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Malta IX

Well, this is my last blogging from Malta. Going home tomorrow.

Today has been wrapping up some loose ends in Valletta. I visited the War Museum, the audiovisual show The Siege of Malta, detailing the history of the Order of St. John, where a central part is taken by the defeat of the turkish forces in 1565, and finally The Pub where the british actor Oliver Reed took his last order before he died, at the end of the shooting of Gladiator.

I will wrap up this series of postings with a tenth, and final, text about my experiences during this visit.

Malta VIII: Merlins over Malta!

Saturday was finally the day when the Malta International Air Show would start.

The show was impressive of course, but the real attraction were the two legendary aircraft that had flown there from England.

The Hurricane and the Spitfire were displayed first on the ground, among much old equipment from WWII and plenty of reenactors, recreating the atmosphere of an era more than sixty years ago.

The roaring thunder of jet engines were impressive, but when the Merlin engines finally flew again over Malta this was noticeably a very special sound to many of the audience.

All the special guests, the veterans, and the very much younger enthusiast spending almost all their spare time to re-create the past, and the older Maltese who possibly remembered the time when the arrival of these aircraft sixty years ago relieved them of some of the most intense bombing in WWII, all clearly regarded the short flight of these two aircraft as the zenith of the show.

A man standing next to me got a call to his mobile. He was one of the ’old boys’, as far as I could judge. The mobile played the theme from the film ’The Dam Busters’. That was the sentiment!

When the American B1-B bomber took off just after the Merlin planes had landed, it seemed almost inappropriate. The largest roar from engines I have ever heard (and yes, there were Tornadoes there too) seemed a little too much just at that moment. Otherwise, the display of the B1-B was of course impressive, but maybe the Sea Harrier was the one that stole the rest of the show. Maybe the Red Arrows (I think it was them) did something more impressive, but I missed that.

Malta VII: Gozo & Comino

A severe case of ’Whoops!’ started the Friday. I believed that the arrival of the Spitfire and the Hurricane signalled the start of the Malta International Air Show. Not so. It started Saturday. More on that.

As usual, it is very quick to get anywhere by bus on Malta. Bus to Cirkewwa, and then very uncomplicated ferrying over to Mgharr on Gozo.

Getting on the bus in Mgharr was also easy – once you had read about it in a good guide book, and had the confidence to evade all the friendly taxi drivers who would take you, and a bunch of others, to Victoria for ’only 50c’, when the bus cost 20c.

What made the trip worthwhile was visiting Victoria, and Il-Kastell (Cittadella). Truly impressive, and indeed something of a mini-Mdina. In the Il-Kastell, walking on the bastions and following the top of the wall, you get acutely aware of how on-top of everything you are. Splendid views in all directions looked down on a relatively flat landscape. The height was maybe not that great, but the contrast made it striking.

Bus services on Gozo were impracticable for further sightseeing, so I took a taxi to the Gigantija temples. They are believed to be some 5000 years old, and are among the oldest remnants found in Malta. Some restoration is ongoing to keep them standing, and they are more impressive than the Tarxien temples. Very little information is available inside the area.

The money spent on taxi won me plenty of time. I even managed to squeese in an improvised visit to Comino. The boat driver was flexible with the leaving and picking up times, so I could match it to one of the ferries going back to Cirkewwa. That was time well spent. The blue lagoon is breathtaking. A walking round to, among other things, the St Mary tower built in the 17th century by the knights of St. John was possible within an hour, leaving some time for resting in the sun. On walking to or from the St. Mary tower along the shortest path, but also the roughest path, one nearly stumbles down into cleavages leading stright down into an azure bay, or merely a cove. These treasure places for any sailor, swimmer,  or photographer, present themselves suddenly to the pedestrian. There are no rails, no security. The tower is likewise non-equipped. Careful!

The landscape on Comino is in stark contrast with these coves, and with the tower it is a perfect match!

Malta VI: Where is my phone! or How to destroy a day of vacation

No hesitation today. I was going to Mdina and Rabat.

Bus 81 took me there, this time a surprisingly modern bus, probably no older than from the mid-eighties. I even got off at the right bus stop!

The historical city of Mdina, with Rabat just outside its walls, is called the silent city. What a misnomer! This is supposed to be a silent city because no car traffic is allowed in Mdina. Many of its streets are indeed so narrow as to make driving a car virtually impossible. What was then making it not the silent city? The tourists themselves? Naaahh. Car traffic! Actually a blend of construction trucks, ordinary cars, and karrozzins, the horse drawn carts for tourist sightseeing in Mdina, whose warning bells rang constantly with a yelling tone. Might have been the ones used on old fire engines…

Otherwise Mdina is a very attractive place to visit. Lots of good restaurants, and plenty to look at in a very small area. That is if I had had the calm to enjoy it fully.

Just when I was about to enter Mdina, I thought I would check my phone messages. No phone! I always bring it! An hour was spent running around trying to trace where I had been. Did I lose it on the bus? Someone took it while my attention was elsewhere? Would I get it back in any case? Fat chance. I tried to get hold of a phone to call myself and see if anyone had picked it up. No phone. All public phones of course did not work, since people always use mobile phones nowadays.

