Oh My My Malta
Computers glitch and humans do, too. I definitely had a human glitch- sorry if you received this post Monday morning via email. I accidentally published it half-written, haha... oops.
I went to Malta for three days and the impossible happened... Malta became my second favorite country I've ever visited of all time. What!!!?? I'm just sitting here in shock wondering how.
Our first night in Malta was horrifically hilarious. Well, hilarious now. One of those "I'm-going-to-light-myself-on-fire-and-torch-the-world" kind of things in the moment. Part of me knows better than to go and get all rilled up about this again. The other half of me is already like 3 lines into the story.
So Madison and I are sitting on our Ryanair flight in Dublin ready to take off, right? Here I am, completely unassuming, thinking the height of my annoyance was the flight attendant's gentle reminder to take out my earbuds for the safety demonstration. Sitting on the row across from us, there were two very Northern Irish women. It was their girl's trip (they made a point to inform the entire aircraft), and boy, were they the rowdiest and loudest bunch of middle aged women I have ever encountered.
I should have been suspicious about these delightful passengers at our gate when they were pounding alcoholic beverages. If not then, then definitely by their shouting and hollering on the jetbridge. But no, I was entirely oblivious to our co-passengers from hell until we were 10 minutes into the flight and our lovely subjects were dancing in the middle of the aisle.
At first, it was a hoot. The minute they started dancing on the flight attendants and the beverage carts, I was out. They lost the rest of their audience once they started dancing on the other passengers trying to go to the bathroom. It got so bad, the flight attendants had to permanently turn on the fasten seatbelt sign. When that didn't seem to work, the beyond perturbed flight crew phoned down to land for intervention. Needless to say, I was ready to personally eject myself from the aircraft.
Somehow we got through the flight and eventually made it to our taxi driver. Finding him went smoothly as can be; things took a downhill turn as we drove off because (big surprise, bad luck Sydney) my seatbelt wouldn't fasten. See, normally this wouldn't be a HUGE issue. Our driver was safe, Maltese roads were safe, and I was so tense with anger that I could have been my own seatbelt. You know how the "fasten seatbelt" light beeps at you for unbuckled passengers riding shotgun? Well, in Malta, it beeps for everyone who is unbuckled- and incessantly, too.
At first our driver was like, "hey, maybe buckle that?", to which I was like, "bro, I think maybe your seatbelt is broken?". I shifted to the seat next to me in hopes of ending the dreadful beeping... and wound up unbuckling Madison's seatbelt on accident. At that point, we had an orchestra of out-of-synch and furious beeping, to which our helpless driver turned his stereo all the way up. Poor dude.
If you think the series of unfortunate events ends here, hold on to your hats because BOY, IT GETS BETTER.
By the time we arrived to the hostel, the front desk was closed. Madison and I had to follow very precise directions to let ourselves into the hostel, locate our room keys, and navigate the way to our room with our big bags. No sooner did Madison and I walk into our room than did an old German man shoot straight up in Madison's bed, "Ladies, is there a problem?"
Well, yeah? You're like... in my friend's bed?
I can't make this up.
I wanted to drop kick all of Malta across the Mediterranean. Come to find out, this sweet German man missed the instructions on how to check in and locate his room after-hours. Instead, he just asked around our hostel for anyone that had an empty bed in their room. One of our other two roommates offered up mine and Madison's beds without knowing we were coming in later that night. Of course, the roommate who offered our beds up was out on the town, so the altercation woke up our innocent roommate, another German guy, who came to our rescue.
After a bit of back and forth, we wound up helping the bed intruder find his proper bed and carry his stuff into his assigned room. We also lugged his bedding from Madison's bed and brought back the clean bedding from his unused bed. Just as we finally climbed in bed and curled up, we hear this rabid banging on the doors downstairs. That continued for five minutes until someone went down to open it. Turns out, the gal who went to open the door had ulterior motives- she had a lover to yell at for god knows why. The screaming was in amplified Italian- the hostel echoed everything dramatically for guests' listening pleasure- I couldn't make out anything that was said except the very English f-bomb that was dropped every other word.
Everyone in my hostel room was stunned to silence. Finally, I rolled over-
"For Christ's sake, jEsus!"
