Archive for Malta

07 Oct 2014

Things That Go Bump In The Day And Night

2 Comments Malta

The week started on a sombre note. The hustle bustle of Malta was overwhelming; the traffic, the people, when all we wanted was some quiet time. Then we heard about the bungalows on Comino. The last time we were on Comino it was only for an afternoon and we thought it was just a rock, a place to moor the boat and go for a swim. On the other side of the island there is a hotel and a small complex of seafront bungalows. Comino was the perfect antidote.

We caught the 25 minute ferry ride across and waited outside the designated spot – a toilet block at the top of a hill. A short while later an old Mazda Bongo van rocked up. We clambered in. Once the sliding door was slammed shut we were off. Comino is JUST a rock — solid limestone. The old guy behind the wheel gripped it with determination. He knew what was to come. The track was rutted limestone and the Bongo van hurtled and bumped and bounced across it, like it had no suspension. Up front was a family of three, with a girl of about 17 squealing, reaching across for non-existent grab handles, bouncing out of her seat, while her parents clutched each other in sheer terror and also bounced from their seats. We bounced from ours. The roof was hard and it did not yield to Paul’s skull – ouch! But with our squealing we were speechless. No one said a thing and driver simply drove faster. When we arrived the door slid open. The girl bolted out first. Then she turned back to face us and stuck her head in through the doorway. She had a Cheshire Cat grin. She only had one thing to say – Schumacher!! We all laughed and stepped out, relieved to be on terra firma again.

Inside a Bongo van - mid bounce. I know why he has the cross hanging there.

 

Paradise

 

Early morning Comino

 

Comino is JUST a rock.

 

View from the bungalow. Gozo island in the distance.

Comino is amazing. There are no cars except for said loco Bongo van. In the mornings before the boats arrive, Comino is beautiful, peaceful and quiet, only a few over-nighters and a million tiny green lizards darting along the rocks. The water is clear and warm. We spent hours swimming under natural bridges, through caves and simply wading in the lagoon. Bliss!

As quickly as it came, it was over. Back to Malta, the traffic nightmare. Narrow roads, lack of regulations, agitated people, oversized buses, ad hoc roadworks, compounded by tourist drivers in rentals who haven’t got a clue. On some of the roads you have to close your eyes to the oncoming traffic — watching as opposing mirrors kiss is not good for the heart.

And in a nice segue, there are Segways. At the suggestion of a friend we booked a trip on Malta’s new X2 off-road Segway Tour at the Dingli Cliffs. If ever there is a combination for disaster, this is it. And in another segue, not so nice this time, the owner of Segway, a Brit, was testing one of these very same Segways at some cliffs near his home a couple of years ago, when he plummeted off the edge to an unfortunate ending. If you don’t know what an off-road X2 Segway is, think of a death trap and you will come close. In a controlled environment these things are great. But across limestone tracks, with obstacles, on roads shared with all above-mentioned crazies in Malta, Segways are NOT a good idea. It is only a matter of time before something really bad happens.

 

Look Ma, no hands! Segway X2 death trap.

 

It is not their speed that makes them dangerous, because they are not fast. It is the way they operate. Everything is counter intuitive. They are unlike any car, motorbike or bicycle. For example, as happened on our tour, when you see the person in front of you get the speed wobbles and suddenly stack it on the main road, directly in front of oncoming cars, you immediately crouch down in order to minimalise impact. Unfortunately on a Segway, crouching down is the absolute worst thing you can do. It sends the Segway hurtling forwards at maximum pace. What you should be doing is leaning backwards. It was a near miss luckily. When we peeled the woman in front of us off the road, patches of her skin still stuck to the road. She was close to tears. Elodie our lovely tour leader was quick to the rescue with her first aid kit and soothing French accent, assuring us all everything was okay. It happens all the time, she said and proceeded to tell us some horror stories. We fell for her dulcet tones and climbed back on our Segways, some of us more frightened than others. The dirt track that is only six or so metres from the edge of the Dingli Cliffs saw Paul freeze in his tracks and ungracefully dismount (fall) from the Segway and walk across to the cliff’s edge. It’s safer that way!