Eventually I decided I could not let the incident destroy a whole day – travelling back to the hotel to check if I forgot it there surely would. I gradually developed a ’memory’ of never taking it with me.

After Mdina, and the St. Agatha tombs in Rabat, I got on a direct bus back. Would there be a phone in my room? Of course it was there.

The lesson learnt: Always check where you have your belongings! Bring your IMEI-number to the phone, and the phone number to your operator to close your mobile if it really gets lost. Backup papers of everything is not a bad idea. A reminder that I tend to trust all the comfortable portable infrastructure too much. Credit cards, e-tickets on a card, mobile phones, internet access.

Tomorrow, I will surely check a couple of times…

Malta V: Independence Day

Today is Independence Day, which is the day when the separation from the British Empire took place in 1964.

This is a public holiday, so I take it as a planning day.

I got fed up with all the bad editing and insufficient information in my travel guide. I had bought it for the map. Off I went to buy me the Lonely Planet!

Malta IV: Snails? No! Quails!

The day started with a salty observation. Malta is a dry country, or island I should say, since Gozo is much greener. It has to rely on desalination of sea water. Desalination does not always mean that all the salt is removed; The water in my hotel is salty and not meant for drinking. The taste becomes obvious when brushing one’s teeth though, and soap almost does not lather.

For tuesday’s activities, I decided on visiting the south of Malta, the neolithic temples of Tarxien, the pre-historic cave of Ghar Dalam at Birzebbuga, and the scenic fishing village of Marsaxlokk. All of these are described in most guide books. One easily gets the impession that they are a little more fantastic than they are in real life. The Temples in Tarxien are surrounded by ordinary buildings, which takes away a little of the magic. Ghar Dalam was very neat though.

Equally fascinating was travelling between these places. I make a point of taking ordinary buses. As I mentioned, they are all very quaint, ancient almost. On the route, nothing is very well marked, and I had to guess where Tarxien was. Villages tend to have blurred borders, if any, between them.

The Maltese people are very friendly though – somehow. I was going to Marsaxlokk and got on the bus to Valletta at Ghar Dalam (the cave). When asked where I should change bus to Marsaxlokk, not very far away, the driver answered Valletta! Ok, I sat down, but obviously some passengers objected discreetely to the driver. I did not understand the conversation, but eventually at a bus stop not very far away, a passenger told me I could change bus there, and also the available lines that would take me to my destination. That got me on the right bus and I got to Marsaxlokk in the quickest way possible.

Like in so many other places, people are embarrassed when they do not know the answer, and will provide you with any, right or wrong. To the driver’s credit one must say that he gave the answer he safely knew could not be wrong; All bus routes start from Valletta.

This is a very catholic country. St. John, mostly, stands in the corner of almost every other building, greeting the traffic from above in a hollowed out place for the statue. Personal displays of Virgin Mary, and Madonna & Child abound. Even bus drivers adorn their driving compartments with biblical scenes and sayings: Verbum Dei caro factum est!.

I cannot get over the feeling of kitsch when I see Virgin Mary decorated with a string of electric lights that would mostly be found in cheap restaurants and in christmas trees.

Churches are similar all over the island; Two belfrys surrounding the entrance, and sometimes the midship of the church has a cupola. The work of Gerolamo Cassar, the St. John Co-Cathedral, was so successful it was copied by every village parish.

Tha pastime par preference for women in Malta was said to be bingo. Still I was amazed to see a bingo party gather at the hotel, and bingo discussed on the bus by old and young women. Apparently there was something on the network TV, but I missed most of the conversation in Maltese.

What about the title of the posting then? For dinner at a good maltese restaurant I ordered quail for starter, and rabbit for main course. Typical maltese dishes. Through some impenetrable conversion on the way to the kitchen, the starter became snails, proudly presented to my table! Well, they were quick about acknowledging the mistake, but there had been so many misunderstandings this day, so I let it stand as a typical end of the day.

It is getting windy! Bad weather may be coming. Let’s hope the Hurricane makes it! Not to mention the Spitfire! The International Air Show in Malta starts soon!

Malta III: Valletta

Started to walk towards Valletta. Eventually I took a bus. Old buses of a design so outmoded that it has been retro a couple of times. But they work.

A bit of orientation was needed and the help through the tourist office was adequate and friendly.

I attended ’The Malta Experience’ show to get an overview of the history of Malta. Very hyped in the tourist information everywhere, but, OK, nice pictures.

Valletta proper is quite small, but the complete impression including the surroundings is of a vast system of defense facilities. References to all the crises abound everywhere, whether it is 1565, 1798, or 1942.

Time for dinner and exploring the Maltese cuisine.

Malta II: Arrival & first impressions

OK, so I did not discover any Internet facilities in the Munich airport. I did discover some local beer instead.

Airports are so boring, so streamlined. Always the same shops; Liquor, tobacco, perfumes, souvenirs, elegant clothes (why?), watches and electronics. Only the restaurants have som local distinction.

