Monday, September 08, 2008

Return from Malta

Where to begin is only a slightly more difficult proposition than where to stop once I do. I shall try to be succinct.*

I had a highly enjoyable time on my ten-night, sunbaked sojourn in the Mediterranean. I ate, I drank, I explored, I sweated, I ate and drank some more, I marvelled at the power of sun block (but like discovering how much you liked someone only after they're dead, only on the day I forgot to put it on), and I wrote down every last minute of it, for posterity, in my fancy Moleskine journal.

Hic...fuggin boatsh...won't shtop...fuggin moving...hic

Sigh, they were good times. Malta has a hell of a lot of heritage and history behind it, and ample locations to learn it all at. I felt like I'd landed in deepest Nerdistan. Between the Phoenicians and the Romans and the Knights and the Turks, and then the Brits and the Nazis, Malta's had an eclectic shower traipse through it over the centuries but fair play to them they all left a bit behind for muggins here to potter about in. The Knights now, were an interesting bunch. They were originally hospitallers but evolved into Christian soldiers who squabbled with the Turks, built lots of walls and grand houses, and then coughed it all up to Napoleon before going back to be hospitallers again.
Valletta's attractions, where my hotel was, were mostly of the daylight persuasion. I have a penchant for always selecting the most sedate areas when it comes to nightlife, and just like Lisbon a few months before, it's a place that slumps over in a corner and dies on its deserted arse after 8pm. So my daily routine was get up, explore, come back, shower, eat, get a bus to the place where the other humans go drinking.

The Grand Master's Palace. That'd be 'Grand Master' in the Head of the Knights of Malta sense as opposed to anything to do with Rappers. Swaaaaanky.

They have religion over there too, big style. St. Paul it was who crashed off the coast of Malta during a night of big wind, (and Lord knows I've had more than a few of those myself but none of them have sank ships, as yet), before coming ashore and spreading the Good News and setting Malta on a course to a fervent brand of Catholicism that endures to this day. Between churches and other buildings there's about ten sites all called St. Paul's Shipwreck Somethingorother so maybe the poor cratur crashed more than once. Either that or they're battling over where he was shipwrecked, which on reflection (given the splintered nature of your traditional shipwrecks before the advent of the riveted steel hull) may well have been in several locations all at once.

Sigh, don't mind me, I'm always like this.

Back in the day, religious persecution was all the rage. This is a Maltese torture museum's touching recreation of poor St. Agatha having her breasts cut off. Yikes! As a firm believer that breasts should be seen and not hurt, I wasn't exactly thrilled by this.

Now, one was slightly miffed, as something of a breathless WWII groupie, to find that not one but BOTH of the main war museums in the city were closed, one for renovations and the other for reasons unexplained. I did make my way to some underground bunker which hundreds of Maltese hollowed out by hand so they could huddle safely during copious air-raids, sleep in gathering pools of water and even give birth, but I still felt like I'd missed out overall. The tour guide, by way of compensation, conspiratorially confided in me when all the other tourists had gone however that back in the war, food was so short, they fed rats to the locals and never told them. As the only one to learn this, I felt somewhat important. They know how to make you feel special in them bunkers so they do.

Malta walls. They're everywhere.

One gripe - and I always have a gripe - is Malta's fairly arbitrary approach to opening hours. First off, everything shuts down totally on a Sunday. That's alright I suppose, they're big into Jesus after all, but they also shut on weekday afternoons as well. Now, again, this is ok by me, different cultures and so on, but it's the scattergun approach to it all that befuddles me. You'd go to one shop at about 2.30pm and find it shut, while the one beside it would be open, then you'd go off to some tourist sight or other and find it closed as well, despite the opening hours on the wall outside stating that it ought to be otherwise. Many were the times I barrelled hopefully up to the front door of somewhere or other only to find I couldn't get in. Most frustrating. But I eventually got around them all I think, I just had to do it in instalments.

A tribute cartoon outside Ollie Reed's last pub. He died as he lived, pissed as a newt, Lord rest him.

The undoubted highlight of the trip came on the last day however. I'd been to every last place of interest, including the pub where Oliver Reed had his last pissup before the years finally caught up on him and he was carried off in the arms of Bacchus to the great liver transplant surgeon in the sky, and somewhat at a loss I just hopped on a bus and got off when the notion took me. Soon after I uncovered a gem when I stumbled on a car museum (not mentioned in any guides), owned by some mega wealthy collector. It was stuffed full of Ferraris, Lotus, had a Dodge Viper, a new Ford Mustang, a Jaguar E-Type and a racing Jag worth an estimated half a million sterling. And, ehhhh, a Fiat 131 Mirafiori. Needless to say, I was as happy as a pig in shite, and I was the only one there so I had all the shite to meself as well, heh heh. I won't go on about it though.

Ferrari F350 Maranello. Feel free to look upon it and weep with envy.

