One of the benefits of doing a Hop-on, Hop-off bus tour is that, included in your 15 Euros ticket, you get a free Harbour Cruise too. This really does make it a very good bargain, although you need to choose your cruise time carefully; at peak hours I understand you can be packed like sardines. We were lucky though. When we arrived at the Sliema Ferries departure point, a cruise was to depart in fifteen minutes time and there were still plenty of good places to sit and enjoy the view. If it were a cruise liner, I guess you could say we sat starboard, aft. Rather than facing the direction of the boat, we were looking out at 90 degrees, directly to sea – or land, depending where we were.
But first, a little tale of warning for when you’re walking along the water’s edge at Sliema. We decided not to bother with the bus as it was (as always) a perfect day for a walk and it really isn’t far from St Julian’s. We were just amiably wandering along the main road near the ferries, when we were jumped upon by an enthusiastic young chap wanting to sell us all sorts of trips. They were nice trips, and they were a good price; and we were tempted; but we decided to walk on, saying we’d come back, but really with the intention of doing our best to forget about them. That worked fine; he knew he’d lost the sale; he would find plenty more fish walking alongside the sea for on which to pounce.
Then another bloke appeared; this time quite a lot older, a very cheery bluff northerner. Not the north of Malta – more Yorkshire. He attempted to engage us in so many ways – where you from, where you staying, which hotel, blah-di-blah, and I knew it wasn’t because he was a lonely soul looking for a friend. “Which travel company did you use?” he asked. “We didn’t – just booked it with the hotel and bought the flights online”. “Ah, you look the type” he said. I wonder what type that is? His remit was to get us to go into the hotel across the road and “have a look round”. The hotel apparently was going to build some new accommodation somewhere and they supposed that if you were to go in and look around, and taste a little of their hospitality, you might be more likely to use them next time you come to Malta. Errmm, no, I don’ t think so. “Look, I’ll be honest with you, if you go over there, I get 50 quid”, he pleaded. “It’s timeshare!” we squealed in horror. “No, no, not timeshare” he blathered unconvincingly. But 50 quid is 50 quid and he wasn’t a bad sort. He started to succeed in making us feel guilty. “How long will they keep us there? 10 minutes? 15 minutes?” Mrs Chrisparkle asked, almost relenting with her natural kindness. “No more than two hours” he replied. TWO HOURS??? We almost trampled over him in our haste to escape. “Awww, I’ll have to get my 50 quid from some other people then” he offered, sounding a bit hurt. Yes mate, you will.
The harbour cruise takes about an hour and a half. First of all it dips down towards Ta ‘Xbiex and back alongside Manoel Island; then it goes round the top of Valletta past Fort St Elmo, back down past the waterfront, and further down towards Marsa; then back up the other side, past the Three Cities, over and around back to Sliema. It’s a very enjoyable way of taking in the views and seeing different parts of the harbour area – both scenic and industrial.
The MSC Splendida ship was visiting Valletta that day, and you get a very interesting perspective of such a large ship when you are just a little boat chugging past. I bet this is superb inside – Mrs C and I have definitely got our eye on it for a future cruise.
If you look at the map, the Three Cities emerge as finger like promontories, protruding deep into the harbour. I caught this picture of a look-out at the end of Safe Haven Gardens at Senglea – notice the eye and the ear decorations which represent vigilance.
We saw some incredibly grand and expensive yachts on this little jaunt. Here’s the Martha Ann. Read about it and positively salivate at the prospect of hiring it for a week.
And this little beauty is called The Maltese Falcon. The narrator on our little boat said it cost 280 million Euros. It’s absolutely breathtaking. I think our skipper was a little nervous at getting too close to it – imagine the bill if you had an accident!
By comparison, the Areti is a bit of a minnow. Still, I wouldn’t mind it as a gift. Any offers?
I could show you more yachts, but it would only make you jealous. We navigated safely back to Sliema, very pleased with our free excursion. We stopped for lunch at one of the places opposite the Sliema ferries – very nice salad but they would only serve you wine by the glass. That’s one of my pet hates. In that roasting sunshine a glass of wine that started chilled (-ish) quickly becomes chambré if you’ve no ice bucket. Afterwards we plunged ourselves into the dark recesses of the shopping streets of Sliema to look for bargains. Mrs C thought the handbags and shoes looked promising. However, on closer inspection, they failed to come up to her exacting standards, ludicrously cheap though they may have been. We looked for jeans in the Levi shop and other groovy outlets, as we are nothing if not trendy. Everything was either way too expensive or way too small. There were a few UK-type shops – Marks & Spencer, BHS, etc; and you could buy the same clothes in the UK for much cheaper, so there wasn’t a lot of point buying them in Malta. So in the end, rather like the runner-up in The Weakest Link, we left with nothing.
After a relatively early afternoon nap – for which relief, much thanks – we decided we would have dinner around the bay in St Julian’s and then head off to Paceville to witness the much vaunted nightlife. For dinner, we returned to San Giuliano, because the food is ok and it’s a great location. I was very happy with the stylish “Still life with water and wine bottles” pictures I took.
Night fell and we walked up the hill in the direction of noisy and raucous youth. We thought we’d have a drink in a little bar somewhere we could sit outside, but there were surprisingly few places, and those there were, were absolutely full. Then we stumbled upon De Olde Keg. To be honest, it promised little from the outside, but there were seats and it was relatively clean. We tripled the average age of the clientele, but that’s never put me off before. No one seemed to be serving outside, so I went to the bar and asked for two glasses of white wine. Two mismatched glasses of wine were haphazardly poured out with a “wotever” attitude. The price? Two euros. Mentally, I took all my criticisms back. Naturally I presented Mrs C with the smaller of the two glasses. And you know what? It didn’t taste at all bad.
It was getting late (for us) but Paceville was just waking up. We found a welcoming looking bar/club/restaurant called Soho Lounge, nabbed a really good outside table, ordered a rather delicious bottle of white wine and watched the youth of Malta and several other countries getting tanked up, refused entry, acting riotously, wearing precious little, and all those other things young people do on a Wednesday night out. It was a bit like Bridge Street in Northampton but with less fake tan. We left around 12.30am to go back to the hotel; for Paceville that’s the equivalent of morning elevenses. But we had a busy day lined up for Thursday…