Malta walkthrough pt.2

It’s been so long since I posted part 1 that I have since forgotten pretty much every detail of my holidays in Malta. Before I forget the rest, here are the memories I can recover from my malfunctioning brain:

On my first day in Malta I visited Paradise Bay, probably because it was mentioned in some tourist guide or someone recommended it. Don’t go there, alright? The beach looks decent; it is situated in a small bay, enveloped by cliffs. If it had been left at that it would have been nice to swim in but unfortunately it is what we call an ‘organised beach’ in Greece. It has a canteen, sunbeds, shower facilities and worst of all, for reasons that are beyond me, a certain part of the water has been designated as a ‘lido’; that is to say there is a rope marking the perimeter of the ‘swimming area’. Why? I honestly cannot imagine. My best guess is that this is a way to make the lifeguard’s job easier and to ensure people don’t wander away in deep water and drown. Honestly I have no idea why this is a thing. Anyway, I would suggest this beach for people with limited mobility but it is not even accessible and I recall I did a fair bit of walking to reach the water. Just don’t go unless you really like showers and ropes swimming in the water.

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After leaving Paradise Bay I inexplicably headed back east. I think that might have been a result of the poor bus connections. I don’t really remember but I might have grabbed the first bus that passed towards Melieha Bay. There I found a small forest of umbrellas planted on a very uninteresting stretch of sand in front of a main road. There was also a ‘spot the jellyfish sign’, which sounds like the least fun game I can think of. I watched that film about aliens deep underwater when I was a child-‘The Sphere‘ if I recall-where at some point someone’s nightmare manifests as jellyfish overwhelming the surrounding waters and digging their way into people’s eye sockets and stuff. At least that’s how I remember it. Needless to say, I hate jellyfish since. Although I guess it’s not really a phobia because I did swim in places that carried this warning in Malta- I guess it’s just a deep aversion towards living jelly. If like me, you are not a jellyfish enthusiast you have been warned: listed on the sign were the Portuguese Man-o-War and the box jellyfish, the special forces of the Jellies.

Leaving Melieha Bay, I somehow ended up at a Reggae bar called Ta Fra Ben, which overlooks-you guessed it- Ta Fra Ben Bay. This is a small rocky bay, which was not very crowded when I arrived there at around 5pm (keep in mind it was also September when I visited Malta). It might not look like much but at that moment, it was perfect. There was the sound of Pink Floyd coming from the bar, the sea was clear, chilled and calm, everyone was relaxed and it finally started to feel like summer. I had an iced coffee at the bar and everything was perfect.

I honestly have no memory of the second day and I think I spent a big part of it trying to change hostels and when I realised I would not get refunded, trying to appeal to the tourist authorities of Malta. I stayed at a ‘dormitory’ or hostel, as we say in my village, called Valletta Sea Esta. It has three floors and the first one accommodates four people. I decided to pay a bit more for the extra privacy of the 4-bed room and ended up sharing with the entire building as-surprise! There are no doors! what fun! also, the central staircase passes from inside the room, meaning that every time someone from the floors above need to reach their room, they have to pass in front of your bed. But no worries: they won’t turn on the light because a sensor that picks up movement will do it for them, every time they are near the stairs. The employee told me that the rooms were described as ‘interconnecting’ on the website, to which I answered that ‘interconnecting’ does not necessarily mean that there are no doors or that the main stairs pass from within the room but my protests got me nowhere. This hostel is also quite pricey for a hostel and has only one bathroom per sex (the toilet and shower are in the same room) for three floors, so just try to avoid it.

It was on the second or third day that I found my favourite beach on the island of Malta. It is on the north west and it is called Ghajn Tuffieha. A watch tower and a restaurant are situated on the cliffs overlooking the beach. I was quite happy with the restaurant, they have big portions and the salads are very rich. I climbed up to the tower to appreciate the view and I have a vague memory of an olive grove nearby, with signs bearing quotes from Dalai Lama and…Churchill?

Right next to Ghajn Tuffieha you will find Golden Bay, which is also quite pretty-sandier but a bit less impressive and more ‘organised’- as well as Gnejna Bay which I didn’t have time to visit and I regret it because it looks quite striking in pictures

Now here’s another place I don’t recommend visiting: Marsaxlokk. I don’t know why people keep recommending this village. It is apparently a very traditional fishing village and it is being promoted as a ‘picturesque’ location, mainly untouched by modernisation. That is true to a certain degree, if your eyesight is so selective that it can ignore the massive power plant at the far end of the port, by the sea. After having changed buses from god knows where to reach Marsaxlokk, and walking all morning under the burning sun I badly needed to jump into the sea. I have a clear memory of being very desperate for cold water.

