expelled and sent west and replaced with Russian citizens in a process called Russification.  The Poles not unsurprisingly didn’t want the Germans living in new Poland so in turn forcibly expelled the Germans of old Breslau and sent them west as well  to make room for the Poles who had been displaced in the east.

The Poles arriving from the east didn’t much care for the Germanic appearance and infrastructure of the place (even though it had been largely demolished) and the end of the war signalled a belligerent campaign to de-Germanise the city.  Newspapers launched competitions to eliminate all traces of Wroclaw’s German heritage with monuments and street signs all falling victim to an iconoclastic whirlwind of destruction including an equine statue of Kaiser Wilhelm that once stood in the Market Square whilst other German structures that had survived the Russian siege were introduced to the Polish wrecking-ball.

By the end of 1946 as many as three hundred thousand Germans were still in the city and this was a problem for the Polish authorities. Forced transports began in July, and by January 1948 Wroclaw was officially declared to be free of German inhabitants.

Today occupies a significant position in central Europe, has borders with seven other States and is the tenth most visited country in Europe.

The Official Travel Guide in Wrocław – visitWroclaw.eu

 

Ireland – Cork to Cobh in Ten (Irish) Minutes

Ireland Postcard Map

There is a pub quiz question that comes up regularly and which I always get wrong, which is ‘what is the nearest country to the United Kingdom’ and the answer of course is Southern Ireland or Eire but I always forget about the border with Northern Ireland and blurt out ‘France, it must be France’.

We travelled to Ireland in 2014 and went to the west coast and a year later we went to Northern Ireland and stayed in Belfast.  Despite Ireland’s reputation for Atlantic storms, dreary weather and lots of rain we enjoyed blue skies  on both occasions.  So good was the weather that Kim thinks it is permanently sunny in the Emerald Isle so we arranged to go again this year and this time chose the city of Cork, the county of West Cork and the south coast of the country as our destination.

West Cork Route

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting.

Most impressive is that Ireland is placed seventh in the Human Development Index which means that it is the top ten of the most highly developed countries in the World and before the recent economic crisis it used to be in the top five!  The Index ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.

The economic crisis has had a bit of a negative effect on Ireland’s position in the European Happiness Index however and it is rated at only fourteenth out of thirty which is a very long way behind the United Kingdom.

Ballyvaughan Ireland

Ireland has only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites which, lets be honest, is a rather poor performance and I would suggest that someone in Dublin needs to start travelling around and making some applications – Australia has got nineteen for goodness sake!  The country also needs to do something about its Blue Flag Beaches because it now only has seventy when a few years ago it had one hundred and forty-two!

But some statistics continue to be impressive and Ireland remains the most successful nation in the Eurovision Song Contest, which with seven wins is higher than all other competitors so who really cares about the economic crisis anyway?

It was an early morning flight to Cork and by mid morning we were in possession of the keys to a silver Volkswagen Golf and making the short drive to the city and to our hotel.

It was a brand new car and had some features that I was not altogether familiar with and in particular I had rather a lot of trouble getting to grips with the electric handbrake.  The hotel was at the top of a hill and the car park sloped down towards the reception and I had so much bother with the brake and made such a dog’s dinner of parking that we almost checked in a few minutes earlier than anticipated while Kim kept shrieking “It’s not a Drive-Thru, It’s not a Drive-Thru”

Cobh Postcard

After booking in and approving our rooms the plan was to leave the car in the safety of the car park and take a train to the nearby town of Cobh (pronounced cove).  It used to be called Cove (pronounced cove) but in 1850 the British renamed it Queenstown (pronounced Queenstown) to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria.  I can’t help thinking that it is rather arrogant to go around changing place names in such a superior way and the Irish obviously agree with me because shortly after independence they renamed it Cobh (pronounced cove).

The Irish I find generally measure journeys in units of ten minutes and the helpful lady at hotel reception told us that it would take about ten minutes to walk to the train station and that the ride to Cobh would be another ten minutes or so.  It took half an hour to walk there and then another thirty minutes for the train to make the short journey around the harbour.  I made a mental note to be sure to make generous allowances for Irish timing estimates for the rest of the week.

