We saw no reason to get up early so we squeaked into breakfast with just enough time to be soothed into the day by Zsuzsi and Kenny’s serving skills. The brekky in the Hotel Juliani is great. The orange juice is superb, the muesli tasty and crunchy, the cooked breakfast is made up of several delicious individual constituents – including the best scrambled egg I’ve ever had in a hotel – and there was always a different “breakfast cake of the day” that was officially fabulous.
When we did eventually face up to our sightseeing duties, we decided to walk north up towards St George’s Bay and from there take a look at Paceville before returning to St Julian’s for lunch – unless we saw something we fancied more beforehand. If you’ve been to Malta, then you’ll know that the coastline is very rugged and unbeachy, and there are so many little inlets and headlands and bays that you can never be sure quite how far you can walk and still stay close to the sea. Such was our experience. A welcoming looking outcrop near the Dragonara Casino beckoned us and we explored it, but then found we could get no further, so it was necessary to retrace our steps over the rocky pools and back to the busy streets in order to make any progress. Those streets weren’t particularly interesting or attractive at 11.00 on a Sunday morning, the night after everyone stayed up to enjoy St Julian’s Festa. Nevertheless we persevered, and eventually found ourselves walking down an incline with the rather beautiful St George’s Bay on our right.
It’s one of those Maltese rarities – a little sandy beach. As a result it was pretty heavily oversubscribed by bronzed beauties. Not that beaches hold much attraction for Mrs Chrisparkle and me. I can’t imagine anything more boring than a holiday spent lazing in the sun, so it was not a matter of regret that we couldn’t stretch out on the sand. However, it wasn’t long before Mrs C spied one of her pet loves – they had pedalos. She spoke to the lady in the shop who said it was €8,00 for an hour. We struck the deal. Pedalo lady hollered at her long-suffering husband to procure us one said pedal operated sea-going vessel, and in a few moments we were on the crest of a wave. The only words of instruction or advice we were given were not to go out beyond the casino. That was quite far enough out to sea for me, frankly.
We let a group of over-enthusiastic Italian youths go first – not that we were ever going to stand in their way – so as to reduce the chance of maritime intimidation. Once pedalling, the main hazard to shipping in those first few moments were the bathers, who seemed determined not to move out of the way even though we were much bigger than they were. So we progressed very slowly and carefully, trying hard not to side-swipe local beauties and fat foreigners alike, till we got beyond the swimmers and alongside the yachts moored out in the middle of the bay. Some of them were rather splendid, and contained wealthy-looking owners, unimpressed with the sight of a middle-aged English couple hurtling towards them at full pedal speed. But we knew what we were doing. Once we’d put the wind up them, we swerved aside and pottered on happily up to near the casino, then did a wide sweep-round in the clear blue sea, and headed back into the bay. The bunch of Italians had stopped their pedalo in open water and were playing at pushing each other into the sea. What larks they must have been having. In the course of our hour we managed to do the full round circuit of St George’s Bay four times. On our final leg, we returned to the shore, extremely slowly as some bikini clad ladies refused to yield their patch of beach to us, until, miffed, the old pedalo bloke told them to sling their combined hooks. We regained land safe and sound, and I have to admit it was a lot of fun.
From St George’s Bay it’s a very brief walk until you find yourself in the centre of Paceville. By day it looks a little run down, with stretches of identical bars and restaurants all next to each other. It comes into its own at night, as we would discover later in the week. We had a little wander round but the restaurants all seemed a bit chicken ‘n’ chips-like for us, so we decided to follow the road back down into St Julian’s. Profiting from our walk the previous afternoon, we traipsed all the way round the bay and up and over towards Sliema, and got as far as Peppi’s Restaurant. We had seen the day before that they had gluten-free pizza bases and pasta so thought we just had to give them a try. Well Mrs C did – I had a burger. It was ok, it tasted rather like those burgers we used to eat in the seventies, fried rather than grilled – nothing special but perfectly adequate, and we did have a wonderfully positioned table overlooking the bay. Mrs C’s pizza looked gorgeous, but she didn’t finish it. When questioned on its merits, she described it as “a plucky attempt”. To drink, we ordered a bottle of white wine from the Marsovin winemakers – La Valette Blanc. If you want a subtle, complex, awe-inspiring wine, don’t even consider it. If you just want a simple, refreshing white wine it’s a very nice option – rather like an old-fashioned Liebfraumilch.
After the lunch and relax it was time to explore again. We thought we’d cut through the centre of Sliema and emerge at the coast where the ferries connect Sliema and Valletta. So we walked down the snappily named Triq Sir Adrian Dingli, got a little bit lost trying to find the Triq San Vincenz, so a kindly old local gentleman wandered up to us and tried to help – only he didn’t know where it was either. No worries, eventually we found the way down to the sea. It’s an absolutely splendid view of Valletta from that coast road – no wonder all the ferries do that stretch of water, it’s not often that the direct route and the “pretty way” are the same. From there, we walked along to the Fortina Hotel and up and over in front of Tigne Fort and past the new big shopping centre there, Tigne Point. Reminiscent of Milton Keynes but bizarrely deserted on a Sunday; the skateboarders seemed to enjoy it though. I noted loads of padlocks attached to the railings, which appears to be a new trend for courting couples and newlyweds – at least it’s more environmentally friendly than carving their names with a penknife. We dropped back down the steep streets and found ourselves back in the older shopping centre of Sliema around Tower Road, where Mrs C took note of a few establishments for her to patronise when they would be open later in the week.
We started to head for home – taking a more direct route through Sliema back to Balluta Bay and then round the water’s edge to our hotel. Preparations for the final evening of St Julian’s festa were well advanced. An effigy of the Great Man himself was marched through the town; I say marched, what actually happens is that he is so heavy that the guys carrying him can only manage a few yards at a time before they have to put him down and massage their hernias. Sooner them than me.
Following our afternoon nap – which came pretty late that day, but still had to be observed as it is a statutory requirement – for dinner that night we went to the Sardinella Restaurant in St Julian’s. Mrs C had the Tagliata, and I’m afraid common decency does not allow me to impart to you her exact description of it, suffice to say that it was “extremely” yummy. I had a pizza and it was very nice, thank you.