I wanted to break these posts down because the last two days of my holiday were arguably the busiest. Realising we were running out of time to see the things we wanted to see on the islands, we decided to make a plan. But the plan never went, um, according to plan.

Day 5 – the Pickup that Never Arrived

Sunday we rose early to get the bus for our booked trip to Marsaxlokk (pronounced Marsa-shlock). This is where Malta’s biggest market takes place every Sunday. Our bus was due to pick us up at 8:45 prompt. Buses came and went, but not ours. We and a woman travelling with her mother waited and waited and waited. Then she phoned the TUI head office in the UK who contacted the travel company.

The trip had already arrived at Marsaxlokk (we never found out until the next day). What happened? Why hadn’t they picked us up? Well, the person in charge of the tour collected the wrong list – the one for the following week and missed out four hotel pickups. We had planned to go to the capital Valletta the following day but decided to move this trip forward. To the capital it was, then.

A walkway parade leading to the entrance to the old city of Valletta
Copyright MG Mason 2019

There was much about Valletta that felt familiar and much that was not. The image above is the grand entrance way to the city on the peninsula. During my last trip in 2011, there was a lot of building work in this area and a makeshift bus station. But this stunning tree-lined open area felt like a fanfare for one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

The open square with people milling about, the only feature a fountain makes the imposing historic city walls all the more impressive when viewed on the approach. This has been done to make the city as open and as inviting as possible for people heading into the sometimes narrow streets on the peninsula, and it works. Talking of which…

The imposing medieval city walls of Valletta
Copyright MG Mason 2019

Valletta is the new capital, built by the Knights of St John to replace Mdina which we visited a few days previously. The natural defensive point of the peninsula overlooking the Grand Harbour protected by four imposing forts would make any attacker brave – or stupid – to try to attack it, as the Ottomans discovered to their dismay. As would the Axis Powers in the 20th century. History is replete with people making the same mistakes, are they not?

The city is as imposing as it is grand, the centre of a great tradition of high medieval architecture, celebrating the power, majesty and wealth of The Knights of St John. Not that the city’s history is limited to the Knights. Malta eventually fell to Napoleon Bonaparte for a few years before the British Empire arrived which it held until the 1950s when the military withdrew and Malta became fully independent. It remains a member of the Commonwealth.

The islands were vital to the effort in Second World War, withstanding bombardment and siege sustained in the earliest years of the war, losing some important structures. Yet Valletta stood and for its efforts, Malta was granted The George Cross. Here is a view of the Grand Harbour. Fort St Angelo is in the centre.

A panoramic (taken on my phone) view of the Grand Harbour. Excuse the bendiness, it’s a result of a wide shot. Fort St Angelo is in the centre
Copyright MG Mason 2019

Valletta is home to four forts and two cathedrals – one Anglican built to a similar design as London’s St Paul’s Cathedral in the centre near the Palace of the Grandmasters, (also named St Paul’s) and a Catholic cathedral on the west side. Go visit, Valletta is stunning.

Day 6 – Gozo

Original plans thrown to the wind, we tossed up between Gozo and The Blue Grotto on the south coast which we were supposed to have seen the day before as part of our trip that never was. We opted for The Blue Grotto as neither of us had been there before. After getting to the bus station and realising there was no bus to the Blue Grotto from this station (but the next station in Bugibba a mile away in 29C heat), we noticed that a bus to Cirkewwa – the town for the Gozo port was due to leave in five minutes. A rapid change of mind and we were heading for the second largest island.

Mgarr, the main port for crossing to Comino and the Maltese mainland

The port had expanded since our last trip with more regular ferries. Hardly surprising, every ferry crossing every 30 minutes was full with cars with plenty of foot passengers making the crossing too. It seems a constant stream of people heading in each direction.

Crossing to Gozo, there is a third island – population 3 (that’s right, just 3 people) and one church, and site of the Blue Lagoon, a popular swimming spot. It was also once home to a leper colony. The hospital still stands.

Gozo is just to the northwest of the main island. It’s home to another stone age temple, a medieval citadel, lots of farms and countryside. Crossing from the mainland port of Cirkewwa to the Gozoan port of Mgarr takes about 35 minutes.