Dingli cliff road in a rare traffic free moment

 

Dingli cliffs

 

 

01 Oct 2014

Farewell To A Friend

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Passing over Greek Islands en route to Malta

This blog may have started as a small dopey-eyed cynic’s view of the world but over the years it has morphed into something more, a diary of sorts. Sometimes I look back over the past posts and laugh. Other times I simply shake my head. On occasion, I have spied Paul perusing the blog trying to remember exactly what it was we did yesterday!

—–

As weeks go, last week was a shit one. We arrived in Malta to terrible news. A very good friend passed away in his sleep. Alex was only 46, but already he had lived several lifetimes. He achieved more than most of us dream of doing. He could regale everyone with his excellent gargantuan roasts, ensuring we were all well catered to in the wine department as well. He always had stories to tell. He could build a mean bonfire. He collected friends with ease — he was universally well liked. He couldn’t walk fifty metres down Geraldton’s main street without someone recognising him and coming over for a chat.

He was a “glass is half full” sort of guy, even when the glass was patently empty. He was a “can-do” sort of guy as well. He approached everything with gusto and made work appear effortless, much to everyone’s envy.

A few years ago we were in a restaurant — Alex, Peter, Paul and I. Behind us there was a similar setting of gents dining. They were older, much greyer, but they were having an equally spirited lunch, full of laughter and no doubt tall tales. We joked that would be us in 20 or 30 years. Alas it was not meant to be.

Farewell friend — you will be sorely missed by many.

 

Alex waiting for a bus (that never came). La Herradura, Spain 2012

 

Breakfast at 'the Prov', Geraldton 2011. L-R - Alex, Paul, Richard and Peter.

 
 

 

13 Apr 2014

A Long Way To Come For Gelato

1 Comment Italy, Malta
 

Beach on Comino

 

The Blue Lagoon - Comino

 

St John's Cathedral - Valletta Malta. Caravaggio's are off limits to cameras

Caravaggio was a ratbag and a murderer. The Pope at the time issued a death warrant on him (my how times have changed), so he fled Italy to Malta. While in Malta, he:

was knighted

painted a couple of excellent works including The Beheading of John the Baptist which hangs in the incredible St John’s Cathedral where every inch of the cathedral is detailed. It is over-the-top but somehow beautiful.

managed to assault one of his fellow knights and fled Malta.

All we leave in our trail are rabbit bones and mopped clean plates of linguine.

I like Malta. I like the way people stop on the streets and say hello. I will miss it.

On our second last day we took an old wooden boat to Comino, Maltest third largest island. We lay on the deck catching a tan.

Careful you’ll singe, Paul said.

It was a so-so tour with only a brief period on Comino — enough time for a short walk, enough time to reflect on Malta. Malta is a small country with a big heart. Malta is no supermodel, but it does have a character all of its own.

 

Etna from the bus

Arriving in Sicily, I was expecting more. Then it came flooding back to me: Italia —synonymous with disfunction. I immediately yearned for Malta, Perth, Athens, anywhere really.

Two and a half hours to get a phone SIM card sorted compared to 10 minutes elsewhere (yes, including Greece!).

On the bus from the port to Catania, Etna peeked from the clouds. She puffed a little, teasing us, then disappeared behind clouds for the remainder of our stay.

A day later, a bus ride to Taormina, after stopping at five different bus terminuses only to be told: no, try that one over there. Everyone one was confused. I watched the same people trundling from station-to-station, each of them with that same glazed over look in their eyes. We finally reached Taormina. It is a beautiful village cut into the side of the mountain. At the top of the village, taking pride of place, is an ancient Greek amphitheatre with Etna behind it obscured by clouds. Taormina is touristy though and it feels like it may have sold its soul.

And Catania, though full of people, grandiose architecture, a lively market and large piazzas, also feels a little soulless, a little dirty and slightly unloved.

I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Then she appeared again, on my last day, peeking from the clouds — Etna. She who had thwarted us at every attempt to reach her. At the bus station they said: No, there will be no bus until tomorrow. And at the train station, the circumetnea railcar that rings Etna was on strike. But then standing there and watching Etna simmer in the distance, I sensed their fear, Etna’s power — the way she paralysed them, the way she made everything seem temporary … and I think I understood.

