Tag Archives: Malta Buses

Thursday Doors, Malta

Mdina Door

A door in Mdina, the Silent City and before Valletta was once the capital of Malta.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

My Holidays in Malta, Valletta

Malta Valletta City Guides

“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

The city of Valletta was built by the Knights of St John who were granted the island in 1530, seven years after being expelled from Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks.  Trouble with Turks however continued to follow the Knights and in 1565 the Ottomans laid siege to their new home on Malta with the intention of establishing a base from where they could conveniently advance into Europe.  But as in Rhodes and at Bodrum the Knights proved a tough nut to crack and the Great Siege of Malta which lasted from May until September ended with the defeat and retreat of the Turkish army.

The rest of Europe was so grateful for this stoic resistance that it began to provide funding for the Grand Master of the Order, Jean Parisot de Valette, to plan and construct a new fortified city that was to be called Valletta in his memory.

Valletta Malta postcard

We walked through the city main gate which isn’t a gate anymore, just a modern interpretation of what a gate might have looked like.  Not at all like a gate in my estimation. And then down Republic Street which undulates like a giant roller coaster and is flanked on either side by expensive shops and boutiques.  This is probably on account of the fact that the ugly cruise ships stop here now and all of the passengers are regularly emptied onto the quay side to go shopping and marauding in the main streets.

We passed the Cathedral and the Palace of the Knights and continued on our way to the furthest point, St Elmo’s Fort, which was closed for restoration.  In 2008 the World Monuments Fund placed the fort on its Watch List of the one hundred Most Endangered Sites in the world because of its significant deterioration due to factors such as lack of maintenance and security, natural ageing, and the still unrepaired damage from the bombing in the Second-World-War.  If Valletta is to be a European Capital of Culture then it has to be cleaned up.

The fact that Fort St Elmo was closed for restoration wasn’t really a problem because the whole of Valletta is in fact one huge fort with Medieval fortifications defending it on all sides so we set off to walk along the side of the Grand Harbour with views across to the marinas and docks on the opposite side.

Valletta City of the Knights

Walking along the edge of the water it was easy to appreciate just how strategically important this place was to a strong naval power like the British and why the Germans in World War Two would have liked to possess it.  Today the harbour is full of fishing boats, yachts and tourist vessels but it is easy to imagine it full of battleships and naval dockyards.

It was a pleasant walk along the water side but eventually we decided to make our way back into the city centre.  On a side street we came across a bar which seemed to be cut into the rocks but it had some tables outside and a large beer was only €1.50 and there was some Spanish style tapas so we sat there for a while and enjoyed the sunshine.

Eventually we drained our glasses and walked into the city through the Victoria Gate.  That would be Queen Victoria I imagine.

We were getting dangerously close to shops now and Kim stopped now and then to look at shoes and sparkly things but the danger passed and soon we were back on Republic Street.

Malta Valletta St Johns Cathedral

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.

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 but a bit gruesome…

Caravaggio The Beheading of St John The Baptist

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 because this was the hand with which he baptised Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.

Unfortunately at some point over the last two thousand 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 (a bit odd, if you ask me).   Other JTB 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.

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 in Warwickshire where I grew up.

hillmorton church

When it was over we left the Cathedral and walked now to the other side of the city to Marsamxett harbour to the north where we watched the ferries travelling forward and back to the holiday town of Sliema on the other side and walked a while along the water front and admired the multi coloured box window balconies of the high rise apartment buildings.

I like Valletta, it is a vibrant city, an eclectic mix of Naples, Palermo, Porto, Salamanca 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!

It was late afternoon now so it seemed about the right time to make our way back to the scrum at the bus terminal.  There was one due in ten minutes and only a few people waiting at the stop but by the time the bus arrived this had swollen to several thousand.  We were getting used to this by now and we pushed our way on and thankfully found a seat for the sixty minute journey back to Mellieha.

Malta Bus Chaos

* 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.

