Tag Archives: Mellieha Bay Hotel

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

 

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My Holidays in Malta, Ferry to Gozo

Gozo Ferry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gozo Malta Cannons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gozo Victoria Rabat

My Holidays in Malta, Popeye Village

Popeye Village

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

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

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

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

Popeye Village 1

Fast forward twenty years…

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

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

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

Popeye

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

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

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

Popeye Village 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malta 2017, Preview Pictures

Malta Mellihea

I went to Malta last month, here are some post preview pictures…

Malta SunsetMalta Sunset The Red Tower

Entrance Tickets, The Red Tower at Mellieha, Malta

red-tower-mellieha-malta

The Red Tower, or to give it its proper name St Agatha’s Tower, is a large imposing watchtower in Mellieħa,  the sixth and most important of a coastal defence system of fortifications and small castles built by the Knights of St John during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

St. Agatha’s Tower turns out to be the last large bastioned tower to be built in Malta to provide early warning of attack and to alert the defence of the city of Valletta.

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 honour.  Although it was designed principally as a fortress city with great battlements and armed bastions the architects also found time and 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.  It was certainly worth protecting.

Mellieha Malta Red Tower

Saint Agatha’s Tower was built between November 1647 and April 1649 and consists of a square castle with four corner towers.  Cannon ports in the turrets gave interlocking fields of fire commanding the base of the walls and the gateway, with other large artillery ports in the faces of the main tower.

The tower is situated in a commanding position on the crest of Marfa Ridge at the north west end of Malta, overlooking the natural harbour and potential enemy landing site of Mellieħa Bay, with clear views over to Comino and Gozo, and also eastward to the line of watchtowers along the north shore of Malta that linked it with the Knights headquarters in Valletta. It was the primary stronghold in the west of Malta, and was manned by a garrison of thirty men, with ammunition and supplies to withstand a siege of forty days.

It continued to have a military purpose throughout the British period, and was manned during both World Wars. From the British period it continued its military function being used as a radar station by the Armed Forces of Malta.

The Red Tower Mellieha Malta

Although the children would have preferred to stay at the hotel and spend all day in the swimming pool I thought it was important for them to get out a little and learn something about Malta.  The girls weren’t too keen and Patsy (the clever one) feigned a stomach ache to get out of it, Molly (not so clever) didn’t think fast enough to find an excuse but William is rather fond of forts and castles so luckily he was enthusiastic about the visit.  Molly was dragged along complaining.

St Agatha’s Tower on a previous visit to Malta in 1997…

Red Tower 1991

It was just a short walk but it was all uphill so, in the heat, it did become rather a drag by the time we reached the steep flight of steps which took us to the entrance.

There are some good displays inside and some imaginative reconstructions but the best bit is the climb to the roof and the reward of sweeping views in all directions as far as Victoria on Gozo to the north and Valletta to the south and it was easy to understand why they chose this spot for the tower – no one was going to slip in unnoticed that’s for sure.

It didn’t take long to see all that there was to see and with the promise of an ice cream down at the beach after the stroll back there were a lot less complaints on the return walk.

The children celebrate the end of the walk and return to the swimming pool…

Celebrating Mellieha Malta

Malta, A Walk Around Mellieha and Beach Bartering

Street Art Mellieha MaltaMalta Boat MelliehaMalta Mellieha StatueMalta Statue MelliehaMellieha Malta Balcony

One day we took a walk around Mellieha and on the way back to the hotel stopped at a beach bar for a break.  A Looky-Looky man approached and showed us the rubbish that he was hoping to sell.  I would never buy from a Looky-Looky man and I told him to go away.  He packed up and moved on but my five year old granddaughter called him back.

Sardinia Beach Trader

Sensing a sale he started all over again, she liked a carved elephant and he said it was five euro. my reaction was ‘no way‘, my daughter said ‘offer him four’, Patsy thought about this for a while and then looked him directly in the eye and said ‘Three’.  I choked on my beer, Sally almost fell off her chair, the Looky-Looky man just laughed and agreed the deal!

The next time I go to Morocco and go shopping in the Souks or go to buy a new car I am taking my granddaughter with me to do the negotiating…

Bargain Hunter