I wanted to like Catania, I really did, but even riding pillion on a motorbike through the heavily trafficked streets of Catania without a helmet was somehow less exhilarating than it should have been.

At the risk of Il Padrino reading this and deciding I should be fitted up for a pair of boots (concrete size 00000), I will sign off by saying the Gelato is the best I have ever had!

 

Al was 'ere - Taormina

 

Etna in the other direction was obscured under cloud

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

07 Apr 2014

Run Rabbit Run

5 Comments Malta
 
 
 

Get well soon postcard from Exiles Bay

After a couple of days burrowed deep in a crummy waterfront hotel at Exiles Bay (seemed appropriate) with the tall one sniffing, blowing his nose and feeling sorry for himself, I was twisting myself in knots out of sheer boredom. The view out the front was not making it any easier. I was itching to pick up where we left off last year and see some more of Malta.

He recovered, you'll be pleased to know.

By the weekend we were in touch with the old crew. The Maltese are a close knit bunch. They all come from big families. Befriend one Maltese and you inherit their forty-five cousins. Pretty soon you will know everyone in Malta.

There were all sorts of plans being made for the weekend, including my favourite, a walk along the length of the Victoria Line, the old British-built fortifications built in the late 19th century. The Line straddles Malta from north to south and is 12 kilometres long. In parts you walk high on the walls that resemble a mini Great Wall of China. There were between a 100 and 150 walkers in all. We congregated in a small village at the foot of a large clock tower and set off single file dodging oncoming cars on our way out of town.

It was a wonderful walk once we got onto the trail and off the roads. At this time of the year rural Malta is green and pretty. We spoke to various people on our way and eventually met a very chatty walker called Ann-Marie who told us she always started at the front of the group and always ended up at the rear. On this day she was determined not to be last, she said. By the time we finished the walk — talking all the way about various types of foods and the detailed preparation of said foods — we were famished and near enough to last. Oh well! Along the way, we also chatted about how few animals we saw: cattle and sheep, and she said, maybe so, but we have rabbit in abundance and rabbit is delicious.

A word of advice Al, she also said. Cover up, disguise yourself, lest you get mistaken for a bunny with those cute furry ears and that wonderful woolly coat.

 

 

After the walk, a group of us decided to continue on and drive to another village for lunch. It seemed like we were all talking about food while we walked because we descended upon and devoured the half dozen platters of roast bunny like it was our last supper.

So far, since we have been in Malta, we have had bunny pizza, bunny pasta, bunny stuffed ravioli and now roast bunny.

I'm going to keep myself covered up just in case I end up being the Easter bunny!


 
 
 
 
 

 

21 Oct 2013

Some Kind Of Blue

6 Comments Malta
 
 
 


We trekked north to Gozo, Malta's second largest island. It was a half hour ferry trip. The island is less developed, less heavily populated and a natural paradise: a small inland sea where you can take a boat ride out through an opening in the cliffs to reach the ocean and the Blue Hole. The water is a blue so rich (not aquamarine, something else), milky but at the same time with a clarity that astounds.

I wanted to dive in but the boatman said You will turn blue, and then what?

A blue Alpaca of course. Kind of obvious (and slightly appealing). He was not amused.

Later we found a natural rock ledge with a small ladder and climbed down to where the shelf fell away into a different inky blue sea. After an hour in the water I came out hoping for just a tinge of blue — I would have settled for violet — but alas I am still the same ol' 1970s bank clerk brown.

The Azure Window, clambering over the rocks to watch the divers and take in its natural beauty. You shouldn't swim directly beneath the window because one day it is going to collapse; when it does is anyone's guess.

There are churches like the beautiful Ta Pinu high on a hill on an isolated part of the island, standing proud against a heavenly backdrop, a sea and sky awash with blue.

And finally after the sun had sunk at Xlendi, leaving the harbour painted in all manner of hues of pinks and blues, I paused, caught in thought over catching the ferry back to Malta, my final days in this strange but wonderful country, and suddenly I too felt a little blue.