My Holidays in Malta – Privatisation and The Buses

Malta Buses

“We are determined to deliver the highest quality service possible in Malta. Customers and their experiences are at the heart of our service. All our customers are important and no effort will be spared to ensure that all of the services we are trusted to deliver will be provided.” – Malta Public Transport

I knew that some things would have changed since my last visit in 1997 and the first and most obvious thing was the buses because up until 2011 Malta had a wonderful bus service with a fleet of vehicles mostly imported from the UK, privately owned, lovingly maintained, customized and painted in a distinctive orange livery with gleaming chrome decoration that required sunglasses just to look at them.

Even in the late 1990s these old buses with their growling engines and banging gear boxes were, admittedly, beginning to creak with age and by 2011 the majority didn’t meet EU standards on carbon emissions and their fate was sealed a thousand miles away in Brussels and the upgrade could scarcely have been more undignified.

Sometimes they weren’t even that safe…

Malta Bus Accident 1978

Under the old system each bus was owned by its driver, who would decorate it himself, giving each its own personality and charm. Some buses had been passed down from father to son, or even been hand built by the family that owned them.

The service was crudely privatised which meant that the Maltese Government no longer had to pay expensive subsidies (this is a lot like the sad demise of the old Island Ferry service story) and was taken over by a British private sector company called Aviva whose modern fleet replaced Malta’s beautiful vintage buses which now languish, awaiting rescue in storage somewhere at Valletta harbour.

Gozo Ferry (2)

The Perils of Privatisation…

By all accounts the transfer was chaotic and farcical, three hundred buses were reduced to one hundred and fifty, the old bus drivers either refused to work for Aviva and didn’t turn up for work on the first day or couldn’t be employed because many of them didn’t have driving licences, the new routes  were inefficient and the buses too big for the narrow Maltese streets.  Articulated ‘bendy’ buses rejected by London were sent to Malta and three of these caught fire because the heat melted the rubber bendy bit in the middle.

The Company name of Arriva is Italian for ‘arriving’ (a language that many Maltese speak due to the close proximity), soon after privatisation it was quickly nicknamed Aspetta  – ‘waiting’.

“Unfortunately, the new designed routes take you half way around Malta in order to save money on buses – that is the problem when an accountant comes in with an Excel sheet and dictates with no real knowledge of what the people need, want or require.” – Malta Tourism Authority (2013)

Buses of Malta postcard

This doesn’t surprise me at all.  I have worked for the private sector trying to provide public service and it rarely ever works on account of the public sector ethos of service and private sector profit being completely incompatible.  Based on my experience I think I am well qualified to say that privatisation never results in improvement despite all of the extravagant promises.

It was an operational and financial disaster and by December 2013 Arriva had run up losses of over €50 million.  The contract was terminated by agreement and the service reverted to public control as Malta Public Transport. The Government didn’t really want the burden of the service however so in January 2015 it awarded a new contract to Autobuses Urbanos de León who appear to have picked up where Aviva left off .

This reminded me of when I worked for a company called Cory Environmental  in refuse collection services.  One man I worked with thought he had a brilliant solution and produced work schedules in alphabetical order!  All the roads beginning with A-F on Monday, G-K on Tuesday and so on throughout the week, it didn’t occur to him that this meant driving hundreds of unnecessary miles and wasting hundreds of pounds worth of diesel.  I seem to remember that he had only a very short career in waste management.  Rather like the tendering team at Arriva who won the Malta contract I imagine!

Malta Bus

 

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

Malta, Mosta and the Miracle of the Bomb

Mdina Street

Mdina, Malta…

Leaving the unfortunate Fontanella Tea Rooms we were pleased to see that the weather was back to its spectacular best so we walked around the streets some more and made our way to the biggest building in Mdina, St Paul’s Cathedral standing erect and proud next to a section of the old city ramparts.

It was an interesting if not especially memorable Cathedral and after a short while we returned to the honey coloured streets and resumed our search for an alternative refreshment stop.  This didn’t take long and we found a tea room in a secluded courtyard which was no way near as busy as Fontanella but we soon found out that this was on account of the cakes not being anywhere near as good.

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 together with another equally frustrated couple reluctantly agreed to take a taxi.