After a bonus round of bathroom wailing from the girl, we laughed off our misery. Fun fact, her bathroom of choice was directly under our bedroom and was almost definitely rigged with a microphone. Eventually the chaos ended for the night, and Madison and I finally made it to bed around 3 am.
It's a miracle I stayed in Malta long enough to like it.
The next morning, we awoke to the most wonderful and apologetic hostel staff. We asked for recommendations for lunch (sue us, we slept in late), and they directed us to the Sliema waterfront area. We walked out in short sleeves (quite the change from being bundled up in Ireland!) and basked in the glorious Mediterranean climate.
Geographically, Malta is an island and is nestled just under Sicily and catty corner to Tunisia. It's just under 130 miles in area, making it one of the world's smallest and most densely populated countries. I got to talking at length with a cab driver (typical me things) and learned that while Malta's official population is about half a million, it houses an innumerable amount of African refugees who stop there on their way to mainland Europe.
Culturally, Malta is pure magic. I think if I had to boil it down, that's why I'm so in love with this tiny island. Malta is this beautiful hybrid of Middle Eastern, European and something intangibly Maltese. It's truly unlike any place in the world- it takes you do a different time; a different mindset.
I'm fully intending on publishing a guide to Malta, and although I'll give detailed recommendations and tips there, I'll go ahead and say our decision to stay in Sliema was spot on. As we quickly realized, Sliema is central to the rest of the island. After we polished off our lunches, we went down to the waterfront and forked out two whole euros for a round-trip ferry ride to Valletta.
Valletta was hands down my favorite part of all of Malta, and I guess I made that pretty obvious because Madison joked that my reaction to Valletta was her favorite part of Malta.
Before the ferry even docked, I was taking in the majestic and very historic cityscape. Pictures do it better justice, but the streets were lined with beautiful and colorful window boxes. The steep neighborhoods had sidewalks made of steps and very crammed one-way streets. You'll definitely notice the burn in your bum when you're walking around Valletta, but the incredible buildings are the perfect distraction.
We followed the signs posted along the roads to the Valletta city center. Apparently Madison and I chose a wonderful time to frolic around Malta because there was an international craft show being held in the streets of Valletta while we were there. We wasted no time exploring booths, and within minutes, my manic ability to shop took over. I wound up buying the most beautiful handcrafted silver ring and would have bought more if I had more fingers, haha.
We continued roaming around the city- somehow we exited Valletta (I'm still confused how we managed this?), so we admired the city from it's official entrance, and then reentered. We were much more successful in our aimless wondering the second go around, as we found ourselves in Valletta's ever-famous Upper Gardens. The garden grounds are pristine and decorated to perfection. The views of the Three Cities and the cruise docks are unparalleled from here, too. When I think of the most enchanting places I've discovered traveling, Valletta's Upper Gardens definitely make the list.
Pumped up on Maltese culture, we followed the gardens with a local beer at Botega Beer Garden. I would have been happy drinking beer outside and people watching all day long, but alas, we had a lot of Valletta to see.
Without a real plan for Valletta, we wondered up and down the ultra steep streets, going in any stores that caught our attention. I wore my camera like a necklace and took more pictures than I know what to do with. Eventually, our roaming took us to the Lower Gardens, which I found to be underwhelming in comparison to the Upper Gardens. On the way back, I stopped in a bakery in search of something local to satisfy my sweet tooth. I wound up picking up a pastry ring, and well, my reaction says it all.
The next morning, we got up pretty early. During our first day in Malta, we bought hop-on hop-off bus tickets, but decided to wait to use them on our second day when we could get an early start. The first bus left at 9:30, so in typical me fashion, we were grabbing coffee and pastries at 9:20 and eating them on the run. Our makeshift breakfast that morning was from Pastry Park, which ended up being one of our go-to places during our stay. I can't recommend their coffee and pastries enough- we made many stops in our three days! The picture I have from here was from our first day- when we actually sat down like functioning humans.
Madison and I were overly optimistic about Malta's weather and damn near froze on the open air tour bus. Granted, we chose to sit up top, so we could have been warmer if we wanted. Either way, the views made the cold worth it. Typically, I avoid tour buses, as they're total tourist traps. But, when I was doing my research on Malta, I kept reading over and over how much people suggested using tour buses as transportation across the island. And I can't say they lead us astray- I saw more of Malta in three days through this dang tourist bus than I could have dreamed of seeing otherwise. Plus, the photo-opps from the top are unrivaled.
