Malta – Harbour Cruise by day, Paceville by night

Valletta from ferry departure pointOne 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.

Valletta from on board our harbour cruise boatBut 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.

Harbour - industrial viewThen 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.

Harbour with cranesThe 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.

MSC SplendidaThe 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.

SengleaIf 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.

Martha AnnWe 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.

Maltese FalconAnd 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!

AretiBy comparison, the Areti is a bit of a minnow. Still, I wouldn’t mind it as a gift. Any offers?

Back to Sliema 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.

Still life with wine and condimentsAfter 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.

De Olde KegNight 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.

Soho LoungeIt 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…

Malta – St George’s Bay, St Julian’s Bay and Sliema

St Julian's Bay from SliemaWe 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.

St George's BayWhen 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.

Danger to ShippingIt’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.

Mind that yachtWe 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.

Triq Sir Adrian DingliFrom 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.

Valletta from SliemaAfter 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.

Heavy chapWe 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.

St Julian's at nightFollowing 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.