Mosta Malta

Mosta Church and the Miracle of the Bomb…

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.

Mosta The Miracle of the Bomb

To be frank there is nothing else to see in Mosta so we made our way to the bus stop and prepared for another fight to get onto the bus.  Sure enough there were far more people waiting than there could possibly be available seats but eventually it arrived and somehow the driver managed to squeeze us all on board.

This was a very uncomfortable journey and it was about now that I thought that it might be appropriate to make alternative arrangements for the journey back to the airport the next day.  I might be adventurous but I am not completely reckless and was not prepared to take the risk that the bus wouldn’t turn up or if it did that it would be full and wouldn’t stop or that I might lose my luggage on a chaotic journey.  Back at the hotel I booked a taxi which was expensive at €30 (ten times as expensive as the bus) but was worth it for peace of mind.

It was the last evening so we took a walk to the beach, sat on the balcony and played cards and then just for a change went to our favourite restaurant in Malta.  Later we went to the Limelight Lounge again to snigger at the entertainment and then we returned to the room to pack.

I had enjoyed the stay in Malta.  Kim had enjoyed the stay in Malta.  She said that she loved Malta and would gladly return.  More Malta stories coming up then…

Limelight Lounge Mellieha Bay Hotel

Malta, Mdina Twenty Years Ago

Mdina Cathedral 1

Mdina is called the silent city because it is a quiet pedestrianised medieval walled city of golden coloured stone with twisting narrow streets, dead ends and crooked alleyways all of which lead inevitably to the centre piece of the cathedral of St Paul.

Mdina Malta 1997Malta Mdina 1996Mdina pre restoration.

 

Malta, The Silent City of Mdina

Malta Mdina

We slept well until about five o’clock next morning when there was an explosive thunderstorm that shook the room as though there were an earthquake with lightning flashes dramatically illuminating the sky and rain falling in bucket loads.  The wind rolled moaning down the corridor outside the room which made it sound much worse than it really was and fortunately by breakfast time it had cleared away and the sky looked more promising.

This was our last day in Malta and our plan was to visit the town of Mdina, the old capital of the country and situated in the centre of the island.

Mdina is called the silent city…

because it is a quiet pedestrianised medieval walled town with twisting narrow streets, dead ends and crooked alleyways all of which lead inevitably to the centre piece of the cathedral of St Paul.

St Paul is important to Malta because a shipwreck in 60 AD is recorded in some detail in the Acts of the Apostles and is supported by archaeological excavations that prove beyond doubt that his arrival in Malta is a historical fact.  He was only there for three months but in that time he managed to introduce the Christian Religion to Malta and if you have been paying attention you will know that Malta is the most religious country in Europe.

Napoleon Bonaparte in Malta…

Except for the modern bus service things get done quickly on Malta it seems.  During a six day stay on the island in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte carried out an exhausting and rapid programme of modernisation.  He reformed national administration with the creation of a Government Commission, twelve municipalities, a public finance administration, the abolition of all feudal rights and privileges, the abolition of slavery and the granting of freedom to all Turkish slaves. On the judicial level, a family code was framed and twelve judges were nominated. Public education was organised along principles laid down by Bonaparte himself, providing for primary and secondary education. After this whirlwind visit he then sailed for Egypt and the Maltese people probably gave a collective sigh of relief.

Mdina Malta

Public Transport issues in Malta…

“Unfortunately, the new designed routes take you half way around Malta in order to save money on buses – that is the problem when an accountant comes in with an Excel sheet and dictates with no real knowledge of what the people need, want or require.” – Malta Tourism Authority (2013)

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.  As we waited at the bus stop the skies clouded over, white at first and then grey and then very dark grey indeed and finally ominously black.  The temperature sank like a stone and soon there was another fearsome thunderstorm which made us consider going straight back to the hotel and a day in the indoor swimming pool and spa.