Kilmer Ferry County Clare Ireland

Once out of the industrial suburbs of Cork the tracks followed the shoreline of the generous harbour which is said to be the second largest natural harbour in the World after Sidney in Australia.  As always you need to be careful with these sort of claims because at least a dozen or so more make exactly the same assertion including Poole in England, Valletta in Malta and Pearl Harbour in Hawaii.  I suppose it might depend on whether the tide is in or out!

So, we arrived in Cobh and walked along the waterfront and debated our itinerary and by a majority decision agreed to find a pub for a first glass of Dublin Guinness even though we were told that we should really be drinking Cork Murphy’s.

Have you got any thoughts about place names?

Ireland Guiness

Northern Ireland, Preparation and Research

Ulster and Northern Ireland

Eire, Northern Ireland and Ulster

In 2014 we visited Southern Ireland, Eire, The Republic and had such a wonderful time that we planned an immediate return to the Island for the following year.  Not to the South though on this occasion however but to that part of Ireland that still remains part of the United Kingdom – Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Not so long ago most people would no more of thought about visiting Northern Ireland than North Korea, it wouldn’t have crossed their minds to go to Ulster any more than go to Uganda and Belfast would be in a travellers wish list that included Beirut and Baghdad.  Now things are changing and Northern Ireland is reinventing itself as a tourist destination.

The Province of Ulster is nine counties in the north of Ireland and to make things complicated three of these are in the Republic and the other six make up what we know as Northern Ireland.  The map above shows the geographical split. The reasons are many and complicated but in the simplest terms these six counties were partitioned from the Irish Free State when it was established in 1920 because these were areas where Protestants were in the majority and had ferociously campaigned to remain part of the Union ‘by all means which may seem necessary’ which inevitably included violence and civil disobedience.

Northern Ireland Map Postcard

As Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom I found it difficult to carry out my usual areas of research but I have managed one or two interesting facts.

The Office for National Statistics revealed that in 2014 Northern Ireland was the happiest part of  the United Kingdom and the top four places based on a residents survey were the counties of Antrim, Fermanagh, Omagh and the city of Dungannon*.  The least happy areas are all in England at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, Dartford in Kent, Torridge in Devon, Maldon in Essex, and South Ribble in Lancashire.

Let’s turn to Blue Flag Beaches.  The United Kingdom has one hundred and thirteen Blue Flags and ten of these are in Northern Ireland.  It is more impressive when you think of it like this – The UK has twelve thousand, five hundred miles of coastline and Northern Ireland has four hundred so it has just three percent or so of the total seashore but seven and a half percent of the Blue Flag Beaches.

Northern Ireland Blue Flag

I always like to take a look at the Eurovision Song Contest and Ireland competes as part of the United Kingdom.  Belfast born Ronnie Carroll came fourth in the contest in 1963 with “Say Wonderful Things” and in 1967 the Northern Irish songwriter Phil Coulter wrote the winning UK entry “Puppet on a String” by Sandie Shaw.  He also wrote the following years runner up “Congratulations” by Cliff Richard.

Quite a lot of famous people have been born in Northern Ireland, in Literature there is C.S Lewis, in music there is Van Morrison and James Galway, in golf there is Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy, in snooker, Alex Higgins and in motor racing Eddie Irvine.  Leaving Best till last is George who is generally reckoned to be the finest player who never played in a World Cup finals and makes it into everyone’s top ten greatest footballers. I saw George Best once when he gave an after dinner speech, later I shook his hand and got his autograph and believe me it was a very special moment!

When it comes to actors there is Kenneth Branagh, Liam Neeson and Sam Neil who I always thought was Australian but turns out he regards himself as a New Zealander.

We arrived at Belfast International Airport around about lunchtime and still being in the UK there was no tedious border control procedure so we skipped straight through and made for the Sixt car hire rentals office on the other side of the airport car park.  I completed the paperwork and paid for fully comprehensive insurance which more than doubled the cost of the rental at a stroke.  Still, better to be safe than sorry we all agreed.  We were allocated a brand new silver Honda Civic Tourer and eased out of the car park satisfied that we were fully covered for all eventualities.  I should have read the small print – more about this later!