Other than that, I just ate and drank a lot and gambolled and capered about in the sun, musing knowledgeably in front of monuments and stuff. In terms of nightlife, Malta's legal drinking age is 16 so if you go to the wrong areas you'll be ankle deep in horny teenagers (mostly foreign language students) all earnestly trying to have sex with each other in a fashionable way, before throwing up the night's beer. There are places that cater for people of a more mature vintage like meself however and you can get by without feeling like too much of a grandpa.

One other word to the wise is that the people are probably not quite as friendly as the tourist shpeel would have you believe. From my research, I was expecting everyone to be gaily dressed, wispy of moustache and charmingly rustic like in a Dolmio ad. Possibly keen for me to marry their eldest and most radiant daughters as well. Or at the very least, not object when I'd have sex with them. Alas, nobody spontaneously hugged me, playfully pinched my cheeks, kissed me or pledged to give me their Mama's secret ray-sippy. This in itself was, to be serious a moment, not a problem but be aware that at some of the busier places very firmly on the beaten track, staff can be a bit, er, abrupt to say the least. The food gets very samey after a while too.

And the local delicacy is rabbit and no, I didn't chance it.

Shitcrates ahoy! I thought those old yellow school buses we have in Ireland were bad, but Jasus...

Price-wise, hotels go right through the full range. Mine was cheap by comparison at €80 a night B&B, and no palace, but it was well located close to the buses and had everything I needed. The buses by the way were for the most part 40 years old or more and were so rattlesome and noisy it was like getting a lift somewhere during a minor earthquake. They were hot as hell too but pretty cheap. I haven't a clue what I was supposed to be paying but I always seemed to get change out of a 50c piece no matter where I went.
Eating out is fractionally cheaper than Dublin, which means you'll just be genteely overcharged instead of flagrantly ripped off, but it depends where you eat and what you order. Pleasantly, beer is cheap, bottles of Corona were €2.33 in the dearest place I was sober long enough to remember such practicalities as recording prices, and the local stuff is very drinkable also; and little surprise, because at about €1.50 a skite I'd drink Jabba the Hutt's bathwater if it got me hooched and happy.

Across the Grand Harbour at night, taken from the Valletta Waterfront

Oh yes, the ladies are gorgeous as well. They're very gorgeous indeed. One of them even seemed to like me for a while but eventually grew distressed at my inability to be loquacious and charming in Italian, and took against me. Hey girl, I'm still trying to work out how to do it in English like.

Anyway, I can't think of anything else to say about Malta right now. As you'll see from the date I started writing this ages ago and didn't get back to it until now. Terence is a busy boy. For instance, I have set a date to go shopping for pipes and tobacco with a doctor and am looking forward to practising my pipe-flourishing, tamping and popeye-esque wielding of same. Immensely.

Later people. Oh, I'll post some photos on this later...


17 moos and woofs:

Baino said...

You should be writing for Lonely Planet I think! Welcome back to the humdrum. Nice image of you 'gambolling' in the sunshine!

Susan said...

So you went to an island rich in history but expensive, with weird opening hours, abrupt customer service, shipwrecks and Catholicism...

Are you sure you left Ireland at all?

Glad you're back.

(the photos aren't showing up for me...ah poop)

Susan said...

So you went to an island rich in history but expensive, with weird opening hours, abrupt customer service, shipwrecks and Catholicism...

Are you sure you left Ireland at all?

Glad you're back.

(the photos aren't showing up for me...ah poop)

Radge said...

I was JUST about to give up on you. Fair play and top bloggery...

What it lacked in timeliness it made up for in jauntiness.

Terence McDanger said...

@Baino - that's the second time someone has told me that. I'm considering an alternative career. Imagine, trekking round the world and getting paid for it?

Very good observation Susan, the irony passed me by when writing it...

Radge, you knew I'd be back. I told you a few days ago ya numpty.

Radge said...

Yes, but I was very drunk. Ya dingbag.

Susan said...

Love the photos (now that I can see them) and MUST HAVE one of those family can drive around Cavan pretending we're the Partridge Family, the cousins, you know the ones who can't sing.

I tagged you with a meme by the way.

Guess you should have posted more frequently so I wouldn't have felt the need to resort to such measures...?

Kim Kasch said...

I popped over to check out your answers. Waiting . . .

Anonymous said...

Anything to report about the local gentlemen to please your feminine audience? But I quite understand that you'd rather concentrate on ladies...
Parisian reader

Terence McDanger said...

Susan! You (Cavan lingo alert) durty haverel with your tagging! And it's a feckin' monster.

That said it will help me cover a diverse range of topics and take a day off from trying to think of a real post.


Susan said...

hee hee hee hee HAHAHA HA HAAA HAA

I can sleep well tonight, so...

Anonymous said...

Ha Ha
I would like to go to the torture museum but i'm too young

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