Despite being a short distance from mainland Malta, something about Gozo feels different. There is more moisture in the air and more greenery. It is less built up but roads in the smaller villages are narrower, meaning gridlock can happen quickly. Most of the traffic congregates around the administrative centre Victoria. Built on a hillside, it has an imposing medieval citadel overlooking the countryside. The Knights wanted to create a similar imposing defensive harbour here but money and time ran out. The citadel is well worth a visit.

We took a City Tour bus rather than decide to make our own way around. Time was limited as our holiday rep wanted to meet with us to explain what happened with the failed Marsaxlokk trip and refund us the 50 euros. We went to Victoria, stopped for lunch at a restaurant that sucked up more time than we’d hoped (and made some annoyed comments about the hour it took to receive our pizzas) and toured the citadel.

The slowness of the restaurant meant we had to cut out a portion of our Gozo visit but we would at least take in the most interesting bits before returning to Mgarr to cross back to Cirkewwa and returning to the hotel to pack and have one last dinner. An early pickup meant we couldn’t stay up reminiscing about our holiday.

Overall this was a wonderful holiday. Pleasant yet poignant to visit Malta (this was where my ex-wife and I had our last ever holiday) and to create some new memories of a great holiday destination. This wasn’t a first trip for either of us and I doubt it will be the last.

Thank you Malta, see you again.

Want to see more of my Maltese photos and maybe buy some art prints? Visit my SmugMug

Published by MG Mason Creative

I'm Matt, a freelance writer, writing mostly about education, early career recruitment, tech, B2B and professional services. Dabbling with landscape and nature photography too. For this content , please look at my main site linked below. I'm also a self-published author, creator of the quirky crime comedy book series Salmonweird. If that's what you're looking for, then good news! The village has its own website listed below.

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10 Comments

      1. Wow – that’s incredibly bad service – I don’t think I’ll be using them for any of my excursions when I visit – since it seems much cheaper to organise them locally – the buses are meant to be very good with a cheap weekly pass. Great insights from you – thanks for sharing 🔆

      2. Welcome! I prefer to avoid excursions these days and only resort to them if there’s a particularly good package deal or where it’s difficult to get to using public transport and I’m not comfortable getting a hire car. We did take a guided tour of Mdina by night which was well worth the trip.

        I’m glad tour companies have stopped the annoying practice of frogmarching tourists from shop to shop in between the things you paid to see.

        Are you going to Malta any time soon or were you talking generally?

      3. I’m planning to head out there before Christmas/end of November – all being well – and currently roughing out a dummy itinerary of sights and places/things to try and include. I had been looking at TUI’s excursions (though I’m not travelling with them) – but the thing with that is you’re limited to the time they give you – which is not normally enough. I’ve used ‘Get Your Guide’ and booked things online in the past – they’re cheaper than TUI for a lot of the same excursions. The buses seem to stop everywhere in Malta – including the hop on/off bus – so I might just do an excursion for an all day boat trip and some organised guided walking tours like you did – (Valetta and Mdina) 🔆

      4. Good call. We found the buses highly reliable, much more so than when I went in 2011. Not a single bus cancelled, the only one delayed was heading to Paola in horrendous traffic and we arrived at the destination 10 minutes later than the listed arrival time. This was fine because our Hypogeum entry time wasn’t for another hour and we had time to get some lunch before going in.

        Incidentally, if ancient monuments are your thing, I would look at booking tickets for the Hypogeum now for anything in late November and December.

        I’ve been trying to visit your site but I’m getting horrendous lag. Will keep trying though 🙂

  1. Goodness! This place is so beautiful. I love how easily you guys go with the flow and change plans, even better that you can agree on the changes! I absolutely love the architecture. I think that and all the blue and the tropical vibe is what would make me fall in love with this place.

    1. We are pretty laid back on holiday. We tend to plan what we want to do while we’re there but with flexibility in mind if plans change. I like to do as much as possible but my girlfriend wants to relax more than anything else. We harmonise each other because I encourage her to get out and explore more, and she reigns in my desire to see and do everything.

      I would recommend Malta to anybody. Firstly because it’s still not a big holiday destination like Spain, Portugal or Greece, although it does have a lot of visitors from all over Europe. It’s touristy but doesn’t feel overwhelming. It feels distinctly British, Mediterranean AND North African at the same time. The food, road signs, architecture, culture all reflects this fusion quite well.

      And of course, everyone speaks English as it’s one of two official languages for the country. Few people outside of Malta will speak Maltese as it’s a form of of Arabic that developed in Europe but got cut off from the mother language because it developed in a Christian environment.

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