Monday, 30 January 2012

Malta: Cold in Winter!

This is Malta in December... looks deceptively warm
Stop the presses.  Despite what you may have heard about Malta having the best climate in the world, you will be sorely disappointed if you rock up here in the middle of January, bags stuffed with swimwear and sun-cream.  Because Malta is pretty chilly at this time of year.  Temperatures range from (average) lows of about 9 or 10 degrees celsius up to highs of 16 or 17 degrees from December to March.  Or to translate for those people who speak Fahrenheit, thats lows of 49 to highs of about 60.  Now this does not seem cold to, let's say, somebody from Northern Europe where winter temperatures regularly dip below zero.
The problem here though is that Malta is not adapted for the cold.  Very few of the houses have heating or are insulated, and so they are not the warm havens us Northern Europeans are accustomed to.  That's why we spend a lot of our free time sitting on the couch under assorted blankets.  You also have to remember that this is a very small island and as such is more likely to be buffeted by winds.  Somebody compared Malta to a very large ship out here in the middle of the sea, except one which does without the benefit of heating systems.  Not too far off the mark.

On the plus side, there's not a lot of rain here, and much more sunshine than you would expect just about anywhere else in Europe.  And on those sunny winter days it's actually pretty warm if you find a patch of sunlight and don't move out of it.  But the best advice is that if you're coming to Malta during the winter leave the beach clothes at home.  You will still get lots of blue-sky photos to take home with you, but you'll probably be wearing a jacket when you take them.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Cafe Review: Cafe Jubilee (Valletta & Gzira)

Cafe Jubilee (Valletta)
There are three Jubilee Cafes in Malta, but I haven't made it to the Gozo version, so can only comment on the other two.  Jubilee Gzira was one of the first places in Malta I went to for a beer, and I liked it straight away.  Deliberately trendy in a vintage style, lots of corners and alcoves, things glued onto the ceiling upside-down - you get the idea.  The food is good as well, Dany reckons the pasta here is the best she's had in Malta, and who am I to argue?  It is a little dark inside for a sunshine spot like Malta, but then that can be a nice change sometimes.  The Valletta version has the same decor, but is smaller and busier, which is not a great combination.  If you go here if feels like you're pretty much expected to order food, which is not necessarily the case in Gzira.

Decent bar/cafes, worth a visit if you've had enough sun for the day.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Where is the Real Maltese Falcon?

[first title card - 'The Maltese Falcon' (1941)]
Title Card: In 1539, the Knight Templars of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain, by sending him a Golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels ~~~~~ but pirates seized the galley carrying this priceless token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day ~~~ 

ahhhh..  No they didn't.  Because there was no golden falcon, bejewelled or otherwise.  You see 'The Maltese Falcon' by Dashiell Hammett is what we call "a story". It's based on some sort of reality though, except apparently the tribute was in the form of a live bird, payable annually, basically in lieu of rent for the islands of Malta.  This is considerably cheaper than the rent now being paid for pokey apartments in Gzira, even allowing for inflation.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Best Full English in Malta? - U Bistrot (St Julian's)

I went into U Bistrot confidently, ready to award the gold star for best English breakfast in Malta before I'd even tasted it.  

Monday, 16 January 2012

Marsaxlokk. Gone fishin'.

This is a popular stopping off point on many people's tour of Malta.  Marsaxlokk is a little fishing village in the south of the island, which looks great in photos because of all the colourful fishing boats ('luzzus') bobbing up and down on the waves.  Another reason to go to Marsaxlokk is the famous fish market which takes place every Sunday morning.  You can buy fish here that's so fresh it's practically still swimming.  However if you are staying in a hotel, you may begin to regret that impulse purchase of a lampuki that's been taking up space in the minibar for the past few days.  Fortunately, there is more than fish available to buy, and there's a market every day of the week which sells various touristy stuff.  If you're not at liberty to cook your own fish, there are plenty of good restaurants in Marsaxlokk that can do the job for you.  I can't recall the name of the place we went to (very nice it was too, so sorry about that), so you might want to check out tripadvisor's recommendations for advice on which restaurant to go for.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

7 Reasons why Cycling in Malta is a Bad Idea.

Have you lost your mind?  Cycling in Malta is like bear-baiting in Alaska; neither is likely to end happily.

