Tag Archives: Mellieha Bay

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

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A Look Back at 2017

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

Malta 2017, Preview Pictures

Malta Mellihea

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

Malta SunsetMalta Sunset The Red Tower

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

Malta, Postcards

Malta Map PostcardLuzzu Boat MaltaMdina MaltaBuses of Malta postcardValletta Malta postcardMellieha Malta PostcardValletta Malta

Malta, Love it or Hate it!

Mellieha Malta

“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

On 5th September 1800 the island of Malta, in preference to being under French Napoleonic administration, invited the British to rule the island as a Dominion of the Empire.  Except for a difficult little period in the 1970s when Malta declared itself independent under the leadership of Dom Mintoff the Maltese have been inviting the British back ever since.

I am glad of that because in the 1990s I visited the historic island two or three times and I have always wanted to go back.

We arrived late in the morning and immediately found the bus connection to Mellieha Bay in the north of the island and sat back for the seventy minute journey through the centre of the island.  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 as we crawled through the growling traffic, through the unattractive suburbs of Valletta, past the inevitable McDonalds and Burger King and through miles and miles of road works I wasn’t so sure about Kim’s initial reaction.

I read somewhere that Malta was the last place in Europe to be cleared up after the Second-World-War, I remembered that on my last visit it was rather untidy and even now, nearly twenty years later there was clearly still some work in progress!

One thing that I had forgotten was, that as a result of years of British rule, in Malta traffic drives on the left.  Only four countries in Europe drive on the left.  Just for a bit of fun, can you name them?

At last we left the urban sprawl and moved into the countryside and the concrete gave way to green meadows.  Malta is overwhelmingly cream and buff coloured, the buildings constructed from local stone, the soil, the rocks and all along the route dainty yellow flowers complimented the natural colours of the earth.

Malta Buses…

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 and customized and painted in a distinctive orange livery with gleaming chrome that required sunglasses just to look at them..

Malta Old pre privatisation Bus

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

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 Greek 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 at Valletta harbour.

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’.

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 but I’ll tell you more about that later.

As far as I could make out the bus route map suggested that the bus stop was quite near to the hotel so as we got close I pressed the bell for the driver to stop.  He ignored it and carried on so I walked to the front to take the matter up with him.  He told me the bus didn’t stop there but in about another kilometre or so.  To be fair to him he took pity on us and stopped the bus at the side of the road but he wasn’t terribly happy about it.

It turns out that for some reason the bus company doesn’t think it sensible to stop near the several hotels flanking Mellieha Bay where it is convenient for passengers to get off but thinks it is more useful to have one on a remote roundabout half way between two villages which is no good to anybody.

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!

Anyway, I could sense that Kim wasn’t terribly happy and was sliding towards the hating Malta side of the scale…

Buses of Malta postcard

Weekly Photo Challenge: Yellow Buses of Malta

Malta Old pre privatisation Bus

Malta is only quite small, in fact it is the tenth smallest country in the World, the fifth smallest in Europe and the tiniest in the European Union but it also happens to have the eighth highest population density in the World (in Europe only the Vatican City and Gibraltar are more crowded) so this is not a get away from it all sort of place at all.

Being both small and crowded getting around was quite straight forward because up until 2011 Malta had a wonderful bus service with a fleet of vehicles mostly imported from the UK, privately owned, lovingly maintained and customized and painted in a distinctive yellow livery.

Read the full story…