Malta, we get it... you like sandstone.
This part of my travels wasn’t in the initial plans, but I’m so glad I could insert it in. And the reasons why are simple: I was able to meet up with two friends who were in Europe at that stage, accommodation was free for a large majority of the time, and I had almost forgotten how much I (perhaps desperately) missed both of those things. I never got the chance, however, to forget the rate at which my skin burns under any amount of sunshine – and yes, before you make assumptions, I did use sunscreen.
Having spent the better part of 14 hours in Malta’s international airport, the sight of my companions’ arrivals were relieving to say the least. And after a short catch-up and wait for our lift, I took my first step outside the airport and into the hot air of Malta. Perhaps the first thing you notice at first sight of the country is the architecture: a sea of dusty yellow sandstone buildings, rising and falling between the main roads and narrow side streets, with the occasional green wave of palm leaves and shrubbery. If it’s not the architecture you notice first, it’s definitely the heat. Both of these recognitions didn’t dwindle during the week, but at least indoors was generally air conditioned and more vibrantly decorated.
We were extremely fortunate to have at hand an entire apartment at our disposal for seven days – not a shabby one too, quite a nice holiday home we thought. Most of the time there was spent either relaxing on the couches with a few beers, relaxing on the veranda with a few beers, or simply relaxing to avoid overheating. This doesn’t mean that was our whole holiday, in fact quite the opposite. A majority of the holiday was spent relaxing at a beach. And although there appears to be a lack of sandy beaches in Malta, it isn’t too hard to find a place to lay down your towel and sunbathe (or shade-bathe). As the days passed, the coastal waters of Malta seemed to become more beautiful – the tap water, however, maintained it’s unpleasant nature throughout – and with the exception of our first evening, we managed to visit a beach every day.
The only areas in which we didn’t go for a swim were Valletta and Mdina: Malta’s current and former capital cities, respectfully. Both had an air about them like they were designed for tourism, exempting the fact that they are first and foremost residential areas. Don’t get me wrong, they’re beautiful and each have their own distinct character. Yet I felt like a tourist (which I am) in a crowd of other tourists (which they were) admiring the old dusty yellow buildings (which I was). The main strip in Valletta was like any other high street, the shops in Mdina were almost exclusively gift shops, and the lunches we had weren’t terribly authentic – I should mention I did have a rabbit-meat burger; a local dish I didn’t enjoy too much. But none of that really mattered. I was in good company surrounded by wonderful architecture, with little worry in my mind. Being in the shade also helped.
Nightlife in Malta is interesting to say the least, and the way we ended up experiencing it wasn’t how I imagined we would. The first glimpse of this understanding came when I realised how far the trip from our apartment in Marsaskala to the clubbing area of Paceville was to make. Luckily, beers were very cheap at the convenience store around the corner and we didn’t have an itch to go any further than necessary to get a little drunk on a Saturday. In fact, the apartment veranda was more than sufficient. I really had missed sitting down and talking with my mates, which made that night especially special – thanks to Oli and Jez for simply being there. The next evening, we decided to pay a visit to what seemed to be the only bar in the area. Zion is a ‘reggae bar’ and it’s only until you walk through to the beer garden that the place becomes appealing. And after somehow managing to drink enough gin-and-tonics to put us off them for the week, we made our way to the beach to appreciate the midnight view. The water looked far too stunning to just stay on the rocky shore, so a lovely night swim was in order.
I did make it to Paceville one night though: my last night in Malta. Oli had left back to England the Wednesday morning (meaning we had to vacate the apartment), and Jez and I made our way north to a hostel in Sliema for the day. Now that we were basically walking distance from Paceville, having a night of drinking there was almost an unsaid understanding. I’m never one to pass on a happy hour deal – or practically any alcohol-based discount for that matter – but the offers in these bars were ridiculous. So instead of buying 200 shots for 60 Euros (an actual possibility), we opted for plain old pints of beer. Many plain old pints of beer. The strangest thing, however, was the people on the main strip. A large majority of the bars are gentleman’s clubs and as a result, all the promoters were attractive women attempting to entice us into the bars and most were very committed to getting business – when I thought about this, it made me quite sad. And unfortunately for them, neither Jez or I had the slightest inclination to step inside.
Waking up slightly hungover and sweaty in the uncooled hostel room would’ve been a horrible end to the trip. But as it so happens, I managed to miss my flight back to London as well! It was only a few hours until the next flight and I had a good book to read while I waited, so irritation at the situation soon turned to apathy for it.
I didn’t manage to see as much as Malta as I initially imagined I would, but it was more than worth the short trip out.
Some wisdom from Malta:
- Never think you’re reapplying sunscreen too often.
- Treasure your mates and the ability to sink beers with them.
- There may just be such a thing as too much sandstone.