We dodged the downpour in a roadside café and eventually the connecting bus arrived and we went ahead with our original plan.  The bus was empty but at the next stop about three hundred people tried to get on but only two hundred and ninety-eight made it.  This was a very uncomfortable thirty minutes but as we drove towards Mdina the clouds broke and were blown away and by the time we arrived there was glorious blue sky again.

Mdina, restored and modernised…

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 Euro 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.

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 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 of what it used to be like.

Mdina Malta 2015Malta Mdina 1996

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.  This had also had a very extensive makeover.

I’d like to be able to tell you how good it was but we sat at a table for twenty minutes or so without being served whilst all around us everyone was giving their orders and getting prompt service.  I asked two times to be served but I think I must have been wearing my invisible clothes that day and the waiter continued to ignore us so finally our patience ran out and we left, stopping only very briefly on the way out to lodge a complaint about poor service.  He said that he would serve us immediately but I told him it was too late, he had missed his chance!

Mdina MaltaMalta_Map (1)

Click on any picture in the gallery to enter the slideshow…

Malta, Quick Quiz

Valletta Malta

Spotted in Valletta.  What do you think this woman is doing?

Fishing Game

Who Remembers this – nothing to do with the quiz by the way – just a red herring!

Whatever it is, she is a great deal friendlier than this old woman in Porto in Portugal who didn’t seem especially pleased to see us…

 

Malta, Bus Ride to Valletta

Valletta Malta Grand Harbour

“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

Bus Ride to Valletta…

On the second day in Malta we decided to take our chances on the buses once 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 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 coaches all belching fumes and impatiently trying to get in and out.

Valletta and the Knights of St John…

The city of Valletta was built by the Knights of St John who were granted the island in 1530, seven years after being expelled from Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks.  Trouble with Turks however continued to follow the Knights and in 1565 the Ottomans laid siege to their new home on Malta with the intention of establishing a base from where they could conveniently advance into Europe.  But as in Rhodes and at Bodrum the Knights proved a tough nut to crack and the Great Siege of Malta which lasted from May until September ended with the defeat and retreat of the Turkish army.

The rest of Europe was so grateful for this stoic resistance that it began to provide funding for the Grand Master of the Order, Jean Parisot de Valette, to plan and construct a new fortified city that was to be called Valletta in his memory.

Valletta Malta

A walk through Valletta, Malta…

Although it was designed principally as a fortress city with great battlements and armed bastions the architects also paid attention to good design and within the walls they built a Baroque style city with churches, palaces and fine mansions, laid down gardens and designed grand plazas at the intersections of the grid pattern of the streets.  Disraeli called it “a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen”.  Sadly much of medieval Malta was destroyed in the bombing raids of the Second-World-War and although it took a long time to recover it has now been named the European Capital of Culture for 2018.

We walked through the city main gate which isn’t a gate anymore, just a modern interpretation of what a gate might have looked like.  Not at all like a gate in my estimation. And then down Republic Street which undulates like a giant roller coaster and is flanked on either side by expensive shops and boutiques.  This is probably on account of the fact that the ugly cruise ships stop here now and all of the passengers are regularly emptied onto the quay side to go shopping and marauding in the main streets.

We passed the Cathedral and the Palace of the Knights and continued on our way to the furthest point, St Elmo’s Fort, which was closed for restoration.  In 2008 the World Monuments Fund placed the fort on its Watch List of the one hundred Most Endangered Sites in the world because of its significant deterioration due to factors such as lack of maintenance and security, natural ageing, and the still unrepaired damage from the bombing in the Second-World-War.  If Valletta is to be a European Capital of Culture then it has to be cleaned up.

I was disappointed by this but I think Kim might have been secretly pleased.  We now had to run the gauntlet of the pushy drivers waiting to ambush people with their flotilla of horse drawn carriages called Karrozzins, they look seductive but they are terribly expensive.  They are equine taxis and I never trust a taxi driver.

So we said no thank you several times and set about walking around the waterside edge of the Grand Harbour accompanied for a while by an elderly man, an ex British serviceman who had been stationed in Malta at the end of the war and was struggling to be able to find his bearings in a faded memory.