I must be a failure of a Mediterranean person; a Scottish girl who shared the dorm with me was perfectly fine walking around Valletta at noon, even though she looked red as a lobster. I, on the contrary could not go a day without swimming and could not bear walking around for a couple of hours at noon. Near Marsaxlokk you will find St.Peter’s pool, a famous location that all the locals are aware of and no bus will reach. It must have been half an hour away from the port by foot. I did not have the  motivation to do the trek- being Greek I have seen quite a few rocky pools in my life (Sarakiniko, anyone?) and I was already put off by the power plant. To be completely fair, that power station is not in use anymore and the surrounding waters are clean, it’s just the mere sight of it that put me off.

On the way back from Marsaxlokk I headed towards Marsaskala and stopped at St.Thomas Bay for a swim, which was peaceful, gathering  just a small crowd of locals. It’s near a small port and if I remember well one side the bay has been transformed into an organised beach, with cafes and restaurants around it. I walked to the other side of the bay, where there was only a small stretch of sand and a portable canteen. There are small boats parked in the water but it’s perfectly clean.

Here is a place I do recommend visiting: Mdina, the old capital. It is a fortified city far from the coast, in the interior of the island. Mdina, also called ‘the Silent City’ was founded by the Phoenicians, then used by Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, pretty much everyone, which is why the architecture is an interesting mix of rhythms. In Mdina I met up with a fellow hostel dweller, a Brazilian sailor whose ship was off refueling somewhere. Here’s  the thing about Brazilian navy ships (and possibly any navy ships): they will pick the best locations to refuel. As in, passing from Spain? oh let’s refuel as close as possible to the Canary islands.  We wanted to visit the catacombs of Rabat as well but they were closed by the time we left Mdina. Fun fact: there is a place that looks like a…restaurant? in Mdina called ‘The old Greek brothel’. Other fan fact: this town is a Game of Thrones location, along with other places in Malta.

We then decided to head back to Valletta and take the ferry to the three cities, which are situated opposite Valletta within the same gulf. The three cities, Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea are also known by different names. I remember Vittoriosa being referred to as Birgu most of the time. The Grand Harbour of Malta is truly grand and the ferry ride was definitely worth it, just to take in the sheer size of it. I mean look at it!

Before my temporary companion left to carry on with his mission we had dinner at a restaurant called Malata by the main square. Most of the restaurants in Valletta have someone playing the piano in at night, which is nice but unnecessarily romantic. Considering I was travelling by myself this was the only occasion where I could eat in a restaurant without feeling like I had been stood up by someone.

Valletta is in general quite beautiful but if you are expecting any sort of nightlife, it’s not the place to be. It tends to fall quiet after 11, which surprised some fellow Greek tourists whose discussion I overheard. Valletta is pretty quiet in the morning as well. There is a commercial pedestrian street, but it doesn’t have that many shops. There are quite a few cafes and restaurants- mostly restaurants. Expect a lot of stairs, and beautiful cobbled streets. Also, for some reason (mostly Catholicism I suppose) a lot of statues of saints. Do visit the Upper Barrakka gardens, especially at night. They are beautiful and you get a lovely view of the port. There are also cannons which are fired every now and then in a programmed display. The Brazilian let me know that in the past when a ship would come into port, they would fire and empty their cannons, as a show of goodwill. Nowadays cannon salutes happen for different reasons; in Malta I am guessing the reasons are purely touristic.

 

The Stavros Niarchos cultural center

This building was the talk of the town for a while after its completion. It has been designed by the architect Renzo Piano, the same guy who designed the Shard. The land for its construction was provided to the Stavros Niarchos foundation by the state and the building’s management will apparently be undertaken by the state following a designated period. Stavros Niarchos was a rich guy who had ships by the way.

The building includes facilities for the National Opera and National Library. Its most prominent features are the lifted metallic roof, supported on round pillars, the ‘field’, which starts on street level and goes up on an angle, serving as the roof to part of the building, the ‘lake’, which I was told is filled with sea water and the viewing platform/corridor, which was called something confusing.

The field/garden is fully made up of Mediterranean plants instead of grass and colorful flowers, which means it will survive the climate. At first sight it doesn’t look man-made. It does smell fantastic, with the scent of thyme, lavender, rosemary etc filling the air every few steps. My friend joked that she will be going there to pick up herbs for her kitchen and I said I sure hope not everyone has the same idea, cause the whole thing will be gone by the end of the month.