Artist's rendering of an idiot
Here are Seven reasons to be wary of cycling in  Malta:

1.  There are no cycle lanes.
2.  Cars go fast.
3.  The streets are too narrow.
4.  The streets are often full of holes.
5.  If it rains deep pools form along the side of the road in seconds.
6.  In summer it's too hot.
7.  Many drivers show a scant regard for the letter of the law.

In Malta, cycling is Bad For Your Health.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Hypogeum - Older than the Pyramids

inside the Hypogeum
The Hypogeum in Paola is one place that is definitely worth a visit, whether you've had enough of lying on the beach or you are trying to get in touch with your spiritual side.  The Hypogeum is a series of underground chambers connected by low ceilinged passages, which was carved out of the rock over 5,000 years ago, by a pre-historic civilisation about whom little is known.  And you don't have to be a history enthusiast to get something from a visit to the Hypogeum.  There is something very atmospheric about walking through the narrow passageways accompanied by drip-drip sounds which bounce off the rock walls.  The fact that groups are restricted in numbers means that you don't get that over-touristed feel and you can actually take in what you're looking at.  No photos allowed inside either, so you have to actually experience the place without the prism of your camera or phone getting in the way.  There's no point in me trying to describe it in too much detail though, it's one of those places you need to experience for yourself.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Bar Review: The Sun in Splendour (St Julian's)

Not looking too splendorous here, but give it a chance
This is many peoples choice for best bar in St Julian's, and I wouldn't argue too much with that assessment.  It's one of those places that looks like it's been there forever, lots of alcohol related paraphernalia on the walls and football playing on the small tv.  The chairs and tables inside are a little bit low - that's my one complaint.  But if the weather is good you want to do as the name suggests and get a table outside.  It's a popular haunt with expats and tourists as well as local people, and who doesn't enjoy drinking beer in the sunshine?  If you don't enjoy drinking beer in the sunshine then you may be beyond salvation, but for everybody else this is a nice little spot to take a breather in.

Saturday, 7 January 2012


The Azure Window at Dwejra
Gozo is probably a must-see if you are visiting Malta.  Not so much during the winter months, when a lot of the shops and restaurants close their shutters and there's a kind of empty feeling about the place, but you should definitely make it part of your itinerary any other time of year.

Of course there is a certain appeal to the place that doesn't exist when it's overrun by tourists, so take your pick.

The Gozitans are to the Maltese as Newfoundlanders are to Canadians, or Alaskans to Americans.  Regarded as having a certain quaint novelty value, glad you're part of the team, but different.  Gozo makes Malta seem like a cosmopolitan hub by comparison.  It has a charm of it's own though and if you are spending a week or more in Malta you are missing out if you don't  pay a visit to the red-headed cousin to the north.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Rocky Beaches - Sliema & St Julian's

Not sandy.
I have spent more time awkwardly arranged amongst the nooks and crannies of these rocky beaches than any others in Malta.  This is mainly due to their proximity and my laziness, but still qualifies me to speak on the subject with some authority.  The small rocky alcove near the Dubliner is a great spot for swimming, and a lot of the (older) locals come here on a regular basis during the long summer months.  Further along as you cross from St Julian's to Sliema there's a larger stone beach where it's easier to stretch out a bit and which doesn't get overcrowded.  Keep going and you come to the largest Sliema beach which stretches for quite a distance with plenty of room for lounging about, although swimming requires a bit more effort as you have to do some clambering in and out of the water and there's no specific roped off area for swimmers.