Not surprising really.  It is said that Malta was the most bombed place in Europe with relentless air raids every day for over two years.  This naturally destroyed Valletta and other parts of the island so most of what we see now has been reconstructed since 1945.  It is because of facts like this that I don’t have too much sympathy with Germany when it keeps whining on about the bombing and destruction of cities like Dresden and Cologne.  They started it!

Benjamin Disraeli would definitely not of recognised it.

Valletta City of the Knights

Malta, Bus Trip on Gozo and Problems with Queues

Victoria Gozo Malta

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.

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. Kim was devastated – the daily market was cancelled!

We tend to think of St George as an English Saint but a lot of the rest of Europe has claimed him as well because St. George is also the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Palestine, Portugal, and Russia and I wouldn’t mind betting that all of them will do an awful lot more to celebrate 23rd April every year than we do!  We English do tend to ignore Saint George and take him a bit too much for granted.

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 looks as though the Gozians are putting in a bit of extra effort (courtesy of EU heritage funding) to give the application a boost.

I am not against restoration and improvement but to be honest I think it looked better the way that it was when I last visited Gozo in 1997.

Victoria Cathedral Gozo

The time was passing quickly now and there was still more of the island to see so we returned to the bus station, stopping briefly to buy a Maltese cheese pie for lunch before rejoining the tour bus for the remainder of the trip.

First we went to the fishing village of  Xlendi where due to the fact that I was confused by the schedule we forgot to get off and so we stayed on and went back to Victoria and then to the other side of the island to the holiday village of Marsalforn where we stopped for forty-five minutes and walked around the sandy beach and the pretty harbour.

Rejoining the bus we went next to the UNESCO site megalithic temples at Nadur and the directly back to the port to catch the six o’clock ferry back to Malta.  Twenty years ago the ferry used to arrive and drop passengers off directly on the quay side but now there is a posh (EU funded) ferry terminal with ticket desks, lounges and rules and regulations. I preferred it the old way.

Gozo Ferry (2)

Ferry and Bus queues in Malta and Gozo

Now there was a problem.  There was a massive queue waiting to go through ticket control and I really didn’t relish the thought of waiting in line, so I did the French thing and jumped the queue.  With some style, even if I say so myself.  I went into the terminal via the exit and joined the line near the front, cutting out at least three quarters of the queue.

If challenged my plan was simple, I would give an arrogant Gallic shrug, say something like “Bonjour Monsieur, Allez Oop, Vive Jeanne d’Arc, Vive Charles de Gaulle, Merci Beaucoup”  and give a contemptuous sneer as I asserted a natural French divine right to barge in.  Anyway, as it happened no one bothered and we slipped through unchallenged to the boat.

The ferry was rather crowded so it occurred to us that there might well be another problem queuing problem for the bus when we arrived back in Malta so we devised a plan to get to the exit first and make a dash for the bus stop.

Malta Bus Chaos

Everything went brilliantly to plan until we got to the stop and there were no buses.  It didn’t matter that we were first there because soon after the French arrived and they had no intention at all or forming an orderly line.  Eventually a bus turned up and the crowd surged forward until it resembled one of those Catalan fiesta human pyramids.

Catalonia Steeple of People

My subtle, sneaking around the side approach had no chance of working here and there was no way that we wanted to walk back to the hotel so we reverted to Kim’s more direct approach of just punching our way to the front of the queue which I have to say worked perfectly.

The bus driver was a miserable specimen and although I pressed the bell for our stop we couldn’t push our way to the front of the bus in time so he just didn’t stop.  I took this up with him and he was adamant that I hadn’t pressed the bell.  I told him that he had an attitude problem and that he should seek treatment for his anger and for some reason this made him even more unsociable and it was only with some reluctance that he pulled up at the next stop and let us off the vehicle.

Kim went back to the hotel and I went to the shop for some essential supplies and then we spent an hour or so on the balcony enjoying the view over the bay before we made our way to what was already our favourite restaurant.

Going to Gozo was a brilliant success.  Kim was beginning to like Malta and she was starting to agree with me!

Luzo Fishing Boat Gozo Malta