The field apparently includes a labyrinth and a vegetable garden-according to the map- but we were unable to find them. We asked one of the guards and he suggested that we read the map. When we insisted he said it was his first day on that post and admitted that he had no idea where anything was. My friend wished him a good start on his job- a typical sort of wish.

There is also a ‘musical garden’, which is basically an area with installations that make sounds, like tiles that give out different notes when pressed. If you are based in London, there is something similar (albeit a bit sadder) in the Joseph Grimaldi park between Angel and King’s Cross. You are literally encouraged to dance on the guy’s grave.

There was one feature of the musical park which left me perplexed and that was a massive stone rotating on it’s axis for some reason. It didn’t make any sound but you could stop it from rotating, which was not a lot of fun.

Considering the lack of decent architecture in Athens, this is a minor improvement.

 

Frankfurt pit stop

This year I finally realized why people are pestering me to book my Christmas flight as early as August.  I had a look at ticket prices in October, expecting to find the prices slightly raised but still quite reasonable. Boy was I wrong. The cheapest direct flights were selling for a modest 350 pounds with return, which is about 150 pounds less than what I could pay to go to Cuba and back.

In the end I decided to book an outgoing flight with a one-hour stopover in Zurich and an outgoing flight with a 5-hour stopover in Frankfurt.

Obviously, all I had the chance to see from Zurich was the airport, which offers ridiculously expensive duty-free chocolates, which are yummy but not 11-euro-yummy.

Frankfurt, on the other hand, is easily accessible via train from the airport. It is after all in Frankfurt as a girl pointed out to me when I asked how to get to the city. From the airport, you can take a train which is part of the S-bahn system, which is insanely complex and seems to go all the way to Heidelberg (a much, much better city). The train will take you to the King’s Cross of Frankfurt, Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof within 12 minutes. Keep in mind that you will need around 5 euros for a single journey; there is also a day ticket for 9 from what I saw. The train carriages are equipped with screens which show what the next stop is, the time you will be arriving at the next stop and how much time is left to the next stop, in case you are mathematically challenged. Like an excel sheet loaded with macros, it was pleasing to my eyes.

At this point I should mention I have been to Frankfurt before when I was a kid; we drove through it with my parents. ‘Do you remember the white watery sausages?’ my sister asked when I got home. I did and they were a big let down. I was looking forward to the pretzels, however- pretzels are great and wonderfully shaped.

When I arrived at the station I went to the information point and explained to a very stylish elderly gentleman that I had 3 hours and was looking for recommendations (because I hadn’t bothered to plan this beforehand). He asked me what I wanted to see, to which I answered ‘uhh..I dunno…buildings?’ Having realised he was dealing with someone not very bright, he circled a location on a map and sent me on my way.

First, I encountered some fancy skyscrapers, which seemed to menacingly guard the entrance to something. After passing the skyscrapers I came across a massive euro sign, which I now realise is there for a reason and not just to scare me: Frankfurt is home to the European Central Bank (as well as a massive financial center). I was in the mouth of the wolf; the big euro sign was casting its shadow on me and frozen rain was trickling down.

 

I took a picture of the euro sign from behind and went on to find a square with a memorial on it, an old-looking yellowish church, and finally what seemed like the main commercial street-the Oxford street of Frankfurt. Twice I was mistaken for someone who knows where they are going and asked for directions-once in German, language I am familiar with exclusively through Rammstein songs.

That was when the rain picked up and I had to run into a clothes store for shelter. When the rain died down a bit I went walking again and somehow managed to stumble upon the Altstadt- the old city- which is basically a square surrounded by traditional architecture. It sure looks pretty and if you want more of that sort of thing you can take the train to Heidelberg.

From there I could spot an impressive cathedral, which I now know is Saint Bartholomew’s Cathedral. I went closer to have a look but didn’t enter. Then I realised I was near the river bank so I walked to that direction and came across an old bridge, which I had definitely seen mentioned on Tripadvisor.

There is an inscription in greek on the bridge, which is apparently a quote of Homer and means ‘Sailing the black sea with people who speak a foreign tongue’, which I am guessing also stands for ‘there are a lot of immigrants in this place, and they are not very happy to be away from home’. The poster on a pillar opposite the road advertising a greek play called ‘Exile’ supported my hunch. People had locked padlocks on it- for the same reason they throw coins in fountains, I am guessing.

It was time for me to go eat my pretzel and head to the airport, back to my own black sea and my own foreign tongue speaking people that I weirdly kind of missed.

Edit- What’s with the knife and gun shops? seriously?