Our first stop that morning was Mdina. Mdina is an ancient fortified city in Malta, and is just bubbling with culture. For all you Game of Thrones fans- Mdina is where like, half of the show was filmed. Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating, but you wouldn't know by the way Madison and I were geeking out.
Even tinier than Valletta, Mdina is doable in an hour or two. Almost a rite of passage at this point, Madison and I did our customary aimless wondering until we stumbled upon Fontanella's Tea Garden. We seated ourselves on the upstairs balcony that overlooked the countryside and ordered cake and coffee. My carrot cake was immaculate, though I can't say I've ever met a carrot cake I didn't like. Definitely stop at Fontanella's Tea Garden if you make it to Mdina.
There's a ton of beautiful photo opps in Mdina. There's also a stunning church, which we just casually happened to see an archbishop or something be escorted to (which is quite the feat- it can't be easy getting a caravan of cars through the tiny Mdina streets). Oh, and we also had the great pleasure of thinking we were under bomb attack with a spontaneous midday Mdina firework show. Ah, the simple joys.
Exiting the gates of Mdina, we waited thirty minutes for the next bus to Rabat, and kicked ourselves when we realized Rabat was a 5 minute walk from Mdina. Whoops.
Rabat was quite the treat. Our bus dropped us off at the outskirts of the little city and we quickly worked our way to the heart. Our trip to Malta proved to be the perfect timing yet again- Rabat had transformed into a wonderland. The streets were decorated with whimsical floral lightposts and there were grandiose archways set up every few buildings. Every ounce of my being felt like I had transported to Disney World. We later found out that the townspeople took turns volunteering to decorate for Passover, and we just so happened to visit Rabat right as the last of the extensive transformation was completed. Honestly, we were sort of disappointed that Rabat wasn't a permanent Disney-esque city, but hey, what a cool experience.
Rabat is famous for its catacombs. While Madison and I opted to forgo the experience in the name of frugal traveling, we did admire a few from afar. If this is something you're interested in, there's no shortage of them here. Rabat also seemed like a foodie's dream. Had we not been rushed to catch the last bus, we would have eaten our hearts out in Rabat. I can't tell you how many delicious smelling restaurants we passed, many of them with rooftop balconies. There was a pastizzi place in particular that I would have loved to try right by our bus stop- judging by the crowds and the 4 item menu, it was definitely a hit with the locals.
We rode the hop-on hop-off bus back to Sliema, passing through a multitude of new cities. There were a handful of places that I would have liked to have explored in a little more depth, but the tour from the bus sufficed for the time being. The city next to Sliema, St. Julians, was one of those places. After we debarked our bus at the Sliema Waterfront stop, we grabbed dinner at a nearby restaurant, Giorgios. I don't like cheese, but I thought the ravioli at Gorgios was to die for- it's made of fresh homemade pasta, local maltese ricotta, fresh tomato sauce and honestly probably crack because wow, I inhaled all of it.
Here's the thing about Maltese food- it's so fresh. Like mind blowing fresh. Fun fact: Malta has a self-sufficient agriculture industry, which means all of their fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and so on are local and freshly harvested. I don't think I ate a bad meal in Matla- the ingredients were so amazing, it would have been impossible. I would also definitely recommend sampling traditional Maltese foods. While many of them were not vegetarian friendly, I can speak on behalf of all the ones that were and hot dang, they were good. I will definitely point you in the direction of the mouthwatering Maltese food I tried (so all of it!!?) in the Malta Guide I'm planning on publishing, so stay tuned for that.
After dinner, we ran back to the hostel to put on a fluffy jacket- we never quite dethawed from our bus rid- and made the twenty minute trek over to St. Julians. The walk was through neighborhoods, so obviously I was thriving immersing myself in local life. Our end goal in St. Julians was Dulce Pastesi, a coffee an dessert place. Travel with me and I'll be sure you gain insights on local food, as well as a few pounds ha! The pastries and coffee here were no comparison to Pastry Park, but the abundance of outlets and free wifi were nothing to complain about.
Part two of my Maltese adventure will be published soon. As soon as that's out, I'll get to work compiling guides for both Ireland and Malta. So stay tuned- we have a busy April lined up here.