Your photos won't have that white sand backdrop to make the folks back home extra-jealous, but you won't come home with sand in every orifice and your tan will look just as good by the end of the week.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

How to get around - Important Bus Routes in Malta

I thought I would give you some info on which buses to take if you are doing some travelling around Malta.  I have based this upon my top ten places to get to, and assumed that most tourists are based in Sliema/St Julians; Bugibba; Mellieha; St Paul's Bay or Valletta.  I have shown direct routes where available but the '+' symbol means you need to change buses.

to Airport:
from Sliema/StJulian:    X2
from Bugibba:                X3 direct; or 12 (to Pembroke) + X1
from Valletta:                 X4 or X5 or X7
from St Pauls:                221 or 223 (to Buggiba) + X3
from Mellieha                 X1 (only from Mellieha bay or Belle View Interchange)

to Blue Grotto:                             
from Sliema/StJulian:    X2 + 201;  12 or 13 or 15 (to Valletta) + 71 (summer only)
from Bugibba:                X3 + 201; (or via Valletta in summer)
from Valletta:                 71 (summer only) ; X4 or X5 or X7 (to airport) + 201
from St Pauls:                41 or 42 (to Valletta) + 71
from Mellieha:               X1 (to airport) + 201 (or via Valletta)

to Buskett Gardens & Dingli Cliffs:                                                             
from Sliema/StJulian:    202
From all other locations, take bus to Rabat (see below), then change onto bus 202 to Buskett, or 201 or 202 to Dingli Cliffs

to: Gozo/Comino ferries (Cirkewwa):                                              (Read about Gozo here)
from Sliema/StJulian:    222
from Bugibba:                221
from Valletta:                  41 or 42
from St Pauls:                41 or 42 or 221 or 222
from Mellieha:                41 or 42 or 101 or 102 or 221 or 222

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A Very Short History of Malta - Part I

There is a lot of history to get through for such a small island, so I am going to attempt to condense it just a little bit.

Hagar Qim
Let's go right back to when early Sicilians floated over in search of pastures greener and landed about 5,000 years B.C., to become the first known settlers on Malta.  Go and take a look at the Tarxien temples and the Hypogeum among others, and you'll get some idea of what early Maltese got up to in their spare time.  One of the things was probably killing and eating pygmy elephants and hippos, which was a shame.  You can go see the skeleton of one of these at the Ghar Dalam museum. One archeologist even suggested that the discovery of such skeletons may have led to the belief in Cyclops', as the skulls just had one big hole for the trunk which could have been mistaken for an eye socket.  Although he may have been one of those off-the-wall archeologists who believes in lay lines and alien interventions and stuff... Okay, I don't want to get bogged down here, too much history, too little space.  So everybody left the island in 2500BC and about 100 years later a new bunch of bronze age people arrived.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Malta still has Actual Chemists

Generic 'chemist'
I don't know if you recall, but in Britain and Ireland there used to exist a place known as a 'chemist's', (occasionally referred to as a 'pharmacy').  You may not remember, as it was a while ago.  (Or you may not be from Britain or Ireland, of course).  This chemist's was an establishment you visited when you felt poorly, in order to alleviate whichever symptoms you were suffering from.  But then a company called Boot's came along and turned a 'chemist's' into a 'Shop Vaguely Related to Feeling Good'.  In this new type of Shop you can buy all sorts of things that make your teeth go whiter and your skin browner and your hair more whatever-you-want-your-hair-to-be-more-of.  The new Shop does also sell medical products, but prefers not to advertise the fact, and so supermarkets and mini-marts have started enthusiastically selling all those symptom alleviating products beside their shampoos and shaving gels.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Top 10 Things to do in Malta

To remove subjectivity as much as is possible, and to save you the trouble, I researched ten different sources (see bottom of page) to get their Top Ten lists.  Then I did some simple maths and came up with my own "definitive", best of the best top ten list.  Here it is in reverse order, (more exciting that way):

10.  Go clubbing in Paceville until the early hours.

9.  Visit Marsaxlokk fishing village for markets, fresh fish and relaxed atmosphere.

8.  Get yourself to a village Festa, when the whole town parades around, fireworks go off, and a good time is had by all.  There are dozens of these over the summer months.

7.  Visit the Hypogeum, atmospheric underground chambers which were created thousands of years ago.

6.  Investigate the Ancient Temples like Hagar Qim and Mnajdra and the Tarxien Temples.