Flying at night, with a clear moonlit sky above, passing white brigthly flashing thunderclouds from above, is an eerie experience! Fairly calm flight.

A well ordered taxi system took me promptly to my hotel. Through the car window, the cool night air was occasionally filled with the scent of manure, just as a reminder that farm land is always close.

Now exploration starts.

Malta I: On my way!

Now finally travelling, on e-ticket; So far all good!

I was a bit suspicios, since lately some of my colleagues had some troubles. Also, the infamous queues I usually encounter made me take an early bus. It turned out to be almost full, so I braced myself for the usual hassle.

This time, however, no queue to the self-service check-in (my ticket magically existed in electronic form!), and very little queue to the baggage drop! Quick service through the security point, and suddenly I find myself here with a lot of time to pass before boarding.

The Munich flight seems to be a smaller aircraft, since my seat has a low number.

I’ll have three hours in Munich, so I might blog there as well. Maybe there will be some news on the German election before I board to Malta.


Ett par gånger om året brukar jag befinna mig på resande fot utanför Sveriges gränser. Det finns alltid något att berätta från en resa, men ofta även om förberedelserna, eller om hemkomsten. Det tänkte jag göra i kategorin Resor. Såväl tjänsteresor som semesterresor kommer att kommenteras – fast tjänsteresorna minus jobbdelen.

Om förberedelser:

Min förra längre resa gick till Sydamerika i November 2004. Förberedelserna kunde sägas börja med ett bragelöfte över en öl på ett hak på Söder i Stockholm, mer än ett halvår i förväg. Jag och en vän började tala om att markera att det gått 10 år sedan vi reste till Chile, och där rest söderöver från Santiago ända ner till Eldslandet.  Denna gång skulle vi resa runt i Argentina, Chile och Bolivia – samt kanske lite i Brasilien.  Utan bragelöftet hade det lätt kunnat rinna ut i sanden. Nu säkrade vi semesterplanerna på jobbet, började studera länderna i nyhetsflödet och införskaffa resehandböcker. Min favorit är Lonely Planet. Ny kamera införskaffades. Och så det vanliga. Vaccinationer, hotell- och biljettbokning. Vi kom dit och hem. Många planer gick inte att genomföra – inget Brasilien med Iguazu-fallen, inget Salar de Uyuni i Bolivia – men mycket annat. Planeringen var en upplevelse i sig. Fantasier och drömmar som blev verkliga till slut.

Om berättelser från resan:

Varje resa händer det något speciellt. En händelse från en tidigare resa som fortfarande är mycket levande är grundstötningen med passagerarfartyget Puerto Eden.
Under resan från Puerto Montt i Chile till Puerto Natales passerar fartyget smala passager inomskärs. Sent en kväll tystnar allt. Ankaret rasslar till ljudligt. Så några tysta ögonblick och  fartyget kränger kraftigt när ankaret tar. Och så ett ljudligt skrapande och ett abrupt stopp när fartyget går på grund. Det tar ett tag innan nödbelysning och larmklockor kommer på. I mörker söker jag mig till slut till toaletterna. Det enda ljuset kommer när man spolar; Vattnet är fullt av mareld som lyser kraftigt.
Det gick ju bra till slut. Kraften i maskinrummet hade fallit bort, vilket gjorde det omöjligt att styra fartyget. När kraften kom tillbaka gick det att komma loss för egen maskin. Inga läckor. Vi passagerare hade däremot en upplevelse som fört oss samman.
Från ett land som Chile är det givetvis intressant att rapportera om det politiska läget och stämningar i landet. Ögonblicksbilder från nu och då kanske kommer i en kommande bloggning…

Om hemkomsten:

Efter en resa är man länge mer observant på vad som händer i de länder man besökt. Tanken går givetvis till oroligheterna i Bolivia nyligen, som vi missade med några månader.  En mer excentrisk historia rör dyngbaggarna i Addo Elephant Park utanför Port Elisabeth i Sydafrika. Detta var för ganska många år sedan. Jag hade turen att få en av de mest kunniga guiderna, Gus Gaylord, som ledsagare  av en liten grupp turister. Förutom det storslagna i att sitta i en bil omgiven av en elefanthjord som passerade utan ett ljud, så visste Gus Gaylord att även peka på den lilla faunan. Ibland gjorde han undanmanövrer med bilen för något osynligt hinder. Detta visade sig vara dyngbaggar som drog nytta av den rikliga förekomsten av elefantdynga. En sällsynt art fick vi veta, som man måste vara rädd om. Därav undanmanövrerna. Några månader efter hemkomsten lyssnade jag med ett halvt öra på BBC World Service. Inget är för smalt för brittiska naturprogram – plötsligt hörde jag en röst som fascinerat berättade i detalj om de fantastiska sällsynta dyngbaggarna som bara lever i Addo Elephant Park…

Detta om exempel från tidigare resor som skulle kunnat ha platsat i bloggen. Aktuellt nu är förberedelser för min semester på Malta. Det kommer att bli lite bloggning om detta givetvis, men i kommande inlägg.

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