2019 – Malta

For the last couple of years I’ve taken a vacation in May for my birthday, and for the last couple of years it’s been to Sri Lanka, and my son Gaz has joined me.

This hasn’t necessarily been a wise move as, while I have very good friends there. The weather has been less than perfect, for 2019 we decided we’d go in August.

2019 was also an election year, so I postponed my birthday break by a week or so to allow for Council meetings.

I decided on Malta, for a change, as my parents enjoyed the place and, family legend has it, that my father pushed a Harley Davidson off the deck of an aircraft carrier into Valletta harbour at the end of the 2nd World War.

I booked the Santana Hotel in Qawra through Mercury Direct, I’ve travelled with Mercury many times in the past and while their hotels have never been top drawer, they’ve been okay and I’ve had few reasons to complain.

I’m not sure if Qawra has a ‘centre’ but the Santana is well positioned, with a good selection of bars, restaurants and shops nearby. The bus station is only a hundred yards away,

I left for Stansted at one on Saturday 1st, after a busy morning marshalling the Park Run and going through my pre-flight laundry rituals.

I’d pre-paid for parking, fast track security checks and the Stansted lounge so I was though the formalities promptly.

They were turning other lounge card holders from the lounge, buying access was a lesson learned from my previous Stansted flight. Bizarrely there was no tomato juice to be had anywhere at Stansted – and I tried three bars – so I had to skip my pre-flight Bloody Mary and substitute a few Cuba Libres.

On arrival in Malta, passport control and baggage reclaim was efficient and I quickly found myself in a very pleasant 5 series BMW headed to my hotel. One advantage of being a solo traveller is that – so far- I haven’t had to pay extra for ‘exclusive transfers’.

I checked into the hotel, unpacked my clothes and hit the bar. I spotted a few faces from my flight checking in, so their transfer was less smooth than mine.

My room, recently refurbished has a bright ‘Habitat Student Digs’ vibe.

Room 210 - Hotel Santana, Qawra

There was a pretty dreadful singer in the bar, so a few more Cuba Libres eased my discomfort.

I slept poorly, then, after breakfast, went for a stroll around Qawra – it’s a pleasant enough town with, what appeared to be plenty of alternative entertainment, dining and drinking opportunities.

I then adjourned to the rooftop patio for a few hours, I’d brought several books with me and devoured the first in one sitting, accompanied by a few more Cuba Libres – with diet cola, of course.

View from the Rooftop Bar - Hotel Santana, Qawra

I’d skipped breakfast and lunch, but found dinner to be better than I’d expected with a Chilli Con Carne that could be described as ‘piquant’ if not spicy. I still avoided the carbs, no point totally undoing nine weeks weight loss effort.

On Monday morning I hit Valletta. I bought a multiple journey bus pass and took the bus from the nearby bus station. Unfortunately there was a problem with the bus and after half an hour struggling at about ten miles an hour the driver gave up, about halfway to Valletta. The next bus was rammed but I arrived, a little later than expected.

Valletta Harbour

Valletta Harbour – Father’s Harley should be under there.

I strolled through to Fort Elmo and visited the War Museum, seeing ‘Faith’ the last of the Gladiator aircraft that so valiantly defended Malta, and the George Cross awarded to the island.

Faith - Gloster Gladiator at Malta Aviation Museum

From there I walked to the waterfront Hard Rock Bar – my forty first Hard Rock – for a drink. It’s literally alongside the Cruise liner berth.

Hard Rock Bar, Valletta - Number 41

Hard Rock Bar, Valletta – Number 41

There’s an EU funded elevator that whisks pedestrians from the waterfront up to the ramparts, an excellent One Euro value; from there it was a short walk to the bus station for a bus to St Julian and the Hard Rock Café – my forty second – for lunch.

Hard Rock Cafe St Julien Malta

Hard Rock Cafe St Julien Malta – Number 42

St Julian is very glitzy, there’s a lot of Russian money coming in – by all accounts – and a lot of internet gaming companies based in Malta.

I didn’t like the look of dinner in the hotel, so I wandered out. Many of the bars and cafes were closed, faux British, or stupidly overpriced, so I tried a nearby Chinese restaurant, very pleasant and reasonable value.

After Monday’s exertions I spent much of Tuesday on the 6th floor patio, by the bar, enjoying the new Stephen King novel. At lunchtime I strolled down to the local Classic Car Collection, a pleasant enough diversion for an hour, but it was a bit disconcerting to realise that I’d drive six or seven of the (admittedly less exotic) classic cars in the collection.

In the evening I strolled down towards St Paul’s Bay – the towns and resorts seem to merge – and found a really impressive Kebab place. I can imagine that if McDonalds ‘did’ kebabs, then it would be like this, and surprisingly good for my diet regime.

I’d decided to take the ‘Hop on, Hop off’ bus tour on Wednesday, it picked up from outside my hotel and I enjoyed four hours touring the north of Malta. I only ‘hopped off’ once, at the Aviation Museum, a brief diversion, but interesting.

DC3 at Malta Aviation Museum

Then the driver went – almost literally – off piste, driving round through Mostr twice. We covered one stretch of road three times!

Consequently, by the time we got to Mdina, I had had enough and just wanted to get ‘home’ where I adjourned to the roof top bar and finished the Stephen King book.

Thursday was spent chilling on the sun deck. I’d brought another book with me but fifty pages in I decided I wasn’t enjoying it, so went down to the hotel’s ‘reading room’ and swapped it for a Graham Norton autobiography. That proved entertaining and lasted me the day, I swapped it for a Robert Ludlum novel in the evening.

Friday was a public holiday locally, so I jumped on the bus and headed back to Valletta for a few hours, then up onto the sun deck with the aforementioned Ludlum novel.

My flight home on Saturday wasn’t due to leave until nine thirty, but the hotel offered late checkout, fifteen euros until 3pm and five an hour thereafter, so twenty five euros kept my room until 5pm, I figured that was a good deal. I finished the Ludlum book, said my farewells tothe lovely Sonya who’d been good company and kept me plied with drinks all week.

I then changed for my journey home and waited for my transport. This was much less glamorous than the previous week’s BMW, a ‘Dacia Logan’, oh well how are the mighty fallen?

Once through security I found the Hard Rock Café/Bar (Number 43) and enjoyed a bit to eat and a Bloody Mary, before learning that my flight was going to be delayed, so I wandered up to the lounge for a couple more Bloody Marys.

Hard Rock Malta Airport

Hard Rock Malta Airport – Number 43

We landed at twelve fifteen and took the bus to the terminal, the queues for passport control were stupid, but again I’d paid for Fast Track. My baggage was already on the carousel, there was a bus waiting to go the car park and I was getting in the car at the stroke of one. By one forty five I was tucked up in bed with a purring Layla beside me, pretty good going.

All in all a relaxing week, I’m sure my diet regime will have taken a hit, but back on track this week.