Belfast International Airport isn’t exactly in Belfast and there was a twenty mile drive to the city and I overruled the SatNav and avoided the motorway and took a leisurely drive through the small towns and villages along the way eventually arriving in the capital after about forty minutes.

Rather unusually we found the Premier Inn hotel with a minimum of fuss and presented ourselves at the check in desk where the lady on reception asked if we were with the Stag Party. OMG, there was a twenty strong bunch of staggers at the hotel all intent on getting gloriously drunk and having a riotously noisy  evening.  The receptionist scratched her head and fiddled with the keyboard and then happily announced that she had found us two rooms a couple of floors away from the merry makers.  We celebrated with a Guinness.

A Premier Inn Hotel is always a safe choice, hardly luxury but always reliable.  Last year I took my granddaughters to  a Premier Inn for a night and the youngest, Patsy, declared it to be the best hotel she has ever stayed at in her life – but she is only four years old!

Satisfied we found our rooms on the fourth floor, left unpacking until later and stepped out into the sunny street for a walking tour of the city.

Welcome to Belfast

*What is interesting is that although there is still a desire for many Catholic Nationalists for Northern Ireland to leave the UK and join the Republic, three of these areas are predominantly Catholic.

Malta, Preparation and Research

Malta Map Postcard

I have been to Malta before.  I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following year.  Both times 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 have always wanted to go back.  I have repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I am certain she would like it as much as I did.  Late last year the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay for just £200 for four nights and five full days!  A bargain not to be missed.

During the gloomy winter months I continued to try and convince Kim that she was going to really, really enjoy Malta but as the departure date grew closer I began to worry that she might not be so blown away with the place as I had been previously…

Malta Mdina

Malta is a small country stranded in the Mediterranean Sea part way between Europe and Africa, it is close to Italy but it is not Italian, for a long time it was part of the British Empire but it is not British, it has an African influenced language but it is not African.

It is the tenth smallest country in the World and the fifth smallest in Europe after Vatican City, Monaco, San Marino and Liechtenstein.  At only three hundred and sixteen square kilometres it is smaller than England’s smallest county and there are only twenty counties (out of 3,144) in the whole of the USA smaller than the total land area of Malta.   Because of its tiny dimensions it is the seventh most densely populated country in the World and the overcrowding gets worse in the Summer because it is one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations.

Malta is placed thirty-ninth in the Human Development Index which means that it is the top fifty or most highly developed countries.  The Index ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.  It is rated twelfth out of thirty in the European Happiness Index, which may not sound very impressive but is three places above the United Kingdom.  Denmark, Norway and Switzerland are all walking on sunshine, having placed first, second and third respectively in the happiness index. The Central African Republic, Benin and Togo are the least happy nations according to the report as they ranked in the bottom three places.

Malta has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites which is a small total compared to Italy which has the most in the World with fifty but please bear in mind that tiny Malta is only .1% of the size of its next door neighbour! To be honest with you I was not that bothered about visiting the megalithic temples but I was looking forward to visiting Valletta, the city of the Knights of St John.

Being in the Mediterranean the country has always participated in the Blue Flag Beach scheme.  The Blue Flag beach award was originally conceived in France in 1985 where the first coastal municipalities were awarded the Blue Flag on the basis of criteria covering standards relating to sewage treatment and bathing water quality.

Two years later, 1987 was the ‘European Year of the Environment’ and the concept of the Blue Flag was developed as a European initiative by the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe to include other areas of environmental management, such as waste disposal and coastal planning and protection and in that first year two hundred and forty four beaches from ten countries were awarded the new Blue Flag status.

Malta has nine Blue Flag beaches but it only has two hundred and fifty kilometres of coastline and applying a test of ratio of blue flag beaches to length of coast line then Malta would easily slip into the top ten countries in the World which are included in the scheme.  We were going to be staying at Mellieha which is one of the nine.

So before departure we made our plans – there is a lot to see in Malta.  Three full days of sightseeing seemed like a good idea, a day in Valletta, a ferry ride to Gozo and a bus ride to the ancient capital of Mdina in the rocky interior of the island.  I was confident that we were going to enjoy it.

Bristow Ceramics Malta Boat